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George Dion Dragas
University of Durham

The Church in St. Maximus' Mystagogy
The Problem and the Orthodox Perspective

From "Theology", no 1, 1985

Chapter 2 : Saint Maximus' Mystagogy

A careful study of the Mystagogy as a whole reveals a threefold general structure. There are three main sections to the treatise, placed between a sizeable Preface (προοίμιον) and an extensive Epilogue (ανακεφαλαίωσις), and they deal respectively with a) the eikons or visions of the holy Church of God (ch. 1-7), b) the holy synaxis (i.e., the divine liturgy) of the Church of God (ch. 8-21), and c) the way in which the divine institutions of the holy Church lead the human soul to her perfection through a true and active understanding (ch. 22-24)(3)

In this essay it is the first section of the treatise, a unit of its own, that constitutes the object of analysis and evaluation; but first a general look at the Preface will serve as a natural introduction to Saint Maximus' doctrine.

The opening sentences of the Preface speak of the mystical visions of a great spiritual Father about the holy Church and the holy gathering, which takes place in it as the source of inspiration for the present treatise. Further along in the Preface the identity of this great spiritual Father is disclosed and so is his great work, which contains the spiritual visions of the Church. He is the «all-holy and truly revealer of God, Dionysios the Areopagite», and the work under consideration is his treatise on the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy.(4).

Maximus explains that his intention in writing his Mystagogy is not to treat the same subject as Dionysios, and certainly not to «compete with him on the mysteries which were revealed to the holy man alone by the operation of the Holy Spirit.» Rather, he intends to present on the one hand these things which others have not presented or examined, thinking that Dionysios had included them in his own exposition, and on the other hand those things by which the ray of light, which is communicated through the liturgy is actually perceived (5). Saint Maximus does not promise to present in sequence all the things which the blessed old man saw in his vision, because, as he admits, he is not himself capable to match the purity of his teacher, and purity (the life of virtue) is regarded as the presupposition for the mind to reach a direct comprehension of the given reality and express its totality in words. Nevertheless, Saint Maximus promises to offer what his memory retains and what the grace of God has given him.

The last point concerning the grace of God constitutes for Maximus the fundamental presupposition of his ecclesiology. No one, he says, can understand and far less express the great mystery of the Church, or the Church's liturgy, without the help of the grace of God, whereby he is delivered from the passions and is raised above «the mind of the flesh.» In other words, the understanding of the divine mysteries is not conditioned merely by man's rational capabilities, but primarily by man's reception of God's grace and purity of life. The «mind of the flesh» is the power, which governs «the man of passions.» The fleshly desires attach him to the fleshly surface of persons and things and do not allow him to rise above creation to the transcendent Creator. Only by the illumination of man's mind, which is granted by God to him who denies the flesh and seeks God's assistance, is ecclesiological apprehension and exposition possible. This really means that the connection between man's humanity and the Church is fundamental. The one presupposes the other, or the one reveals the other. With these preliminary clarifications, Saint Maximus moves to the first main theme of his treatise, the understanding of the holy Church of God by means of eikons.


3. - I prefer this three-fold division instead of the usual two-fold division mentioned by the contemporary exegetes (i.e. ch. 1-7 and ch. 8-24; ch. 24 being a recapitulation of the treatise).

4. - On the relation of the Mystagogy to Pseudo-Dionysios' Ecclesiastical Hierarchy see Ch. Soteropoulos' The Mystagogy of St. Maximus the Confessor, Athens, 1978 (In Greek), pp. 55-75. Cf. also G. Bebis: «The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy of Dionysios the Areopagite», Gr. O. Th. R., vol. xix (1974) pp. 159-175.

5. - Cf. Mystagogy, ch. 1.

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