Prospects for the Unity of Knowledge: Cosmos, Cult and Culture. An Orthodox Approach

Prospects for the Unity of Knowledge: Cosmos, Cult and Culture. An Orthodox Approach

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The creation of God is a unitary act, here is the reason for which the expression “created the Heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) does not reflect a dual reality, or, in other words, something undefined by unity. But this unitary reality has lost its primary meaning because of man’s intemperate character and behavior. That is why today I am proposing you a reconsideration of concepts and a reflection on the possibilities of our reorientation towards the primary meaning.

Cosmos – semantic field and theological meaning

I consider that we have lost, in our time, much of the classical meaning of the concept of cosmos. When we talk nowadays about the cosmos, we talk mostly about the space located beyond the limits of the Earth and its atmosphere. We could think, thus, that, concerning the term “cosmos” in itself, we are dealing with a certain secularization of it. It is possible that our understanding of the word today is far from its initial richness. That is why I am now proposing, first of all, an incursion into the semantic field, as I believe that remembering the semantic valences of the concept of cosmos will prove more than helpful for our research.

The primary meaning of κωσμος refers to order, good order, good behavior, discipline, form or fashion. It can equally designate the government of states, the ruler or regulator of a social structure, or the constitution as a structure that determines order within certain limits. The term does not lack an aesthetic dimension, also designating ornaments, decorations, ornaments of speech such as epithets. In Greek philosophy, cosmos meant world-order, universe, or, sometimes, the firmament while metaphorically, the term is employed to express the microcosm. Later on, the Greek language allowed a synonymy between the cosmos and oikoumene, both designating the known or inhabited world. Also, it defined men in general, or the world as estranged from God by sin. Finally, the cosmos was conceived as this present world, earth, opposed to heaven, regarded sometimes as the kingdom of evil1. In the Christian theological discourse, the cosmos defines the divinely created universe, an orderly and harmonious system, antithetic to the concept of chaos2.

For Origen3, the cosmos or universe had to be conceived as an enormous living organism, ruled by God with almightiness and wisdom4. Through the term of cosmos he understood all things created: what is in heavens and on earth, what we call hell, everything that exists and those who live in it, all of this is, in his opinion, what should be understood by the term world / cosmos or universe5.

The Fathers of the Church have sometimes considered man to be a microcosm, a world that resumes in itself the entire creation. But Saint Maximus the Confessor6 pointed out the fact that it would be fair to call the human being a macrocosm. And why is that? Because man’s calling is to embrace the entire created world or cosmos, being able to embrace it without dissolving in this communion, while remaining one distinct hypostasis. Man thus realizes a greater unity than the exterior world. On the contrary, the cosmos, the nature, cannot embrace man without loosing its most important component7. Allow me to develop this question of micro and macrocosm, I will make a brief stop on the anthropological discourse of Saint Maximus. A dominant element in his general anthropology, regarding the way in which he understands human nature, is his view on the human being as microcosm and, in relation to that, as a cosmic mediator.

What exactly means “to embrace”? I believe a primary meaning would be that of possession. But after the fall, it means to restore the primordial ‘eikon’, image, and then, to make it grow (simultaneously with man) in resemblance. Or this fact is integrally revealed in the eastern Christian liturgical service. In the Holy Liturgy, we pray for the entire creation. And here are only some fragments from the Holy Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom: The people of God is praying “for the peace of the whole world (του κοσμου)”, and equally for the “holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, which is from one end of the inhabited earth (της οικουμενες)”, offering to God “this rational service for the whole world”, to a God “Who so loved Thy world (τον κοσμον) that Thou gavest Thine Only-begotten Son gave Himself up for the life of the world (της κοσμου ζωης)”.

We are entitled to say that in the eastern patristic tradition, without believing in apocatastasis, there are Fathers praying even for the devil. And why is that? It is because redemption is the work of a merciful God. I find very suggestive the image of the dialogue between Christ and Peter: “Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.” (Jn 21, 21-22). This spiritual teaching and understanding determines the cappadocian theology to present the human being as anthropos leitourgos and euharisticos, and, I would add, as responsible reason of creation.

Among the Christian writers, the idea of man as a microcosm seems to be especially used by the Cappadocian Fathers. This idea may be found to all three, although the accent is different. St. Basil of Caesarea8 asserts, in one of his homilies, that man is capable by introspection, by observing himself, to see the wisdom of the Creator as in a microcosm. It is certain that he doesn’t have in mind a mystical divine presence within the soul or the universe in the meaning of human body, he is thinking only to the interaction between the diverse elements of man, as an analogy with the cosmic order, the creative wisdom of God reflecting itself in both9. In another way, St. Gregory of Nazianz10 uses once the very expression μικρός κόσμος in defining man, without referring, as it seems, to the constitution of man in himself, but to his receptive powers in their relation to the outward world, on which basis it may be said that the human soul embrace this world as in a roll11. Finally, St. Gregory of Nyssa12 makes use in different places of this concept of microcosm, sometimes explicitly, but most of the times implicitly; from these places we recognize more clear the tension we have noticed in the writings of Philo. For when he says that man is a microcosm and a mirror of the universe’s harmony, he does this in the first place in order to emphasize that in both cases it is about an imitation of the Creator and that this is the reason why our mind finds in the microcosm what it discovers in the macrocosm and, for the same reason, it acknowledges in itself the harmony existing in the universe13. Furthermore, he wants to underline the fact that his greatness is not due to the resemblance of man with the universe, but on the contrary, it is due to the fact that he is created in his Creator’s image14.  

