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Home An Nahar Articles English Translations The Spirit and the Blood
The Spirit and the Blood Print Email
Saturday, 30 October 1999 00:00

The Spirit and the Blood

By Metropolitan George (Khodr) of Mount Lebanon

There is no "guaranteed" interminable spiritual-regeneration on this earth. There were some people that were kindled with the Spirit and remained enlightened all their lives, but there were some others whose flame was extinguished. No one knows the mystery of the descending of the Spirit and the mystery of the death of spirituality. Moreover, him who accepted the Divine Spirit will not keep Him, until after a continuous hard labor and daily blood-and-guts seriousness.
Those, that were eroded by their passions, they have nothing left; they merely adhere to their homes and jobs with a set of professional and practical skills—but they have lost the warmth that kindles the spirit—the kind of active warmth that shines and moves the existence.
From this point, a father is not necessarily a father to his kids if he fails to raise them up in the perpetuity of servitude and vigilance, not every bearer is a mother if she fails to shelter her children under her care until her last breath and not every priest is a self-sacrificing apostle. In every simple profession one can notice some employees who became professionals according to the standards of the trade in order to guaranty a good salary and some others (like the ones I use to see in my youth) who loved their job and seen it as a self-fulfilling task. In my youth some terms such as "clerical education" were in use—a term that I never come to reconcile myself with—because I always believed that education is one and the same for all people. If your spirit became "thin and transparent" and was moved towards accepting the Word—and hence was "reformed" by the Word—then nothing is really "supplemented" to you. There might be some "professional" aspects in the church service, but these you acquire practically and not structurally. There is no such a thing as a set "mold" that can be used to reshape a certain human being enabling him to become a higher human type. To say for instance, that this lawyer is "good"—is only such in your own benefit—if you needed to have his legal advise, or to recommend him for someone else; and in the same context, you may study every aspect of an applied science, if you were pursuing knowledge. But you are never, actually flattering anyone, if you said that they are good in fulfilling their jobs: their sole virtue is how much they are polite, honest and humble in accomplishing their duties.
Yes, we all deal with other people on a professional level if we needed to have some transient business done—but outside of this context—we deal with them from the standpoint of our common human existence, according to the degree of their nearness to God. From this perspective, there is no such thing as a union between a lawyer and a lawyer or between a carpenter and a carpenter outside the prospect of their common profession. But, on a higher human level, you are united to the "other" regardless of what type of profession he may have.
The servants of the Christian Church abide by this same principle. They were set-aside for the service of the Word, enabling each of them to be connected to God in order to perform the Sacraments, but they have no such thing as a private inter-relationship among themselves—enabling them to become a legion, a band, a throng or a union—they have no such thing as a special "clerical psychology" different from that of the noble and beautiful human mentality.
The local church is united to the other local church and not the priest, in isolation, is connected to the other priest. All our life is a communal life where the shepherd is bound to his flock and can never be parted from them, not even rationally. A certain priest may meet with another priest in the purpose of discussion, learning and sharing of the service, but he's never united to him in such a state that a layperson can not be a part of it. This is why we don't hold to such a belief as that of the Roman Catholic Church's "Episcopal Collegiate" (episcopal college). The communal life is the trait of the entire churches coming together with their shepherds and gathered in harmony and synchrony with the other churches. There is no such thing as an "Episcopal Body" embodying in itself a metaphysical existence and transforming it into an organic unity. The council of bishops, in its depth, is the meeting of the churches (we call dioceses) represented through their best witnesses or bishops. The council is not an institution. The council is the movement of the witnesses receiving the gifts of the Spirit if they were fit receptacles.
We called the council a movement because the institution is a circumstantial entity—regardless of what persons are involved—the institution remains a rationalized or a legalistic existence. This type of institution has no connection to the church of Sergius Boulgakov(1)—who saw the Church to be the life in Christ—outside of which there is no life. In the West, Congar observed the historical ecclesiastical existence in its organization and hierarchy, and called it a "structure" and then he noticed the vitality of the Church, which he called the "dynamism" of the Holy Spirit. He differentiated between the Christ—stretched in history—calling Him a "structure" and between the Holy Spirit the "Giver." Not all the western theologians may agree with Congar's vision, but in the Eastern Church this differentiation is meaningless: for us everything is founded upon Christ's promise, everything is a gift (Charisma, in Greek). The Church is the "continuity of the charisma" and not a "structure." Everyone knows that, in our Church, all ordinations are appointed through the gift of the Holy Spirit and are continually nourished by the Spirit, and that there is no differentiation between Christ's existence in the priesthood or His existence in the Grace; everything is a Grace.
