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The Witness of the Orthodox Church.

Seizing the kairos

The end of the 20th century and the start of a new millennium is an apt occasion to remind ourselves that time is a gift of grace, a sacrament of the divine presence, and that our Saviour Jesus Christ is Lord of time, King of the ages, Ruler of history, holding all seasons, centuries and millennia in his own power, drawing them all to their final consummation in the age to come.

Shortly before the opening blessing in the divine liturgy, the deacon says to the celebrating priest "Kairos tou poiesai to Kyrio" -- words from Psalm 118 [119]: 126, which may be best translated "It is time for the Lord to act". The Greek word used here for "time" is kairos, meaning time understood as personal, living and existential, time experienced as the decisive moment, the moment of crisis, the moment of opportunity. To liturgize is precisely to seize the kairos, the moment of life and action; it is to be gathered and concentrated in the "here" and "now" where eternity intersects with time.

On the threshold of a new millennium, how are we as Orthodox to understand the present moment, our immediate moment of opportunity? What is the kairos that we are being invited to seize? In what ways are we being called to repent and to "change our mind"? Using this same word kairos, St Paul writes: "See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2). How are we to interpret and to live out this grace-given "now", poised as we are at the end of one century and the start of another?

If we are to understand the immediate kairos, if we are to live creatively in the present moment, we must also look back to the past, for without an appreciation of the past our sense of the present lacks depth. What have been the crucial events in Orthodox history during the 20th century? What have been the outstanding features in our Orthodox witness over the past ten decades? What have we done, and what have we left undone? Where have we failed, and how can we do better? I shall centre my reflections on these questions on three key terms: martyria, diaspora, hesychia.


Martyria means "witness" or "testimony", but also "martyrdom"; more specifically "witness through martyrdom".

Looking back on the 20th century, we see at once that-the outward situation of the Orthodox church has been shaped by two events, separated by an interval of only five years: by the Russian revolution of 1917, and then in 1922-23 by the Greek defeat in Asia Minor and the compulsory "exchange of populations" between Greece and Turkey -- "ethnic cleansing", as we would call it today.

The atheist persecution of Russian Christians, following the 1917 communist revolution -- a persecution extended after the second world war to Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria and the other countries of Eastern Europe -- has meant that, for the great majority of Orthodox believers during much of the 20th century, the call to follow Christ was in the most direct and literal sense a call to cross-bearing, to what the liturgy of St Basil calls "life-creating" death. "Behold, through the cross joy has come to all the world," we proclaim at Sunday matins; and the meaning of these words through the cross was experienced with an overwhelming intensity during the 20th century by the Orthodox Christians of Russia and Eastern Europe (as by many other Christians as well).

The events in Asia Minor during 1922 and 1923 were more limited in their impact. Yet at the time the sufferings of the two million Greek Orthodox in Turkey were indeed severe. We have no exact record of how many of them were massacred in Smyrna and elsewhere, of how many others died in transit before they could be resettled in Greece, but it must amount to hundreds of thousands. Moreover, the Greeks who in 1923 were allowed to remain in the city of Constantinople have more recently lived in ever-increasing fear: there were anti-Christian riots in Constantinople in 1955, a constant expulsion of Orthodox from the city during the 1960s and 1970s, the continuing attacks on the ecumenical patriarchate today. We may be confident that the Patriarch will remain in the Phanar for as long as he possibly can: but how much longer will he in fact be allowed to do so? The future of the patriarchate, in human terms, is dark and uncertain. Cypriot Orthodoxy likewise suffered heavy losses in 1974. So Greeks, as well as Russians, Serbs, Bulgarians and Romanians, have also had to face their full share of persecution. At the same time, let us not overlook the many pressures to which Orthodox are being subjected in the Arab lands.

The 20th century has thus been for Orthodoxy a time of fiery trial, of exile, imprisonment and violent death. The number of new martyrs and confessors is incalculable. During a recent visit to Romania, I had the privilege of meeting a number of leading spiritual fathers; and I was struck by the fact that almost all of them who were over 65 had spent long years in prison, often in solitary confinement, and sometimes subjected to torture. It has been said that in the fifty years that followed the Bolshevik revolution incomparably more Christians died for their faith than in the three hundred years that followed our Lord's crucifixion. The great majority of those who have so died in the 20th century have been Orthodox Christians. "It is only in a state of sacrifice that we can approach the Father," says St Cyril of Alexandria. This has certainly been the experience of Orthodoxy in the past eighty years.