Multiplicity, the inevitable characteristic of creation, is for St. Gregory an element of the analogy with the macrocosm, which cannot be fully comprehended before referring to a more important dogma: the image of God in man. For only in that dogma the unifying principle may be found, and thus, the future harmony of creation becomes the crucial point of the analogy. Man is called to intermediate between the intelligible and the sensible world15. Thus, the problem of the man’s fall and of the consequent disorder in the creation is indirectly brought into discussion. The difference between God and the world must be underlined in close and direct connection with the idea of man as microcosm. In the thinking of St. Gregory, this aspect is even more important; we have already found in his writings that the idea of the soul’s dignity and especially of the human mind is more valuable that the concept of the totality of man as a created being, although this totality is in the main asserted16. In the discourse of St. Maxim the Confessor, the idea of microcosm is of primary interest. It tends to be developed by St. Maxim in the direction which leads to the concept of the universe as a cosmic man, the concept of μακράνθρωπος17. But let us return to the patristic usage of cosmos, this time in the theological thought of Saint Gregory Palamas.

The occurrences of the word cosmos in the discourse of Saint Gregory Palamas18 reveal to us a whole new richness of aspects. Let us take a look at the first level of palamite discourse on the cosmos, regarding the question of creation ex nihilo. Saint Gregory states: “For the Spirit has taught us that only God is the One Who really exists and He is forever and unchangeable; He didn’t receive His existence from nothing and He doesn’t direct his steps to nothingness; that He is in three Persons and almighty; that He brought to existence, in six days, with the help of His Word, all things created”19. The biblical narrative of creation speaks about the beginning of its existence: „In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth” (Gn 1:1). The cosmos has a beginning and consequently, it will have an end, is not eternal20. Its contingency is another argument in sustaining this claim21. To resume, the cosmos is created ex nihilo, through the work of the divine Logos22, it is the work of the Holy Trinity and can be expressed in terms of trinitary kenosis23. The aesthetical dimension of the term cosmos is equally exploited by Palamas, who underlines the good order of all created things functioning together and forming a unitary, orderly system, viewed in its entire as an enormous ornament24. This system is ruled by certain laws of physics deeply engraved in its nature25.

As we have seen, the concept of κosmoV has been used with a wide variety of meanings which the Greek dictionaries and lexicons introduce, and this provides us with the necessary arguments for a developed theological perspective and interpretation on the cosmos. From all this semantic richness, we would resume to three main meanings, as follows. Thus, the primary meaning is that of order in general, followed closely by a more precise meaning, that of natural order. A second possibility in understanding the word regards an aesthetic aspect; it may signify ornament, decoration, thus coming closer to the biblical text of Genesis 1:31 which does not exclude a certain beauty of all things created by God (The Septuagint translates the Hebrew word tov in Gn 1:31 by kalos, thus underlining an aesthetic dimension of divine statement: “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good”). A third possible interpretation equals the κosmoV to a ruler, to a high hierarchic position, a person elected or called to rule, to put order in all things. And last, but not least, in philosophical understanding, the κosmoV is equivalent to the world-order, and to the universe.

But secular sciences do not operate with similar meanings. Thus, the dictionaries and encyclopaedias both stress upon a dual aspect: world and cosmos / universe. We will refer to representative contemporary dictionaries especially as we are trying to identify the discrepancies between the classical perception of the cosmos and the way it is understood today. Thus, the universe is considered to be a system with an order and pattern, an orderly harmonious systematic universe26. But it also signifies order and harmony. Another dictionary states that, in the Greek culture, the cosmos was synonym to the universe conceived to be a harmonious whole, infinite both in time and space, and opposed to chaos27. The cosmos functions as a unitary reality, according to other dictionaries, it is the entire physical universe considered as a unified whole28.

In a theological understanding, the cosmos is the entire world created by God, in other words, the hasamaim ve ethaaret – the heavens and earth from Genesis 1:1. And I intent to exploit, in this point of the debate, the meaning and importance of the ve conjunction. As we all know, a coordinative conjunction is a part of speech joining two or more items of equal syntactic importance29. I am particularly interested in the way in which this ve coordinative conjunction expresses rather than just a formal correspondence, an organic relation between the sky, the heavens and the earth with all its dependences.

The organic unity, the symphony and the synody, existent between the two constitutive structures of the cosmos is wonderfully expressed in the theology of cosmic Liturgy.

Divine energies present within creation

In Orthodox theology, the seen world is transparent to divine energies, this being the means of communication between God and man. God remains transcendent to the world after its creation, but it is precisely this world that bears the seal of the Holy Trinity. Thus, in our relationship to God, He is not absolutely transcendent, and, by consequent, intangible or impossible to know. He rather reveals Himself to us creatures through the uncreated energies present in the created world. Palama marks the distinction between the being of God who is above all created things and the divine energies that are present within creation. This helps us understand that the created world is the work of God, not as effusion of His being, but rather as the fruit of grace, of divine energies. Thus, the creation in its entire is the expression of a trinitary kenosis: “Being above being”, God has no need to climb up in the high, in a greater glory. He rises from the below ones … from His kenosis to His creatures. The glory of the Most High is His descent to the humble ones and His descent is a free one, not one of necessity, it is a gift. He descends in order to give Himself.

