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Leandro Bosch presentation

21 February 2006

Plenary on the Assembly theme

Rev. Joseph (Leandro) Bosch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is currently pursuing doctoral studies in Rome

Introduction

 

Today's world with its convulsions could be characterized as a complex maelstrom of changes and transformations, which perhaps form one of the many-faceted peaks of its essentially multiform nature. These changes and transformations, as can be observed, come one after another and have one outstanding feature: the giddy pace driving them on and accompanying these changes that are taking place at all levels and in all areas of human life in post-modern society. We are thus experiencing constant changes at the economic, technological, cultural and social levels, and, we must admit, at the religious level as well. Of necessity, humans seek to change all that has become outdated and is not equal to their high expectations, all that has consequently become an obstacle or barrier to the attainment of their aims, all that has inevitably completed its task and must now disappear in its present form so as to make way for a form more appropriate to meet present-day demands. Thus, individuals, who are anxious and even bold, are not passive links in the living chain of humankind, on the receiving end of strong pressures caused by changes in their surrounding world. They themselves are the authors and architects of the changes and alterations taking place in all aspects of life with the aim of improving it. What we thus see are human beings who are fundamentally active, energetic, diligent, prepared and expectant in face of the changes that they themselves are producing. They are, however, at the same time anxious and often fearful of the consequences of change, which does not always produce the favourable solution that they themselves have planned. In reality, not all the changes produced by humankind today have happy results: hence nature's violent reaction to the harm done to it; hence humankind's reaction against itself owing to the profound worldwide imbalances arising out of arbitrary political, economic and thus social change: famine, war, terrorism, social inequality, racism, trade in living organs, trade in children, drugs, and further numberless scourges afflicting post-modern society as a result of the changes that it itself has brought about, unavoidably or avoidably, knowingly or unknowingly, deliberately or accidentally. These changes, and their resulting methodology, manifest themselves and have repercussions in individuals and contemporary society producing controversial results, very often approaching, almost inevitably, the maximum opposite extremes of benefit or damage to individuals and their environment, since today's world is easily thrown off balance by these changes. Meanwhile, humankind and the cosmic order are increasingly at odds with each other in face of changes that are a damaging attack on the natural rhythm and nature of the life of each.

Within this convulsed and controversial world, and also over against it (1), we Christians also thirst for change, for transformation, but not according to the pattern of this age: our desires are not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit. And so we have been brought together by divine providence for these days of blessing in this beautiful land in our diversity, yes, but first and foremost in unity, so that we may lift up our voices in prayer, or rather in a cry arising from our inmost being: ‘God, in your grace, transform the world!'

Methodology

Since this is an examination of the theme from the viewpoint of the Orthodox teaching of the Greek Fathers, it is necessary for me to be explicit about my theological presuppositions. They can be presented as distinctions, which are the key to understanding and interpreting the theme. These distinctions are:

1.The distinction between the Uncreated and what is created.

2. The distinction between the Essence of Godhead and the divine energies.

3. The distinction between the oneness and the distinctions within the Godhead.

4. The distinction of the creation into an intelligible and visible world.

5. The distinction between essence and energy in the world of creatures.

Objectives

My aim is to bring out the following aspects of the transformation undergone by the created world through its participation and experience in the history of the divine economy, in the drama of revelation and consequently in its experience of the divine energies.

I. From the Uncreated
  1. A threefold vision.

The process of transforming and perfecting creation is necessarily closely dependent on divine providence, which rules, governs, guides and brings to fulfilment the positive process of change from what was created out of nothing at the beginning of its existence, passing through redemption in Christ, up to the second coming of Christ. These three stages - creation, redemption and the second coming (parousia) - provide the historic framework and also the divine framework of this process towards perfection which is taking place in the created world. These three pillars, then, reveal in the same way the trinitarian nature of divine action upon the created world and, consequently, the trinitarian stamp on this process of transformation from the first things (protology) to the last things (eschatology).

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  1. The Christological coordinates of transformation

If the process of transformation is Trinitarian in nature, then it must necessarily also be, according to the Eastern tradition, Christolgical in nature. The process of transformation has as its beginning the embodiment of the Logos - the asarkos logos - in the priesthood of the Old Testament. It has its pivotal point in the events of the incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement of Jesus Christ at the right hand of the Father. Finally, it reaches it consummation in the glorious second coming of the Saviour at the parousia.

