Although Nicholas Cavasilas belonged to the educated circles of Byzantium, he creatively transcended the static anthropocentric humanism of the 14th century, founding an original christocentric humanism. For Nicholas Cavasilas Man is the icon of God, the truth of his life and existence are revealed in Christ. Life in Christ constitutes the ontological content of Man and Creation. Christ, the God-man, is the archetype of the perfect human being, the locus of every human love.
For historians it is certain that Cavasilas ultimately joined the ranks of the hesychasts, without losing his originality and independence of theological expression. Indeed, homogeneity of expression was never typical of the thought of the Greek Fathers of the Church anyway. Thus, while using Pauline christocentric terminology, which was distinct from the dogmatic and philosophical terminology of Gregory Palamas, he nevertheless adopted the essence of hesychasm, i.e. that the ontological foundation for the saints’ “theory” and vision of God is Christ himself and that the common path to this goal is through the sacraments together with the ascetic and liturgical life of the Church.
Nicholas Cavasilas played a leading role in the dissemination of hesychasm from the eremitic life and the monastic communities to the world, resulting in the spreading of rich and productive theological activity to the wider ecclesiastical faithful, which contributed decisively to liturgical renewal. Indeed, the early Byzantine renaissance had already successfully developed a christocentric humanism and a social spirituality, which gave fodder for much discussion and reflection. In this context, Cavasilas’ theological synthesis creatively engages and deals with questions this renaissance formulated on Tradition as well as the assumption and incorporation of the created by the uncreated, and incorporated all these in the context of the Chalcedonian synthesis.
Cavasilas intended neither to codify nor to repeat the genre of liturgical commentary then popular in the theological liturgical tradition. Moving beyond a literalistic conservatism, he chose to interpret this tradition within a strictly Orthodox christological and anthropological context and to adapt and reshape it in a way that was attractive, creative and authentic for the people of his time. It is noteworthy that in his commentary, Cavasilas follows closely the text of the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, inserting, at some points, references to the text of the liturgy of St. Basil.
According to Cavasilas, the mystagogy represents and dramatizes in a unified and harmonious way the whole earthly life of the God-Man. That which unfolds in the eucharist brings about the permanent memory, manifestation and experience of aspects of Christ’s salvific economy. The vision and participation in this reality made possible in the eucharist provides a sanctification analogous to that provided potentially to the whole world historically at its creation once and for all. The organic relation of the eucharist with the liturgical experience of divine economy gives a new dimension to time, transcending contradictions between past, present and future. In the liturgical time of the Church, the commemoration of events of divine economy from creation until the eschata of the Kingdom is realized in a timeless present. According to Nicholas Cabasilas, the Church is realized each time in her sacraments, which manifest and represent life in Christ and express the ultimate eschatological meaning of beings. The Church is a sacramental community and not a religious institution of “organized” grace and moral discipline. In the Orthodox tradition, the sacraments constitute the fundamental life-giving origins of the Church.
All things have issued forth and are incorporated organically in the divine eucharist through which the eschata are represented. This is a universal understanding of the eucharist as the sacrament par excellence of the Church and not as one sacrament among others. Thus, the eucharist recapitualates and includes all the sacraments in that it also recapitulates and manifests the mystery of the recapitulation of all in Christ. Indeed, the connection of the sacraments with the eucharist is evident even today – albeit in a fragmentary way - in their liturgical structure still preserved to this day.
This universal vision is expressed by Nicholas Cavasilas, who thus indirectly replies to contemporary scholastic notions of the West and the burning issues of his time, when, in his Interpretation of the Divine Liturgy, he emphatically declared that “The Church is made known in the mysteries, since it is the Body of Christ and the faithful are her members….” “She then….and now receives the gift of the Holy Spirit…..” He thus essentially reiterated Pauline ecclesiological context within which the mystery of the Divine economy is manifested, unfolded and realized.
