Tag Archives: faith

Reasons for Hope: the New York Encounter

This weekend the National Diaconia of the Fraternity of Community & Liberation (an ecclesial movement in the Church) will be meeting in New Jersey with some events across the Hudson River in NYC. More than 200 people from the USA, Canada and Italy will be present. Father Julián Carrón, the President of the Fraternity will be giving several lessons and he will be a part of panel introducing a book recently published, Is It Possible to Live This Way: Hope. This book comprises talks the late Msgr. Luigi Giussani gave to the consecrated lay members of CL known as Memores Domini. Some of you may remember we had a similar event last year for the first volume by a similar title as the one being present this weekend, Is It Possible to Live This Way: Faith. The third and final volume in this series on Love will be released next year.

Over the next few days there are a series of events organized by the Communion and Liberation movement and the Crossroad Cultural Center in New York City. In addition to Fr. Julián Carrón, the other panelists include John Allen, National Catholic Reporter Correspondnet; Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, noted theologian and author; and Edward Nelson, Princeton professor of mathematics. The presentationis open to the public, will be held at the Jack H. Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at New York University, 566 LaGuardia Place at Washington Square South, New York. A free ticket is required for admission, and they will be distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis beginning at 2:00 pm.

More info on the New York Encounter

You should also subscribe to Traces, the monthly magazine of CL which is faithful to the objectivity of the Church.

Theological Education in 21st Century: an Orthodox bishop’s perspective

I am presenting excerpts of a lecture delivered by Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev at the Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, October 21, 2008. This work was made known to me by a friend, Paulist Father Ron Roberson heads the Orthodox desk for the US Bishops ecumenical office in Washington, DC. The emphasis I added to the lecture are the ideas that are striking deserve greater attention by us. The keys are “personal encounter,”  and the lex orandi tradition and being conscious of the great divorce of faith and reason. Thanks for your patience.

Evagrius.gifAccording to a classical definition by Evagrius, ‘If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian’. In traditional Orthodox understanding, theology is not a science, or a scholarship, or an academic exercise. To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship.

Theology ought to be inspired by God: it ought not to be the word of a human person, but the word of the Spirit pronounced by human lips. A true Christian theologian is one who is able to be silent until the Holy Spirit touches the strings of his soul. And it is only when the human word falls silent and the word of the Spirit emerges from his soul, that true theology is born. From this moment ‘a lover of words’ is transformed into ‘a lover of wisdom’, a rhetorician into a theologian.

According to St Gregory Nazianzen, not everyone can be a theologian, but only the one who purifies himself for God. Not all can participate in theological discussions, but only those who are able to do it properly. Finally, not every theological concern can be discussed openly.

Discussion of theology is not for everyone, I tell you, not for everyone – it is not such inexpensive and effortless pursuit… It must be reserved for certain occasions, for certain audiences, and certain limits must be observed. It is not for all men, but only for those who have been tested and have found a sound footing in study, and, more importantly, have undergone, or at the very least are undergoing, purification of body and soul.

St Gregory Nazianzen.jpgTheology
, according to St Gregory, is nothing other than the ascent to God. Gregory uses the traditional image of Moses on Mount Sinai to emphasize that the true theologian is only someone who is able to enter the cloud and encounter God face to face. In this multi-dimensional, allegorical picture Moses symbolizes the person whose theology emerges from the experience of an encounter with God. Aaron represents someone whose theology is based on what he heard from others; Nadab and Abihu typify those who claim to be theologians because of their high position in the church hierarchy. But neither acquaintance with the experience of others nor an ecclesiastical rank gives one the right to declare oneself a theologian. Those Christians who purify themselves according to God’s commandments may take part in a theological discussion; the non-purified ought not.

