In a talk, even a rather long one, it would not be possible to speak of Orthodox spirituality in its fulness: this would mean trying to convey the way is which the orthodox faith in all its complexity, in all its richness, is expressed in the interior life, in the piety of Christian people. Therefore I will confine myself to one particular theme which I believe to Be specially important, because in our day, although it is absolutely central to Christianity, it presents difficulties for many Christians in the West as in the East, for very different reasons but with the same result. It is of Christ Himself that I want to speaks to you.
Pastor Bodmer has just finished his address by speaking of the Resurrection; it is the Resurrection of the Lord which is at the heart of the Christian message, the faith, which is to say the certainty, that Christ, dead on the Cross, is truly risen again in his flesh. The importance of this message sometimes escapes Christians who are imbued with philosophical tendency of our time; and yet it is He who was at the absolute center, was the absolute center, of the Christian faith from the very beginning. We only need to turn back to the story of the Apostles, to the original, central experience of St Paul and the Twelve, to catch the significance.
I would like, however, before speaking about this, to underline one particular point. Some people, whilst admitting the importance of the Resurrection in the experience of the Apostles, wonder how this Apostolic experience can have the same central significance for us: is it enough for us simply to believe is the words of others and to found our faith on something totally unreliable? I would like to stress the fact that, of all the historic events in the world, the Resurrection of the Lord belongs equally to past history and to present reality. Christ, dead on the Cross on one particular day, Christ, risen from the tomb in His glorified, human flesh on one particular day, belongs to the past as an historic fact; but Christ, once risen living for ever in the Glory of the Father, belongs to the history of each day and each instant, because living, according to His promise, He is with us now and always. And Christian experience, from this point of view, is essentially attached to the event of the Resurrection because it is the one event in the Gospels which may be verified: it is the one event in the Gospels which can become part of our own personal experience. All the rest we receive from Tradition, written or spoken – the account of His Crucifixion, the different events told us by Holy Scripture – but the Resurrection, this we know personally, or else we are ignorant of the primordial, essential fact of the Church’s life and the Christian faith.
If such a plain, peremptory statement arouses questions, demands a response, demands that you ask yourselves whether you are within the Christian experience, so much the better: because we all stand before the judgement of Scripture, the truth of God. But here is the central experience without which there are no Christians, there is no Christianity, without which our faith is not faith; not ‘the evidence or the things not seen’ but the capacity to accept the witness of others, an unverifiable witness, a witness which is based on nothing more than that someone has something which seems incredible but which nevertheless, for reasons equally incredible, we are prepared to accept.
Let us now turn to this event of the Resurrection to ask ourselves why it is so central, why St Paul could say, ‘If Christ was not raised we are of all men the most miserable, for our faith is vain.’ Indeed, if Christ was not risen, all our conviction, our inner life, our hope, all is founded on a lie, all is founded on something which never took place and which cannot serve as the foundation for anything.
Let us think, separately, of St Paul and of the twelve Apostles. St Paul, am you know, Hebrew of the Hebrews, pupil of the greatest teachers, a man of burning faith, grounded is the Scriptures, passionately faithful to the tradition of his forefathers, St Paul who could have met Christ, St Paul who certainly was in contact with Christ’s disciples, St Paul who certainly left undone nothing which was necessary is order to know, to understand and to judge this new prophet – comparing all that he knew of Him with all seen with all that he had seen and understood in Holy Scripture and in the witness of the Hebraic community – St Paul had rejected Christ. Compared with all that he had believed about the coming Messiah, he had not been able to recognise the Messiah after his coming. It was with the intention of destroying the first seeds of the Christian faith that he had left Jerusalem and was on the way to Damascus, and it was on this journey, the journey of a persecutor, that Be found himself face to face with the risen Christ. And it is this meeting with the risen Christ which gave absolute meaning and value to all that he had denied hitherto, having encountered the risen Christ he had known from the first and immediately that He Who had died on the Cross, and whom he had refused to recognize as the Messiah – was in a truth the One whom Israel awaited.
Because Christ was risen, alive in front of Him after a real death, he was able to recognise that all Christ had spoken of Himself and all that was mysterious, unacceptable in Scripture concerning the coming Messiah, was true and was applicable to the Prophet of Galilee. And it is in the light of
This Resurrection that the entire faith of the total Gospel became possible for him and for many others. It is only because of the Resurrection that we can recognise the Son of God in Him Who died on the Cross, and that we can receive with conviction and with certitude the Gospel story, beginning with the Annunciation, the Virgin Birth, the teaching, the miracles, and this double witness: the witness of Christ, concerning Himself, corroborated by the witness of God on behalf of His Christ.
This is enough, perhaps, for us to grasp one of the essential aspects of the Resurrection and its importance, but if we now turn to the Twelve we see that the Resurrection had an even greater significance and meaning, if such were possible. The death of Christ on the Cross was something far greater and far more essential in the experience of the Apostles than the death of a chief, a friend, a master and a guide. They did more than mourn the loss of someone dear to them or the defeat of a leader whom they had expected to be victorious.
