Orthodox Canada

I have been asked by a reader to say something about the “Singularity” which is often discussed in “Silicon Valley” and in Futurist conferences, as well as among some technologists and scientists . Here is a brief response.
In the 1950’s, legendary information theorist John von Neumann was paraphrased by mathematician Stanislaw Ulam as saying, “The ever-accelerating progress of technology…gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue.” This seems to be the origin of the concept.
The Singularity represents an “event horizon” in the predictability of human technological development past which present models of the future may cease to give reliable answers, particularly following the creation of strong AI.
I had discussed this concept with Raymond Kurzweil and Alexander Panov during one of our Big History conferences. Panov posits that, since the beginning of human history, each technological advance occurs in one third less time than the previous one. As our technological advances occur faster and faster, eventually we will reach a singularity at which, instead of technology proceeding on a curve, it will begin to move perpendicularly. This is a form of “singularity.”
My own perception has been that a confluence of compound crises, including ones generated by over rapid technological development, brings us to this “singularity point.” A number of scientists have suggested that, following this singularity, there will be profound changes in humanity itself, and humans will no longer be driving technological advances. My concern would be that we could become too dependent on AI to the degree that we were using it to solve complex issues including strategies, planning and prediction of that we would greatly diminish our own abilities to cope with those fields. We would want to use it for advances in medicine, etc, and while using it for diagnostics would be advantageous, we can lose our abilities in that field also. We could develop technologies, indeed we have developed AI to the level at which it can learn, and be good have technologies that outstrip our own abilities and equally our abilities to control them. We would ultimately face major shifts, or even distortions, in our cultural, societal and religious dimensions. The major shifts in our “models of reality” are already changing day by day. We will no longer be able to develop models and strategies based on past trends in human behaviour.
>>Disturbing is that might sound, this is a major basis for future thought. Of course from a purely religious perspective the Singularity would consist in the return of Jesus Christ and the culmination of human history. This is certainly not what scientist, technologists and futurists have in mind.
>>We are well into a revolution in knowledge and intelligence. The ubiquitous computing that links every aspect of life doubles every eighteen months as computer power increases exponentially.
>>As we create more intelligent machines, we also redesign our own minds. Computers and communications technology move more deeply into the fabric of our lives, and the result is the loss of our private selves and discretion.
As ubiquitous computing merges with the internet, a global revolution evolves. On the internet, everyone is interactive and there is no elite. There is a levelling that results in a movement toward new structures in civil society and a spirituality that discards the structures of religion.
>>Artificial intelligence is inevitable, and efforts will undoubtedly be made to create robots and machines with self-consciousness. These are developments which will change our ideas and our relationship with each other. Indeed, it will change our concepts of humanity and or our own “self.”
>>At the same time, the increasing immersion in virtual reality, in virtual worlds is impacting on our mentality and basic concepts. As cyberspace becomes a dimension of our consciousness, more and more people project themselves into “virtual selfs” or “personal avatars.” Virtual reality impacts the shape of the future in ways that we are not yet able to calculate. It alters expectations and re-shapes the parameters of our search and the direction of our energies. [Archbishop Lazar]


Exploring Orthodoxy


by David J. Goa 


How does the Orthodox Christian community and tradition view history? This is a cosmic form of Christianity, distinct in emphasis and development from its Latin counterpart. In Orthodox Christianity, history and human experience exist within the larger context of creation; and it is the concept and understanding of creation that are highly articulated. The Orthodox tradition understands history within an eschatological framework which on the surface appears to be shared with the Christian traditions of the West. I will argue, however, that the Orthodox understanding of history does not speak of a linear progress of history in the fashion of the West. Rather its theology is concerned with a change in the vision of the human being; it is a call to freedom exercised in the faithful relationship to all that is encountered in history. Individuals are not to be under the dominance and terrors of history understood and mediated by personal perception and cultural interpretation; history does not define the human context. In a sense, the tradition proclaims that the Kingdom of God was as present at the beginning of history as it is now and will be at the end of time. Tradition also teaches that the faithful live in the eighth day of creation, the day of the presence of the Kingdom of God. How does the Orthodox community view its own role in history? The Church is model, icon and archetype of the Kingdom of God. It is not a sacred community standing in opposition to the world, rather, it shows the world — which has forgotten its reality — the divine energy, a place where co-suffering love sanctifies all that is. Rather than rejecting creation the Church challenges the “spirit of the age.” Essentially a liturgical tradition, Orthodoxy understands its role as unveiling the Kingdom of God, which for human beings is the mystery of life. The Church as archetype of creation is the presence of that kingdom in history and calls all creation to the present fullness of the Kingdom of God. How faithful is the religious community to its view of history in interpreting its own history? This is an exceedingly complex question which I can only begin to address by examining a range of paradigms of interpretation that operate within Orthodox communities. There are a combination of these paradigms present in various jurisdictions in the contemporary Church. For the purpose of this study I will attempt to map the central elements in what I have chosen to call conservative, modernist and traditionalist paradigms. How each jurisdiction, or various movements within a jurisdiction, understands the possibilities of and responses to the historical moment will depend on how it interprets sacred tradition and the role of the Church — the institution of sacred tradition — in the face of history.


History and a historical consciousness have been central features of the way modern culture, emerging in the last three hundred years in Western Europe, understands human life. Many have argued that historical consciousness has deep roots in biblical faith, that it is the central contribution of Christianity to modern consciousness. The rise of Marxism, with its notion of society evolving and culminating in an eschatological paradise, and more currently the rise of Liberation theology, have brought this matter home in a fresh and powerful way. God’s plan of salvation, we are told, is being worked out in the vagaries of human history and the people of God participate in the unfolding of this historical process. Some argue that those who participate in the historical process of the liberation of peoples are by definition the people of God. What has characterized a good deal of modern theology, and is clearly articulated in recent Liberation theology, is that a divine process unfolds in time precisely as peoples are liberated from the oppressive authorities of the past even if that authority was, or was supported by, a church. This understanding is a deep part of the Western view of history shared by the Western Church but not at all by the Church of the Christian East. To understand the place and process of time in Orthodox Christianity, the ground on which this tradition is built must be examined. In the East there is a tradition of understanding creation, time, and the events and struggles of human life as rooted in the eternal present, in sacred time. The Liturgy is thus the place where the meaning of historical time is most clearly apprehended. History is a subset of creation; history is not in and of itself the making of the meaning of creation.


