I wish to say a few things about what I believe can be the contribution of Orthodoxy in this situation of East and West, in which we are; and if I choose to speak on Orthodoxy and not on a wider scale it is primarily because I am an Orthodox surrounded by an immense majority of Westerners, and it is Orthodoxy which on the whole is the unknown quantity in thiins dialogue as far as the majority of you are concerned. When the Russian Orthodox Church was admitted to membership of the World Council of Churches, one of our delegates, Archbishop John of Central Europe, got up and voiced the attitude of our delegation on coming into the World Council of Churches. He said, in substance, that we came with two thoughts. On the one hand we entered the World Council of Churches in the spirit in which St. Anthony the Great entered the mysterious, saving and life-giving desert of Egypt. He came into it because it was the place where he thought he would find God, acting, saving. And then he began to go from one cell to another, living with one anchorite after another, learning from the one, patience and from the other, humility, and from another again hospitality, fortitude, prayer and so on. This, said Archbishop John, is also our attitude to you Western Christians. In the course of the past centuries, each one of the Western denominations has singled out one of the beautiful features of the gospel and has brought it to an admirable degree of perfection, and our desire is to learn from each one of the denominations of the West what this denomination has done, has learned, has become under the guidance of the Gospel.
What are we bringing to Western Christendom, asked Archbishop John? And he had to reply in all sincerity what we all have to answer to such a question; we are bringing to Western Christendom what we believe to be the truth of the undivided church of all. We bring this truth: but we do not claim that we are adequate to it. Archbishop John concluded his words by saying — take it, this truth which we carry in earthen vessels, take it with all the virtues which have developed in the course of the centuries: take it to yourself, because it belongs to you as it belongs to us, and bear those fruits which we have been incapable of bearing. These are the two aspects of our attitude to the West as far as this meeting between Eastern and Western Christendom is concerned.
This truth which we are speaking about, as the Archbishop has pointed out, is not a system of propositions which may or may not be adequate to the integrity of the Gospel which is so deep, so existential. The truth is the Lord Christ. The truth is not something. The truth is someone and the truth must be lived, shared, communed in: it cannot be simply learned and assimilated in our intellect. Theology, as it is conceived in Orthodoxy, is not a science concerning God and things divine, the created world and their mutual relationship. Theology is the knowledge of God which can be gained only in the mystery of the Church in communion with God Himself by the power of His grace. And this is why we believe so strongly that the door to the knowledge of God is in the Sacraments of the Church, because it is the Sacraments of the Church that make us partakers of this divine life. And it is this divine life which afterwards we discover, which we make explicit, which we unfold and which we offer to our own speculation and to the understanding of others. It is from the depth of this life that we must discover our unity and appeciate our disunity.
At the centre of this experience stands our faith in what the Church is: a living organism, a body both, and equally, human and divine: an organism, the humanity of which is not the empirical humanity which history allows us to discover but which is the object of faith no less than the divine nature of the Church. The humanity of the Church is not only ours: it is Christ’s, and it is by becoming, by the means of the divine sacraments, in our humanity, members of this body which is the total Christ, that we enter into the mystery of our vocation. In Christ the Church is perfect in its humanity: it is also perfect in its divinity, because Christ, Very Man, is also Very God. The Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of the Father dwells in it, and our life is hid with Christ in God. In that respect we may say that there is no after-life. There is life, one-ness of life. There is not a here and a hereafter, there is just life in its plenitude, in its totality, in its integrity; and the fact that we are in the Church means for us that we are already in patria, already at home, in the Kingdom which is still to come. Here there is a grammatical impossibility. There is also a factual tension. Yes! We are in what is to be, and in that respect Orthodoxy has both a sense of time and of history on the one hand, and a dimension of eternity already present because eternity is a Divine Now and not a human ‘later on.’ In that sense we are related both to something which is immutable and to something which is history. The Church is immutable because it is life divine, which is the Church’s life, communicated by the Sacraments lived in the total mystery of what the Church is — a divine and human organism. The Liturgy is the Kingdom of God already present. We are in it, and yet the Liturgy has at its very centre the tragedy of the Cross, which шs history in the most poignant, in the most tragic sense of this word. It is true that we Orthodox, not because of our Orthodoxy but because of what we are nationally, are often unconcerned, or concerned in an archaic and disorderly manner, with things of human life and organization. It is true that the West in this respect is infinitely superior to us. But this does not lie in the nature of Orthodoxy, because our sense of the Incarnation should prevent us from overlooking history. Indeed for us, if it could have been said (and I don’t think it would be adequate to say so) that between the creation of the world and the Incarnation, God and His created world were face to face, we cannot say this any more, since now the Word of God has become man, since the Very God has become Very Man.
