Selected Theological Works
Of Blessed Metropolitan
Translated from Russian by Tatiana Pavlova
The Significance of Believing in Jesus Christ. Why Did Not Jesus Christ Call Himself God? The "Son of Man" — an Attempt of Interpretation. In What the Orthodox Faith Differs from Western Confessions.
The Significance of Believing in Jesus Christ.
We needed to discuss this subject because of the statement of L. Tolstoy that the dogmas of the Creed have no significance for moral life and even more, on the contrary, contradict to the commandments of the Sermon on the Mount, which represents the doctrine about Christian virtue.
However, any educated Christian except Tolstoy should realize how much good is in the fact that he professes Jesus Christ to be true God, and counts such belief to be one of the conditions for his salvation. Salvation is given to those fulfilling commandments (Math. 19:17), and therefore, if one cannot be saved without believing in the Divinity of Jesus Christ and Holy Trinity, then it means that one cannot fulfill the commandments without such beliefs, cannot build the Evangelic perfection within himself and defeat sinful passions.
1. So, do Russian people feel tight connection, which exists between the dogmas and virtue? — Unfortunately, very vaguely. One can hear such light-minded statements: "I think Jesus Christ to be my ideal and I respect His doctrine as well, but shall never be able to accept him as God". Let such people be consistent, let them openly reject that teaching, through which Christ announced Himself to be the Son of God, but they do not want to do it sincerely, and if you start asking them concerning separate commandments, then the majority of the commandments will be rejected by these people: do you accept humility? — No; do you accept repentance — no; do you think meekness to be obligatory? — Not always; do you take care of your soul so that it could thirst for truth? — Never, etc. Some of these commandments of the Lord are even principally denied by the modern European society, for example, the commandments of humility, chastity; almost the same lot is assigned to those words of Christ, which teach us to have personal relations with God and Jesus Himself. What a conclusion, in reality, can be drawn out of the parable about the prodigal son, about the Publican and the Pharisee, the sower, the Rich and Lazarus by any contemporary denier of Christ’s Divinity? What profit for his soul will he derive from the talk of the Lord with Nicodemus about the final resurrection and belief in Him, and the similar conversation about the resurrection of the dead (John, chap.7), about the good shepherd, about the Dread Judgment and about the personal attitude of believers to Him and the constant stay of the Savior with us, to which is devoted the farewell conversation with the disciples? What is left are only the narratives about the miracles of Christ, but even these are not taken into account by the disbelieving into His Divine Worthiness, or are unbelievably falsely interpreted in the sense of physical curing of the sick, so that Christ’s frequent use of His wonder-working power is understood by them like a deceit.
So, the significant part of the Gospel is directly rejected by the disbelieving in the Son of God, and the rest of His commandments, though they are treated with compassion and respect, are thought to be something impossible, expressing the unreachable ideal, or something very attractive for artistic contemplation, but not at all necessary to fulfill. Only the words and acts of forgiveness and mercy of the Lord to the repentant sinners are thought to be real and together with that the very condition of being forgiven, i.e. repentance, is forgotten and there exists only the light-minded attitude towards sins. The Gospel, with one word, signifies for such people nothing more that a sentimental poem or an edifying parable.
2. Anyway, the unbelievers are trying to hide from the others, and sometimes from themselves that any denier of Christ’s divinity can think the Savior to be an untruthful deceiver, idle dreamer, like Mohamed. The unbelievers by all means try to preserve their idea of Christ as of a perfect, holy man. For example, L. Tolstoy, though he is trying to convince the readers that the majority of the miracles of Christ were made up later, and that those events, which the apostles treated like miracles, were natural phenomena, still does not want to present Christ like a deluder. With all that, the born blind, according to Tolstoy, was not at all blind, but an illiterate, stupid man, whom Christ made smart; the paralyzed, according to his idea, was an idle man, lying in Bethesda; the Savior only woke his conscience and convinced him to work. It is unseen from the Gospel according to Tolstoy that Jesus Christ did not approve of the false understanding of His cures, or that he tried not to focus on the idea of His Divinity. At last, the author forgot about his desire to represent Christ as a perfect man, and could not but accuse Him of fear of the Pharisees’ guards and blamed Him for the desire to be protected from them with arms. Still, our undemanding readers are ready to accept gladly that the Gospel can be respected without believing in the Divinity of Christ, and consequently they think that they have the right to choose only the ideas of the Gospel, which they like. The fact that the negative writers do not ban to call Jesus Christ the Savior, the Atoner, seeing in Him the living example for imitation, makes it even more attractive. The same way acts our Tolstoy, but the one, who especially successfully could delude the public with the similar words, was Ernest Renan. Who of us had not heard the statements of the Russian ladies: "No one other than Renan made me love Jesus Christ due to his book". And men add — "Although Renan did not recognize Jesus Christ as God, still he served to Christianity better than all theologians, having presented the Savior as the perfect man and that way having forced everyone to respect Jesus".
When these awful words will be read by the sons of Christian (not European) culture, who are acquainted with Renan’ s work, then they will come to the conclusion that in the 19th century much was written and published in the state of delirium tremens. Really, no one other than this very Renan convinces us, in respect of the above mentioned dilemma, that the Savior can be recognized as God, and if not, than as a miserable deceiver. Renan does not want to choose at all: he directly accuses the Savior of approving of the legends of people about His miracles, searching for people’s sympathies and finally dares to spout the blasphemy that the Savior resurrected not the four-day dead man, but his alive but hidden in the cave friend, to influence the supposititious crowd.
We have said that the unbelieving but worshipping Christ only in words people take from the Gospel only that, what, being falsely interpreted, can support their passions. With much clarity it was reflected in the book of Renan. He paid attention to the two points in the sermon of Christ — first, to the mercy for the repenting and the threatening warnings to those used to iniquities sinners, coming from the teaching about joyful reconciliation with God and own conscience, — and secondly, to the teaching about the cross, self-sacrifice, about the toleration of the hatred of the world, and the acceptance of both causing sadness and comforting aspects of the Evangelic teaching. He dared to get rid of the first aspect and preserve only the second, as the true teaching of Christ — It happened very easily: he decided that everything edifying, sad, demanding exploits, came from the mouth of the Savior not like His conviction, but as the fruit of irritation towards cruel listeners, who did not want to accept Him as the messenger of God, — as the fruit of his unsatisfied self-love. Christ’s true convictions, according to Renan, were full of pure pink sentimentality, which was nourished by the picturesque landscapes of the Galilean nature, and therefore, only those words of the Gospel, which say about the reconciliation with God, about the significance of truth, about the pardoning of fornicators and publicans have meaning for Christians; and on the contrary, everything that is said about the martyrdom for the sake of truth, retribution and revival can be omitted like the words, said in the state of temporary irritation.
For such dirty statements Renan is worshipped like the great interpreter of the words of Jesus Christ, and Jesus, being dressed in the humiliating attire of a self-loving deceiver has more attraction than that holiest Image of purity, love, resignation and Divine majesty, drawn on the pages of our church Gospel. It becomes clear that the deniers of the Divinity of Christ cannot preserve the idea about His Holiness and that is the reason why this dogma of the Church is so zealously protected by Its fathers and teachers.
But, let us admit that even without accepting the truth about the Divinity of Jesus Christ I can imagine Him to be the most perfect man: what kind of moral force will I derive from Him then? What kind of right will I have to call Him my Savior? The German thinkers-pantheists answer this question with dull and hazy reasoning about the fact that Christ assured people of their unity with God and through that freed them from the fear of death, teaching that this freedom leads us to the unity with God, and brings into the state of Nirvana. The same way teaches Tolstoy, drawing the Savior as one of the most popular pantheists. Nevertheless, our Russian writer could not resemble the German leaders in such distortion of Christianity. He tried, despite his personal logics, to preserve the teaching about life, as about inner struggle, and added the new thought that Jesus Christ, as a truly holy man, is the best example for each one to imitate in different doubtful cases of life, and that it would give us chance to lead holy life; so, in this sense, Christ is the Savior of people, according to Tolstoy.
But then the other moral heroes, who can serve as the examples of pious life, the leaders, for instance, Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, apostles and saints, can be called the Saviors. Tolstoy does not hesitate to assign the first three to the number of saints: he only asserts that Jesus Christ deserves such a title most. But then it is possible that in the times of such manifestations of modern mentality, there will come other people, even more perfect that Jesus Christ, who will have more right to be given the title of the saviors of mankind, and it will not be possible for Tolstoy to argue with that.
Out of this comes the conclusion that Jesus Christ can be our unique Savior only in case we believe in Him as in authentic God. Without this faith His moral significance for us is very little superior to the significance of any moral hero and even can be not as good as of some other heroes, for example those, who have much in common with the resent-day people in their state, disposition, conditions of life, and therefore are the more convenient model for imitation.
3. So, the moral significance of our dogma in its negative aspect is clearly revealed, but it is not so important like the positive aspect, which is in the analysis of conditions of our moral development, struggle or perfection, which is always inseparable from the living belief in Jesus Christ, as in true God.