Time is a fundamental problem for human beings. The past informs our existence, and prejudices our way of being and our understanding of the future. Hopes and dreams are at work in every decision. Human beings are given to nostalgia and to utopianism. For many, the great task of life is actually to be present, to have memory and imagination serve our presence in the world and not impede our ability to live the time that is at hand in a full and responsible way. The philosophical and theological aspects of time and history have been studies by a number of scholars in a satisfyingly complex way. They have traced the roots of the Patristic thinkers and of Orthodox Christian theology and its rich synthesis of Greek and Hebrew ways of thinking about this matter. Since the primary language of the Orthodox tradition is liturgy, I am going to show how the common worship of the Divine Liturgy cultivates, in the faithful, a vision of time and history that is deeply rooted in a vision of the world of time as essentially a world in the Kingdom of God. In this vision, time is not a linear unfolding of a pre-ordained plan of salvation. Rather, the Orthodox Christian tradition leaves open to all the possibilities humans can imagine; sees all of them as potential places of the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of darkness. This tradition speaks about cosmic sacrality and sees time within that sacrality. In the West, the unfolding of the history of salvation has been seen as a path to the Eternal through faithfulness to the divine commandment about what is right and good about the incidents of time. In the East, the incidents of time are understood from the perspective of the Eternal.

3 COSMIC CHRISTIANITY: Ritual and Meaning

Christian theology and ritual resulted from the crises that shook the fledgling Church in the second century. It was through the debate with the Gnostic “heresies” that the Church Fathers gradually developed Orthodox theology. Their response was grounded in the theology and ritual of biblical Judaism. The key insights of Hebrew thought simply could not countenance the Gnostic ideas of the pre-existence of the soul in the bosom of the Original One, the accidental character of Creation, or the soul’s fall into matter. The theology, cosmogony and anthropology of the Jewish Scripture understood creation was the result of God’s energy. His work was completed in creating man (“male and female created He them” as the Genesis text puts it) “corporeal, sexual and free, in the image and likeness of his Creator:” Man was created with the powerful potencies of a god. “History” is the temporal span during which man learns to practice his freedom and to sanctify himself — in short to serve his apprenticeship to his calling as god. For the end of creation is a sanctified humanity. This explains the importance of temporality and history and the decisive role of human freedom; for a man cannot be made a god despite himself. Saint Paul laid the groundwork for this idea of a “sanctified humanity” in his initial discussion of the meaning of the Christ. As he put it, “For everyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). “What matters,” for human salvation, “is to become an altogether new creation” (Gal.6:15). It is through Christ’s life and through identification with Him that the faithful enter into the kingdom, into the fullness of human experience. Where the Gnostic myths call for a return to a primordial purity or unity, the Christian revelation begins by declaring that all human beings, from Adam and Eve to the end of time, have fallen short of what was intended by the Creator. The garden of innocence is lost, the angel stands guard at the gate, and there is no return to a primordial innocence. The Gnostic and neo-Platonic doctrine of return was countered with a doctrine of creation. And this new creation is sanctified in its totality through the saving acts of the Christ. Perhaps the clearest expression of this is in the Orthodox idea that with the resurrection of Christ, creation entered the eighth and final day of creation. This time-bound symbol of plenitude suggests that the Christian lives in the Kingdom of God and is open to the fulness of that kingdom coming from the future. Consequently, the Christian is living what Veselin Kesich calls the first day of the new creation, the resurrected life of Christian faith. Flowing from this early Christian formulation are the theology and ritual system which “glorifies the Creation, blesses life, accepts history, even when history becomes nothing but terror.” The emergence of the Cosmic Christ in the theological world of the fourth century took shape through the identification of Jesus as the Logos. This highly developed idea in Greek philosophy was understood as “reason,” “structure” or “purpose,” and has been written about suggestively: For by applying this title to Jesus, the Christian philosophers of the fourth and fifth centuries who were trying to give an account of Who He was and what He had done were able to interpret Him as the divine clue to the structure of reality (metaphysics) and, within metaphysics, to the riddle of being (ontology) — in a word, as the Cosmic Christ.

Pelikan points out that the Church Fathers (largely the Greek Fathers) built on the Gospel of John, which paraphrased the words of Genesis, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” with, “In the beginning was the Word.” The very speaking of God, which is one way to translate Logos, made the world possible, intelligible and meaningful: “Jesus Christ as Logos was the Word of God revealing the way and will of God to the world…He was also the agent of divine revelation, specifically of revelation about the cosmos and its creation.”
Clearly this is not a “personal” or “historical” faith. The Christian revelation has been understood by the West, and particularly by Protestant culture, as a set of beliefs and moral practices that provide a pathway for the salvation of the individual soul. The West values the historical, indeed biographical, aspects of the life of Jesus as matters of belief upon which the individual’s salvation in the afterlife is dependent. This concern and focus on the historical details of Jesus’s life and of the record of salvation history in scripture is not at all the concern of the Orthodox Christian Church. Its perspective is of a:

