Friday, April 29, 2011

Eyewitnesses of His Majesty (2 Peter 1:12-18)

Why do I have a picture of a tent here?  Read on...

12 For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth. 13 Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you, 14 knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me. 15 Moreover I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease. 16 For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” 18 And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.

“For this reason,” i.e. because of the need for Christians to grow in virtue and in personal knowledge of God, St. Peter has reminded them of their need, even though they already know it. There are some things in our Christian lives that we can never hear too many times. For example, even though all Christians know that it is important to pray, we forget, we get lazy, we grow discouraged, and so on. Because of this, we need to read and hear about the importance of prayer over and over again. The same is true for many other things. Examples include the need to show love to others, the need to be humble, the need to give generously to God, the need to be regular in attending divine services, and the need to regularly read the Scriptures (among others). We must, to use St. Peter’s language, constantly be “stirred up” (and also to “stir up” others who need encouragement).

Another reason St. Peter gives for reminding his audience of the basics of the faith is because he knows that his death is imminent. The great Neronian persecution of the Church that followed the great fire in Rome had just begun, and St. Peter knows that it is just a matter of time before he and all the other leaders of the Church would be rounded up and put to death. And not only this, but Christ had personally shown him in some way. Using a picturesque metaphor, the apostle says that he is about to “put off my tent.” Because he must soon leave the earth, St. Peter wants his readers to “always have a reminder of these things after my decease.”

He then goes on to assure them that the Gospel that he and the other Apostles had preached was not a set of “cunningly devised fables” like the Greek and Roman mythologies or the Gnostic teachings. Instead, they were telling what they had seen and heard (compare 1 John 1:1) in the years that they had spent with Christ. For St. Peter and the other apostles were “eyewitnesses of His majesty.” This “majesty” is almost certainly a reference to the Transfiguration of Christ, for then not only did St. Peter see Christ’s majesty and glory, but they also heard the voice of the Father saying “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

FF comments thus: “This, Peter says, proves the reality of the Second Coming, for Christ Himself pointed to the Transfiguration as a foretaste and proof of His future glory at the Coming (Matt. 16:28). The greatness He will manifest at the Second Coming was observed by the apostles at His Transfiguration. The apostles thus can confidently proclaim the reality of His Coming because they themselves have seen its glory already” (120).

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Make Your Call and Election Secure (2 Peter 1:5-11)

5 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.

10 Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; 11 for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

“For this reason,” that is, for the reason that we need to escape from the world’s pollution, St. Peter urges us to diligently add to our faith. St. Peter here tells us that having mere faith is not enough; in addition to our faith, we must strive as hard as we can (knowing that it is God who even makes it possible!) to grow in our likeness to him. That is, we must actively work at doing what St. Peter referred to in verse 4 as partaking of the divine nature.

Then St. Peter spells out exactly what qualities we must strive to obtain, listing the quantities as a sort of ladder (St. Paul does something similar in Romans 5). The first quality is “virtue,” which translates the Greek word arĂȘte, which St. Peter has just used to refer to Christ’s moral beauty (v. 3). To virtue, we are to add knowledge (gnosis), the ability to discern what is good and true from what is not.

To knowledge, St. Peter urges us to add “self control” (egkratia, literally “ruling oneself”), a fundamental attribute. We must gain control over our flesh if we are to grow into the likeness of God. He adds perseverance, which is also critical; the Christian life is a marathon and not a sprint. We have to refuse to “throw in the towel” and give in to the constant temptations that are thrown our way. To perseverance we are told to add “godliness” (eusebia, which can also mean “piety”), a wholehearted devotion to God.

Next, St. Peter commands us to add “brotherly kindness” (philadelphia), which is warmth and affection and good-heartedness, especially toward other Christians. And, to this, we are told to add “love” (agape), the supreme virtue of all. Agape is, in FF’s words, “a self-sacrificing benevolence to all men” (117).

