The Theology of John Zizioulas – Introduction

John Zizioulas is one of the best known theologians of the contemporary Orthodox Church, a central figure in the ecumenical scene and one of the most cited theologians at work today. This volume demonstrates the unity of Zizioulas’ work by setting out the connections he makes between theology, philosophy and the Church. Its twelve contributors discuss issues of theology, ontology and anthropology in order to assess his view of the relationship of community and freedom. Offering Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant perspectives, they come to a range of conclusions about the degree to which Zizioulas brings these issues together to form a coherent theological ecclesiology, but they agree that Zizioulas presents contemporary thought with an unrivalled expression of Christian theology. This Introduction will set out theological and philosophical context of Zizioulas’ distinctive proposal.

Zizioulas’ central concern is human freedom and the relation of freedom and community. Freedom is not restricted, but enabled, by our relationships with other persons, Zizioulas argues, for the community in which God includes us is the place in which our personal identity and freedom come into being. God is intrinsically communion and free, and his communion and freedom he shares with us. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the source of the communion of the universal Church, and the promise of real freedom for the world. This communion is being actualized by God in the world in the community of the Church. The persons gathered into this communion will come to participate in the freedom of God, and through them the world will participate in this freedom too.
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Preserving God’s Creation 3

In our previous lecture we saw how the Christian Church through her main theological representatives in the early centuries viewed the world as God’s creation. Against Gnosticism she stressed the view that God the Father himself, through his own two hands, the Son and the Spirit, as St Irenaeus put it, created the material universe freely and out of love. Against the Platonists and pagan Greek thought in general she emphasizes that the world was created out of ‘nothing’, in the absolute sense of the word, thus ruling out any natural affinity between God and Creation and at the same time any view of the world as eternal, co-existing with the only eternal and immortal being which is God. This is another way of saying that the world is contingent, that it might not have existed at all, and that its existence is a free gift, not a necessity.
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Preserving God’s Creation 2

In our previous lecture we emphasized the seriousness of the situation with which humanity, indeed our planet as a whole, are faced because of the ecological problem, and tried to look briefly at history in order to see to what extent (a) Christian theology could be regarded as responsible for this ecological crisis, and (b) Christian tradition could be of help in our attempt to deal with this crisis. Our brief and inevitably generalised historical survey led us to the conclusion that Christian Church and its theology have indeed been to a large extent responsible for the emergence of the present ecological problem, but that, in spite of this, they possess resources that can be of help to humanity in this crisis. The ecological problem therefore, although being a problem of science and therefore to a large degree of ethics, education and state legislation, is also a theological problem. As it is evident that certain theological ideas have played an important role in the creation of the problem, so it must be the case too that theological ideas can influence the course of events in the reverse direction.
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5 Office in the Church

What is the purpose of hierarchy? What is the purpose of ordination?
1. The labour of the people
2. Priesthood
3. Ordination
4. Handing on the tradition
5. The rights of the labourer
6. The lack of rights of the labourer

1. The labour of the people

God intends to make a competent and responsive people. The Church is to take on some of the servant character of God and some of the offices of God. It is not that God ceases to exercise his offices. No statement of this sort is possible if we attempt to consider the Church in isolation from Christ its head, or to limit ourselves to statements that merely contrast two natures, identifying a work of God (activity) and a work of man (passivity) in the act of Jesus Christ, or identify after the ascension an action of man presided over by an inaction of God. This people is the work of God who presently labours by his Spirit to bring us into action. God has made man passive in order to give him a new action and life. He gives us his Spirit, and he makes the Church confess this Spirit, and theology must set out a Christological pneumatology.

The whole Christian body is elect to the work of God. This work is to be a demonstration of the victory of the unity of God over all divisive powers. The Body is to participate in its Lord’s work of releasing the world from all the alien authorities that presently hold the world captive. All Christians are members of this new assembly which speaks the truth, which teaches and enables truthful public speech, practises justice and praises God for his justice. The Church is a proleptic parliamentary and juridical assembly. All its members are citizens in a commonwealth: they will all grow up to the fullness of Christ. ‘There are different kinds of gifts but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men’ (1 Corinthians 12.4-11, 28). The service all Christians are engaged is to point away from the premature closure insisted on by all worldly statement, and to witness to the heavenly assembly that works with a more ambitious definition of humanity.

