Monday, December 21, 2009

Orthodox Spirituality: A Brief Introduction

"In the interpretation of [the Parable of the Good Samaritan] by St. Chrysostom it is clearly shown that the Church is a Hospital which cures people wounded by sin; and the bishops-priests are the therapists of the people of God.

And this precisely is the work of Orthodox theology. When referring to Orthodox theology, we do not simply mean a history of theology. The latter is, of course, a part of this but not absolutely or exclusively. In patristic tradition, theologians are the God-seers. St. Gregory Palamas calls Barlaam a theologian, but he clearly emphasizes that intellectual theology differs greatly from the experience of the vision of God. According to St. Gregory Palamas theologians are the God-seers; those who have followed the 'method' of the Church and have attained to perfect faith, to the illumination of the nous and to divinization (theosis). Theology is the fruit of man's therapy and the path which leads to therapy and the acquisition of the knowledge of God.

Western theology however has differentiated itself from Eastern Orthodox theology. Instead of being therapeutic, it is more intellectual and emotional in character. In the West, Scholastic theology evolved, which is antithetical to the Orthodox tradition. Western theology is based on rational thought whereas Orthodoxy is hesychastic. Scholastic theology tried to understand logically the Revelation of God and conform to philosophical methodology. Characteristic of such an approach is the saying of Anselm of Canterbury: 'I believe so as to understand'. The Scholastics acknowledged God at the outset and then endeavoured to prove His existence by logical arguments and rational categories. In the Orthodox Church, as expressed by the Holy Fathers, faith is God revealing Himself to man. We accept faith by hearing it not so that we can understand it rationally, but so that we can cleanse our hearts, attain to faith by 'theoria' and experience the Revelation of God."

This selection has been taken from Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Orthodox Spirituality: A Brief Introduction, trans. by Effie Mavromichali (Levadia, Greece: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 1998), 24-26.

The first three chapters from this book on "Defining Orthodox Spirituality," "Differences Between Orthodox Spirituality and Other Traditions," and "The Core of Orthodox Spirituality" are available online.