If we work to add these qualities and gain them, St. Peter says, we will gain the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. This knowledge is not just “head knowledge,” but a personal relationship. If we are not working to grow in faith and virtue, we cannot expect to ever know Christ. This does not mean that we have to be perfect, but rather that we need to be striving to grow. God has promised us that if we strive, he will give the growth. If we lack these things (which means we’re not trying to gain them, we have forgotten that God has cleansed us from our sins through our repentance and baptism. Sadly, this is the case with many Christians, who enthusiastically embrace Christ but gradually fade away. Their faith grows cold, and before long they are Christians only in name and not reality.

This is why St. Peter again urges his audience to diligence, using different words: he urges us to “be even more diligent to make your calling and election secure.” God’s “election” of us is a call to salvation and Christian discipleship, but it is not a guarantee of final salvation. We work together with God to “make it happen” (compare St. Paul’s teaching in Philippians 2:12-13). I’ll note in passing that St. Peter’s command to make our election secure is one of many biblical passages that make the concept of “once saved, always saved” untenable.

For as St. Peter points out in the second part of verse 10, it is only if we do these things (not just if we believe them) that we will never stumble and fall off the path to salvation. It is only if we do these things (i.e., work to add the virtues to our lives) that we will gain an entrance into the “everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” If we persevere in our faith, a faith that is filled with good works, we will not only be granted entrance into our Lord’s kingdom, but the kingdom will be granted abundantly.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Partakers of the Divine Nature (2 Peter 1:1-4)

The Fathers often used the image of a sword in a flame as an analogy for theosis.  The sword takes on the nature of the flame without actually becoming the flame.

1 Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, 3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

As the other apostles often do when they begin their epistles, St. Peter identifies himself humbly as simply “a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ.” He uses the Semitic version of his name (Simeon) rather than the more common “Simon.” He identifies his audience as “those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” The Greek word translated as “have obtained” in the NKJV literally means “have been allotted.” The word is used in other parts of the NT to indicate the casting of lots; as FF points out, “the thought here is of the Gentiles receiving their own portion from God.” Whereas before the saving gospel of God was aimed primarily at Jews, now Gentiles have also been allotted a portion.

Note in passing the reference to Christ’s divinity. Christ is not just our Savior but our God and Savior.

As in many other epistles, St. Peter wishes “grace and peace” to his hearers, and he prays that this grace and peace will be multiplied to them in the knowledge (epignosis; literally “deep, personal knowledge”) of both the Father and the Son.

Next, in verses three and four, St. Peter makes some very bold claims, claims that are crucial to the Orthodox understanding of salvation (theosis). First he says that divine power (dynamis) has been given to us. This “power” is none other than the grace of God, or God’s uncreated energy. It is given to us in the person of the Holy Spirit, who comes to dwell in us at our baptism and chrismation. And this power, in turn, has given us everything we need to live a godly life, that is, a life in conformance to the will of God that is pleasing to God. This agrees with St. Paul’s statement that “it is God who works in you both to will and to act according to his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). This grace comes through the knowledge of him, that is through a daily personal relationship with Christ.

God has also given us “exceedingly great and precious promises,” such as the fact that Christ will come again, raise us to life, glorify our bodies, and let us dwell forever with him. And he has also made us “partakers of the divine nature.” That is, as we grow in our faith and in our relationship with Christ, we can become more and more like God. This process, of course, will not be completed while we are still on earth, but that does not mean that we cannot have at least a taste of it now. FF explains:

“The glorified Christ is incorruptible, and we shall be made incorruptible; death now has no dominion over Him, and one day it will have no dominion over us…Thus the incorruptible nature of divinity will then be bestowed upon us by grace. (This does not deny that even now we share a foretaste of that divine nature as we are transformed into His glorious image; 2 Cor. 3:18” (115).

