-ADDRESS OF HIS ALL HOLINESS ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH BARTHOLOMEW PHOS HILARON "JOYFUL LIGHT" GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY - WASHINGTON, DC
October 21, 1997
Your Eminencies, Your Excellencies and Graces,
Father ODonovan, President of this University,
Beloved children in the Lord,
It is a special honor that this distinguished University confers the title of Honorary Doctor upon my Modesty. This is an opportunity for us to approach one another and communicate in the spirit of brotherhood. Although we proclaim that we worship the one and same Lord Jesus Christ, whose name we bear as Christians, we seek in common the causes of our divergence.
In the distant past, great attempts have been made by both sides to prove, and motivated by a different spirit, each side has judged the other as being divergent from the true faith.
This deeply rooted conviction of our divergence has led us to a thousand years of separate and autonomous courses. We confirm not with unexpected astonishment, but neither with indifference, that indeed the divergence between us continually increases and the end point to which our courses are taking us, foreseeably, are indeed different.
Our heart is opposed to the specter of an everlasting separation. Our heart requires that we seek again our common foundations, and the original starting point that we share. So that, retrospectively we can discover the point and the reasons for our divergence that led to separate courses, and be able, by lifting blame, to proceed thereafter on the same road leading to the same common goal.
Assuredly our problem is neither geographical nor one of personal alienation. Neither is it a problem of organizational structures, nor jurisdictional arrangements. Neither is it a problem of external submission, nor absorption of individuals and groups. It is something deeper and more substantive.
The manner in which we exist has become ontologically different. Unless our ontological transfiguration and transformation toward one common model of life is achieved, not only in form but also in substance, unity and its accompanying realization become impossible.
No one ignores the fact that the model for all of us is the person of the Theanthropos (God-Man) Jesus Christ. But which model? No one ignores the fact that the incorporation in Him is achieved within His body, the Church. But whose church?
Because of the varying responses to these basic questions, we marched on divergent courses. This is easily understood and unavoidable. For whether we comprehend this or not, our existence is ontologically shaped in symphony and harmony with our inner self. According to the description of our Lord, in Matthew 15:11, not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth. This means that our essence is in continuous transformation [Rom. 12:2, 2 Cor. 3:18] "by the renewing of your mind," and in the reflected glory of the Lord.
A characteristic detail, that cannot be understood without special attention, just as is described in the Old Testament, is that Jacob succeeded in having his flock bear multicolored lambs by placing before them multicolored rods [Gen. 30:37-43]. In a similar way, the Apostle Paul writing to the Corinthians says that we are being transformed into the likeness of the image of the glory of the Lord, which we reflect. Consequently the "glory" of the Lord, which we see, as in a mirror, is that which transforms us. This glory is that to which we are likened. The reflection of the divine glory recreates or otherwise regenerates us into something other or different in essence than our previous nature. Therefore, transformation into the image of the Lord and the image of His body becomes the fundamental pursuit of our life, accomplished in essence by the intervention of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore we do not engage in idle talk and discuss intellectual concepts which do not influence our lives. We discuss the essence of the Being who truly is, to whom we seek to become assimilated by the grace of God, and because of the inadequacy of human terms, we call this the image of the glory of the Lord. Based on this image, and in the likeness of this image, we become "partakers of the divine nature" [2 Peter 1:4]. We are truly changed, although "neither earth, nor voice, nor custom distinguish us from the rest on mankind." [To Diognetos 2, P.G. 2,1173]
This change, which is bestowed on us from the right hand of the Most High, remains hidden, secret and mystical to many. And thus, a life which is directed toward Him is called mystical. That which leads to divine grace are called mysteries. The entire change of both language and intellect is beyond comprehension and when directed by God leads to unspeakable mysteries.
However, the change of mans essence, theosis by grace, is a fact that is tangible for all the Orthodox faithful. Grace is not only obtained through the transformed relics of the saints, which is totally inexplicable without acceptance of the divine. Grace also radiates from living Saints who are truly in the likeness of the Lord [Luk. 8:46]. This change is also obtained through Holy Baptism which through grace transforms the neophyte. The transformation may only be grasped and discerned by the senses of those, who have been baptized, and who are receptive to it without external persuasion. According to the trustworthy testimony of devout Christians, divine grace even infuses the inanimate. This too, is discerned by those who are sensitive and pure of heart. Grace can also be obtained by the presence of the Saints who have influenced and sanctified, and to a degree transformed, natural objects and places.
Therefore, the Orthodox Christian does not live in a place of theoretical and conceptual conversations, but rather in a place of an essential and empirical lifestyle and reality as confirmed by grace in the heart [Heb. 13:9]. This grace cannot be put in doubt either by logic or science or other type of argument.
Our conception of Holy Tradition moves upon the same track. Holy Tradition for the Orthodox Christian is not just some collection of teachings, texts outside the Holy Scriptures and based on their oral tradition within the Church. It is this, but not only this. First and foremost, it is a living and essential imparting of life and grace, namely, it is an essential and tangible reality, propagated from generation to generation within the Orthodox Church. This transmittal of the faith, like the circulation of the sap of life from the tree to the branch, from the body to the member, from the Church to the believer, presumes that one is grafted to the fruitful olive tree [Rom. 11:23-25], the embodiment in the body (Rom. 12:5, 1 Cor. 10:16-17, 12:12-27).
Membership in the Church is not an act of cataloging a person as a member of a group but it is the true rebirth of this person in a new world, the world of grace. From that moment forward, he or she is nourished and grows a new body which is of different substance than the body of the flesh, and is joined with the body of Christ through baptism.
