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Home / PATRISTIC TEXTS, WORKS & TEACHINGS / TREASURY OF ORTHODOXY: Bishop Theophilos of Campania; LESSON 1 – ON GOD THE CREATOR OF ALL THINGS

TREASURY OF ORTHODOXY: Bishop Theophilos of Campania; LESSON 1 – ON GOD THE CREATOR OF ALL THINGS

FOREWORD

There are numerous works entitled “Treasury of Orthodoxy” within the Greek language, which have different authors, and as it seems belong to a specific genre of writing within the Byzantine and Post-Byzantine ecclesial tradition. The particular focus of this genre is to provide an anthology of essential items of faith, liturgical rites, Scripture and ecclesial teaching on morals and ethics within an easily comprehensible presentation that is “spiritually edifying” to the believer. The format in which these works do this, is through the simple dialogue between a “holy elder” who responds to the questions of an “inquisitive believer” who seeks to learn and ground their faith firmly within what is the Christian witness and ecclesial phronema. As such, these summaries were reliable references to which the faithful and catechumens were able to turn to, in familiarising themselves with the fundamentals of Christian teaching, but they were probably used as textbooks for religious instruction by parish priests or catechetical schools as a means of introduction to more complex subject matters.

The “Treasury of Orthodoxy” version which we have translated according to its various order of lessons, is ascribed to the Epirote, Theophilos, who was Bishop of  Campania, and whose work is one of deep eloquent simplicity that is a treasure-trove of Orthodox faith and spirituality.

Notwithstanding this, we should also note that until presently, we have not encountered an English translation of Bishop Theophilos’ “Treasury of Orthodoxy” to which we found rather puzzling, particularly given its very practical and spiritually edifying teachings in core elements of Orthodox Christian Faith. It was thus this absence of an English translation or publication, which prompted us to undertake this task, in order to allow others to partake of this gem of wisdom.

Nevertheless we should also note that translations are only as good as the translators themselves, who must strive with immense difficulty to remain authentic to both the literal and deeper meaning of a text. In this present case, the difficulty lies within the careful economy of words and their syntax which gives the direct meaning, but also bestow the implied teaching and understanding automatically to the Greek reader. Whereas in the English language we have to compensate by writing footnotes and extend sentences to ensure the clarity of the original text.

We have tried to the best of our ability, given the fact that we are not a professional translator in the employ of a publishing house, but we do have an appreciation of the nuances of the language. Nonetheless it should be noted that the things that are spoken of, are things that have been bestowed freely by the Holy Spirit upon the communion of the faithful and are neither my own words nor that of Bishop Theophilos either.

The texts upon which we rely on are three versions of Theophilos’ work. The version that is commonly known and utilised is one published by Vasilis Rhighopoulos Publishers and is an abridged text that is shorter than the other two versions, which were both published in 19th century Constantinople by now defunct publishers. Our personal preference and dependence of course is upon the more commonly available Rhighopoulos version, but where its text is not clear, vague or not as detailed, we inevitably rely on the other textual versions to help supplement these deficiencies, as well as assist our effort of translation. Therefore I hope you enjoy reading the forthcoming translations that we will publish on Mode Of Life and can take something of spiritual value for your own journey of faith. Thank you. –V.M.

LESSON 1 – ON GOD THE CREATOR OF ALL THINGS

Q. Holy Elder, could you first speak about God as Creator, and what this means for us as believers?

A. Through God’s boundless and limitless prayerful love and good (αγαθότητα), He first brought into being the Angelic powers. For as it is written in the Book of Job: “When I created the Luminaries, in other words the Sun, the Moon and all the Stars, with a great voice My Angels glorified Me”. St. Gregory the Theologian also in commenting on this passage, cited that this reference to “angels” refers to all the angelic powers. Therefore we can deduce that after the creation of the angels, God created the Heavens and the Earth, and subsequently all that is within them.

Finally, humanity was created as the crowning glory and testimony of His creative work, and to which everything else was created to serve and sustain. This is epitomised by the fact, that the King of Creation, God, further honoured humankind by placing us within Paradise, (that is the Garden of Eden).

However, we should note, that this great blessing was not a carte blanche for humanity to abuse God’s creation, despite the honour of having dominion, in other words stewardship over creation which served and sustained them. Yet as we will soon see, humanity will abuse the serving sustenance of God’s creation and utilise it as if it were its own personal property to dispose of as they please.

Nevertheless, let us return to our response to your enquiry, because the next part we should examine is the very nature of humanity. For God did not create humanity to be physically immortal, as evidenced within Scripture and Tradition, whereby humanity still needed sustenance in order to live. However God did create humankind for immortality by grace, provided that they would remain steadfast to His Precepts (Commands), and through progressive effort along this guided path will attain immortality. For God did not create or wish death upon humanity, as evidenced by the longevity of Enoch and Elias (Elijah) who were blessed with divine grace and never witnessed death.