This harmonious order in which the creation is consistent in itself but also transparent to divine energies is called divine order of the cosmos which, in its entire, ceaselessly celebrates the cosmic Liturgy. In order to properly understand this idea, we should look up to Saint Maximus the Confessor. He arranges the reality of creation into five divisions. The first division is between God, (Uncreated Nature) and created nature, the second between the spiritual world and the material world, the third between heaven and earth, the fourth between the inhabited world and paradise, and in the fifth humanity is divided into male and female. But, with all that, he firmly states that the whole world, or the cosmos, has been created by God in order to exist for ever as a unity, and this unity may only be achieved in the liturgical celebration, of which Saint Maximus speaks about in terms of uniqueness, there is only one Liturgy in which men and angels concelebrate.

Man and angels concelebrating

Orthodox theology reveals us the fact that both the angel, as spiritual being, and man are created as subjects “in order that, staying in relation to the divine subject, they may share all His light and life”30. Angels have been created to firmly serve the Creator31. Moreover, both man and angels are created to incessantly praise the Lord (Isaiah 6). Consequently, in the Church, as dwelling of God, man does not liturgically celebrate on his own, but in communion with the unseen powers of Heaven. This concelebrating is a consequence to the creation’s unitary aspect. The Church represents the entire world because God is present in the entire creation; and the Church is divided in three, after the treimic model of God. It was the same with the Temple of Solomon. Thus, the Holy Altar is the image of the Heavens, this means that somehow the liturgical office of priests is the same with the angelic ministery. The Church envisages this seen world (oikoumene = kosmos), those above the Church symbolize the visible sky, those below symbolize those on the earth and the heaven itself, and those from outward symbolize the lowest parts. And only on this earth for those who live as beasts, having nothing more. What has been said will show that the Holy Altar receives inside the bishop which symbolizes God and the Man Jesus and has His power, and the other consecrated symbolizes each the Apostles and the very Archangels and Angels. And the Apostles, the Bishops, the priests and the angels are unified, because one is the Church above and below and when God descended to us, He revealed Himself as one of us and achieved our redemption and there is need of one thing: the liturgy of our Master and the Eucharist and the knowledge. This is made above and below alike, but above it is made manifestly and not through signs, and below by some symbolism, because we have an alterable body. But the souls of the saints are also above with the angels and together with them, they see all things of ours and take care of us with the help of the divine Providence, watching us. Therefore in the Holy Altar, which prefigures the reasonable ones and the ones above the heavens, the only ones that enter are the bishop and the priests; the things of the altar symbolizes those above the heavens, because the Holy Table signifies the fact that Jesus has risen above all dominion and power and stood on the right of the Father. This is why it has steps also, showing the state and the order of each angel and of each saint, because angels and saints are also arranged in a hierarchy, a hierarchy which exists to us, too32.

In the ecclesial hierarchy, every ministry comes with its own liturgical responsibility, but also with his symbolic meaning. The Church becomes the place where humans and the celestial powers are serving together. Thus, the reader enters the altar as a servant of God and of those who approach Him, and serves together with the Holy Angels, entering there together”33. The deacon embellishes himself with the stole as with some wings and covers himself piously, especially when he takes the Holy Communion, symbolizing those Seraphs who, having six wings, “with two cover their faces, with two their legs and with two flying, sing: Holy, Holy, Holy… Indeed, here there are a lot of angels, too, and many of our Fathers have seen them filling up the Church”34. Moreover, Saint Symeon of Thessaloniki says that, at the consecration of the priest, the ministers together with the one who is consecrated “go round the Holy Table three times, making together with the angels a holy dance”35.

On the concelebrating of men and angels within the liturgical environment beautifully wrote Saint John Chrysostom. He considers that God made angels descend to us, but he raised us humans to them, too: “And look at this miracle: he first made them descend to us and only afterwards he raised the man to them; the earth became heaven, because the heaven was to receive those on the earth. Therefore, by thanking him, we say: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, among men good will” (Luke 2:14)36. He then goes on with this question of communion between heaven and earth, bringing into discussion the “Our Father” and wondering on the meaning of the words: „Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). What does that mean? It seems that the earth was separated from the heaven; angels became enemies of men, because they saw their Master insulted by man. “…to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, in Christ” (Ephesians 1:10), but how? Those in heaven in this way: he put man there, he raised the enemy in heaven, the one who hated him and who was hated. He made the reconciliation not to remain on earth, but to raise man in heaven, the enemy and the opponent. And this is a profound peace. Angels show themselves on earth again, because man was lifted up in heaven. And it seems to me that the taking away of Paul into heaven was made in order to show him that the Son has risen there, too. The peace on the earth was twofold, because the reconciliation was made with those in heaven and on the earth alike 37. The Holy Fathers have considered the creation of angels as servants of His redemption plan of the humankind thought by God from eternity 38, as being an important argument for the unity of creation. Thus, the Angels, as spiritual beings, are solidary to the humans, as well as to the entire sensible world 39.

