by Protopresbyter fr. George D. Metallinos (+ 19-12-2019)
Professor Emeritus of the Athens University School of Theology
ALL THINGS COMMUNAL
“But do not omit to do good and to share” (Hebr.13:7-16)
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When we refer to community struggles and community concerns, we usually turn our thoughts to the variously named social systems, because we think that only they concern themselves with man’s social life. But this is only because we are ignorant of our Christian sources. So, if one were to hear the catch-phrase “ALL THINGS COMMUNAL”, it would be regarded as anything but Christian, and its herald as a suspicious bearer of “anti-Christian” ideas and revolutionary trends.
A society of theosis, love and equality
As an «exit» from the «enclosure», as the cessation of all relations - not only with the anti-Christian hostility of Judaism but also with the world of sin – is how the Apostle Paul sees the life of the Church. The reason for this, he continues, is because “we do not have a permanent homeland here, but we yearn for the one that is to come”. A course towards the heavens and eternity is the life of the Church, who has Her own means for salvation. The Church is a self-sufficient “society of theosis and salvation”; but the Church’s worship and Her thanksgiving reference to God are not expended in hymns and prayers; they are also supplemented with “sacrifices”, that are God-pleasing. And according to Paul, those God-pleasing sacrifices are the “doing good and sharing”.
The Apostle Paul wrote these things to the Hebrews, because he knew that they were the daily praxis of the Church. Besides, he himself had likewise recommended to the Corinthians: “For, not so that others be convenienced and you afflicted, but for the sake of equality, so that your abundance at the present time will be for their shortage; so that their abundance will likewise be for your shortage— so that there be equality…“ (2 Cor.8:13-14). It was on the Holy-Spiritual basis of common ownership that the community life of the ancient Church was founded; not only in Jerusalem, but wherever a local church was founded, as proven by the respective words by Paul.
Just how this truth functioned in practice can be seen in the “itinerary of the ancient Church”, in the Acts of the Apostles (ch.2:44 and 4:32). There we read that “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need”.
That this was not just a brief and transient flash of love, it suffices to recall the “Didache of the Apostles” – a text from the beginnings of the 2nd century – where that same apostolic proclamation is repeated: “You shall not remain indifferent towards the one who is in need, but you shall have EVERYTHING IN COMMON with your brother, and you shall not say that (all that you have) are yours, because, when you have the immortal element (the Grace of God) in common, how much more so should you have in common the mortal elements (the worldly and transient material things)!” (Ch.4:58).
The fruit of in-Christ love
But how was this message experienced and applied by the Christians? Does this social principle of the Church have anything in common with other, familiar theories? Of course not, because it is not merely a slogan, or a law that demands implementation by force. It is a natural fruit of man’s communion with the Grace of God, which renders him worthy of displaying that love towards his brethren. Outside the body of Christ, His Grace and His Mysteries, it can never be applied correctly; and wherever it sounds like a social request, without the Holy-Spiritual prerequisites of the Church, it remains a void and inactive word.
Eventually the rich and the poor become Christians. They meet, in the new community of Grace, in the body of Christ, and they incessantly receive His Grace in order to defeat death and deterioration. The Grace of God is the spiritual rain that irrigates everyone and everything, without discrimination and exception. From the moment of our Baptism we all become equal in the face of the salvation that is gifted to us by the Triune God – men and women, glorious and inglorious (Gal.3:28). The Holy Spirit also distributes charismas to everyone without discrimination (1 Cor.12). Inside the Body of Christ we all become brethren between us. The power that unites us in an unbreakable social unity; it is the Grace of God, which is expressed in our lives as love.
Inside the family of the Church, we do not have the right to misappropriate the spiritual gifts (charismas) : to individually regard them as “ours”. If we do not activate them by converting them into ministering to our brethren, we will be burying our talent (Matth.25), which is tantamount to denying Divine Grace.
Whatever is done with spiritual gifts must also be done with the material ones that we have in our hands – not unjustly of course, nor with exploitation. Because if we acquire them through exploitation and injustice towards others (especially as Christians), then we are neither Christians, nor do the words of the Apostle apply to us… And we also have no right to regard material goods as “our property”, because they too are the gifts of God’s love, even if we have earned them through toil – with our labour – given that all our strengths are likewise a gift of His, and absolutely nothing is “ours”.
Hence, one Christian does not snatch another’s material goods, just as he would never even think of snatching his spiritual goods. But, regardless of whose hands the spiritual and material goods are in – they are COMMON. Without constantly changing possessors, they belong to EVERYONE, because in the time of our brother’s need - be it spiritual or material - they also become his, in order to serve his need. This is also where freedom is based: in those who have been truly reborn in the Church and where it has culminated in the monastic absence of possessions and voluntary poverty. From the moment that one is not tied to “his” possessions, he is truly free. And it is from that moment, that “our” material possessions become COMMON in reality.
Living models of common possession and love are our Saints, of course. Whosoever of them happened to have a fortune, had distributed it among the poor, before freely submitting themselves to the struggle for deification (theosis). Such were the Three Major Hierarchs who are aptly honoured: not only were they the patrons of Hellenic-Christian education; they were also projected by Orthodoxy as major social benefactors. However, instead of us singing their praise with our feeble words, we consider it more appropriate to listen to their words, which, above all else, testify that they too had lived within the ideals of the ancient Church and had thus shaped their own social ministry. And first of all, Basil the Great: in his homily “In Famine and Drought” (in case of hunger and aridity), he advised: “…let us emulate the example of the “three thousand”. Let us envy the way of life of the first Christians, when everything was common to them all – that is, their lives, souls, agreement, common meals, an indivisible brotherhood and unfeigned love - which united and made the many bodies one, and which bonded the souls into one mindset.” (Ε.P. 31, 324).
Then as the blessed Chrysostom would once again note in his interpretation of the 4th chapter of Acts: “...If, at the time, there were no more than three to five thousand faithful… and they had dared to actualize the sharing of possessions, how much more so could it be done today, when, with the Grace of God, the world is filled with many faithful? Who would then have continued to be an idolater? At least I believe that NO-ONE would. In that way, we could make everyone a Christian… So, if we were to continue in that direction, I believe that gradually, also with the Grace of God, that which seems unachievable now, will be accomplished… If God grants me more years, I believe that I will soon lead you into such a way of communal coexistence.” (E.P. 60, 98).
But even Gregory himself – that Theologian of “flight” towards solitude and “quiet” – had made room in his Theology for proclamations such as: “You, who hold on to things that belong to others, should be ashamed of yourselves and should emulate God’s kind of equality; that way, no-one will be left poor…” (Ε.P. 35, 889)! Such is Orthodoxy, in its authentic dimensions. Spirituality and Sociability, perfectly fraternized, compose that way of life - which has DEIFICATION as its final destination.
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