“WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?”

“WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?”

WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?

a homily by

Blessed Fr. Athanasios Mitilinaios

on the theme

“Christ is perfect God and perfect man”

Delivered at the Holy Monastery Komneniou, Larissa
on July 7, 1983
The Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod


“Whoever disregards one of the least of these commandments and teaches this to the people
will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:19)1

Today, my beloved, our Church celebrates the memory of the 630 God-bearing Fathers who convened the Fourth Ecumenical Synod in Chalcedon. The topic of the Synod was Jesus Christ is perfect God and perfect man.

Before we begin to look at the content of this Synod, which is extremely relevant in every era, I would like to explain clearly what “dogma2 is, because all the Synods, of course, dogmatized.

In our day and age, people do not even want to hear the word “dogma”, let alone its content. (Incidentally, someone has written that our era which liberalizes3 is the most dogmatic era of all.) I would like to make it clear what dogma is, these dogmas which so terrify modern man when he hears about them. Modern man thinks that dogma is something you must accept whether you want to or not, whether you like it or not, no matter if it binds or doesn’t bind your freedom. That is, they think of dogma as something forced upon them. This is the perception out there.

But as I said, our times are dogmatic. Our times are dogmatic in this sense: because You see the people in our day and age flocking like cattle to join the various cults [δογματισμούς] that our era has produced. And what is fashion? Fashion is nothing but a cult [δογματισμός]? “Paris says this”, “New York says that”, “The West says this, “Fashion says that”. And you see – I will say it yet again – the people flocking like cattle to this or that pen, which in this sense is called “cult” [δόγμα].

But, my beloved, we are not talking about this kind of dogma.

Because you also see people who want no distinction among religions, and others who have the most uncompromising faith in their atheism. Yes, there is faith in atheism, because have you proved that God does not exist? You believe that God does not exist. Well, today, of course, you also see people with this belief who worship freedom, while they are the most unfree people in all of history. These modern people, while being enslaved to their passions, are inclined to react and say that dogma restricts human freedom, the human intellect, from accepting whatever it wants. This is not how it is, my beloved.

Dogma is truth revealed and enshrined. An example: The sun is a truth. This truth is a dogma. Whether you want to accept it or not, it is a reality. So you will accept that the sun exists and that it has the characteristics it has. Now, when I tell you what the sun is, what do I make? A shrine.

When science reveals what the sun is, after examining it and manifesting what the sun is, this finding is a scientific truth. In the field of Religion, of Faith, such a finding is called a dogma. So it is a reality. Now what does science do with it? It enshrines the truth and presents it to us. This, my beloved, is what dogma is.

For example, the Church comes to us and says that God is Triune. We did not make this up. It was revealed to us. And since it has been revealed to us, it means that we will accept it as a revelation. When someone comes along and wishes to question this truth, then the Church acts to safeguard it, and this safeguard is called a “dogma”. Why does the Church act to safeguard this truth? Because she believes (and this is in fact how it is) that this dogma, this revealed truth, is the foundation of man’s salvation, and if he loses this foundation then he cannot have salvation.

And so, for reasons of love and charity, the Church enshrines this truth, precisely so that man can achieve his salvation, just as we will say Medicine comes to us with a truth and tells us, You will live like this and like this; you will take precautions against sickness by doing this and this and this, so that you do not get sick. This is what our Church is doing, my beloved; it is doing nothing more than to guard, entrench and manifest the revealed truth. And how does She manifest this truth? Pay attention. With a wording. And how is it manifested? By the mouth of the entire Church [the Synods comprised of Holy Fathers]. This is precisely what the Church does. This is dogma. Why, then, are we afraid of it? Why are we terrified? We have even removed the verb “dogmatize” from our vocabulary. Today if we use the verb “dogmatize”, it means I speak an arbitrary opinion. The Church does not speak arbitrarily. That which has been revealed – I repeat – is enshrined and presented.