“cosmic Christianity” since, on the one hand, the Christological mystery is projected upon the whole of nature and, on the other hand, the historical elements of Christianity are neglected; on the contrary, there is emphasis on the liturgical dimension of existence in the world. The conception of a cosmos redeemed by the death and resurrection of the Saviour and sanctified by the footsteps of God, of Jesus, of the Virgin, and of the Saints permitted the recovery, if only sporadically and symbolically, of a world teeming with the virtues and beauties that wars and their terrors have stripped from the world of history.It is with the early Church writer Origen (Origenes Adamantius c.185 – c.254) that the understanding of the essentially cosmic work of Christ takes a critical turn. He argued that God the Father and Creator of all is transcendent and incomprehensible. Christ, as the manifestation of the Trinity in human form, is the image of God. He shares in the mystery of the Divine and is the fullness of the human nature: “Through the Logos, God created a multitude of pure spirits (logikoi) and favours them with life and knowledge. But with the exception of Jesus, all the pure spirits estranged themselves from God.” In this process they become “souls” (psychai; cf. De principes 2.8.3), and are provided with corporal bodies and free choice. It is in this condition that they begin to work out their salvation through the pilgrimage which will end in a return to God: “The universal drama might be defined as the passage from innocence to experience, through the tests of the soul during its pilgrimage toward God.” This is quite a different return to the original perfection of Creation from that which the Gnostics propounded. Origen understood the apokatastasis (restoration of all things) as superior to the original state of perfection the Gnostics idealized, since through the encounter with history and the combat with evil, human beings acquired the body of the resurrection, the body of Christ. It is in the world of historical experience that the faithful acquire the love of God and come to the sanctified life. This teaching was condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Council in 553, for some theologians took it to mean that all, including Satan, would finally be saved. It was, as many historians of theology have since argued, a preliminary synthesis taken up later by the Cappadocian Fathers, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and Gregory of Nyssa. The developed tradition of apokatastasis, “integrates the work of Christ into a cosmic type of process.” It is through the Divine Liturgy that this process is actualized on the popular level in the lives of the Orthodox faithful.


The Christian revelation speaks of God’s love for the world and of the possibility of human beings living in the Eternal presence. To live in the Eternal presence, however, is not a personal mystical state which removes one from the turbulence of history. It does not free one from the mundane aspects of life, personal tragedy, the terrors of history or the peculiarities of culture. The Eternal is present in the life of the world. Jesus Christ lived the anointed life. In Him the Christian tradition sees the incarnation of the Divine and the fullness of the human nature. Christ is called the second Adam in scripture. Christ is, as Fr Michael Azkoul has pointed out, the Adam of the “second beginning.” The human nature is God’s creation, not an accident, an experiment gone wrong, or something to be overcome so that the pristine part of the person, the disembodied soul, can flourish in heaven. All of these ideas are attractive temptations, as they were for the Gnostics, to a life-denying vision of human existence. All of them were condemned by the early Church Fathers because they suggested that life — the historical existence of men and women throughout time — was not part of the sacred character of creation. The incarnation of God in Christ was precisely to unveil the mystery of creation and the human nature: that creation is God’s and that the plenitude of the human nature is found when people recognize they are children of the Divine. This vision of human nature is centred on theosis, the deification of the human being in God. Adam and Eve were created into time. Jesus was born in time. Christ redeemed time, even the time of his death. The Christian is called to the restoration of life in God. This is done in time, in the midst of history, because it is precisely about the sanctification of the reality of a person’s life. Yet this life of sanctification and growth in theosis is not understood by the Orthodox tradition to be about history. Rather, the living of a sanctified life, a life in God, is to live in the eighth day of creation, open to all that is in time, but from the perspective of the Eternal.


“The Church is the icon of the age to come.” St John Chrysostom. How does the Orthodox community view its own role in history? The Church is an icon of the Kingdom of God. It is not a sacred community standing in opposition to the world. It is not charged with redeeming or reforming a profane world. It does not show something new to the world, but rather, what is, has been and will be. The Church prays for the life of the world to reveal its proper nature, its nature as creation. To be a creature is to participate in time. A movement from recognition, confession, forgiveness to the fullness of adoration of God and an apprehension of the mystery of creation is necessary for each generation throughout time. Essentially a liturgical tradition, Orthodoxy understands its role as unveiling the Kingdom of God, which for human beings is the very mystery of life. The Church itself is the presence of that kingdom in history and calls all creation to the fullness of the kingdom.


Both time and space are a rich mosaic of historical images in the life of Orthodox Christians. Each day is appointed for the veneration of particular men and women who were the occasion for the sanctification of life. This may have been in the arena of martyrdom, as a leader in the life of the Church, or as a contributor to the understanding of divine revelation and spiritual discipline. These men and women embody the proper pattern of existence. As sons or daughters of the Divine, they are part of the sacred memory of the Church, for their sanctity has made the meaning of God’s creation clearer and enabled the faithful to taste more deeply of life in a way the tradition deems archetypal. The liturgical year moves from day to day with each day rooted in the life of Christ, the Holy Theotokos and the saints. Time, sacred time, is an icon of the range of human experiences and of the way these experiences have been transformed into occasions of the restoration of life by actual human beings, occasions of apokatastasis. The great cycle of the liturgical year incorporates iconic moments of historical time into the circle of liturgical time. In this sense the Orthodox Christian tradition denies there is a sacred and a profane time. There is only the time of the Kingdom, the eighth day of creation, and it is the present time. Time exists in the Eternal. As such it shares in the Divine energy and is of God. This did not change with the fall of man. What did change is that human beings began to see time and their historical existence as a profane matter and it is to this understanding (more precisely, to this misunderstanding) that the liturgical tradition speaks. It is to the healing of this profanation of time that the actions of the liturgy are directed. What the liturgy does is heal the way human beings understand time and history by teaching that each moment of life is offered in grace to be claimed by the faithful as that moment’s reality. Each moment is grace filled. To lay claim to the grace-filled gift of each moment as God’s gift is the reality of life. The life of Christ, the Holy Theotokos and the saints are icons, not of the presence of God in a time unworthy of the Divine, but of the reality of creation as the play of the Divine energy when the grace that is the reality of all things is appropriated. From a liturgical point of view each day begins in the darkness of the night and moves into the light. Vespers, consequently, is the first liturgical service of the day. This understanding builds on the biblical image of God creating out of nothing. This suggests that all that is lifegiving is apprehended by human beings as a movement from the unknown to the known, from the misunderstood and confused to that which is grace filled and full of life. So the liturgical day, as well, is structured as an icon of time moving from darkness to light. Each liturgical service throughout the day builds on this typology and the faithful come to see the form of existence more clearly as they participate in creation. This iconic vision of time present in the liturgical seasons is also central to the sanctification of the person.


