the MISSION of the
HOMAGE TO DUMITRU STANILOAE
is first and foremost the prophetic conciousness of a living community, the
Church. As a discriptive discipline, however, of what this living community
experiences in her gathering epi to auto, theology
is in a second place a communal enterprize, the collective reflection of human
beings to comprehend with their limited resources the divine and cosmic
realities. Dumitru Staniloae, having served theology in both these two
capacities, i.e. as a priest and as scholar, as an experiencing member of the
Orthodox Christian community and as one of the most successful interprerters of her
theology, has left a legacy to all of us with his loving humility, his
and his "creative vision".
modest contribution to this festive symposium to honour Dumitru Staniloae, one
of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, is meant
to build upon
some of his (and of others') theological views, to add a small brick to our
theology and to take it a small step forward. More precisely: (a) I will first
present the eschatological dimension of Orthodoxy; I will then (b) proceed to
the christological foundation of Christian eschatology; I will (c) move to the
eucharistic application of eschatology and its relevance for mission; and
finally (d) I will present more critically the less (or for some non)
eschatological realities of today' s Orthodoxy, and the imperative of
rediscovering the authentic eschatological vision.
1. The eschatological
dimension of Orthodoxy
According to her most
serious interpreters Orthodoxy, among whom the late D. Staniloae has gained a
privileged position, means the wholeness of the people of God who share the
right conviction (orthe doxa = right opinion) concerning the
event of God's salvation in Christ and his Church, and the right expression (orthopraxia) of this
The term, as Nikos Nissiotis pointed out, "is given to the One, (Holy, Catholic and)
Apostolic Church...(and) is exclusive for all those, who willingly fall away
from the historical stream of life of the One Church but it is inclusive for
those who profess their spiritual belonging to that stream".
Hence, the notion of sobornicitatea (open catholicity) advanced by
This interpretation of the
essence of Orthodoxy, is in fact coupled by the paramaount importance of its liturgical tradition. D.Staniloae has devoted
numerous works on the importance of Liturgy.
In a historic statement to the world Christian community another prominent
Orthodox theologian, George Florovsky, declared that "the Church is first of all
a worshipping community. Worship comes first, doctrine and discipline second.
The lex orandi has a privileged priority in the life of the
Christian Church. The lex credendi
depends on the devotional
experience and vision of the Church".
It is widely held that the liturgical dimension is perhaps the only safe
criterion, in ascertaining the specificity of Orthodoxy.
It is my firm conviction
that out of the three main characteristics that generally constitute the
Orthodox theology, namely its "eucharistic", "trinitarian", and "hesyhastic"
dimension, only the first one can bear a universal and ecumenical significance.
If the last dimension and important feature marks a decisive development in
eastern Christian theology and spirituality after the final Schism between East
and West, a development that has determined, together with other factors, the
mission of the Orthodox Church in recent history; and if the trinitarian
dimension constitutes the supreme expression of Christian theology, ever
produced by human thought in its attempt to grasp the mystery of God, after
Christianity's dynamic encounter with the Greek culture; it was, nevertheless,
only because of the eucharistic experience, the matrix of all theology and
spirituality of Christianity, that all theological and spiritual climaxes in our
Church have been actually achieved.
The Eucharist, heart and
center of Christian Liturgy, is always understood in its authentic perception as
a proleptic manifestation of the Kingdom of God, as symbol and image of an
alternative reality, which was conceived before all creation by God the Father
in his mystical plan (the mysterion in the biblical sense), was inaugurated
by our Lord, and is permanently sustained by the Holy Spirit. What is,
nevertheless of paramount and undisputed importance, is that this Kingdom is
expected to be culminated at the eschata. This, in fact, brings us to
another equally important characteristic of Orthodoxy, i.e. her eschatological reality. The entire authentic
Orthodox tradition stresses, in one
way or another, the eschatological and not the historical (and therefore
hierarchical) dimension of the Church.
Hence the episcopocentric
structure of the Church, as an essential part of that vision, in Orthodox
theology is always understood eschatologically. The bishop e.g. as primus inter pares presiding in love
over the eucharistic community, was never understood (except under the heavy
influence of the West) as a vicar or representative, or ambassador of Christ,
but an image of Christ. So with the rest of the ministries of the Church:
they are not parallel to, or given by, but identical with those of, Christ.