If we read the Gospel attentively, from the point of view of the relation that existed between the Apostles and the Lord, we see how, little by little, an identification grows between the Master and His disciples. Having come to Him, some in an act of faith – in the miracle o the faith, one might say – others skeptically: “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ (St.John 1,46), having passed through all the vicissitudes of hesitation, and being completely conquered only by what Christ preached but by His Personality, we see them, before the Crucifixion, forming a group which can Be described as truly separated from the world, elect in the sense of ‘chosen and redeemed’. Christ had become an absolute centre of Life. When Christ addressed His Disciples and asked them if they also wished to leave Him, Peter replied: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” (St John, VI, 88). ‘You have these words, this creative word, this life-giving word which transmits, which gives eternal life, which effects participation in eternal life.’ There we have a human group, centred round someone who is Eternal Life, made manifest in a transitory, ephemeral world, the world into which human sin introduces death and corruption; and this human group can no longer exist apart from this relation to Christ, not because they are tied to Him by affection, friendship, loyalty, but because in Him they have the experience or eternal life already come, of a new dimension, a dimension of relationship but ontological, substantial. It is not just a life which is greater, fuller, richer, more beautiful: it is a different life which Christ has brought them – and to this point we will return in a moment.
And when Christ died on the cross, rejected, betrayed by those who stayed outside this circle of the mystery, circle of love, this mystery of divine, present, incarnate, active, transfiguring love – it is not just a question of the death of a friend, of a leader or of a master; it is far greater tragedy. If it were possible for Christ, with all that He represented, to die upon the Cross, this means that human hatred was stronger than Divine Love: human hatred had man to repulse Divine Love, to banish Him from the habitations of man, to reject Him and kill Him on Calvary. And this death of Divine Love, this rejection, is accompanied by the loss, also, of the presence of eternal Life in the midst of mankind: eternal life is no longer present, it has been dismissed. Love Divine which had been offered to man in such a way as to be both a accusation and full of great hope, this divine love is rejected, repulsed, and without it, what remains to men? That which was always theirs, twilight in which we struggle separated from Christ, a twilight consisting of a little affection, a little hatred and plenty of indifference, a twilight in which men are strangers one to another, relations so fragile, held together by threads which break repeatedly, by attachments which disengage and dissolve.
But what of those men on the inside, those who were united to Christ, who had experienced the presence of the living God in their midst? All that remained was the possibility to endure, to continue to exist, but no more to live. But now they had tasted eternal life, the ephemeral life of time which ends in corruption and death was no more than to expectation of the final defeat, a postponement of the return to dust – that which could no longer be called life, but was the ‘pre-death’. So that when Holy Scripture, in images or direct words, makes us understand that in the death of Christ we are all dead, to the degree that we are profoundly identified and allied to Him, and that in His Resurrection we come back to life with Him, Scripture is speaking to us of something very precise and real. There is here something which we cannot grasp with the same tragic darkness as that which filled the Apostles, and for a very staple and obvious reason, namely, that on Good Friday, whatever effort of the imagination we make to dwell only on the tragedy, we know, precisely, that before the end of three days we shall be singing the Resurrection, we cannot obliterate our knowledge of Christ’s Resurrection: not only because year after year we have experienced it and we cannot artificially forget its but because as members of the Body of Christ, as Christians integrated into the mystery of Christ – of the total Christ which is the Church – we have within us this eternal Life which witnesses to the fact that the darkness of good Friday is already overcome: within us it is already overcome, within us the light is already present, Life is already present, victory, partially at least, is already won. And for us it is impossible to retain nothing of the coming Resurrection although we are in the midst of the darkness of Good Friday.
But for the Apostles, Good Friday was the last day of the week and the last day of life as they had known it’s on the following day, the day which preceded the Resurrection, the darkness was as dense, as obscure, as impenetrable as it had been on Good Friday, and if the Resurrection had not intervened, all the days of the year, and all the days of their life would have been days of total darkness, days when God was dead, when God had been conquered, when God had been definitely and radically exiled from the community of men.
And if you bear in mind what I have just said of this unity which, in the Gospels, is gradually established between Christ and His disciples so that the life which they lived was His life, in Him they lived and moved, in Him and through Him they saw, perceived and understood, you will grasp that His death was not only total and irreparable darkness of Good Friday – for them the last day of history – but it was also their own death because Life had been withdrawn and they could no longer live but merely exist.
Thus you will understand why, for the Apostles, the Resurrection was such a complete renewal, such a decisive event: when Christ, on the third day, appeared to them, all the doors being shut, their first thought was that they had had an hallucination, a mirage. And Christ on that occasion, as on all the occasions of His appearance after the Resurrection, related in the Gospel, insisted on the fact that He was not a ghost, not an illusion, but a true corporeal presence. He shares food with them. And we also understand why Christ’s first words are words of peace. ‘Peace be with you.’ He brings there the peace which had been taken from them by His death, which was their death; He released there from the utter, irremediable confusion in which they were plunged, in this twilight state wherein Life was unrecognizable, this transitory Life whence eternity had been driven; and He gave them that peace which He had promised, that peace which only He could give, ‘that peace which passes all understanding,’ the peace of reintegration into Life, beyond all doubt, beyond all hesitation, – a certainty possessed by men who because they are alive cannot doubt Life.