This experience of persecution and martyrdom is surely the most important single element of the history of the Orthodox church in the 20th century, if not of the 20th-century world as a whole. Our Orthodox witness in this century has been rendered not primarily through the spoken word but through silence, through patient and voiceless kenosis. Marius Victorinus, in a fine paradox, refers to God the Father as "silence eloquent". Certainly the silence of the 20th-century martyrs has been more eloquent than any words that we can possibly speak. If we Orthodox want to glory in our witness, let us glory in that.

When, however, we recall the Orthodox experience of persecution, let us be on our guard against a possible danger. Suffering can purify, but it can also lead to bitterness, paranoia and fanaticism. In speaking of imprisonment and torture, let us therefore keep in view the spirit of forgiveness and joy which has always marked the witness of the true Christian martyr. Talking with the contemporary spiritual fathers in Romania who had lived through the years of persecution, I was impressed again and again by their nonjudgmental attitude, by their realistic compassion, by their quiet joy. Tragic though their suffering has been, it has proved to be, in the phrase of John Climacus, "a joy-creating sorrow". In St Paul's words, they are "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" (2 Cor. 6:10). There is a grave danger in many parts of the contemporary Orthodox world of turning Orthodoxy into something negative, defensive and condemnatory. If we allow ourselves to do that, we are betraying the heritage of the new martyrs and confessors of our church.

In Russia, Romania and elsewhere, Orthodox Christians have preserved their faith under persecution with an extraordinary faithfulness. Although many fell away, countless others stood firm. But what of the future? After being largely isolated from the West during the communist period, Orthodox believers are now being exposed to the full impact of Western materialism and secularism. May this not prove in the end more subversive than direct persecution? "Times of peace are favourable to Satan," says Origen, "for they rob Christ of his martyrs and the church of its glory." Will this prove to be true in the Orthodox countries formerly under atheist rule?

Certainly we must hope that economic conditions will steadily improve in Russia and Eastern Europe, and that poverty and privation will steadily diminish. Riches in themselves are not an evil. Even though Christ warns us that it is difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom (Luke 18:24), many wealthy people have in fact been notable benefactors of the church. What the New Testament condemns is not money in itself, but precisely the love of money (1 Tim. 6:10). The question is: if and when the Orthodox living in post-communist societies come to enjoy a higher economic standard of living -- as we all pray that they will do -- how far will they succeed in avoiding the secular and materialist mentality that commonly accompanies this higher standard?

No Western visitor to Romania or Russia can fail to be impressed by the packed congregations at the divine liturgy, by the vast numbers of young people in the seminaries and monasteries. The crucial question is what the situation will be in twenty or thirty years' time. I can recall the devotion of the people, the firm and vivid faith, especially in the country districts, that I found in Greece on my first visit 45 years ago. Today there is still a deep religious faith to be found in Greece, but sadly it has been much eroded. Will the same thing happen in the former communist lands?

Western Orthodoxy

Let us turn to our second key term, diaspora. During the 20th century, there has been an emigration from the traditional Orthodox lands to the Western world on a scale altogether unparalleled in past history. Far more Orthodox are found today in Western cities such as Paris or London, New York or Melbourne, than in the historic centres of Eastern Christendom such as Constantinople or Jerusalem. Emigration had already started on a significant scale before the first world war, but the two events mentioned earlier -- the Russian revolution in 1917 and the Asia Minor catastrophe in 1922-23 -- led to a dramatic acceleration in the movement westwards, and on a somewhat diminished scale this movement still continues.

This 20th-century Orthodox diaspora should not be seen as the accidental result of chance historical events. Rather, we must discern in it the moving force of God's providence and love. Christ is Lord of history, and he can bring good out of evil. The factors contributing to Orthodox emigration -- poverty, persecution, civil war and ethnic cleansing -- are in themselves evil, but with God's help something can emerge out of these evils that is highly positive.

