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June 8, 2015

The Theological School of the Apostolic Church

On June 29, 2011 His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou delivered the homily below during the Festal Vespers of the Holy Apostles in ancient Corinth at Gallio's Bema, where the Apostle Paul stood for trial (Acts 18:12-27). He was invited by His Eminence Metropolitan Dionysios of Corinth to commemorate the mission and ministry of the Apostle Paul in Corinth, amidst a crowd of faithful and numerous clergy.

By His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos
of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

I thank his Eminence Metropolitan Dionysios of Corinth and a beloved brother in Christ who invited me to come to Corinth on this important day and participate in the worship festivities in honor of the Apostle Paul, the Apostle to the Nations and the patron of this apostolic Sacred Metropolis, and to speak from Gallio's Bema, where the Apostle Paul was led by the Jews for trial (Acts 18:12-27). I heartily thank him and rejoice in the presence of this crowd of people who have come to this place, and by doing this, as spiritual children and descendants of the Corinthians, I offer the great Apostle and their wondrous spiritual father due respect.

Having the honor of referring in this assembly to the great Apostle Paul, I will take the occasion from the two epistles which he himself sent the Corinthians, which are included in the New Testament canon, and by these this city and Sacred Metropolis are honored by all the world throughout the ages.

I will stress two points.

The first point is that the Apostle Paul, who was the founder of the Church of Corinth, as well as other Churches, was an Apostle who saw God, as he wrote to the Corinthians: "Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God" (1 Cor. 1:1). He was certainly not among the first Apostles, who were called by Christ to the apostolic office, at the start of His mission, after His Baptism, and who on the day of Pentecost received the Holy Spirit and became members of His Risen Body. Rather, Paul became an Apostle of Christ after Christ appeared to him personally. The Apostle Paul refers to this important event to the Corinthians: "Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?" (1 Cor. 9:1). Also, he writes at one point in his epistle: "I first delivered to you that which I received." And referring to the appearances of the Risen Christ he concludes: "And last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born" (1 Cor. 15:1-8). For this reason he also is an Apostle, since he saw Christ and acquired communion with Him, experiencing the mystery of Pentecost. This is the reason why the Corinthians were not to seek another Apostle to guide them in their spiritual life.

The Apostle Paul acquired a rare spiritual experience, a great spiritual gift, when he was taken up to the third heaven and from there entered Paradise, thereby participating in heavenly glory, the uncreated Divine Liturgy of the Kingdom of Heaven. They were "surpassingly great revelations," as he himself said in his epistle to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 12:1-7). He was a theologian in the ecclesiastical and patristic meaning of the term, since he saw the glory of Christ, he met Him and spoke about Him.

Writing about these issues to the Corinthians he wanted to reveal to them his apostolic capacity which is associated with his spiritual experience, and not with his philosophical knowledge and other human gifts, and he also wanted to stress that the purpose and destination of Christians is to enter into that heavenly Divine Liturgy.

The second is that, when reading these two epistles to the Corinthians, we see that the communication between the Apostle Paul and the Christians of Corinth was close and charismatic. He begat them spiritually, which is why he wrote to them: "Even if you had ten thousand teachers in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel" (1 Cor. 4:15). And the Corinthians experienced this charismatic life, whether they were married or virgins, which is why he wrote: "But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that" (1 Cor. 7:7). And their prayers were not formal, but charismatic, as is shown in the passage: "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Spirit of God" (1 Cor. 12:3). They said the name of Jesus by the Holy Spirit.

Of course there were various sad things about the Church of Corinth, but these were exceptions, since despite the energy of the Holy Spirit, the freedom of people is preserved, which God Himself respects. The fact is that the majority of the Corinthians had spiritual gifts, which is why the Apostle Paul urges them: "Covet earnestly the greater gifts" (1 Cor. 12:31).

This means that the Christians of Corinth were not ordinary people, secularized Christians, but they were partakers of the Holy Spirit, and had various gifts. Of course, they did not acquire the great apostolic gift, as it was possessed by the Apostle Paul, their spiritual father and teacher, but they also had different and varied spiritual gifts. I do not mean natural gifts that all people have, but the special gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Corinthians were "sanctified in Christ" (1 Cor. 1:2), and the Apostle Paul reached the point that he wrote through the Grace of God: "I always thank my God for you because of His grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in Him you have been enriched in every way — with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge — God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed" (1 Cor. 1:4-7). In other words, they all acquired spiritual knowledge, charismatic theology, and they did not lack any spiritual gift.

When one reads the first epistle to the Corinthians they are amazed by the gifts that existed in the early Church of Corinth. All the charismatics were numbered by categories, such as apostles, prophets, teachers and wonderworkers, and the gifts consisted of that of healing, speaking in tongues and the interpretation of tongues (1 Cor. 12:29-31). Also, one is amazed when they read what the Apostle Paul writes about the gifts of the Corinthians manifested during their assemblies. He writes to them: "When you come together, each of you has a psalm, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation" (1 Cor. 14:26). In other words, during the sacred service the Holy Spirit would illumine Christians, and their gifts would be manifested, whether they were psalms (which were prayers from the Psalms of David), teachings, tongues (which was noetic prayer, since it could not be heard by others), revelations and the interpretation of revelations.

