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Demetrios Tselengidis: On the Surpassing Value of the Spiritual Unity of the Church

Its Brutal Abuse in Crete and the Identification of the Church with its Administration.

Letter (Aug. 30, 2016) to the Archbishop and Hierarchy of the Church of Greece on the "Council" in Crete

The well-known and respected Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the Theological School of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Demetrios Tselengidis, has issued an important and timely three part analysis of the Cretan Council and the ecclesiological problems and issues surrounding it. The letter was sent to all of the hierarchs of the Church of Greece at the end of August and has been included in the recent publication dedicated to the "Council" of Crete, which we mentioned in an earlier post.

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Thessaloniki, 30/8/2016

To: The Holy Synod of the Church of Greece

I. Gennadios 14, 115 21 Athens

CC: To all of the Hierarchs of the Church of Greece

Your Beatitude and Holy President of the Synod,

Your Eminences, Holy Hierarchs,

In view of the upcoming convocation of the Holy Synod of the Hierarchy, I would like to lay before you my small "Trilogy", for I believe that it may in some way aid in the support of the unity of our Church.

This "Trilogy" touches upon the surpassing value of the Spiritual unity of the Church, the brutal abuse of the unity of the Church, and the identification of the Church with its Administration.

I. The Surpassing Value of the Spiritual Unity of the Church

The so-called Holy and Great Council of the Crete was called, according to its originators and organizers, in order to express the unity of the Church. However, the convening of a Pan-Orthodox Council for the purpose of showcasing the unity of the Church is unknown and foreign to the history of the Councils of the Orthodox Church. The truth of the matter, as became apparent after the convening of the Council, is that not only was this ambitious aim not realized, but, rather, events revealed the veiled cunning of its organizers. However, let us examine just what the unity of the Church consists, and in what way this particular "Council" "proclaimed" it.

The unity of the Church, as its foundational attribute, is a given in the very nature of the Church and expresses the Church's self-understanding, which was historically formulated in the Oros-Decision laid down by the Second Ecumenical Council (381), which then became the Church's Symbol of Faith (or Creed).

In the Symbol of Faith we confess that we believe "in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church." If, however, the Church is "One" - according to our Creed - then, strictly speaking, there cannot be heterodox-heretical Churches.

The unity of the Church, as an attribute of the one body of the Church, is absolutely and irrevocably assured by Her Head, Christ, through the continual presence of the Holy Spirit in Her, already from Pentecost.

To begin with, we must state that the unity of men with the Triune God and between themselves - which constitutes the highest level of unity among men - is the main and essential aim of the entire Divine Economy, which was expressed through the incarnation of the Son and Word of God, but more particularly by the establishment of His Church.

The Church, as the mysteriological body of Christ, is the charismatic space where the unity of the faithful is established, lived and made visible as the image of the unity of the Triune God. Accordingly, then, the theological and ontological presuppositions for the relation of the faithful to the Triune unity are found in the establishment and composition of the Church as the theanthropic body of Christ, in which the faithful are befitted as His organic members. The unfailing unity of the Church is guaranteed by Christ Himself as Her theanthropic Head.

The unity of the Church, per se, is ontologically unbreakable and is institutionally revealed in the faith, worship and administration of the Church. This triple unity is grounded in the three-fold office of Christ and draws from it; namely, the offices of prophet, priest and king. Consequently, these three manifestations of the unity of the Church must be understood as organically inter-dependent, inter-penetrating and inseparably co-ordinated with the one and complete unity of the Church.

The unity of the Church, as a whole, while given mysteriologically, is preserved and cultivated through the observance of the divine commandments and is revealed, par excellence, eucharistically. Consequently, this unity does not exist as a quality of our nature, nor is it, much more, a result of an autonomous activity of men, but rather consists of the fruit and gift of the Holy Spirit, within the context of the mysteriological body of Christ alone, that is, within His one and only Church. This is the case because this unity presupposes the heavenly, uncreated and charismatic birth and therapy of human nature from the ontological illness of sin, through the mystery of Holy Baptism and the gift of uncreated divine grace and energy of the Holy Spirit in the mystery of Holy Chrismation.

