EXPLORATIONS IN ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY
By: The Reverend Hieromonk Myrella (LeClair)
What is Orthodox Christian Spirituality? What are the essential foundations of Orthodox Christian Spirituality? How do I live a life attuned to God? These are just a few of the questions that will be addressed on this page as we travel the spiritual pathway toward living life in communion with God.
“How Orthodox Spirituality Developed”
Before defining the essential foundations of Orthodox Spirituality, we need to understand what factors influenced its development. In this writing, the third of the six major influences will be addressed.
3. The Early Intellectual Element:
The first formal schools of theology were established in Alexandria, Egypt in the third century. Clement and Origen developed these schools. The Alexandrians believed that Greek philosophy was a good preparation for understanding the Christian Gospel, and they sought to combine Judaism and Platonism. The Alexandrians also held a dualistic view of matter and spirit and saw God as the “supremely Undeterminate”, that is, a negation or removal of human attributes, a philosophy known as “apophatic theology”. They believed that Salvation was achieved “through the knowledge which the Logos (the Word of God) imparts”.
Origen wrote many treatises, and his work laid the foundation for much of the Greek theology in the Church; however, many of Origen’s teachings were later judged by the Church to be false, and the Fifth Ecumenical Council formally condemned him in 553. Tertullian, Cyprian, Dionysius of Alexandria, Hippolytus of Rome, Gregory the Wonderworker and Methodius of Olympus were the other theologians of the third century who developed Orthodox Christian theology and who laid the foundation of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit – the doctrine which caused controversy in the fourth century.
The Arian controversy also arose in the fourth century. Arius was an Alexandrian priest who taught that the Divine Logos – Jesus Christ – is not the divine Son of God but merely a creature created out of nothing by God. According to Arius, God is not the uncreated Holy Trinity; rather, God is the Father, the Creator, alone. God created the Logos as the first and greatest of His creatures to be His instrument for the world’s salvation.
The First Ecumenical Council, held in Nicea in 325, discussed Arian’s teaching and decreed that the Logos is uncreated and divine. He is begotten (born or generated) from the Father and not made or created by Him. The Logos is of one essence with the Father, and he is the Word of God by whom all things were made. However, the Nicene Council’s decision was not universally accepted in the Church, and the Arian controversy continued to rage for a long time. The controversy continued until 381 when a council in Constantinople, known as the Second Ecumenical Council, reaffirmed the original decision of the Nicene council and also proclaimed the divinity of the Holy Spirit. The decrees of these two councils comprise the Symbol of Faith – the Creed of the Orthodox Church.
St. Athanasius the Great (Bishop of Alexandria), and the Cappadocian bishops: St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Gregory Nazianzus the Theologian were the main defenders and teachers of the central doctrine of Orthodox Christianity, i.e. the Symbol of Faith. They are known as the Fathers of the Church.