Thus, purification of soul is a necessary precondition for practicing theology. Its central point is summed up in the following dictum: ‘Is speaking about God a great thing? But greater still is to purify oneself for God’. Here, purification (katharsis) is not opposed to theology: rather, theology is that ascent to the peak of Mount Sinai which is impossible without purification. What is required for practicing theology is not so much intellectual effort, neither external erudition, nor wide reading, but first of all humility and modesty. According to Gregory, humility is not to be found in someone’s external appearance, which may often be deceitful, and perhaps not even in how someone is related to other people, but in his attitude to God. The humble, in Gregory’s judgment, is not he who speaks but little about himself, or who speaks in the presence of a few but rarely; not he who ‘speaks about God with moderation, who knows what to say and what to pass over in silence’.

In other words, everyone can be a good Christian, but not everyone is able to investigate the depths of doctrine, where many things should be covered by an apophatic silence. Everyone can contemplate on matters of theology, but not everyone can be initiated into its mysteries.

All Christians must purify themselves for God: the more a person is purified, the more discernible are the words of the Spirit in his mouth. True theology is born out of a silent and humble standing before God rather than out of speculations on theological matters. We can see that this understanding is radically different from what we normally mean by ‘theology’. One of the tragic consequences of the divorce between Christian theory and praxis, between faith and knowledge, is that nowadays knowledge about theological subjects does not necessarily presuppose faith. You can be a theologian and not belong to any church community; in principle, you do not need to believe in God to receive a theological degree. Theology is reduced to one of the subjects of human knowledge alongside with chemistry, mathematics or biology.

Another divorce which needs to be mentioned is that between theology and liturgy.
schola.jpgFor an Orthodox theologian, liturgical texts are not simply the works of outstanding theologians and poets, but also the fruits of the prayerful experience of those who have attained sanctity and theosis. The theological authority of liturgical texts is, in my opinion, higher than that of the works of the Fathers of the Church, for not everything in the works of the latter is of equal theological value and not everything has been accepted by the fullness of the Church. Liturgical texts, on the contrary, have been accepted by the whole Church as a ‘rule of faith’ (kanon pisteos), for they have been read and sung everywhere in Orthodox churches over many centuries.

Throughout this time, any erroneous ideas foreign to Orthodoxy that might have crept in either through misunderstanding or oversight were eliminated by church Tradition itself, leaving only pure and authoritative doctrine clothed by the poetic forms of the Church’s hymns.

Coptic dec.jpgSeveral years ago I came across a short article in a journal of the Coptic Church where it stated that this Church had decided to remove prayers for those detained in hell from its service books, since these prayers ‘contradict Orthodox teaching.’ Puzzled by this article, I decided to ask a representative of the Coptic Church about the reasons for this move. When such opportunity occurred, I raised this question before one Coptic metropolitan, who replied that the decision was made by his Synod because, according to their official doctrine, no prayers can help those in hell. I told the metropolitan that in the liturgical practice of the Russian Orthodox Church and other local Orthodox Churches there are prayers for those detained in hell, and that we believe in their saving power. This surprised the metropolitan, and he promised to study this question in more detail.

During this conversation with the metropolitan I expressed my thoughts on how one could go very far and even lose important doctrinal teachings in the pursuit of correcting liturgical texts. Orthodox liturgical texts are important because of their ability to give exact criteria of theological truth, and one must always confirm theology using liturgical texts as a guideline, and not the other way round. The lex credendi grows out of the lex orandi, and dogmas are considered divinely revealed because they are born in the life of prayer and revealed to the Church through its divine services. Thus, if there are divergences in the understanding of a dogma between a certain theological authority and liturgical texts, I would be inclined to give preference to the latter. And if a textbook of dogmatic theology contains views different from those found in liturgical texts, it is the textbook, not the liturgical texts, that need correction. Even more inadmissible, from my point of view, is the correction of liturgical texts in line with contemporary norms. Relatively recently the Roman Catholic Church decided to remove the so-called ‘antisemitic’ texts from the service of Holy Friday. Several members of the Orthodox Church have begun to propagate the idea of revising Orthodox services in order to bring them closer to contemporary standards of political correctness. For example, the late Archpriest Serge Hackel from England, an active participant in the Jewish-Christian dialogue, proposed the removal of all texts from the Holy Week services that speak of the guilt of the Jews in the death of Christ (cf. his article “How Western Theology after Auschwitz Corresponds to the Consciousness and Services of the Russian Orthodox Church,” in Theology after Auschwitz and its Relation to Theology after the Gulag: Consequences and Conclusions, Saint Petersburg, 1999; in Russian). He also maintains that only a ‘superficial and selective’ reading of the New Testament brings the reader to the conclusion that the Jews crucified Christ.