The nature of the ecclesial community was determined, from the very beginning of the Christian Church, by the fact that it was “Eucharistic”. The community consists in the communion of the body of Christ in his totality and in its embracing of all. What each Eucharistic community was called to reveal was not a part of Christ, but the whole Christ. The Eucharistic community was understood as the revelation of the eschatological unity of all in Christ 40. This unity is not limited to the seen world, to the human beings, but it equally implies the communion with celestial powers. Therefore, in performing Eucharist, the Church understood very soon that, in order that the Eucharistic community may become or reveal in itself the pleroma of the Body of Christ (pleroma which, as we have already underlined, includes not only the humanity but the whole creation), the descent of the Holy Spirit was necessary. The offering of the Holy Gifts and of the whole community to God and the achievement of the unity of the Christ’s Body were, therefore, preceded by the invocation of the Holy Spirit 41. The Eucharistic community, with the understanding of Eucharist as food, with its essential elements which are material ones, with its long litanies and prayers for the material, physical and spiritual needs of men, is the sign of a “catholic” contemplation of the existence in which no dualist dichotomy can be accepted. Man and the world make a harmonious unity, in the same way in which the diverse dimensions of the human existence are harmonized together. In the light of the Eucharistic community, an ecclesiological catholicity implies a catholic anthropology and a catholic vision of the existence in general. From such a catholic point of view, the whole problematic of the Church-world relation suffers a change of perspective. The separation and the juxtaposition of the two may not have an essential meaning, because there is no sphere in which the limits of the Church may be objectively and definitively fixed. There is a constant interaction between Church and the world: the world is the work of God and belongs to Him, the Church is the community which, through the coming of the Holy Spirit, transcends in itself the world and presents and gives it to God in the Holy Eucharist42. In this way, the Church reveals itself to be in time what it is in an eschatological perspective: a catholic Church existing in history as transcending all separations and uniting all in Christ43 through the Holy Spirit and to the glory of God, the Father.

There is a dimension of the ministry which goes beyond the limits of the human community and embraces the whole creation of God. Man is called to be the priest of creation. He was created for this dignity, but he fell from it. His sacerdotal character belongs to his role, that of mastering the creation not for himself, but for determining it enter into communion with the Creator44. Such a Eucharistic understanding of the world makes the unity of the Church and the unity of the world even more obvious. The Eucharist is the synaxis of the faithful under a bishop who is an icon of Christ, an event which manifests the relationship between humanity and all those who are ‘with God’ through Christ. But this Eucharist is to the image of celestial Liturgy, and the celebration of humans resembles the celebration of angels in the heavens. But the angels are not only co-celebrators, as subjects to the adoration of the Holy Trinity, they also are object of our veneration, and this veneration relies on biblical arguments. Several old testamentary figures have dealt, in different occasions, with angels, acknowledging their power of intercession and receiving their message and blessings (Genesis 48:445, Judges 13:15-1646 ; Exodus 23: 20-2347; Joshua 5, 13-1648).

Culture – semantic field and theological meaning

I now consider appropriate to clarify what we understand by culture, given the term has a wide variety of meanings as well. Primarily, culture is the act of developing the intellectual and moral faculties especially by education, which requires a conscientious effort of each person. It also has an important aesthetical dimension, designating the acquaintance with and taste in fine arts, humanities, and broad aspects of science as distinguished from vocational and technical skills. Moreover, it may signify the enlightenment and excellence of taste acquired by intellectual and aesthetic training. One important aspect is that culture can be transmitted to succeeding generations, in this context, culture being understood as the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behaviour that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge49. The term has a cutumiary dimension, defining the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time. In the same semantic area, culture means a set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization, a set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic. Finally, culture is the act or process of cultivating living material (as bacteria or viruses) in prepared nutrient media, and also a product of such cultivation50. I have briefly inserted here the main significations of the concept of “culture”. I would like to conclude this terminological insert with a synthetic definition that introduces an accent on the spiritual dimension of culture: Culture defines both the material and spiritual values that are creation of the humankind and also the institutions necessary in order to mediate the transmission of these values51.

But in our opinion and in the context of the thematic proposal, culture is all that and something more. Culture, in its highest and integral sense, is the expression of beauty-well-good, the kalokagathos of Genesis 1:31, when God Himself acknowledges and confirms in a way the beauty – goodness of all things created. In this perspective, culture is a restatement of the alithical structures of creation, of their doxological unity and their revelation in paradisiacal configurations. And this is the point where culture rejoins the cult, as they both are quests in the search of the truth, and they are both working in view of revealing precisely this Truth to the entire world. The key to understanding their relationship in terms of convergence and divergence is the fact that they are operating on different levels. While culture is consumed in history, cult is fulfilled in eternity. History as framework of culture determines its fragmentary dimension, while the cult, consummated in eternity, has the advantage of being a unitary act. The criteria of veritable culture, in this context, will be its capability to transcend the Cartesian limits, into eternity.