Having made this clarification, we now arrive at our main point. What dogma, my beloved, did the Fourth Ecumenical Synod enshrine? That Jesus Christ is perfect God and perfect man in one hypostasis [person]. This is the wording the Fourth Ecumenical Synod produced. The wording is necessary and also relevant, because the people in those days were not the only ones to be engaged in these Christological disputes; we too are also engaged in them today. In other words, the wording produced by the Fourth Ecumenical Synod answers the Lord’s question to His disciples and to all of mankind: “Who do the people say that the Son of Man is?” (Mat. 16:13) I present Myself as a Man; what do the people say about Me? Who do they say that I am?”

The person of Christ, my beloved, is the great question and the great question mark in all of world history. There is absolutely no other more burning, fundamentally significant, life-or-death subject than the subject of the person of Jesus Christ, of who Jesus Christ is. I’m not sure if you understand, beloved, just what this question is... Whether there is an America or not, I can live happily. Whether there are stars or not, however many they may be and whether they are inhabited or uninhabited, it is not my concern. If I do not know anything about Science and Technology, it does not concern me; again, I can live happily. If, however, Christ is this or He is not this, it concerns both my present life and my eternal life, because the person of Christ answers “Who am I” as a human being and what my destiny is.

You understand, then, that the question, “What do the people say about Me?” “Who do they say that I am?” is of foundational importance. And the disciples passed on to us what the contemporaries of Christ were saying about Him: “Some say [You are] John the Baptist, but others Elijah, but still others Jeremiah or one of the Prophets (Mt 16:14; cf. Mk. 8:28). So there were various opinions.

And the people of our day, what do they say? Who is Jesus Christ?

Who is Jesus Christ?” is the most relevant of subjects. Some people say, “He is a socialist”; others say, “He is a sage”; a third group says, “He is a magician” (that He studied magical things and tricks somewhere and that He came to show them); still others say, “He is a very good man”, and so on. And the Lord asks the question: And what about all of you, you who have lived around Me, who have the experience of My person – not mere knowledge, but personal experience with Me. “What do you say?” (Because this question, “What do you say?” is asked to every believer of every era.) And the Apostle Peter says: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16:16). As if he were saying to Him: You are a God-man, perfect God and perfect man, because “Christ” refers to the human nature, and “Son of the living God” refers to the divine nature. So this was the Apostle Peter’s answer. This is the answer given by everyone who believes in the person of Christ and is asked: Who is Christ?

It is not always possible, however, for those who have been baptized, who belong to the fold of Christ, to examine Christ first-hand, to have experience of the person of Christ (the “why” is a big chapter which we do not have time to expand on right now), and as a result, the people wonder and ask: “Who is Christ?” So you do not have experience, but you ask anyhow. What answer will I give you? Because you yourself begin to suggest some answers, the Church comes in to enshrine the correct answer and to tell you: Jesus Christ is perfect God and perfect man in one person, in one hypostasis. How important is this truth? This is an enormous truth, my beloved. Pay attention.

Arius, who was confronted by the First Ecumenical Synod, said that Jesus Christ is not God, but is a creation, that He does not have divinity. But now, at the Fourth Ecumenical Synod, the opposite happened. It was said that He is truly God, but that it was not possible for Him to assume human nature, and if He assumed human nature, it was either in semblance, or was absorbed by the divine nature and did not have too much importance. In the History books this is known as Monophysitism [mono (one) – physis (nature)], that is, the belief that Christ has only one nature, the divine, but not the human. These are the two extremes. One position denies the divine nature of Christ and the other denies the human nature of Christ, and both of these extremes are of foundational importance, in that they shipwreck salvation. How do they shipwreck salvation? As for the first position, if Christ is not God, then He is also not able to save, because all creatures have need of salvation, the Angels included.