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It can thus be seen how the process of transformation of the created world from its beginning to its end is necessarily in harmonious relation with the Christ mystery, Christ himself being the beginning, the fulfilment and the goal of this transformation, i.e. from where it begins, in where it reaches its fulfilment, and towards where it comes to an end. Christ is thus the actual prototype of transformation. We are thus able to call it ‘Christification', or, following the Greek Fathers ‘divinization'.

  1. The pneumatological nature of transformation.

If this process is trinitarian in nature and thus Christological, it has of necessity also to be pneumatological. The Holy Spirit is the creator of the universe, governs creation, makes all creatures divine, is the foremost guide of existence, life, wisdom and sanctification, the Paraclete, who proceeds from the Father and rests upon the Son, and through the Son indwells the whole of creation. By the Holy Spirit all is created, receives being, is sustained and sanctified (2). It is the Holy Spirit who carries forward the process of transformation, jointly with the Father and the Son, in each one of the historical divinely indwelt stages referred to above: creation, redemption, parousia. There is however more: the Holy Spirit's action, like that of the Father and the Son, is constantly present in this ongoing ascent of humanity from the human condition towards divinity, becoming firstly human to enable humankind to attain divinization by grace.

II. From the created world

  1. The cosmic plan of transformation

At the cosmic level, transformation is constantly taking place in accord with the divine economy as God disposes, towards the mysterious fulfilment of the universal divine order, which is ceaselessly being perfected until the fullness of the ages and of all things is attained in the awesome second coming of the Divine Christ. This transformation process, as can be easily deduced, takes place at a universal level, and depends solely on divine providence - or ‘economy', as the Greek Fathers called it, which is the mighty flow of the uncreated divine energies - or ‘emanations' - in which all created beings participate by the mere fact that they exist and live, i.e. the energies that confer being and life. Thus the whole creation - both the part of it endowed with reason and the part not - shares in the divine energies and each one of them evolves, or undergoes positive change, according to the ontological structure and form of existence proper to each of them, and consequently in accord with its capacity to receive (3). It is highly important to be clear that this transformation, or mutation, takes place both in beings not endowed and those endowed with reason, who share in the divine energies by virtue of being or being alive, or both, since there exists a structure of being that determines this development: they are beings created out of nothing, ex nihilo, i.e. by change. Thus, of necessity, they must mutate, or be transformed (4).

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  1. Transformation at the level of persons

We are by nature at the level of rational beings, humankind, created in the image and likeness of God. Transformation at this level takes place within parameters different from those of the foregoing level - although it also includes them - owing to the peculiar conditions and ontological structure belonging to persons and their consequent perfectibility. Consequently, since human beings are endowed with reason, they are also necessarily endowed with freedom, free will (5). Since they are beings with the possibility of change, human beings change, not only in their bodies (as do those beings not endowed with reason) but also as a result of the choices that they make by virtue of their freedom. Although humans cannot extricate themselves from participating in the uncreated energies relevant to their existence and life, since these lie outside the sphere of their freedom, they are able to resist those energies that produce wisdom and divinization (6), since they have a direct effect on their rationality and not only on them as living beings. Thus, human beings, as free beings endowed with reason, change or are transformed positively or negatively according to the choices that they make. They can take the direction leading nowhere, and thus disappear, or they can take the direction leading to the Creator and be divinized, become divine by grace through drawing on the uncreated energies. At this point, we need to concentrate our attention on the word used by the Fathers, ‘synergia', which will help us to understand this process of positive transformation, from ‘einai' (being) to ‘eu einai' (well being). There must thus be constant collaboration - ‘synergia' - between the human and the divine. The initial stage in this collaboration is acceptance of the divine invitation, and from then on a consequent coexistence of human freedom and will with the divine. In that way, human beings, and with them all created beings, begin to conquer the upward path, the mountain that Moses had to climb to reach the presence of God, knowledge of God (teognosia), and participation in God (metoche), according to the Eastern mystical literature, passing through the various stages involved in aspiring to the life above. This upward movement is also called ‘ascesis' (7), spiritual exercise, since in it human beings exert themselves to experience the divine, and thus in their whole being become formed in the divine image.