In reality, he argues, it was Pontius Pilate and the Roman administration who are chiefly responsible for Jesus’ condemnation and crucifixion. This is just one of innumerable examples of how a distortion of the lex credendi inevitably leads to ‘corrections’ in the lex orandi, and vice versa. This is not only a question of revising liturgical tradition, but also a re-examination of Christian history and doctrine. The main theme of all four Gospels is the conflict between Christ and the Jews, who in the end demanded the death penalty for Jesus. There was no conflict between Christ and the Roman administration, the latter being involved only because the Jews did not have the right to carry out a death penalty. It seems that all of this is so obvious that it does not need any explanation. This is exactly how the ancient Church understood the Gospel story, and this is the understanding that is reflected in liturgical texts. However, contemporary rules of ‘political correctness’ demand another interpretation in order to bring not only the Church’s services, but also the Christian faith itself in line with modern trends.

Theotokos.jpgThe Orthodox Tradition possesses a sufficient number of ‘defense mechanisms’ that prevent foreign elements from penetrating into its liturgical practice. I have in mind those mechanisms that were set in motion when erroneous or heretical opinions were introduced into the liturgical texts under the pretext of revision. One may recall how Nestorianism began with the suggestion to replace the widely-used term Theotokos (Mother of God) with Christotokos (Mother of Christ), the latter was seen as more appropriate by Nestorius. When this suggestion was made, one of the defense mechanisms was activated: the Orthodox people were indignant and protested. Later, another mechanism was put into operation when theologians met to discuss the problem. Finally, an Ecumenical Council was convened. Thus, it turned out that a dangerous Christological heresy, lurking under the guise of a seemingly harmless liturgical introduction, was later condemned by a Council.

To rediscover the link between theology, liturgy and praxis, between lex orandi, lex credendi and lex Vivendi would be one of the urgent tasks of theological education in the 21st century. The whole notion of a ‘theology’ as exclusively bookish knowledge must be put into question. The whole idea of a ‘theological faculty’ as one of many other faculties of a secular university needs to be re-examined. The notions of ‘nonconfessional’, ‘unbiased’, ‘objective’ or ‘inclusive’ theology as opposed to ‘confessional’ or ‘exclusive’ must be reconsidered.


Hilarion.jpgHilarion Alfeyev was born on July
24, 1966 in Moscow. He studied violin, piano and composition. He graduated in 1991 with a Master of Theology from the Moscow Theological Academy. In 1995, Alfeyev earned a doctorate from the University of Oxford (UK) under the supervision of Bishop Kallistos Ware writing defending a thesis titled “St Symeon the New Theologian and Orthodox Tradition.”

He entered the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Vilnius, Lithuania, where he was tonsured as a monk, ordained a deacon and a ordained priest in 1987. His bishop assigned him to serve as parish priest in Lithuania, including two years as dean of Annunciation Cathedral in Kaunas.

From 1995 to 2001 Hilarion Alfeyev served as Secretary for Inter-Christian Affairs of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate. He also taught part time at Smolensk and Kaluga Theological Seminaries (Russia), at St Vladimir’s and St Herman’s Theological Seminaries (USA) and at Cambridge University (UK).

On 27 December 2001, Alfeyev was elected a bishop and consecrated by His Holiness Alexy II, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia in January 2002. The Patriarch assigned him to serve as an Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Sourozh in Great Britain until the Holy Synod decided, only a few months later, that he was to be nominated as Head of the Representation of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Institutions in Brussels. Since May 2003 he has served as Bishop of Vienna and Austria, administrator of the Diocese of Budapest and Hungary, in addition to his position in Brussels, which he continues to hold.