I'm trying to figure out how the first Church in Corinth operated during their sacred services, especially during the Divine Eucharist, because today we don't have similar experiences. This was a living Church, full of the energy of the Holy Spirit, a Church founded by a great Apostle, Paul, and directed by him as a spiritual father they were led into Paradise and acquired the knowledge of God. In this way, during the sacred service of the Divine Eucharist, the Christians of Corinth acquired sacred inspiration, receiving the energy of the Holy Spirit, and they experienced these gifts with the theological word, noetic prayer, etc. The image of little children who are full of life and exceedingly rejoice when they are in nature and play with liveliness can be ascribed to the life of the first and nascent Church of Corinth. It was a Church full of spiritual life that was manifested by spontaneous gifts to such an incredible degree that they could not control them.

Today in our Church we have written prayers, services, troparia and hymns. Also, we have an established typikon (rubric) that defines what should be said by the Bishop, Priest, Deacon, Chanter, Reader, and in what order. Hence, there are no gaps in our divine worship. But at that time there was no typikon, but the energy of the Holy Spirit was manifested, and it did so spontaneously. The Apostle Paul arrived at the point that he had to set a typikon for them, which defined the order when the gifts could be manifested at the Divine Eucharist. When they had the gift of speaking in tongues they were not to speak or be silent all together, but it was necessary for an interpreter to be present. The same had to be done with the prophets, where two or three spoke while others discerned what was spoken. If a certain Christian received a revelation while another was speaking, then the former had to be silent. Such order did the Apostle Paul impose so that they all could prophesy, that all may learn and be comforted. Thus, "the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets," in other words, the gifts of the Prophets must be subject to the Prophets and should not be uncontrollably manifested, because God is not a God of disorder, but a God of peace (1 Cor. 14:14:26-32), neither does the Holy Spirit abolish the freedom a person.

Sometimes I think that it would be an awesome experience to be in the Eucharistic assembly of the Church then, here in Corinth, in which there were apostles, prophets, teachers, wonderworkers, speakers of tongues who had noetic prayer, interpreters, and for all these gifts to be manifested, revealing the presence of the Holy Spirit. It was a living Church. With what fervor this Eucharistic assembly took place, that a typikon was necessary in order to express and manifest these spiritual gifts for the building up of all!

One contemporary theologian (Fr. John Romanides), referring to what took place in Corinth, spoke of it as "the theological school of the Apostolic Church." Indeed, if we think of empirical theology as a spiritual gift, by which one knows God personally and speaks of Him, then theology is associated with prophecy, and a theologian is a prophet who sees God and reveals what he sees, which is why they are called "visionaries" and "seers," then we can assign the designation "Theological School of the Apostolic Church" in Corinth, this first apostolic Church. Therefore, here in Corinth there operated the first living Theological School, the School of the Holy Spirit, the "royal priesthood," not with presidential decrees and state laws, but with the presence of the Holy Spirit. And one is saddened when they compare this first "Theological Ecclesiastical School" with our situation today, where we enter churches in an ordinary manner, mechanically, and our minds are outside the church, far from God, and remain fruitless. We have beautiful churches, excellent hymnography and music, a wonderful typikon, but we don't have the liveliness of the early Church. Hence, we not only have an economic crisis today in our land, but also a spiritual and theological crisis.

Your Eminence Holy One of Corinth,

I boast and spiritually rejoice that you are a Bishop of such an Apostolic Church, in which operated the "Theological School" of the Holy Spirit, as read about in the two epistles to the Corinthians of the Apostle Paul. I also rejoice over the fact that the Sacred Metropolis of Nafpaktos in olden times when it was a Diocese, was under the Metropolis of Corinth, and it has such a great spiritual tradition. Every time I pass through Corinth on my way to Athens or returning, I pray for you and your flock, which gathered here today, in this spiritual assembly, here where the Apostle Paul lived and spoke, and the nostalgia of that first "Theological School of the Apostolic Church" of Corinth, as described in the two epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians.

At the same time, I envision such a Church, in which Christians will be full of such spiritual gifts, to such a degree that they will need a Prophet to impose order on how the Church will manifest their love for Christ, and for a Church to be inspired by the glory of God that will be higher than the state of Adam and Eve before they sinned in Paradise. Of course, gifts never disappeared from the Church, because the Church always operates with the energy of the Holy Spirit and is the Body of Christ, but the Christians who are members of the Church have become secularized. This is why we must respect the gift of the Priesthood, especially the gift of the Episcopacy, as well as all the other gifts distinguishing Christians. Besides these ecclesiastical gifts, we seek the first Church of Corinth with its "Theological School" and in which Christians had experiences of Christ, they had faith through their vision of God (theoria) and not simply faith by hearing (acceptance through the mind).

Such spiritual forefathers you have, beloved Corinthians. You are descendants of such great figures, your Church is a continuation of the first brilliant apostolic Church as it appears in the two epistles of the Apostle Paul, sent to the Corinthians, and this is such an honor for you, being known to the entire Christian world, and you have the responsibility of continuing this tradition. Let us ask the Apostle Paul, the founder of the Church of Corinth, to give us the inspiration to live ecclesiastically, to have an ecclesiastical mindset, and to be nostalgic of that first Church, so that we may be worthy successors of those great apostolic figures and eventually become students of this "Theological School of the Apostolic Church" of Corinth.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Η Θεολογική Σχολή τής Αποστολικής Εκκλησίας", July 2011. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.