But in order that it would not seem to any one that we shall analyze moral life not from the point of view of its essence, but concerning the influence of this faith upon life, we shall show the main conditions for that with the help of the words of the thinker, who denied the Divinity of Jesus Christ and the importance of this dogma for virtue; we mean famous Kant, the most impassionate from all philosophers. This very Kant hoped to show that the Gospel can bring not less profit for the deniers of miracles and revelations, than for the believers. Certainly, he did not manage to prove that, but anyway he reasons incomparably more convincingly than any modern deniers. Let us note that his religious views, with the significant diminishment of their moral value, became the basis doctrine of the Tubingen rationalistic school, from which graduated both Renan and Tolstoy. This school, in the person of Straus Bauer, Hartman and the like, could not keep the Kantian views untouched, for among them only Kant tried to preserve the elevated character and purity of the Evangelic commandments. More than that, having incomparably higher morals that all his modern followers, to which almost all European philosophers assign themselves, only Kant kept untouched the thought about the unconditional opposition of the good and evil, about the struggle of these elements within us, about the freedom of will and moral responsibility. Analyzing his doctrine about the atonement and salvation, we shall not touch upon his reasoning about moral autonomy, but we shall analyze his idea about what, in his opinion, happens within man, when he decides to reach moral perfection. Then we shall easily note that it is possible, only if one possesses the living belief in Jesus Christ, as in the unconditionally saint, sinless, having suffered for us Atoner, and true God.
This is what our philosopher says about the changing of life. "Change for the good, — says Kant, — cannot happen within man without pain. The feeling of inner discord and revival causes suffering, which is the more painful, the more those being exterminated evil inclinations of will had taken root in the nature of man and converted into a habit… Colliding one with another, different feelings (horror because of previous sinning and joy of renovation) cause that most profound suffering, which one can only imagine. This is the pain, which cannot be compared with any other. Both the facts that the acceptance of good will as of a life norm causes suffering, and that this suffering proceeds from spiritual revival and the process of conquering the evil, are just. Suffering is the result of the both mentioned simultaneous acts" (the renouncement of the evil and connection with the good and God).
For sure, these thoughts are the truisms for the Orthodox Christian, but for the West, which had made the notion about Christian exploit obscure, this is the highest point, which was reached by its philosophy; it is so high that the great majority of the forthcoming moralists could not perceive this truth and some have not even heard about it. Only in the latest years it penetrated into the refined literature of France, and it happened only because it was conveyed in a more simple way by the Russian belletrists, but in no way by Kant. So, the latter asserted that the change for the good is inevitably in "the dying" of the decrepit man, his "crucifixion" with all passions and physical desires: it, like the most painful of all sufferings, is in the absolute renovation of the heart and the acceptance of the mood of the Son of God as of the personal constant guide and rule".
Where should we find the constant impulse not only to work on our perfection, but to tolerate those sufferings, which are connected with it? Suffering is the object of disgust for natural man; almost all his life is in the multiplication of desires, in order to avoid sufferings. And then the apostles tell man to rejoice in grieves and boast with them. The Gospel makes graceful the outcast, shamed and slain, it calls everyone to step onto the narrow path, by which walk few, demands to forget oneself and hate very life, proclaims grieves for the rich, satiated, laughing and those, about whom all people say good things. To follow this teaching is to contradict one’s own nature: by what can we be stimulated?
"In order to get inspired by the idea of original moral perfection, says Kant, we have to imagine the latter coming true, and then, without any effort, we shall be inspired by this beautiful image, which will be our true savior for each one of us, and consequently for the whole unity". See, how easy it is to be saved in the fantasies of the German philosopher: it is enough to find an inspiring example for that. It is left only to be amazed, why there are so few of those saved, when the example of life of The Savior is known to the hundreds of millions".
4. It is just that the moral image of Him elevates and touches my spirit, but one thing is to admire, and the other is to imitate. When for the sake of imitation I have to oppose my nature, society and accept the cross, then holiness of Jesus Christ for the disbelieving in His Divinity at once starts losing its brightness, seems like something conditional, maybe acceptable for Jesus of Nazareth Himself, but absolutely inapplicable to contemporary life. Jesus could be saint. But how He, the owner of such genial and moral nature, will convince me, a sinner, that the path for moral purity is opened for me as well? Orpheus could tame beasts, Socrates amazed gods with his intellect, Alexander with courage, Achilles with swiftness, but if I, an ordinary man, desire to copy all geniuses, then would not I be ridiculous, as the frog, trying to inflate itself to look like an ox? Not accidentally wise Nicodemus says to Jesus that it is impossible to resurrect, equally as it is impossible to come back to the mother’s womb; not by chance Hebrews repeated that he was deluding the people. Maybe, He was a saint, but to think that I can reach the similar state of holiness means to be deluded, as it happened with Simon the Magician, who wished to fly in the air, being carnal. Let Christ call me to fight against the world, but the world attracts me with its pleasures, I’m bound with it, too, and as it seems, more than with the Gospel.
Really, despite his inner struggle, the Christian is daily forced to choose between Christ and the world, which is hostile to perfection. The world does not like the absolute vice and malice, but more it hates absolute virtue and slays its followers. That is why the Greek, who created their gods through the observation of the life of nature, man and society, drew the heavenly inhabitants not so kind and not so angry, but allotted them with all those good and evil forces, which rule the life of people. The world is filled with sin, starting with the very basic laws of organic life, which represents by itself self-loving battle for survival, — in the nowadays arrangement of our lusty body and revengeful proud soul, in the history of human societies and even in the family arrangement: everywhere is self-love, lust and pride.
A devotee, reaching for perfection, not yet free from being attracted by the evil, opposes to this great giant, having before him only the example of Jesus Christ and comparatively few followers (though believing in His Divinity). Is not it obvious that he, torn between the world and Christ, will go against the world only incase he will "judge the world", if he will believe that Christ is higher than the world, on the word of the Apostle: "Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5:5). Another utterance can be added here: "Because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world" (1 John 4:4). Christ must be higher not only than the visible and perceptible world, but than any conditional existence. For that His existence must have neither conditions, nor origin; for if He had the place of origin, than maybe there exists and will later appear another ancient power, which will occupy its place, and cast out everything hostile to it. Christ must be equal in everything to the Creator, and possess common nature with Him. For otherwise no one will convince me that Divine holiness, preached by Christ, is the unique thing, which is going to convert me into the martyr and the enemy of the world.
So, in order to be our true Savior, Christ has to be true God, standing higher than nature and the world. This is necessary to forget the world for His sake, to contradict the world. In order to combine that opposition to the world with the highest spiritual unity with Him, and to love the renewed by Him world, one needs to believe that the world in its modern form is not the true, created by God temple, but the temple, desecrated and distorted by the ill will of people; and that "all things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made" (John, chap.1).
5. So taking into account the conditions, necessary for our inner perfection, we must admit that the effective significance of the example and word of Christ spreads over only those followers, who profess Him as God; but such efficacy is far from being enough to raise the people onto the cross of life, to give them strength to carry this cross patiently. To fulfill that, one needs to accept and follow the teaching about Christ-the Atoner.
Probably, seeing the sufferings, sanctified by the fact of participation of the Son of God in them, I shall love them and decide to tolerate them, but would there be any use in bearing them?
Kant reasons in a correct way, saying that the process of moral perfection is in leaving behind the decrepit nature and gaining new one; but from whom will man receive this new nature? "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Rom. 7:24). Is not the word of the Gospel correct, saying: "Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?" (Math.7:16). The examples of such devotion, which tries to become the source of gracious feelings and deeds, convince us that this path is disastrous, for it is all about suppressing of one passion by another one, — this way those Buddhists, which had conquered sensuality, fall into pride, those having conquered rage — into indifference, they cannot obtain impassivity and love. Alike are the classical and modern European morals, based on vainglory — dry and dead; such are the morals of Mohammedans, which are manifested in the regular pleasures through sensuous things, and the expectation of the same pleasures in life after death. But this is not enough: even those, absolutely Orthodox and self-denying devotees, who, being attracted to the idea of the personal spirit and interested only in themselves, but not in grace, hoped for further perfection, but soon perished in the state of haughty or sensual blindness. That is why the teachers of asceticism always reminded their disciples that the source of spiritual perfection is not within them, but in the blissful outer sphere, as the Apostle says: "I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase" (1 Cor.3:7). Or in another extract: "But I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (15:10); "striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily" (Col. 1:29).
6. Though, if the word of God and the observations of the devotees of faith seem to our consciousness to be something far away and abstract, then let us analyze the phenomena of every-day, surrounding us life. Have you met a person, who essentially changed his life and became virtuous after former vices? What are the reasons of similar conversions? Almost always they are religious, but with that mostly connected with going through a grave shock, which made the decrepit nature of the sinner die or weaken. If these, accompanying conditions were not of such negative character, but were positive, then they, naturally, were in the fact that some pure, loving and smart friend became spiritually close to the vicious man. Such good radical changes happen, for instance, after marriage, or returning home, to the loving parents. In the friendship of a vicious man with a virtuous we see not simple imitation, but direct perception, inoculation of moral forces from one to the other. Living one life with a loving friend, a vicious man finds within himself the unknown till that time force to conquer bad habits, which before seemed insuperable. Now it seems to him, and not accidentally, that his soul fights against the evil not alone, but in the union with the soul of his friend; instead of one good force he has two.