If the divine economy and the Church are “made known” in the eucharist, this is so because of the eschatological orientation of the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy manifests the Church not the way it is now but the way it will be at the eschata of the Kingdom. Its ultimate end and simultaneously its origin is the perfection of the members of the ecclesiastical body, since holiness and sanctification are a foretaste of the Kingdom. Firmly oriented towards the expectation of the Kingdom, the liturgy is the participation in the eschatological banquet, the inheritance of the Kingdom, which has already been given to the faithful albeit not fully fulfilled within history. In offering the eucharistic gifts, we offer the first fruits of our corruptible, biological life to God and in return we receive back the new, eternal and true life.
In contrast to the ancient Greek mentality, which also considers truth as vision - albeit derived from the remembrance of past perfection of beings in their preexistent state - the biblical and patristic connotations of type, symbol and icon refer to the envisioning power of the Spirit as vision and participation in the age to come, where the eschatological truth of Christ prevails. Thus, the principle of this revealing vision, i.e., the organic interlacement of type, symbol, icon and truth, constitutes the first basic theological and hermeneutical principle.
Thus eucharist and, consequently, the Church herself, is presented as the gradual manifestation of the mystery of divine economy from the pre-eternal will of God until the coming of the eschatological Kingdom. The locus of this mystagogy is the incarnation of God, which reveals the Holy Trinity. Christ comes in the name of God the Father, whom he reveals to the people. Faith in the trinitarian God is a basic characteristic of the Church, and this is why she proclaims this faith and experience in the celebration of the eucharist. The trinitarian basis of the Divine Liturgy thus appears as a second basic theological hermeneutical principle.
In this trinitarian context, the eucharist of the Church as the manifestation of Christ’s Body is centered on christology and organically connected with pneumatology. According to Cavasilas, all things have come into being in view of God’s incarnation. Christ is the end and fulfillment of all beings. As the new Adam, Christ, through the sacraments of the Church is the gateway to life. Before the incarnation, none of God’s actions could deify Man. Only the economy of the incarnation of Christ made the deification of Man possible. “But He” became man, in as much as he had been the archetype of life from the beginning. Love of God now passes though Christ to Man. Christ is the only one who leads us to the Father. This christocentrism of the Divine Liturgy constitutes a third hermeneutical principle.
The ecclesiological expansion of the christological mystery is characteristic of the particular work of the Holy Spirit. The communion of the Holy Spirit is, according to Cavasilas, the very grace of Christ, which unifies and brings into communion and relation all that have been separated, creation and Man with God. Indeed, the activity of the Spirit does not begin with Pentecost but rather was already unfolding at creation and especially in the creation of Man. The Holy Spirit is the bearer and giver par excellence of the Holy Trinity’s energies. It unceasingly cooperates and supports the Christ-event from the His nativity to His ascension. In its particular mission at Pentecost the Spirit “constitutes the institution of the Church.” This is the actualization and transmission of the results of Christ’s economy to humankind and creation through the building up of the Body of Christ. This significance of the pneumatological factor constitutes the fourth theological hermeneutical principle.
Life in Christ as well as sanctification in the eucharist are charismatic gifts. However, the sanctification and the perfection of the faithful presuppose human freedom and cooperation for reception, safeguarding, and bearing of fruit provided by the grace of the sacraments. The exercise of the virtues, the purification from the passions, the keeping of the teachings of Christ and spiritual guidance do not constitute ends in themselves. They rather serve and lead to eucharistic communion. Ascesis and life in Christ are, in other words, tangible manifestations of the Church’s sacraments. Nicholas Cavasilas, juxtaposing the ascetical presuppositions and the sanctifying gift of grace, calls eucharistic communion the “purifying reward,” in as much as it therapeutically purifies from the passions but also, simultaneously, constitutes a reward and ultimate joy of the ascetical struggles of the faithful. Thus we find that the principle of synergy in eucharistic sanctification, i.e. the melding of eucharist and ascesis as an ontology of life in Christ, expresses the fifth theological hermeneutical principle.
ΣΤΑΥΡΟΥ ΓΙΑΓΚΑΖΟΓΛΟΥ ΣΥΜΒΟΥΛΟΥ ΤΟΥ ΠΑΙΔΑΓΩΓΙΚΟΥ ΙΝΣΤΙΤΟΥΤΟΥ
Διονυσίου Αρεοπαγίτου, Περί Εκκλησιαστικής Ιεραρχίας,
Myrra Lot – Borodine
Myrra Lot – Borodine