How can the faithful live so as to sanctify the reality of the moments of their days? How is the temporal sanctified? For the Orthodox tradition this is what it means to speak about the redemption of the cosmos and the person. Again the tradition turns to Jesus Christ. Christ is the icon of the human nature, “the image and likeness of God,” and the sanctification of the human nature, in his being and in his acts of blessing and healing. Jesus blessed the creation, pointing out its sanctity. He healed the shattered hearts, minds, and bodies of people, opening up for them the fullness of human life. So for Orthodox Christians to bless creation, water, the fields in springtime and at harvest, food, children, the leper and queen is an act of recognizing the sacred character of the being of the world. All human beings are sacred because they exist in the world and not because of their physical, social or cultural condition. To bless is a simple elemental act of recognition that all that is given is, in its being, sacred. Jesus healed many of the people whose lives he touched. To the woman taken in adultery he spoke the word of recognition to her person, freeing her from the condemnation of the law; to the tax collector in whose house Jesus ate came the recognition of his life as a child of the Divine, freeing him from understanding himself simply as a servant of an oppressive state; and the disciples, after the death and resurrection of Jesus at the end of the journey to Emmaus, were finally freed of their utopian dream of a saviour bound by time and opened to seeing in the stranger “at the breaking of bread” the communion which is of God. The life of blessing and healing is a life in time, a life concerned with the ultimate meaning of each individual’s experience. It is to see in the vagaries of history the place of redemption. The faithful are, through their baptism into Christ’s death, called to the life of blessing and healing. This is not a kind of moral code which is to be adopted. Rather, the tradition in its sanctifying actions sees the human nature free of nostalgia, desire, fear, self-interest, social propriety and cultural conditioning, so that the faithful quite naturally respond to those they meet in life with blessing and healing. Having been baptized into Christ’s death, the faithful no longer have a vested interest in the fears and desires, the social and cultural conditioning that normally characterize historical experience. Their relationship to the world is rooted in the Creator of life, Who loves life because it exists. They, the faithful, are called to respond with that loving communion first glimpsed in the Garden of Eden and that solidarity glimpsed so sharply on Calvary. In their initiation in baptism they have the fullness of the human nature. Now they are called to bless and heal life. That is the human vocation. That is the priestly centre of the being of all people and the form of their relationship to God’s sacred creation.


The icon of the Church is the Holy Theotokos. It is in this image that Orthodox tradition provides the Church’s self-definition. The Church’s particular vocation is to be the “birth-giver” of the divine in the world. What does this mean and how is it accomplished? As always we are turned back onto liturgical ground to understand the salient features of the Orthodox tradition’s understanding of its place in the historical order. The Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, was attentive and open to the presence of divine life, even under what could be seen as scandalous circumstances. She gave birth to Christ the presence of God and the fullness of the human nature, and she did this in time, in history. It is the Church’s vocation to “give birth” to Divine love in history. How is this vocation expressed? The liturgical life of the Church — the sanctifying of space, time and the person — shows forth the presence of the Kingdom of God. The Church as temple (microcosm of the Kingdom of God), is a theophany of the sacred creation, unveils the mystery of creation. The actions characteristic of the liturgical life — a movement from recognition, confession, forgiveness to the fullness of adoration of the Creator and communion with the creation — are the unveiling of the Kingdom of God. So what does the Church do with historical experience and what does this tell us of its understanding of its role within history? The Church’s vocation is to serve the liturgy. The liturgy is the Church’s showing forth the creation in its form as the creator made it. So the liturgy is not about private prayer or the saving of the individual souls of the faithful. Rather, it is a public work of the community for the life of the world. In the liturgy we have all the fundamental characteristics of human experience, society and culture presented in the pattern of the kingdom of God. This culminates in communion, but how do we get to that communion? Liturgy begins with a dramatic movement, a metanoia. Called into consciousness is the experience of estrangement, called sin, that so characterizes the life of the world. For the individual, the point of departure in the liturgical journey is the recognition of the darkness which shrouds the fullness of the faithful’s life in God. All experience of estrangement — whether out of ignorance, deliberate deceit, a failure of mind, will, or response — is called forth to the light of consciousness. The mercy of God is petitioned so that the faithful can confess their failure to live the fullness of life. The issue here is not some moral impropriety, although that may be at issue in particular circumstances. The issue is that fear and desire, the failure of mind, heart and will, separate the faithful from life itself. They have failed to live what the Lord of Life has created and given to them. The recognition and the confession of this is the road to the light which is the “light of life.” Since God is the lover of humankind, forgiveness is axiomatic. Grace is the central feature of the creation. With recognition and confession comes forgiveness, even the grace to accept that one is forgiven. Flooding out of this is the adoration of the Divine Who has created life and placed the faithful within it. Adoration of the Divine, which itself corrects the relationship between human beings and the Creator, culminates in communion. This communion is not a private sacramental act taking place in a “cultic” environment. Rather, it is beginning to live in communion with the Lord of Life, in communion with life itself. “The liturgy after the Liturgy”, as one Orthodox theologian has called it, is nothing more than communion and co-suffering love in the world of everyday life. It is in this everydayness that “time is redeemed.” Whatever challenges history may offer, the Church is, from the point of view of sacred tradition, to serve the life of the world through giving birth to the divine presence in those who are its faithful.


What is the ultimate destiny of the cosmos as understood by Orthodox Christian tradition? The eschatological vision of this tradition which is focused on the presence of the Kingdom of God suggests that the apprehension of this presence is not complete. It is one thing to talk about the possibility of communion and the fullness of life, and quite another to claim that this is the normal condition of the world. Orthodoxy recognizes the grip suffering, estrangement and death have on the human condition and how difficult it is for the most faithful to maintain a clear-sighted view of the presence of the Divine in the midst of sorrow. Orthodoxy builds on the biblical, apocalyptic imagery, and speaks of the coming of the fullness of the Kingdom of God. Periodically in the history of the Orthodox Church, movements had risen up which took the biblical imagery quite literally and claimed to see the demonic presence bringing about the imminent demise of this world. The image of the coming fullness of the kingdom for Orthodox tradition, however, suggests that the full apprehension of the meaning of experience is finally and only in God. This aspect of the Orthodox iconic vision of history encourages the faithful to be attentive to new and deeper understandings of the divine meaning unfolding around the particular experiences which characterize historical life. This is illustrated beautifully in the Orthodox service for burial when the deceased is placed at the front of the temple and faced toward the royal doors. (The royal doors are the central opening in the iconostasis and mark the bridge between the presence of the Kingdom of God symbolized by the nave of the church and the fullness of the Kingdom of God symbolized by the sanctuary with its holy table surrounded by the icon of the Mystical Supper.) The liturgy for burial “sends” the deceased into the sanctuary of the cosmos. In God, where ultimately all life rests in the fulness of being, the deceased is gathered into the fullness of the kingdom which has no end.