(This is not the time to expand on this much, because, unfortunately, in a liturgical homily it is not possible to say too many things. Therefore we need to follow homilies that are orderly, comfortable in length, with good reflections, and we need to study in order to be enlightened... The angels also have need of salvation. And do you know when the angels were saved? When the Incarnation of the Son of God took place and they recognized Him as the Son of God who became man. Because not even the angels had seen God. And when they sang Glory to God” (Lk. 2:14), it was in recognition of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Doesn’t the Apostle say, “at the name Jesus every knee shall bow, both in heaven and on earth” (Phil. 2:10)? The angels will also bend the knee to the Son of God. It is a matter of faith. Believing is the final test for the angels. When they believed in the theanthropic nature of Christ, they were established and made firm in salvation, and are no longer in danger – not that they cannot be, they are not unchangeable – but they are not in danger of falling, as some (permit me the expression) comrade angels have fallen, the demons that is.)

So the Angels also have need of salvation. The Angels also have need of faith. The angels believed and they were saved. The representative of the human race, the Mother of God, also believed and was saved – and everyone who believes in the person of Christ is being saved. But whether I am a man, composed of matter and spirit, or if I am an angel, only spirit, I cannot be saved if He in whom I believe is only a creation; because if He were a creation He would not be God, and would have need of salvation, and having the same need of salvation, He could not save the creation.

Let us now go to the other extreme, those who accept only the divine nature and not the human. If you tell me that this does not exist today, that there are only people who deny the divinity of Christ, but not His humanity, you are mistaken. Monophysitism creeps into the entire life of Christians. It creeps in, and only for rejecting the icon of Christ, I am, in fact, a Monophysite, because I deny His human nature. And I say: Is the divine depicted? The divinity certainly cannot be depicted, but if God became man, then He is depicted. Unless I reject the dogma of the icon which was enshrined by the Seventh Ecumenical Synod, then without a doubt, I believe that Christ is truly man.

So if I reject the human nature, what consequences does this have? It has dreadful consequences, as does the first case as well. What are they? It means I believe that God did not really become man, that God did not assume the creation, and because He did not assume it, He cannot heal it. The Fathers say: “That which is not assumed is not healed.”4 Christ assumed not only the material body but also the human soul. There are three things: God the Logos, His human soul and His human body. When we say “became man”, it means that He became these two: soul and body. Moreover, He is one person. He is not two persons, the divine and the human, but one person.

You will say to me, “Mysterious.” Indeed it is. This is precisely why I will say, “I believe”, when I cannot understand the things that are around me. Are there not mysteries in science? Are there not mysteries in nature? Do you think that we understand the mysteries of creation? Do we know what a cell is? Do we know what life is? Do we know what man is? What do we know? Do we know what matter is? Do we know what energy is? We don’t know anything. We only describe. We are not much different from Aristotle who made descriptions of the creatures, the so-called “descriptive science”. We have, of course, explained many things, but we are not much different, because we make a description of the essence of beings; we describe the phenomena but we do not get at the essence of things: What is matter? – I repeat once more – What is energy? What is life? To this day no one has answered. Why then must we say that there are mysteries in creation and no mysteries in Faith? There are, in fact, many more mysteries in the metaphysical world.

But regarding the subject of faith in Jesus Christ, it is not enough for me to say: “I accept that He is perfect God and perfect Man.” No, my beloved, it is not that simple. It is something deeper. This is what I would like to look at now.

Someone can say: “I believe that He is perfect God and perfect Man”, but what does he get out of this? He understands that God came to visit us to become like us – not like He visited us on Sinai – and not only to become like us and to associate with us, but for us to take Him in us, and for Him to take us in Him. That is, an incomprehensible union. We did this today. We communed. How else might one say “we communed”? We became communicants of God. Communicants of God? Yes, through His human nature, and since He is one person, we become communicants of God. This is the great subject, the unfathomable, the most precious. In this present life and in the life to come, the crowning glory for man is that he has communion with God! Do you realize this? It is incomprehensible. And yet, my beloved, this is the reality.

