Review: On the Ecclesiastical Mystagogy

Review: On the Ecclesiastical Mystagogy

Posted by SVS Press on 24th Jul 2020

The Most Profound Church Father of the 7th Century Has a Simple Message: Go to Church!

During these months of lock-down, when so many of us have been denied the consolation of the Church, the Divine Liturgy and the Holy Mysteries, it would be good to reflect on their meaning to our lives. That is exactly what St Maximus the Confessor does in On the Ecclesiastical Mystagogy: A Theological Vision of the Liturgy. This new translation, now available through SVS Press, is more literal than previous translations, which is necessary because in theology, you want the precise meaning of the original Greek (in this publication, the Greek is set alongside the English, which is helpful because Maximus’ concepts are so challenging).

Considered the leading theologian of the 7th century and one of the most influential of the early church fathers, St Maximus is known primarily for his courageous stand against Monothelitism, the heresy that Christ has two natures but only one will. Maximus championed Dyothelitism, that Christ has two wills (human and divine) that correspond to his two natures.

St Maximus was also considered the “real father of Byzantine theology,” because of his ability to take the many theological ideas of this predecessors and weave them together into one consistent system. George C. Berthold writes, “Easterner and Westerner, Greek and Latin, activist and mystic, Maximus is himself a model of diversity, yet all the while displaying a singleness of purpose and unity of life, and a coherence of thought and action.”

Maximos sees all things relating to Christ: the church building, the human being, the cosmos:

The Church is a representation of the intelligible and sensible realms, because she possesses the sanctuary as a symbol of the intelligible realm and the nave as a symbol of the sensible realm. And, she is also an image of man, because she portrays the soul through the sanctuary, and she presents the body through the nave. She is a representation and image of the soul considered on its own, because she bears the eminence of the contemplative part through the sanctuary, and she possesses the ornamentation of the principal part through the nave.

But Maximus wants us to do more than just contemplate lofty ideas; he wants us to always participate in the Divine Liturgy because it is something practical, spiritual, and transformative:

…it is necessary for every Christian to attend the holy Church of God and never to be absent from the holy synaxis that is performed in the Church. He believed this firstly because of the holy angels who abide in the Church, who register those who enter each assembly and report to God, and who offer intercessory prayers on their behalf. He believed this secondly because of the grace of the Holy Spirit that is always invisibly present but is present in a special way during the time of the holy synaxis. This grace remakes, reshapes – and to speak truly – transforms each one found there into something more divine in a way that is proportionate to him. And this grace leads each one to that which is signified by the mysteries performed during the holy synaxis, even if he does not perceive it with his senses because he is still an “infant in Christ” and he is unable to see into the depth of what is occurring.

St Maximus takes each part of the Divine Liturgy and tells us exactly how that part forms Christ in us and us in Christ. This includes the Entrance of the Holy Mysteries, the Kiss of Peace, the Symbol of Faith, the Trisagion, the Our Father, the “One is holy” and, crucially, the Partaking. His vision of the Liturgy “contemplates the interpenetrating relationships of all things with each other and with Christ, ‘in whom all things cohere (Col 1.17).’”

This is volume #59 in the Popular Patristics Series. Click here to view a list of other volumes in the series.


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