Alexander GolitzinSCRIPTURAL IMAGES OF THE CHURCH: AN EASTERN ORTHODOX REFLECTION
Written in November 12th, 2001, at the request of the Ecclesiology section, Faith and Order, World Council of Churches. To date unpublished
I have been asked "to reflect on the way in which the scriptural images of the Church are related to the understanding of the nature of the Church in the Orthodox Tradition". The space allotted this reflection is surely inadequate to a tradition which spans (or anyway claims to span) the four millenia from the call of Abraham to the present day. What follows can therefore be little more than the merest sketch, entirely dependent moreover on my own debateable powers of selection and synthesis, and thus necessarily partial and incomplete. It will, in short, reflect my own present concerns and interests, which are those of neither a biblical specialist, nor liturgist, nor patrologist, nor systematic theologian, but of a kind of historian of ideas who is particularly at home in the first half-millenium of Eastern Christian ascetical and mystical literature.
This leads me to a word on my sources. The latter include the Old and New Testaments, or simply Scripture, the early Christian literature noted just above, but including such later writers as (Pseudo-) Dionysius Areopagites (ca. 500), Jacob of Serug (+521), Isaac of Nineveh (+ ca. 700), Maximus Confessor (+662), Germanos of Constantinople and John Damascene (8th century), Symeon New Theologian and Nicetas Stethatos (11th century), and the 14th century Byzantine Hesychasts, notably Gregory Palamas, Gregory of Sinai, and Nicholas Cabasilas. I will not quote all or even any of these sources (save Maximus), but note "for the record" their presence in the back of my head as I write. Then there is the library of Orthodox liturgical materials, the priests' service books, the Book of the Hours, Book of the Eight Tones, the Menaia, the Lenten Triodion and Pentecostarion, and the fourteen volumes of the Synaxarion (lives of the saints arranged according to the months). Here I may note from time to time hymns or, more often, the Old Testament readings assigned to different feasts. Of 20th century Orthodox writers, I am especially indebted to V.N. Lossky, G. Florovsky, A. Schmemann, J. Meyendorff, D. Staniloae, B. Bobrinskoy, and K.T. Ware, together with two contemporary abbots of Mt Athos, the Archimandrites Vasseilios of Iveron and Aemilianos of Simonos Petras. The latter in particular, my abbot and father in God, has shaped my thinking in fundamental ways. Perhaps most important for this paper is the sensitivity he instilled in me for Christianity's roots in Israel. Other Christian scholars important for the following include J. Daniélou, P.S. Minear, G. Quispel, A. Guillaumont, R. Murray, S. Brock, R.J. Clifford, M. Hengel, C. Rowland, and M. Barker. I am also indebted, in some cases profoundly, to a number of Jewish scholars, perhaps especially to G. Scholem, R. Patai, M. Weinfeld, G.G. Stroumsa, J. Levenson, S. Fraade, I. Chernus, A. Segal, R. Elior, M. Himmelfarb, and A. Goshen-Gottstein.
I begin my reflection with the following thesis statement: for Orthodox tradition, the Church is nothing more nor less than Israel in the altered circumstances of Messiah's death, resurrection, and the eschatological outpouring of his Spirit. This "inaugurated eschaton", to borrow a phrase from the late Fr. Georges Florovsky, is at the same time a "new creation" (Gal 6:15). In Jesus of Nazareth, Mary's son and eternal Son and Word of the Father, Israel has in a sense itself been crucified, raised, and changed, such as to become the "first-fruits" of the new creation (I Cor 15:20), the "new" or "heavenly Adam" (cf. I Cor 15:45 ff.; R 5:12 ff.), the beginning of the world to come (Col 1:18). Yet, at least in Orthodox tradition, it would be most wrong to emphasize this change, these altered circumstances, as denoting rupture pure and simple with the Israel of the patriarchs, kings, and prophets. True, far and away the majority of Israel did not accept the change, and they carry on to the present apart from the Church, but I would maintain that that separation was and is not so much between Church and Israel, as between two separate and discrete entities, as it is a schism within Israel, a schism which, if we are to believe the Apostle, God -- and only God! -- will heal at the end of days (see R 9-11). Christian and Jewish polemics, both in the early centuries of the Church and in more recent times, may often have obscured this fundamental linkage and kinship, but they could not erase it. It is built into the earliest documents of Christianity and reflected continuously thereafter in Orthodox literature and liturgy. Thus for St. Paul, as I read him, the discussion at issue in epistles such as Galatians and, especially, Romans centers not on the rejection of Israel, but rather, through Messiah, on the expansion of Israel's boundaries to include the nations.