There is a very profound difference which I think it necessary to stress between this metaphysical resurrection of the Apostles and the resurrection of Lazarus. You remember the sovereign words which recalled Lazarus – dead already four days – to life. Lazarus was physically dead, the Apostles were physically alive, but the words of Christ, this call which brought Lazarus back to the world of those living on earthy was a recall to the ephemeral life of the earth. The resurrection performed on the Apostles, within Christ’s own Resurrection, was their reintegration into Eternal Life, already victoriously present, the life of the world to come, already come by means of Christ’s Resurrection through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
They will die, they will fall asleep, the sleep of the earth, but they will die without fear, they will face all the dangers, no suffering will be great enough to separate them from Christ because for them ‘to live is Christ and death is a gain’ – physical death, this sleep of the earth into which they will fall, because, freed from the restrictions and limitations of the earth, these man will discover themselves without limitations, in plenitude of life which comes from God, fills and transforms them. We understand why these Apostles who earlier had been so full of fears, no longer feared anything; the life which filled them was no longer the transitory life which could be taken from them, it was eternal life, of which no one could deprive them.
I have just said that this was Eternal Life, life of the age to come, and I drew attention to the fact that the Holy Spirit was present and that it is His presence which established this circumstance. I want now to dwell on this point for a moment. There are two passages in Holy Scripture which relate to the gift of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost, the account which we read in the Book of the Acts, springs to every mind when one thinks about the gift of the Holy Spirit. But there is also another event, that of the evening of the Resurrection (which Mgr. Cassien has called ‘the Johannine Pentecost’), the Pentecost related by St John in the I twentieth chapter of his Gospel. Having given peace to His apostles, not merely having wished them peace, but given it truly by His presence, Christ breathes on them and says to them: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’
In this gift of the Holy Spirit there is something very different from the account of Pentecost as related in the Book of Acts. According to this account, each member of the Church who is there receives the Holy Spirit in the form of a flame which rested on each one, but those absent must receive the Spirit individually, personally, by the laying on of the Apostles’ hands – do you remember the nineteenth chapter of this same book of Acts.) In the Johannine Pentecost the event is altogether different. Not one of the Apostles receives personally the gift of the Holy Spirit: they receive Him together, and together they possess Him, and it is only in their oneness that they can possess Him together. He is not the property of any one of them, but each one who belongs to this apostolic circle, to this nascent Church, enters into the mystery or this Spirit Who possesses the Church and is possessed by it. Do you remember that on the evening of the Resurrection Thomas was absent, yet there is nothing recorded which could make us surmise that He needed a special, personal gift of the Spirit to feel himself in this situation of the Apostolic circle: he belonged, and in common with all the others he possessed that which they all possessed in their unity.
I believe that there is something here which perhaps corresponds to the mystery of the Body of Christ. You will remember that on the banks of Jordan, the Spirit descended on Christ and rested upon Him; and now this human community which has become the Body of Christ – an extension in time and space of the mystery or the Divine Presence and Incarnation – receives the ‘Totus Christus’, the total Christ, receives in its turn this Spirit who takes up His abode in this body in the same way in which he was possessed by the incarnate Word. Many things could be said about the consequences of this event from the point of view of the Church. The first consequence is that it is only within this unity that He is present and that if anyone turns aside, denying this oneness, ceasing to be a member of the Church of Christ, he cannot take with him his portion of the gift of the Holy Spirit, Who abides completely is the heart of the Church. But if you turn again to ecclesiastical tradition you will quickly see that the presence of the Holy Spirit, His outpouring of the divine riches which is imparted and makes us participants of the divine Nature, which sets us in motion towards that plenitude which the Greeks called ‘diviniazation’, which St Paul indicates when he says that ‘God will be all in all’, – you will see that this presence of the Holy Spirit is already the beginning of the Age to Come – a grammatical absurdity and yet spiritually so true, so exact, and expressed is our liturgy in the words: ‘Grant us, O Lord, this day to participate in the mystery of the Age to Come.” Grammatically this is impossible because one cannot, in the present, participate in the future, and yet it is true because the Church, now in existence, is already – to quote a striking expression from an English translation ‘the advance-guard of the Kingdom of Heaven’. She is already the presence of that which is to be, a presence which lacks plenitude, a presence which increases and decreases according to historical circumstances and human faithfulness, but a real presence of that which will be made manifested in the resplendent Plenitude of the Age to Come.
At the beginning of the liturgy, when the Holy Gifts have being prepared – the bread, the wine – when the congregation is assembled, when the priest, the deacon and the faithful stand ready to begin, the deacon turning to the priest addresses him with a phrase which, like so many phrases of ancient languages, is capable or being translated with varying nuances: he says, ‘And now is the time for God to act’. All that is possible, humanly speaking, has been done; the congregation is gathered, prepared by prayer and fasting for the mystery of the meeting with Christ; the bread and the wine are there, everyone is ready to celebrate the Holy Liturgy. But the content o the Holy Liturgy cannot be created by human effort: man cannot make the bread and wine become the real Presence of Christ, whatever may be our theory of this presence. Only God can transform this impulse of the open hands into a Reality that is given. It is a descent from eternity. It is an invasion by the mystery of the Age to Come into the confines of history and the human reality of the present. And this is precisely the mystery of this Resurrection of Christ Who, by the gift and power of the Holy Spirit, makes us one Body with Himself, reaches out to us and gives us eternal Life.