So then, the dogma that the Fourth Ecumenical Synod wants to enshrine is that Christ is perfect man and perfect God. It is a dogma which, truly, we must not only believe, but also experience that we have communion with God. Hear what the Evangelist John says in his preface: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). Here he is referring to the divine nature. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (Jn 1:14). Here he is referring to the human nature. Do you see? The Word became flesh. He does not say “He became man, but says “He became flesh [σάρξ - sarx].” Certainly, the word “flesh” also means “man”, and there are many places in Holy Scripture where man is referred to  as “flesh”, meaning “man”.

But the word “flesh” [σάρξ - sarx] has another particular interpretation, a refined interpretation, which is this: When we say “flesh”, realistically we understand “meat” [κρέας]. Realistically. So when the Evangelist John says, “The Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14), if we were to translate it we could say: The Son of God became meat! It doesn’t sound good to us, but this is the comparable word he would say. Why would he say this? The Evangelist John used this word deliberately. He writes his Gospel account last, and by that time the Apostle Paul is prophesying what the Gnostics will say about Christ (he knows the reality of things, and what the Gnostics who denied the Incarnation of the Son of God would say), so he pens the expression, “the Word became flesh” (1 Tim: 3:16-4:5).)

The Evangelist will tell us the same thing, my beloved. In his First Epistle, again in the preface, he writes: “That which our eyes have seen, our hands have touched and our ears have heard, concerning the Word of Life” (1 Jn 1:1). But is the Word of Life looked at? Is He visible? Is He palpable? Does He make sounds? In other words, with this realistic approach, using three of the five senses, the Evangelist wants to make us understand that the Son of God really became man.

So, perfect God and perfect man. How very grand this is, beloved! If at some point this mere mental knowledge descends into our being, our heart, then it will become experience. And then, always and everywhere, we will sense the theanthropic nature of Christ, and only the God-man Jesus saves, He who is perfect God and perfect man.

Let us be deaf to the foolish pronouncements of our era, of those who say whatever it is they say, the myths, the old wives’ tales about the person of Jesus Christ. Let us study holy Scripture, and we will discover Him within it. Let us keep His commandments, and then He will come and live within us. Listen to what I said: Let us keep His commandments, and then He will come and live within us. That is, we will have experience. He said it Himself: We will come to the one who keeps My commandments, and We will stay within him (Jn 14:23), I the Son and the Father and the Holy Spirit. And He cannot [come and stay] without having experience [of Him].

This is why I told you that it is about experiencing. First I learn it mentally, and then what? Then this something becomes my life, it becomes my experience, and then I can say that both the present life and the future life are but one and the same thing. The present world and the kingdom of God will become one. Everything belonging in God’s love, everything in God’s plan, everything in God’s communion. I am the happiest person.

TO THE GLORY OF THE HOLY AND TRIUNE GOD

Translated from the original Greek by Anthony Hatzidakis, July 10, 2024. The source text utilized for this homily translation was taken from a post on Aktines, July 5, 2023. The Greek text was transcribed by the honorable Mr. Athanasios K. and converted to computer text and edited by Ms. Eleni Linardaki, philologist. The original audio we consulted for this translation can be found at arnion.com. All emphases are the translator’s.

If you are interested in thoroughly studying this most important topic of the Person of Jesus Christ, consider purchasing Jesus: Fallen?, the most comprehensive study on the human nature of Jesus Christ from an Orthodox perspective, written by the late Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis and published by Orthodox Witness (2013). Copies for purchase may also be found at Holy Trinity Bookstore and Amazon.com.

  1. St. Theophylacht of Ochrid and Bulgaria: “He who shall be called ‘least in the kingdom of heaven’ means he who will be last in the resurrection and who will be cast into Gehenna. For such a one shall not enter the kingdom of heaven, far from it!” (The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, p. 49, Chrysostom Press 1992, Tr. Fr. Christopher Stade)
  2. Dogma can mean a) opinion b) a fixed belief c) system of belief, religion d) precept, ordinance
  3. liberalize [φιλελευθεριάζει] – to remove or relax restrictions on something
  4. St. John Damascene, Exposition, Book 3, Chp. 18

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