For Orthodoxy, therefore, the primary matrix for consideration of the nature and purpose of the Church, and the images which express the Church, must always be the one, unique, and indivisible revelation of God to Israel, from, as it were, the berešit of Genesis to the "Amen" of the Apocalypse. The scriptural icons of the Church are, again, those of Israel. Here I venture to suggest that not one, single image of the Church in the New Testament, of which Professor Minear counts some ninety-six (and I am not sure that his admirable book caught all of them), is wholly independent of, or unrelated to, the Old Testmental imagery of Israel. Even the notes of "new creation" and "new Adam" are affiliated with that iconography, if not directly or obviously, through the network of associations connected with the language of Zion and Temple (see esp. Patai, Levenson, Himmelfarb) which, drawing on associations with the "sacred mountain" traditions common in the Ancient Near East, tie the temple mount into the stories of creation, paradise, and the eschaton (see Weinfeld, Levenson, Clifford, Barker). The great difference, of course, is the person of Jesus Messiah. Like the singularities or "black holes" of modern astrophysics, the Gospel of Christ crucified and risen is a new point of immense gravitional attraction which at once draws and forces the ancient images into a new configuration, pulling them into orbit around itself. In this reordering and consequent reformulation of Israel's patrimony by the tidal forces of the Gospel, we find the roots of all Christian spirituality and theology, including that of the Church.
So far I have spoken in generalities. It is time to move to a few specifics. Time and space are short, books on the subject are many, so I will confine myself by way of illustration of the scriptural images of Orthodox ecclesiology to one man, one woman, two buildings, three Church Fathers (with perhaps another one or two appearing as buttresses), and four mountains. The man is Jacob; the woman Mary Theotokos; the buildings the Jerusalem Temple and the typical Orthodox church; the Fathers are Ephrem Syrus (+373), Maximus the Confessor (+662), and Symeon the New Theologian (+1022); while the mountains are Sinai, Zion, Tabor, and Golgotha. The first two, the man and the woman, and three of the last four have moreover a double advantange. They do not appear in any of the lists of New Testament images for the Church that I have seen, yet they offer a satisfyingly complete entré into Orthodox ecclesiology. The ordering of my exempla will be, first, the one man; second, the four mountains, focusing especially on Sinai; third, Mary Theotokos and the two buildings; and, fourth, the Fathers in whom we will find the foregoing commented upon and woven into the comprehensive theological and spiritual vision which, by in large, still obtains in the Orthodox world today. Permit me in advance to apologize for the sketchy quality of what follows.
In Genesis 32:28-30, the Patriarch Jacob wrestles with the angel of God and receives as reward for his labors a new name, Israel. Other than the note of the vision of God's face, for which Jacob names the site of his contest, itself a matter of considerable interest in later Jewish and Christian literature, the point I should like particularly to underline is the double character of Jacob's new name. It denotes both the man, Jacob, and the nation of God's election. From its first appearance, Israel is therefore a mysterious entity, at once summed up in the person of the patriarch, and thus a single organism, and an aggregate of individuals bound to the common observance of the covenant with the "God of Jacob". This genuinely corporate nature of the people of God, that is, that the latter does in fact comprise in some sense a single being, is I think of fundamental importance for the New Testamental, peculiarly Pauline notion of the Church as the "body of Christ". It also lies behind such other, organic images of the Church as, for example, the single "vine" of Jn 15:1 ff., though the latter itself draws on the Old Testamental image of Israel as the "vine" planted by God's right hand in, for example, Ps 80:8-18, and it is not accidental that we hear these same verses echoed in the bishop's blessing of the congregation, following the introit of the clergy, at the Orthodox divine liturgy.