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  1. The stages of human transformation in this process: metanoia, purification, enlightenment.

The process of transformation, which is also called healing, or terapia (therapy), begins with purifying the heart, moves on to its being restored to its natural state of enlightenment, and then the whole person begins to be perfected beyond their natural capacities by the body and soul being glorified by the uncreated glory of God (shekinah). Following the scheme adopted by St Isaac Syrus, I propose to examine first the stage of metanoia (8). The resulting scheme would be:

God, the supreme invisible centre of all worth, presides over the whole process of:

Metanoia, transformation of the heart, leading upwards to…

Purification, catharsis of the passions, leading upwards to…

Enlightenment, attainment of the normal state, leading upwards to…

Glorification, perfection in Christ, divinization or ‘theosis'.

Metanoia, as Vladimir Lossky makes clear (9), must not only be the beginning of the process but an ongoing state throughout the whole process. Metanoia is thus not merely one stage, but a constant posture vis-à-vis the Creator. Metanoia is not simply repentance, nor even penitence: it is transformation (metamorphosis), regeneration, new birth. According to Lossky (10), metanoia is ‘the gateway to grace'. Confronted with this ‘gateway of grace', human beings must turn with all their will towards the One who bestows grace through prayer. The process of healing, attainment of the normal state, and perfection cannot be undertaken without prayer, since prayer is the most intimate link between God and humans. At its different levels - praxis and theory - prayer is the common denominator in all the various stages of healing.

Purification is the stage involving release from our passions and consequently the purifying of the heart. Once that release is attained through the stage of purification, the noetic system attains its normal state and there thus follows the stage of enlightenment. In this phase, the individual sees God, but not face to face. The enlightened individual sees God vaguely, as if in a mirror. ‘Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror' (11). Paul, also referring to this period writes, ‘Now I know in part' (12). The enlightened person is a child: 'When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child' (13). However, on attaining glorification, he becomes adult: ‘When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me' (14). Now he sees God face to face: ‘…then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known' (15). On becoming enlightened, the individual does not know Christ, but is known by Christ. But, on attaining glorification, individuals know as they are known, i.e. perfectly, since seeing or knowing Christ is seeing or knowing above and beyond one's own natural ability to see and know. Thus, paradoxically, individuals see and know without seeing or knowing, since they are in effect seen and known by the Lord of Glory.

Glorification is the result of the noetic system achieving normality. Divinization is the end of the healing process. The person who is glorified is able to contemplate Christ in the uncreated glory of his Father. Only those who are cured of love of self, the product of the disorder in the noetic system, will be capable of contemplating and participating in the uncreated glory of Christ in the coming age. St Isaac notes in this regard, ‘On acquiring absolute purity, the soul's movement shares in the energies of the Holy Spirit.' Its nature remains in ecstatic movement, paradoxically passively active, with no memory of material things, in apatheia. In effect, as the spirit descends from the mind to the heart, individuals cease to be enslaved to their environment and are no longer distracted or enthralled by things of the earth. Every human faculty, now divinized, is directed towards the vision of the uncreated glory of Christ. The glory of God is present everywhere pervading the creation with its divinizing power. This uncreated glory is also present in our hearts and is available to purify and divinize us. However, not everyone responds to or accepts its life-giving transforming activity.

Once the union between the Uncreated and the created is achieved, love is healed. It no longer seeks itself, but is disinterested. As St Simeon the New Theologian puts it, the heart burns with compassion and the whole of creation is the object of love, an occasion for loving. And this occurs simply because it can contemplate Christ and his immaterial uncreated Glory permeating all created things, regardless of whether or not they accept the action of that glory. Those who are glorified are already living in the age to come and thus become perfect beyond all known limits. The heart is enlarged (16) through the warmth of the spirit's prayer, the force that unites heart to spirit, the force that inspires us to observe God's commandments with great delight and ease.

God is an unfathomable mystery for humans and is united with them only through God's uncreated energies when humans see God face to face in this glorified state. According to St Maximus the Confessor, who in this regard is developing the thinking of Evagrius Ponticus, ‘To know the mystery of the Trinity in its fullness is to enter into perfect union with God, achieve divinization of the human person, i.e. enter into the divine life, into the very life of the Holy Trinity, to share in the divine nature - in the divine energy and not, of course, in its physis or essential nature - as expressed by St Peter (17).

