image with the sign of Myriobiblos

Main Page | Library | Homage | Seminars | Book Reviews





Internet Dept.



Previous Page
George Dion Dragas
University of Durham

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

From "Theology", no 1, 1985

Chapter 4 : The Church as the Eikon of the World (7)

In the first instance St. Maximus spoke of the Holy Church as a communion of people in the one saving faith and grace of Christ, which exhibits in an eikonic way the union of God with the whole world in Creation. In the second instance he speaks of the Church as the eikon of the world itself, composed of invisible and visible realities (αόρατοι και οραταί ουσίαι). In line with the classical, Biblical and Hellenic patristic traditions Maximus sees the world as consisting of invisible and visible things, which are at the same time united and distinguished. He finds a similar distinction and union applying to the Church. But here he views the Church not as the mystical body of Christ, but as the liturgical community gathered together in concrete space and location and consisting of priests and laity. The Church as a liturgical community, he says, is one edifice or one house, which admits of a functional distinction among its occupants referring to position or form and expressed in an analogous distinction in space. This is the distinction between the place allotted to the priests and leaders of the liturgy, which we call «the Holy Place» (το ιερατείον), and the place open to all the faithful, which we call «the Temple» (ο ναός). The space of the Church however, remains one, without being divided by the division of its parts owing to the functional difference, which exists between them.

But even these very parts themselves declare their identity by their reference to their own Unity, which delivers them from their differences of calling. Thus, although these two parts exist in mutual coinherence, the Church reveals what each one of them constitutes in itself. She shows «the Temple» to be «the Holy Place» in a dynamic way, because the latter directs to the former its Divine Liturgy (μυσταγωγία) as its end. At the same time, She shows «the Holy Place» to be «the Temple» because it is from the latter that the Divine Liturgy begins. Thus the Church remains one and the same in both through mutual coinherence.

Now what we see taking place in the space of the Church, says Maximus, is but an eikon of what takes place in the universe of the entire cosmos, which is created by God. In the universe we have a division between the intelligible world (νοητός κόσμος) consisting of intelligible realities (νοεραί ουσίαι) and the «sensible or somatic world» (αισθητός και σωματικός κόσμος), weaved together as with hands into magnificent combination of many kinds and natures (ειδών τε και φύσεων). This «hand-made world» reveals with wisdom another world «made-without-hands», which has another manner of existence. These two worlds resemble the two parts of the Church as a liturgical community gathered in a specific place. Thus the world itself is a «Holy Place» (ιερατείον), in as much as it involves «the world above», which has been distributed to the powers above (the angels), but it is also «a Temple» in as much as it contains «the world below, which has been allocated to those who were allotted the life of the senses. And yet, says Maximus, the world is one and is not divided by the division of its parts. On the contrary, by relating them to its unity and by negating all their divisions, it brings under control the division of its parts owed to their particular natures. Thus we are shown that «the world above» and «the world below are mutually identified with each other and with «the world itself» without confusion, so that the one enters entirely into the other. These parts complete together the totality of the world and the world itself as a totality completes each one of them in their particular unity and integrity. In other words, the entire noetic or intelligible world, which is seen by angels, is mystically typified by means of symbolic representations in the whole sensible world, which is seen by men. Also, the whole sensible world finds its existence inside the noetic world by expanding itself into rational patterns (λόγοις). The sensible world is inside the noetic one by means of the rational patterns of its contents, and the noetic world is inside the sensible one by means of types (τύποις). However, their function is one, since it is as if there was one wheel inside another, as Ezekiel puts it (Ezek. 1-16). The Apostle spoke about the same thing when he referred to «the invisible things of God being seen from the beginning of the world through the visible ones» (Rom. 1:20). Now, if the unseen things become visible through the things that are seen, the reverse should also apply, i.e. the unseen things should be accessible to those who subject the visible things to spiritual contemplation. For the symbolic contemplation of the intelligible (noetic) things through the visible things is the spiritual knowledge and understanding of the visible realities on the basis of the invisible ones. The law, which applies here, is that the things which denote each other should have their mutual denotations in a true and obvious manner and also keep intact or unimpaired whatever relationship is founded upon them.

What Maximus is really saying here is that the Church as a community has a twofold structure, priestly and lay, which, however, forms one unity and is permeated by a law of coinherence or circumincession, whereby each enters totally into the other without losing its distinctive identity. As such the Church is an eikon of the world, the only difference between Her and the world being that the former pertains to the humanity, whereas the latter to creation in general. Man's life in the world and particularly the perception of the duality in unity of intelligibility and matter is an eikon of man's life in the Church and the perception of the duality in unity of the priestly and lay ecclesiastical dimensions. In both perceptions, the cosmic and the ecclesiastical, the emphasis is laid on the activity of coinherence, which is the dynamic basis of the unity of the world and the Church.


7. Mystagogy ch. 2.

Previous Page