If we look at this diaspora as providential, we realize at once how profoundly it has enlarged our possibilities for Orthodox witness. The diaspora constitutes an opportunity for us Orthodox to transcend our geographical limitations, our nationalism, our ethnic exclusivism, in at least two ways. First, through emigration Orthodox believers of varied national backgrounds now find themselves living side by side to an unprecedented extent. This challenges us to get to know each other across national boundaries, and so to reaffirm the universality of Orthodoxy, its catholic dimension. Second, the establishment of Orthodoxy in the West makes it possible for us to share our Orthodox vision of Christian truth with the non-Orthodox world around us. We are being invited to rediscover the missionary vocation of Orthodoxy. In both these ways the fact of the diaspora is a call to dialogue -- dialogue that is both inter-Orthodox and inter-Christian -- and not just a call but a compelling invitation, a divine provocation. At the same time, this confronts us with two uncompleted tasks, daunting in their complexity.

1. Everywhere in the new territories to which we Orthodox have emigrated, we are faced with jurisdictional divisions. Our aim must surely be to see in each land a united local church, embracing all the Orthodox in that particular area, under a single synod of bishops. Whether this local church is termed "autocephalous" or "autonomous", or has some other canonical status, is a secondary matter; the vital point is that we should be visibly one.

Visible unity does not mean abandoning our different national heritages -- Greek, Arab, Russian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Romanian and the rest. On the contrary, such heritages have a lasting spiritual value. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn has said, "Nations are the wealth of humankind, its collective personalities; the very least of them wears its own special colours and bears within itself a special facet of divine intention." But incomparably more precious than our national diversity is our unity in the one Orthodox catholic faith; and it is our urgent responsibility to make manifest this unity in a visible, organized manner. The present jurisdictional multiplicity is doing untold harm to our Orthodox witness, both internally and before the outside world.

How are we to move from our existing fragmentation to full visible unity? To that question we feel overcome all too often by a sense of hopelessness, of moral paralysis. It must be frankly admitted that our mother churches -- the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Antioch, Moscow, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and the others -- have widely differing views about the canonical future of Orthodoxy in the West.

One thing is clear. Although we await a word of hope, a message of creative courage, from the holy and great council now in preparation, it is altogether unrealistic to expect that a pan-Orthodox gathering will act as some kind of deus ex machina and produce a complete solution out of a total vacuum, as it were ex nihilo. What is also required is a prophetic initiative from below, always in cooperation with the hierarchy. We need local contacts at the grassroots level, mutual friendship across parochial and ethnic boundaries, frequent meetings, not just at occasional large congresses but on a regular, monthly, even weekly basis. Without interaction and fraternity at every level, without local preparation, without the involvement of the total people of God, a pan-Orthodox synod can achieve very little.

To unite as Orthodox, we must first love one another. And to love one another we must first get to know one another. To know one another, we must first meet one another on the local level; for love towards my neighbour means primarily love towards my immediate neighbour. That is the only sure way forward.

Let me add that the word diaspora, which I have so far been using, has ceased to be exact. A diaspora, on the usual understanding of the word, refers to people driven from their homeland and dwelling abroad on a temporary basis, who hope to return eventually to their mother country. This is no longer the situation of most Orthodox living today in the West. Whatever their loyalty to the land of their origin, the great majority of them expect to remain permanently in the country where they are now settled, and of which they are now full citizens. But although we have moved beyond the situation of diaspora, we are still a long way from constituting, in the true and full sense, an established local Orthodox church in each of the countries where we dwell. May God shorten the journey ahead of us!

The second uncompleted task has to do with our failure so far to bear a consistent and unified Orthodox witness concerning Christian unity. While emigration to the West has afforded Orthodox the opportunity to meet Western Christians in a close and open way on a scale hitherto altogether unprecedented, we have taken only very limited advantage of this. Most Orthodox in the West remain defensive and inward-looking, "parochial" in the bad sense. There have indeed been certain notable points of meeting on a serious spiritual and intellectual level -- for example, the encounters organized by the Institut de theologie orthodoxe St Serge in Paris and by the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius in Britain -- but all too many Orthodox people are simply not interested in meeting other Christians.

