A Lack of Distinction Between the Theanthropic Body & the Body of Humanity: the Root of our Problems - An Interview with Professor Demetrios Tselengides
Today on The Orthodox Ethos Podcast, the Professor of Dogmatic Theology, Demetrios Tselengides: On the Lack of Distinction Between the Theanthropic Body and the Body of Humanity: the Root of our Problems
This interview was conducted on June 1st. In spite of this, the content continues to be very relevant and the message of great importance for the people of God.
00:38- Question 1: Can we speak of the life-giving power of Holy Communion in the context of physical health?
01:37- Answer 1: The body of which we partake in the Eucharist is the risen body of Christ...
02:53 - The example of St. Basil the Great...
05:08 - Question 2: So we can receive health of both soul and body from Holy Communion?
05:18 - Answer 2: Yes, we can...but this is left to the discretion of God since it is not always good for us to be healthy
06:10 - Question 3: If one does not wear a mask in Church is this a sign of a lack of love?
07:00 - Answer 3: The error lies in the assumptions. . . the problem is that we did not accept what has happened as a penance sent by God...
09:36 - God allowed for this to happen so that we might repent...i.e. an existential turn to God and absorption of our spirit [nous[ in God
13:26- Question 4: Is the entire picture that is presented, then, the problem?
13:30 - Answer 4: Yes...this Body does not exclude any member from communion of God and Man
14:27 - A Rhetorical Question: On what basis can a faithful man go to Church knowing that he is thereby preventing someone else from going?
15:22 - Concerning Masks and entering into the worldly mentality...
15:52 - We did not take the Scriptural perspective into account.
16:57 - We've reached the point where the scientists determine the policy of the politicians and the politicians determine the life of the Church...
18:35 - Question 5: If you could go to a church where no measures were enforced, would you go?
18:44 - Answer: I would go..without a mask, without limits on attendance, as I would not trample upon my conscience . . .
19:39 - Even so, I have not for I have personally received a penance from Christ Himself, and through repentance I await for Him to lift it...
20:13 - The wonderful 'recipe' of St. Nicholas Kabasilas: for the sake of a sick man, a healthy man can spiritually take the medicine the sick man needs...
Professor Tselengidis’ depth of knowledge, his education and studies, and his diligent research and labor have made him an internationally renowned academic theologian of Orthodox Dogmatic Theology. His most important offering and characteristic, however, is his work’s fidelity to the Holy Tradition and the Deposit of the Holy Fathers, a faithfulness he acquired by following experiential theologians of our day, such as Saints Paisios of Mt. Athos and Ephraim of Katounakia. He considers himself a humble minister, always emphasizing the absolute interrelation of right doctrine with the right way of life, distancing himself from the creation of a sterile and cold academic discourse.
He is the author countless articles and seven books on Dogmatic Theology, covering a wide range of topics, including the theology of the icon, grace and freedom, critical studies of the doctrine of salvation in Luther and the satisfaction of divine justice in Anslem of Canterbury, the Soteriology of Western Christianity, and the presuppositions and criteria of Orthodox Theology. Through his many lectures, articles, and appeals to the hierarchy on pressing ecclesiastical matters such as the Orthodox-Roman Catholic, and Orthodox-A
A Lack of Distinction Between the Theanthropic Body & the Body of Humanity: the Root of our Problems - An Interview with Professor Demetrios Tselengides
Interview conducted on June 1, 2020
Fr. Peter Heers: Here is another question. One of the faithful in America says, “It seems odd to me that people are speaking of the vivifying and life-giving power of Holy Communion in the context of physical health. I had always thought we were speaking of spiritual health. If something beyond that were to happen, some benefit to the body, I thought that would be a special, exceptional blessing of God.” He says that the Body of the Risen Lord had human wounds, despite His having trampled down death. What can we say to that?
Professor Tselingides: The wounds of Christ were within the framework of the divine economy. That was the corruptible body that He assumed. This was proven both by His passion and by His death. The body of which we partake in the divine Eucharist is the risen body of Christ, which has passed over into incorruptibility and immortality. We too become partakers of this reality, that is, of this divinity. We are not simply receiving the natural, historical body of Christ, since that is only sinless. It is our own nature. The divinity itself is what we are receiving. Consequently, we must separate this matter, just as we should separate the fact that you may be receiving the divinity, becoming a partaker of immortal life, and yet still suffer, since Christ Himself suffered. Yet he did this for reasons of [divine] economy towards us, to assure us that His body was real, that He was truly incarnate, that He truly suffered these things.
