June 16, 2016

"AND YOU WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?"


"AND YOU WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?"

THE INSEPARABLE UNITY OF THE TRUE GOD AND TRUE MAN

Papandreou Damaskinos

(Jubilee 2000)

«You are the Christ, the Son of the living God» (Mt 16,16) is the answer Simon Peter gives to the question Jesus puts to his disciples: «Who do men say that the Son of man is?» (16,13). This is the first profession of faith we find in the New Testament and it is the "rock", the foundation on which His Church is built. «Christ is the Son of the living God». He is the truth that saves us.
What does this mean? God becomes man because man, as the bearer of God's uncreated energies, lives in union with Him. This dynamic event renews the whole of creation: God becomes man to take upon himself the consequences of original sin - suffering and death: «what cannot be assumed, cannot be saved».
The whole of humanity shares, as it were, organically in the human nature of God (Logos) who became incarnate. Those who have been redeemed become God's children not like Christ «in nature and truth (as Athanasius the Great says), but by disposition and divine grace, through participation in his spirit and by imitation». So the Father accomplished the salvation of the whole world in his Son and he created a relationship between all things.
What does this mean? It means that all men and women can become God's children by the power of the Spirit. They are God's children who are led through the Spirit of God. «For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, "Abba!" "Father!" it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God» (Rm 8,14-17). All people, without distinction of sex, age, class, race, political opinion or moral value become members of God's new family through Baptism. Through Baptism Christians share in Christ's redeeming work, they cooperate in his action. The water of the new creation which is Baptism consecrates their transformation and it is through this Baptism that they begin to share in the life of the God-man and to work with Him for the good of all humanity. They pray unceasingly "thy kingdom come". For this kingdom gathers all humanity through its essence and nature. This family, the "Body of Christ" is called the Church. This Church which we ourselves are as members of this body, does not exist for itself, to affirm itself - but for the world.
And precisely because the Church represents the Body of Him who "though his humanity became like us" and shares in the life of the Church and History, the Church does not exist except insofar as she is the Lord's incarnation in the world and in history. She has an organic relationship with the world. This relationship is likewise lived in the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is the sacramental event in which the renewed community with God is celebrated and completed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Man is placed in this community and created for it. If he were to lose this community, the very relationship with his fellow-men and his environment would be thrown into confusion. «It is in Jesus Christ that God renews the community in its dual dimension (...) Our sharing the Lord's table strengthens indissolubly in Jesus Christ our communion with God and our neighbours. The Eucharist is the eschatological sign of universal salvation».
At the centre of this community there is the God-man, the divine humanity of Jesus, the vision of the "new man", the "new society" which is characterized by two movements that intersect indissolubly; from the altar towards the world and from the world towards the altar: contemplation and action, man's service and God's service, liturgy and spiritual and temporal diaconate. If we start from Christ, the salvation of the world, there is no difference between service of development and services of reconciliation. This is why our mission has a vast diaconal dimension. This dimension starts equally from the total action of Christ who "went about teaching, preaching and healing" (Mt 9,35) and from total human existence.
«You are the Christ, the Son of the living God». Christ, the well-spring who renews our action is «the same yesterday and today and for ever» (Heb 13,8). Any grave deviation in understanding humanity and the Son's divinity in the very person of the God-man would have consequences for men and women, in the Church, for their understanding of salvation. To all practical purposes, this happens when one or another partial truth is taken from the profession of faith and this is the only truth one wants to hear. An example of this partial truth could be that man oppressed by poverty and suffering binds himself exclusively to the human nature of Jesus of Nazareth in his suffering while the ineffable nature of God «vanishes out of their sight» (v. Lk 24, 31b). So do not think of Jesus only as a man.
And this comes instinctively if we consider Christ's divinity as such, with the result that it determines our human existence and our relationship with the world. Everything that concerns us should not be overestimated and considered as an absolute, lest we run into this false dilemma: human nature or divine Nature, humanism or theocrasy, cross of resurrection. We cannot set these truths against on another, and thus separate them. The one is contained in the other. The Church's understanding must start equally from Christ. She is his "body". Christ's divine humanity determines the Church's form, her existence, her structure (Christus totus in capite et corpore).
So unless we take the inseparable unity of the divinity and humanity of Christ as the starting point, the Church is considered as a sociological or human organization or institution, or even as a society detached from the problems of this world, dependent on partial truths which have been chosen and which, more or less consciously, are set as absolute.
If we are faithful to the revealed image of Christ in today's concrete situation, we will understand our relationship with God as being at the same time vertical and horizontal.
Vertical: the exchange of love between creature and creator is accomplished at the same time from the bottom to the top and from the top to the bottom. This is how the relationship of man with God is accomplished.
Horizontal: this concerns man's relationship with his brothers and sisters. In them, he loves God and serves God whom he does not see. He does not see his brothers and sisters only in relation to their eternal vocation, but also in the perspective of their concrete situation in the present.
The danger of verticality is that we forget our brothers and sisters while we trust totally in God. That of horizontality is that we forget God with the excuse of serving our neighbours.
The main danger we should mention here is that, in order to work in the world, Churches may end up by becoming secularized. The Church must remain the Church, even when she associates herself with the poor, the oppressed and the hungry. In doing this, she must preach the whole Christ to the people of her time, proclaim Him alone and bring his redemption.
It is true that Jesus bears witness to a love and a very special presence among the marginalized in society, the sick and the poor, the weak and the guilty. Indeed the Church associates herself with those who have everything against them and she remains with the weak and those who are deprived of their rights. But does this mean that one must identify God with the oppressed, the message of the Gospel with the triumph of violence and injustice? Justice must never be confused with justification; political liberation and victory over poverty cannot be put on the same level as redemption.