The difficulty is compounded by the fact that we Orthodox do not at the moment have an agreed attitude towards non-Orthodox Christians. Just as there is a wide variety of viewpoints about the future organization of Orthodoxy in the West, so we differ also in our vision of inter-Christian reconciliation. Nearly forty years ago the Second Vatican Council, in its Decree on Ecumenism, laid down guidelines for Roman Catholics engaged in inter-Christian work. We Orthodox have as yet no such agreed guidelines. Some of us see ecumenism as a sign of hope, others as a pan-heresy. Some of us think that Roman Catholics have true priesthood, others consider that they should be rebaptized. When we meet other Christians, we speak with a divided voice. Consequently, our participation in the ecumenical movement has been far less effective than it could and should have been. We have failed in our witness. As before, we await guidance from the holy and great council; but the holy and great council cannot act in a vacuum. We must all of us prepare the way, each according to her or his possibilities, in a spirit of co-responsibility.

Above all, let us as Orthodox be prepared to listen to other Christians. To be true witnesses we need to hear as well as to speak, to keep silent as well as to make pronouncements. Too often we offer answers to others before we have taken the trouble to find out what their questions are. Let us, then, listen to our fellow-Christians in the West -- and also to the non-Christians; let us enter into their specific experience, their sense of crisis, with all its dilemmas, its anguish and its hesitations. By listening we shall come to understand better our own Orthodox inheritance.

Such is our task as an Orthodox minority in the Western world. How shall we achieve openness without abdication, clarity without complacency, firmness without fanaticism in an ecumenical testimony? Let us strive to make our Orthodox witness more kenotic and more generous, in the spirit of such great 20th-century saints as St Nektarios of Aegina, St Tikhon of Moscow, St Silouan and Fr Paisios of Mount Athos, Fr Amphilochios of Patmos, Fr Cleopas of Sihastria.

I shall never forget the counsel given to Re by Fr Amphilochios more than thirty years ago, when the time had come for me to return from the monastery of Patmos to Oxford, where I was to begin teaching in the university. Although he himself had never visited the West, he had a perceptive understanding of our situation here. "Do not be afraid," he insisted again and again. Do not be afraid because of your Orthodoxy; do not be afraid because of being often isolated and always in a small minority. Do not make compromises but do not attack others; do not be either defensive or aggressive; simply be yourself.

There is, I suspect, a lot of fear (often unconscious) among Orthodox in the West today; and on the whole it has a distinctly negative effect upon our witness towards the non-Orthodox world. Olivier Clement once described the Romanian theologian Dumitru Staniloae as a "man who is not afraid". Let us each endeavour to be a man or woman who is not afraid.

One further aspect of the 20th-century diaspora is the growing number of Western converts to the Orthodox church. While on the whole avoiding proselytism in the negative sense of the term, Orthodoxy in the diaspora has inevitably attracted many people who are entirely Western in their upbringing; and these converts are coming to assume a significant role in contemporary Orthodox witness, especially in theology, iconography and music. For example, the most distinguished contemporary British composer, John Tavener, is a member of the Orthodox church, and now devotes himself entirely to religious music. These converts vary widely in their outlook. I remember the words of Nicolas Zernov when I told him of my own desire to join the Orthodox church: "The question is not simply whether you ought to become Orthodox. The real point is this: What kind of Orthodox are you going to be?" I say the same, perhaps in other ways, to all those who approach me about admission to the Orthodox communion.

Because of the 20th-century Orthodox emigration, we are geographically and demographically no longer an exclusively "Eastern" church. But on the cultural and spiritual level how far has a truly Western Orthodoxy come to full maturity? Does Orthodoxy in the West not remain too dominated by the nationalist and ethnic presuppositions of the mother churches in the traditional Orthodox lands? Here, then, is one of the ways in which Orthodox Christianity is only just beginning. As Orthodox in the West, we have yet to become what we are, to realize more completely our true universality.

The theologian: one who prays

What effect have martyrdom and emigration had on our religious thinking? What have been the main trends in Orthodox theology during the 20th century and what are the most urgent theological tasks still to be undertaken as we enter a new millennium?

The nature of theology

A major concern in 20th-century Orthodox enquiry has been to clarify the basic character and criteria of the theologian's quest. How are we to think and talk about God? More particularly how can we Orthodox learn to speak with our own true voice instead of simply copying the West? How can we break free from what Fr Georges Florovsky has termed our "Babylonian captivity" to Western scholastic categories? How shall we begin to theologize once more, to use the words of St Gregory the Theologian, "in the manner of the fishermen, not of Aristotle"?