And there is a third phrase which leads us to a completely different aspect of the mystery of the Resurrection and the risen life in us and in the Church: there is a third phrase – this passage from the Johannine Pentecost: having given the Spirit, having given Peace, Christ says to the apostles, ‘As my Father sent Me, so I send You.’ When this phrase is repeated to twentieth century missionaries it has no tragic overtones – the missionary will be going to foreign parts, upheld by the strength or his Church, the power of his country, supported at times armed forces; he will be surrounded by a ‘worldly’ security, by a security which belongs to this in the worst sense of the word. There may be danger, but a remote danger, a mere risk.
But when Christ spoke these words to his apostles he spoke three phrases just after the moment when Good Friday had been transformed into the resplendence of Easter. And when the apostles beard these words: ‘I send you as my Father has sent Me,’ their hearts were still full of the tragedy of Calvary. When Christ spoke thus to them what they understood was – that which had happened two days ago to their Master was to be their destiny, as He had already promised them when He had said, ‘Behold I send you forth as sheep among wolves’ (Mat. X.16, Lk. X.3). We find ourselves face to face with the other aspect of the mystery of both the Church and Christ, in the light of the Resurrection. The apostles now possess eternal life; it only remains for them to give their human life so that this eternal life may be extended to others. As Christ had died and as He had lived, without anyone taking this life from Him: ‘No one can take my life,’ he said, ‘I lay it down freely,’ so must they give it.
And this is an aspect which I would like to emphasize for a moment, precisely in this contest of the Resurrection, not in terms of opposition to the Cross, different from the Resurrection, but of the Cross and the Resurrection intertwined, of the Cross which Christ lays on the shoulders of His apostles because they belong already to the Age to Come, to those who have risen.
I would like to give you an illustration of this outcome of the Cross, of how it was embraced and lived in a human life, one particular life, the life of a woman of (about) twenty years (of age), and I would like to show you that when we say that Christ is the Way, the truth and the Life, it is true. When we think about the apostles we imagine them to have been such exceptional men, so profoundly different from us in spite of all the analogies which we discover in them – them and ourselves. But let us turn to the epoch of the Great War and of the Civil War in Russia, that disturbed epoch of foreign conflict and civil war. In a small provincial town which had just passed from one authority to another, a young woman of about 22-23 years, with two small children, found herself caught in a trap: husband belonged to the opposite camp, she had been unable to escape in time, so she hid herself, wishing to save her life and her children’s. One day passed in anguish, and then a night, then another day, and towards evening on this second day the door of the hut where she was hiding opened and a girl came in, a neighbour, a girl of her own age, a simple girl like any of the local people. She asked, ‘Is your name such-and-such?’ and the mother in anguish replied, ‘yes’’ ‘You have been discovered,’ said her neighbour, they will come tonight for you and shoot you. You must go’ . The mother looked at her children and said, “Where can I go? How can I escape with these little ones? They cannot walk fast enough or far enough – and how could I fail to be recognised, a woman with two children, when it is a woman and two children they are looking for?’ And the girl who a moment before had been an unknown neighbour ceased on the instant to be just a neighbour and became that great and impressive Neighbour in the Gospel sense of the word: one nearer than anyone else could possibly be. She became the Neighbour of that mother as she said to her with a smile, ‘They won’t be looking for you because I shall stay here in your place.’ But the mother could only reply, ‘But they will shoot you’. And she said, ‘Yes, but I have no children and you must go.’ And the mother went.
It is not to present you with an account of a simple sacrifice that I relate this history. I want to underline a few points which give it a value and significance in Christ and which, by way of the Cross, lead us to the idea of the Resurrection and the Life of the One who is the greatest – in those who are small.
The mother departed and this girl – she was called Natalie, remained. I don’t want to try to imagine what happened during the night; I want just to draw a few parallels which I think can be established, and which have a right to be established. The night, an autumn night, fell quickly, colder and colder, damper and damper, enveloping, isolating; and this girl, alone, cut off from everyone, who had nothing to expect from anyone except death, confronted her coming death, a death which she had no reason to undergo – she was young, lively, and it was not she whom they wanted to kill. Remember the Garden of Olives: there also on a cold, dark, enveloping night, separated from His closest friends, who were sleeping tired and unhappy – there too was Someone, also young, in His thirties, who awaited His coming death, who waited to be killed in the place of others, because He accepted death in order that man – His friends and every man, each one of us, should be saved, and escape from that dark imprisoning night. And we know what Scripture tells us about this: we know of the anguish, of the appeal to His Father, we know how He sweated blood, we know how, being unable any longer to bear this loneliness in the face of approaching death, He went to see if any one of fits disciples was awake, and then returned alone to face His death which was the death of others – a borrowed death, impossible and absurd. Here is the first parallel – Natalie in the same situation, no difference, she was is Christ.