How faithful is the Orthodox community to its view of history in interpreting its own history? I can only begin to address this exceedingly complex question by suggesting a range of paradigms of interpretation that operate within Orthodox communities as they work to understand their place in each historical epoch. How each jurisdiction within the Orthodox world, indeed, how various groups of faithful within any one of these jurisdictions, bring their understanding of the church’s role in history to bear on a self-definition of their own history will depend to a large extent on the operative ecclesiology which informs the community’s understanding. ORTHODOXY AND MODERNITY The study of Orthodox Church history in the modern world is in its infancy for a variety of reasons, not the least being that much of the Orthodox world has only in this century begun to grapple with modernity. Orthodox communities have historically developed in a largely homogeneous cultural context. Consequently, language, local custom and cultural forms have been either wedded to sacred tradition or parallel to it. Modern society, often characterized by pluralism, challenges the community’s normative self-understanding. Not only does the community have to consider its place within a pluralistic context, it may also have to accommodate the pluralistic expression of Orthodoxy within the community itself. This has certainly happened with the development of pan-Orthodox parishes in various jurisdictions. Questions of which language to use in the liturgy, the place of local custom and folk tradition, and the episcopal authority must be addressed. The liturgical tradition of Orthodoxy challenges modern historical consciousness in a variety of ways. One of these has been expressed in the fierce debate over whether to retain the liturgical calendar shaped with reference to the Julian calendar or to adopt the Gregorian calendar used by the societies in which many Western European and North American Orthodox communities live. The liturgical calendar is built on a biblical, liturgical tradition. The secular calendar, central to civil society, stands on its own. Adjusting the liturgical calendar to fit a new civil calendar means forcing a liturgical pattern to fit a secular pattern. This can seem problematic. A variety of other considerations on liturgical reform have been opened by the increasing Western influence on Orthodox communities. Are there aspects of the liturgy that are simply redundant? Is it necessary to serve Vespers prior to the serving of Divine Liturgy, and if so, can it be done as a preamble to the Divine Liturgy in the morning? How seriously does the community abide by the highly structured symbolic shape given to space, time and the initiation of persons? How do Orthodox communities, informed by a catholic tradition that has had a national and folk ethos, come to terms with a world that has increasingly become a global village? With the possibility of entering into ecumenical and social justice organizations which express a variety of international concerns, and with the pressure to be relevant and involved on behalf of the needy of the world, how does the community open its rather exclusive cultural definition of “the people of God”? Modern history has also placed the question of the Orthodox Church’s self-understanding in the face of secular culture squarely on the agenda. The Orthodox pattern of the symphonia which has influenced the Church’s understanding of its relationship to the state for centuries is problematic in secular, democratic cultures. Classically, the relationship between Church and state was established on a pattern that recognized: “the mutual harmony and independence of the two parts. The state recognized the ecclesiastical law as an interior guide for its activity; the Church considered itself as under the state. This was not a Caesaro-papism in which the ecclesiastical supremacy belonged to the Emperor. Caesaro-papism was always an abuse; never was it recognized, dogmatically or canonically. The “symphonic” relationship between Church and state ended in the Emperor’s directing all the domain of ecclesiastical life and legislation within the limits of his administration of the state. But, if that “symphony” became troubled by discord, if the Emperors attempted to impose on the Church dogmatic directions…then the Church thought itself persecuted, and the real nature of its connection with the state became manifest. Still the Church attached much importance to its alliance with the state, insofar as state was of use to Church and as the existence of a crowned head for the entire Orthodox world — the Orthodox Empire — was considered one of the Church’s essential attributes. The Emperor was the sign of the conquest of the world by the Cross; he was the “architect” of the Kingdom of God on earth.

Obviously the symbolic image of the imperial crown is all but forgotten in democratic societies, and hierarchical imagery which forms so large a part of the Orthodox Church’s tradition no longer has a resonance within the society. The relationship of secular, democratic societies to the Church has yet to be worked out.