The note of the covenant brings me to the first of my four mountains, Sinai, for whose discussion I am much indebted to Professor Levenson's book, Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible. Around Sinai are grouped a cluster of themes reflected in the New Testament imagery of the Church, and elaborated later on in Orthodox tradition. Sinai is first of all the prototypical biblical theophany, the Old Testament manifestation of God par excellence. The brilliance of the divine Glory, the kevod YHWH, descends on the peak sheathed in the dark Cloud of the Presence. This image and its paradox, God at once revealed and hidden, will be in play throughout the rest of the scriptures, Old and New Testament, and subsequently throughout the spirituality of both rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. At the heart of both Israel, and of Israel's extension to the nations, which is to say, the Church, is the presence of the hidden God revealed, the mystery of his simultaneous transcendence and self-communication. It is thus that we discover the presence of Sinai in my two New Testament mountains, Golgotha and Tabor, a presence signaled in Orthodox tradition by the readings from Exod 24 and 33-34 appointed for the feast of the Transfiguration, and again from Exod 33 at the Vespers of Good Friday. It is the same Glory that appeared to Moses on the Sinai who is revealed in overwhelming light to the apostles on Tabor, and who is then hung naked and bleeding on the Cross. It is also the same Glory whose radiance, according to an ancient Jewish and Christian tradition, fed Moses on the mountain when he was forty days in the Cloud and which feeds the Christian now in the Eucharist. This, too, is signaled in the Orthodox liturgy, which includes a reading from Exod 19:10-19 at the vesperal liturgy of Maundy Thursday celebrating the institution of the sacrament. The last points thus to the "Upper Room", the original Christian assembly, as also a kind of Sinai, and I would read this connection as reinforced by the accounts of both the Lucan Pentecost (Acts 2) and the Johannine (Jn 20), that is, Sinai as the place of the eschatological gift of the Spirit (so cf. Nu 11:16-29, read at the Vespers of Pentecost) or, more briefly still, Sinai as type of the Church.
This leads me to my second Sinaite theme, the covenant. In the covenant formulary of the Old Testament, borrowed, as seems most likely, from the ancient suzerainty treaties of the Near East, we find embedded or assumed a number of images essential to the Church. The first is that of God as King, and of Israel as his kingdom. The very first words out of Jesus' mouth as he begins his public ministry is a recollection thus of the covenant: "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand" (Mk 1:14 and parallels) and, indeed, as the Gospels go on to make clear, that kingdom or reign is ultimately to be identified with the presence and person of Jesus himself. Sinai is therefore, second, an icon of the eschaton, pointing toward the end of Israel's pilgrimage and of all human history, a note once again echoed in the opening invocation of the Orthodox divine liturgy: "Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages". Third, however, there is the notion itself of pilgrimage. Israel in the midst of the desert, not yet in the land of the promise, pledges itself (however imperfectly) to fidelity, and Sinai is thus also the image of the people of the Messiah in statu via, the icon of the pilgrim Church -- he ekklesia he paroikousa, to borrow the phrasing of Ignatius of Antioch -- which in the present age "has no city which abides" (Heb 13:14). Yet, fourth, the relationship between God and his people has been sealed in "the blood of the covenant" (Exod. 24:8; cf. Mk 14:24 and parallels), and that covenant is regularly "remembered" and renewed in the Eucharistic assembly, so making the King present and his kingdom with him. The Church at worship is therefore also -- and, Christian tradition holds, more perfectly -- the icon (as opposed to the "shadow", Heb 10:1) and communication of the world to come (cf. Heb 12:18 ff.). Fifth, relatedly and at least as old as the Prophet Hosea (Hos 2:1 ff.), there is God's love affair with Israel (cf. also Dt 7:6-8) which is understood as consummated in the "marriage" at Sinai. Here we discover the source of the several New Testament images of Church and Kingdom that depend on nuptial language: the bridegroom (Christ), the wedding-feast, the Church as spouse (Eph 5:22-32), the invitees to the feast, the wise and foolish virgins, and the bridal chamber (Mt 25:1-13).