In this attempt to free theology from the shortcomings of "academic scientism", Orthodox writers in the past half-century have taken as their guide the words of Evagrius of Pontus, disciple of the Cappadocians and of the Desert fathers: "If you are a theologian you will pray truly; and if you pray truly, you are a theologian." In other words, all theology is liturgical and mystical; there is an essential link between theology and worship, between dogma and spirituality. "Christianity is a liturgical religion," states Florovsky. "The church is first of all a worshipping community. Worship comes first, doctrine and discipline second." In the well-known words of Vladmir Lossky, "Far from being mutually opposed, theology and mysticism support and complete each other. One is impossible without the other. If the mystical experience is a personal working out of the content of the common faith, theology is an expression, for the profit of all, of that which can be experienced by everyone ... There is, therefore, no Christian mysticism without theology; but, above all, there is no theology without mysticism." A similar approach to theology can be found in Dumitru Staniloae, Alexander Schmemann and John Meyendorff.

This understanding of the theologian's task is admirably expressed by Christos Yannaras: "In the Orthodox church and tradition, theology has a very different meaning from the one we give it today. It is a gift from God, a fruit of the interior purity of the Christian's spiritual life. Theology is identified with the vision of God, with the immediate vision of the personal God, with the personal experience of the transfiguration of creation by uncreated grace." In this way, theology is not "a theory of the world, a metaphysical system, but "an expression and a formulation of the church's experience.... not an intellectual discipline but an experiential participation, a communion".

The key words used by Yannaras -- gift, grace, personal experience, participation, communion, interior purity, transfiguration, vision of God -- sum up exactly the view of theology upheld by the leading Russian theologians working in Pards from the 1920s onwards, by their disciples at St Vladimir's Seminary, New York, and by the younger generation of Greek theologians in the 1970s and subsequently, including John Romanides and Panagiotis Nellas.

Trinity and incarnation

Alongside their efforts to reanimate the true spirit of theological investigation, 20th-century Orthodox thinkers have insisted on the absolute primacy of the two central doctrines in the Christian faith: the Trinity and the incarnation. This insistence is clear, for example, in the writings of Boris Bobrinskoy. Speaking of his experience at Cuddesdon Theological College in 1927-28, my own teacher, the Anglican scholar Derwas Chitty, said:
 A young Russian layman came to spend a month with us. Near the beginning of
 his stay he asked me what I thought the most important thing the English
 had to learn from the Russian Orthodox. He was a little disappointed when I
 answered, "A revitalized belief in the dogmas of the Trinity and the
 incarnation." He was hoping for something more "practical". But before the
 end of his stay he told me that I was perfectly right.

What struck Derwas Chitty seventy years ago is even more tree today. There has been a significant shift in the motives leading Western people to join the Orthodox church. A generation ago many were attracted by specifically "Eastern" elements in Orthodoxy: by Byzantine icons, for example, or by Russian church music. Today far more frequently they choose to become Orthodox because they feel that here alone they can find a clear and unwavering faith in the Holy Trinity and in the Godhead of Christ.

In their approach to the doctrine of the Trinity modern Orthodox theologians have adopted frequently, although never exclusively, a "social" approach, understanding the triune God above all in terms of communion (koinonia), interpersonal relationship and mutual love. Developing this standpoint, Staniloae speaks of "divine inter-subjectivity"; and Metropolitan John of Pergamon writes, "The being of God is a relational being; without the concept of communion it would not be possible to speak of the being of God."

A particular advantage of this "social" approach is that it renders the doctrine of the Trinity relevant to both ecclesiology and anthropology. The mutual love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is a model and paradigm for our understanding of the church, which is both the body of Christ and the icon of the Holy Trinity. "As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us" (John 17:21) -- precisely this is the aim of the church: to reproduce on earth the divine inter-subjectivity. Fr Vasileios of Iviron (formerly of Stavronikita) rightly observes that this trinitarian "just as ..." is vital for our salvation.

