The Orthodox Church before AD 1054

May 15, 2022 by  
Filed under Featured, News, Research

Dony K. Donev, D.Min.: Eastern Pneumotology Lectures

Eastern Orthodoxy can be expressed in one word: theism. The purpose and meaning of life is to become more like God. Deification is pursued by all means of human existence. This quest for divine likeness often includes the typical for the Eastern Church, speculation on the divinity and humanity of Christ, traditions on the doctrine of the Trinity and non-traditional mystical experiences. They appear in the context of both physical and spiritual characteristics in individual and corporate ecclesiastical environment. The role of the Spirit in the process of deification is threefold and involves: creation, re-creation and theism. Eastern Pneumotology follows the graduate process of theism development. The Spirit is involved in the original creation of the world as well as the new-birth experience. His work however, does not end there, but continues throughout the process of personal deification of the believer.

The Orthodox Church before AD 1054

The experiencing of the Spirit in this period is characterized with the existence of spiritual gifts, the quest for spiritual knowledge and an experiencing of the kingdom of God. Beside attempts to explain the nature and existence of the Trinity, the ecclesiastical writings contain passages on sin and prayer (John Cassian), creation and re-creation (Maximus the Confessor). The main focus in this context remains on the mystical experiencing of the Spirit. A motto statement of this era is the expression of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagate that “God can be approached experientially beyond the bounds of sense perception and reason.”[1]

From a similar perspective John Cassian believed that spiritual knowledge comes only through the presence of the Holy Spirit.[2] It is a result of one’s inflammation with the desire to possess the wisdom of God. This search for spiritual knowledge is accompanied by a personal quest for ethical and practical knowledge. The process contains one’s deliverance from the evil of the world and humility of heart as the fruit of the Spirit.[3]

The fruit of the Spirit is the context in which the gifts of the Spirit operate. They are not a product of one’s efforts, but rather acts of God’s grace. Cassian divides the list of existing spiritual gifts in three categories: (1) gifts of healing, (2) gifts for ecclesiastical edification and (3) gifts contrived by deceiving devils.[4] The latter probably resembles a problem with false teachers and false prophets experienced within the Eastern Church of the late third and early fourth centuries.

Cassian further claims that the spiritual gifts are given for a season, after which only love continues.[5] Yet, on the other hand, he reports the experiencing and practice of spiritual gifts in his time.[6] It seems appropriate to assume that Cassian did believe in the operation of spiritual gifts not only through the apostolic time, but also in his own time. Thus, his postulation for the disappearance of the Spiritual gifts refers to a rather latter period when the church will not be present in the world any longer and spiritual gifts will not be needed in the context of the Kingdom of God. Love, however, will remain.

Another writer who focuses on the nature and the existence of the Kingdom of God is Maximus the Confessor (ca.580-662). Maximus was born and lived in the aristocratic circles of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. He was exiled in Thrace for opposing the heresies of monotheletism and monoenergism.[7]

In the pneumotological context of his claims, he assumed that the kingdom of God is the Holy Spirit. He proves the former by an interesting analogy between the kingdom, where God dwells, and the temple of the Spirit, which are the Christians. The spiritual temple is consisted only of the believers who have rejected evil and thus have accepted the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit.[8] Since they have the kingdom of God inside of them, Maximus concludes that the Spirit and the Kingdom are identical equivalents.

The Kingdom of God, according to Maximus, is realized only in a state of continues prayer. It is only then, that the mind departs from all human knowledge and worldly ideas. Separated from all human perceptions, one receives understanding of God, but “only without the human senses.”[9] This state is an ecstasy in which one abides in God in a complete, but rather momentary deification.[10] The eternal deification is preserved for the ones who maintain a righteous life, and is reached only in the eternal union with the Trinity.[11]

The process and act of deification is described as the Baptism of the Holy Spirit by another systematic writer of this early period, by the name of Symeon the New Theologian. Burgess describes Symeon as the most mystical writer in description of his personal pneumatic experience.[12] The New Theologian, claims that baptism of the Spirit opens the door for a continuous theosis. Thus, deification is impossible apart from the spiritual baptism.[13] Denial of the fact that the Spirit baptism and deification cannot be experienced today is blasphemy or unforgivable sin.[14] In this context, one can be neither saved, nor deified without the baptism of the Spirit.