That is also why the whole Orthodox theology and life, especially as this latter
is expressed in Sunday's liturgical offices, are centered around the
resurrection. The Church exists not because Christ died on the cross, but
because he is risen from the dead, thus becoming the aparche of all humanity.
We can, therefore, safely argue that eschatology constitutes the central and
primary aspect of Orthodoxy, the beginning of the Church, that which gives
her identity, sustains and inspires
her in her existence. Hence the priority of the Kingdom of God in all
ecclesiological considerations. In the Orthodox Church everything belongs to the Kingdom. The Church in
her institutional expression does not administer all reality; she only prepares
the way to the Kingdom, in the sense that she is an image if it. That is why,
although to the eyes of the historian and the sociologist is yet another human
institution, to the Orthodox it is primarily a mystery, and they very often call her an icon of
the Kingdom to come.
It is to the merits of
modern Orthodox theologians, among whom certainly the late Fr Dumitru Staniloae,
who reaffirmed the paramount importance of eschatology not only for Christian
theology, but also for the Church' s mission. From my limited, and I must
confess not profound, knowledge of Staniloae's thought, I recall his strong
criticism to the trend in contemporary Orthodoxy to identify the Orthodox
spirituality with a disregard to the every day life, a phenomenon described in
Staniloae's own words as "a premature eschatologism."
With all these in mind, we may argue that Christian theology is about the right
balance between history and eschatology.
The mission of the Church, on the other hand, is but a struggle to witness and
to apply this eschatological vision of the Church to the historical realities
and to the world at large. We should never forget that theology and the Church
exist not for themselves but for the world. The tension, therefore, between
eschatology and history, or to put it more sharply the relationship between the
ecclesial community and the society at large, is one of the most important
chapters in the Church's mission in today' s world, especially in view of the
tragic developments that have taken place for the last ten years in Eastern
Europe, that have shadowed the image of the Orthodox Church in the eyes of the
2. The Christological basis
of Christian eschatology.
Christian theology and
spirituality are based on, and determined by, the teaching, life and work of
Christ, the theandric person who is "restoration of human beings", to recall the
famous work of Staniloae.
His teaching, however, and especially his life and work, cannot be properly
understood without a clear reference to the eschatological expectations of
Judaism. Without entering into the complexities of Jewish eschatology, we can
very briefly say, that at the time of Jesus of Nazareth the core of these expectations was the idea of the coming
of a Messiah, who in the "last days" of history ("the Eschaton") would establish
his kingdom by calling all the dispersed and afflicted people of God into one
place to become one body united around him. As it was expressed in the prophetic
tradition of the Judaism (Joel 3:1; Is 2:2, 59:21; Ez 36:24 etc.), the start of
the eschatological period will be sound by the gathering of all the nations, and
by the descent of God's Spirit upon
the sons and daughters of God. A statement in the Gospel of John - generally
overlooked in modern biblical scholarship - about the role of the Messiah is
extremely important. In that statement the author of the 4th Gospel interprets
the words of the Jewish High Priest by affirming that "he prophesied that Jesus
should die...not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who
are scattered abroad." (11:51-52).
Throughout the Gospel
writings (synoptic and johannine alike) Christ clearly identifies himself with
this Messiah. One can see this in the various Messianic titles he chose for
himself, or at least as witnessed by the most primitive Christian tradition ("Son of
man", "Son of God",
"Servant of God" etc., most of which had a collective meaning, hence the
Christology of "corporate personality"). We see it as well in the parables of
the Kingdom, which summarize his teaching: i.e. that his coming inaugurated a
new world order, the world of the Kingdom of God; we also see this idea in the
Lord's Prayer, and above all in his conscious acts, and most significantly in
the selection of twelve disciples, signifying the establishment of a new
eschatological dodekaphylon (twelve tribes) of the New Israel. In short, Christ identified himself with the
Messiah of the Eschaton, who would be the center of the gathering of the
dispersed people of God.