Note, however, as St. Peter writes at the end of verse 4, in order to really partake of the divine nature, however, we must first have “escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Second Epistle of St. Peter - Introduction

Sixth century icon of St. Peter from St. Catherine's Monastery, Mt. Sinai

Author: St. Peter the Apostle. Many modern scholars question St. Peter’s authorship of this epistle, primarily on linguistic grounds. They allege that the style of the Greek in 1 Peter and 2 Peter is so great that they cannot have come from the same hand. But the difference is style can easily be explained by the likely use of a different scribe. Undoubtedly, the two epistles were written down by two different hands, but they could easily be dictated by the same person, especially since the apostles seem to have given their scribes a good deal of freedom in the exact words they used to express the apostles’ ideas.

Those who deny St. Peter’s authorship claim that the epistle was written many years after his death and that it was written by someone else in St. Peter’s name. They claim that writing pseudonymously was a common and accepted practice in the early Church. But as Fr. Lawrence Farley (FF) notes, there are several reasons to hold to Petrine authorship of this epistle:

1. Forgery in the name of an apostle was not a universally accepted practice. According to Tertullian, the early Christian document The Acts of Thekla was written by a presbyter in the name of Paul. When the church hierarchy discovered the forgery, they deposed the presbyter (FF 109, referring to Tertullian, On Baptism 17).

2. The author refers to himself as “Simeon Peter” (the Jewish form of his name) rather than “Simon Peter.” A forger would not likely have done this, since the overwhelming majority of the Church knew Peter as “Simon” Peter,

3. The author claims to have been a witness to the Transfiguration. If this letter was not written by Peter, then the author is lying—hardly a Christian thing to do.

4. The author refers to an earlier epistle that he had written. This earlier epistle was almost certainly 1 Peter.

5. Both 1 and 2 Peter include common themes and linguistic features, such as Peter’s referring to his audience as “beloved,” and the reference to the flood of Genesis 6 and the fact that there were eight souls on the Ark.

(See FF [ Fr. Lawrence Farley’s commentary Universal Truth], pp 109-110 for more information).

Nevertheless, even if St. Peter did not write this epistle, the early Church recognized it as Scripture, and we should too. It is equally as authoritative for us whether or not it came from St. Peter.

Place and Date of Writing: Rome, most likely the Spring of 65. The epistle was probably written right before St. Peter’s martyrdom and is therefore most likely a sort of “Last Will and Testament.”

Major Theme: False teachers and the need to resist them.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Christos Voskrese!

A parishioner sent me a link to this video.  It was filmed at a soccer game in Russia on Pascha.  I just had to share it with you.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Christ is Risen!

Paschal Greetings from the Early family:  Fr. James, Kh. Jennifer, Audrey (left), Courtney (right), Beth (bottom center), and Christine (in Mom's arms).  Okay, I admit it, this picture is about three years old, but work with me!  We forgot to take one yesterday or today. 

May the blessings and joy of Christ's resurrection be with you all.  And, now, for your listening pleasure, I present this video, which I stole off YouTube, of the beautiful hymn "The Angel Cried."

Friday, April 22, 2011

Today He Who Hung the Earth Upon the Waters

This beautiful hymn is chanted in the "Twelve Passion Gospels" service for Good Friday in the Orthodox Church.  (The service is usually served on Thursday night by anticipation).  This video isn't particularly impressive, but the chanter and the hymn certainly are.  Close your eyes and enjoy!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Behold the Bridegroom Cometh

Here is one of the hymns chanted at the Bridegroom Matins service, which is celebrated in the Orthodox Church on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday evenings of Holy Week. This video features the ensemble Archangel Voices. Enjoy.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Rejoice, O Bethany

This is one of my favorite hymns.  It is chanted on Lazarus Saturday and on Palm Sunday in the Orthodox Church.  This rendition is by the Boston Byzantine Choir.  Enjoy, and may your Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday be blessed.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Jesus' Tears

This is a resposting, but bears repeating (Fr. James is the author):

O Christ God, when Thou didst raise Lazarus from the dead, before Thy Passion, thou didst confirm the universal resurrection. Wherefore, we like babes, carry the insignia of triumph and victory, and cry to Thee, O vanquisher of death, Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord.