Yet humanity was created with logical reason and free-will, since it is not possible for one to have logic and to be deprived of free-will, because for logic/reason to attain its full potentiality requires free-will to exercise it to its very limits (that of course within the parameters of our natural and environmental circumstances). Yet God planted a clear but unsullied ethos within the angels and humanity, together with “blameless” (uncorrupted) passions on which was enthroned the Nous, which governed and reigned over these elements in a sober and eternal manner, thus directing our compass point towards immortality. It is for this reason that we say that God did not create Adam as a complete and perfect being in the physical sense, but blessed him with the means to attain wholeness and perfection through freely manifesting virtue and sound intent.

Alternatively put, perfection and wholeness is attained through a learning curve which is encompassed within our experiential journey of life. You may ask why did God make things in this manner? We can only answer in hindsight, according to the witness of our Christian Faith and its Tradition, which observes that what we gain too easily, we esteem too little and thus neither appreciate it, or assimilate it into our lives, nor perceive or comprehend it effectively. In other words, we would be spoiled rotten, hence the need for us to undergo the learning process of life and experience.

In proceeding with the creative effort, God thought it was only proper that Adam should have a companion and co-worker, and so Adam is placed within a state of ecstatic sleep, and from his side God created Eve.

Notwithstanding all this creative process, humanity was gifted with innumerable graces and freedom to partake within the beautiful riches of creation, but to prevent humanity from becoming neglectful of their life-long journey of learning or forgetfulness of their Creator and God, one condition was placed before them. That condition was the one and only command that God gave to Adam and Eve, which in reality was sound advice, and was simply that they should not partake of the fruit which would be an obstacle and barrier to their attainment of immortality and well-being. [1]

Therefore, immortality and well-being hinged on their fidelity to remain steadfast and authentic to their calling, while being receptive to sound advice. Regretfully the devil, the murderer of many, sought to destroy this unsullied organ of creation (humanity), by mistreating and mishandling Adam and Eve in order that they become worn-out useless tools within the hands of God and creation, and thus cease serving as stewards of creation and disciples of immortality. In his murderous intent he took the form of a serpent, and hence degrading that being also, he sought to devour Eve’s soul by encouraging her to consume the dangerous fruit, asserting that through its consumption she shall become a god, or at least god-like.[2]

Of course in looking back in hindsight, we can see the foolishness of this, since the devil, like an unethical merchant, was selling humanity counterfeit goods which offered an easier and convenient life without the necessary work or effort involved. Yet like all things promised by an easy life without effort or exertion, its fruit would prove sour, if not downright rotten.

The fateful action was taken, and Eve consumed the fruit. She then passed the fruit onto Adam, who, enraptured and persuaded by his unfocused and unquestioning love for Eve, failed to identify the errant and “illogical” direction to which she had taken. He failed to help guide her away from entering further into disaster, and thus salvage her situation. Yet he makes circumstances worse, by also consuming the fruit of catastrophe, and at that point the two are stripped naked of the divine grace which led to their goal of immortality and protected them from nakedness and decay.

Hence, the very thing which supposedly sought to bestow upon them immortality and divinity, gave them mortality instead. What an irony, they became naked and had fallen from grace, and instead of becoming immortal they became mortal. Just think about, how we too, follow in their footsteps in trying to do things according to our own reasoning and not according to reality, but as you can see that is the possible danger that free-will can pose for each of us!

Nonetheless, you may ask what is the burden of missing the mark (amartia – sin) as Adam and Eve did, and it is not a matter of obedience as some may assert. The burden falls on something far deeper and fundamental, that of trust, because neither had trusted in the words or guidance of God, who spoke in love when advising them that “if they consume the dangerous fruit they will come to know death”. Instead Adam and Eve place their trust in a fellow created being, which ironically was the devil who sold them a deception, claiming that “if you consume the fruit, you will become gods”. There are those who are pedantic and cite that Eve placed her trust in the devil, and Adam placed his trust in Eve, either way the result is the same, you are still placing your ultimate trust not in God the author of life and the source of love and sustenance, but in a fellow created being.

As a result of this great feat of transgression, Adam and Eve are angrily expelled from the delightful environs of Paradise which provided for their every need, losing the grace of immortality, exposed and naked in a permanent state of sorrow and hard labour upon the earth in order to survive.

In time, these two mortal and impassioned beings give birth to offspring, the murderous Cain and the righteous Abel. As we know from Scripture, Cain seething with jealousy, murders his innocent brother Abel, and thus like his parents, was overcome with immeasurable grief and sorrow for his ungodly action. Naturally Cain worries and sighs in fear, trembling in the knowledge that by his own hand he has become accursed in the sight of God and all creation, and so he departs from the land of Eden and God’s presence. According to Holy Tradition, he takes his sister Saein as his wife, and the two of them give birth to numerous sons and daughters.

