ENGLISH VERSION: Swiss Dogmatics. By hieromonk Gregory (Lourie) (Now Bishop of Petrograd and Gdov)
The following is a translation of a series of short lectures originally given in Russian by Hieromonk Gregory (Lourie) of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church, now Bishop of Petrograd and Gdov. The idea for this translation came to me when I stumbled across an article by Vladimir Moss entitled “USA BEWARE: Punk-True-Orthodoxy is here!” In that article Vladimir Moss presents his translation of another Russian article attacking both the writing and the personality of Fr. Gregory, with his own additional commentaries. Both Vladimir Moss and the author of the article he uses include impressive quotations from the Bible concerning “false prophets,” “demons,” and the like, and attempt to present quotations from Fr. Gregory to back up their accusations. Yet it seems that the only way they “succeeded” in their attempts is through a gross distortion of the truth and a very “creative” interpretation of Fr. Gregory’s words, ruthlessly ripped from their original context. The letter is written in English and is addressed to the Orthodox in North America. The only North American jurisdiction that is constantly mentioned in the letter directly – and also with “characteristics” taken from scandalous sources – is the Holy Orthodox Church in North America. In particular, the author seems to be worried about the possibility of some kind of a union between HOCNA and the part of ROAC represented by Fr. Gregory. And, evidently, he thinks that repeating slanderous and baseless accusations against both parties will help him in his cause. Still, while refutation of attacks against HOCNA is available for English-speaking readers on the website of the Holy Orthodox Metropolis of Boston, there is little that a non-Russian speaker can do to dispel the libel presented against Fr. Gregory and his work. Therefore, I have decided to translate his work into English, so that all concerned could see with their own eyes and judge with their own minds, and also to make this great piece of missionary and catechetical writing available to a broader audience.
The idea for the following course started on an Internet forum with a strange name, “Swiss time”; hence the strange title of this course. Do not search here for some modern version of John Calvin’s Genevan Catechism. The following may be a very approximate explanation of faith, but it is, nevertheless, an explanation of the Orthodox faith, and of no other. This explanation was originally intended for a specific kind of person, the kind that has a great many different secondary traits, but who have two most basic and definitive traits: their main interest in life has to do with the meaning of life (or death) and their self-preservation instincts are tuned down to the minimum. It is exactly to these people that I wish to show that Orthodoxy is neither “Batiushka, bless!” nor The Poetics of Byzantine Literature.
To begin a response to serious questions with “it seems to me” or “in my opinion” would be, from my part, both ridiculous and, more importantly, sinful. It’s not a question of what I think or of how things seem to me. If you believe, then it is no longer a matter of “seeming” but of dogmatics. So here you go, help yourself to some dogmatics!
Florensky once wrote some poetic nonsense about dogmas, something along the lines of: “Dogma is the golden formula of the existence of.... [something; I can't remember what did he called that part]... of eternity.” But to think that a dogma is some kind of a formula would be a serious mistake. (The whole so-called “theological science” of the theological academies is full of such mistake; it chews over these formulas until they come out of one’s ears.)
Among the most important “formulas” (i.e., formulations of the dogmas) there are a few that were first created by heretics, and then were reinterpreted and wielded by the Orthodox; later they were again repurposed by new heretics, and left by the Orthodox. Dogma is a teaching of the Church and, therefore, it is not just one formula or another, but the very reality pointed to with the help of formulas. Moreover, these formulas sometimes need to be “refreshed,” or else they start to flake off, like old paintings and frescoes. Formulas relate to their corresponding realities exactly in the same manner as icons relate to theirs: they are formed in their verbal material; this material, too, can grow old and spoil, although not as fast as wood and oil. Formulas of faith change, while the faith remains unchanging – obviously, since the reality of Eternity cannot change. (Although in some sense it “can” – but by saying it “cannot” I have already employed a formula – a good formula, but a limited one, as they all are).
Formulas are necessary so long as they point to that reality without which and outside of which they cannot be understood at all.
Enough with the foreword, let's talk about the realities.
What’s it all about? (Or, as theologians like to say, Cur Deus homo? – the title of Anselm of Caterbury’s completely heretical, from the Orthodox point of view, treatise (XII), “Why did God become man?”)
Pick up any (i.e., silly) Orthodox book and you will immediately get an answer. It is going to be something like this: “God became man, so that man would become a good person.” Now, do you want to be a “good person”? I, personally, don’t – whatever that “goodness” might mean. If a have to be a person, I would rather be the person I myself want to be, not the person that someone else (even God) would consider “good.” And if I were to think a bit harder, I would discover that there is nothing in the idea of a “person” (whatever a “person in general” might be) that would, on its own, be worth living for, even under the condition of immortality: meaningless things do not acquire meaning even if they become infinitely prolonged. The picture of Paradise as an infinite and happy human existence looks disturbingly similar to Islamic dreams about the pleasures of the afterlife. Muslims raise basic physiological “delights” to an infinite power, while Christians seem to have something closer to psychedelia: some sort of “psychedelic high” that one does not encounter in ordinary life. Compared to this, even Muslims seem to have something healthy.
That is why we should not read some processed “Orthodox” trash. One should not live on junk food. One should eat simple, healthy food, even if it is sometimes rough and hard to digest. Such are the Holy Fathers: they wrote about the teachings of the Church not because they were appointed to some positions and offices, but because they themselves had become the source of the teachings of the Church, for in them the real goal of the Incarnation of Christ was attained. And they themselves formulated it as follows:
"God became man, so that man would become God".
Now that puts it all in place. God is absolute, and therefore doesn't need any other "meaning" to justify His existence - quite the opposite; it is He Himself, Who gives meaning to everything that has meaning. The purpose of the creation of man was that man would become God - of course, become God while still being himself, or else why create man in the first place? Now, how would that come to be? - Just how the mirror opposite came to be in Jesus Christ, when God became man without ceasing being a God, and exactly because it happened in Jesus Christ.
The goal of becoming God, regardless even the events of the Fall, never was attainable for the man. Thus, the Incarnation would happen in any case, independently of the Fall of Adam and Eve. Of course, if there were no Fall (in theory, this was a possible scenario, since the Sin of the Forefathers was a free choice of our progenitors: they could have made another choice), the circumstances of the Incarnation of God would be quite different - without sin there would be no death, and thus no Cross, no Resurrection...