-- Troparion of the Saturday of St. Lazarus

My father was a tough-as-nails career Marine officer who fought in the jungles of Southeast Asia during World War II and in the frozen no-man’s-land that was the Korean Conflict. He was hardened by years of horrifying experiences that would have made Chuck Norris, Sylvester Stallone, or Arnold Schwarzenegger run away screaming. In the thirty-six years that I knew him, I never once saw him cry. Except when he gave in to an occasional outburst of anger, he was a model of emotional control. Compared to him, Mr. Spock and his fellow Vulcans were a bunch of emotional basket cases!

Dad always taught me to exhibit the same emotional control that he did, and in this he largely succeeded. As a result, I seldom ever find myself crying, except during an occasional tear-jerking part of a movie such as the “let’s play catch” scene in Field of Dreams. I’m not saying that this stoicism is good or bad; it’s just the way I am. I am without a doubt my father’s son, and weeping is just not part of my modius operandi.

But when my mother unexpectedly died in 2002, I found myself weeping uncontrollably off-and-on for days. The same thing happened two years later when my father finally succumbed to complications caused by the Alzheimer’s Disease that had ravaged him for over eight years. Two years, after then, when my daughter Audrey and I visited his grave in Arlington National Cemetery, I (foolishly, I know) told myself, “Don’t cry. Be tough. Hold it in!” And yet, when I actually laid eyes on his tombstone, I broke into an uncontrollable fit of sobbing that lasted for nearly 15 minutes.

This led me to reflect on the following question: What is it about death that makes even modern-day Vulcans like myself break down and weep? I have often heard death referred to as “The Great Equalizer,” and this is certainly true. All of us, no matter whether we are rich or poor, good or evil, Christian or non-Christian, have an appointment with death. And yet, the facet of death that makes it so hard to deal with is its being what I call “The Great Separator.” Perhaps the worst thing about death is that it separates us from those whom we love. When someone we loves dies, we lose the joy of being in their presence—seeing their face, hearing their voice, and feeling their embrace. And even if they seem to have died in Christ, there always remains that slight inkling of doubt: will I really ever see him or her again?

This brings us to today’s Gospel reading, John 11:1-45, which tells the story of the raising of Lazarus. This passage contains the shortest verse in the Bible, at least in the English version, verse 35: “Jesus wept.” I often used to wonder exactly why Jesus wept. He did not weep for the same reason that I wept when I lost my mother and my father. For the Lord knew that his separation from Lazarus would be very short-lived. He knew even before Lazarus died that He would raise him from the dead. So why, then, did he weep?

Some commentators have suggested that Jesus wept out of compassion for Mary and Martha. There is no question that this is part of why Jesus wept. He deeply loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, and it was hard for him to see them experience a loss as great as that of their beloved brother, especially at a relatively young age. As the prophet Isaiah wrote of our Lord, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (53:4a, NKJV). And yet, I think that there is much more behind Jesus’ tears than merely compassion and empathy, great though they were.

I believe that the clue to Jesus’ tears lies in a verb that St. John uses in verses 33 and 38. The root of this verb is the Greek embrimaomai, which is usually translated here as “groaned in the/his spirit” (KJV, ASV, NKJV) or “was deeply moved in spirit” (NASB, RSV, NIV). Both of these translations give the impression that Jesus was moved by grief. However, as Fr. Lawrence Farley points out in his excellent commentary on St. John’s Gospel,

The Greek word…savors not of grief, but of anger. It is used for the snorting of horses in secularliterature; in March 1:43 and Matthew 9:30, it is translated "sternly warn,” and in Mark 14:5, it is translated “scold.” In all of its uses, the word conveys the idea of indignation. Christ, therefore, was not here moved with grief over His friend; He was moved with anger at the Enemy, and indignation that all the Father’s world could be so ruined.

So more than being moved by mere grief or compassion, our Lord was, in Fr. Farley’s words, “furious at the ancient serpent for wreaking this havoc.” In his thirty-something years of life, Jesus had no doubt seen a great deal of death, but now he had had enough! He was not going to allow death and Hades to claim his beloved friend, at least not now.