  1. The Conservative Historical Paradigm How faithful is the Orthodox community to its view of history in interpreting its own history? First I would like to examine that sector of the Orthodox community which has what I term a conservative historical paradigm. This conservatism is born of a deep concern that the rapid changes and historical traumas so characteristic of the modern world will destroy the identity of the community. For many of these jurisdictions the terrors of history have justified their concern. Most of the East European communities have suffered greatly in the twentieth century from the attack on their society and culture that has accompanied their entry into the modern world. Under the rubric of “preserving tradition” they marshall their resources to maintain everything that is a sign of their identity as a people faithful to the past. At the same time, the education and formation in Orthodoxy for many of the leaders in these communities has been thin indeed. Leadership was often wiped out in the revolutions of this century. In some notable cases, the Ukrainians being perhaps the most extreme, the Roman Catholic church worked for its own particular agenda with little or no regard for the Orthodox Christian tradition which was central to the people it wanted under its jurisdiction.
    These traumas, and the conservative understanding of them as potentially fatal to the identity of the community, resulted in the elevation of folk and national tradition and a merging of folk and national tradition into sacred tradition. Quickly the church became more vulnerable to being used as an instrument for national aspiration. In such circumstances, the ritual forms of folk and national tradition take on a central importance because they speak of “peoplehood,” not because they reveal the Kingdom of God, the glory of creation. Judgments about the value of liturgical and ritual acts, about the shaping of liturgical time, sacred space, and the language of worship, are largely in service to expressing the identity of a people on a nationalistic, ideological and historical basis. It becomes paramount that the “purity” of the tradition be protected against reforms, even if modern scholarship shows that the particular “tradition” in question was imported from the Latin Rite in the nineteenth century.
    Those who have commandeered the universe of discourse within this context have forced the community to look inward for the validity of the tradition. The tradition becomes a way of preserving the identity of the community, and the community becomes a remnant of the people of God living in a deeply troubled world without power. Nostalgia for a golden age or another land and leadership defines the Church’s understanding of its own history under the conservative paradigm.
  2. The Modernist Historical Paradigm There have been movements in this century which have developed a critique of the conservative paradigm. The impetus for this is manifold and includes a return to liturgical and ecclesiastic sources as a reference point for introducing changes in liturgy and jurisdictional relationships, a desire to enter into a host culture, and participation in the ecumenical movement. What seems to operate here is a sense that the scrutiny of modern knowledge can refine a sacred tradition, purging it of folk religious forms that have accrued over the centuries. Gradually, there emerges the sense that if a religious form is not clearly and verifiably part of “canonical tradition” it is suspect and ought to be cast out.
    The modernist paradigm is open to modern questions and methodologies. It gives value and weight to these and requires that the tradition find a way to justify its practice in the light of these questions and methodologies. Within this paradigm, sacred tradition is far less rooted in the cultural forms of the past and more able to engage the cultural forms of the current age. The Church is required to be faithful to its mission to enculturate, and this can be carried out with as much ease in the modern world as it was in Islamic contexts or in the great Byzantine period. The Church has a responsibility to engage the society in which it lives and to adopt models of association and participation offered to it. The ecumenical movement, for example, is an opportunity to participate in the speaking of the one, holy, catholic church, an opportunity to lobby on behalf of the bereft of the world and participate in social justice projects throughout the world. The modernist paradigm is critical of the church’s “folk” past, and open to the opportunities offered by modern culture. Sacred tradition is a touchstone but the Church’s sphere includes participation in the institutions of the world. Participation of Church in society is institutionalized, and committees and responsible parties are encouraged to make the necessary links on behalf of the Church so that its voice can be heard clearly and its influence felt in the seat of power.
    Under the modernist paradigm the symbolic aspects of the tradition are subject to a model of change that is quite distinct from that found in other Orthodox perspectives. For example, the Liturgical Calendar was an object of considerable controversy in various jurisdictions in this century. For Orthodox tradition, time has a sacred movement to it, and for that reason the tradition continued in an unbroken way to set its feasts and seasons by the Liturgical Calendar. Since this shaping of each day is rooted in biblical practice, its Christian form developed when the Julian calendar was common in the ancient world. From the modernist perspective, the need to use the Gregorian calendar (although developed by Gregory XII in 1582, it was only slowly recognized in Western Europe and was finally adopted in England in 1752) overrides the particular liturgical confusions that arise through adopting it. The function of sacred tradition is secondary to being able to participate in the modern cultural context in a reasonable, straightforward manner.
    The modernist paradigm calls for bringing the best of modern learning to bear on the study of the church and its traditions. It has strong critical tools for the evaluation of tradition and is concerned to purify it in the light of modern learning. This paradigm is also critical, in principle, of the folk and national traditions and ethos within parish life. It calls for a shedding of cultural forms not deemed appropriate to contemporary life. Perhaps the most significant aspect of this paradigm is its understanding of the Church’s role in society. The Church must enter into the social order and work through the forms provided by society. Joining ecumenical organizations in order to work for social justice is a formal part of Church life. Indeed, by some it is considered part of the Orthodox mission to other Christian churches and to the world at large. This ecclesiology understands the Church to have a mandate beyond its liturgical work. It is, as an institution, to speak on behalf of Christ and work through the political structures of the day for a more just world.
  3. The Traditionalist Historical Paradigm There are jurisdictions within the Orthodox world which claim to be “traditionalist.” Many of them certainly have elements of the conservative paradigm, but a few are informed by what I wish to highlight as the traditionalist paradigm. It is a paradigm we are unfamiliar with in Western European Church history and it must be considered carefully.
    This paradigm is rooted in a singular regard for “holy tradition.” While not immune to the influences of history and culture, the traditionalist is primarily concerned to live within and through the forms of spiritual discipline and worship which make up holy tradition. The Church’s role is simply faithfulness to holy tradition. It is the Church’s responsibility to gather the community of the faithful together for worship following the pristine pattern which structures the liturgical life. The structure of the liturgical life is paramount because it is an icon of the presence of the Kingdom of God. The pattern of the sanctification of time — the fasts and feasts of the Church — unveils the divinely created being of the world — the sacred character of time, space and human experience. The disciplines provided by this life cultivate within the faithful a recognition of their being as the place of divine incarnation, as theosis.
    The Church calls the faithful together in the temple as the place of the presence of the Kingdom of God. The symbolic form Orthodox temples embody are part of the revelation, the unveiling of the meaning and form of the divinely created life. The temple and the liturgy served in it are an archetype of creation, the kingdom of God. The place of the Church in this paradigm is not within the historical life of the world. Rather, it is the sole and essential role of the Church to live holy tradition because holy tradition is an icon of the sanctified cosmos in which human beings experience the fulness of life. This the Church does to show the world that creation is a place of communion with the Divine, a place of self-giving love which redeems time.
    It’s noteworthy that in this paradigm the Church is not an instrument for intervention on behalf of righteousness in the historical process. Consequently, the Church neither encourages the collapsing of ecclesial power into civil power — an issue for the Roman Catholic tradition until it was directly prohibited in the documents of the Second Vatican Council — nor does it take a direct institutional role in the marshalling of resources around a social or historical issue within the society. The cardinal issue is that through the sanctification of the person the Church clearly offers the faithful a life of action in the world, which calls the faithful to transform the pain and sorrow of history through acts of love. The Church is an icon of the kingdom of communion. While having no expectations of the world, the Church (holy tradition) cultivates a regard for and apprehension of the sacred character of creation’s self-recovery. While having no expectations of the historical process — no latent theory of optimism about the evolution of history — it calls the faithful to live a truly mortal life with all the gifts and terrors of history. It is this paradigm which is faithful to the Orthodox tradition’s view of history in interpreting its own history.