The example of St. Basil comes to my mind right now, who is one of the greatest fathers of the Church, who wrote a liturgy, etc. We know from his epistles that he was on the whole sickly. He was a frail man, and he suffered for the greatest part of his life. This, however, does not mean that it is related to Holy Communion. It should be noted that he says he communed at least five times a week. What you have correctly noted is a concession of God, Who is economizing us. This is what was happening with St. Paul. He says that he asked the Lord three times to remove from him the ‘thorn in the flesh’, but Christ replied that His grace was sufficient. His strength, that is, Christ’s strength, is made manifest through this weakness. Indeed, the same is true for St. Basil, too. Whoever has read his works carefully gets the impression that this man must have been in and out of the hospital all the time. The reader would not be able to comprehend how this man [St. Basil] did so many things in such short time. It is therefore clear that God allows sickness for the humbling of man, so that through sickness by concession [κατά παραχώρησιν] His own power might be seen. This is a matter for the all-wise God and His concession. In other words, it’s not related to this participation in Holy Communion, except in the case of one going to commune unprepared, without fulfilling the presuppositions, that is, spiritually unprepared, in which case he suffers what St. Paul mentions in his epistle to the Corinthians, that many become sick and many die (1 Cor. 11:30).
Fr. Peter Heers: So, can we therefore conclude that from Holy Communion we shall receive health both of body and of soul?
Professor Tselingides: Yes, we can receive it. This is said [in the prayers], “unto a healing of soul and body”. Regarding this health, however, there is a clear prioritization of the soul’s health; this is clear. The health of the body is often restored if one is ill, but this is left to the discretion of God, since, as we have many times realized from experience, it is not always good for us to be healthy. We become arrogant, we fall into various sins, while in this way [by remaining ill], a kind of barrier is set up, which does not cancel our freedom, of course, but it helps the work of God in us.
Fr. Peter Heers: Good. Here is a question. The question is, regarding the masks, which are imposed upon people in many churches, especially abroad, from a spiritual point of view, can we conclude that we are doing this, as some say, for the love of our neighbour, to protect those around us? In fact they invoke the saying of the apostle John, “Greater love hath no man than this” (John 15:13). They use this as an example and conclude that if someone does not wear a mask in church, perhaps he has a lack of love.
Professor Tselingides: This is a large topic that you are opening up for me here. I would like to say the following succinctly. The error, in my opinion, lies in the assumptions. In the first place — I have written a text about this, too, very early, right when the problem appeared. The problem is that we did not accept that what happened to all humanity, not just to the Church, is a penance sent by God because of our impiety. Not only are we impious in our daily life, but even in our participation in Holy Communion both the clergy and the people are spiritually unprepared. We see this from the consequences, I mean, in daily life. We see a man that communes but does not forgive, for example. He is even very close to you, you see him often, you are associated with him. Or he might even be a clergyman, he might be, he might not be merciful, and yet he communes or officiates the mysteries. Someone might say of course, “Are you concluding that this is the case with everyone?” I am not coming to that conclusion. I am theologizing in hindsight. That is, the fact that God allowed even for His Church to pass through this trial means that He is not pleased with the faithful, both the clergy and the people — I always mean it as a whole— and consequently we should accept this instruction with patience, thanksgivings, and glorification, and, after we have visited ourselves in the Holy Spirit and come to self-knowledge, being in repentance, deep repentance, we should ask mercy of God, because that is the greatest thing that could happen. In other words, this is a small excommunication. I say “small”, although of course it is of indefinite duration, since we do not know when it will end. Nevertheless, we have this hope, and of course this is the reason that God allowed it, for us to repent. Let me briefly say that by ‘repentance’ I mean our existential turn toward God and the thereafter permanent absorption of our spirit [nous] in God and on the other side, correspondingly, our turn toward our own selves and our request of God that He reveal to us, besides those sins that we know, our other great sins that we cannot see because we have committed them repeatedly and because we have become darkened as a result. [Let us ask] therefore that the Holy Spirit reveal them to us, let us cry, let us fast, and then we can be completely certain, according to Holy Scripture, that the penance will be removed. Personally I would expect the following: right after the state had taken its own measures, the health measures I mean, for its own purposes of course, and when these measures were practically extended to the Church as well (and I consider that the state got the ‘okay’ from God Himself to do it), the Church should have preached repentance — I mean the leadership of the Church, — they should have preached general repentance. If we have a pandemic, we must also have general [pandemos] repentance and strict fast, until God removes this penance. I am absolutely certain about this, and I base this certitude on the works and words of God Himself, in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament. This did not happen, however. Repentance was not preached, not even verbally. The word ‘repentance’ is rare in contemporary ecclesiastical texts. This means that from that point on we have adopted methods that are rationalistic. They are scientific if you will, except that, in my own judgement, they are not theological or of the Holy Spirit. As a result, the question you are asking me is: given that we are not repenting, given that we want to keep God’s commandment that says, “Whoever does not eat me and drink me will not have life in him”, (cf. John 6:53), should we coercively and secretly go to church selectively and should the priest accept this selectivity of the faithful, which is an ecclesiastical contradiction toward the Body, since Christ says, “Eat ye all” and “Drink ye all” (cf. Matthew 26:27)? In church with these measures — I do not wish to focus on the mask, which is unimportant when compared to the other [measures] — now that it is not possible for all the faithful to be in church, which is the ecclesiological norm, not all those who want to commune can be there. This means that we have entered into [the realm of] another rationale, which is theologically and spiritually incompatible with the ontology of the body of the Church itself, that is, of the Theanthropic Body of Christ.