More than once Natalie must have gone towards the door, looked at it and said to herself, ‘All I need to do is to give it a push and I shall be myself again, – no longer Zoia, no longer under sentence of death – no one would touch me.’ But she did not go out. We can judge of the measure of this anguish and terror if we remember the courtyard of the house of Caiaphas; Peter the rock, Peter, the strong apostle who had said to Christ that even if the whole world should deny Him, he would never deny Him, he would follow Him to the death – Peter confronted by a girl, a young serving maid, who only had to say, ‘You the were there,’ for him to answer, ‘No, I no not the Man,’ – how he repudiated once and again and a last time, sealing his renunciation and then, turning round, saw Christ’s gaze fixed on him. Natalie also could have repudiated, saying, ‘I will not die, I withdraw, I set myself free.’ But she did not do so. This young, frail girl of 22 or 23 years was able, in Christ, to resist where Peter with all his human strength had failed: but that had been before the Resurrection, before the victory of God for us and in us.
And again, this girl must have asked herself more than once whether her death was not in vain: die in order that this woman and her children should be saved, yes, but what a monstrous, tragic calamity supposing they were caught and she was shot. Do you remember the greatest of all men in Holy Scripture, the greatest among them that are born of women, John the Baptist? At the end of his life, face to face also with approaching death, St John the Baptist sent two of his disciples to ask Christ, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or do we expect another?’ How much tragedy lies in this phrase, which seems an important question for him and for us, but how tragic a question for him. He is about to die: he is about to die bacause me of God Himself, is not that One?’ he was the Forerunner and the Prophet and the Baptist of Christ; and faced with approaching of death, suddenly a doubt arises: ‘What if I have been mistaken? What if the One I have proclaimed is yet to come? What if He to Whom I have been witness in the Name of God Himself is not that One?’ All these years of superhuman ascetic life spent in the desert, the self-denial that make of him what the Holy Scripture calls ‘A voice crying in the wilderness’, not a prophet speaking in the Name of God but the Voice of God echoing through the interrmediary of a man so totally identified with the Voice that it mattered not where he was John or some other – it was God alone who spoke. And now, confronted by death, all was worthwhile if Jesus of Nazareth was really the One, but if He were not, then he had been deceived by God Himself. And like Natalie, enveloped, isolated in the silence and loneliness of the night, the prophet received no answer – or rather he received a prophet’s answer: ‘Oh, tell John what you have seen: the blind see, the lame walk, the poor hear the good news, and blessed is he who shall not be offended in me.’ In this prison where death awaited him, alone in the full souvereign responsibility of a man, he had to confront his whole past, his whole present and his whole death. And Natalie also received no response. I could tell her now that Zoia was saved, that now her children in their fifties, and many other things I could tell you now – but she never knew and she was shot in the middle of the night.
But there is something else: here is the Cross, here is the situation of Calvary and of Mount of Olives, but here also is the Resurrection, – if you like, – a Resurrection, to the extent of our participation in the mystery of Christ, but also in the measure of our human littleness. You probably know the passage from St. Paul which says, ‘I live no more, but Christ lives in me.’ And at times we wonder, ‘What these words really mean, just where do they take us?’ Zoia and her two children knew one relevant factor, that their life was a borrowed life; their own life was dead in the person of Natalie, her life continued in their earthly existence. If they were alive it was only because she had died, she had taken their death upon herself and had given them her life: they lived a life which wholly belonged to her.
Here, on the human plane, on this small scale, we can grasp something which maybe escapes us when it is in the context of the tragedy of mankind and the mystery of salvation. Here also we may grasp the most precise, the most harsh and demanding significance of intersession. We often intercede, we address ourselves to God, asking Him to extend His mercy, His love, His power towards those who are in need. But intersession is something very different. In Latin ‘to intecede’ means to take a step which places us at the heart of a situation, as in the case of someone who, seeing two people about to fight each other, steps in between them and makes himself answerable for them both. The first image which springs to mind occurs in the 9th chapter of the book of Job: the words of this man who suffered so much and who says, ‘Where is there a man who will stand between me and my judge?’ Where is the one who would have the courage, in this contest between the living God and Hismiserable creature, to take a step and place himself between the two, to divide or unite them? To divide them in the opposition which makes makes them prisoners of one another, to unite them in a freedom which re-establishes a harmony.
And this man we find in Christ: we find a Man who is God, we find the Incarnate Word, Who takes this step and places Himself between fallen, condemned man and the Lord, the equal to God and the equal to man: completely answerable to God because He is God, and to man because He is man, and ready to bear the consequences of divine love in His human flesh. This is intersession, this is what it implies: to take that step which projects us into the heart of a situation for ever, for eternity, because Christ, born of the Virgin, is at one and the same time He Who died on the Cross, He Who rose again and He is Who, in His Ascension, brought this human flesh into the heart of the Trinity.