For the Orthodox community, life in the world is life in the Kingdom of God. This is the eighth day of creation, the time of the presence of the kingdom. This is not a private or communal mysticism. Rather, it is a regard for and a treasuring of the creation which God has made. The vision of that divine creation, and the ability of the human being to apprehend it properly, are the goal of the liturgical life. Yet, it is clear from even the briefest knowledge of the institutional life of Orthodox communities that there is a struggle to be clear about the full range of human commitment, aspirations and values. For those with a conservative paradigm for understanding the meaning of history, the life of the cultural community has taken on a singular value. Within the modernist paradigm, society and the possibilities of social relationship have become the proper concerns of the Church. For the traditionalist, history itself, and the society in which the faithful live, must be of concern to them but these are not the issues of the Church. Rather, the Church is the servant of creation, and on that ground alone it serves society and culture; to that extent it faithfully worships the Creator and cultivates in the faithful a regard for reality as the Creator made it — a world of communion in co-suffering love. No jurisdiction or Orthodox community, perhaps even none of the faithful, can be finally understood by one of these paradigms alone. The religious imagination is too rich for such a reduction. But it is also the case that when examining a particular period in the history of the Orthodox Church and in the life of particular Orthodox jurisdictions, one or the other of these paradigms will hold the centre. Which ever it is, conservative, modernist, or traditionalist, the other two will not be far off. This is a world view shaped by sacred tradition in which creation is understood as a divine gift and the act of living a consciously mortal life — living in time — is central to the human vocation. The three paradigms which inform the Orthodox view of history are born of this remarkable understanding of tradition, creation, and the human beings place in history.

*The Holy Mysteries: An Explanation for Young Readers* 


A Special Forward for Parents Church School Teachers

{The text of this book is not intended for small children, but for intermediate level readers in pre-teen church school classes. The “Special Foreword” is intended for church school teachers and parents, and for anyone else who will be using the book for instructional purposes. It is also intended to explain why this book will differ from the cold, dry catechisms many readers are familiar with.

The main goal of this book is to re-orient Orthodox Christian youth away from the dry, scholastic Latin corruptions of our theology toward the vital, living spirit of authentic Orthodox Christian revelation and life.}

One of the most unfortunate corruptions which has crept into catechisms and instruction books of the Orthodox Church, is the false teaching about “seven sacraments.” This teaching, which was invented by Western Latin philosophers called “scholastics,” is contrary to the divinely inspired Tradition of the Orthodox Church, and the mind of the holy and God-bearing fathers of Christ’s Church. These “scholastics,” replacing the Sacred Tradition with their own “traditions of men,” wanted to reduce Christianity and the Christian life to a set of formulas and a series of legal agreements be­tween God and man. They wanted to make the Christian faith follow a system of human, worldly logic and rationalization. The term “sacrament” is borrowed from pagan Roman idolatry and military formula, and indicates a legal oath. While it does have the connotation of making things sacred, even some Latin writers argued that the Western concept of “sacraments” was not the same as the Orthodox concept of the Holy Mysteries. While there is little hope of getting Orthodox Christians in the West to use the Orthodox, rather than the Latin, term, we at least hope to make our people aware of the differences in the concepts.

According to the Latin teaching of “seven sacraments” there are exactly seven divinely authoriz­ed ways to receive God’s invisible Grace through visible rituals. This teaching has led to a corruption of the concept of Grace, sanctification, the Christian life and the meaning of the Divine services, which are rank­ed as “holy” and “not quite so holy” by this teaching. Moreover, the teaching about “seven sacraments” also corrupts the very meaning of the Church and the meaning of the “people of God” ^__ the faithful. The false teaching of “Seven Sacraments” reduces mankind’s relationship with our Saviour Jesus Christ to a set of legal formulas, a series of almost magical incantations said by the priest.

The Orthodox fathers never attempted to set boundaries on the working of God’s Grace in the Holy Church. We must understand that, for the Orthodox faith, there are no “sacraments;” only the limitless Holy Mysteries. Any attempt to number or define the Holy Mysteries is not only arbitrary, but non-Orthodox. Orth­odox patristic thought would never conceive such an idea, and it has come to us exclusively from the juridical, legalistic formalism of Roman Catholic scolasticism.

This church school text is designed to help free our young people from the corruptions which crept into our books during the three hundred year “Latin captivity of Russian theol­ogy,” and the five hundred year Turkish occupation of the Orthodox countries in the south. We wish to free our texts from the false teach­ing of “seven sacraments,” which equates Chrismation with “confirma­tion/first communion” and forces upon us the false teaching of “penance.” Our hope is to restore among our young people an Orthodox concept of the Holy Mysteries and the working of Divine Grace.

“Defini­tions” are not proper when we speak of Orthodox teaching, but the church school teacher does need some form of outline in order to teach. These two “outlines” are drawn most directly from St John Chrysostom, St Gregory of Nyssa, and St Isidor of Seville.


The meaning of the Holy Mysteries is outlined in two ways, as the word appears in the works of the holy and God-bearing fathers.

First, the term refers to all those truths of the faith which unite us to God and lead us to salvation. These truths were given by Christ to His apostles and established in the Church as the faith of Christ. They were taught to new Christians as they grew and progressed in that faith of Christ. When these truths are fully believed and assimilated, they are sources of Grace; they bring one into communion with the ever-present Grace of God. [1]

Secondly, the term “Holy Myster­ies” also refers to all those prac­tices in the life of the individual, which reveal and confirm the truths of Christ’s faith. With references to specific divine services, the term refers to any invocation, in a special service, asking God, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, to touch, fill and consecrate any person, act or thing. We must include in this, each time an Orthodox person makes the Sign of the Cross. [2]

These two ways of viewing the Holy Mysteries are not separate. They are one and the same. The divine services are all revelations of, and teachings about, the truths of Christ’s faith. How do they unite us to God’s Grace? We do not know, and the “mechanics” of it are of no importance. We only know, by God’s promise, that they do. Here is a fact to consider in trying to understand the Holy Mysteries: the divine services, whether baptism, the Liturgy, marriage, ord­ination, tonsure, blessing of water or burial, [1]  [3] are all Holy Mysteries. All of them not only teach us the truths of Christ’s faith, but bring us into a living, vital communion with those truths and impart to us the Grace to assimilate and live those truths.