Fr. Peter Heers: So the entire picture that is presented [is problematic].
Professor Tselingides: Yes, the entire picture. So, this is how we should look at the problem. Those clergymen, regardless of rank, who serve by themselves (I mean with at least one layman) should not feel euphoria, thinking that they are doing their duty, since at the same time they are acting like princes within this body, the Theanthropic Body of Christ, in which there are neither princes nor privileged members but we are all equally honorable members, structured in order of rank within this Body, of course. This Body does not exclude any member from the communion of God and Man, definitely not in the manner desired by the State and adopted and employed by the administration of the Church. Thus, there appear to be some privileged faithful, who are the only ones who can make it in. Here is my rhetorical question: With what moral support can the faithful man go to church, when he knows that by going himself he is preventing someone else who wants to go, because they have reached the maximum amount [of attendees]? Or much more [importantly], when one wants to commune but he is not allowed to do so, not even to be present or to participate, for the x or y reasons? Thus you see that lots of problems are created, all of which would be solved as a whole if we accepted this salvific medicine, that is, repentance. Whatever we do now can be more or less wrong: at any rate none of these are right. Now, concerning the masks: of course, wearing a mask is worse than not wearing it, within this specific Body. But when you enter into the world’s rationale, then you call upon Holy Scripture which says that you ought to sacrifice yourself for the other and to show him love, in other words, to not give him sickness. But who said that the faithful man who does not go to church because he is repenting has no love for Christ? Could it be that such a man has more love for Christ because he is repenting and asking forgiveness for those that have not repented, for whom the thought of repentance has not even crossed their minds? Could he [in fact] be their benefactor, since even if a few people repent truly, they are enough to make God change His mind? We see this in Holy Scripture with Sodom and Gomorrah; we also saw it in the case of Noah. We, however, did not take this scriptural perspective into account. Unfortunately we the faithful take into account what the television says, in other words, what the scientists say. We have reached a point where the scientists determine the policies of the politicians and the politicians determine the life of the Church. This, in my opinion, shows that a clear distinction is not being made between the Theanthropic Body and the body of humanity, in other words between the Church and the non-Church. This is what creates all the other problems, which honestly I do not wish to discuss. When I say this, some of you might suspect that, because of my status, because I know many clergymen, I have the ability of communing in secret or of being included in the small number of those that are able to commune. I honestly inform you that not only have I not communed ever since the measures were enforced, but I do not even go to church. In this way I wish to express my repentance and also to show externally which is the right way to face this [situation]. The desire to make myself comfortable in this worldly way, in other words, to go and commune at the expense of someone else, is the greatest problem, a moral and ontological problem.
Fr. Peter Heers: If you could go to a church where no measures were enforced, would you go?
Professor Tselingides: I would go to that church, because I would not have a guilty conscience that I have taken someone else’s place. Nevertheless, I did not do this. I have been informed recently that this happens in some provinces, because of the small number of churchgoers, in villages for instance, or wherever there might happen to be bold priests. I would not want to do this, although it would be lawful… It would be lawful because there could be ten people attending, with ten people being allowed. In other words, if there were no more people.
Fr. Peter Heers: Without a mask, without being forbidden—.
Professor Tselingides: Without a mask, without anything, etc. Even then I would not go and have not gone for the first reason. The first reason is that, as I feel and as I experience it, I have personally received a penance from Christ Himself, for me personally, not generally or indefinitely. Through my repentance I am waiting for Him to remove this measure.
Fr. Peter Heers: Which will be done only with repentance.
Professor Tselingides: The only way is for me to repent for myself but also to repent for those who do not know they should repent. Here comes in a wonderful ‘recipe’ of St. Nicholas Cabasilas, that for the sake of a sick man a healthy man can spiritually take the medicine that the sick man needs. Of course, I am not healthy, since I too am repenting. Nevertheless I ought to repent also for those that harm this Body, which I too have harmed by my stance up till now. If this stance of love increases numerically, it will finally attract the mercifulness of God to the end that He remove this measure as soon as possible and that all particular problems be solved.