A Margin of Silence :
The Holy Spirit in Russian Orthodox Theology
by Rowan Williams
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CHURCH TIMES - Person, power, and memory
Hugh Wybrew on a Williams ‘gem’ - Issue 7601 - 21 November, 2008
THIS BOOK is the first publication of a new press in Québec, and the first appearance, in English and in French, of a study based on Archbishop Rowan’s Liddon Lectures, given in the Jerusalem Chamber at Westminster Abbey in 1998.
“The purpose of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.” The Archbishop begins by quoting St Seraphim of Sarov’s famous saying, reminding readers that the Orthodox understanding of the Spirit is rooted in parts of the New Testament to which Western Christians have paid inadequate attention. He then looks at three Russian theologians: Pavel Florensky, Sergei Bulgakov, and Vladimir Lossky. Their approach has much in common, but each has a distinctive approach to the Holy Spirit.
For Florensky, the Spirit is the Spirit of the age to come, who makes the Kingdom of God a reality in human life. Like Florensky, Bulgakov lays stress on the Spirit as personal agent rather than impersonal power. But for Bulgakov, in whose understanding of the Trinity the concept of kenosis is prominent, the Spirit never speaks in his own right, but points away to the mutual self-giving of Father and Son, and enables their saving love to transform both human lives and the material order. Bulgakov stresses the impossibility of separating Spirit and Son in the work of redemption: it is the Spirit who forms the Church as the Body of Christ.
For Lossky, too, the work of Son and Spirit is inseparable. His distinctive contribution is to identify the Spirit with Tradition, which he calls “the critical memory of the Church made alive by the Holy Spirit”. For him, too, the Spirit is self-effacing; the face of the Spirit is to be seen only in the faces of the saints.
The Archbishop relates the insights of these theologians to current controversies and power struggles afflicting most Churches. All three remind us that the Church is essentially the place where the Spirit is bringing to birth a new humanity, living in a God-given communion with itself [...] Next
God is first and foremost that depth around all things and beyond all things into which, when I pray, I try to sink. But God is also the activity that comes to me out of that depth…very much a presence. Very much a person.