It was on this radical
eschatological teaching of the Historical Jesus about the Kingdom of God (which
as modern biblical research has shown moves dialectically between the "already"
and the "not yet"; in other words, it begins already in the present, but will be
completed in its final, authentic and glorious form in the eschaton) that the
early Church developed her theology, her ecclesiology, her spirituality, but
also her mission.
From the writings of Paul, John, and Luke, in addition to other early Christian
literature, we see this teaching
reflected in images of the Church as the Body of Christ, as Vine, and especially as Unity. St. Paul the apostle, in particular,
was absolutely convinced that all who have believed in Christ have been
incorporated into His body through Baptism. Obviously their incorporation into
the one people of God was completed with the Eucharist, a significant identity
act which was seen not as a mystery cult but as a manifestation (more precisely
a foretaste) of the expected eschatological Kingdom. The 4th Gospel developed
even further this radical eschatological teaching in regard to the unity of the
people of God around Christ and their incorporation into Christ's body through
the Eucharist above all - and by "radical" I mean, among other things, a clear
rejection of the ethnocentric, i.e. judeocentric, dimension of eschatology.
3. The eucharistic
application of eschatology and its relevance for mission.
The main contribution of
almost all theologians of the early Church, emphasized and underlined most
sharply by St. Luke, was that with Christ's Resurrection and especially with
Pentecost, the Eschaton had already entered history. In other words, the early
Christians were convinced that this expected messianic eschatological community
becomes a reality each time the Church, the new Israel, the dispersed people of
God, gathers epi to auto (in one place), especially when they
celebrated the Eucharist. The
relationship between history and eschatology, and above all between liturgy and
social responsibility - as Staniloae refers to in his article "Legatura între
Euharistie şi Jubirea creştină
- is very clearly expressed in the famous summaria of the early chapters of Acts
In addition to this
synthesis of history and eschatology, another conviction began to grow among
Church writers, beginning with the author of Hebrews (cf. 10:1 "...the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities..") and
more fully developed in the writings of St. Maximus the Confessor, that the
events of the Old Testament were "shadow" of future riches, and that present
Church reality is only an "image" (icon) of the "truth", which is to be revealed
only in the Eschaton. In other words, "truth" is no longer connected with
as in the Greek philosophy (cf. truth = a-lethia = no forgetfulness), but with
the future, with the eschaton (the Kingdom of God as the perfect "truth").
This developments were
undoubtedly the starting point of Christian mission, the springboard of the
Church's witnessing Exodus to the
world, which in fact interpreted the imminent expectation of the Parousia in a
dynamic and radical way. The missiological imperatives of the early Church, in
other words her attitude to social life, to the world, stem exactly from this
awareness of the Church as an eschatological, dynamic, radical, and corporate
reality, commissioned to witness to
the Kingdom of God, and of course struggling to manifest it "on earth as it is
in heaven" (Mt 6:10 par).
The Holy Apostles, and all
Christians thereafter, were in fact commissioned to proclaim not a set of given
religious convictions, doctrines, moral commands etc., but the coming Kingdom,
the Good News (evaggelion) of a new
eschatological reality, which had as its center the crucified and resurrected
Christ, the incarnation of God the Logos and His dwelling among us human beings,
and His continuous presence through the Holy Spirit, in a life of communion,
experienced in their "eucharistic"
(in the wider sense) life.
The historical dimension,
therefore, of eschatology through its eucharistic application is an inseparable
part of the Christian faith. Even what we call Holy Tradition is, according to
John Meyendorff, "the history of the right choices made by human beings
confronted by the prophetic word of God, responding correctly in the concrete
historical circumstances of their time."
Even the ascetic dimension, so important an element in Staniloae's theological
work, is a moral and theological principle closely related to the eucharistic
experience of the Church as its sine qua
non, and the guiding principle of each faithful towards the others (i.e. the
world) and the ultimate Other (i.e. God), certainly not an individualistic
This initial horizontal historical eschatology, which
identifies the Church not by what it is in the present, but by what it will
become in the Eschaton, has had a certain bearing upon the social life of the
Church: her mission was seen as the dynamic journey of the people of God as a
whole towards the Eschaton, with the Eucharist as the point of departure. Here
we had a perfect synthesis and a dialectical presence of "history" and
"eschatology". Indeed, the Church has always believed that the "New Jerusalem,"
the Kingdom to come, was not only a gift of God, but also a seal and a
fulfillment of all the positive, creative efforts of humankind to "cooperate" (synergy) with the Creator throughout
the entire process of history. This is why, when the Roman state accepted
Christianity, the Church welcomed the opportunity and the responsibility that
fell to her, in spite of all the risks and temptations it entailed.
