Orthodox -- Unification Dialogue -- Constantine N. Tsirpanlis Editor 1981


Patricia Gleason: Thank you, Dr. Tsirpanlis. We have time for about fifteen minutes of questions to Dr. Tsirpanlis. Would anybody like to start? Dr. Matczak?

Dr. Matczak: Yes, I would like to ask one question. You said that the angels could not restore the distorted image of God in man because they were not created in the image of God. But, if you accept that the offense was not infinite, then men could restore this image of God. Then, why do you think that the Incarnation was absolutely necessary?

Dr. Tsirpanlis: Well, men could not restore themselves because they were fallen. They were subject already to death, mortality, corruptibility, and corruption of the image of God. Therefore, man needed someone with the original image, who was Jesus, the image of His Heavenly Father.

Dr. Matczak: Good. That is, Jesus was without original sin.

Dr. Tsirpanlis: Absolutely.

Dr. Matczak: Then he was without original sin, but why does He need to be God to restore the image of God in man?

Dr. Tsirpanlis: This is, of course, the eternal question of traditional theology and Christianity: how humanity became united with Divinity, or how humanity was divinized? Because if we accept that Jesus Christ assumed the form of sinful humanity, we cannot really answer the question, how Jesus redeems us. Now if we say on the other hand that Jesus assumed the form of sinless humanity, how then could a sinful humanity be redeemed by a sinless Jesus? Well, now, my answer is that Jesus assumed a potentially sinful human form even though he was actually sinless, coming through the womb of Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit. More than this I'm unable to say -- the early Church Fathers did not solve this. It is a mystery. How humanity was united with the Divinity of Jesus without change, without division, without separation -- this is to me a mystery that is subject to faith. I always believed so and I will always believe so.

Dr. Matczak: But is it also a mystery why Christ had to be Incarnated? Is that a mystery, or can we somehow explain it reasonably? As I see it, if you said that the offense was not infinite, and Jesus had sinless human nature, and sinless human nature has the Divine image, sinless human nature was without sin, and consequently did not have to be divinized, then couldn't man restore the image of God which was lost in Paradise?

Dr. Tsirpanlis: Now, this is a difficult point. The eternal offense, or the so-called absolute offense of God's justice and His holiness, to which you referred, Dr. Matczak, is taken into account by the Church Fathers of the early Church. No doubt Adam and Eve offended the holiness and justice of God. But that was not the main reason for the Incarnation. The main reason for the Incarnation, for the Logos, or the Word, or Jesus Christ was rather the deification, theosis. This Incarnation was to make man capable of restoring the image, the correct knowledge of his God, because Adam and Eve lost the true vision of true God, and man became alienated from God's grace. The image of God was also obscured and corrupted, and because of this Adam and Eve could not see God as clearly as before. So Jesus Christ who was the only perfect and pure image of His Heavenly Father, of our Heavenly Father, of God, He alone could restore the image of God in man. The angels could not, because they were not created in the image of God. How could they restore something which they do not possess? But Jesus Christ was exactly the perfect image of God and that perfect image was corrupted in man. Now, how Jesus assumed the corrupted image of the sinful humanity through Mary, how he purified the sinful humanity through his life, we don't know because we have so many gaps. We know nothing of Jesus up to age twelve when he was presented in the temple. And we don't know the period between twelve years and thirty years. How can we imitate Jesus' life and Jesus' holiness which is the basis, the source of theosis if we don't know what He did in His private life? But at least we have the written documents of the Gospels which tell us what Jesus' life was like, His public life and preaching. My conclusion is that sinful humanity was redeemed by Jesus' death and resurrection, but not magically, which is the Protestant view -- the sacrificial blood of Jesus redeemed my sins, and so on, sacrifice, the emphasis on sacrifice -- but rather through His selflessness, love, humility, and Divinity. If I imitate His life course, I love my enemy and I love others as myself. To me, Jesus is the fulfillment of revelation, but He does not close the door to any messenger, to any genuine child of God who tries to regenerate, recreate our sinful and corrupted society and world. This is an open door. The one who is most highly qualified to do that, to me, is the second Jesus, or the Lord of the Second Advent. Perhaps Jesus Christ will not come again during our lifetime, but, there are some signs, some very strong signs that He is here!

Dr. Matczak: You opened many questions here, and we cannot discuss all these questions. There are too many. But may we come back to the original question, the need of Incarnation. Without an infinite offense I don't see how we need the Incarnation.

