The Theological and Spiritual Foundations of the Return to the Icon.

The importance of the Church canons

Svyataya TroitsaHowever, all this was in essence impossible without the dogmatic rigour that is directly expressed by the genuine, or, as we called it earlier, the « catholic » icon. Uspensky's book, which was subsequently composed of articles that were published little by little, The Theology of the Icon is the result of going deeper into and rediscovering the Orthodox dogma accomplished by the Brotherhood. However, to be fertile, the dogmatic rigour had to be maintained in love, that is to say above all in the communion of the Church. This demonstrates the vital importance of respecting the canons, so essential to the members of the Brotherhood.

       «The miracle of catholicity, writes V.Lossky, reveals in the very life of the Church, the order of the life proper to the Holy Trinity. The dogma of the Trinity, which is « catholic » in essence, is the model, the « canon » of all the canons of the Church, the foundation of all church economy (81)». « The canons of the Church are not magic formulas whose blind application and observance would suffice to create Church unity. They define the limit beyond which the unity of obedience to the Church would be broken, the limit of that unity that excludes any « individual will », in the image of the Holy Trinity where only one Will exists. Or rather, because it concerns the Church, the Body of Christ - an indissoluble union of two wills: « it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us (82)».As long as the canons are respected, the independence of the Church, her freedom with regard to the world, her autonomy remains intact: the Church remains unwavering, invincible through all the centuries of her history despite all the persecutions. (…) But where canons are despised, the sense of the independence of the Church is weakened. Her life merges with that of the world outside (…). In exercising its canonical power, the hierarchy must always pursue a double goal: on one hand, defending the freedom of the Church with regard to elements of this world and on the other, the economy with regard to the world with a view to its salvation (83).

       Thus one can see that the image of the Holy Trinity preserved in the Church through the canons is not in a similarity with the three-hypostatical structure, but in the identical nature of « life », the « unity of obedience », that is to say, the identical character of the bond linking the persons, the communion of love, which corresponds to the unity of nature in God, in the Church and with regard to the world. The loss of this bond implies that the life of the Church « merges with that of the world », whereas the life which is that of the world, is sin, passions, division and death. As to the structure of the Church, it is very clearly described by Saint Paul as that of a human body with its different limbs, the head of which is Christ, or that of a building composed of living stones, the cornerstone of which is Christ (84).

       Father Gregory very powerfully describes this unity of the Church: "This unity, which is the nature of the Church, is the precious vase intact, that safeguards the holiness of the Church. (…). Just as a liquid that can fill only an unbroken vase, in the same way, holiness can be in plenitude only where its unity is undamaged. (…) Any heresy and any schism in the Church mean the destruction of the image of the Holy Trinity, the image in which the indissoluble unity of the Church is born and lives (…) The strength of ecclesiastical unity is not in an elementary uniformity but in an agreement with multiple components; its was born through the indissoluble agreement [of the persons] of the Holy Trinity. (…) The unity of the Church can be understood only in the light of the Holy Trinity. (…). The apostolic succession granted by the Saviour after the Resurrection, received a definitive confirmation in the feast of the descent of the Holy Spirit and was filled with acting glory and the plenitude of spiritual action.

       « The principle of hierarchy, entrusted to the Apostles, shone at the Pentecost with an everlasting purity (85) and the power of the Apostles received the possibility of being transmitted through the laying on of the apostles' hands and, through the right of succession, the laying on of the bishops' hands; it is transmitted, maintained and it acts in the Church as a kind of uninterrupted movement, like an inexhaustible flow (86)».

81) La théologie mystique de l'Eglise d'Orient, Paris, 1944, p. 174.

82) Acts, XV, 28.

83) Lossky, "Ecueils ecclésiologiques", Le Messager n°1, 1950, taken up in 'La Vie Spirituelle', n°19, p.625-626.

84) Among others: First Epistle to the Corinthians XII, 12-27 and Ephesians, 2, 19-22.

85) " It is not permitted to feel distrust for ecclesiastical hierarchy in advance due to the fact that a bishop (or a group of bishops) can always fail in their task. Such an attitude introduces a troubled and anarchical spirit in the life of the Church, a sort of protestant individualism which eventually, does not whish to admit that the Church holds the power of binding and unbinding from Christ himself. She has all the necessary conditions for this power to function without failure." V.Lossky, quoted article, p.627.

86) One can see when reading these lines to what extent Father Gregory perceived in a specific way, with a transfigured and sanctified sensitivity, the highest spiritual realities; in this case, the communion of the Church. Carnets d'un peintre d'icônes, p.95-98.

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