Furthermore, the baptism of the Spirit is received only after extensive process of preparation and purification, which comes close to our modern-day, Pentecostal understanding of sanctification. During this process, one grows in meekness and humility, being aware of his/her sins.[15] The final stage involves purification with many tears, without which no one can receive the Holy Spirit.[16] Symeon understands the above process of the baptism with the Holy Spirit as a return to a radical living of the Gospel in analogue to the primitivism of the first century Church.[17]

[1] Burgess, 38.

[2] Conf. 14.16, NPF 2nd Series 11:444.

[3] Colm Luibhead, John Cassian: Confences, CWS (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), 14.10, NPF 2nd Series 11:440.

[4] Conf. 15.1, NPF 2nd Series 11:445-46.

[5] Conf. 1.11, NPF 2nd Series 11:299-300.

[6] Conf. 15.4-5, NPF 2nd Series 11:447.

[7] Burgess, 40.

[8] Ibid., 44.

[9] Ambigua 10, PG 90:col. 1113.

[10] Ambigua 7, PG 90:col. 1076.

[11] Ambigua 10, PG 90:col. 1196.

[12] Burgess, 38.

[13] Ibid., 61.

[14] Disc. 33.3-5, 341-43.

[15] TGP 3.23, 87.

[16] Disc. 3329.5, 313.

[17] Burgess, 62.

Bulgaria’s Orthodox Church Elects New Patriarch

February 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Featured, News

Bulgaria Church LeaderMetropolitan Neofit of Ruse was elected Sunday as the new spiritual leader of Bulgaria’s Orthodox Christians amid social unrest threatening to throw the Balkan country in a serious political crisis. The 67-year-old Neofit was picked among three candidates shortlisted in a secret ballot by the 14 bishops that make up the Holy Synod of the church.

The enthronement ceremony for Patriarch Neofit was held at Sofia with ongoing nationwide protests against high energy bills, poverty and corruption, and demands for radical political reforms, which forced the government to resign. Speaking at the ceremony, President Rosen Plevneliev voiced hope the new patriarch will contribute to Orthodox unity and the strengthening of the faith, and will preserve the integrity of the church.

The main challenges Neofit will face at home are addressing church unity, the church’s isolation from current public concerns, financial troubles and the dwindling number of priests and monks. Last year, a panel investigating communist-era secret services announced that 11 of the 15 metropolitans had ties to those services. Among those named was also Neofit. Over 20 Pentecostal and charismatic denominational leaders were also revealed to have been a part of a nationwide network of secret agents and handlers organized by the communist secret police. Yet, only two have resigned form their leadership positions. Alike many evangelical leaders in Bulgaria, the patriarch of the Orthodox church is elected for life.

Patriarch Maxim, Eastern Orthodox Church Leader of Bulgaria, Dies at 98

November 10, 2012 by  
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SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Patriarch Maxim of Bulgaria, who weathered a revolt over his Communist-era ties to lead his country’s Orthodox Christians for more than 40 years, died here on Tuesday. He was 98. Patriarch Maxim’s tenure as the church’s leader bridged Bulgaria’s transition from Communism.

Orthodox Christianity is Bulgaria’s dominant religion, followed by more than 80 percent of the country’s 7.4 million people. Patriarch Maxim’s tenure as the church’s leader bridged the country’s transition from Communism, and he withstood efforts to oust him by the new democratic government and by rebel priests who saw him as a Communist ally. Born Marin Naidenov Minkov on Oct. 29, 1914, he graduated from the Sofia Seminary in 1935 and entered Sofia University’s theology department in 1938, before rising through the church ranks to be named patriarch on July 4, 1971.

