Monday, August 8, 2016

Fr Touma (Bitar) on the Council of Chalcedon

Arabic original here.

Dogma and New Life

A Sermon on the Fourth Ecumenical Council

Today, brothers, we remember the fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, which was held in Chalcedon, near Constantintople, today's Istanbul. This was in the year 451. The world's bishops flocked there from every direction, to the point that their number reached 630 fathers. For us, the ecumenical councils are, generally speaking, occasions for defining the faith, clarifying it, refuting every strange teaching and thus every strange way of life. For us, we receive the faith from those who preceded us and we pass it on to those who follow us. Just as each of us receives life from his parents and passes it on to his sons and daughters. What was the basic topic of the Fourth Ecumenical Council?

The basic topic is the person of Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ, as the council ruled, is God and man together at the same time. He is God in every sense of the word and He is man in every sense of the word. However, even if the Lord Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, He is one person. This means that if we were to say that the Lord Jesus is only God, then there would not have been an incarnation. The incarnation that occurred-- that is, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Theotokos Mary and her conceiving the Lord Jesus-- would be without meaning and without value. Likewise, if the Lord Jesus was only man, then the incarnation would be of no benefit. Why would He become incarnate, if it were to be only a man? Then, if He were only a man, then He would have been born as all people are born. But the Lord Jesus was born in the body of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. So when we say that the Lord Jesus is God in every sense of the word and man in every sense of the word, we explain the meaning of the incarnation. The incarnation happened because God wanted to become man. The Son of God became man in every sense of the word. And if He became man in every sense of the word, this was for a specific purpose. He is God who became man. Why? Because He wanted, through his taking on man, to give man the opportunity to become divine in Him. This is the meaning of the incarnation. This is the value of the incarnation. The incarnation occurred for this reason.

There were strange ideas about this teaching that was expressed by the Fourth Ecumenical Council. Among these strange ideas that were refuted and rejected by the Church is the idea that the Lord Jesus Christ's divinity overpowered His humanity. This was completely rejected because the Lord Jesus' humanity was completely preserved. However, Jesus willingly submitted His humanity to His divinity. He became man, He remained man, and He continues to be man forever. Let no one think that the Son of God became man for a short period of time, after which He shed His humanity and returned to His previous state before the incarnation. This is not true. The Son of God became man because He wanted to take up our humanity, to become man, and to remain man forever. So it is not true that the Lord Jesus Christ's divinity swallowed up His humanity. His humanity remained fully preserved. The Lord Jesus ate and drank just as we eat and drink and His bodily functions were like our bodily functions. The Lord Jesus was different from us in one thing only: He did not know sin while we know sin-- indeed, all of humankind has fallen in sin. For this reason, in truth, He became incarnate, to free us from sin!

In addition to this, there was another strange teaching that said that since the Lord Jesus Christ was God and man together at the same time, He did not have a human soul. This too was rejected. It was known as Apollinarianism at that time, after the Apollinarius of Laodicia. The Lord Jesus has a human soul just as each of us has a human soul. The idea being that that which the Lord Jesus does not assume in man, He does not redeem. Nevertheless, the Lord Jesus Christ was not two persons, but one person. Of course, there is a mystery, there is a truth that is beyond human apprehension. So the Lord Jesus in one person. At that time, the Patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius, supported the line of regarding the Lord Jesus as two persons with a theory stating that Mary was the mother of Jesus but not the Mother of God. Thus, in Nestorius' mind, there was Jesus and there was God. What does that mean? Does it not mean that there are two persons, even if it does not state that directly? This, of course, was rejected by the Church, which broke relations with its proponent. The expression that we use in the Church for breaking off (that is, breaking off from the Church-- a person being expelled from the Church) is to anathematize. The Church anathematized Nestorius-- that is, cut him off from her communion. The Church held fast to the belief that Mary is the Mother of God. This does not at all mean that she begat the divinity. Only stupid people think we say that. No, never. That would be a heresy! God exists from eternity and forever. And Mary is created. However, when we say that Mary is the Mother of God, we mean that she gave birth to God in the flesh, not in an absolute sense. With regard to divinity, the Son of God is begotten of the Father from eternity. Is this not what we say in the Creed? "Begotten of the Father before all ages." With regard to His humanity, He Himself is born of the Virgin Mary. Therefore, saying that Mary is the Mother of God perfectly expresses Jesus Christ's being one person, while being both fully God and fully man. His identity in the incarnation is the identity of the Son of God, distinct from the person of the Father but of one essence with the Father. The Fourth Ecumenical Council was an extension of the Third Ecumenical Council, which was held in the city of Ephesus. There the Church anathematized Nestorius. In the Fourth Ecumenical Council, she wanted to confirm the perfect divinity and perfect humanity of the Lord Jesus. This is our faith, then: the Lord Jesus is God incarnate.

When, at the Last Supper, the Lord Jesus gave His disciples bread, He said to them, "take, eat, this is My body which is broken for you." And when He said "this is My body," He gave them Himself. The word "body" does not only mean that which is material and sensory. This word also meant the entire being. The Lord Jesus Christ gave Himself to them completely as God and man together. Therefore, when we participate in the sacraments, when we take part in Holy Communion, we participate (partake, eat) the Lord Jesus Christ, God. We participate in the body, under the sign of bread and wine, an extension of His body. So we participate in God, we eat God in a certain sense. When a person eats, the food that he receives is transformed into nourishment for his life. This entire process that occurs: we eat, the food goes down into the stomach, then the stomach lining absorbs the food and sends it into the blood by which one is nourished... this entire process means that food nourishes life and gives new life. So when we eat the body of the Lord Jesus and drink His blood-- when we participate in His totality as God and as man together-- we gain life. We are nourished by the new life that is His life. God gives us His life, which is Himself. We are not nourished by bread alone. Man is granted in the incarnation and in everything that the Lord Jesus achieved from the beginning until the ascension, until Pentecost, for God to become in the body food for him. The life that is given to us is God's own uncreated life. God is living. When the Lord Jesus gives Himself to us in the bread and wine, He gives us His life. So in this way we participate in the eternal life that belongs to God.