Jesus’ anger at death can be seen indirectly in his somewhat testy response to Martha’s objection to his command to roll away the stone from Lazarus’ tomb: “Lord, already he smells, for it is the fourth day.” To this, our Savior replies, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?”

And so, the Lord Jesus, fed up with the Great Separator, marches to the tomb as a conqueror, intent on denying Death yet another victim. And, as Fr. Farley says, “looking on that blocked-up cave, He beheld not just the buried corpse of His friend, but the corpse of the whole world.” By raising Lazarus, Jesus gives the world a foretaste of the victory that he would win over death through his death, resurrection, and ascension, as well as an anticipation and an image of the final resurrection from the dead.

Holy Father Lazarus, pray to the Lord that our souls may be saved!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Update on Floyd and Ancuta Frantz in Romania

Archbishop Andrei Andreicut

Greetings, and I hope that this finds you well today, and in good spirits on this most blessed day of Meatfare Tuesday.

It has been a few days since our last newsletter, so I am sending one out to keep those interested up to date. Actually, we have been having some activities, and I have more than once felt the need to write.

A most blessed thing was that one of the babies in Ancuta's program, The Protection of the Theotokos Family Center was baptised recently. What was really nice about this was that the father of the child was there. This is sort of unusual, as usually the mother is abandoned by the father when she gets pregnant. He had been in jail, but is out, and trying to find some real work. We hope for all the best for him, and will try to find him a job. This may be hard to do, as things are pretty slow over here these days. I was able to chat with him a little, and he seems like a nice guy who just needs a good start in life.

We have a new bishop in Cluj, Archbishop Andrei Andreicut. I knew him previously, and we are very much looking forward to working with him. Well, we have in a way, as yesterday we did a training course for a priest and some other folks from Turga Murus, a town 70,000 about 120 km from here. They are wanting to start a counseling center, and so we are helping them by doing some trainings for them.

A nice story, two of them actually. The first guy that came to our treatment program at Polyclinica St. Pantelimon, in 2001, has now celebrated 10 years of sobriety. This was a joy for me, as his life was a disaster before he got into our program. His wife was divorcing him, he could not hold down a joy, his kids were not speaking to him, and it was all down hill. All of that is now in order, and he is back in his Church. Also, he is working with alcoholics in the Greco-Catholic archdioceses program. (We had a hand in starting that one also!! The guys who actually started it up and got the finances for it had both gotten sober in our program!)

Well, there are many churches but only one God. I thank him for his love for each of us. Please do keep us in your prayers, we always need them.

In His Love,
Floyd & Ancuta Frantz
OCMC Missionaries in Romania

If you would like to contact us please use:

You can visit the St. Dimitrie Programs web page at

If you would like to make an online donation in support of our work in Romania please go to the Orthodox Christian Mission Center web site at After finding the Frantz Family page, you will need to log in, but it is a simple process and it is very important to us. You may also call 877-GO-FORTH, and they will assist you with making a donation online or with your card.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Christ’s Work of Salvation in the Third Century Church Fathers - Part 3

This is the final installment of this discussion. The first installment can be read here. The second can be read here.

Modern Orthodox understanding has elements of each of the four atonement perspectives. Certainly, Christ is seen as conquering Satan and death. As Christians proclaim during Pascha: “Christ is risen from the dead; trampling down Death by death, and upon those in the tombs, bestowing life.” The Healing perspective is also prevalent, as Christ is truly the “Great Physician” and His grace is considered a type of medicine, administered in the spiritual hospital – the Church. Orthodoxy refuses to reduce Christ’s work of salvation to a single metaphor, so therefore the Kaleidoscope theory is relevant. Perhaps more problems have been associated with the Penal Substitution theory than all others, so it deserves a more complete treatment.