Under what a condition on the part of the good friend does this mysterious merging happen? Under the condition of compassion. Really, everyone can be convinced, through the daily experience that neither intellect, nor eloquence, not even a good example of a teacher cannot by themselves change the evil will of man, but that compassionate love, with which is filled the blissful apostle, exclaiming: "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you" (Gal. 4:19): this is the deep feeling of the heart, caused by the falls of a loved one, especially known to solemn mothers, — in this is the mystery of spiritual influence upon the sinful soul. The ones, who have it, "are labourers together with God" (1 Cor. 3:9). And if it is so, then consequently, the true Doer, true shepherd is God, Christ, having compassion for every man, stretching his arms to all and saying: "How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings" (Math. 23:37). That is Him, Who promised to be among His disciples forever, Him, saying to those observing the Mystery: "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:20). The highest degree of compassion for the sins of all men was shown by the Lord in the Gethsemane garden, when He started to suffer because of them to such an extent that He asked the Heavenly Father to free Him from such moral burden, "and was heard in that he feared", as the Apostle says (Hebr. 5:7).
7. Under what a condition can I make use of this grief of the Savior about human sins, akin to how a vicious man fills his soul with compassionate love of his friend? — Certainly, under the condition of this assuredness that I, me personally, was as well in the thought and heart of grieving about my sins Christ. Only in the case that I am convinced that He sees me, invisibly stretches his supporting hand to me, embraces me with His compassionate love, only under this condition He is really my Savior, filling me with new moral forces, teaching my hands to war (Ps. 17:35) with the evil, and is not someone strange, not the historical example of virtue, but the part of my being, or to be more precise — I am the part of His being, the partaker of the Divine nature, as the Apostle says (2 Pet. 1:4).
It is clear that only all-knowing and ever-good God could similarly remember of all existing persons. So, we see that only God could be the Savior of people, the One, Who had the similarity with our nature, i.e. Human God and with that the Sufferer, sympathizing with us. If my conversion from the evil to the good was not a suffering, then Christ would have had no need to suffer. But in that case, i.e. if the man could convert himself from a villain into a saint with one momentary desire, the Divine truth, which separated the good from the evil through sufferings, would have been left unsatisfied; and our conscience would have remained unsatisfied as well. It depended on the Lord to arrange such laws of existence and spiritual life, that the transfer from the evil to the good is possible only through the sufferings of a sinner; but these sufferings remain unbearable and fruitless, if they are not combined with the compassion of the holiest Son of God, Who accepts our grieves not for the sake of Him, but for us; He suffered for us, and therefore became the victim of reconciliation, our Atoner, participating in His sufferings (1 Pet. 4:13). He had no need to fight, like we do, against the decrepit nature, for He was free of it, but those were our sins, our decrepit nature, which were defeated and crucified by Him (Rom. 6:6 and 1 Pet. 2:24). These sufferings of His because of my sins are my atonement; and His long-lasting patience — my salvation (2 Pet. 3:15); not only in the meaning of the encouraging example. It is in the sense that I know Jesus Christ, Who had mourned over my sinful state because of his love for me, and I make Him the part of my being through my desire to go along the path of His holiness, live with Him, revive my new man thanks to Him, tolerate my, so painful before, sufferings and my deviation from the virtuous path because of them, for now I think them to be a sacred bridge towards the best unity with the Lord, because the Apostles taught me to participate in His sufferings. The same way did the martyrs, who felt neither fire, nor iron, sticks, nor their bodies, being cut in parts, in the state of spiritual delight.
8. The Divine revelation clearly convinces us in the fact that the main condition for spiritual perfection, which teaches man to neglect all temptations of life and go for any kind of sufferings, which gives him the opportunity to do spiritual good not only for his soul but for the neighbors, is nothing else but the constant unity with Christ, the unity of faith and love, merging with Him, which is more essential than the union of the souls of friends or spouses. This way the Lord Himself calls the believers to the unity with him; and His apostles, especially John and Paul, profess the real establishment of this gracious union among them. Let us cite here some utterances and end our article with them. Here are the words of the Lord: "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned…As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love" (John 15:1-9). "He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water" (John 6:38). "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand" (John 10:28).
And here are the words of the Apostles, who fulfilled the commandments of Christ: "Our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ…the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1-3:7). "And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him" (1 John 2:28-29).
Apostle Paul says about the point, which this state of being with Christ can reach: "I am crucified with Christ: neverthless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:19-20). "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you" (Phil.1:21-24).
Finally, here are more utterances, showing the significance of the personality of Christ for the Christian community: "I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ" (2 Cor. 11:2). "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ". Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular (1 Cor. 12:27), so that "speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love" (Eph. 4:15-16).
So, the Evangelic and in general the New Testament teaching about our personal attitude to Christ, Who said: "I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen" (Rev. 1:18) not only brings its each sincere follower to the state of holiness, reconciling him with Heaven, but shows him social life in different light, light of love and hope. "But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ", says the Apostle. You are the part of the body of Christ. Those, for whom your soul will suffer, will repent and join this saving unity, the Church. In It there is no impersonal merging, as by pantheists and Tolstoy-followers, no rough division, which is usually felt by natural man. Faith and compassion with love unite everybody in Christ. "For he is our peace, who hath made both (i.e. Jews and heathens) one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us… for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby" (Eph. 2:14-16).
Why Did Not Jesus Christ Call Himself God?
We, the sons of little believing contemporaneity, have to settle this matter because of the arguments against the Divinity of Christ, based on the supposition that Christ Himself never called Himself God. These objections are especially skillfully spread by the Muslims, who, to our shame, often turn out to be the better connoisseurs of our Bible, than we are.
Those of us, who read the Gospel, hurry to quote the utterances, which show that the Lord demanded to believe in Him, approved of professing Him as the Son of God, called Himself like that and spoke about His equal to the Father nature. Still, the objectors are little convinced by these utterances of the Gospel: the Muslims find in them only the reference to the more than human worthiness of Jesus Christ, but not to the Divine character; and rationalists understand them in the pantheistic sense, in which, in their opinion, these utterances can be applied to any man. It is easier to refute the opinion of the latter, than that of Muslims; it is enough to read to them those words of Christ, in which He reveals His exclusive relation to the Father, untypical of other people, and then to show them the absolute difference of the pantheistic views and the Biblical teachings of faith — those of Old Testament and Christian ones, in which are shown the personal relations between God and man.
It is much more difficult to satisfy the demands of Mohammedans, whom the Semite culture taught to perceive some Evangelic truths very well, but at the same time introduced into the latter very consistent distortion. The Muslim religion teaches that Jesus, miraculously conceived by the righteous woman, bearing the Divine spirit, even Himself being the Divine Spirit and the holiest man, brought the heavenly doctrine to earth; but after His ascension to heaven (in which Muslims believe, together with that denying both the resurrection of Christ, and the crucifixion, and death) His disciples, especially hated by them Apostle Paul, distorted the teaching of Jesus, and the story of His life, narrated in the holy book — so the Gospel, after Its gradual distortion, as they think, is being presented to the people in its misinterpreted form.
By the similar representation the sly leaders of Muslims kill two birds with one stone. They do not stop their followers in approving of the fascinating truths of the Evangelical teaching and by that do not force them to go against the obvious truth, but on the other hand, block the path of following the truth, which could lead to joining the Christian community, and proclaim the true teaching of Jesus-the Prophet to be lost by Christians, but restored and improved by God through Mohamed.
Because Christians, arguing with Muslims about the advantage of their teacher before Mohamed, resort to the Divine worthiness of Christ, Muslims try to repulse us decisively in this truth, stating that Jesus never called Himself God, and that this dogma is invented by His disciples. It is of some interest to refute this objection not only for those, who have to do with Muslims, but for all Christians, because, unfortunately, the unrighteous words of those circumcised are often repeated by the baptized, but little believing sons of European culture. These latter, without a reason, love to distinguish the Gospel from the whole integrity of the New Testament, though the whole New Testament is written by the same Apostles. Certainly, another reason for this division is ignorance.
The tempting character of this question gains more power within the contemporary mentality due to the influence of Western doctrines upon our school method of the teaching of faith. And so, the settling of the mentioned perplexing matter about the Divinity of Christ should be started with the refutation of these Western views upon Christianity. Certainly this truth is, undoubtedly, one of the most precious and holiest truths of Christianity, which would have stopped being Christianity, if it would have lost the saving belief in this truth.
But, on the other hand, the Protestant teaching about the saving belief into the Divinity of Jesus Christ, with careless attitude towards His commandments, elucidates the Gospel history only in one aspect. If salvation, given to us by Jesus Christ, is seen only in the necessity to believe in His Divinity, then, surely, this truth must be the main object of His sermon.
And suddenly they tell us that the Lord never called Himself God directly and clearly. Once He said that His Father is more than Him, and another time He called the Father His God and the Lord of His followers. If the teaching about the Divinity of Christ is the unique goal of His sermon, then with what can one explain that He did not directly say, in what the essence of his mission on earth was? We understand the importance of this bewilderment and the necessity of settling this matter.
Is it typical only of the Orthodox teachers to have such a view upon the Evangelic teaching, as upon only one dogma about the Divinity of Christ? — For sure, the holy Fathers did not miss a chance to prove this truth, using the utterances of Christ, in which it was contained. But, despite the Protestant interpretations, our church exegetics testifies not to that the Lord tried to instill the faith in His Divinity on the listeners of His sermon, but on the contrary says that He concealed His Divinity. So, in several stycheras of the Feast Mineas and Paschal Tryodion Christ is called unseen, i.e. concealed God. The Lord concealed His Divine origin, according to the interpretation of the holy fathers, till His resurrection not as much from the people, but mainly from the devil, who only because of the disability to foresee that He will destroy the kingdom of hell with His Divinity, led the Jews till the point of bringing Him to death.