Cult – semantic field and theological meaning

The etymological root of culture is the “cult”, and at this point I am proposing a brief survey of its meanings. Thus, the literal and traditional meaning of the word “cult” is a derived form of the Latin cultus, from the verb colo-ere meaning “to cultivate”, “to take care of” or “to adore”, from which the word “culture” is also derived. I will develop this relationship later on. For now, I am proposing a survey of dictionary definitions of the term “cult”, which has more that eight different meanings, including both classic and unorthodox religious practice, extreme political practice, objects or concepts of intense devotion including popular fashion, and systems for the cure of disease based on dogmatic teachings52. I have chosen several different sources in order to clarify the possible meanings of the word. A first source53 defines cult as: 1) a formal religious veneration; 2) a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also: its body of adherents; 3) a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also: its body of adherents; 4) a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator; 5) great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book). The richness of other definitions is, in most cases, due to a development of the term regarding sects and their members: 1) a particular system of religious worship, esp. with reference to its rites and ceremonies; 2) an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, esp. as manifested by a body of admirers; 3) the object of such devotion; 4) a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc; 5) group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols; 6) a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader; 7) the members of such a religion or sect; 8) any system for treating human sickness that originated by a person usually claiming to have sole insight into the nature of disease, and that employs methods regarded as unorthodox or unscientific54.

In other extensive dictionaries, the cult is defined as: 1) a system of religious worship or ritual; a quasi-religious group, often living in a colony, with a charismatic leader who indoctrinates members with unorthodox or extremist views, practices or beliefs; 2) devoted attachment to, or extravagant admiration for, a person, principle or lifestyle, especially when regarded as a fad [the cult of nudism]; the object of such attachment; 3) a group of followers, sect55. And finally, the semantic palette of the word may be formulated as follows: 1) a system of religious worship directed towards a particular figure or object; 2) a small religious group regarded as strange or as imposing excessive control over members; 3) something popular or fashionable among a particular section of society56.

Let us now take a look at the theological meaning of cult. In strictly Christian theological terms, the cult is, in general, any form or religious act meant to realize the relationship of man to God, expressing on the one hand, the veneration and respect towards God, and on the other hand, intercessing for the sanctification of the human being and the communion to the divine grace57. Consequently, in our Christian Orthodox Church, through the concept of “divine public cult” or “divine service”, we understand the public / exterior manifestation of our profound, interior faith. It is a glorification to God in the Church, and also in other holy places, but only by the ministers of the altar, by the bishops and priests, in front of the faithful, in their name and for their salvation. This cult or divine service is fulfilled in strictly observing the prescriptions of liturgical books and of ecclesial ritual books, recognized by the authority of the Church as being normative for the Orthodox cult58. Thus, after the teachings of the Orthodox Church, the divine service or cult is an external oeuvre through which the relationship of man to God is improved and reinforced. The cult is mainly constituted out of two fundamental elements: the mystical element, unseen and supernatural, and the seen or natural element. The cult is the sum of liturgical acts, holy ceremonies through which man brings praise to the Lord Almighty, man is sanctified, gains salvation through the forgiving of sins. In all the acts and ceremonies of the cult, it is visibly expressed and represented the entire content of religion, both supernatural and natural. Through man’s fall, the relationship he had with the Creator was shadowed, but not destroyed. It was thus necessary to redeem man through the death of Christ on the Cross, and in this way to reestablish the relationship between God and man. This relationship finds its expression in the divine public cult, chiefly through its central part, the Holy Eucharist59.

The Cult cannot be simply equaled to the texts or other forms of cult. It is an ensemble in which prayers, readings, chants, ceremonies, and the relationships between them – in what concerns the succession and order – and finally, all that can be defined as a “liturgical coefficient” of each one of these elements, only all of them considered together are able to define the meaning of the whole60. What about the purpose of the cult? It is to constitute the Church61. The cult is inseparable from the Church and without it, there is no Church. And this because its purpose is to express, form or realize the Church, to be the source of grace that makes the Church to be a Church, and the people of God, to be the Body of Christ. Actually, inasmuch as the Church exists not only in statu vide, but also in statu patriae, she impersonates in the cult her participation to the Kingdom of God, she enlightens the mystery of eternity62. The cult – as expression, creation and fulfillment of the Church – places the Church in front of the world, manifests its ideal in the world, the ideal of God’ people dwelled in the world63. But the importance of the cult resides in its revealed character.

Christ Himself teaches us, long before the law, and in the law, that, by praying with faith, we will be gifted with the objects of our request. Thus doing the Apostles and praying not only with “Our Father”, but thousands of other prayers, as the moment of election of Matthias shows us. It is through the name of the Lord Jesus Christ that they have made divine signs or miracles. And the Lord did not gifted us only prayers, but also chants, like we read in the Gospel of Saint Matthew: “And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives” (Matthew 26:30). The Angels and shepherds have shown the same at the Birth of our Lord. The Angels saying: „Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14), and the sheperds praising and worshiping God for all that they had heared and seen. The Apostles have done the same after the Lord’s Ascension, as the Gospel says, that they were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God (Luke 24:53)64.