Sinai is finally, at least for my purposes here, the revelation of true worship. Just prior to the theophany, Israel is informed of its vocation to become "a priestly kingdom and holy nation" (Exod 19:6), a calling echoed in the New Testament (I P 2:4-9) regarding the Church. The end and arguably the very climax of the Sinai narrative, with Moses again in the Cloud after the theophany and gift of the covenant, is the revelation of the tabernacle: "In accordance with all that I show you concerning the pattern [Hebrew tabnit, Greek paradeigma] of the tabernacle and all its furniture, so you shall make it." (Exod 25:9 ff.). This heavenly "pattern" includes the furnishings and design of the tent, together with the vestments of its celebrants -- notably of the high priest -- and instructions for their consecration and ministry (see Exod 25-30 and 36-39). The book of Exodus itself concludes with the Glory and Cloud "overshadowing" (in the LXX) the newly-constructed tabernacle and taking up residence within the holy of holies (Exod 40:34-5). Israel is now equipped with, so-to-speak, its own "portable Sinai", the means whereby God will travel with the convenanted people until their entry into the Land, and which will be followed by God's choice of Zion for his "holy mountain", a transference made clear in the psalm verses, "The Lord came from Sinai into the holy place...the processions of my God, my King, into the sanctuary" (Ps 68:18, 24). On Zion, the heavenly "pattern" is repeated in Solomon's construction of the Temple (I K 5-7), whose consecration (I K 8:1-11) again mirrors the tabernacle's consecration at the conclusion of Exodus. Zion becomes thus "the place" (hammaqom) of theophany and of God's abiding: "This is my resting place forever; here I will reside, for I have desired it" (Ps 132:14, and many parallels). It is thus here, on Zion and in the Temple, that Isaiah sees the heavenly paradigm and its earthly copy coalesce into one (Isa 6:1 ff.), just as Ezekiel sees the Glory departing it on the eve of the Babylonian conquest (Ezek 9-11), and returning to it again in the perfected Jerusalem of a visionary restoration (Ezek 43). Here Malachi sites the eschatological visitation (Mal 3:1 ff), and from this same "pattern" John the Seer builds his picture of the world and city to come (Rev 21-22).
Sinai and Zion, tabernacle and temple, are foundational as well for New Testament christology, ecclesiology, and soteriology. The annunciation of the Savior's conception to Mary Theotokos echoes the entry of Cloud and Glory into the sancturary: "The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the Power of the Most High shall overshadow you" (Lk 1:35, episkiasei se, cf. Exod 40:34 LXX). On Tabor, Jesus is fully revealed as the Glory seen by Moses on Sinai and appearing to Elijah on Horeb (I K 19), while on Golgotha the moment of his dying is signaled by the splitting of the Temple veil, denoting the new "access" opened up through the Cross to the Presence. The "dividing wall" is overcome, broken down, and "the one, new man" resulting is a "new creation" (Eph 2:15 and Gal 6:15). Indeed, the latter is a new sanctuary, where the assembly of the baptized becomes the temple and place of God's abiding. They, the people of the Messiah, are also thus called to be priests and, certainly, by the 4th century, when Christianity is allowed for the first time to emerge fully legal into the light of day, the "pattern" of Exod 25:9 is consciously repeated in the construction of the new church buildings, as in Eusebius of Caesarea's oration, "On the Consecration of the Church at Tyre" (HE 10.4.2-72), with porch (recall the ulam of the Temple), nave (thus the heykal), and altar area with episcopal throne (the debir). Likewise, we can -- or should -- catch the equally conscious allusion to the Old Testament priestly consecration, outlined in Exodus, in the lustration, anointing, and clothing in white of the baptismal liturgy celebrated by, for example, Cyril of Jerusalem in the mid-4th century, and described in some detail by the Nun Egeria at century's end. In the new dispensation, all Israel is accorded "access" to the sanctuary, as was signaled, for example, by the disciplina arcana which, precisely, limited access to the physical nave to the baptized, "the chosen race, a royal dwelling, a priestly body [construing basileion and hierateuma as separate words], the holy nation" (cf. I P 2:9). I suggest, then, that the mystagogical sermons of such 4th and early 5th century fathers as Cyril of Jerusalem, Ambrose, Chrysostom, and Theodore of Mopsuestia are much less indebted to the language of the pagan mystery cults than they are to the theology and general thought-world of the Old Testament tabernacle and temple, to the imagery, precisely, of the Old Testament priesthood, which only now, in Christ, has been extended to all the "Israel of God" (Gal 6:16). In short, I think that they -- together with the ascetico-mystical literature of both the 4th century and thereafter, which builds essentially on the very same imagery -- are bringing into the open and elaborating on currents of Christian thought and practice that were present from the beginnings of Christianity, and that we find at the least adumbrated in the New Testament.