After Anselm produced his theory of Satisfaction in the Twelfth Century, Western Christianity adhered to his teaching, both Roman Catholic and Protestant. Christ is shown to pay the penalty of mankind’s sin, which a judgmental God requires. Unfortunately, though there are certainly currents of this understanding found in the New Testament, where Jesus serves as a ransom, and even in the Old Testament, where his followers find healing in his suffering (see Isaiah 53), Anselm’s interpretation puts undue emphasis on this understanding, to the exclusion of the others. Orthodoxy maintains that Christ did offer Himself as a ransom, but in order to take on human form, in order that “the human person is called from non-being into being…and with whom reconciliation has been effected through Christ’s sufferings." The concept of paying a price to a vengeful God – or the Devil – is absent in Orthodox theology. Rather, Christ is seen as bringing life by becoming what we are. The sufferings are not necessarily a penalty to be paid, as much as a participation in the totality of the human condition.

None of this further development of the doctrines concerning Christ’s saving work would have been possible had the early Christian writers not struggled with these questions. It was through their work that later teachers were able to build, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, a proper understanding of salvation and atonement. The theory of recapitulation, which built upon the teachings of the Apologists, led to further understanding of this salvific work, which in turn led teachers, such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Methodius to further developments. The difficult questions of Christ as Ransom, Christ as Conqueror, Christ as Healer, and more were an important part of their thought and teaching. While none of these Third Century writers seemed to formulate a final version of these things, as understood by later Orthodoxy, their work was instrumental in what developed later.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Christ’s Work of Salvation in the Third Century Church Fathers - Part 2

This is part 2 of this discussion. Part one can be read here.

Because of this eastern understanding of original sin, theologians, such as Origen and Clement, formulated doctrines that dealt with salvation in a specific manner. Clement took the teaching of the Apologists and modified it with his own understanding. He taught that Christ served as a ransom for humanity by offering himself as a sacrifice, defeating Satan, and interceding with the Father. Each of these are clearly taken from New Testament passages, and expanded within his theological framework. Again, elements of the Christus Victor and subsitution interpretive models are evident. He continued to view Christ as the ultimate teacher, echoing the Apologists, whereby as God, Christ forgave sins, and as man, he provided the proper example to follow. This emulation was not to be understood as simply copying the actions of Christ, but to actually be identified with, and assimilated into, Him. Again, we see little importance attached to Christ’s death and resurrection at this stage.

Origen held similar beliefs, but was not limited to them. He placed more emphasis on the death of Christ, which “effected … an overthrow of the evil one." In this manner, by dying, Christ defeated the Devil and triumphed over the evil powers in the world. The seeming demonic victory achieved at Christ’s death turned into defeat for evil at the resurrection. Origen further taught the idea of a ransom, but with the price being paid to the Devil, rather than God. While this concept of paying the Devil is not Orthodox understanding, the idea of a ransom has been influential up to the present day. Origen also included the concept of penal substitution, where Christ took the place of sinful man, taking humanity’s sins upon himself and bearing their punishment.

At the same time, Irenaeus’ recapitulation theory was still considered valid, though it was adapted. Methodius stressed that man died in Adam, but were made alive in Christ. His teaching indicates that Christ took on a mortal human body in order to return immortality to humanity, by joining divinity with it. While the basic understanding is similar to the earlier views, this newer incarnation of recapitulation was more mystical, and no longer dependent upon atonement.

Modern Christians focus much attention on the death of Christ, regarding salvation. But in the Third Century, more attention was given to the resurrection. The resurrection was seen as the proclamation of victory over evil. This provides an understanding of the importance given in earlier centuries to the Christus Victor approach. Yet the death of Christ was not ignored: “Christ, by his suffering, destroyed death and error… [endowing] believers with incorruption." It has been repeatedly shown that Christ as Conqueror was common in these early theologians, but there was also a germ of Christ as Healer in their teachings.