And if the bishop is solely set up through the descending of the Spirit upon him, the same applies for the council of bishops. The popular concept that the bishops gathered in a council would aspire the Spirit to descend upon them, is an erratic belief. The true concept is that, if the Spirit descended upon the bishops, they then become a council otherwise their meeting will become an amassment of people. And if they were with God, then their discourse will come out divinely inspired. We don't just reproduce their discourse to be divinely inspired for the mere reason that they spoke. God might not speak though this or that of the people, He might even not speak in any one. There are no ahead-of-time "guaranties" that an assembly, if gathered, can aspire the descending of the Spirit. In the historic factual, the Church called a council of the fifth century a "robbers council," and the Orthodox Church rejected the council of Florence (1439 AD) refusing to attribute the title of Ecumenical Council to it. The assembly doesn't become a council for the mere reason that certain canonical conditions are met.
Some theologians suggested that the Ecumenical Council is infallible from the moment of its assembly. But the practice of the Councils itself rejected such a teaching and proved that later councils used to confirm predecessor ones, in such a manner, that the testimony of the Church was the declaration of the ecumenicity of the council. There is no such a teaching in the Church concerning the infallibly of the councils, but there is an affirmation that this of that council was made infallible through God. The question is not a theoretical one. The real practical question is, did this or that council fall or not?
The problem between the East and the West is not in whether if the Pope is infallible in himself or if the council is infallible in itself. The problem is in whether the infallibility can be found in any human being or not, or whether can the infallibility be found in any council of bishops at the moment of its assembly or not. I am perplexed how some Orthodox—who refuse the infallibility of the Pope—yet at the same time believe in the infallibility of the council. If any bishop is susceptible to fall, how then a group of bishop is not?
Because we have ascertained that an ecumenical council did not err from what followed later on of testimonies, we then used the same logic to apply to the local councils (Antioch, Alexandria, Moscow, etc...) to conclude that these councils could not be called "inspired" at the moment of their assembly. The council only becomes "inspired" if the Holy Spirit did descend upon it—through the testimony of the truthful and pure believers—in the process of time. Because "with us the guardian of piety is the very body of the Church, that is, the people themselves, who will always preserve their faith unchanged" (Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs to the Pope, 1849), then this should mean that the Church, in its dynamic and zeal, acknowledges if what the bishops concluded is good in the sight of God or not.
The "Holy Nation" is the directive of itself and we don't have a procedure or a mechanism to express this. The bishop locally, and the council regionally are the divinely given tools for this expression.
Also, remains the open belief among the main theologians today, who believe that God sanctified the ecumenical council because the fathers gathered in it were saints themselves. The Spirit inspires the righteous who lifted themselves from the earthly cares and the calculations of this age.
Certainly this teaching is apprehensive and seems revolutionary. But Christianity is revolutionary against the legalistic system that comforts itself to the existing of a higher human authority that is never wrong in what it says. The authoritative mentality between leaders and subordinates is extremely comforting, it simplifies the decision-making on any level, simplifies the redaction of any text and it sleeps on the pillow of the infallibility of the council and saves the faithful the hassle of thinking and standing on the rock of testimony and martyrdom.
All this is strictly instructional, we haven't yet considered analyzing the facts and details of the episcopal councils (contradiction of decisions, reconsideration of decisions, wrong choices of persons, the lack of wisdom in such and such a position, etc...). This is the natural consequence of every human gathering.
What remains is that "The Spirit of Truth will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13) and He renews us, when He wills, and when we obey Him. We only know one thing that the Spirit conducts the Divine Eucharist—and its sacramental actions of grace—through the priests. Outside of this, it is power or weakness, obedience or disobedience, regeneration or deterioration in all of the human generations. Nobody's obedience is guaranteed before they die and "tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God" (Rom 2: 9-11).
Blessed are those who will remain, in the latter days, in the martyrdom of the Spirit and the Blood.

1. S. Bulgakov, The Orthodox Church - SVSP.

Published Saturday October 30, 1999 in the © An-Nahar, Lebanese news paper. Translated from original Arabic.