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Oxford Patristic Conference 2015

Marios Benisis, Th.M.

Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

Being as an atom against Communing as a person:

An Orthodox patristic quest of Theology of Person

Nowadays, the communication with each other has reached a level

far from the past. In our times, social networking, smartphones and
Internet connection has made our communication a lot easier, but in the
present multicultural times we lost our sociability and solidarity. We
value the interest of the atom instead of the common interest. How can
someone, though, be sure that we really communicate and not just exist,
in a theological way of interpreting?
During a recent visit of mine in the Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate of
Jerusalem, His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos stated that the Orthodox
patriarchate does not just live together but coexists with coherence with
the other ethnical and religious entities. Personally, I believe that this is
what Jesus Christ wants from us. Since he wants us to love each other 1,
thus this means that we have to communicate with each other.
Communicating though, not as an individual atom but as person, having

John, 13.34

as a standard the loving keenness ( )2 of the three

Persons of the Holy Trinity. In order to understand the diversity between
atom and person in the Orthodox theology we should comment to the
inter-triadic relationship. The Cappadocian Fathers, after taking the Greek
philosophy and expanding it, used a Greek word to describe this
relationship, the word hypostasis and thus that gave to the term
prosopon/persona an ontological value and content.
The main aspect of the Cappadocians contribution according to
Zizioulas3 is that, not only they gave full hypostasis to person but
specifically made clear that the Fathers person is a cause of existence of
God ( ). In other words, they lifted the
cause of Gods existence in the person of the Father, in one person,
pointing out the meaning of the word hypostasis. In a more philosophical
and ontological way of thinking, by the word /persona Yannaras
states that we define a relative reality and that the only way of
acknowledge a person is to relate with it. 4. Furthermore, despite the fact
that person represents an individuality (), this individuality
is always on a reference of a potentiality and a dynamic of having a

Kallistos Ware, ( )
. .
( )
1984 - 85.
. , .19

relation, the existence of one person requires the presence of another,

requires a you and an I, an offer, a donation of unconditional love 5.
Zizioulas also adds that the word hypostasis meaning is that something
truly exists
In order to get back to our main subject, as the three hypostasis
communicate each other being in One, thus we shall communicating in a
spiritual way in order to become One 6, to become divine, having in mind
that we are made at the image and likeness of God. According to that, it is
impossible to refuse intercommunion of the persons among the men
( ), and at the same time to earn a place in heaven.
Jean Paul Sartre stated that the Other is my personal hell. He believed
that our struggle to earn freedom is a cruel fight in order to be relieved
and free from the others, who try to alter our existence, by having our
consciousness as a subject of theirs. According to this thought the other is
my personal hell. Without having God in his life he joins the emptiness
(). He truly lives the hell that is the absence of God, here in
Dostoyefksi responded that the other is my heaven, or even better,









Ware commenting on this believes that I need you to be myself in direct


Ware Kallistos, ibid.

John, 15,11

relation with the exchange of the self-offer (), found inside

the trinity.
It is easy to understand that the substantial difference between
Sartre and Dostoyevski is love or even better the lack of love, concerning
the case of Sartre.
We may









the theological heritage of Elder Sophronios, which is whole combined in

just one phrase. I Love Therefore I Am. God is three in one and one in
three. God is not of one person, but of three hypostasis (),
Triadic7. According to St. Maximus the Confessor, the term nature and
substance is of the same meaning, as also as term person and hypostasis.
These three hypostases live in a community of love and their love is too
big, that they function like one person with one will, despite the
hypostatic characteristics that define them8.
Likewise, God shows His Love to all of his creation, exactly as one
hypostasis shows love to the other two. In this way, we can somehow
acknowledge the way that God works, by having as example ourselves.
As we choose to act our best to the person we love, the same way God

, ,.15,Migne
God-father gives birth, Son is begotten and the Holy Spirit fulfills the world.