What is evident from this discussion is that salvation was not viewed as a one-time event, but was an ongoing process. Salvation was defined variously as “revelation of the truth; forgiveness of sins and justification; immortality and deification." With this understanding, one can see that salvation was considered as being freed from sin, forgiven for transgressions, and made to understand and obey truth. This would result in the ultimate Christian goal of immortality and theosis. A Christian would therefore be one who lived according to Christ’s example, with the freedom that comes from being forgiven for sin – also achieved by Christ, with the hope of being a “partaker of the divine nature” (NKJV; 2 Peter 1:4). Christ would forgive sins, and teach His followers how to avoid sin in the future.

The teachings of the Fathers of the Third Century did not clearly delineate the doctrines that would form later: Christus Victor, Penal Substitution, Healing, and the Kaleidoscope view, however their work paved the way for those developments. Many of the early writers intermingled various aspects of these theologies. The words of St. Iraneus serve as a good foundation for the continual development of the doctrine of salvation: “The sin which came by the tree (cf. Gen. 3:6) was undone by the tree of obedience to God when the Son of man was nailed to the tree. There He overcame the knowledge of evil and brought the knowledge of good. Evil is disobedience to God, and good is obedience to God."

To Be Continued...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Christ’s Work of Salvation in the Third Century Church Fathers - Part 1

As heresies began to plague the early Church, Orthodox theologians began to develop systematic approaches to specific points of doctrine, in order to combat the erroneous teachings of the heretics. Before the rise of heresy, many doctrines were only vaguely defined. However, once Christians began to follow the false teachings, it became vitally important that doctrine be clearly formed and communicated, so that truth could be easily distinguished from error. One of the most important of these issues was the role of Christ in the work of salvation. As Pelikan observes: “The gospel was a message of salvation; on this all Christian teachers agreed. But they did not agree about the meaning of the salvation proclaimed by this message." In fact, while the nature of Christ himself was dogmatically defined, the salvation he provided was not. Instead, there were competing variations of the interpretations on the subject. The atonement eventually became understood in four major ways: Christus Victor, Penal Substitution, Healing, and the Kaleidoscope view (where it is determined that the saving nature of Christ’s work cannot be reduced to one viewpoint). Each of these views can be seen in the writing of the Third Century Christian writers, and their contributions to the discussion helped the Church to organize the theology that became the standard for current Orthodox understanding.

The argumentation began to take form, as Christian writers taught that Christ was both an example to emulate, as well as a teacher who must be obeyed. Those who followed His example and obeyed his teaching were the ones who received salvation. However, the matter doesn’t rest there, as it became clear that salvation was not prominent in that understanding. It is a moralistic approach, leaving many important considerations aside. Here, the death of Christ does not seem to play an important role, showing the need for further investigation and doctrinal development. The Apologists of the Second Century rarely addressed the topic, and when they did, it was not well developed. We can see the beginnings of the formation of the Christus Victor approach in their work, however, as Justin Martyr taught that the incarnation had broken the power of Satan, and Christ held authority over the demons, indicating that Christians would be the beneficiaries of this power. The work of healing is also seen in these writings, as Christ is portrayed as having taken on humanity, suffered, and died in order to heal the spiritual infirmities of mankind and provide remission from sin.

This foundation then led to the salvific theory of recapitulation, whereby mankind was restored to his original state, as in Paradise, by the work of Christ. The general understanding of these fathers was that mankind had sinned in Adam, and therefore shared in his disobedience. We do see, however, a note of deification in their words, as Irenaeus taught that “[Christ] became what we are in order to enable us to become what he is." In a sense, the understanding here is that Jesus had ‘reset’ mankind, returning him to a pre-fallen state.

One important consideration, regarding salvation, is the understanding of original sin. As mentioned, some early writers considered that all of humanity had participated in the sin of Adam. In the west, this took on a specific meaning, where each person was guilty of the sin of Adam. In the east, however, this understanding was absent. Rather than sharing in Adam’s guilt, mankind shared the consequences of living in a fallen world. Each person was only guilty of his or her own individual sin. Of course, the fact is that all men, besides Christ, do sin. As such, Clement of Alexandria taught that all men were “sick, blind, and gone astray…enslaved to the elements and the Devil; and their condition can be described as death”

To Be Continued...