The dogma of the Trinity likewise enables us to appreciate the tree significance of our own personhood. "The Trinity alone assures us of our existence as persons," writes Staniloae. "Salvation and deification are nothing other than the extension to conscious creatures of the relations that obtain between the divine persons." Either we love one another, after the image and likeness of the Trinity, or there is an end to all meaning and all joy. In the words of Fr Pavel Florensky (adapted by Lossky), "Between the Trinity and hell there lies no other choice." "For myself", says Staniloae, "in so far as I am not loved, I am incomprehensible ... I do not know myself apart from a relationship with others."

In this way the doctrine of the Trinity has direct and practical consequences for sociology and politics. Every social unit -- the family, the factory, the office, the parish, the school or college -- is called to be, each in its own modality, a living icon of the Trinity. Faith in the trinitarian God, the God of inter-relationship and shared love, places us under an obligation to straggle at every level against oppression and exploitation. Our combat for human rights and for social justice is to be undertaken specifically in the name of the Trinity. As Nikolai Fyodorov affirmed, "Our social programme is the Trinity."

The Philokalic renaissance

The increasing emphasis on the connection between theology and prayer of which we have spoken has gone hand-in-hand with a renewed interest in the Philokalia. Here we come to the third of our key terms, hesychia, which signifies not just outward silence, a pause between words, but inner stillness, silence of the heart -- in other words, an attitude of listening, a sense of presence.

It is at first sight strange, even paradoxical, that a book such as the Philokalia, published in 1782, under the narrow restrictions in which Greek Orthodoxy struggled to survive during the Turkish period -- and only reissued in the Greek world more than a century later, in 1893 -- should constitute a decisive element in the witness of Orthodoxy at the end of the 20th century. Yet from the second world war onwards, the Philokalia has come to be translated into a wide range of languages -- most notably in Romanian, modern Greek, English, French and Italian -- and some of these translations have been frequently reprinted, reaching a surprisingly wide public for a difficult work that makes heavy demands on the reader.

In speaking of the Philokalic renaissance, however, I do not have in mind simply the book Philokalia, but the total Hesychast tradition that this work represents, which has undergone a striking revival during the last fifty years on both the theological and the practical level. Theologically, 20th-century Orthodoxy rediscovered the profound significance of the two major mystical authors of the middle and late Byzantine period, St Symeon the New Theologian and St Gregory Palamas. Archbishop Basil Krivocheine played a pioneering role in bringing Symeon to our attention. In the case of Palamas, the exploratory studies of Krivocheine, Gregory Papamichael, Dumitru Staniloae and Vladimir Lossky were followed in 1959 by Fr John Meyendorff's major work of synthesis, while in Greece the study of Palamas has been pursued especially at Thessaloniki, Palamas's own cathedral city, by George Mantzaridis and a group of younger scholars. Palamas's teaching concerning the divine light and the uncreated energies now finds a central place in most Orthodox manuals of theology, which was certainly not the case forty years ago (for example, Palamas is mentioned only very briefly in the old-style Dogmatic Theology of Panagiotis Trembelas, which devotes less than two of its 1800 pages to Palamite theology).

On the practical level, the past fifty years, have seen an ever-increasing interest in the Jesus prayer, fostered in particular by the writings of the "monk of the Eastern church", Fr Lev Gillet. The Jesus prayer is no doubt more widely used today than at any time in the past, not only by monastics but also by laypeople, indeed, not only by Orthodox but also by growing number of Christians in other traditions -- an encouraging thought in an era of secularism! By virtue of its simplicity and flexibility, the Jesus prayer offers a way of praying pre-eminently suited to our present age of anxiety. It is a prayer which needs no special preparation yet leads to the deepest mysteries of contemplation, a prayer that joins desert and city, a prayer for all seasons.

Along with the self-offering of the new martyrs, this humble, hidden invocation of the holy name, practised in innumerable places, is perhaps the most dynamic and creative expression of our Orthodox witness today. "Acquire inner peace," said St Seraphim of Sarov, "and thousands around you will find their salvation." The Jesus prayer is achieving exactly that effect in our own time. The late Dag Hammarskjold, secretary-general of the United Nations from 1953 to 1961, wrote: "Understand through the stillness, act out of the stillness, conquer in the stillness." More than any other single factor, the Jesus prayer is enabling contemporary Orthodox to attain understanding and action.