All of them are spiritually transforming, though Baptism and Communion are usually held in a certain pre-eminence. [4]  Baptism/Chris­mation is a kind of door which admits us to the rest. It is like the entrance to the wedding chamber, as in the parable, in which we can partake of all the good things of God. Holy Communion is the wedding feast. Baptism/Chrismation recon­ciles us to God, uniting us to the Bride of Christ, the Holy Church. Holy Communion makes us one with Christ, bestows life and sustains us. These two Holy Mysteries are the only ones which are ever “set apart” by the holy fathers.


For the sake of the needs of the church-school teacher and for the purposes of this church-school text, we will offer this outline. Grace is an uncreated energy of God. Grace, as a special gift of God, is a coming together of God and man. We receive Grace by being permitted to participate in the energies of God to some degree. An act of Grace is when man is brought by the Church into a special moment of communion with the Holy Spirit. Grace is not a “thing” or an “attribute” of God, and even though it is a “gift which God sends down” (Js.1:17), it cannot be defined, limited or ranked by degrees. It is God’s special act of lifting man up to Him and coming down to man, so that man shares in something of God Him­self, and from this, receives a spe­cial consecration. If, for example, some saint receives the “gift of working miracles,” this gift is not something he possesses on his own. It is a result of his special nearness to God. God extends His blessing by working miracles through that per­son, and it is a special communion of that holy person with God.

Perhaps what we have said is already too much. The question of the Holy Mysteries and Grace must not be over simplified or over defin­ed. An understanding of these things can never be intellectual and can never be fully obtained from books, ex­planations or definitions. An under­standing of the things of God can only be assimilated through an ac­tual living experience of them in a life of prayer, contemplation, fasting, moral strug­gle and Holy Communion.

If we keep these things in mind, the following church-school text will help convey some basic ideas of the life of Grace and the action of the Holy Spirit in the Church.


{An Explanation for Young People}


“The Orthodox Church is a spiritual hospital”

The ways God works through His Holy Orthodox Church to save us and consecrate us are wondrous and beautiful. He gives us His Grace in special ways which we cannot always see with our eyes. For this reason, we call these special works of God “Holy Mysteries.”

Since the Grace of God cannot be seen with our eyes, God has given us some visible ways of knowing that we have received it. He has also given us some special prayers to help us understand these wonderful gifts better when we do receive them.

God has given us not only visible divine services which are served in church, but prayers which we say any place and any time. In these Services and prayers, we communicate with God and turn our hearts to Him. When our hearts are turned toward Him, God communicates with us by giving us the gifts of His Grace, to sustain us make us stronger in faith. The prayers and actions in the divine ser­vices teach us about God’s Grace, how He gives it to us, and what happens to us when we receive it.

We are taught that the Orthodox Church is a spiritual hospi­tal in which God treats our souls and bodies and makes us well enough to enter the Heavenly Kingdom. How does God treat our spiritual illnesses and give us His divine medicine? This is what the Holy Mysteries are for. Through them, God gives the medicine of Divine Grace for the healing of our souls and bodies. [5]   In the Holy Mysteries we also receive strength to live a truly Orthodox life. In the divine services, we all pray together, led by our priest, and the prayers of all the people together bring these Holy Mysteries to pass and call down the Grace of God on us. We are one body praying together in love and faith. Because of this unity of love and faith, God answers our prayers and heals us.

How many “Holy Mysteries” are there? There are many. The Orthodox Church does not have a teaching of “seven sacraments” as some people think. The word “sacrament” is not even an Orthodox word. There is no limit to the number of Holy Mysteries, just as there is no limit to the Grace and work of God.  Every act by which God gives us His Grace through the Orthodox Church is a Holy Mystery. Often, someone will choose seven of the Holy Mysteries to use in teaching about them, but when we do this, people begin to think that there are only seven [seven “sacraments”], so we have chosen to look at ten of the Holy Mysteries in order to help us understand them better. The ones we will learn about are:

1. Holy Baptism / Chrismation

2. Holy Communion

3. Holy Confession

4. Holy Water

5. Holy Marriage

6. Holy Monastic Tonsure

7. Holy Ordination

8. Holy Annointing

9. Holy Consecration

10. Holy Burial

**[1]** The holy, God-bearing fathers, the successors of the Apostles, refer to these truths or mysteries as _dogmata_. This term includes a mysteriological/mystical concept in Orthodox Christian thought, as opposed to the rigid legal definitions and categories of Latin and Protestant literalism and rationalism. St Basil the Great says that “the dogmas are kept in silence,” by which he indicates that they are assimilated by a spiritual growth and development, rather than taught and learned pedagogically, as in catechisms, etc. To be precise, the dogmata are learned in two ways: First, by actually living them in a practical, spiritual way, and by prayer and contemplation.

**[2]** In this context, the Russian theologian Alexis Khomiakov rightly said, “The Church’s heritage from the Apostles is not just words, but an interior life, a heritage of inexpressible thought, which nevertheless tends constantly toward expressing itself.”

_L’Eglise Et le Protestantisme – Au Point De Vue L’Eglise D’orient._

**[3]** It is tragic and shocking that “catechism” writers, so polluted by Western Scholasticism, forgot that Christian burial and the memorial services for the reposed. are Holy Mysteries of the Church, just as is the crowning of a marriage and ordination. The services for those who have fallen asleep in Christ sustain our communion with them in the Holy Spirit and express and preserve the integrity of the Church, which is not separated into compartments by death. Indeed, the services for the departed reveal another, profound meaning of the promise that “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against the Church.”

**[4]** These two Mysteries are given such pre-eminence because without them, there is no salvation. They are called “theosystata mysteria,” a term which indicates the fact that they were introduced to the Church directly by Christ God, rather than through the Apostles and Sacred Tradition.

**[5]** St Ignatios the Godbearer calls Holy Communion “The medicine of immortality.”