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4 The Office of the Church to the world

The Christian commonwealth and the rule of the people of God
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord…
Calling the Twelve to him he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits… ‘Take nothing for the journey except a staff…’ (Mark 6.7) He said to his disciples ‘The Harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest therefore to send out workers into his harvest field.’ (Matthew 9.37)
1. The Church is the gift of God to the world.
2. The head and the body.
3. Intercession.
4. Paideia.
5. Public political leadership
6. One loaf – the modelling of the new life
7. Truth-telling and competing rationalities and communities

1. The Church is the act of God
The Church is the speech and voice of God to the world. God speaks first, and continues speaking, and alone can say what constitutes a proper conclusion. The breath, the voice and the speaking of God constitute the single action of one indivisible Spirit. The Word, and Spirit, and (spiritual) Body constitute one sacrament. All things are the generosity of God in speech and in provision, for ‘He sustains all things by his powerful word’ (Hebrews 1.3). The Church is that first sign of the coming new creation that the Son shows the Father. The beginning of the Christian (gentile) community represents the unlocking and opening of the one community of God to the whole world and all peoples. It is the commencement of that harvest. The Son united with his body reconstitutes the world as new world and new creation. The world is the burden and charge God puts on the Church, and the Church (united to its head) represents the world to God.
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3 Eucharist

For the baptised, purified community the things of the world announce their maker to us. So for the Christian community, water and bread and wine are God’s opening gambit. By them we learn that these are first instalments. By them we discover that the world is not thing, but course of lessons by which the action and hospitality of God becomes steadily more obvious. These emblems and servants induct us into ever-increasing levels of the full reality of the being of God. They represent the work of this Reality himself – the Word – poured himself out to us, lending us the fullness of his being, but only as fast as that fullness of being himself prepares us to receive it. He does this by supplying us with a succession of subordinate things, each an emblem of the being it is supplied from above, and leads us up to the next and clearer emblem, through a chain of ever improving approximations of perfect reality.
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2 Worship

We worship God. He is God: we are not. We confess that the God of Jesus Christ is the only God.
We concede that there are rival gods, alternative authorities and divinities, but declare that none of them are what they claim to be.

1. Returning praise
2. The trinitarian order of worship.
3. Communion and participation in the life of heaven.
4. Liturgical action as
5. Worship as sacrifice
6. Truth
7. Creeds and plurality

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1 Gathering

The doctrine of the Church starts from the doctrine of God. Who God is will decide what the Church is. Whatever we say about the Church must be controlled by the Church’s own teaching about God. We will not follow the custom of some contemporary ecclesiology to start with sociological pronouncements about the Church. In their place we will assume the competence of God to make whatever he will of his people.

1. The gospel
2. Election
3. Baptism
4. Reconciliation and unity
5. Responsibility of theological statement

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Preserving God’s Creation 1

The subject of these lectures has to do with one of the most pressing and critical issues of our time. It is becoming increasingly evident that what has been named ‘the ecological crisis’ is perhaps the most serious problem facing the world-wide human community. Unlike other problems this one is global, concerning all humans beings regardless the part of the world or social class to which they belong. It is a problem that is not simply to do with well-being but with the very being of humanity and perhaps of creation as a whole. It is difficult to find any aspect of what we call ‘evil’ or ‘sin’ that would bear such all-embracing and devastating power as ecological evil. This way of describing the ecological problem may sound to some ears as a gross exaggeration, yet there are hardly any responsible scientists or politicians who would not agree with it. If we follow the present course of events the prediction of the apocalyptic end of life on our planet at least is not a matter for prophecy but of sheer inevitability.
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