Central to the entire cult of the Orthodox Church is the celebration of the Holy Liturgy. The Liturgy has its object in the transformation of gifts of bread and wine in the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, and its purpose is the sanctification of the faithful. This sanctification process is accomplished through the prayers, chants, readings from the Holy Scripture and, in general, through all that is fulfilled and pronounced, in holy order, before and after the sanctification of Gifts, in other words, through the ensemble of ritual acts and gestures that we call Holy Liturgy65.

After briefly surveying the meaning and role of the cult, I will underline the relationship existent between the cult and the cosmos by introducing some of the liturgical prayers that are pronounced for the wellbeing of the entire universe (κοσμος).

Liturgical prayers for the entire universe

For the peace of the whole world (του κοσμου), the good estate of the holy churches of God, and the union of all, let us pray to the Lord66.

For the peace of the whole world (του κοσμου), the good estate of the holy churches ofGod, and the union of all, let us pray to the Lord67.

Things good and profitable for our souls and bodies, and peace for the world(τω κοσμω), let us ask of the Lord68.

With these blessed hosts, O Master, Lover of mankind, we also cry aloud and say: Holy art Thou and most holy, Thou, and Thine onlybegotten Son, and Thy Holy Spirit: holy art Thou and most holy, and majestic is Thy glory, O Thou Who so loved Thy world (τον κοσμον)that Thou gavest Thine Only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life; Who when He had come and fulfilled all the dispensation for us, on the night in which He was betrayed, or rather gave Himself up for the life of the world (της κοσμου ζωης)69.

Again we offer unto Thee this rational service for the whole world (Οικουμενες70); for the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church; for them that abide in purity and an honorable life; for (here are mentioned the rulers of the people); for this land, its rulers and armed forces. Grant them, O Lord, peaceful governance, that in their calm we, also, may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty71.

Again, we pray to You, be mindful of Your holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, which is from one end of the inhabited earth (της οικουμενες) to the other. Grant peace to her which You have obtained with the precious blood of Your Christ. Strengthen also this holy house to the end of the ages72.

Things good and profitable for our souls and peace for the world (τω κοσμω), let us ask of the Lord73.

All these prayers, and many others like the Great Sanctification of Water, are presenting us with an understanding of the human being as an integrative part of nature. The human being cannot be conceived outside cosmic nature. Similarly, that means that nature cannot accomplish her destiny without man74. Divine iconomy or his plan for the world consists in the deification (theosis) of the created world, and this plan, subsequently to sin, implies salvation. The salvation and deification of the world suppose, as first divine act, its creation. Both salvation and deification directly regard the humankind, and there is no doubt about it. But the humankind as not separated from nature, the humankind ontologically unified with the entire seen creation. Nature completes the human being, and the human being cannot complete itself without reflecting and working on the nature. For this reason, Father Staniloae considers that through the term of world or cosmos, we must always automatically understand both nature and humanity75.

The rationality of the created world in Saint Maximus the Confessor’s view

The origin of reasons in the divine Logos makes the entire creation to be a rational unitary reality, existing for interpersonal dialogue76. Bringing to existence the beings according to the reasons existent in the supreme Logos, He puts in them a movement through which they will progressively conform, by their own free will, to their reasons in God, and also through which they will unite with Him as Person. Creation produces a ramification of reasons from their unity in the divine Logos and the movement produces their return in this same unity77. We can already notice two different meanings of reason in the discourse of Saint Maximus, namely paradigm / model, and law of nature or ontological law.

Through this analytical – contemplative process, man penetrates beyond the sensible variety of thing, re-cognizing the Logos that reunites in Himself all the reasons of creation: “Who, knowing by reason and wisdom that all things were created out of nothing by God, and orienting their contemplative power of the soul towards the infinite variety of things, and distinguishing with an analytical reason the reason of all created things, would not arrive to know the one Reason, as many reasons present in the variety of creatures, like their capability of referring to one another and yet preserving each one’s identity?78 Rationality is the intelligible manner of a person to communicate herself to another person, in view of realizing and developing the communion between them. Consequently, rationality involves the dialogical dimension of creation79.

Saint Maximus interprets the presence of the logos in each creature as a modality chosen by the divine Logos to make Himself known, here is what Saint Maximus says: “…miraculously hiding Himself for us in the reasons of things, He makes himself known proportionally through the seen as if they were written signs, entirely present in each one of them; eternally the same, in the changeable things; unseen, in the seen things and untouched in the touched80. The first step of dialogue is this hiding of the Logos, through the logoi, in the things created, stage closely followed by the invitation addressed to the human being for progressively discovering these reasons. God does not discover instantly all the meanings and names of things created to man, but waits for our effort to decipher them81. Basic logic proves that a direct, automatic revelation of them would annul man’s freedom. Or dialogue, as it is conceived by God, implies a spiritual growth possible only through the human being’s free choice82. The entire discourse of Saint Maximus on the reasons of things and the divine Reason which is both their source and thelos, is expressed in an synthetic formulation: “The Reason above all nature and reason becomes, out of love for the humankind, the reason from all things, as their being. Getting to know the Reason above all nature, implies more than a simple process of rationalization, and we are entering now in the sphere of faith materialized in a spiritual approach of the relation with nature. Because, if we don’t reach beyond the vestments – that is, the seen side of creation – elevating to their bodies (meanings of the Scripture or reasons of creation), we will not be able to perceive in them the presence of the divine Reason.

