Feast of Our Father Theophilus the Confessor
THE FATHERS do not formulate individual opinions of their own, however brilliant, because “the thoughts of men are all miserable” (Wisdom 9.14). Through them is expressed the inexpressible, which is the life of the Church. They become channels for the certainty given by the Spirit. They become instruments for the revelation of the “transcendent cause” which governs all; they are lyres of the Spirit. Through their ultimate self-emptying, their dedication and liberation from what is non-essential, the Fathers find themselves face to face with the miracle of the truth which “itself reveals itself”; and they are fired with another reality. Theology is written upon them. They create a different mode of perception in those around them. They have vacated the place that was once theirs and the Mighty One has entered in. It is no longer they that live; Christ lives in them. They become the windows, the open spaces through which can be seen the breadth of Paradise, the new creation on earth and in heaven where the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit reigns. They are the starting-point for a universal revelation of God which says: the eternal has entered time without burning mortal substance, without breaking the womb of all creation.
For every argument there is a counter-argument. For every view there is an opposite view. But, as St Gregory Palamas says, what counter-argument can stand in the face of the life which surpasses man? Prior to the experience of death, there is room for discussion. After passing through baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire, all mortal flesh is silent.
Patristic theology is an area of silence: it is a heavenly affirmation, a state. It is not an occasion for an exchange of blows or for verbal battles. It is the “Yes” and “Amen” of eternity. The same point is made with equal clarity by the Fathers’ words and by their silence, their presence and their absence, their life and their death: that death ahs been conquered.
The Fathers are the liturgical persons who gather round the heavenly altar with the blessed spirits. Thus they are always contemporary and present for the faithful. And the brimming cup of their theology pours out the water of confession and not of contradiction, drinking from which the new Israel sees God.
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If God the Word had not assumed human nature, He would have left it in darkness, “for what is not assumed is not healed” (St Gregory the Theologian, Letter 101). And if our theology does not assume us, if it does not change our life, it will leave our life outside the taste of the new creation, in the darkness of ignorance, and so outside the mystery of theology which is the manifestation of the struggle for and the fact of salvation in Christ.
“Save me as I ‘theologize’ Thee,” that is, “acknowledge Thee as God” (Matins, Thursday before Palm Sunday): so the Church ends one of its hymns. Theology is born from the Church and returns to it. It flows from spiritual life and guides us to the fullness of the Kingdom. By its nature theology, as a mystery, remains outside any “specialization.” It concerns the whole people. The Fathers are “those who have sung the harmonious hymn of theology in the midst of the Church” (Vespers, Sunday of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council). It is sung and cultivated in the ground of the living community of the Church, where it brings forth fruit a hundredfold. Each of the faithful is called to become a “theologian soul.” By the Cross of Christ, the thief comes to know repentance and becomes a theologian: “Rejoice, O Cross, through which in an instant the thief was recognized as a theologian, crying: ‘Remember me, Lord, in Thy Kingdom’” (Triodion, Wednesday of the second week of Lent).
When we talk about patristic theology, we are talking about the testimony of the Fathers’ lives; about the impression made by the presence of a theologian, not simply about the outcome of his intellectual industry. It is impossible for him personally to say or be one thing and his theology another. Writing Orthodox theology is exactly as difficult as ceasing to live for oneself and living for Him who died and rose again for us.
In this inseparable relationship between theology and spirituality we can feel the faithfulness of Orthodoxy to the dogma of the Incarnation and the saving consequences this had in giving a correct balance to life. Just as the Virgin Mary is not simply concerned with the worship of God on an intellectual level, but through her absolute purity and obedience makes the Word incarnate at the coming of the Holy Spirit and becomes the true Mother of God, so also the Fathers, by their obedience and by receiving the spiritual illumination of the Holy Spirit, become God-bearers and express through their lives and make known the Word of God: they become truly theologians.
—Archimandrite Vasileios, Hymn of Entry