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Κυριακή, 17 Νοεμβρίου 2013

WHAT IS THEOLOGY?

 
What is theology? In the minds of many, theology is identified solely with the written word -with the body of opinions and beliefs of the saints expressed throughout the ages and the officially sanctioned dogmatic formulae that interpret and explain our faith, the scriptures and tradition. But theology is much more than that. Theology is the spirit of all things of the church which guides her, building up her members and making straight and sure the path of salvation.

 Theology is not only abstract knowledge or philosophy, but revelation and experience. It is both what we what believe about God and what we do in response to it. “Lex orandi est Lex credendi.”That is, how we pray and worship is how we believe and confess, and vice versa.

Theology is the outpouring of one's soul in search of God and meaning in this world. It what emerges when man engages and experiences God. When this theology - this experience of the divine - is put into words, it is done so incompletely, for our human minds and language have not the capacity to hold, encapsulate and express in thoughts or phrases the heavenly and divine realities which are by definition "other" and beyond this world. But, try the church and her members must, for it is within the limitations imposed by our human nature that we must work out the content of our faith and struggle for our salvation. Hence, it is that we possess a imperfect distillation of that sublime and sweet knowledge and revelation of God into treatises, canons, dogmatic formulations and creeds easily accessible to all, but which are by no means the "final word" on God. Instead, they are just some of many flowers which adorn and grow out of the tree of life which is Christ; they merely capture our attention and draw us ever closer to Him, forcing us to look more closely at Him, revealing ever more flowers yet to be found.

Theology is the psalmody and hymnology of our church, for contrary to what one may think and expect, our salvation is a total body and soul experience. We worship and pray not in spirit alone but with our bodies as well. The church has never looked down upon the flesh. That is Manichaeism.

Instead, the flesh is considered holy by the church and worthy of saving. This idea lies behind the church's prohibition of the burning of the dead and the very resurrection of Christ. For if the body is unworthy and something to be discarded, then what's the point of Christ rising from the dead? But important it is, and thus, our church engages all our senses as it carries out her mission of salvation. This includes psalmody and hymnology which engages man's auditory senses. Using music, the "language of the soul," our church lifts us up to another reality where the angels sing and glorify God, touching our hearts and minds, and giving us a taste of the sweet joy that awaits us in the heavenly kingdom.

Theology is also icons, architecture and, yes, even vestments. Nothing is left to chance or deemed unimportant by the church. Icons are windows into heaven and our faith. They have been described by the fathers throughout the ages as "theology in l i n e s a n d c o l o r, " i n c o n t r a s t t o “classical”theology which is written down in books. This is an accurate description. For in icons one may find depicted in living color the content of our faith in the language of pictures that even children understand. The same holds true with architecture. The form churches typically assume and the layout inside "do" theology in their own way.

They face to east, are typically "cross-shaped," and are filled with icons and other wonderfully elaborate decorative and structural elements, all of which manifest sensorially the kingdom of heaven on earth, giving a taste of it to the faithful while still here on earth. And even the much maligned vestments partake in this lifting up of the faithful to higher realities as they reflect through materials, forms and colors the "brightness" and preciousness of the kingdom.

The priest wears the vestments not to look good as some think or to show off how expensive they are, but to glorify God who paid an infinitely expensive price upon the cross for our salvation. And let's not forget that while priests and bishops are human in every respect and no different from us, they are nevertheless much more by virtue of their ordination. During times of liturgy, they do not dress as men of the world but as men of God and liturgists. The clothes they don are not the clothes of men but the clothes of God and heaven. Every piece serves its purpose both literally and theologically as well, as do their patterns and designs and their materials, which reflect the holy fire of priesthood and the joyful brightness of divinity, which we gain access to through the gift of ordination given to bishops and priests.

In sum, everything about the church is theology. This includes us. For just as heaven and earth is joined and united in the church, so to is it in us. As human beings, as that union of both body and soul, we are both "here" (earth) and "there" (heaven) yet neither fully "here" nor "there." We reside on earth but call heaven our home. We are tied fully to this material world by virtue of our bodies but inexorably and constantly drawn upwards by virtue of our souls, that immense gift of God given to us when He creates us "in his image." We cannot help but be a "living theology." Every day we live and breath is a witness to the power and glory of God who creates us and sustains us. We are one with the world and one with God. Our mission is to realize this and to act accordingly for this is what our salvation is all about, and is the key to understanding what the theology of the church is all about - us. It is born of us, made by us, lived by us and done for us in church, both now and forever and unto the ages.

Deacon Christodoulos Roditis

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