After the collapse of Communism in 1989, Bulgaria’s new democratic government sought to replace Communist-appointed figureheads, including the patriarch. The church split between supporters of Patriarch Maxim and breakaway clergymen, who tried to oust him and then formed their own synod. The division plunged the church into turmoil, with church buildings being occupied, priests breaking into fistfights on church steps, and water cannons and tear gas being turned on rebel bishops to clear the main St. Alexander Nevsky cathedral in Sofia. For more than a decade the two synods existed side by side. The schism ended in 2010, when the head of the alternative synod called for healing and the synod was dissolved.

Patriarch Maxim was hailed for meeting with Pope John Paul II during the pontiff’s visit to Sofia in 2002, a trip seen as warming the frosty relationship between the Orthodox Church and the Vatican. The Holy Synod of 13 senior clergy members will choose an interim patriarch until a larger Church Council is held within four months to pick Patriarch Maxim’s successor, church officials said.

Orthodox Split Deepens

August 1, 2004 by  
Filed under News

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Orthodox Split Deepens

July 30, 2004 by  
Filed under News

The split in the Bulgarian Orthodox church after the fall of the communist regime considerably deepened last week, when the police expelled priests “reformers” from the Alternative Synod under the demand of the “conservative” Synod headed by Patriarch Maxim. The police temporarily closed approximately 250 churches, monasteries and religious buildings used by the alternative synod, 18 of which are located in the capital Sofia. The Alternative Synod accused Patriarch Maxim of serving the former communist regime. In Sofia, two of the priests “reformers” from the “St. Parashkeva” church and “The Assumption” church were arrested. The Police had ensured access to the churches of the “conservatives” under the order of the Prosecutor’s Office.

Sofia City Prosecutor Boiko Naidenov announced that the decision for the involvement of the police was taken when the Orthodox Church turned to the authorities for help against “people that impede the functions of the church”. Naidenov grounded himself on the Confessional Act passed in 2003, which allows the use of force against “people that abuse the heritage of the religious community”. A court investigation has already begun against the Alternative Synod, the magistrate stated. The priests-reformers in response, introduced a form of “church in the open” in the garden in front of the “St. Sofia” church in Sofia to protest against the non-clerical measures undertaken against them.

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which claims eighty percent of the population of the country, experienced a schism after the fall of the communist regime in 1989. The Reformers, however, accuse Patriarch Maxim, who was elected for life in 1971, of cooperating with the communists and demanded that he be expelled. The Alternative Synod is currently led by Bishop Inokentii, elected in July 1996, after the death of patriarch Pimen. “Our problem is Patriarch Maxim. We cannot bow to a political bureau of the Communist Party,” stated bishop Inokentii. The arrest of priests with order of the Prosecutors’ Office is “the ultimate blow against the Orthodox religion, and worst of all is that this makes the faithful renounce from the church”, he said.

The Alternative Synod receives the support of the Union of the Democratic Forces (UDF) – the oppositional rightist party in Bulgaria. The party reacted sharply and strongly condemned the acts of the police, considering the lack of court decision for the actions. “This is not the way the wholeness of the Bulgarian Orthodox church should be restored”, commented former President of Bulgaria Petar Stoyanov. According to him, such acts will only deepen the conflict between the Orthodox Christians in Bulgaria. “Our main concern is the wholeness of the church. Patriarch Maxim is waiting for the stretched hands of the repented (reformers) to go back to the House of God”, said Father Nikolay, one of the “conservators”. State authorities, in its turn, are continuing to perform the role of a conciliator even after Bulgaria Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha swore to the Cross and the Gospel in the presence of Patriarch Maxim when he was sworn in at the position of prime Minister in 2001. The same did the newly elected Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov in January 2002.