Dr. Tsirpanlis: This is exactly what you deem difficult, but it isn't for me. I don't emphasize the offense against God's justice so it doesn't matter to me whether the offense is finite or infinite. This is the purely legalistic approach to salvation and to the Incarnation. What I emphasize is eternal life, theosis, and the divinization of man, the restoration of the image of God, and the change of death into eternal life. Now the offense to God's justice -- this is the legalistic approach of Tertullian, Augustine and Ambrose who were primarily lawyers in the Roman courts, and then they became theologians, but they never forgot their background of legal studies. Now obviously, they were extremely influenced by the legal procedures of the Roman court. Also, Tertullian was a Montanist, and I highly respect him because he had the courage to become a Montanist. Montanism was the new prophecy and the regeneration of the corrupted Church of the second century, as you know; and Tertullian liked Montanism because it was a challenging movement against the progressive secularization of the early Church. God bless Tertullian -- he's in paradise, I hope. (Laughter) Still, I don't share his legalistic approach to salvation.

Dr. Matczak: This term "legalism" is extremely misleading. Instead of saying "legalism" I would say "explanation" of salvation because I would not agree that my concerns are legalistic. I reject this term. It's not really the position of the Roman Catholic Church or of the Protestant Church. But going now to my question, this precisely is my question, then, the image of God in man: can it be restored by a sinless man? You may say, how can the humanity of Christ be sinless? How was Jesus conceived, immaculately or not? What was His nature? Because this can explain how the humanity of Jesus can be sinless, it seems to me. The theology of the Orthodox Church, the theologians, many of them at least, accepted the immaculate conception before the dogma of the immaculate conception was announced by the Catholic Church. Afterwards they did not, it seems to me...

Dr. Tsirpanlis: As you know, Thomas Acquinas rejected the immaculate conception of Mary. Perhaps you know that, don't you?

Dr. Matczak: Thomas Acquinas rejected the immaculate conception in his early writings, but not in his later writings.

Dr. Tsirpanlis: This is the problem with Roman Catholic theology. You have so many technical distinctions, too many classifications which the Eastern Church rejects. There is one way of salvation: through love, grace, and union with God. Yes, some monks believe in classification, or artificial distinctions, but the essence is in soteriology, the essence is the absolute conformity of man's will and purpose with Christ's or God's will and purpose in His Divinized humanity, through the imitatio Christi or daily imitation of Christ's life and teachings.

Dr. Matczak: My distinctions are not artificial distinctions. These distinctions are facts and in philosophy; we cannot deny facts. I mentioned the fact that Acquinas had a different position in his early writings and changed his mind afterwards. It's a common thing among all of us that we change our minds.

Dr. Tsirpanlis: There is no change of mind, however, in salvation! Don't change your mind when you are going to be saved. You are not safe if you change your mind! (Laughter) Salvation means divinization. If you change your mind, you will never be saved.

Dr. Matczak: I do not change my mind with regard to divinization. I change my mind with my understanding of certain things. Stick to the question. (Laughter) Thank you.

Dr. Tsirpanlis: You are really a scholastic philosopher.

Mr. Mavadones: I'll turn again to the iconography of the Eastern Church. You might say that salvation can be like a philosophical structure or it can be like the Church, and the Church is really a physical thing for us. There are some aspects of our thinking that don't have any footnotes, so to speak. When you enter the Eastern church, there is an icon of Christ greeting the people who enter the church. And on one side is the Virgin Mary, His Mother, and then on the other side, one person we haven't spoken too much about, is Saint John the Baptist. He too went out and did missionary work and spoke and taught and he is held in high esteem in the early Church. Dr. Tsirpanlis, you might comment on Saint John the Prodromos and how he fits into this overall thing.

Dr. Tsirpanlis: Oh, Prodromos, yes, the Forerunner. In other words, whether he was saved or not.

Mr. Mavadones: What would you say about his role as Forerunner?

Dr. Tsirpanlis: Well, as a matter of fact I would say that Saint John the Forerunner somehow failed in his mission. (Laughter) Now I become a heretic, I know. (Laughter) Saint John, as you know, highly doubted Jesus' Divinity. He did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. That's why he sent his disciples to ask him, are you the one whom we are to expect? Now also, on his identification with Elijah, the idea of Saint John as the embodiment of Elijah, Saint John didn't agree with Jesus, which was really a failure. This mission of Saint John the Forerunner in my heart and thought needs deep study. But I think from this point of view Divine Principle, if you read Divine Principle, the section on John the Baptist, I think there is some good clarification there and good thought, which unfortunately, Western as well as Eastern Christianity had ignored. And now, Divine Principle comes up, the skymnos of the Old Testament, the young lion. Do you remember the picture of the skymnos in the Old Testament? No one thought that the skymnos would be so powerful, and one day the skymnos will conquer the whole world! The young lion! Well, I cannot say that Divine Principle will conquer the whole world, but here is a new idea which is developed in Divine Principle and I think it deserves deep study and further research. I know that to classical Christianity this concept of the failure of Saint John the Forerunner will sound strange and very paradoxical or unbelievable but I cannot say more than that I'd like to express my attraction to that idea of the failure of John the Forerunner.