The relevant baptismal Hymn, "Whoever is baptized in Christ, has been clothed in Christ" is not simply symbolism or a poetic allegory. It is a real fact that brings change in the substance of the human being.
Those baptized as infants, whose Orthodox parents grafted them into the body of the Church, are unable to express in words the change that took place in them, but they feel it. However, those present at the moment of baptism who have purity of heart see the grace that surrounds them. Those baptized at a more mature age and with depth of faith are able to describe the liberating feeling of renouncing the devil and joining Christ.
This ontological view of the life in Christ entails a substantial element of the experience of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The glow of its light illumines all facets of our ecclesiastical and personal life in the Church and disposes of the need for foolish inquires. The Master himself knocks on the door, and seeks that we open to him the door of our entire being, so that he may enter and break bread with us. This is the foundational issue and posture for us as Orthodox. Understanding this opens the door for communication and makes dialog possible.
The same ontological position of the Orthodox Church brings us to the difficult issues before us.
Let us look at some:
Regarding Dogma, the Orthodox Church maintains an apparently opposing position. On the one hand, Orthodoxy has never started a dogmatic dialog, on the other hand, the Church has never neglected one. And let me explain why.
As we have said, the Orthodox faithful awaits and desires to become the reflection of the glory of God and through the grace of the Holy Spirit he becomes an image of our Lord Jesus Christ. He desires in other words to immediately know one person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, and through him the remaining two, the unapproachable person of the Father, and through the Son alone, the person of the Holy Spirit. The Orthodox Christian strives towards purity of Heart for the visitation of grace, and having been fulfilled, is able to behold the sought-after glory of God. Being thus transformed, from glory to glory, the Orthodox Christian approaches God. On the spiritual journey a dogmatic description of the manifestation of the Lord and his Body, the Church, is not required because our experienced guide at every moment protects us from deception, and allows us to accept the Glory of the Lord in any appearance it takes. Therefore, experiencing the Dogma of the Church is not something that is taught through intellectual teachings, but it is learned through the example of him who, through incarnation, joined Himself to us. To this point, dogma is life and life is the expression of dogma. However, a mere theoretical discussion on the meaning of life and dogma is unnecessary.
However, the evil opponent of man tries to interject between the enlightened faithful and the illuminating glory, his own distorted filter, that is a doctrine, a false glory, so that he might deceive the faithful as being the same. In this case, the Church, like a good shepherd, hurries to guide the faithful towards right glory. The entire body of the Church rises and vigorously warns that the said doctrine is false and that, by embracing it, it separates us from the true glory of God, leads us off the track resulting in the loss of our desired goal. The Church therefore, to protect the faithful from missing the mark, battles the distortions of the glory of God, that cunning spirits continuously plant.
Consequently, this difference in dogmatic theory does not lend itself to systematic analysis. Because, a systematic exposure of this dogmatic teaching could be understood only spiritually and therefore could harm the purity of the pure vision that the faithful has, by the voluntary import of all distortions. That is, immediate empirical and living knowledge of the only true glory of God and not the epistemological enumeration of a multitude of false imitations. This is summarized in the recognition that for those who have an immediate personal knowledge of the Lord, any description of him is rendered needless. For those that are on the road to knowing him, but still do not, a correct presentation of the basic elements of His glory is useful to have and particularly as much as it is necessary so that they do not engage in false beliefs.
Concerning those that have freely chosen to shun the correct Glory of God, the Orthodox Church follows the Apostle Pauls recommendation which is "a man that is a heretic after the first and second admonition, reject" (Titus 3,10).
The same, of course, does not hold true for those who ask you a reason for the hope that is in you with meekness and fear (1 Peter 3:15). Therefore the Orthodox Church is always open for every good-faith dialog but declines to partake in planted squabbles, because there is always a danger to be misunderstood in such a context.
If time and your kindness permit, let us examine one such case so you can better discern our position.
The nature of the Church, viewed in the light of the Orthodox Faith, is a reality which is recognized spiritually and not descriptively. Each one of us knows the members of his own body not because he has been taught about them or because they have been described in detail by anyone. "He knows" them, in a special way, because of the direct and living bond with them, even if he does not understand this scientifically.
The Church is our body. As a result of the existence of its Head, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, before all time, and before creation, the Church coexists with him before all time. The Church is not an imaginary entity, is not a legal entity, a mere gathering of the faithful, or a worldly establishment or creation. The Church is Christ and those that He chooses, in one body with him for all ages.
The comprehension of the meaning of this, as much as is possible, assumes living this reality fully. That is, what our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life (1 John 1:1), without exception, a sense of the union of all things in Christ, in Whom all things surmised, not pantheistically, but christologically.
All this leads to the conclusion that the organization, the goals, the functions and all aspects of the life of the Church are not determined by human judgment, but the real and unchanging nature of the Church. Thus, the steadfastness of the Orthodox Church on ecclesiastical assumptions of every type is not the product of any narrow perception, but the natural result of our living ecclesiastical experience. We are not talking about an object, subjected to our free manipulation, but of an existence independent of our desires and directed by him who governs all things and Who bestowed upon us limited responsibility or ministry. The starting point of the occasionally misunderstood position of the Orthodox Church concerning ecclesiological matters is rediscovered in the essence of this ministry in this real body directed by its head, the Lord Jesus Christ.
So much for this.
Time is passing and the subject cannot be exhausted. However, in these few words your judgment is expected regarding my thoughts about our hope, a hope starting from a living experience rather than an intellectual conception.
We thank you for your patience and attention. Our love towards you is warm. Let not the simplicity of my words cloud your judgment regarding their truth. You are able to understand the words of the divine Logos through the uttering of human words. Let us always hear the words of the divine Logos so that His grace may always be with us. For this indeed is our wish for you.
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