Feast of Sts Sergius & Bacchus the Great Martyrs of Syria
AFTER THE Apostles, theology is transmitted within the Church through the succession of the Fathers, who were the trumpets and mouths of Christ, just as Christ Himself is called the “mouth of God” (cf. St Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Romans 8). As such, the theology of the Fathers of the Church sings and celebrates the “Monarchic Unity of the Holy Trinity” (from Canon to the Holy Trinity). The Fathers were not inventors of theories, but revealers of the Word. They did not construct discourses, but rather received messages, which they brought forth from within themselves, and, in bringing them forth, brought forth the Word, the revelation of the Lord. “What they had seen, touched, and looked upon: that is what they proclaim to us” (cf. 1 Jn. 1.1-2), namely, the unity of God in Three Persons.
In speaking of the Holy Apostles and the Fathers of the Church, we return to the story of creation, for the holy Fathers are true images of God. All that they said and did was “according to the image and likeness of God” (Gen. 1.26). And they celebrate the liturgy of theology in the company of all creation, for together with them the “heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps. 18.1); the “rivers lift up their voices” (Ps. 92.4); the “mountains rejoice” (Ps. 97.8) and “skip like lambs at the presence of the Lord” (Ps. 113.6). “Deep calls unto deep” (Ps. 42.7) and “night proclaims knowledge to night” (Ps. 18.3); the “morning stars sing together and shout for joy” (Job 38.7), indeed “there are no tongues or voices in which” the praise of God “is not heard” (Ps. 18.4), so that “even the very stones cry out: Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord!” (cf. Lk. 19.38-40).
As the voices of creation praise God, they rise from the earth and join with the songs of the angels. In their hymns to the creator, the angels likewise show themselves to be “theologians,” for their every word and gesture is a revelation of God. And this is why angels have theologically revealing names. “Gabriel,” for example, means “God and man,” and thus reveals God’s activity on earth, and especially His incarnation (cf. Lk. 1.26). The name “Michael” reveals the strength of God. “Seraphim” denotes fire and warmth, and reveals to us the burning, luminous energy of God (cf. Is. 6.2-6). “Cherubim,” on the other hand, signifies the highest contemplations of the transcendent God (cf. Gen. 3.24; Ex. 25.18-22). It follows, then, that all of these angelic beings are theologians, inasmuch as they proclaim and hymn the glory and holiness of God. [. . .]
Through a life of prayer and participation in the mysteries of the Church, each one of us may become a theologian. How? By growing in likeness to Christ, because to be a theologian means to be transformed, to be “changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3.18), to be “conformed to Him in His sufferings and death” (Phil. 3.10): “for if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His” (Rom. 6.5).
And who was more closely conformed to Christ in His sufferings than the Holy Martyrs? The word “martyr” means to “bear witness,” or to “give testimony,” and by their sufferings the martyrs witnessed to the presence and power of Christ. They are par excellence theologians. If you look carefully at the accounts of their trials, you’ll see that they were not simply courtroom proceedings, but theological dialogues. In most cases, the problem was the unity of God: is there one God or are there many gods? The martyrs maintained that God is one, and were put to death for their refusal to profess the spirits, gods, and demons of the fallen world.
The early Church was watered with the blood of the martyrs, and that first growth was revitalized by the sufferings of the New Martyrs: men, women, and children who suffered martyrdom during the Muslim occupation of Orthodox lands. Here, too, we see that their trials were theological dialogues. The Turks held that God was One, and that Christ, as a result, could not be God. The martyrs agreed that God was One, but maintained that Christ is God, without compromising divine unity or simplicity. Again, the bone of contention was the oneness of God, although here the issue was faith in the Holy Trinity.
Theology, then, is an experience of God that enables the theologian to be a witness to, and a revelation of, God. It’s something that exists within me; that dwells within the depths of my being: it is my spirit’s knowledge of the Triune Unity, to which my life and words give testimony.
—Elder Aimilianos, The Way of the Spirit