On the other hand, Berdiaiev says that the question of "our bread" is a material question, while the question of our neighbour's bread is a spiritual question. Undoubtedly there is some truth in this statement. Those who do not pledge themselves spontaneously to helping people in their concrete sufferings may become as guilty of heresy as those who deny this or that truth of faith.
That humanity has sufficient bread to live by will depend on the fact that a sufficient number of people understand that man does not live by bread alone. In this sense it would be wrong to set the "vertical" against the "horizontal". Each of the dimensions of faith forms a whole with the others. There is no clear separation between the history of salvation and the history of the world. Apropos of this, it goes without saying that the Church is not the immunized doctor at society's bed-side. We live in society and, with it, we can be sick, struggle and lose hope.
However it is not easy to preserve the balance between these two diverse tendencies, between the horizontal and the vertical, between God's humanity and God's adoption of man. Our generation has known these "good Christians" whose ideal was flight from the world, though they led a comfortable life. Today, we experience the opposite temptation. In their desire to devote themselves entirely to the service of others, many Christians lose sight of God's transcendence so that in the end they see only his immanence in men, or that sole common humanity.
This tendency is often accompanied by a unilateral theological orientation. For the good of mankind and the world, we ought to remain theologically closer to Peter's profession of faith: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God", which considers at the same time God and man without confusing them.
«You are the Christ, the Son of the living God», the memory of two thousand years in the history of Christianity defines to a greater or lesser degree its responsibility also on the threshold of the third millennium. In the first millennium, the Christian Church associates the peace of the Roman world "pax romana" with the peace of heaven, founded on the mystery of Christ's incarnation, as a "reconciliation" of humankind with God and as a new revelation of man with his neighbour in the context of the Church's theocentric humanism. During the second millennium Eastern and Western Christians have tried to extend their contribution to the Church's theocentric humanism both through theological reflection (scholastic theology in the West) and through the emancipation of their own spiritual life face to face with the spiritual experience of the Church - which is the "Body of Christ" perpetuated in time and history -, discovering an anthropocentric humanism for the life of mankind and the world.
Going over the spiritual history of the first two millenniums schematically like this the question now arises about the kind of humanism that will characterize the third millennium. Christian peoples are turning to the well-springs that which have irrigated their spiritual identity for two millenniums and have given credible answers to their existential anguish. This memory reminds them at the same time of God's thrust towards man and man's towards God with all the elements of the consequences that these two movements have had conversely on man's identity through the changing conditions of each age. The Church of Christ works through time like a memory that guarantees the continuity and equilibrium between cyclical questions and Christians' petitions. To do this she remains - or at least, she should remain - alert so that she may understand the messages of the times.
On the threshold of the third millennium, we are all aware of the fact that, wanting to make their own interpretation of their identity and their mission in the world, modern men and women have accumulated many problems in humanity which people are now incapable of assimilating or handling in the interest of humanity. Their claim to base the social peace of peoples on the necessity of God's death, in practice, is seen to be not only a pipe dream, but even more so a nightmare which challenges man's spiritual anxiety.
The sad consequences of the recent sudden and unexpected collapse of the pipe dreams of ideology have shown that man cannot quench his thirst by dreaming he is close to a spring. Man's spiritual hunger and thirst, caused by the spiritual deadlocks of our age are confirmed through instinctive and conscious recourse to the springs of diachronic spirituality, in spite of the fact that the Church is not yet ready to find solutions to these deadlocks which modern people have to face. However, she has a duty to take charge of modern men and women with all their problems, to entrust them to the Lord's Table where the Church's social realism is incarnated and offered as the "bread of life" and the "antidote against death". It is only at the Lord's altar that death becomes a source of life for man and spiritual food so that the world may live. This Christocentric humanity is the Church's task and the hope of the world for the third millennium.
In this perspective the 3rd preconciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference (Chambèsy, Geneva, 1986), in proclaiming peace, justice and human rights, illustrated the mission of the Church and of each Christian.
«For the very fact that we have had access to the meaning of salvation, we, Orthodox Christians, have a duty to fight to alleviate sickness, misfortune and distress; since we have been admitted to the experience of peace, we cannot remain indifferent before its absence in present-day society; since we have been the beneficiaries of God's justice, we struggle for total justice in the world: and for the disappearance of every form of oppression, because every day we experience divine mercy, we struggle against every form of fanaticism and intolerance among individuals and peoples».
With regard to this I would like to stress that the tolerance we have spoken of up to now is not sufficient. Tolerance should be a provisional attitude, which leads to recognition. After all, tolerating is the same as offending. We are called, through an in-depth dialogue, to know who the other is so that we may recognize him as he is without for this reason stopping being what we are. After this clarification, I will go back to cite the decision of the 3rd preconciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference which adds: «since we constantly proclaim the incarnation of God and the deification of man, we defend human rights for all individuals and all peoples. Since we experience the divine gift of freedom by virtue of Christ's redeeming work, we can announce more completely its universal value for each individual and each people; because we are nourished by the Lord's Body and Blood in the blessed Eucharist, we experience the need to share God's gifts with our brothers and sisters, we better understand hunger and privation and we fight for their abolition. Since we are awaiting a new heaven and a new earth where absolute justice reigns, we fight here and now for the rebirth and renewal of man and society».

(Papandreou Damaskinos is the Greek-Orthodox Metropolitan of Switzerland and secretary of the Secretariat for the preparation of the Great and Holy Council of Orthodox Churches. In this role he is in permanent and regular contact with all the Orthodox Churches. He is also Founder and Director of the Orthodox Centre in Chambèsy.)