chose to love us up to the point to sacrifice His only Son at the cross for
our sins. As the three persons of the Trinity share love with each other,
the same way, share love with us, as Sophronios Sakharov points out.
Sophronios adds a new aspect in a way to understand the intertriadic








acknowledgement of the hypostasis and the effect, having on us, has an

eschatological character, so a possible failure to understand it, will lead us
to a lack of a personal fulfillment. In order to avoid that failure,
Sophronios points out the meaning of the hypostatic prayer, the prayer of
Jesus in Gethsemane, which transfers man to a new ontological reality,
to a face to face prayer to God, through which man becomes a bearer of
the divine life and () a person - hypostasis.
A persons base is always a personal relationship. It cannot exist,
but only related to another one. The person is unique and combines our
existence. The same rule applies to the Holy trinity and through the love
of God reaches us. The personal relationship that Logos has with the
Father is passing to us in Christ and we can also call God as Father. This
privilege would not be applicable to us, if J. Christ has not given this to

us. A right that was given by the Jesus to His disciples and they passed it
on to the entire Christian world.
Loving Relationship
This donation by the son of God, leading us to knowing God as
eternal Father, is well-known since the apostolic times as knowledge in
person . Even this quote does not refer to
the substance or the energies but according to Gregory Theologian in a
name of a relation
Since we know from Jesus Christ Himself that I and the Father
are one9, the next question is about what is going on concerning the
hypostatic idioms. The idioms are related with each person of the Trinity
and, despite the communion; do not transfer from one person of the
Trinity to another, because they are the identical characteristics, the true
identity of each person.
Father as a cause
The aspect of cause was introduced by the Cappadocians in order
to confront both Eunomians who believed that the substance of God and
the person of the Father is one, as well as Neoplatonists, who believed
that the son, is part of an evolution, and is lesser than the Father. Both

John 10,30

opinions led to a heresy according to the Church. The Cappadocian

intervention was more than needed in order to distinguish the Divine
substance and the Person of the Father and become clear that Father and
the substance is not the same thing.
The question is if the Son is born from the substance of the father,
or from the Father ( ). Father
cannot exist without substance (). That is why the Nicean
Council approved the birth from the substance of the Father.10.
, as expressed by St Athanasios of
Alexandreia fruit bearing (), creating life.
According to the principal of St. Athanasius that God exists,
because He wants to11, and not because there is no other way,
Cappadocians named the Person of the Father as Cause since he is the
reason that God exists. He is not the substance, he is a person the cause
being ( ), which stands in the freedom of the person
and in God and not by any chance obligatory.
There is no necessity in Gods existence. There is absolute freedom
inside the Trinity, which since is present in the Trinitarian relationship



(Father to Son) could not be absent throughout the relationship of the

Father and His other children, us.
We enter to this relationship willingly, without our freedom
() to be harmed. Since there is freedom in the Trinity, it is
present in us too. God is not obliged to love us and so we are too.
This in actual terms means that if we do not embrace the loving
relationship, between the Father and the Son, we cannot know God, but
only in a philosophical way, because we will not have the privilege to call
Him Father.12
The love mentioned is not a plain love. It is a love according to the
Grace, a love combined with the Cross, the Crucifixion and the
Resurrection. Because love is not asking for love, since god is love and
whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 13 Father loves the
Son, loves a person, it is a personal relationship, which is offered to us
too as a way of knowing God, as we noted earlier. This knowledge
derives directly and freely from God since we cannot explore Him, but he
reveals Himself to us, through this loving relationship, which God
willingly offers.

John 4.16 ,

We cannot become holy and reach the likeness of God, if first we

cannot understand the scheme of the cross, given to us by Lossky and
Sophronios14, which defines the relationship of the persons. On the top of
the cross is God and at the bottom is man. At the two sides of the cross
are our self and the other. We must keep in mind that we need each other
in order to get to the deification. In the communion with the deity, comes
the unity15, as Basil the Great states and that is why God send as the
loving connection16, the Holy Spirit to guide us into our relationship
with God.
Following Zizioulas thought, that man is a relational being
( )17 and having Ware expanding this thought, we cannot even
talk about God without the meaning of communion () with other
human beings. The whole meaning of our destination in life is to be
alive icons of the Trinity, and to reproduce the motion of love that
resembles eternally in the Holy Trinity18.


() , , .116
, , 18:45, PG32, 149C
Ware, Ibid.
Zizioulas Ibid.
Ware, Ibsid.