An essential aspect of the present-day Hesychast renewal has been the regeneration of monasticism -- on Mount Athos since the late 1960s, in Russia and Romania since the fall of communism, and now also in North America through the work of the Athonite Fr Ephraim. "Monks are the sinews and foundations of the church," said St Theodore the Studite. This is more tree of Orthodoxy today than it was fifty years ago. What Orthodoxy needs today is a monasticism that is rigorous yet loving, both traditional and open to the world.

In the Hesychast tradition, correctly understood, there is no dichotomy between inner prayer and the sacraments, for each presupposes the other. It is therefore reassuring to note that the 20th century saw a re-emphasis of frequent communion, though this is still limited to a minority of Orthodox parishes and monasteries, and in some places the practice of frequent communion has unfortunately led to an undervaluing of the sacrament of confession. One of my hopes for our church in the 21 st century is a greater number of spiritual fathers and mothers.


What is the main task of Orthodox theology at the outset of the new millennium? My own answer is that what is required more than anything else is a fuller understanding of the human person. How little we know about ourselves! "The heart is deep" (Ps. 63 [64]:6). What does it mean to be a human being according to the image and likeness of God? In what does the uniqueness of our personhood lie? What is the meaning of the heart and of the spiritual intellect (nous)? What is the role of the body and the passions?

More particularly, how are we to understand the distinction within humanity between male and female? Connected with this is a wide range of questions concerning gender and sexuality, with which we as Orthodox have scarcely begun to grapple. The ordination of women priests -- courageously discussed by Elisabeth Behr-Sigel -- is only one among these many questions and, significant though it is, probably it is not the most important.

In developing our theology of personhood, we need to make positive and discerning use of the insights of modern psychology and psychoanalysis. Paul Evdokimov has indicated some of the possibilities; let us pursue them further. More fundamentally, personhood needs to be discussed in terms of trinitarian doctrine, for we are formed in the image of the Trinity, and in connection with the theology of creation; for as human beings we are not saved from but with the world.

The striking advances 20th-century Orthodox made in creation theology need to be greatly extended. Bulgakov's daring speculations concerning holy wisdom, both uncreated and created, include precious insights which call for re-examination. The ecological initiatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew deserve full support; and we may hope that in the new millennium the observance of 1 September as a day of prayer for the protection of the environment becomes much more widespread. As Fr Amphilochios used to teach us on Patmos, "love the trees". Whoever does not love trees, he believed, does not love Christ; and when local farmers came to him for confession, he used to assign to them, as a penance, the task of planting a tree. Here, more than forty years ago, he anticipated the path that we need to follow in the coming century.

"Come, Lord Jesus"

"Christianity is only just beginning." Fr Alexander Men's words are a challenge encouraging us to keep our faces turned to the future, not the past. The Christian life -- for each of us personally as for the church as a whole -- is nothing else than a constant succession of new beginnings. As we wake up each morning, we should feel as if it were the first day of creation, as if the world has been recreated, and we have each been recreated with it.

But if Christianity is "only just beginning", might it also be close to its end.9 When reflecting on our Christian vocation in the new millennium, we must ask: Will there be a third millennium? The precise time of the second coming is unknown to us (Matt. 24:36), a mystery dependent on God's hidden authority (Acts 1:6). Thus we should be careful to avoid speculative fantasy and apocalyptic paranoia. But, although we cannot know when the exact moment will come in clock and calendar time, yet in terms of sacred time the parousia is always imminent, always spiritually near at hand. "The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night" (1 Thess. 5:2); thus, we have to be constantly watchful (Matt. 24:42). The New Testament concludes on a note of eager expectation: "Surely I am coming soon. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!" (Rev. 22:20). As we enter the third millennium, let us make our own this sense of expectant eagerness: "Come, Lord Jesus!"

* Kallistos (Ware) is Bishop of Diokleia (Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople) and the author of The Orthodox Church (1963, revised edition 1993), considered by many to be the standard English-language introduction to Orthodoxy. This paper was presented at the 10th Orthodox Conference in Western Europe, Paray-le-Monial, 30 October-1 November 1999.
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Publication:The Ecumenical Review
Geographic Code:0JINT
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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