We see in the example of Natalie that Christ is indeed the way, that is to say the way in which one lives and the very being of a Christian. We see also that there is no other Truth, human or divine, than that, and that it is only that which leads to Life, moreover, to a life so overflowing, so full, that it not only fills the bearer with eternity but overflows and outpours onto all those who surround him, establishing for him equally salvation and eternal life – at the price of Calvary, repeated indefinitely throughout the ages. Herein lies victory, the martyr’s victory, the victory of weakness over strength, the victory of that which is uniquely vulnerable – divine love and human love – over that which seems strong hatred, which destroys itself and has so short a life. life .
This, I think, is all that I will say tonight on these two aspects of our vision, of our faith in Christ: the Cross and the Resurrection, inseparably united, depending on one another, mutually significant. There is much that I could say on other aspects of Christ in our life and experience. Perhaps another day I may have an opportunity to speak to you about that. But these two aspects are essential to Orthodox experience, piety and spirituality, which is why I have picked them out as an introduction for you, because they belong completely to history and our God is the God of history, and because what is going on now in the history of Orthodox Christians is exactly this mystery of the Cross shining with life.
Questions and Answers
In the case of this young Natalie of whom you have spoken, was she herself a believer? Was it her own faith which helped her to do what she did?
We know nothing about her – the only fact we possess is that when the mother and children left, the mother asked her, ‘What is your name?’ and she answered, ‘I am called Natalie.’ I believe that whatever her formal faith may have been, she was in Christ when she acted as she did. If you want logical deductions, then I would say that in view of the epoch and district where this took piece she was certainly an ordinary young Orthodox girl, but I cannot vouch for it. All I know is that hers is a name which I revere, as do many others who know her story.
Supposing this girl had been Jewish, for instance, or atheistic would you say that in this deed, in this sacrifice, it was still Christ who was at work?
I would indeed say so; but if I may, since you lead me in this direction, I would like to elaborate this point. I believe that we have a very short-sighted view of the Incarnation; we see things on such a small scale, in such a limited way, related to our own point of view, so to speak, without seeing the full scope of the event. There are many aspects of this event. The first – or what I shall take up first, since I only want to develop what is of particular significance for you – is that the Incarnation indicates, in relation to God, not only a man but a physical nature – there is a body involved in the Incarnation – and that in the mystery of the Incarnation are demonstrated and revealed the virtual possibilities and vocation of the entire visible world, not only to be the transmitter of the Holy Spirit but also to become, if one may say so, the body of God. It is an event the significance of which is not only historic and not only human but cosmic. Here I will stop, am this is a theme on its own.
The second point is that when we speak of the Incarnation and the way in which the incarnate Word, in His sinless humanity, participates in human sinful conditions, we always speak of how He suffered from hanger, from thirst, from fatigue, how He was loved and hated, how He expressed indication and anger, and finally we say, ‘And He died on the Cross.’ This last statement, ‘He died’, has a significance and scope infinitely greater than all the others because death is not one of the many events in o life, it is an absolutely unique event, and the death of Christ, it seems to me (and on this point I follow the teaching of St Maximus for one), is a unique death which can never be repeated, which is irreplaceable. It is not comparable to the death of any one of us. We all die because, little by little, this life of ours wastes away and we return to the dust of which we were made; it is a decadence, a fading away, a corruption, we are loosed from life and we die. The death of Christ is altogether different. There is a remarkable passage from St Maximus the Confessor of the 6th century where he in-sists on the fact (if it is true, and it is Holy Scripture which serves as warrant for the fact) that death is the result of separation from God. St Maximus tells as that if this is so, at the very moment of incarnation, Christ Incarnate, Christ’s humanity, was mortal, because it is unthinkable that this humanity united to the divine could die. And what he insists on is that, being immortal in His humanity because He, is God and Man unseparably, He imposes upon this humanity an impossible death in order to share in the destiny of mankind. And this impossible death is possible only in this tragedy of immeasurable depth and horror, which is indicated by one sentence, one poor little sentence in the Gospel, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ If it is true that one cannot die without having lost God, this sentence carries the full significance, it is the moment when the Son of God has lost His Father, and He was able to die because He found Himself destitute of God. This, after all, is what is called being an atheist. If we were to use a Greek word, to say ‘destitute of God’ would be the same as to say ‘atheistic’. And the depth of this loss of God in Christ is infinitely more profound than any experience of atheism a man may have. Atheism as we see it is blindness, ignorance, lack of perception and a host of other things, but it is not this ontological, substantial loss which caused the Incarnate Lord to say, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ It is from this point of view, that one can say that after the Crucifixion, the resurrection and the Ascension of Christ nothing can be outside Christ – to different degrees and in a different way, but no one can be more atheistic or godless than was Christ at that moment; no one can be more radically slain than was Eternal Life on the Cross. And when the early Church spoke of the Descent of Christ into Hell – or Sheol, according to the Hebrew text – this is the place where God is not; it is not just a place where under God’s guidance one suffers in relation to the life one has lived on earth; it is estrangement, total estrangement, it is the gulf between Him and us. And the Church underlines this Descent into Hell from the Gospel record of these words of Christ: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’