No doubt, from the very
first days of the Church's life this horizontal-historical eschatology was
interwoven with a vertical one, which put the emphasis on
a more personal understanding of salvation, which of course had a bearing upon
social life and responsibility. From the time of the St. Paul the apostle e.g.
this personalization became quite evident in his justification by faith theology. No matter for what
from the time of St. Paul there has been a shift of the center of gravity from
the (eucharistic) experience to the
(Christian) message, from eschatology to Christology (and further and consequently to soteriology), from the event (the Kingdom of God), to
the bearer and center of this event
((Christ, and more precisely his sacrifice on the
However, the Eucharist (the theia
koinonia) always remained the
sole expression of the Church's identity. However, this vertical-soteriological
view was always understood within the context of the horizontal-eschatological
perspective as supplemental and complementary. This is why the liturgical
experience of the early Church was incomprehensible without its social dimension
(see Acts 2:42ff., 1 Cor 11:1ff., Heb 13: 10-16; Justin, 1 Apology 67; Irenaeus, Adver. Her. 18:1, etc.).
sum up: It is mainly in the Eucharist where the Church clearly foreshadows the
coming Kingdom of God. There, as well as in the icons, the monastic life, and
all expressions of Orthodox spirituality, an interaction of past, present and
future is manifested, and an anticipation by this world of the world to come is
clearly presented. From there the mission of the Church starts.
4. The imperative of
rediscovering the Eschatological vision.
dimension in today' s world is somewhat distorted. And it is not only Western
Christianity, but Eastern Orthodoxy as well, that gradually lost the proper and
authentic understanding of eschatology.
With the acceptance and incorporation of Christianity within the Roman empire in
the fourth century it was inevitable that the entire eschatological vision of
the Church was somewhat obscured, and throughout the medieval and post medieval
periods there was a further detachment from the original Christian eschatology.
It was only in the liturgy, and
more particularly its eucharistic tradition of Christianity, and especially and
much more clearly in Eastern Orthodoxy, where it never disappeared completely.
Inevitably, therefore, the right balance of history and eschatology, and
consequently a real concern for history and the historical development has been
almost lost in the Orthodox world.
It was not accidental,
therefore, that Orthodoxy was the most reluctant to discuss such issues as the
legitimacy of worldwide social concern, human rights, knowledge of history, even
the use of historical methods in research as the essential tool for separating
truth from legend, content from form, essential from futility, Holy Tradition
from human traditions etc.
Orthodoxy became attractive
to the West among other things by her rich ritual. And because for centuries the
liturgical rites in the East remained practically intact and unchanged, the
Orthodox liturgy was largely appreciated and valued accordingly. After all, the
once-and-for-all revealed in Christ event of salvation is not a finished process, but continues to the end of time through the presence of the Holy
Spirit. And this continuous revelation does not takes place in a vacuum, nor at
an abstract ideological level, but in the
liturgical life of the community, the relational ecclesial identity. For as Metropolitan of Pergamon John
Zizioulas has recently pointed out, all the Church' s expressions (structure,
authority, mission etc.) are in fact relational.
The importance of liturgy
and ritual for the identity of all religious systems and societies, was actually
reinforced by the social sciences, and especially by cultural anthropology. One
of the most imaginative insights of modern cultural anthropologists is their
conviction that ritual, and the liturgical life in general, is a form of
communication, a "performative" kind of speech, instrumental in creating the
essential categories of human thought.
They communicate the fundamental beliefs and values of a community, outlining in
this way its "world view" and its "ethos".
The rituals do not only transmit culture, but they also "create a reality which
would be nothing without them. It is not too much to say that ritual is more to
society than words are to thought. For it is very possible to know something and
then find words for it. But it is impossible to have social relations without
Even the texts, as A. Destro and M. Pesce have pointed out, "are not just
writing, literature, or communication, but above and beyond all this, especially
in the religious field, part and instrument of a performance".