Mr. Mavadones: I don't know...

Dr. Tsirpanlis: How he failed -- that's a very good question. (Laughter)

Dr. Cavarnos: I must confess this is the first time I have heard about the "failure" of Saint John the Baptist. I've read quite extensively the Fathers and other writers of the Eastern Church and I've never heard of this before. The Eastern Church has given, next to Theotokos, the first place to John the Baptist. If you know the iconostasis of the Orthodox Church, as you look from the western side of the church forward you see on the right side of the beautiful gate, as it's called, the icon of Christ, and immediately next to it is Saint John the Baptist, and on the other side of the beautiful gate, on the left, is the Theotokos. Saint John is given also a very important place in the dome. On one side you have the Theotokos, and facing her on the other side of the dome you have Saint John the Baptist, amongst the angels. The Church has given him a very high place. And was it not he who baptized the Lord, and wasn't the Holy Spirit manifested in the form of a dove and the voice of the Father was heard to say, "Here's my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased," and so forth? Saint John was there. He did the baptizing. How can one say that he failed?

Dr. Tsirpanlis: He changed his mind, as Dr. Matczak said! (Laughter)

Mr. Mavadones: Where do you get this? This must be in the unofficial gospels but not in the official Gospels. How do you... where do you come up with this idea of the failure of Saint John the Baptist. I mean, it's a new idea.

Dr. Tsirpanlis: This sounded to me like a strange idea, too, just as it does to you. The failure of Saint John the Baptist...

Mr. Mavadones: It's your own idea though.

Dr. Tsirpanlis: No! (Laughter) It is not my own idea. No, I read this, as I said, in Divine Principle.

Mr. Mavadones: Oh.

Dr. Tsirpanlis: No, it's not my own idea. It is not my own belief or my own idea, but I read it, and I was quite fascinated by this novelty, this strange idea and that's why you see.... Perhaps Dr. Matczak could comment on this, how Saint John changed his mind.

Dr. Matczak: Now I think that the explanation here is a little bit special. Divine Principle says that Jesus' mission was frustrated by the will of men who crucified him. If he were not crucified, we would see maybe the restored kingdom of God here, heaven here on the earth. Who knows? Theologians don't speculate too much about that subject, but Unification does. Unification speculates about what would have happened, and Unification has a solution to this problem, namely, it would have been the start of the kingdom of God on the earth. I think this solution is not against the Christian position altogether. Now John the Baptist's situation is something similar. He was beheaded. If he were not beheaded, we would see what would have happened, how he would have developed his mission. But he did not fulfill, he did not finish his mission according to Unification.

Unidentified speaker: According to the Bible he fulfilled his mission, because when he heard that Christ was baptizing and He was preaching to different places he said "erne the elattousthe." In other words, Jesus was to grow, and Saint John was to be diminished, which means that his purpose was really finished.

Mr. Mavadones: His purpose was to be the Forerunner.

Unidentified speaker: I can't understand this no matter how hard I try, because in the Bible it's quite profound. When Christ came to be baptized, John the Baptist said, I cannot baptize you, you should baptize me. He recognized Christ. The sky opened up and a voice came down. What could be more profound than this? How could he fulfill anything greater than this? I cannot comprehend the point you are making.

Mr. Mavadones: Well, Saint John's death, this is regarded as a crown of martyrdom. He was one of the greatest prophets, you know. the greatest, and he was also a great martyr, and for him that was a gain, that type of death was a gain for him. Our religious art depicts martyrs as holding a crown, men and women martyrs as holding a crown -- that's a great attainment, to be a martyr, and for us no church is consecrated without the relics of a martyr. So I think for him it was a gain. It was not a loss. It was a loss for others that they lost him early, but for him it was a gain. Winning a martyr's crown.

Dr. Matczak: Also for Jesus to die on the cross was a gain, right? Not a loss in fact. For us also the death of Christ was salvation, was a gain. It depends how you look at the fact. This is what Unification does. Unification does look on the facts from a special aspect, from a special angle.

Dr. Tsirpanlis: There is still the point, Dr. Matczak implied that John might change his mind. All right, in the beginning, he accepted Christ. But then he sent his students, his disciples to Christ, debating His real mission. Are you the real Messiah whom we are waiting for or are you a false Messiah? Now this is true. It is recorded in the Gospel (Lk. 7:19). It is recorded. In other words, John was in doubt about Jesus' mission. Well, Jesus' response was, Go and tell everyone what I am doing (Lk. 7:22). In other words, Jesus' actions and preaching confirmed His Divine mission. Now, but still, John the Baptist expressed uncertainty, disbelief. We cannot deny this. This is recorded in the Gospel. 

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