I believe that the words of Psalm 139 (138) v.7 where the Prophet-King says, Whither shall I hide from Thee? In Heaven? But that is where Thou dwellest. The earth is Thy footstool. In Hell? But Thou art there also…’ He is there where He is not, if we may say so – it cannot be expressed logically – all that had been, all that might have been exterior to Him has become in¬terior. It is contained in the hand of the Incarnate Word, who has partici¬pated in everything, even in the loss of God, I think that from this point of view we should very carefully re-think our attitude toward that which we speak of as being ‘outside the Church, alien to Christ’. An interesting essay in this direction was made some time ago by Jean Danielou in his little book ‘Pagan Saints’, in which he shows us that the Church and Holy Scripture present us with a certain number of people in the Bible who are outside the Testaments and Covenants while belonging to God. Before the Covenant with Abraham, because, he says, even more at the root of our relation to God, than these successive covenants, not only the Old and New Testaments there are those interior covenants which we find so many times in the Old Testament. Even more basic than those covenants there is the one between God and Adam: ‘I have made you in My own image’, a correspondance, a relationship which nothing can break because the New Adam bears the name of Adam. He is not a new creature raised up to replace him: He is within the continuity of the mystery of the relation between Adam and God. He has come to renew the image of God in its perfection, in the total Adam, which is man, I think that when we think in terms of exclusion we should pay great attention to the fact that it is far from sure that on planes other than that of the Covenant there may not be other covenants and other relationships. There is the covenant with Ishmael, there is the Adamic covenant, there is that incredible and mysterious covenant, if one can so call it, with Cain: ‘I will put a mark on your forehead’’ which is a sign of protection. There are a great many things which we could examine from this point of view but which are very important and which make it true to say that what is wholly and totally human is linked back to Him, Who is the only Man, really and fully Man. This is why one cannot create oppositions: ‘them and us’ – because there is an absolute solidarity, since God from the beginning right up to the end has shown Himself to be in solidarity with man, not only with the just one, but with the sinner. The Word became Incarnate in order to save sinners, not to glorify the righteous, and we should have the same attitude in regard to those whom we consider ‘sinners’ on any plane of thought. It is with them that we Christians are supposed to be in solidarity with regard to their salvation – not in the sense of taking part in their crimes, their sins, their rejection of God or any other aspect of their situation, but solidarity in the sense of living and dying for them: otherwise we do not follow the way of Him Who chose to become man so that sinners might be saved.
Pastor Bodmer: Two more questions the first is concerned basically with an argument which is often breached by Western theologians. There are those who prefer to speak, according to the text of the Creed, of the ‘Resurrection of the flesh’ and there are those who prefer to speak of the ‘Resurrection of the Body’, and then in the background there is the famous discussion, in Hellenism, in Greek pagan thought, of the problem of the so called immortality of the soul, by Plato, etc. Could you shed some light on this endless discussion, which you must know very well? Secondly I have another question concerning the actual consequences of the Resurrection, concerning the reality of the Resurrection of Christ, the reality of Easter in Orthodox spirituality in the context of the importance which Orthodoxy has always accorded to transfiguration in the life of a Christian: What is the relation between Resurrection and Transfiguration in the day to day life of ordinary Christians?
I am no theologian and I must tell you quite frankly that I was never inside a theological school until I went to deliver lectures at some of them. Therefore I wouldn’t pretend to be able to resolve a problems which has been propounded by more learned men than myself. What I could say, based on what I have read, is this: in ‘the Resurrection of the Flesh’ the word ‘flesh’ stresses the fact that it is the real, tangible substance of the Body of the Incarnation which has come back to life: it is no other than Himself, in His Flesh, which was made mortal by the will of God. The ‘body’, by contrast, is sometimes used in a slightly different sense. Father Serge Bulgakov, in a little book about angels, tells us ‘The fight against the flesh is the fight for the body’, and in this he obviously draws a distinction between ‘flesh’, understood in what one might call terms of natural history, either the physical fact of this substance of which we consist or this flesh already tainted by sin in the ascetic sense of the word and he contrasts this natural creation, or this human animal already tainted by sin by his vocation to be an incarnate being, and he speaks of ‘body’ in this latter sense. You might say that in this passage from Bulgakov he thinks of the body as being of this same flesh but possessing human dignity because it is moving in the right direction, because it is within God’s grace, because it has become an integrated part of the true Body of Christ. I think it is interesting to make this distinction on the ascetic plane because it underlines the fact that there is no essential difference between this spiritualised body and Christ, but there is a gulf between what we call ‘flesh’ and what the Gospel calls ‘flesh’, the flesh of the Incarnation: ‘the Word was made flesh’. Scripture does not say He was made ‘body‘. He did not become ‘a’ body; He became human flesh in the highest sense of the word, and in this sense He became Mankind. Therefore when we speak of the Resurrection of the flesh it is this that is implied.