There are two major
understandings of Liturgy.
According to the first one, Liturgy was treated as a private act, functioning as a means to
meet some particular religious needs: i.e. both the need of the community to
exercise its power and supervision on the members, and the need of the
individual for personal "sanctification". We name this understanding of the
liturgical act juridical. According
to a second understanding, however, the Liturgy functions as a means for the up
building of the religious community, which is no longer viewed in institutional
terms or as a cultic organization, but as a communion and as a way of living.
This is what we call communal
understanding of Liturgy.
The juridical understanding of Liturgy encourages and
in effect promotes a sharp distinction between the various segments of the
religious society (clergy and laity, etc.), thus underlining the dimensions of
super- and sub-ordination within the ritual, and contributing to the maintenance
of the social structure not only within the religious community itself, but also
by extension within the wider social life. This juridical understanding of Liturgy, in
addition, develops separation and certain barriers, sometimes even hostility,
between members of different religious systems, thus intensifying phenomena of
intolerance and fanaticism. There is no real concern for history and social life
under such an understanding of Liturgy
At the other end, the communal understanding of Liturgy
discourages all distinctions between the various segments not only within the
religious communities themselves, but also by extension within the wider social
life. This understanding of Liturgy dissolves barriers between members of
different religious systems, thus promoting religious tolerance and peace. In
modern Orthodox contexts both these attitudes have been experienced and
expressed. And this phenomenon has puzzled Church historians, when they tried to
evaluate the real contribution of Orthodoxy.
John Meyendorff is used to distinguish three types of
eschatology in Church life, which are directly relevant for the Christian
attitude toward the world and which qualify all aspects of Christian ethics. The
first two are distorted versions of the authentic traditional eschatology,
although they too have some point of reference in Church history.
First the apocalyptic version of eschatology. According to this version the Kingdom of God is coming
therefore there isn't anything to
expect from history. Christians can do nothing to improve human reality. No real
mission or social responsibility or culture is possible or even desirable. God
is seen alone as the Lord of history, acting without any cooperation or synergy (cf. 1 Cor 3:9). The New Jerusalem is
expected to come from heaven all prepared (Rev 21:2), and we have nothing to
contribute to it. A view rejected
by the ancient Church, allows only repentance, ascetic life to combat the passions.
The second version, which
stands in opposition to the first, is the humanistic or optimistic eschatology.
This eschatology has an optimistic understanding of history, and has been
dominant in Western society since the time of the Enlightenment. In the twentieth century in its Marxist
form it has also spread to the East and even the far East, to China. In the
Orthodox realm this kind of eschatology has taken the form of a revival of the
old paradigm of the Byzantine synthesis, this time in the narrow limits of
nationalistic religious entities: Holy Russia, Great Serbia, the chosen Greek
Orthodoxy etc. are some expressions, which taken even further envisage a
dangerous development of an Orthodox axis, which will conquer the faithless, or even heretic, West!
The third type of
eschatology he called conditional or
prophetic eschatology. It is the only acceptable type of eschatology, and it
is based on the biblical concept of prophecy, which in both the Old and the New
Testaments does not simply forecast the future or announce the inevitable, but
also places humans before an option, a choice between two types of personal or
social behavior. The people of God are free to choose, but the prophet has
informed them of the consequences.
With the exception of some
diaspora (or better "western") and newly established missionary communities -
modern Orthodoxy in its historical expression is found herself in a rather
strange situation. Our metropolitan "mother" Churches are in fact struggling
between two poles, quite opposite or at least unrelated to each other: on the
one hand, the ideal of the later hesyhastic movement - of course wrongly
interpreted and applied - has given rise to an individualistic understanding of
salvation, which only partially takes history seriously into account; on the
other hand, a completely secularized approach is adopted in dealing with the
historical developments. As in the
Old Testament, in later and even recent Judaism, the splendor of the Davidic
Kingdom usually overshadowed the more authentic desert and prophetic vision of a
wandering people of God, so with modern Orthodoxy the famous "Byzantine
synthesis" seems to be the only model - again unsuccessfully applied - which
almost all modern national autocephali Orthodox Churches constantly refer to.