In the Orthodox liturgical year, quite the most dense concentration of images and scriptures touching on the nature of the Church occurs in the feasts dedicated to Mary Theotokos. She is herself the outstanding type or icon of the Church. Hence, as noted above, the implicit parallel in Luke between her and the tabernacle of Exodus, a parallel that is made explicit, and at considerable length, in the 2nd century apocryphon, the Protevangelium of James, which, inter alia, portrays the young Virgin weaving the temple veil, surely an allusion to the "veil" of Christ's flesh (cf. Heb 10:20) which will later be "woven" in her womb. The feast of the Entry of the Theotokos, November 21st, thus deploys three of the texts I noted above in connection with the entry of the Glory into the sanctuary: Exod 40, I K 8, and Ezek 43. Two other Marian feasts, the Annunciation and the Nativity of the Theotokos, add, respectively, Exod 3:1-8 (the burning bush), and Prov 9:1-11 (the house of Wisdom) together with Gen 28:10-17 (the ladder of Jacob and the Beth-el, "house of God"). Of the many images applied to her in the hymnography, most of them from the Temple cultus, almost all carry the sense of something that either contains or holds, hence: candlestand (i.e., menorah), vessel or jar (of manna), chariot (cf. Ezek 1), throne, ark, mercy seat (kapporet), holy mountain (! cf. Sinai/Zion, and Dan 2:45), holy of holies, tabernacle, temple, palace, house, meeting-place, paradise containing the Tree of Life, bridal chamber of light, gate of heaven, ladder, golden censer, incense altar, holy table (of the shewbread), living heaven, living pavillion of the Glory, and living city (cf. again Rev 21-22). All of these are as well types of the Church. All or nearly all of them have their original locus in the divinely-ordained cult, and all are, again, equally types not just of the Virgin, but of the Christian.
Here I arrive at the soteriological dimension of the cluster of images around the tabernacle and temple. Christ himself is pre-eminently the tabernacle and temple (cf. Jn 1:14 and 2:19-21), the "tabernacling" of the Glory or Šekinah among us, the "Lord of Glory" (I Cor 2:8), the Immanuel. The Church, as his risen body into which believers are incorporated in Baptism (or with which they are "clothed", cf. Gal 3:27, Col 3:10), and which is made present in the worshipping assembly, is also temple (cf., e.g., Eph 2:21-22). Third, however, the baptized Christian is temple as well (cf. I Cor 6:19-20), for whom Mary Theotokos is, again, exemplar par excellence. It is in this imagery of the indwelling Glory, based on the Sinai and Zion traditions, that we find in fact the scriptural foundations for the Orthodox soteriology of theosis, deification. In the subsequent literature of the Eastern Church, particularly in the writers of the ascetico-mystical tradition (which means, after the 4th century, essentially the monks), we discover this parallelism and interweaving of the "three temples" or "three churches", to use an expression in the 4th century Liber Graduum, as continuously the subject of meditation and reflection to the end of the Byzantine era. At the heart of these reflections is faith in the participation in God -- "partakers of the divine nature" (II P 1:4) -- offered the believer in Christ through his Church, and discovered in the inner reaches of the heart. That discovery, moreover, is not merely or even primarily an affair of the emotions (though emotion has its part to play), so much as personal experience of the transfiguring Lord, which experience we may characterize as the so to speak subjective validation at once of the truth of the dogmas, and of the "real presence" of the sacraments.