However we should cite in parenthesis, that there is no mention anywhere of Cain making an effort towards repentance and reconciling himself to God, because the Almighty who created life, did so out of love, since He had no need of praise or companionship, because He is and exists always, irrespective of time or creation. Thus the act of creation can only be explained through a divine desire of love to which we cannot perceive or emulate in its entirety, but we try to mirror it in reality. Therefore we should ask, would not the same loving Creator have forgiven Cain, or let us consider the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Paradise of Eden as an act of pedagogical love. Does not a parent utilise the rod to discipline a child to prevent them from manifesting errant behaviour again, so that when in adulthood, the offspring would not re-manifest that bad behaviour which could bring about the violation of the law and cause their imprisonment, all due to their lack of self-control.

Nevertheless, St. Epiphanios draws our attention to Scripture, highlighting that Adam had another son named Seth who took his sister Azouran as his wife, and from these two, many offspring come forth who in accordance to God’s command, multiplied. Yet this period of time was one of immense hardship and barbarity, as the sins and evil of humankind multiplied.

That of course is till the birth of Noah, who together with his wife, three sons and their wives, were the only ones who strove towards righteousness and good deeds, often being mocked by their fellow man. Yet this should not come as a surprise, given that people at that time had ceased worshipping God, and had turned their attention instead towards satisfying their own sinful and hedonistic desires and whims. As a consequence, God takes the fateful step of bringing forth upon humanity, a cataclysm of global proportions in order to save humanity from degenerating into further iniquity.

However due to Noah’s fidelity towards God’s calling to immortality, which we call salvation, he is notified about the impending catastrophe and is told to flee from the place of his dwelling and to construct an Ark. For within this Ark, he and his family, together with pairs of all living things, shall remain to ensure the survival of every genus and aspect of created life. If I recall well St Epiphanios’ commentary, the Hebrew word for ark is “Thivotha”, and can be roughly interpreted to mean “the place which resembles all other places no matter where one stands”.[3]

In any case, the Cataclysm occurs, and all peoples and animals outside the Ark drowned to death within the waters that inundated the earth. When the waters had subsided and all those who dwelt within the Ark came out, offering sacrifices and thanksgiving to God for their deliverance, the place of their disembarkment was named “The Place of Landing/Settlement”. As for the relics of the Ark, they remained upon the very land on which it had settled on after the flood, and they remained there for many generations to which countless people suffering from various illnesses or infirmities visited to seek healing. The therapeutic healing that was bestowed, a blessing of God’s grace, upon many of these visiting multitudes is a prefigurement of the Ark of our Holy Church whose task is to heal and unite humanity to God and the vocation of immortality.

As for Noah and his sons on whom God’s blessing was upon them, they began the task of reconstruction and repopulating the earth with the multitude of humanity.

Dedicated to Fr Petar Mrakic, a man worthy of his vocation and who bears within him all the ideals that characterise the beauty and piety of the Serbian people. We also dedicate this translation to Vasily Makeev who is a steadfast Orthodox Christian brother who does not hide the truth, nor shies away from speaking it despite any possible consequences or pain, but proclaims it with love and sincerity.

Translated by V.M.

_________

[1] The natural and most literal translation of the word empodismenon in reference to the fruit would be “the forbidden fruit”, but within the sentence and grammatical structure of the text, a more precise translation would be to call it “the fruit of obstacle” or “the fruit which is a barrier”. Furthermore if the author wanted to say “the forbidden fruit” he could easily utilise the word απαγορευμένον, which was used in the works of fellow contemporaries and specifically means forbidden, denied or restricted.

[2]Regarding this metaphor of the ‘fruit of the Apple Tree’, St Gregory of Nyssa gives a more direct spiritual insight. He states that ‘the charm of the apple tree is harmoniously proportioned to the three senses: it gives pleasure to the eye by its beauty, to the sense of smell by its fragrance, but also to the sense of taste by its nourishment’. The soul or the human being however, must recognise the difference between the charm of creation, and its Lord. So he says: ‘As Light, He is an object of beauty for our eyes; He is a sweet odour for our sense of smell; and Life for those who partake of Him. He that eateth Him, as the Gospel says, shall live (John 6:58)’. St Gregory of Nyssa is saying that the only thing that should charm a person at their deepest level of love should be the Lord. Nothing else, no idol should stand in between loving the Lord, not even loving your own self more than Him, since He is our Life. Jean Danielou, From glory to glory: Texts from Gregory of Nyssa’s Mystical Writings (Crestwood, New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1979), 175.

[3] It seems that Bishop Theophilos is pointing out that the Ark is a microcosm of creation and that irrespective where you are in the world, you will find the exact same place within the Ark. In effect the Ark is the compass point which contains all within it, and is the measure and standard of each place.

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