It is not a surprise,
therefore, that in contemporary Orthodoxy the creative tension between history
and the eschaton has almost disappeared. None preaches about the reality of the
Kingdom drastically entering into our social reality. Even our modern Church
buildings have ceased to reflect the Kingdom reality, having rather become
immitations, and sometimes even caricatures, of the traditional (but meaningful)
edifices. Only in the Orthodox eucharistic liturgy is there something to remind
us, that when we offer our "reasonable worship" we offer it "for the life of the
world", remembering not only past events, but also future realities, in fact the
(eschatological) reality par
excellence: Christ's "second and
glorious Coming". Naturally, then, only those Orthodox
communities, which have undergone a liturgical and eucharistic renewal, were
able to rediscover a proper understanding of eschatology. The rest can hope to overcome today's
real challenges of globalization and of the imposition (forcibly and
eclectically) of the so-called "western values", either through secularization,
or through a retreat to the glorious past, thus becoming vulnerable at best to a
kind of traditionalism and at worst to anti-ecumenical, nationalist, and
intolerant fundamentalism, attitudes totally alien and unacceptable to the
was mainly for this reason that many of us are in search of a synthesis between
eastern and western spirituality, believing that the authentic catholicity of
the Church (in terms not so much of ecclesiology, but of spirituality) must
include both East and West. It is not only that a dynamic encounter will enrich
both traditions. It is mainly because it can also help the solution of the
problem concerning the relationship between history and eschaton. Even if
Western theology stresses the historical element in theology, ethics and
ecclesiology, it is our constant reminder of the Church's responsibility to the
world. At the other end, our Orthodox theology, even if it shows a tendency to
disincarnate the Church from history, it is nevertheless the only ecclesial
entity, which always reminds us of the eschatological dimension of
Cf. J. Meyendorff' s
foreward to D. Stăniloae, Theology and the Church,
SVS Press Crestwood
1980, pp. 7ff.
Cf. (Metr. Of Diokleia)
Kallistos Ware foreward to D.Staniloae, The Experience of God,
Press, Boston 1994.
(Metr. Of Moldavia)
Daniel Chibotea, "Une dogmatique pour l'homme d' aujourd' hui", Irenikon
54 (1981), pp.
Cf. N.Mosoiu, Taina
prezenţei lui Dumnezeu în viaţa umană. Viziunea creatoare a Părintelui Profesor
Pitesti/Braşov/Cluj-Napoca 2000, pp. 246ff. John
Meyendorff, underlining Staniloae's "rootedness" to the Orthodox tradition, but
at the same time his "openness" to the others, has rightly pointed out that
"there cannot be any tradition without continuity, consistency and also
‘catholic' awareness of spiritual unity with those who are ‘doing theology' in
situations different from our own" (his foreward to Theology and the
, p. 7).
Cf. D. Stăniloae, Teologia Dogmatică Ortodoxă,
vol. 3 Bucharest 1997, pp.
 Studii Teologice
1-2 (1965), pp. 3-32.
According to Staniloae,
"Orthodox theology is a theology of spirituality and of communion" (Theology
and the Church,
 E. Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious
Life (transl. by J. W. Swain, New York: Free Press, 1965, reprint), p.
 P. L. Berger and Th.
Luckmann, The Social Construction of
Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (New York: Doubleday,
1966). C. Geertz, The Interpretation of
Cultures. Selected Essays (New York: Basic Books, 1973), pp.
 M. Douglas, Purity and Danger. An Analysis of the
Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (London: Routledge and Keegan Paul, 1966),
 A. Destro - M. Pesce,
"Anthropological Reading of Early Christian Texts" (from the Engl. transl. of
the enlarged edition of their book Antropologia delle origini cristiane,
Editori Laterza, Bari-Roma 1995, pp. 1ff).
What follows comes from
J. Meyendorff, "Does Christian Tradition Have a Future," pp. 140ff.
It is quite interesting
that from all the major Orthodox countries only Romania seems to have escaped
from this peculiar religio-nationalistic vision!