For the Saints, the contemplation of nature was enough in order to know its Creator. Having seen the persistence, order and positioning of created things, the perfect order in which they remain in the limits of their species, pure and free of all confusion, the regular moving of stars, which never deviate from their route, with the cycle of the year that regularly accomplishes due to their recurrence, the duration of nights and days alternatively and harmoniously raising and diminishing, the Saints have learned that He whom they have known as God and Creator of all things, in the same measure is their Proniator83.

Natural order has an immanent dimension, but also one that directs beyond itself. This “beyond” is understood by Saint Maximus as an advanced stage in the process of knowledge and understanding of reasons, in an eschatological perspective: “Once we will finish this life into death, we will celebrate, just like in the desert, another Pascha, clearer knowing / understanding the reasons of things, in a mental and spiritual way, without symbols and guesses, and also without the sensible variety. And again, in the next age of divine promises, we will celebrate the Pascha by eating, in an unmediated manner, the supreme Reason of wisdom; and then we will become gods by grace, no longer having to make a passage to another Pascha84.

The cult is a medium of communicating grace, a medium of sanctification. This communication becomes, through the intermediary of responsible human conscience, communion. And the supreme manifestation of communion is a cultural / cultic event, which transforms / renews the entire cosmos, making it part of the supreme passage to eternity.



1 Semantic landmarks are selected from Henry George LIDDELL, Robert SCOTT, A Greek-English Lexicon, revised and augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart JONES with the assistance of Roderick MCKENZIE [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1940]; LIDDELL, SCOTT,  An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1889]; Lexicon to Pindar. William J. SLATER, [Berlin: De Gruyter, 1969],

2 For developments on the antithetical pair chaos – cosmos throughout the history of cosmology, from ancient Greek philosophers to modern theories, see Chris IMPEY, Bernard HAISCH, „Early Cosmologies” in Bernard HAISCH and Joakim F. LINDBLOM (Eds.), Encyclopedia of the Cosmos [Redwood City, CA: Digital Universe Foundation],, 12.02.2009.

3 ORIGEN (185–254), an early Christian scholar, theologian of the Christian Church. Origen taught in Alexandria, reviving the Catechetical School of Alexandria,, 14.05.2009.

4 Peri Arhon, II, 1, III, in Selected Writings, Part III, collection “Church Fathers and Writers”, vol. 8 [Bucharest: Publishing House of the Biblical and Missionary Institute of the Romanian Orthodox Church (EIBMBOR), 1982], 111.

5 Ibidem, II, 9, III, 162.

6 Saint MAXIMUS the Confessor (580-662), defender and confessor of the Orthodox faith against the monolite heresy. A first group of his writings deals with spiritual life, following some of his predecessors: Evagrius, Mark the Ascete, Diadochus of Photicee. A second section of his work, written between 626-634 contains: Explanation to Our Father, Quaestiones ad Thalasium, Mystagogia and finally, Ambigua. The last one contains, in Father D. Staniloae’s opinion (v. Introduction to Ambigua, Collection “Fathers and Writers of the Church”, vol. 80, p. 38), „the entire theology of Saint Maximus as basis for spiritual life, through which Christians become recipients of redemption, progressing towards God and in God for eternity”.

7 Fr. Dumitru STĂNILOAE, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, vol. I[Bucharest: EIBMBOR, 2003], 13.

8 Saint BASIL of Caesarea, also called Saint BASIL the Great, (330– January 1, 379), bishop of Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia, Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). He was an influential 4th century Christian theologian and monastic. Theologically, Basil was a supporter of the Nicene faction of the Church, in opposition to Arianism on one side and the followers of Apollinaris of Laodicea on the other,, 14.05.2009.

9 Hom. in Mud, Attende tibi ipsi, 7; PG 31, 213 B-216 B.

10 Saint GREGORY of Nazianzus (330 – January 25, 389 or 390) (also known as Gregory the Theologian), 4th-century Archbishop of Constantinople, widely considered the most accomplished rhetorical stylist of the patristic age,, 14.05.2009.

11 Or. 28 (Tkeol. 2), 22.

12 Saint GREGORY of Nyssa (335 – after 394), bishop, one of the Cappadocian Fathers along with his brother Basil the Great and his good friend, Gregory of Nazianzus. He had a major contribution on the development of the trinitary doctrine,, 14.05.2009.

13 In Psalm. I, 3; PG 44, 441 CD.

14 Lars THUNBERG, Theological Anthropology of Saint Maximus the Confessor: Microcosm and mediator, [Bucharest: Sophia, 2005], 154-155.

15 Or. Catech. 6; PG 45, 25 B-28 B.

16 Lars THUNBERG, op. cit., 155.

17 Ibidem, 160.

18 Saint GREGORY Palamas (1296 – 1359) was a monk of Mount Athos in Greece and later the Archbishop of Thessalonica known as a preeminent theologian of Hesychasm,, 14.05.2009.

19 Saint GREGORY Palamas, 150 Chapters on Topics of Natural and Theological Science, the Moral and the Ascetic Life, translated into Romanian by Fr. Dumitru STANILOAE in Philocalia, vol. VII [Bucharest: EIBMBOR, 1977], 434.