Thus, the uncreated Reign of God within the faithful is established irrevocably, which, however, remains active only under the presupposition of the loving observance of the divine commandments, but also the blameless partaking of the divine-acting mysteries of the Church. It is precisely this Reign of God active within the faithful which constitutes their essential ontological unity, firstly with the Triune God and consequently between themselves, for then it is that the charismatic-mysteriological appropriation of the Grace of the Holy Spirit is manifest and the faithful are, in practice, made one Spirit with the Triune God and between themselves. Then, that which unites them - namely, the unifying power - is the uncreated divine love, given and active charismatically within them, the divine glory and Reign, as was lived historically by the elect disciples of Christ during His transfiguration, and later by all of His disciples from the day of Pentecost onward.

The way in which this ecclesiastical unity is brought about is not created but uncreated. This is confirmed for us by the incarnate Hypostatic Truth in His High-Priestly Prayer. The core of the High-Priestly Prayer is concerned with unity, both with regard to its ontological character and the way in which it is acquired and appropriated: "And the glory which thou gavest me, I have given them," says Christ to God the Father, "that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me" (John 17: 22-23).

In other words, the uncreated Glory and Reign of the Triune God is not only the way in which this Theanthropic unity is realized, but it is also the unique spiritual "key" to the "unspeakable" experience and "incomprehensible" knowledge of this unity, as the manifestation of the uncreated love of God the Father which is imparted through Christ and made one's own experientially in the Holy Spirit. The degree of the charismatic unity of the faithful, as created beings, is comparable - always analogously - to the degree of the natural uncreated unity which God the Father has with His Son in the Holy Spirit.

From the Scriptural passage above, it follows that the aim of the Triune God for the faithful - clergy, monks, laymen, unmarried and married - is the exactly the same, without exception, for all and to the same degree. The aim is for all to become one Spirit with the Triune God and between themselves, in order for them to reach "unreachably" uncreated perfection and to taste it in this present life, for only in this way can they experientially witness to His perfect and uncreated love and to offer, in obedience to God, their missionary service to a world alienated from God.

Consequently, only in the Holy Spirit, that is, only uncreatedly, can we become one in the Church, for the Holy Spirit, which we receive charismatically through Her, is an uncreated reality. Through this uncreated unity the present life, but also the future eternal life of the faithful, obtains value to the highest degree as the aim of the Triune God in His one and only Church. Within the context of this charismatic unity of the Church, neither the refined idolizations of the married (both spouses and children), nor of the unmarried (clergy or monastic), of any person or institution, have any existential place whatsoever. Thus, if some form of ecclesiastical unity happens to be idolized and clergy of all ranks and laity appear as worshippers, this means that this form of unity is created and autonomous from the Church itself, and, therefore, clearly to be rejected, as foreign to its character.

The perfect and charismatic unity of the Church is, according to St. John Chrysostom, understood and revealed in practice as harmony as to the phronema (mindset) - faith -, but also as harmony as to the internal disposition - love. First of all, however, unity presupposes the same-uniform phronema. Indeed, it is the oneness of mind that, in practice, guarantees unity, whereas love - according to the same Father- derives from the right faith (PG 62, 509). That is precisely the reason that the "ἐν ἑνί στόματι καί μιᾷ καρδίᾳ" [with one mouth and one heart] doxology of the Triune God in the divine worship presupposes not only the faith, but necessarily also a life in the Holy Spirit, which is, most essentially, a life of genuine and uncreated love. With these experiential presuppositions, both the unity of the Church, as a whole, and the unity of the faithful, as members of the Church, have their visual manifestation in the Eucharistic Assembly, within the context of Divine Worship.