June 13, 2012

Asceticism and Ecclesiology

From an interview with Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos:

Question: Now we would like to tackle the sensitive question of the relation between monastic experience and the Catholicity of the Church. Namely, we are witnessing cases when in some circles (especially in our country) opinions are being put forward that assert certain superiority of “asceticism” and “prayer of the heart and mind” even in the respect of the canonical order of the Church and its One Liturgy; and this is going as far as to use such claims often as a justification for seceding from the Church and persisting in schism. In brief, we would like to hear your stance concerning this phenomenon; specifically, whether “asceticism” and “prayer of the heart and mind” have any meaning outside the liturgical and canonical unity of the entire Orthodox Church?

Answer: Ever since Saint Irenaeus, the Fathers of the Church have taught us that the Church is very closely connected with Orthodoxy and the Holy Eucharist. The Church is the “Body of Christ and a communion of deification”, Orthodoxy is the correct teaching and life of the Church and the Holy Eucharist is the true praxis of the Church. All three of them are connected to each other and none is overemphasized or underrated versus the others. A “Church” without Orthodoxy and Holy Eucharist is a conventicle. “Orthodoxy” without Church and the Holy Eucharist is a heretical school, and “Holy Eucharist” without Orthodoxy and Church is a simple religious gathering.

We should view the relationship between asceticism, the noetic prayer of the heart and the Holy Eucharist in this context. The Holy Eucharist is in the center of Church life, because through the Holy Eucharist we receive communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, but the Holy Eucharist presupposes asceticism and the noetic prayer of the heart. Both asceticism and the noetic prayer of the heart refer to the Holy Eucharist. Neither is the Holy Eucharist performed without preconditions nor is the noetic prayer separated from the Holy Eucharist. Both of these extreme autonomous situations cause ecclesiological problems. He who lives ascetically and has noetic prayer of the heart without the Holy Eucharist is influenced by misbegotten and erring conditions. He who lives the Holy Eucharist without the preconditions of asceticism lives in a mechanistic way in the Church.

Furthermore, it is not possible for spiritual gifts to revoke the canonical order of the Church, which is constituted by the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit “constitutes the whole institution of the Church” through the Local and Ecumenical Councils. At the same time, we should not underrate spiritual gifts in the name of canonical order.

In general, a great deal of attention is required regarding autonomous movements and cases of overemphasis on particular aspects of Church life.

From Sobornost, September 2006.