20 Ibidem, 424.

21 Ibidem.

22 Ibidem, 435.

23 Saint GREGORY Palamas, Sermon on the Birth of Christ, in NICODIM Aghioritul, Guarding the five senses, Neamţu, 1826, chap. XI, 81, p. 38, apud Fr. Constantin GALERIU, Sacrifice and Redemption [Harisma, 1991], 50.

24 Saint GREGORY Palamas, 150 Chapters…, 435.

25 Ibidem, 425.

26 The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, “Cosmos”,, 17.05.2009.

27 „Cosmos”, in DEX Online,, 10.05.2009.

28 Cosmos.” in EncyclopÊdia Britannica. 2009. EncyclopÊdia Britannica Online,, 17.05.2009.

29 “Grammatical conjunction”, in Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia,, 11.05.2009.

30 Saint GREGORY Palamas, 150 chapters…, 435.

31 Fr. Dumitru STĂNILOAE, The Life and Teaching of Saint Gregory Palamas [Bucharest:EIBMBOR, 2006],77.

32 Saint SYMEON of Thessaloniki, First Treaty [Suceava: Publishing House of the Suceava and Radauti Diocese, 2002], 175.

33 Ibidem, 189.

34 Ibidem, 198.

35 Ibidem, 200.

36 Saint JOHN Chrysostom, Commentaries or Explanation to the Epistle to Colossians, I and II Thessalonians of our Father among the Saints Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople [Oxonia Edition, 1855], by Archimandrite Theodosie Athanasiu [Bucharest, 1905], 39.

37 Saint JOHN Chrysostom, Commentaries…, 38.

38 Ibidem, 291.

39 Ibidem, 288.

40 Metropolitan Ioannis ZIZIOULAS, Ecclesial Being [Bucharest: Byzantine Publishing House, 2007], 162.

41 Ibidem, 169.

42 Ibidem, 171.

43 Ibidem, 179.

44 Ibidem, 232-233.

45 “And said unto me, Behold, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and I will make of thee a multitude of people; and will give this land to thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession.”

46 “And Manoah said unto the angel of the LORD, I pray thee, let us detain thee, until we shall have made ready a kid for thee. And the angel of the LORD said unto Manoah, Though thou detain me, I will not eat of thy bread: and if thou wilt offer a burnt offering, thou must offer it unto the LORD. For Manoah knew not that he was an angel of the LORD.”

47 “Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him. But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries. For mine Angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites: and I will cut them off.”

48 “And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries? And he said, Nay; but as captain of the host of the LORD am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, What saith my Lord unto his servant? And the captain of the LORD’s host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so.”

49 The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, “Culture”,, 22.05.2009.

50 Ibidem.

51 „Culture”, in DEX Online,, 15.05.2009.

52 The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, “Cult”,, 22.05.2009.

53 Ibidem.

54 “Cult”, in Random House Unabridged Dictionary,, 15.05.2009.

55 “Cult”, in Webster’s New World College Dictionary,, 15.05.2009.

56 “Cult”, in Compact Oxford English Dictionary of Current English,, 15.05.2009.

57 Fr. Ene BRANIŞTE, General Liturgics with Notions of Ecclesial Art, Arhitecture and Christian Painting [Bucharest: EIBMBOR, 1993], 11.

58 Badea CIREŞANU, Liturgical Thesaurus, vol. III: Special liturgical study [Bucharest, 1912], 16.

59 Ibidem, 17.

60 Alexander SCHMEMANN, Introduction in the Liturgical Theology [Bucharest: Sophia, 2002], 59.

61 Ibidem, 66.

62 Ibidem,72.

63 Ibidem,74.

64 Saint SYMEON of Thessaloniki, op. cit., 29.

65 Saint Nicolas CABASILAS, Commentary on the Divine Liturgy[Bucharest: Bucharest Diocese, 1989], 2.

66 The Great Litany, Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom,, 3.

67 The Second Litany of the Faithful, Ibidem, 33.

68 The Litany of Supplication, Ibidem, 42.

69 The Second Prayer of the Anaphora, Ibidem, 48.

70 The term oikoumene is equivalent to cosmos when designating this world, inhabited world.

71 Prayer during the Hymn to the Theotokos, Ibidem, 54.

72 Prayer during the Hymn to the Theotokos in the Holy Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great,, 12.05.2009.

73 The Litany Before the Lord’s Prayer, Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom,, 57.

74 Ibidem.

75Fr. Dumitru STĂNILOAE, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, vol. I, 221.

76 Ibidem, 360.

77 Idem, translator’s introduction to Saint MAXIMUS the Confessor, Ambigua, collection “Church Fathers and Writers”, vol. 80 [Bucharest: EIBMBOR, 1983], 41.

78 Ibidem,116-118.

79 Fr. Dumitru STĂNILOAE, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, vol. I, 372.

80 Saint MAXIMUS the Confessor, Ambigua, 369-370.

81 Fr. Dumitru STĂNILOAE, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, vol. I, 368.

82 Ibidem.

83 Saint MAXIMUS the Confessor, Ambigua, 255-256.

84 Ibidem, 469.