Does such a view of the Fathers correspond to the Evangelic history? — It does, and we shall prove that now. And when we prove that Jesus Christ, being true God, had an intention to conceal His Divinity from the unprepared to the acceptance of this truth people, if we understand those motives, by which our Lord and Teacher was guided, then, I hope, we shall understand why He did not call Himself God literally and directly, though He was God and taught His apostles to believe in Him, as in God.
Let us say several words about this belief, before resorting to the Gospel history. The Savior revealed it to the Jews, asking Him: Who art thou? —"Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning" — the Lord answered. "Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58); "I and my Father are one" (John 10:30). In those utterances the Lord said about His pre-eternal existence and one-essentiality with the Father. When the Pharisees doubted the teaching powers of the Savior, He directly announced His Divine right to forgive sins. "But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins" (Mark 2:10). The Lord possessed this power and glory "before the world was" (John 17:5). He professed Himself as all-knowing and ubiquitous: "As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father" (John 10:15); "no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son" (Math.11:27); "no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven" (John 3:13).
Is it necessary to prove that the Savior said it about Himself personally, but not about that incarnation of some abstract impersonal world spirit, that is worshipped by pantheists? — Not the evolution of the world spirit, but His personal life is what He tells about in the ultimate conversation with the disciples: "I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father" (John 16:28).
In the Gospel one can find many words of Christ, from which it is seen that He professed Himself as God, though He did not say that directly — "I am God". It is obvious that in the given above phrases the Lord made those asking Him believe that He was the eternal Creature, Who was personally and consciously living before His physical birth and was predestined to return to the former glory, equal to that of God. From those utterances it is seen that though the Lord Jesus Christ did not call Himself God even once, this truth is implied in His speech with definitiveness and clarity.
Though, it is impossible not to notice the fact that He was forced to say that after the persistent questions of Jews. This way, the thought of the church teaching that the Lord hid His Divinity as long as possible, preserves its force.
Now let us turn to the Gospel history, in order to check the verity of this thought, as promised.
The interpreters, inclined to see in all the events and words of the Gospel the sermon of Christ about His Divinity, first of all point to His miracles, as to the acts, performed for the sake of such a sermon. No doubt, the miracles of Christ were one of the most important stimuli for His disciples to believe in His worthiness, which was more than human. Though, note, if it was always that the Lord instilled such kind of faith. The Savior often prohibited to spread the news about the miracles of curing of lepers (Mark 1), possessed (Mark 3; Luke 4:41); concealed His miracle at the wedding in Cana of Galilee (John 2); did not allow the apostles to say about His miraculous Transfiguration; showed the resurrection of Jairus’s daughter only to the five of them. But in the other cases the Savior Himself ordered to preach about His miracles, for example, to the Gadarenes’ possessed, to the disciples of John, who doubted His messianic mission; finally, a great number of miracles was performed by Him in front of a many-thousand crowd of people, as, for instance, the feeding by five and then seven breads, the resurrection of the son of the Nain widow, the resurrection of Lazarus, etc.
This comparison is absolutely just, and it will help us to answer the question: what made the Lord conceal His miraculous power?
I think, it is easier to answer this with the help of an opposite question: what could be, if the Lord started His sermon, revealing His Divinity, if performing miraculous cures, He would conclude them with the sermon that He was God, Who had incarnated, but had not ceased to be God, equal to the Father? It would make people die of horror (Ex. 33:20). Our soul cannot bear the undisguised appearance of the infinite Divine Creature. Let no one think that there is some exaggeration in these words. In those few cases when the Savior revealed the glory of His Divinity a little, people fainted because of fear: the same happened to all: His friends and enemies. "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord," — said Peter after the miraculous fishing, and at the time of the Transfiguration of Christ on the mount His disciples got overwhelmed by such fear that they fell to the ground and remained in that state, till the vision of the glory of the Lord was over, and He, having approached them in His resigned looks, said "It is I; be not afraid!" And the next time He said powerfully "I am he" to the crowd of the enemies, who came to arrest Him, and that aroused in them such fear that they "they went backward, and fell to the ground".
This way, when it occurred to the Jews that there was some possibility that teacher Jesus was not a simple prophet, but the One, Who had ascended from God to earth, they became astonished and could not come close to Him (Luke 4:30; John 7:30; 8:59; 10:39; Luke 11:19). Think now, if they could really bear the definite and proved by the miracles truth that the staying with them teacher was God? Not only simple sinners, but God-enlightened prophets became like dead because of fear, when only an angel appeared before them. And even angels, archangels, cherubims and seraphims cannot tolerate seeing God; in fear they cover their faces, seeing His glory and cannot stop reverent glorification, making one tremble, which once was revealed to prophet Isaiah (chap.6).
The Lord taught people the truth of His Divinity, but He expressed this truth partially, so that they could get convinced in it little by little. It is not so typical of human mind to admit that the appealing to it person was the inhabitant of heaven and moreover God, so that, on the testimony of the Evangelists, even the apostles perceived the similar words as something absolutely mysterious, and consciously accepted them only after the resurrection of Christ (John 2:22).
The very prediction of the Lord about His resurrection was not assimilated by them (Mark 9:10), and in the time of His arrest they finally forgot that prediction, though it was said by Christ one hour before His arrest (Math. 26:32), — and forgot in such a way, that they did not even believe the Myrrh-bearers, when they announced that they saw the resurrected Lord (Mark 16:13). They could not believe their eyes, when He appeared before them — until they touched Him with their hands and saw him eating food. Only then, when doubting Thomas touched His wounds, the mouth of man first directly preached Christ to be true God: "My Lord and my God!" — And Christ approved of such preaching.
The Lord had another motive of not revealing His Divinity to the people, even believing ones. Let us analyze this motive, using the Gospel.
Whom did the Lord call as believers, while He was alive? — Those, who believed that He came from God and that His words were Divine (John 7:16-18). He did not wish to make people see His Divinity, or even His prophetic worthiness, using external means, so that submitted human mind would accept His commandments slavishly, as it happens by Mohamed followers, but He wished to see the free agreement of mind with the teaching about virtue.
Many abuse of this expression: "the free agreement of mind" and understand very faith, as something dissimilar to the usual reasonable proof. This is absolutely incorrect. Our faith has no blind freedom. Free acceptance of believing in truth and holiness of the commandments of Christ, and consequently in His Divinity, is the same way compulsory for an attentive and unbiased observer, as the arithmetic rules; but attentiveness and impartiality are such qualities of the soul, which cannot be obtained by force: "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life" (John 5:39-40). If contemporary people would understand the simple truth that mind, free from any passion, leads to faith, and as well would understand the fact that it is rather difficult, and even impossible for disbelievers to reach impartiality through examining the subjects of faith without blissful help, then outstanding literature about knowledge and faith, science and religion would lose its significance, and the wise could get occupied with more useful questions, concerning the spirit.
But let us turn back to the Gospel. So, first of all the Lord wished people to love the preached by Him new virtue. This way it was with those Pharisees’ servants, who did not want to arrest Him, listening to His heavenly teaching with delight, and said to their masters for personal justification: "Never man spake like this man". Yes, the Savior wished people, on the testimony of their own hearts, to come to the conviction that the Preacher of this teaching is not a simple man, but the Messenger of God, so that, finally being convinced in that, they with absolute trust would accept those extraordinary words of the Savior about Himself, the sense of which was not so clear for them, till the Lord was among them, but which, after His resurrection from the dead, became logic and clear to them, as the truth about the Divine, equal to the Father worthiness of the Atoner, "Light of Light: true God of true God".
We have said: logic and clear, because the logics of the mentioned above utterances of Jesus Christ, concerning Himself, is unique, and it is conveyed in the Creed, but meek human souls did not dare to understand the meaning of those miraculous words while the Savior was alive, and were content with the conviction that their Teacher was the highest Messenger of God, Who only recently incarnated and took the appearance of a resigned and humiliated simple man.
Due to such a supposition, concerning the aims of the teaching of Christ, it will become clear to us, when He concealed His Divine qualities, and when He revealed them. He hid them at the beginning of His sermon, to avoid mental enslavement of His listeners.
After all the attempts of the Lord to make people, who become close to Him, remember that the closeness of the Lord to their hearts depends on their personal freedom from passions and any evil, He still sometimes met with the incomprehension of that truth, even among His best disciples.
What did disappoint our Savior most? Was it disbelieve, or belief, with no Christian spirit? We think that both did to the equal extent, and this will be proved by the analysis of the miracle of feeding of the great number of people by five breads. As a result of this miracle, people decided to proclaim Him their king and go against the Romans.