We arrive at last at my three patristic exemplars, beginning with Ephrem Syrus. In what is arguably the chef d'oeuvre in a large body of writings, his Hymns on Paradise, he provides us with a masterful tapestry incorporating many of the traditions and images I have touched on above. Drawing on the ancient tradition of Eden as itself a mountain (cf. Ezek 28:14), Ephrem superimposes onto the Paradise Mountain three of the other four scriptural mountains that we have been discussing: Sinai, Zion (via references to the Temple), and Golgotha, together with more than a hint of the fourth, Tabor. All four (or five) are in turn co-ordinated with the Church and with the Christian. Looking at the mountain with Ephrem we have a series of levels or steps, while looking as it were "downwards" we are presented in effect with a set of concentric circles. Each level, each circle, represents in turn: 1) a different degree of beatitude corresponding to the Church's divisions into "penitents" (and catechumens), "the just" (i.e., the baptized and virtuous), and "the victorious" (for Ephrem, the sainted ascetics); 2) one of the three components of the human being, that is, body, soul, and created spirit (Ephrem's equivalent to the biblical "heart" or the Greek nous); 3) stages of the ascent up Sinai as portrayed in Exod 19 and 24, with the Presence (Ephrem deploys here, in Hymn 2.11, the Aramaic term, šekinta, equivalent to the Hebrew šekinah) at the summit, Moses on the heights, Aaron and the priests on the slopes, and the people gathered at the mountain's base; 4) at least the implication of the "geography" of the Church building through the Hymns' allusions to the structure of the tabernacle and temple, thus, for example, Ephrem's echo of Exod 25:9 ff. in the following:
The symbol of Paradise was depicted by Moses
who made the two sanctuaries, the sancturary and the holy of holies;
in the outer one entrance was permitted [to the priests], but into the inner
one only once a year [to the high priest, cf. Lev 16].
So, too, with Paradise: God closed off the inner part,
but he opened up the outer, wherin Adam might gaze. [ParHymn 3.17]
In this schema, the innermost shrine of Paradise (equivalent to the summit of Sinai, and the Church's altar), the Tree of Life, corresponds to the Temple debir, while the Tree of Knowledge answers to the Temple veil dividing the debir from the holy place, the heykal (equivalent to the Church nave). I would venture to add that, by implication, one could thus read the middle and lower slopes of Ephrem's mountain as corresponding, respectively, to the nave as the place of the just, and to the narthex or church porch as reserved for the penitents and those not yet baptized. In addition, and most importantly, the Glory on the peak of the mountain, the šekinta within the debir, denotes the presence of Christ within the Church and the believer. It is Christ's Cross (the Tree of Life) and his Glory (the actuality of the world to come) that inform both the Church and the individual Christian. As with the Greek Fathers, though entirely in his own Semitic idiom, Ephrem understands the purpose of Christ's advent, and of the whole economy of Israel, as our eventual deification: "At the end the body will put on the beauty of the soul; the soul will put on that of spirit; and the spirit will put on the very likeness of God's majesty" (ParHymn 9.11); or more briefly: "He gave us divinity, we gave him humanity" (Hymns on Faith 5.17).
These several levels or circles may be said to meet and coalesce for Ephrem in the eucharistic presence. "The body was the veil of your Glory", he writes elsewhere (echoing Heb 10:20), "and the bread is the veil of the fire that indwells it" (On Faith 19.2-3). Holy communion is the (potential) moment of our recognition of the divine indwelling. As Ephrem writes in the Paradise Hymns, here referring to the disciples' meal with the risen Christ at Emmaus (Lk 24): "Bread...was the key whereby their eyes were opened to recognize the Omniscient One" (15.4). It is the bread of communion, he notes elsewhere, which "tears the veil" between the believers and their perception of the Lord who is within them (On Virginity 36.21), and with whom they had all along been "clothed" from the moment of the their Baptism. This is the awareness of the saints, who have "adorned themselves with the very likeness of Paradise" and in whom "is depicted the beauties of the Garden" (ParHymn 6.14). The Christian saint, which is no more than to say the complete Christian, is thus the presence of Paradise in a perishing world, the very assurance of the eschaton, the "place" of divine Presence, the manifestation of Christ, the actualization of the Church and her sacraments, Sinai and Zion as more than merely "portable", but as living, breathing, and speaking. This is the universal vocation of the Christian, the substance of his or her calling and gift in Christ, and the very mark of verus Israel.
