This book consists of talks, conference papers and lectures given in Greece and elsewhere at a chronological turning point, on the borderline between the twentieth and twenty-first century.
Historical, social and theological themes of continuing relevance are examined. ‘Preparing for Pastoral Service in the 21st Century’ stresses that, without overlooking the era in which we are living, the Church prepares people for the coming age and for their entry into the life to come. Various current problems (existential, social and domestic, scientific and technological, or ecclesiastical) are set out, and it becomes clear that the gravest problems are anthropological and theological ones. In particular, the problem of death creates immense uncertainty and insecurity, and can only be overcome by life in Christ.
The address ‘Interaction of Theology and Politics in Europe’ sets out the view that theological trends that held sway in Europe have affected political developments, just as politics influences theology. There are two distinct theological traditions in the East and the West, and two different cultures. In ‘The Age of Enlightenment in the West and Orthodox Enlightenment’, the basic elements of the European ‘Enlightenment’ are set out and contrasted with the characteristics of Orthodox theology and true enlightenment. Cultural experience in the West is diametrically opposed to the cultural legacy of Rome-Byzantium. The theories of the Age of Enlightenment, Romanticism, Modernism and Post-Modernism gave rise to various changes in the West but did not solve the basic problems of human existence. The vitality of the Greek Orthodox tradition, on the other hand, is expressed in the works of the great Fathers of the Church. The Fathers, who had an excellent knowledge of classical philosophy, responded to the philosophical trends of their time and set out their teaching with the inspiration of divine revelation. They express Orthodox enlightenment. Their teaching is complete and all-embracing, and offers meaning and purpose to human life.
The boundaries between theology and science are outlined in ‘Orthodox Theology and Science’, which presents the views of St Basil the Great on theology and science, and refers to contemporary scientific issues. The theological view on the subject of possible human cloning illustrates the differing ways in which scientists and theologians work. It is possible for science to cure certain hereditary disorders and prolong life, but it cannot help humanity to overcome death. That is the task of Orthodox theology. ‘Transplants from the Perspective of the Orthodox Church’ responds to the question: ‘How does the Church deal with the person who is clinically dead?’ It is not sufficient to look just at the psychological, social, legal, medical and ethical aspects of the issue of transplants. First and foremost we need to see the whole problem from a theological point of view, and to face it within the pastoral context of the Church.
‘Theological Approach to Cremation of the Dead and its Implications for the Church’ explains the close relationship between soul and body. The Church respects the human body because it regards the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit. It does not accept the practice of cremation, but inters bodies in graves, in expectation of their resurrection at Christ’s Second Coming.
The views of the Church on how to treat embryos, infants and children in accordance with Orthodox tradition are analysed in ‘Nurture of Embryos, Infants and Children’. The basic principles of the Church with regard to the sacrament of marriage are explained, and it is stressed that the conception of a human being is an act of God’s providence. The spiritual disposition of parents is of the greatest significance. Those responsible for the nurture of children ought to be characterised by a spirit of sacrifice and inspiration in order to be equal to the great task of bringing up a child. Typical examples are given from lives of the saints to demonstrate correct training in infancy and childhood.
Three papers on the life, personality and teaching of St Gregory Palamas deserve special attention: ‘St Gregory Palamas and his Significance for our Times’, ‘Mysticism and Rationalism in the Middle Ages: the Views of St Gregory Palamas’, and ‘Teaching about the Person according to St Gregory of Palamas’. It is essential for contemporary Orthodox Christians to be aware of the work and teaching of St Gregory, because he makes clear the central points of our Orthodox heritage. The Saint’s teaching is that of the Orthodox Church, and the era in which he lived has parallels with our own time.
‘Illness, Healing and Healer according to St John Climacus’ looks at the precise nature of spiritual illness, who is the appropriate person to treat it, what the cure is, and how it is accomplished. God cannot act, nor can the experienced spiritual father help, without the co-operation of the sick person, because man’s freedom is inviolable. As is also stated in ‘From Image to Likeness’, in order for a human being to become ‘in God’s likeness’ he must pass through various stages of healing. This takes place within the context of the Church. The dignity and importance of baptism, as explained in ‘The Dynamics of Baptism in the World Today’, is due to the fact that it transforms man, by cleansing the image of God which has been blackened by the Fall, and giving him the possibility of becoming ‘after His likeness’. Anyone reading ‘A Contemporary Experience of Baptism’ will see clearly that man is born again in baptism and attains to a real relationship with God, his fellow man, himself and creation.
The aim of the Church is to prepare the faithful not only for life here and now, but first and foremost for the experience the Kingdom of God.