December 30, 2015

The Theological Crisis and Its Impact on Daily Ecclesiastical Life (5 of 6)

e) "Ontological and Existential"

These two words, "ontological" and "existential", are often used in spoken and written words by people who know Orthodox theology. Apparently they do it in the sense that "ontology" means what is real, what exists, and not something insubstantial and imaginary. Also, "existential" implies existential problems related to the beginning and end of existence, what is life, what is death, what happens after death, what is the meaning of existence; they are the answers to the "borderline" issues of human life. In this sense I also used these two words in the past, especially in discussions with scientists and young people, pupils and students, and they made a particular impression.

However, from my studies of both patristic and western scholastic theology, existentialist theology and Russian theology, I understand that these are problematic to the Orthodox patristic tradition, and in fact those who use them negate Orthodox theology or differ from it.

The word "ontology" as a technical term is encountered for the first time in the 17th century by Leibniz, who used it for "substance", as a word for "being" found in classical metaphysics in the Metaphysics of Aristotle, and in the scholastic theology of Thomas Aquinas. Later the term "ontotheology" is ascribed to the German philosopher Kant, in his attempt to prove the existence of God in a logical manner, the so-called ontological proof for God's existence.

The term "existential" was inherited from the existentialism that developed in the 20th century by Gabriel Marcel and the later existential theoretical philosophers, such as Sartre and Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard was disappointed by the philosophical system of Hegel that prevailed in his time, according to which man is considered an "impersonal idea". Thus he developed the theory that man is an "existing person". Later, Sartre reacted against metaphysics and German idealism that says essence-idea precedes existence (ontology-ideology), and argued that existence precedes essence. That is, according to him it is not the God of ideology that will define the existence of man, but man will define himself, and will deny God. In other words, according to the existentialism of Sartre, man is first existence and then, with the procedure of being, becomes essence after death. Within this perspective the term "free will" developed.

The German philosopher Heidegger, designated as an existentialist philosopher, though he defined himself as a philosopher of the meaning of being, made in his works the distinction between ontical and ontological, as well as that of existential and existentiell.

The Russian Orthodox philosopher Berdyaev, who is described as a Christian existentialist philosopher and a philosopher of freedom, developed many such views, relying basically on the mystical and agnostic views of the Lutheran Jakob Böhme, who had a particular appeal to Hegel and Schelling.

Hence, the use of the words "ontology" and "existential" for theological issues, without becoming a necessary explanation, is problematic.

f) "Militant and Triumphant Church"

Often in our sermons we speak about the militant and triumphant Church. By militant Church we mean the Church that exists in the world, in which we all dwell and struggle against our passions, the devil and death, and by triumphant Church we mean the saints who with death passed into another dimension of time, to eternal life, and they await the resurrection of their bodies. However, these terms are not so "innocent" as they may seem at first sight.

First, we belong to an army of Christ, struggling against the passions, and there is such a terminology in Holy Scripture and patristic texts, and the saints have overcome the fear of "utter ruin" and the fear of death.

However, the triumph of Christ against death, sin and the devil was done on the Cross according to the words of the Apostle Paul: "And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross" (Col. 2:15). It is not a matter only for those who have reposed, but also for those still alive. In the Church, with the Mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation and the Divine Eucharist, we participate in the triumph of Christ, as it is wonderfully analyzed by St. Nicholas Cabasilas in his book titled The Life In Christ.

Also, we cannot divide the Church into two parts, namely the militant Church on earth and the heavenly triumphant Church, because the Church is one and indivisible. In the Church, especially in the Divine Eucharist, we experience the fact that the Church is a "gathering of heaven and earth", the living and the dead, angels and men. St. John Chrysostom writes: "The angelic hosts above are glorifying; on earth the people in the churches are chanting in a chorus offering the same doxology. The seraphim above cry the Thrice Holy Hymn; on earth, crowds of people ascribe the same hymn. Common is the banquet of the heavens and of earth, one eucharist, one rejoicing, one gladness of chorus."

Moreover, in the Church there are saints who have reached great spiritual states in that they are able to see God, the Panagia and the Saints, which means that there cannot be an absolute separation between militant and triumphant Churches.

The issue, however, is that the distinction between the militant and triumphant Church is inseparably linked with the non-Orthodox distinction between the visible and invisible Church that developed in the 19th century by the Anglican "Oxford Movement", which said that the Church is one and invisible, while "the individual historical Churches are its lawfully visible expressions, each in its own historically governing specified space, provided they preserve the faith of the undivided Church and the apostolic succession of bishops." Such a distinction relates to the ecclesiology of scholasticism, according to which there is a distinction between the Church and the "Mystical Body of Christ". Thus, they are given the ability to "recognize" other ecclesiastical communities that are "independent" churches, even without being subject to the jurisdiction of the Pope.

Finally, the distinction between the Churches is related to the distinction between history and eschatology, which is non-Orthodox, because even the saints who have departed this world reside in the historical Church through their relics, and the eschaton is not the life of the Church after death and the Second Coming of Christ, but it is experienced in the present. Christ, Who is the "first and the last" (Rev. 1:17) became incarnate, entered history, and this is why the eschaton is always in the present.

Therefore, it is dangerous to split the Church into militant and triumphant, as if they were two different Churches. The Church is one with two aspects, the visible, which consists of authentic shepherds who hold the Orthodox teaching and the Mysteries, and the invisible, which consists of the reposed saints, but, of course, there is a unity between these members of the Church, since the Body of Christ is one. Fr. George Florovsky writes: "The triumphant Church is above all the worshiping Church, and its existence is a living participation in the work of the Comforter and in the redemptive love of Christ."

Translated by John Sanidopoulos.