Now this world of ours is inextricably connected, united, interwoven with the mystery of the Divine Presence. The Word of God has taken flesh. That means that in this history of ours, when all mankind will stand before God, one of us is Jesus of Nazareth. Christ, the Lord of history, is a man of history. By His Incarnation God has become intrinsic to the tragedy of the world. The tragedy has become even more mysterious and more tragic for that, not simpler. But also this world of ours, which so often we perceive as a small, quite often despicable, human world, must be seen in all its greatness and in all its dimensions. In the Incarnation, all that is this world of ours, which is our physical body and our human soul, has been taken by Christ into His hypo-tasis, into His Person. The whole cosmos, through the Incarnation, is now recapitulated in the person of Christ. The whole cosmos is now part of human history, because God has entered it in His mighty deed of Incarnation, of suffering, of death, of Resurrection. But even more than this, in the Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ in a way which is far beyond any imagination or any way of stating it, humanity, the substance of this cosmos, has entered into the very mystery of the Triune God. St. John Chrysostom said ‘If you want to know what man is, don’t look at the palaces of kings, lift up your eyes to the throne of God and you will see at the right hand of God a man — Man seated.’ This implies that for us history and eternity, what is ephemeral, precarious and transient in this world of ours, is linked with something unshakable, eternal; that the frailest is united with the strongest, and that in human weakness the fullness of the divine power is made manifest. And if the Church is the Body of Christ, if what we believe is true at all, then there is a link, a profound link between this world of ours in which we live, which is a tragic, Godless, orphaned world, and the immense unfathomable peace of the Kingdom of God, which has already come with power and which is to come with glory.
Martyrdom is the mark of the Church. Martyrdom is a witness in word, but more, it is a witness of life because it was not by words, but by the manifestation of the Spirit in their lives, that the Apostles conquered the world. They went into it with the fire of the Spirit, with the joy of the Spirit, with the peace of God, and they conquered because they could bring into it the glory of the Resurrection, the joy of Eternal Life, a newness which the world that had waxed old needed unless it accepted to die. But there has also been from the very beginnings of history to our own days, martyrdom of blood, the laying down of one’s life not only for Christ, but for men for Christ’s sake. One is not a martyr against a world that has become rebellious and Godless, one is a martyr for the world that has turned away from God, in order to bring salvation into it at the cost of one’s own life. This is one of those things which the Church, the Orthodox Church, can now more perhaps than ever contribute to the cause of Christendom, to the consciousness, the experience of Christendom, because in the last fifty years innumerable members of our Eastern Churches have suffered and died not as meaningless victims of human cruelty and hatred, but in the full meaning of what it is to lay down one’s life that others may live and that Christ may be glorified. Martyrdom begins with undefeated love. A young priest of ours in the early days of the revolution, after a long imprisonment, came out an old man. He was asked what had been left of him, and his answer was ‘Suffering has destroyed all things. One has withstood — it is love.’ This is the basic attitude of the Church; Christ in His Body and the Body of Christ alive in His Spirit. And other examples. A prayer brought forth by a man from a concentration camp — ‘Remember, О Lord, not only the men of good-will but the men of ill-will. Do not account to them our suffering, our blood, but accept as fruits of their lives, the fruits which we have borne because of them, in patience, in comradeship, in mutual love, in humility, in courage. Receive all that has been born in our souls thanks to the sufferings which they have inflicted upon us, and may these fruits be their redemption.’ And the words of one of our bishops who in the early years died a cruel death, who said to one of his disciples ‘It is given to us not only to believe on Christ but also to suffer for Him and with Him.’ He added ‘It is the unique privilege of the Christian to die a martyr because none but the martyr at the day of the last Judgment will be able to take his stand before the Judgment Seat of God, and say “In Thy Name and following Thy example I have forgiven: Thou hast no claim against them any more.” ‘
Orthodoxy is now entering more and more into the life of this total Christendom of which the Archbishop spoke, and particularly into this meeting of the Christians in search of a unity which is greater than anything we can imagine. Orthodoxy can bring the clarity, universality and power of the Greek mind. It can also bring into this dialogue, the simple, everyday experience of witness under circumstances which do not allow the fragrance of theological discussion and argument. It can bring into this dialogue the simplicity of people who for more than forty years have kept their Faith and lived their Faith humbly, and perhaps unworthily, imperfectly, but of whom millions have given their lives to Christ with the joy of dying that others may live. And this is possible only in the light of this Resurrection of Christ, of this Presence of Eternity in our midst, of the fact that in spite of all that is going on in history, history is absolutely stable, because Christ is the Lord of history.
Published: The dialogue of East and West in Christendom: Lectures delivered at a Conference arranged by the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius in Oxford, March 10th, 1962. – London: Faith Press, 1963. 47 p.