As to the Transfiguration, I think that this connects with something other than the Resurrection, The flesh of the Resurrection, the Risen Christ, lies on one side of the Cross and of the death; the Transfiguration lies en the other side. But what is extremely interesting about the transfiguration from the point of view of our understanding of man and the created world is that it is the physical substance of Christ and of His clothing which, so the Gospel witnesses – shine with this light of the Transfiguration. It is not just an interior light which shines through and radiates, it is the actual Body which is shining – and I think that in this there is something of importance to our understanding of the visible world, the tangible world, of the created world which surrounds us, and of its possibilities. If you would like me to elaborate a little more precisely, I could tell you about two icons of the Transfiguration in a museum in Moscow which made a great impression on me. The one is attributed to Rublev, reproductions of which can be seen everywhere because it is easy to reproduce, the other, older, attributed to Theophan the Greek. From the point of view of design and plan both are similar: a mountain with three peaks, the Lord is on the central one with Moses and Elias to His right and left; on the slopes, the three Apostles, some rocks, some bushes, some plants. If you compare the two, what you see in Rublev’s picture is the shining brightness of Christ and the incredible whiteness of His clothing, ‘a whiteness such as no fuller on earth can white’, as the Gospel says, and you see that this light falls on all that surrounds it and acquires a richness of colour, of depth, an intensity of reality which they could never have except when bathed in this divine, uncreated light’. The created world is not itself changed except by the measure in which it is flooded by this light which is God Himself. On the other hand, the picture which Theophan gives us is much more difficult to grasp: the background is silver, the rays of light are of pale silver and pale blue, and one has an impression of dimness compared with the picture I just described. But if you look closely – this is at least what I saw – one sees these rays of light falling on, touching the various objects – the rocks, the plants – but instead of given depth, cohesion, density or grater colour and reality, they seem to penetrate, they seem to touch, at the heart of each thing, a point from which this same light shines in response to that divine touch. Everything becomes alive, participating in a Life; they are not only bathed in this Life. And I believe that in the Orthodox view of the Transfiguration this is a very essential fact. It is an indescribable revelation of the vocation of the created world, a vision of what the world can be when God holds it in His light, or when it receives, lets itself to be penetrated by this light and becomes alive in this Light which is at the same time Life.
This spirituality of which you speak – I can’t believe that it can be, so to speak, reserved for Orthodoxy, but I would like to know how far Westerners, instead of knowing and loving it as something which is near to them, could assimilate it and make it their own?
From this point of view I think that the Orthodox spirituality is simply Christian spirituality. I think that whatever is true in what I have said belongs equally to the West and East, to whoever is Christian. Nevertheless there are barriers which have grown up, but they do not come from God, they do not come from the Gospel, they arise from the fact that the West has, I think, lost sight of a number of things: the West has lost the cosmic aspect of the Incarnation and of all that has bearing on the Incarnate Word. In the West the Incarnation and all the events, whose scope is infinitely greater than our little human world, are reduced to a history of the Salvation of men. ‘Reduced’ is perhaps not the right word, because it is essential for us. But being essential for us is not the whole thing: it is greater than we. This is one aspect which I believe the West is in process of recovering, although in a way that I am not quite satisfied with: for example in the thought of Teillard de Chardin.
There is also a sort of rejection of the fact of Resurrection and the fact of the Crucifixion to the point in the past history. I think that the long discussions over the problem of memorial are due to an error of vision: when we celebrate the memorial of the Passion or the memorial of the Holy Supper, if we imagine that we are speaking of the past and we look back in memory to the point in the time line which precedes us, I think that we are simply making a lamentable mistake, because all these events are situated in eternity and not simply in time. And when we celebrate the memorial of these events the aim is to place ourselves face to face with an event which is present and not to remember an event which is past. If the Cross and the Resurrection are past and done with, that is final; but a memorial which reminds us that we are not seeing that which happens in our midst is of real value. Then there is no need for this hopeless divergence over the problem of sacrament or memorial. There is a unique event, not one divided into two pieces: it is not a case of ‘because something happened about 2000 years ago, today something can happen on this altar’, but of that which ‘happened 2000 years ago is a continuous presence and on this altar we find ourselves face to face with this continuous presence’. We are in the Upper Room, we are at Calvary, we are in the Garden of Olives, beside the Tomb, and so on. And I believe that it is extremely important to recover this sense of uninterrupted presence; so that which is real is the Cross and Resurrection, the Ascension and so on, with all subsequent history moving on these events like a transparent film, which unrolls century after century; but these events are there, right in the centre of the history so to speak, always Events of today and not of yesterday. That I think is a second aspect.
And I believe that it is necessary for many people in the west to rethink about resurrection and become much more conscious of the way it affects not only Christ. To give you an example, which is obviously a caricature, we Orthodox often have the impression that, in the West, the great event is Good Friday. On that day everyone is present: after three days they are pleased to know, for His sake, that Christ rose from the dead. Whereas in reality it is our resurrection, as I have tried to explain – it is our resurrection which is implicit in Christ’s Resurrection. And when we say, ‘Chris is risen’, what we are saying also is: ‘And we too are instead of being dead.’ This is what makes the glory of the Easter Night: we rejoice not simply that a happy event for the Lord has taken place after His Crucifixion: we rejoice precisely because within this event we are all taken hold and united in Eternity – although now still in history, and in the world, in the world as a presence of Eternity.
Translated from French.