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a prayer by St Philoxenos of mabbugh:1 - kirk yacoub - 12-04-2007 08:29 AM

Combative times summon forth combative men, and there was none more
combative in the defense and propagation of the Christian faith than St Philoxenos of Mabbugh, a great Father of the Syriac Orthodox Church. By the time he was consecrated as Bishop of Mabbugh, a town some 80 kilometres north-east of Aleppo, in 485, the fierce and fanatical Christological disputes that raged around the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon were in full swing. Philoxenos, who greatly revered St Cyril of Alexandria, brought his learned, eloquent, and fiery voice to rail against not only the Chalcedonians, but the Nestorians as well. As a consequence, in 519, he was ousted from his post as Bishop and exiled to Thrace. In 523
he was martyred in the city of Gangra, Paphlogonia.
His writings include the great compendium of his "Ascetic Discourses", a mighty work aimed primarily at monks, but of great value to every Christian. The fiery power of his knowledge, eloquence and faith are irresistible. His portrait of a glutton, for instance, and the inevitable consequences of a life of gluttony, are vivid enough to put the fear of God into even the most incorrigible couch potato.
However, St Philoxenos was not only a man of fire and thunder, he could express his faith in words of great humility. Witness his prayer to be said before reading the Holy Gospel:
"O Lord, grant me knowledge that I may understand the
salvivic words of Your Son, the Christ. Remove from the
face of my mind the veil of all evil desires. Cause Your
Holy Light to shine into my heart, that with the eye of my
soul I may discern the mysteries of the Holy Gospel. Teach
me, O Lord, the truth of faith in You and observance of
Your commandments, that I may bring forth fruit well
pleasing to You, gaining the talent that will please Your
blessed will. Amen."
Such a prayer is proof that St Philoxenos was not an intellectual know-all
with a proud and violent tongue, but rather that he was filled by the humility that recognises that only God can cleanse, teach, and help us,
that only God's grace can help the frail human tree bring forth pleasing
fruit.

Kirk Yacoub


St. Philoxenus - John Charmley - 12-04-2007 10:22 AM

Dear Kirk,

Many thanks for this - and for the very moving and evocative prayer.

Your comments about his being combative prompt some thoughts about this subject, which is one we tend to find difficult in our world.

The more I read about the Christological dispute, there is a sense in which I become more puzzled. I fail to find non-Chalcedonians confessing 'one nature'; and I am struck by the confusion that existed (and still does in some quarters) over terms such as hyupostasis and ousia. St. Severus, for example, seems quite clearly to be Cyrilline in his Christology, and, like St. Philoxenus, to confess two natures in one hypostasis; that is a fully-divine and full human Incarnation of the Word united, yet not commingled, in one person.

And yet the Chalcedonians persecuted rather than listened; killed rather than tried to understand; resorted to weapons rather than dialogue. To our modern western eyes there is something repugnant in this; an attempt to enforce belief at sword's point seems as unlike anything Our Saviour commanded as we could imagine.

And yet, we can wonder at His economy of salvation, for out of this came a Church which through its persecution found humility and manifested its faithfulness in service and repentance rather than imperial pride. And then in turn, the imperial Orthodoxies of Chalcedon both found their pride brought low - and although their period of suffering has been less than that of the Oriental Orthodox, perhaps they too will have learnt humility and repentance.

The prayer you quote is a moving one - and we can all meditate on it.

In Christ,

John


a prayer by St Philoxenos of Mabbugh:1 - kirk yacoub - 13-04-2007 08:54 AM

Dear John,
Christology can be a dangerous minefield where landmines are often not recognised because the terminology of different participants means that what some call a landmine, others call a cabbage!
The simplest thing is to cling to the Creed, understand that Jesus Christ is God and man simultaneously, and, if those of other denominations keep asking questions, simply continue to ask them to define what they mean in the simplest terms. If I use simply and simplest, it is because the faith that Christ brought to us is the simplest thing in the world, total love for God, total love for all our fellow human beings, no matter what.
I thank God that the Syriac Orthodox and Coptic Churches were not faced with the temptations inherent in being a state religion because this removes certain barriers and institutes certain legal rights that obviously proved to much for certain Chalcedonian Church leaders.
One of the accusations levelled at St John Chrysostom, by the way, was that when he opposed heretics he did so with arguments to persuade, and he refused to use state machinery.
With prayers,
Kirk Yacoub


Christology - John Charmley - 13-04-2007 11:34 AM

Dear Kirk,

Good advice. It seems sometimes as though the Eastern Orthodox want to bring to the Mystery of the Incarnation the sort of scholasticism which the Romans bring to the question of the body and blood of Our Lord. Orthodox folk accept that we receive His body and blood, but we also accept that the 'how' is not known to us; we accept we do through His mercy.

One can quite understand, in the original context, the need to guard against the Apollonian and Nestorian heresies; anything that teaches less than the full humanity of Christ, and His full divinity, contradicts the basis soteriological premise - that was was not assumed could not be healed. One of the difficulties with the Chalcedonian expression of this truth is that it led to problems over 'two wills' - ones which the non-Chalcedonians did not have, because our Christology does not give rise to the problem.

Now, that may simply reflect my lack of reading on these matters, so I shall stop there, take Kirk's good advice - and welcome correction or elucidation from those better able to comment.

In the Risen Lord,

John