Called to one hope in Christ: some Orthodox reflectionsCalled to one hope in Christ: some Orthodox reflections

Looking at the most debated theological topics during the last decades one could be surprised at how little consideration has been given to the question of hope in relation to reflections about faith and love. On the other side looking at the biblical quotations about hope it is amazing how central this topic is in the Holy Scripture. Following St. Apostle Paul, hope is one of the three virtues, as generally considered by church tradition, together with faith and love, but the “greatest of these is love” (I Cor. 13,13). Faith is a central pillar of theological thinking and love is the nature of the relationship of all Christian believers both with God and with their neighbours. Faith is often so focused upon that in some Christian traditions it is the center of Christian life. In other Christian traditions love is more important because God Himself is love and love endures for ever. Therefore, there are strong commandments in relation to faith and to love, but not so much in relation to hope – and this in spite of the attempts to develop a theology of hope.

From the Orthodox perspective these three virtues cannot be separated from each other, because they support each other and only together they can express the fullness of Christian life on earth. Faith is a specific way of knowledge by accepting truths which cannot be known by the natural skills of human beings. In this sense, faith is somehow related to the intellect of believers. Love is the nature of the relationship to God and to each other; it is our answer to God’s love, because He loved us first and invited us to love Him and one another. Therefore, love is linked to our heart. Hope is not simply an expectation of things to come, but a conviction that what God promised will be fulfilled. Therefore, hope is somehow linked to human will.

Now this linkage between the three virtues to different human faculties is very artificial and it is useful only to better understand the interrelation between these three virtues. Linking these virtues to one or another of the human faculties could  also indicate that they are human achievements. They are not, because they are gifts of God given to us though Jesus Christ in His gospel: "He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and without reproach - if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard" (Colossians 1:22-23a). According to St. Isaac the Syrian, hope in God is born from the witness of the conscience of God, and for St. Maximus Confessor, love is born from the hope in God and the absence of passions. The conscience of God is the vivid faith which engenders hope and hope engenders love. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul speaks about the three virtues in one sentence as follows: "We give thanks to God always for all of you,... constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father." (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3). Faith is described as “work”, love as “labor” and hope as “steadfast”. Each one of these acts is completed through a specific function and only all three together express the fullness of the true Christian life.

We can distinguish the three virtues and speak about one of them only methodologically, bearing in mind the fact that they belong together.Hope is the trust God inspires in those who are dedicated to Him. It is not the fullness itself God is preparing for us, but the confidence in God that this fullness could be achieved in faith and love through the help of  His grace. In relation to the biblical testimony about hope we should also mention the beatitudes, which are principles for living Christian life entrusted by Jesus Christ Himself to guide the people of the new Kingdom to perfection. The deep significance of the beatitudes is that hope relates not simply to things in the future, but that it could be experienced in the daily life of each Christian as a guide for living faith in God and for nourishing love for Him and for all His creation.

Taking the issue of hope as a central element of the theme for its next General Assembly, the Conference of European Churches is inviting all churches in Europe and all Christian to place their trust for their future in Christ. One of the most debated ecumenical concerns during the last decades has been the issue of church unity and of a growing fellowship between all Christians, in other words issues of faith and love. Continuing the struggle for their unity, the churches in Europe are invited now to reflect together about their call to one hope in Christ and trust in Him that He is the only One who can bring them to unity in faith and to share His love.

Viorel Ionita
Director, CEC Churches in Dialogue Comission