Mystagogical Catechesis and the Gospel of John

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I promise to get “off topic” from time to time – but I would like to do a bit of a “series” here in the post Pascha period – doing what has been done in the history of the Church – and look at the Gospel of John and what it means for us as believing Christians. I’m not suggesting a straightforward Bible study – but to look at a number of key points across the Gospel from an Orthodox catechetical perspective.

 For instance, the Prologue.

The Prologue (Chapter 1:1 through about 1:18) begins with more or less “creedal” statements about Christ – that He is the Logos or Word of God. That He was before the created world (as the Nicene Creed would later phrase it, “eternally begotten of the Father”) and that everything that was made was made through Him.

This is itself an important statement. St. Paul will push this further and say:

…for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Col. 1:16-17).

Thus both the Gospel and St. Paul assert that everything that exists – has its grounding in the Logos of God. We can say that the nature of everything bears the stamp of Christ – there is something “logikos,” to use the Greek, about everything that exists. This is not to say that creation is logical in our modern sense of the word, but logikos in its ancient, Christian sense. There is something about everything that reflects Christ. This is not always apparent to us – but it has much to do with later incidents in the Gospel where “even the winds and the sea obey Him.” How could they not? They belong to Him in a way that mere ownership cannot express. They are His in that He is their cause, their very reason for existence and even how things “hold together” (this is far more than physical “holding together”). Though the creation is logikos – it is not the place we begin in our coming to knowledge of God. If I know the Logos, then, and only then, I may begin to see that the creation as logikos. But I’ll say more about this at another time.

Most importantly, and what I would underline in the Prologue, are St. John’s statements concerning Christ and the knowledge of God. For St. John, Christ alone reveals the Father. “No one has ever seen God; the only-Begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (1:18). What is interesting, and very much in line with discussions we have had before on this site, is that John does not assert that Jesus made the Father known by what He said, but rather He made the Father known by being who He is – the Only-Begotten Word of God.

And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (16-17).

Again, the assertion is that through the Person of Christ, grace and truth are given. This is a world removed from saying that “what he taught was grace and truth” (though what He taught was certainly true).  Knowledge of God is personal – received only in freedom and in love and is perceived and received in a manner that cannot be codified or reduced to something less than Personal.

It is in this sense that St. Philip’s famous invitation to St. Nathaniel (John 1:46), “Come and see,” continues to be the proper Orthodox invitation to knowledge of God. I can say to someone, “Come and see,” with regard to the life of the Church. They may or may not “see” at first. But when they do “see” it is quite likely that the context will be there – in the life of the Church.

I remember a woman (not in my own congregation but elsewhere) who shared the story of her relationship with the Mother of God. She had come to the Orthodox Church from a Pentecostal background. The Church she was received in was Greek Orthodox (thus there is a bit of a culture leap for a Southern Pentecostal). She expressed her continuing difficulties with the Theotokos (we do mention her a lot in our services). The priest at her parish very wisely told her: “Go into the Church and just sit there for an hour in front of her icon.”

That is a very non-rational response. I am sure she had read and heard all of the Orthodox explanations about why we say what we do about the Theotokos. Her problem was on a different level.

As I recall in her later sharing of her story she said that at the end of the hour her difficulties had disappeared. “I don’t know why, but suddenly everything was fine.” Her experience, I would assert, is quite Orthodox. Instead of arguing, she simply allowed herself to be quiet and encounter the Mother of God personally. (Icons are quite useful in that way.)

My own reflection was that her priest had directed her to do something that would not have occured to me (I’m still young at this). But “Come and see,” still works.

The problem in our culture is that much of what people have seen of Christianity has been something other than the fullness of God in Christ. They have encountered “culture Christs,” shrunken accounts of Jesus – God reduced to commodity. “Come and buy,” is somehow a world removed from “Come and see.” We live in a bewildering religious culture. Fortunately, the God who exists, actually does exist and is able to take care of Himself. We can, without fear, be patient, and say to someone, “Come and see.” Making Himself known is something I cannot do for God, and, thank God, I do not have to. My task is to invite and to do my best to stay out of God’s way. “The Only-Begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father – He has made Him known.”

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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Comments

7 responses to “Mystagogical Catechesis and the Gospel of John”

  1. Margaret's Husband Avatar
    Margaret’s Husband

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen! I just began again the Gospel of St. John and will look forward to your postings. This will be my first “full and thoughtful” (I hope) reading of this gospel in the Orthodox Study Bible.
    Christ is Risen!

  2. Margaret Avatar
    Margaret

    I apologize for the posting by “Margaret’s Husband,” as it is my own posting. I forgot to check the name box before hitting “submit.”

  3. mrh Avatar
    mrh

    I love that story about sitting in front of the icon. I didn’t do that, but the fact that I happened to pick a spot in front of the main icon of the Theotokos (or DID I “just happen to”?) meant that over the course of my catechumenate I accumulated many hours of contemplating her during Divine Liturgy. This certainly helped me deal with my “issues” on the subject as well.

    “I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away.” — C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

    And indeed it’s true – in a certain sense, since I entered the Orthodox Church, I have had no more questions. I still enjoy reading theology, indeed perhaps more than I did before. But I simply am not driven by the same kind of hunger and restlessness that had driven me… let’s see, probably since I was about eight years old. I no longer read because I’m desperate for information about God – I know him now; I live in his house.

  4. Clark Avatar
    Clark

    When I was first received into the Church I was agnostic on the subject of the Theotokos’ Dormition (The assumption part, not the dying part). To my rationalistic mind, this was ok because it had never *officially been declared a dogma*–I still had a lot to learn. But, I digress. All it took was one liturgical celebration of the feast to solve my problem. While singing the hymns I realized that it could not have been any other way. To “come and see” we may also add “taste and see that the Lord is good!”

  5. November In My Soul Avatar

    The Gospel of St. John is far and away my favorite gospel. Part of the attraction for me is the language and the technique. No genealogies, no warm up, he plunges us headlong into the deep water with, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

    Thank you for teaching us. I look forward to learning more.
    Christ is risen.

  6. Alice C. Linsley Avatar
    Alice C. Linsley

    Fr., I too thank you for this teaching. I will refer people to your blog to read it.

  7. Despo Avatar
    Despo

    I am glad that such articles are on the internet nowadays… thanks all of you

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