My two other patristic witnesses do little more, at least for purposes of this paper, than add corroboration to what we find sketched at length in Ephrem, and we can therefore deal with them much more briefly. Maximus the Confessor's brilliant little treatise, The Mystagogy, claims merely to be filling in a few things left unsaid by Dionysius Areopagites in the latter's Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, a claim which I believe to be true, though I am a minority of one among scholars who prefer to see Maximus as wholly re-writing and "correcting" the Areopagite. It is, though, incontestably true that the former presents his readers with a clearer picture than Dionysius, hence my choice of him here. In his Mystagogy, Maxiumus opens by presenting the Church as a series of icons that represents, in the following order, God, the world, the human being ("man", or anthropos), the scriptures, and the soul. Here we may discern a number of points touched on above, including: a) the presence of God, which Maximus underlines through an opening discussion of apophatic theology, accentuating the mystery at the heart of the Church; b) creation, in the inclusion of the world as a category; c) the "one new man" of Eph 2, which is Christ in the Church, the makranthropos; d) the interrelation of Old Testament and New, as Maximus puts it, like the wheels one within the other of Ezekiel's vision of the chariot-throne; and e) mystical union with God, in the section of the soul, as fulfillment of life in the Church. The whole is based on the division of the church building into nave and sanctuary. Thus, for example, in Mystagogy 4, Maximus speaks of the human body as the nave, the soul as sanctuary, and the intellect (nous) as altar. Everything meets ultimately in the one mystery of the altar, at which we discover an anticipation of the Resurrection, i.e., of the eschaton. The remaining and larger part of the treatise walks the reader through the eucharistic liturgy, from the entry of the clergy to communion, and builds on the opening passages to portray the Church's worship as an icon -- and a real communication -- of the soul's encounter with, and growth into Christ. Once again, in Maximus we find an overlapping and co-ordination of the physical temple, the "inner man", the divine abiding, Urzeit and Endzeit, recognized in the sacramental presence and known in mystical experience.
Symeon the New Theologian carries on these themes particularly in his Ethical Discourses, with the most concentrated dosage in Discourses I-III, and XIV. The first three comprise a kind of unity, beginning with creation and Eden, then touching on the Fall, the Incarnation, the renewal of creation, the "mystical marriage of God" with his Church, with Mary Theotokos, and with the Christian in Discourse I. Discourse II again recapitulates salvation history, but stresses Paradise, Old Testamental Israel, and the Church as progressively more real and efficacious icons of the eschaton. Discourse III concludes with the subjects of mystical union with God, based on an exegesis of II Cor 12:2 ff., and the Eucharist as, both of them together, a complementary and genuine reflection of, and participation in the world to come. In Discourse XIV, on liturgical celebration of the Church's feasts, Symeon takes issue with a formalistic approach to corporate prayer and, typical both of his own personal emphases and of those of his monastic predecessors (such as Maximus), depicts the visible Church at worship as an icon of the "inner man", guiding and shaping the latter for union with God. At the same time, the New Theologian insists again on the presence of Christ in the sacrament, a presence which the properly formed and inspired soul must recognize. Given this formation and this conscious participation in the eucharistic presence, he concludes with an evocation of the future age:
If you celebrate the feast and so partake as well of the divine mysteries, all your
life will be to you one single feast. And not a feast, but the beginning of feasting
and a single Pascha [i.e., Passover, Easter], the passover and emigration from what
is seen to what is sensed by the intellect, to that place where every shadow and
type, and all the present symbols, come to an end, and where we...shall in purity
rejoice eternally in the most pure sacrifice, in God the Father and the co-essential
Spirit, always seeing Christ and seen by him, ever being with Christ, reigning with
Christ, than whom nothing is greater in the Kingdom of God...
Here, in the language of the Passover, of sacrifice, of "the place" (recall hammaqom above), and of the reign and kingdom of God, we encounter again the notes of Exodus: passover/pilgrimage, God as king, the "place" of divine presence, and the prescribed cultus. Elsewhere, Symeon assembles many of the other images of the Church that we have met: "bride of Christ", Mary Theotokos, "the one, new man", the new Jerusalem, "the temple of God the King", God's "city and world". Throughout his thought, the protological, eschatological, mystical, and sacramental aspects of the Church are front and center. At every point, his thought remains fundamentally ecclesial in its mysticism, and mystical in its ecclesiology, always turning around the unique mystery or sacrament of the Word made flesh and available to the believer, now, in the Spirit. His is thus as good an accounting of scriptural imagery for the Church as may be found in medieval Orthodoxy, and, as he also marks the limits of my own competence, here my essay concludes.
Eve of the Feast of St. John Chrysostom November 12th, 2001
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