The Lord performed that miracle, not to amaze people with His extraordinary power. The people, having forgotten about their physical needs, followed the Lord into a far away wilderness, and the Lord not once taught that one should not care about what to eat, drink and in what to be dressed, but to search for the Kingdom of God and its truth, and then "all these thing shall be added unto us". That day the people acted according to that commandment: was not it necessary to prove it in action? So, compassion to the people and the desire to support the believers in their carefree attitude to everyday needs became the motive for performing the miracle with breads. But the Lord did not become glad about that ardent, but senseless believing in His messianic mission, with which the fed people were filled, and even escaped from them. When the people found Him on the other side of the sea the next day, after the first impression faded a little, then the Lord started exposing them, and revealed the absolute instability of their external faith, for those who the day before shouted: "This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world" — the next day were saying: "This is an hard saying; who can hear it?" — and complained, so that "from that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him" (John 6:14, 60-66).
Here is the explication of the words of the Evangelist about faith, based on the external proofs: "Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men" (John 2:23-24). The Lord knew that the Jews would lose that external faith as soon as they would learn, how His teaching contradicted their passions: "But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you. I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, [probably, Antichrist] him ye will receive" (John 5:42-44).
To free the Jewish people from the prejudices, based upon Pharisees’ distortions of the Biblical truth, the Lord directly declares His heavenly rights, which people correctly understood as the sermon of His equality with the Father: "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God " (John 5:17-19). In another similar case the Savior says: therefore "the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day" (Math. 12:8). Those evil ones among the Jews persistently objected to the words of the Lord, and there He mentioned again that neither miracles or prophesies were the reason for believing in His teaching, but on the contrary, the disgust of the Jews towards His commandments was the reason of disbelieving in His miracles: Ye have not his word abiding in you? — Because my word hath no place in you" (John 8:33-37; 5:38-44). According to the same sequence the Lord expected faith to be expressed by those, who were waiting for miraculous cures, therefore He rejected to perform a miracle before the unbelieving in His teaching enemies, promising to them only the miracle of Jonas the Prophet and telling the sufferers, who were begging for cures: "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth; According to your faith be it unto you" and so forth.
So the Lord did not force anyone to believe in Him, though he could achieve that through wonder-working, but when the unbelievers were asking Him: "Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven" (Mark 14:61-62).
Surely, no pantheistic sense can be assigned to such definite utterances by Tolstoy movement; for pantheists these utterances are of some personal character.
In conclusion, let us free Mohammedans and Arians of the state of perplexity, caused by some utterances of the Lord. The first especially like to quote the words of Christ: "Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?" (John 10:34) and state that the Lord called Himself the son of God in a general human sense. But such an unfounded statement is refuted by the following words of the Savior, from which one can see that He called Himself the son of God in the very special sense, and Hebrews did not have to consider that name to be a blasphemy even incase He was a simple man. "If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?" (v. 35:36).
Arians, to support their heresy, referred to the words of Christ: "My Father is greater than I" (John 14:28). The Orthodox representatives answer them very justly that the Lord said it about His human nature. And if somebody has doubts about such an interpretation, then they will disappear after reading the sermon of Christ further on. This part of the farewell conversation, since the beginning till the fifteenth chapter, presents the comforting of the disciples about the forthcoming separation and their preparation to bear the expected humiliation of Christ. The Lord instills onto them that His forthcoming betrayal is not an execution of a defenseless man by the powerful government, but the voluntary return of the heavenly messenger from the valley of terrestrial humiliation to the glory of the heavenly Father: "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid — said the Lord, — ye believe in God, believe also in me... I go to prepare a place for you... I will come again, and receive you unto myself... I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you".
Though His disciples cannot agree with it: Thomas, Philip and Judas ask Him questions, from which we see their infinite grief about the forthcoming separation and humiliation of the Teacher. He again comforts them with the words of love: "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me", — continues the Lord, i.e. if you understand the fact that all what will happen is to my glory, then you would understand that no humiliation waits for me in my death for mankind, for, dying for mankind, I come back to the Father, Who is greater than I am in the terms of this human nature, — "If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I" (28). Could the Lord say here about His Divinity, Which does not die, comforting His disciples about the forthcoming crucifixion and death of His human nature? For He had just revealed His divinity and one-essentiality with the Father to them: "If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (23 v.), and a little earlier: he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? (v. 9). Here is the reference to the absolute equality of the Father and the Son.
The same words about the abode of the Father and the Son in the heart of the believer, and as well the further predictions of the Lord that the believers will join the unity of the Father and Son, will help us in eliminating another question of Mohammedans, concerning the words: "I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God" (20:17). There is no reference here to the inequality of the Father and Son, but the notification about the participation of the believers in the glory of the Father and Son, and that they are no more the slaves of Christ, but His friends (15:15).
This is the glory, which the Lord gains after His Ascension and He testifies in His words to Mary Magdalene to that His friends since that time become so close to His Father, as He had promised to them; that their newly-blessed relation with God is very similar to that relation, which is between the essential human nature and God; that they are already His brothers in His human spirit: "Go to my brethren, and say unto them"" (20:17). Further on, in the same chapter of the Gospel the Lord accepts the professing of one of His human brothers: "My LORD and my God" and, approving of it, answers: "Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed" (20:28-29). By these words He pleases those believing in that He is true God, and condemns the hesitating.
The same is the final answer of ours to the main question, proved by the Gospel and the whole history of the terrestrial life of Jesus Christ, which refutes all false contradictions. The Lord professed Himself as True God, but wished the disciples to percieve this truth gradually, first of all, loving the holiness of His commandments, then worshipping His humiliation and sufferings, and finally, seeing His resurrection.
The “Son of Man”
— An Attempt of Interpretation.
In what sense did the Lord call Himself the Son of Man? The theologians discussed this question much, wrote many books, concerning it, but the very matter was left unresolved till the present day. Some interpreted this expression in the sense opposite to the Monophysites, seeing in it the reference to the human nature of Christ. There were made many other attempts to find in this expression the reference to the main aim of the coming of the Lord, and from this point of view the expression "the Son of Man" was interpreted either in the sense of the Atoner, or in the sense of the Pastor or Teacher, or the Messiah in general.
But all the interpretations turned out to be so unconvincing that the known professor of the Petersburg Spiritual Academy V. V. Bolotov wrote an essay, in which, having refuted all the interpretations, he came to the conclusion that in science there is no satisfactory interpretation of the name of Christ, and therefore one needs to consider this name to be deprived of any definite significance. One should simply treat it as the conditional name, which substitutes the pronoun of the first person.
But to think that the lack of some idea in science proves its absence in reality is rather erroneous. Neither the admirers of contemporary science, for scientific progress is denied by such a statement, nor the deniers of contemporary school theology, for the multiple attempts are the product of the school, but not of the holy fathers’ doctrine, can agree with that. And really, the statement of Bolotov is definitely refuted by the Gospel, from which we shall quote some utterances, testifying that the Lord-Savior not only allotted the discussed name with some definite meaning, but made the latter known to the people, at least to some of them. "Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?" (Math. 16:13). It is clear that He wanted to make the people come to some new conclusion, which they could find within the facts they already knew: "That I am the son of Man, is known to everybody, but whom the men say the Son of Man is?" the answer is: "That thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias…" This makes us understand that not only the Lord and the apostles, but all Jews assigned certain features to the name of "the Son of Man", but differed in opinion, who exactly from the righteous or messengers could be the bearer of those features. That was the question, which the hostile Jews, being greatly puzzled, asked Jesus at the end of His terrestrial life, when it was already clear to everybody that He professed Himself to be the promised Messiah or Christ. All of a sudden He told them about the forthcoming crucifixion. They could not understand that at all. "We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of man?" (John 12:34)? If You are the Son of Man— Christ, then You cannot die; if You say that You will be killed and show Yourself to us as the Son of Man, then who are you? We know that Christ will turn out to be the Son of Man, and now we see the Son of Man in You, but we cannot recognize Christ in you, on the condition that you will be killed".
The given below utterance of the Lord contains the most direct reference to the fact that by the words "The Son of Man" the Lord not simply substituted the pronoun of the first person, but used that name in some definite sense. "For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; and hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man" (John 5:26-27).
This utterance finally demands Biblical theology to give an answer to the question: what did the Lord mean under the expression "the Son of Man"?
The difficult to understand words and expressions of the New Testament should be analyzed with the help of the Old Testament, like it was done by Chrysostom and other church interpreters, — in such analysis was the reason, why Protestants almost absolutely rejected science. Contemporary science makes the usual mistake while analyzing the multiple Old Testament utterances with the words "the Son of Man". It by all means tries to find one and the same thought in all of them, and in order to find that it appeals to the numerical majority of utterances with the certain sense. Meanwhile, no doubt, this expression has several meanings in the Bible, — simple and derivative, as other expressions, for instance the Kingdom of God, Heavenly Reign, faith, salvation, the law and others, what is rarely noticed by scholastic science.
So, we should be little interested in the numerical majority of the Old Testament utterances, in which "the Son of Man" means a human being in general or has the meaning of a simple man, the antonym of a great noble or king. But it is necessary to pay attention to the circumstance that the expression, concerning some notion or quality, expressed with the words "a son or daughter (the children of the kingdom — Math. 8:12; 13:38; the child of hell — 23:15; the sons of thunder — Mark 3:17; the son of peace — Luke 10:6; the children of the resurrection — 20:36; the children of light — John 12:36; the son of perdition — 17:12; the children of disobedience — Eph. 2:2; 5:6. Col. 3:6 and others, the daughter of Sion, the daughter of Israel — Math. 21:5. John 12:15) mean the profoundness of some certain quality, as if the state of someone, who possesses this quality in abundance. In particular, the expression "the Son of Man" in the majority of cases chiefly means humanity.