Conclusion

The process of transformation in the created world begins in the very act of creation itself by which God creates out of a substance different from God's substance. God brings into being beings that are of a different substance from the Godhead out of non-being, not out of God's essence. That is the principle of transformation, which, necessarily passing through the redemptive events of incarnation, passion, death, resurrection, ascension and enthronement of Christ, reaches its fulfilment in the second coming of Christ at the end of this dimension of creation. The divine historical events underlying this process of transformation are creation, redemption, parousia. They must be seen together in their completeness as an integral whole. They must never be regarded as separate events or phases, but as the dynamic continuous activity of the divine economy on the creation.

Thus humankind - and with it the whole of creation - feely and dynamically - and dramatically -by virtue of the pivotal events referred to above, shares in the uncreated divine energies, which are guiding the process to its complete fulfilment in the end days. Thus, in constant cooperation with divine grace, we look for the day of the coming of the new heavens and the new earth (18), of the heavenly Jerusalem (19), which will be the completion of the plan that the Father had from the beginning, to bring all things together under Christ by the Holy Spirit (20). Therefore we cry out, ‘God, in your grace - and with our collaboration, our synergia - transform the world.' Therefore we cry, ‘Maranatha, come, Lord Jesus!.

Notes

  1. John 15:3 and 17:16

  2. John of Damascus, ‘De Fide Orthodoxa'

  3. [Greek!]

  4. John of Damascus, op. cit.

  5. John of Damascus, ibid.

  6. [Greek] Professor Matsoukas concludes that humans have access to the energy that operates reason in a way that is not free as the two previous energies. If we regard this energy not only as operating reason but also as operating wisdom, we can see that it operates similarly from the level of logic that it initiates, and then it can be regarded as operating once human freedom is conferred, since human freedom puts it into operation and seeks perfection through wisdom. It can thus be regarded in both ways: when it makes logical beings, it is participated in without freedom; when it makes wise logical beings, it is participated in by virtue of freedom.

  7. The word ‘ascesis' must in no way be understood as referring to or applicable to an exclusively monastic setting. 'Ascesis' is not only a product of monastic life. Ascesis is the way to be followed by all Christians in the pursuit of divinization, of union with their Creator and Perfecter. ‘Ascesis' is simply life in the Spirit, which does not have to be lived in a monastery or in the desert, but in all places and forms, where and how the Spirit itself guides them.

  8. So as to understand the rich meaning of the Greek word ‘metanoia', we need to examine its etymology. The word is made up of two parts, the first being a preposition, ‘meta-‘ meaning beyond' or ‘after'. It refers to the distance between what something was and what it now is after changing, after being transformed. The second part is a noun, ‘nous', and is the English word ‘nous'. Metenoia is thus a change of the spirit, a profound change in one's inner disposition, which is reflected in one's outward aspect. It is a change of attitude, a change of feelings. Is this metanoia then the same as repentance? Not exactly. Repentance is a phase of metanoia, which is an ongoing state in humans. Metanoia is not a conscience burdened for faults committed, let alone remorse, since where remorse exists, it is impossible for repentance to exist, let alone metanoia. Metanoia involves complete knowledge and acceptance of one's own weaknesses, the cause of the fault, the object of the wrongful act, its intention and the resultant product or consequences. However, the light of the Father's love, who is waiting with open arms for his sons and daughters to return after having squandered their inheritance, attracts, draws on the soul that has moved on from - ‘meta-‘, its former state, its initial fault; and the spirit - ‘nous' - is being enlightened by the shining light of forgiveness and remission. Metanoia is thus the result of a synergy between the sinful individual and the Divine Redeemer.

  9. Vladimir Lossky, ‘The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church', London, Clarke, 1957.

  10. Ibid.

  11. 1 Cor. 13:12

  12. 1 Cor. 13:13

  13. 1 Cor. 13:11

  14. 1 Cor. 13:11

  15. 1 Cor. 13:12

  16. ‘I will run in the way of your commandments, since you enlarge my heart' (Ps. 119:32)

  17. 2 Peter 1:4

  18. Rev. 21:1

  19. Rev. 21:2

  20. Eph.1:10

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