Bishop Hilarion has authored numerous musical compositions including “St Matthew Passion,” grand oratorio for soloists, choir and orchestra, with performances at the Great Hall of Moscow Concervatory, the Auditorium Conciliazione, Rome and at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne. Equally well received was his 2008 “Christmas Oratorio,” performed in Washington, Boston and New York and later in Moscow.

Preaching to Young Adults

Clearing Away the Barriers: Preaching to Young Adults Today” is an insight and very helpful address by Dominican Father Augustine DiNoia.


J Augustine DiNoia.jpgThe Very Reverend J. Augustine DiNoia, O.P. is one of America’s most active and respected theological minds. In April 2002, the Pope John Paul II appointed Father DiNoia to work at the Vatican as undersecretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican. The congregation oversees and promotes the doctrine on the faith and morals in the Catholic world. Until 2005, Father DiNoia served under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.


Raised in New York, DiNoia is a member of the  Province of St. Joseph of the Dominican friars. He earned a doctorate from Yale University in 1980. The Order of Friars Preachers granted him the master of sacred theology (S.T.M.) in 1998.

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Christian ethics is born in friendship with Christ

Ben 16.jpgIn last Wednesday’s catechesis [11/19], I spoke of the question of how man is justified before God. Following St. Paul, we have seen that man is not capable of making himself “just” with his own actions, but rather that he can truly become “just” before God only because God confers on him his “justice,” uniting him to Christ, his Son. And man obtains this union with Christ through faith.

In this sense, St. Paul tells us: It is not our works, but our faith that makes us “just.” This faith, nevertheless, is not a thought, opinion or idea. This faith is communion with Christ, which the Lord entrusts to us and that because of this, becomes life in conformity with him. Or in other words, faith, if it is true and real, becomes love, charity — is expressed in charity. Faith without charity, without this fruit, would not be true faith. It would be a dead faith.

We have therefore discovered two levels in the last catechesis: that of the insufficiency of our works for achieving salvation, and that of “justification” through faith that produces the fruit of the Spirit. The confusion between these two levels down through the centuries has caused not a few misunderstandings in Christianity.

In this context it is important that St. Paul, in the Letter to the Galatians, puts emphasis on one hand, and in a radical way, on the gratuitousness of justification not by our efforts, and, at the same time, he emphasizes as well the relationship between faith and charity, between faith and works. “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). Consequently, there are on one hand the “works of the flesh,” which are fornication, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, etc. (Galatians 5:19-21), all of which are contrary to the faith. On the other hand is the action of the Holy Spirit, which nourishes Christian life stirring up “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22): These are the fruits of the Spirit that arise from faith.

St Paul rembrandt.jpgAt the beginning of this list of virtues is cited ágape, love, and at the end, self-control. In reality, the Spirit, who is the Love of the Father and the Son, infuses his first gift, ágape, into our hearts (cf. Romans 5:5); and ágape, love, to be fully expressed, demands self-control. Regarding the love of the Father and the Son, which comes to us and profoundly transforms our existence, I dedicated my first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est. Believers know that in mutual love the love of God and of Christ is incarnated by means of the Spirit.

Let us return to the Letter of the Galatians. Here, St. Paul says that believers complete the command of love by bearing each other’s burdens (cf. Galatians 6:2). Justified by the gift of faith in Christ, we are called to live in the love of Christ toward others, because it is by this criterion that we will be judged at the end of our existence. In reality, Paul does nothing more than repeat what Jesus himself had said, and which we recalled in the Gospel of last Sunday, in the parable of the Final Judgment.

In the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul becomes expansive with his famous praise of love. It is the so-called hymn to charity: “If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. … Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests …” (1 Corinthians 13:1,4-5).

Christian love is so demanding because it springs from the total love of Christ for us: this love that demands from us, welcomes us, embraces us, sustains us, even torments us, because it obliges us to live no longer for ourselves, closed in on our egotism, but for “him who has died and risen for us” (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:15). The love of Christ makes us be in him this new creature (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17), who enters to form part of his mystical body that is the Church.