In the Old Testament there is the extract, where the Son of Man is directly called the future Messiah, not a simple man, but someone Divine, and there is left no doubt, that exactly this extract, the vision of Prophet Daniel, was quoted by the Savior. This is the key extract for the question, which interests us. It is well known to those, who have been studying the Holy Scripture.
Prophet Daniel saw five different terrible beasts, which reigned over the earth and "the holy nation" and haughtily talked against God. Though, their power did not last for long.
"I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool... the judgment was set, and the books were opened". The beasts were given to the burning flame and their dominion taken away; who would gain the eternal power instead of their short-time rule? "I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days [God the Father], and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed." (Dan. 7).
The readers of the New Testament can hardly doubt that it was exactly that vision, to which referred the Lord, calling Himself the Son of Man in several extracts. The Hebrews unanimously saw in the words of Daniel the reference to the Messiah, Whom they imagined as the judge of all nations that will restore the Kingdom of Israel and submit all nations to Him. John addresses Him with this question: "Art thou he that should come?"
The Lord does not deny that, but refers to the fact that He is not simply a glorified man, as the Hebrews understood from the prophesy of Daniel, but that He is God, Who had belittled Himself. Only with such speechless reference to the prophesy, the sequence of the conversation becomes clear: Yes, I am the One, Who will reach the Ancient of days but be aware that " no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven... For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world" (John 3).
More clear is the connection of the words of Christ with the vision of Daniel: "When the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Math. 19:28); to this relate the words of Ap. Paul: "Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?" (1 Cor. 6:2).
But the fact that He is the One, about Whom it was told in the prophesy of Daniel, becomes clear from the answer of the Lord to Caiaphas’s question: "Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven " (Mark 14:62; Math. 26:64). By quoting the prophesy, the Lord turned down the accusation in blasphemy — that He, being a man, made Himself God (John 10:23). This becomes especially clear from the Gospel of St. Luke. "And led him into their council, saying, "Art thou the Christ? Tell us. And he said unto them, If I tell you, ye will not believe: And if I also ask you, ye will not answer me, nor let me go." Obviously, the Lord wanted to ask them about the vision of Daniel (as he asked about Psalm 109 before), about who that Son of Man, who was equal to the Ancient of days, was in their understanding — because in His speech He resorted to that vision: "Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power." That was the quotation, but in order to accuse Christ of blaspheming, they needed to know if He applied that quotation to Himself. "Then said they all, Art thou then the Son of God? And he said unto them, Ye say that I am" (Luke 22:70).
The Apostles lived by the promise to see the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophesy on the example of Christ with their own eyes, and those, who received that chance, were Stephan, His first preacher, and John, who lived longer than all the rest of them. "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56).
Moreover, in the Revelation there are two extracts, where the Lord is called the son of Man, — with one more reference to the vision of Daniel: "And behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man" (Rev.14:14). The vision of Daniel was so obviously recalled in the history of the New Testament, that the Lord, to show His one-essentiality with the Father, showed Himself in visions, possessing the same qualities, which God the Father revealed to the prophet, i.e. being in a white, as snow, garment, as at the day of Transfiguration, or with white, as wool, hair, with "the fiery feet", as in the first vision of the Revelation (1:13), and though He is not called as the Ancient of days directly, but the names of the same meaning are used in the text: "Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending" (Rev. 1:8). "I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen" (1:18).
So, we sorted out that calling Himself as the Son of Man the Lord bases that upon the vision of Daniel, and He refers to that vision in the most triumphant, pre-mortal sermon about Himself as about the Messiah and the Son of God, because of which He was sentenced to death.
But by giving such an explication we only prepared the way for answering the question of our article, but have not answered it yet. Now we have to realize, what the meaning of the vision of Daniel was and to which qualities of the Messiah the prophet referred, calling Him the Son of man.
The theologians see in this vision the reference to the Divine worthiness of the Messiah, and they are right. The explication will not end with it, for even its main thought is not yet revealed. To understand the Bible, one should never be satisfied by the definition of metaphysical and historical qualities of persons and phenomena, for these qualities are the main from Aristotle’s and scholastic points of view, but not those of the Bible. They are found in the Bible as well, but do not play the main role, which chiefly belongs to the theological point of view.
It will not be hard for any reader of the book of Daniel to interpret this vision, for it had been interpreted by the very prophet. The kingdoms of the beasts are heathen kingdoms, and the kingdom of the Son of God is the kingdom of Saints, the Church of Christ. With this end the contemporary interpretations of the vision, but this is only an introduction, but not the interpretation itself. One should give an answer, why the heathen kingdoms are represented as beasts, and the Kingdom of God as the Son of man. It should be clarified in the connection with the narration about what God told to the chosen nation concerning its calling, and how the elects of God understood that.
The Biblicists analyze the meaning of this calling from the messianic point of view, and it is surely correct but not complete. The Messianic doctrine was taught in its concealed form, and the moral designation of Jewish people among the lawless heathens was more clearly revealed to the Patriarch and the legislator. "The LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between me and thee" and further (Gen. 17:1). The goal of this covenant was defined by the Lord more clearly in another vision, when He told about the forthcoming execution of Sodom for its depravity and cruelty. "Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment" (18:18-19).
Having established the union with the people of Israel so that it could bring forth truth and justice, the Lord prohibits them to be friendly with lawless nations, so that those would not lead His legacy into sin (Ex. 23:32-33), so that they would not teach it their whoring (Ex. 34:13-16); and gives to His people the commandment of chastity, adding: "Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you. And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants" (Lev. 18:24-30).
But Israel did not preserve the covenant with God, and the Divine land forgot it, according to the formidable warning of the Lord, and then, being captured by lawless heathens, Israel changed its mind and again got inspired by hope that the Lord would fulfill His promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses. Living among heathens, being the holy nation, it more and more recognized its infinite supremacy over those servants of abominable passions, but at the same time could not but see that its position was not in being ahead of historical life, but in lagging behind, as it was predicted by the Lord. Huge states, having no morals and Divine wisdom, got strong and then destroyed one another, and so, if small Israel got freed by Nebuchadnezzar or Cyrus or Darius, then what had it to expect further? If the struggling kingdoms, those superceding one another heterogeneous cultures, would toss it about, as a ball, then there would be no hope for the recovery of its grandeur: in what would the global mission be expressed and how will come true the words of God about the fact that all living nations will be blessed through it? Those doubts disappeared after the vision of Daniel, and the later prophesies of Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, 3 Ezra and the latest apocrypha of eschatological content were devoted to it. Daniel and other prophets convince Israel that its designation is not politic, mundane, but moral. Brilliant and formidable kingdoms frighten it, like horrible disgusting beasts, but their power is not long-lasting, and their glory is vain: the Lord sees their unrighteousness and soon will destroy them. On the contrary, the modest and unnoticeable activity of Israel has global and eternal designation. Those monstrous kingdoms are crowned with power and wealth and talk haughtily. Israel, the holy nation, can boast only with that it brings up the true man, the son of man. To the extent man is weaker than a bear, panther or any beast, dreadful and terrible (Dan. 7. 7), to the same extent he is more wonderful than them. The same is the relation of the holy nation to the nations that make it inferior. And the Lord of Hosts knows that. He prepares the soon execution for the terrible kingdoms of heathens, while the son of Man, Who represented by His example the designation of those people, who fulfill the true law, will reach the Ancient of days and reign over the universe.
Having seen that extraordinary rise of the Son of Man over the terrifying beasts, the prophet asked about its meaning and received the answer: "These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, that shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever" (7:17-27).
So, the Son of Man, having received honor, equal to that of God, represents that state of sanctity, which makes the holy nation differ from haughty and similar to beasts heathen nations.
When the Lord came to earth, then the general mood of the people was the same, as in the times of Daniel. Highly appreciating their spiritual superiority over unrighteous heathens, constantly remembering their exclusive eligibility, the Hebrews could not agree with the heathen yoke. Their impatient expectance of deliverance got concentrated on the definite image of the Savior-Messiah, Who would conquer the Romans, and starting to reign in Sion will judge the nations, how it was predicted by Daniel. About this judgment the Lord talks with Nicodemus, but people want to make Him rule after the miracle of feeding by five breads.
Is it necessary to say that the Lord least than anything wished that His mission and the visions of Daniel would be understood like that? The Son of Man, about Whom is talking the prophet, is authentically the One, coming from Heaven, but He came not for the physical conquering of nations, not for the punitive judgment over kings and kingdoms, but for leading the holy nation into the promised eternal, heavenly kingdom (not in the way like Moses and Abraham, who passed away), for the fulfillment of spiritual judgment — exposure, but not punition; and His followers do not have to wait for terrestrial glory, — because the "Son of man hath not where to lay his head". In its time there will come the visible glory of the Son of Man, but already not in this life, but in the future one, describing which the Lord constantly calls Himself the Son of Man (Math. 10:23; 13:41; 16:27; 19:28; 24:30, 37:39; 24:44; 25:13).
So the Son of Man will come into His glory in the forthcoming life, and in this life He is not the one of those conquerors-kings, whom Daniel had seen as the monstrous beasts, but exactly the son of man, true Man, Whose example must be followed by the entire holy nation. As the founder of the exploit of the holy nation, He, calling Himself the Son of man, Who was seen by Daniel, admonishes all Israelites to forget about the typical of heathens desire of terrestrial glory, and follow Him in God’s covenant with Abraham: in bringing forth truth and justice. So, instead of promising the expected terrestrial glory, the Lord says to Israel: "Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake" (Luke 6:22).
