Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hymn of Entry (1)

This week at church, in the Adult Education class, we began a study of Hymn of Entry: Liturgy and Life in the Orthodox Church by Archimandrite Vasilieios. The author, the Abbot of Stavronikita Monastery on Mount Athos, has produced an incredible little book, only 133 pages, but powerful in its impact. I plan to post a few excerpts from each of the 6 chapters, but will withhold whatever meager commentary I could offer until the end of the series.

Chapter 1 -- Theology as Liturgy of the Church

This new family--the body of Christ and the communion of the Holy Spirit--is responsible for writing the Gospel, which is not a systematic exposition of Christian teaching, precisely because it is not concerned with teaching. Jesus did not leave behind Him a new philosophical system, nor did He institute a mere religion. He left His Body and sent His Spirit.

Those who think they know Christ outside the church know very few things about Him; those who belong to the Church live "in Him." thus we can say that the Gospel is essentially a "private" book. It belongs to the Church...outside the Church the Gospel is a sealed and incomprehensible book. nothing other than the expression of our experience of being baptized into the life of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit....Dogma is the expression of the mystical life of the Church, the formulation in the Holy Spirit of the trinitarian experience into which the whole man is baptized through the Church.

The Church is Christ, His Body living in history. It is summarized in each of the faithful, who is the Church in miniature. The personal consciousness of each of the faithful has an ecclesial dimension, and every problem for the Church is the problem of the personal salvation of each of the faithful.

Faith is not a matter of mere understanding, so it is not cultivated and does not grow simply through investigation or through study. Faith, as trust in God and abandonment of oneself to Him, is closely related to love, which is God Himself. When you love, when you offer as much as you can to others, to your brother--to Christ--and end up by offering your very self to God, then you know Him; you believe. Your faith increases. You are flooded with it, with its strange power which raised up lives....You do not simply have an intellectual calm....A heavenly restfulness reaches into your innermost parts....You know God through faith, not intellectually, but existentially and with the whole of your physical being.

This life which is in Christ, and the expression of it, constitutes the true theology which is the one truth, because it speaks of and brings us to the one eternal life. Thus we realize that we cannot create theology by taking a piece of paper and writing down our ideas, which may very well be correct, theologically pertinent (as to their terminology) or socially useful. The material offered to each person to struggle with, to write theology with, and to speak about to the Church, is none other than his own self, his very being, hidden and unknown.

Thus the living patristic word is not conveyed mechanically, nor preserved archaeologically, nor approached through excursions into history. It is conveyed whole, full of life, as it passes from generation to generation through living organisms, altering them, creating "fathers" who make it their personal word, a new possession, a miracle, a wealth which increased as it is given away. This is the unchanging change wrought by the power that changes corruption into incorruption. It is the motionless perpetual motion of the word of God, and its ever-living immutability. Every day the word seems different and new, and is the same. this is the mystery of life which has entered deep into our dead nature and raises it up from within, breaking the bars of Hell.

How beautiful it is for a man to become theology.

Fortunate is the man who is broken in pieces and offered to others, who is poured out and given to others to drink. When his time of trial comes, he will not be afraid. he will have nothing to fear. He will already have understood that, in the celebration of love, by grace man is broken and not divided, eaten and never consumed. By grace he has become Christ, and so his life gives food and drink to his brother. that is to say, he nourishes the other's very existence and makes it grow.

Worldly knowledge, which sees things from a human point of view and mechanically, is sterile and lifeless. Knowledge in the Holy Spirit, which presupposes the death of man, ignorance of the world, and our resurrection into a new form of perception, is the only knowledge which is communicable; it can be passed on organically. When it is offered, it gives life.


Ian said...

Wow. Sounds like a very powerful book.

Thanks for sharing the excerpts; I particularly found the "Thus the living patristic word..." paragraph moving and challenging.

James the Thickheaded said...

I know it's a labor of love to re-type these things. And from the quick read here... thank you both for the labor and posting it. Look forward to more + your comments!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. I recall that C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, I think it was, also said the Bible is essentially a believers' book.

Milton T. Burton said...

Beautifully written; ancient sentiments. Christendom is still here and I am encouraged. Every time I read one of its attackers like Christopher Hitchens I am reminded just how stridently silly they all are.