So where does this get us? When we participate in God, in the body, under the sign of the Eucharist, this makes us citizens of the kingdom of heaven. We do not only belong to this earth. Of course, we are of the dust of the earth. But it is also given to us to be born of the Spirit of God. This is what we receive at baptism, when the one being baptized is born of water and the Spirit. He is born in every sense of the word, unto heaven, unto God's kingdom. So this makes us at the same time citizens of the earth and citizens of heaven. Naturally, this causes us to regard everything in this life from the perspective of this dual allegiance, to earth and to heaven. What do I mean by these words? Each of us takes two or three meals in a day. This is something normal. Everyone, whether they believe in Jesus Christ or not, does this. But those who believe in the Lord Jesus treat these meals in a different manner than those who do not believe, with a different purpose. What do I mean by this? First, when I sit at the table-- or rather, before I sit at the table-- I pray and say, "The eyes of all hope upon you and you give them food in due season. You open Your hand and every living thing is filled with happiness." So I treat the food that I eat as a temple for the blessing of God's Spirit. My concern is that I partake of it in a spirit of chastity and restraint, so that I will not only receive bodily nourishment from it, but also primarily a blessing from above. In this manner, I treat bread and every sort of food with faith. This is what every believer must do. As the Apostle Paul said, he eats for the sake of God, drinks for the sake of God, dresses for the sake of God, and does everything for the sake of God. The important thing is that one makes what Christ realized in Himself his own also. We make ours when we treat everything in this world as belonging to God. Everything is from Him, in Him, and belonging to Him. Everything is from Him and we sign everything over to Him. We do not necessarily sign it over to Him directly, but through others. Therefore, we love God if we love our brothers. How do we know that we love God? Precisely if we love our brothers! Thus we do not eat only in order to gain good bodily health. This isn't the only purpose. We eat in order to praise God, first of all. We do not stand at the border of nature. Of course we must eat. But our first concern is that when we eat, we seek heavenly nourishment through material food. Thus through prayer, following the commandments, and chastity in dealing with food and with thanks to God for everything He gives us, then, in addition to this, with the participation of our brothers who are hungry, weak, and in pain, who do not possess what we possess... by doing these two things: by making food a means for giving praise to God, by following His commandments, and by making food a means for loving our brothers, in these two ways we treat food as something that both gives us bodily nourishment and brings us new life at the same time. Everything in our life as believers has theanthropic value, not only human value. It is never possible to separate these two things. We deal with everything as humans because we are humans. At the same time, however, we treat everything divinely because through His incarnation the Lord Jesus gave everything a divine value. He is God who has become incarnate. And we, through human things, seek to become divine. He became incarnate and we are becoming divine. Therefore, we treat everything in our life both humanly and divinely.

For this reason, the dogma of the Fourth Ecumenical Council is fundamental, extremely important, and not only so that we know that the Lord Jesus is the Son of God incarnate. That is one part of the subject. The second part is that the Lord God became incarnate in order to grant us to treat everything and to pass by means of everything to His own life, His own divinity. Dogma defines our spiritual path to the face of God! Everything we deal with comes to be for our divinization. We treat it according to God's commandments, with the love of God, with blessing, with thanks, with remembrance of the name of God. Anyone who treats something in the world as having value in itself departs from the faith. I do not treat money as a cash, but as a means of meeting my needs and the needs of those around me. This money that I use stops at the limit of the dust of life in this world if I am content to use it for myself. But when I use it to fulfill God's commandments, out of love for my brothers, I make it into a means for his divinization and my own. The Lord God took up our humanity which is dust, and made it His body. He brought it into His life. Thus we take up everything and treat it with the fear of God and it becomes, through our following the commandments, an instrument for acquiring God's life, for acquiring divinity. Thus through everyday, normal human things, we become gods! The Lord Jesus expressed this in many of the things that He said. For example, if one of us gives another a glass of cold water, truly I say to you that his reward will not be lost. This may ensure our being taken directly to the kingdom. So we must deal with everything-- not only matters of life, but everything on earth-- we must use everything on this earth for the sake of the kingdom! In this way we receive the kingdom of heaven here and now. In this way we grow until we reach the fullness of the stature of Christ until, in death, we are completely joined to the Lord God. In this way we realize our humanity on earth. Our humanity, then, enters into the sphere of divinity. We start to become divinized from this moment. In this way the purpose of the incarnation of the Son of God is realized completely in us. If we do not treat the things of God and the things of this earth in this way, then we remain strangers to everything that the Lord God wanted to realize in His incarnation. At that point, all the words that are said about Jesus being both God and man cease to have value for us. If we do not reflect the incarnation in our life, if it does not change us completely so that we come to be of God, of His mettle, then God's work effectively has no value for us. We become atheists deep down, even if we believe!

Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan-- Douma, Lebanon
August 7, 2016

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