Having brought everything said together, we assert that the Lord calls Himself the Son of Man, as the expresser and preacher of true humanity, i.e. personal holiness, contrasting it with conditional political expectations of the contemporaries. For that goal, He chose the name of the Son of Man because exactly in that sense it was mentioned in the vision of Daniel. The Son of Man, revealing in Him the true, holy Man, is the head of the spiritual kingdom of saints, which will be, according to the prophet, eternal in the coming life, but which is absolutely opposite to any heathen kingdom in the present-day life and totally different to how the Jews expected to see it.
In What the Orthodox Faith Differs from Western Confessions.
The West borrows from Christianity certain things, only if they are compatible with the conditions of modern cultural life.
Many of the educated Russian people would answer the above question — in the rites’ procedure. The ridiculous character of this answer is so obvious that it does not deserve any attention. Though, another conviction, which is typical of theologically enlightened people, is in no greater proximity to the truth. They would tell you about filiоque, about the primacy of the Pope and other dogmas, which are rejected by Orthodoxy, and about those dogmas, common for Orthodoxy and Latinism, which are denied by the Protestants. It turns out that Orthodoxy is deprived of the content, which is exceptional, and untypical of the European confessions. Meanwhile, the historic origin of these confession, which originated one from another, makes us think that they are equally deprived of some treasures of the truth of Christ, because it is doubtful to admit that out of a heresy there could appear another one, free of the certain traits of the first, or more than that, some heresy that could turn back to the true Church.
The Slavonic speaking theologians, in the person of Homyakov, for the first time tried to define the difference of the true Church and Western confessions not on the principle of these or those dogmatic peculiarities, but according to the fact of superiority of the inward ideal of the true Church over those of the Churches of other confessions. In this is the great contribution of Homyakov for theology and the Church, and for the educated West, which highly esteemed it together with the Russian literary men, interested in religions. This appreciation is in the fact that the European theologians, which sympathize with Orthodoxy, talk about it, using exactly Homyakov’s interpretation of confessionary passions. In particular, the Old Catholics, which are drawn to the Orthodox Church and started the long-time official correspondence concerning the possible union, share Homyakov’s views upon the main problems of separation of our Church and the Old Catholic one. We think the thought about filioque, as about the innovation, to be, first of all, opposite to the Church discipline, which orders "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace", and the idea of transformation in the Eucharist, as a notion, to be incompatible with the church tradition (which teaches about transposition) and to be borrowed from Western theologians.
Among all theological works, written by the Russians, a small work of Homyakov is the most popular both among our educated society and abroad. Therefore we shall not reproduce his statements in detail. We shall only remind that he analyzes the difference of confessions, concerning the teaching about the 9th member of the Creed — the teaching about the Church. Analyzing the Orthodox teaching about truth, absolutely distorted and almost lost by the other confessions of the West, Homyakov clearly shows the moral value of our spiritual ideal, the superiority of our faith over other confessions, which lost one of the holiest Christian truths, elevating the soul. Under the notion of the Church Homyakov understands not exactly the power, but the mutual union of souls, which make one another complete through the mysterious communication with Christ, Who reveals Himself not to the separate believers but in the union of mutual love, in their unity (according to the ecumenical council). He brings forth the joyful spirit, alien to enslavement, into all demands of the church discipline, and into the very perception of the Divine truth (what is stipulated by the authority of the Church tradition), — the spirit, which brings us to the boundless communication with the world of believers and eternity.
Let us say without hints that the Orthodox teaching about the Church is correctly analyzed by Homyakov, and that he very well revealed the superiority of Orthodoxy over Western confessions, which had lost the concept of moral unity of believers both in their religious life and religious cognition, and had brought the idea of Divine Kingdom down to the stage of either personal exploit, or the outward legal organization. Admitting this and admiring the theological and missionary contribution of Homyakov, we still state that his definition of Orthodoxy or what is the same, of true God-revealed Christianity, compared with Western confessions, is not full and we wish to add some points to it.
In reality the difference between our faith and other confessions is more profound.
The church dogma is for sure one of the most important; our communication within the Church should be constant. But beside that, there is the great difference between the Europeans of other confession and Orthodox Christians in the definition of the direct relation of each personality to God and his own life. Even the small details bear that difference. Let us examine the guides on spiritual life. Some of them, on which we study at school and which contain the subject of our theological science, both dogmatic and moral, are borrowed from Catholics and Protestants; and only the known to everybody and condemned by the church authorities errors of other confessions are eliminated by us. The other manuals, concerning our spiritual life, common for the educated circles and simple people (for both the contemporaries, and our antecedents in faith till the 19th century and further) contain the divine service prayers, hymns and holy fathers’ morals.
But what is interesting, between the both types of these manuals there is almost no inner connection. Those theologians with scientific degrees do not know our prologs, our dogmatic hymns (stychiras and canons), our Mineas, and even if they sometimes do, then not as the religious thinkers, but like simple people, used to pray, or the admirers of spiritual chants. Meanwhile, this Slavonic literature in thick, awkward books, is the main and almost unique creator and supporter of real, living Russian faith, and not only of simple people, but of the educated circles. Anyway, theological science cannot come close to it, even from the psychological point of view.
Let us recall now the most perfect Christians, those who lead Christian life among us: hieromonk in schema Ambrose, father John, bishop Theophanous. They are not the narrow-minded fanatics, they are the noble graduates of seminaries and academies, but can you find any borrowings from or references to our school and scientific theology in their edifications? You will not find any, except for accidental mentioning.
If you offer them piles of scientific books to help in their edifications, they will treat that with respect, but believe, will find nothing to borrow from them. A simple Christian, who wished to think over this or that phenomenon of his spiritual life, experiences the same. — It is obvious that our created according to the Western principles theology, though possessing no Western misconceptions, is so far from the real spiritual life of Orthodox Christians, so different from it, that it can neither guide it, nor even be similar to it.
It would not have happened, if only the teaching about the Church would have mentioned the difference of Orthodox theology and the Western one; but it happened because the Western religions changed the whole concept of Christian life, concerning its goals and conditions.
Being the Rector of the Academy, I gave the task to one smart student: to compare the Christian moral teaching of Theophanous and Martensen. Martensen is a famous Protestant preacher, who is thought to be the best moralist-theologian; with that he is mostly freed from any confessional misconceptions. Bishop Theophanous is an educated Russian theologian, the former rector of the Petersburg academy. And what happened? It turned out that Christian morals were described by these two authors in the absolutely different, even opposite way. The result of that analysis was formulated like that:
Bishop Theophanous teaches, how to build life according to the demand of moral perfection, and the western bishop (sin vena verbo) borrows from Christianity those things and to the extent, to which they are compatible with the conditions of contemporary life. It means that the first one looks at Christianity as at the eternal order of true life and does not force a person to change himself and his life, till the time it will come to the norm, and the second one looks at the basis of contemporary cultural life as at the stable fact, and among the range of existing variants of this life choses those, which can be approved of from the Christian point of view. The first demands moral heroism, exploit, and the second thinks, what parts of Christianity could fit us in the contemporary life arrangement. For the first, who is the man, called to beyond-the-grave eternity, where real life will start, the historically developed mechanism of modern life seems to be a miserable ghost, and for the second the teaching about future life is the elevated, ennobling idea, which helps us perceiving real life better.
The difference between the views of these two teachers of virtue was caused by the difference of Western-European religions and Orthodox faith. The latter comes out of the concept of Christian perfection or holiness and from this point of view esteems the present-day activity, and the West is resting upon the status quo of life and tries to find that minimum of religious exploits, which will help in salvation, if eternity really exists.
"These are not the false beliefs, but low morality of the West!" — They will tell us.
Yes! We shall answer; till this moment we were talking about the state of decay of Western religious life and thought; now we shall discuss the high principle, which was lost by them.
Christianity is the exploit of virtue; it is the pearl, to buy which the righteous merchant of the Gospel had to sell all that he had. Historically, this self-denial, and the acceptance of the cross lead to various exploits: in the time of the terrestrial life of the Savior— the exploit of the union with the disciples, following Him; further on, the preaching of faith and martyrdom; then, since the 4th century and till the 20th — reclusion and monasticism. In reality these various kinds of exploit were only the conditions of one idea, one goal — gradual sanctification on earth, i.e. freedom from passions, or impassivity, and accumulation of virtues, — the things the believers beg for in the prayer of Ephraim the Syrian, repeated at the time of Great Lent and combined with multiple bows. "For this is the will of God, even your sanctification", says the apostle, and it can be reached only by making it the most important, unique goal in life — if to live in order to become sanctified. In this is true Christianity; this is the essence of Orthodoxy in comparison with Western confessions. The Eastern heresies in this respect and by their essence are much closer to Orthodoxy, than the Western ones (we mean the most powerful Eastern heresy of monophysites, to which the Armenians are very close). The spiritual perfection of personality remains for them the goal of Christian life, and the difference appears only in the teaching about how to reach this goal.
But do Western Christians say that there is no need in reaching moral perfection? Is it that they will deny that Christianity gives the commandment to improve?
