The Christian East and West

The Second Letter of Peter states that God's 'divine power has given us everything needed for life and piety/ and called us 'to his own glory and

121 See B. R. Rees, Pelagius: Life and Letters (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 1998).

goodness'. These gifts constitute God's 'promises' to humankind: a divine call to 'escape from the corruption that is in the world through lust' and to become 'participants of the divine nature (physiif (2 Pet. 1: 3—4). This striking picture of grace as sharing in the very being or nature of God appears in what is arguably the last NT work to be written. The Christian East and West have read this passage in different contexts. While the East characteristically starts with eternal life as the origin of everything, the West often approaches God as the source of freedom for individual human persons. The East dwells on the whole 'economy' or history of relations between God and creatures, while the West insists on the individual's response to God. A theology of grace, according to the Eastern tradition, follows St Athanasius and other early Christian writers in understanding grace within the wider perspective of God's glory and the divinization of humanity. The Western tradition often studies in detail the human actions that respond to God's call.

Despite their different starting-points and emphases, both East and West know the life of grace to be the effect of Christ's redemption. But while the West often understands redemption to result from the events of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, the East holds that the redemption of humanity comes from the whole story of Christ's life on earth, which starts with the incarnation and ends with the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost. In line with Paul and Irenaeus, the East interprets Christ's life among us within the totality of God's plan and his relationship with the whole of history, humankind, and the world.

Eastern theology has hardly developed a theology of original sin. Adam's 'happy fault' is a simple accident, though with far-reaching consequences. The East emphasizes God's unchanging will that creates, calls, and restores humankind through the gradual recapitulation of all things in Christ. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, creation itself joins human beings in yearning for completion; the Spirit transforms those groans of pain into prayer and a gradual becoming like God (Rom. 8: 14—30). Through the Spirit, humanity—created in the image of God—will be fully restored to its original beauty.

While the West interprets grace as a conversion process, the Christian East understands conversion as the full liberation of the whole of creation, so as to manifest once more the glory God intended for his creatures from the beginning of time. Divinization, the master theme of Eastern theology, goes beyond the Western understanding of sanctification. While the latter is generally considered God's direct action on human beings, deification implies both God's and humanity's contribution in one dynamic process. When human beings progressively participate in God's own being through the action of the indwelling Spirit, their divine likeness—born anew in baptism after being lost through sin—becomes steadily more similar to the prototype who is Christ, the 'Image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation' (Col. 1: 15). Just as Athanasius had done in the fourth century, the East continues to insist on the believers' need to conform to Christ and be images (lower case) of the Image (upper case) of God.

According to the Christian East, Western theology has often taken the life of grace to be a theology about humanity rather than about the Holy Spirit's sanctifying action within us. However, nowadays many Catholics and other Christians in the West have become fascinated by the beauty of the Eastern view of grace, since it highlights the indwelling of the Spirit and our deification through a personal relationship with the tripersonal God. Communion with the Trinity, the triune interaction that St Andrew Roublev (d. 1430) magnificently conveyed in his world-famous icon, is the goal of our lifelong quest for God. Maintaining the biblical understanding of humanity as created in God's image, the Christian East interprets sanctification as the communication of divine 'energies', which beautify and complete God's original creation.122

The differing outlooks between Eastern and Western Christians on the nature of grace mean that the East often finds it hard to grasp and follow such distinctions in Western theology as 'created' and 'uncreated' grace, and that the West may look at Eastern theology as being too contemplative and mystical. But John Paul II wanted to see both Christian traditions integrated, as being 'the two lungs' of the one Church.123 Apropos of the life of grace, he cited Simeon the New Theologian (949-1022), a

122 The theology of grace in terms of 'divine energies' was developed by St Maximus the Confessor and became the cornerstone of Eastern monastic spirituality thanks to John of Sinai (known as St John Climacus) and St Simeon the New Theologian. St Gregory Palamas and the tradition of Mount Athos developed extensively this theology. It spread widely through the efforts of important saints of the Russian Church, such as Paisy Velichkovsky (the person behind the Philocalia and the anonymous The Way of the Pi/grim ), John of Cronstadt, Seraphim of Sarov, and Theophan the Recluse.

123 'The Church needs to learn to breathe again with its two lungs—its Eastern one and its Western one': John Paul II to the Roman Curia on 28 June 1985. In his 1987 encyclical RedemptorisMater he referred to the Second Council of Nicaea (787) and yearned after the day 'when the Church can begin once more to breathe fully with her two lungs , the East and the West' (no. 34; see also his 1996 encyclical Ut unum sint , 54). Speaking to the Roman Curia (21 December 1996), the Pope identified the Church's need to breathe fully with her two lungs as one of the main challenges for Christianity's third millennium. On 30 November 1992 (St Andrew's feast day, the patronal feast of the Patriarchate of Constantinople), Bartholomew I mentioned the 'fundamental ecclesiological truth' of the 'two lungs' in an address to Cardinal Edward Cassidy (see Ekklesia 1 (1-15 January 1993) 14).

prominent figure of the Byzantine tradition, in order to extol the Holy Spirit's action in the believer:

I see the beauty of your grace, I contemplate its radiance and reflect the light; I am taken up by your ineffable splendour; I am led out of myself, while reflecting on myself; I see how I was and what I have become. O prodigy! I am alert, I am full of respect for myself, of reverence and fear, as before you yourself; I do not know what to do, because I am overcome by timidity; I do not know where to sit down, to what I should come near, where to rest these members that belong to you; for what undertaking, for what work I should use these astounding divine marvels.124

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