Holy Spirit.jpgFrom this perspective, the centrality of justification without works, primary object of Paul’s preaching, is not in contradiction with the faith that operates in love. On the contrary, it demands that our very faith is expressed in a life according to the Spirit. Often, an unfounded contraposition has been seen between the theology of Paul and James, who says in his letter: “For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (2:26).

In reality, while Paul concerns himself above all with demonstrating that faith in Christ is necessary and sufficient, James highlights the consequent relationship between faith and works (cf. James 2:2-4). Therefore, for Paul and for James, faith operative in love witnesses to the gratuitous gift of justification in Christ. Salvation, received in Christ, needs to be protected and witnessed “with fear and trembling. For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work. Do everything without grumbling or questioning … as you hold on to the word of life,” even St. Paul would say to the Christians of Philippi (cf. Philippians 2:12-14,16).

Often we tend to fall into the same misunderstandings that have characterized the community of Corinth: Those Christians thought that, having been gratuitously justified in Christ by faith, “everything was licit.” And they thought, and often it seems that the Christians of today think, that it is licit to create divisions in the Church, the body of Christ, to celebrate the Eucharist without concerning oneself with the brothers who are most needy, to aspire to the best charisms without realizing that they are members of each other, etc.

The consequences of a faith that is not incarnated in love are disastrous, because it is reduced to a most dangerous abuse and subjectivism for us and for our brothers. On the contrary, following St. Paul, we should renew our awareness of the fact that, precisely because we have been justified in Christ, we don’t belong to ourselves, but have been made into the temple of the Spirit and are called, therefore, to glorify God in our bodies and with the whole of our existence (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19). It would be to scorn the inestimable value of justification if, having been bought at the high price of the blood of Christ, we didn’t glorify him with our body. In reality, this is precisely our “reasonable” and at the same time “spiritual” worship, for which Paul exhorts us to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Romans 12:1).

To what would be reduced a liturgy directed only to the Lord but that doesn’t become, at the same time, service of the brethren, a faith that is not expressed in charity? And the Apostle often puts his communities before the Final Judgment, on which occasion “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10; and cf. Romans 2:16).

Emmaus Duccio.jpgIf the ethics that St. Paul proposes to believers does not lapse into forms of moralism, and if it shows itself to be current for us, it is because, each time, it always recommences from the personal and communitarian relationship with Christ, to verify itself in life according to the Spirit. This is essential: Christian ethics is not born from a system of commandments, but rather is the consequence of our friendship with Christ. This friendship influences life: If it is true, it incarnates and fulfills itself in love for neighbor. Hence, any ethical decline is not limited to the individual sphere, but at the same time, devalues personal and communitarian faith: From this it is derived and on this, it has a determinant effect.

Let us, therefore, be overtaken by the reconciliation that God has given us in Christ, by God’s “crazy” love for us: No one and nothing could ever separate us from his love (cf. Romans 8:39). With this certainty we live. And this certainty gives us the strength to live concretely the faith that works in love.


Benedictus XVI

Pontiff of the Roman Church

26 November 2008

Faith and works in the process of our justification

In today’s general audience, the Pope said:

St Paul Giotto2.JPGIn our continuing catechesis on Saint Paul, we now consider his teaching on faith and works in the process of our justification. Paul insists that we are justified by faith in Christ, and not by any merit of our own. Yet he also emphasizes the relationship between faith and those works which are the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s presence and action within us. The first gift of the Spirit is love, the love of the Father and the Son poured into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5). Our sharing in the love of Christ leads us to live no longer for ourselves, but for him (cf. 2 Cor 5:14-15); it makes us a new creation (cf. 2 Cor 5:17) and members of his Body, the Church. Faith thus works through love (cf. Gal 5:6). Consequently, there is no contradiction between what Saint Paul teaches and what Saint James teaches regarding the relationship between justifying faith and the fruit which it bears in good works. Rather, there is a different emphasis. Redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, we are called to glorify him in our bodies (cf. 1 Cor 6:20), offering ourselves as a spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God. Justified by the gift of faith in Christ, we are called, as individuals and as a community, to treasure that gift and to let it bear rich fruit in the Spirit.


About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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