They will not say that but it is not in what they see the essence of Christianity, moreover they will object each word of ours, concerning the understanding of perfection; they will not even understand and will not agree with us about the fact that exactly moral perfection of the personality is the goal of Christian life, but not the simple perceiving of God (as the Protestants think) or the decorative arrangement of the Church (as the Papists presume), for what, in their opinion, Very God endows man with moral perfection, as a reward.
Moral perfection is reached through personal exploit, hard work, inner struggle, deprivations, and especially through humiliation. The Orthodox Christian, sincerely and diligently carrying out this discipline, by that fulfills the part of this exploit, for our discipline is arranged in the way, so that it helps in gradual deactivation of passions and acquisition of blissful perfection. To this contribute our divine service prayers, the exploits of fasting and that almost monastic way of Orthodox life, which is prescribed by our regulations and which was so strictly followed by our antecedents before Peter the Great and till now is still followed by the people, living by the basics of culture.
With one word, the Orthodox faith is the ascetic faith; the Orthodox theological way of thinking is what does not remain as the dead property of the school, but influences life and is spread among the people, — this is the investigation, concerning the ways of spiritual perfection. Exactly because of that both dogmatic definitions and events of the holy history, as well as the commandments and the expectation of the Dread Judgment are reflected in our stychiras and canons.
Surely, all this belongs to the Western confessions as well, but there salvation is understood as the outward reward for a certain number of good deeds (the same way, outward ones), or for the indisputable belief in the Divinity of Jesus Christ (Protestantism). There they do not reason and cannot reason about the fact, how the soul should gradually get freed from its submission to passions, how we ascend to impassiveness and fullness of virtues. There exist ascetics as well, but their life is that somber unconscious fulfillment of the long ago established disciplinary rules, for which they are promised to receive eternal life and the forgiving of sins. And the fact that this eternal life had already come, as St. Ap. John says, that this blissful communication with God is received through the steadfast exploit already in this life, as venerable Macarius the Great said, is not understood by the West.
The misunderstanding becomes more profound and gains hopeless character. Contemporary Western theologians lost the idea that the goal of Christianity, the goal of the coming of Christ to earth is exactly in moral perfection of the personality. They as if became insane because of the invention that Christ the Savior came to earth to bring happiness to some mankind of some future centuries, while He with all clarity said that His followers have to bear the cross of sufferings, and that their persecutions by the world, by their brothers, children and even parents will be constant, and by the end of ages will multiply greatly. That wellbeing, which is expected on earth by the admirers of "the supposition of progress" (on the apt expression of A.S. Rachinsky), is promised by the Savior in future life, but neither the Latinists, nor the Protestants wish to agree with it on that simple reason that (honestly speaking) they believe in the resurrection in a bad way and strongly believe in the well-being of present life, which, on the contrary, the apostles call "a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away" (Jam. 4:14). That is why pseudo-Christian West cannot and does not wish to understand the denial of this life by Christianity, which orders us to go for exploits, "seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him" (Col. III, 9).
"Christianity is love for the neighbor, and love is compassion in sufferings", will modern Christians, especially women, note: "and the asceticism is invented by monks".
I will not say anything against the first statement, as Leontyev did; I would rather say: if there was an opportunity of loving without spiritual asceticism, without inner fight and outward exploits, then the first and the latter would be unnecessary. But love faded among people at the time, when they started talking with the mouth of Luther. The words: "And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold" came true. There, where there is no exploit, no struggle, will reign passions and iniquities, and where the sin rules, love waxes cold and people start hating one another (Math. 24:10). I come over to the second statement. Truly, love is expressed first of all through compassion, but not as much directed towards the physical troubles of the neighbors, but to their state of sinfulness, and such compassion is possible only for someone, crying about his own sins, i.e. the undertaking exploit man.
"The asceticism is invented by monks"… One lady from Moscow made a more decisive statement: "Your religion was invented by priests; I recognize only the Iverskaya Mother of God and martyr Triphon (l'Iverskaya et Triphon le martyr), and the rest is nonsense" But these phrases show, first of all, that our educated people do not understand the word "asceticism".
The arrangement of our life is not at all predisposed by this concept, and it includes neither the notion of chastity, nor of fasts or reclusion. The asceticism, or spiritual exploit, is life, full of work on oneself, such life, the goal of which is the extermination of one’s passions: fornication, self-love, malice, envy, gluttony, laziness, etc. and filling the soul by the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love, which never turn out to be single virtues, but only those accompanying and helping in the development of the mentioned qualities of the soul.
For sure, the Christian, wishing to go his own way, will see by himself that he has to deviate from mundane scattered life, to control his body, to pray to God a lot — but these exploits have no value in the eyes of God, but gain the value only for ourselves as the condition for obtaining spiritual gifts. The greater value possess spiritual exploits, which are performed in the consciousness of man: self-reproaching, self-humiliation, self-compulsion, inner contemplation, thinking about the beyond-the-grave world, the analyses of feelings, struggle with sly thoughts, repentance and confession, anger towards sin and temptation and other exercises— all that is little known to the contemporary educated people and so familiar and known to any church member of the past and modern times. This is that spiritual alphabet, about which says St. Tikhon: "There are two types of scientists and wise men: first study at school with the help of books, and many of them are more ignorant than those simple and illiterate, for they do not know Christian alphabet; they make their mind sharp, they change the words and make them sound better, but do not wish to change their hearts. The second learn in prayers with humility and diligence and are enlightened by the Holy Spirit and are wiser than the philosophers of this age; they are pious and holy, and pleasant to God; these, though they do not know the alphabet, think everything to be good; talk in a simple, rough way, but live righteously and correctly. Let the latter be an example to you, Christian" (III, 193). In this is the essentiality of true Christianity as of the exploit of life, the content, which is forgotten by Western confessions, but which forms the center of the Orthodox theological literature, which is the key for the analysis of Divine revelation and all the events and utterances of the Bible in respect of the stages of spiritual perfection. The incarnated, resigned and grieving about our sin Savior in His person and through His communication brought the possibility of this spiritual exploit, and in this is our salvation. But some do it voluntary and consciously (Phil.2:12), living spiritual life, the others live it almost compulsorily, being changed by those sent by God sufferings and fulfilling the church discipline, the third ones only before death part with their scattered state through repentance and get enlightened beyond the grave. The essence of the Christian exploit is in asceticism, in work on one’s soul; in this is the essence of Christian theology.
If to trace all the misconceptions of the West, both that penetrated into its confessional teaching, and those typical of its ways, which were accepte through the "window to Europe", then we shall see that they all root in the lack of understanding of Christianity, as of the exploit of gradual self-perfection of man.
Like that is the Latinist-Protestant doctrine about redemption, as about making Jesus Christ suffer for the insulted by Adam Divine grandeur, — the doctrine, which came out of the feudal notions, — about knightly honor, which is restored by shedding the blood of the insulter; the same is the material doctrine about the sacraments; the same is the teaching about the new organ of Divine Revelation in the person of the Roman Pope, no matter what he is like in life; alike is the teaching about the duties and over-duties. The same is, finally, the teaching of the Protestants about the saving faith, combined with the rejection of the whole church arrangement.
These misconceptions show the attitude to Christianity as something that has nothing to do with consciousness and conscience, something conditional, as to the agreement with the Divine Creature, That no one knows why demands from us the understanding of some incomprehensible formulas and rewards us for that with eternal salvation. To protect oneself from naturally arousing objections, the Western theologians strengthened the teaching about the absolute (as it seems to them) impossibility to reach the Divine Creature and to understand the Divine law and demanded, in the person of scholastics, Luther and even modern Richly, to recognize reason as the enemy of faith and struggle against it, while the Fathers of the Church, in the person of Basil the Great and even Isaac the Syrian, see the enemy of faith not in reason, but in human stupidity, absent-mindedness, lack of understanding, and obstinacy. If we come from the analysis of false religious beliefs over to the moral convictions of Western representatives, then by some of them we shall find simple distortion of Christian commandments, and these distortions have taken root in the arrangement of Western life, social and private, in such a way that no cultural perturbations, which destroyed Christian altars and royal thrones, could eliminate those wild and immoral prejudices.
So, the Lord preaches the forgiveness of all, and Western morals in its turn – revenge and the shedding of blood; the Lord commands to be subdued and think oneself to be the most sinful of all, and the West puts "the feeling of dignity" higher than anything ; the Lord says to "rejoice and be exceeding glad, when men shall revile and persecute" us, and the West demands "the restoration of honor"; the Lord and the apostles call pride "demonic", and the West — as nobleness. The last Russian beggar, even sometimes a semi-believing person, a representative of other confession, who worships the pagan evil spirit Keremet’, better feels the good and evil than the similar moralists of the thousand-year old Western culture, which so sadly mixed the remains of Christianity with the lies of classicism.
In the basis of all those misconceptions lies the misunderstanding of the simple truth that Christianity is an ascetic religion, that it is the teaching about gradual expelling of passions, about the means and conditions for gradual assimilation of virtues; and that these conditions are internal, (which we find in exploits), and external, (which are in our dogmatic beliefs and blessed divine service), that both have unique designation: to cure human sinfulness and bring us to perfection.
Missionary Leaflet # E 111b
Copyright © 2004 Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission
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Editor: Bishop Alexander (Mileant)