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Question 108.


Dear Fr Christopher,

In the Gospel of St. John, at the Lord’s Supper, Christ says, “My Father is greater than I.” Why then did The Lord Jesus say earlier in John 10:30 that "I and My Father are one"? When He said 'My Father is greater than I", did He mean that His human nature and not His divine nature is inferior/lower to God the Father. Is it fair to say that Christ as man cannot really be equal to the Father? Despite that He is Perfect Man, no man, no matter how perfect he may be, can be God. Obviously Christ did not cease to be God, to remain always “in the bosom of the Father.” Never did He cease to be Perfect God. I did a bit of research and found that the real meaning of the above words of Christ, “My Father is greater than I,” is that He is greater than I because you see Me now as a human being in the form of a servant; however, I remain God “in the bosom of the Father,” but I will return to the Father also as human. At that time, My human nature will be granted unlimited glory.
I suppose that because the second person of the Holy Trinity (Christ) became visible to His creation and that the Father (The 1st person of the Holy Trinity) remained invisible, there is a difference in Who is greater/superior. But why then does Christ say that "Whoever has seen Me , has seen the Father also"?
I found some other verses in the Gospel of John that proves that Christ is equal in honor to the Father:
"My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" (John 5:17).
"For what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise" (John 5:19).
"For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom He will" (John 5:21).
"For as the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself" (John 5:26).
"That all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father" (John 5:23).
He is One in Essence with the Father:
"I and My Father are one" (John 10:30) — in Greek, en esmen, one in essence.
"All Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine" (John 17:10).
Furthermore, in Luke 22, Christ went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him. When He came to the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.”
I think that here again, Christ shows us that the will of the Father is greater/superior to the will of the Son, as Christ preferred His Father's will rather than His own.

Regards, John

Answer to Question 108.

 

Dear John
Part of what you write is true, but you seem to be confused about who Christ is. Your confusion should be made clear once you understand the Dogmas of the Church concerning Christ the God-man, his two natures and two wills.
Firstly let us give absolute proof that Christ is God. You have given a few quotes from John to testify to this and indeed John is the Evangelist that clearly wrote his Gospel on a higher theological and spiritual level than the other three Gospels and concentrated on giving testimony to the Divinity of Christ.
John begins his Gospel saying: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Here we are explicitly told that God the Word and Son of God is eternal and without beginning just as the Father is. There was not a time that he did not exist. Thus the Son of God is not a creation; he was never created, but always was and is the creator of all things. When Holy Scripture talks about creation it uses the verb “to create or to make” and when it talks about God it uses the verb “to be” Thus in the creation of the world is says “In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth.” And when Jesus talked of himself to the Jews he said “Before Abraham was I AM” and this he used in the present tense to underline his eternal and without beginning existence with the Father. John clearly says that “The Word was God” and in fact the whole New Testament is full of phrases and verses that testify that Christ is God or where he himself proclaims that he is God and equal to the Father or accepts from others the title of God. The quotes are too many to mention, but it is worth looking at one more testimony which proves that Christ proclaimed himself equal to the father. It concerns the dialogue Christ had with the Apostle Phillip. Phillip said to Christ: “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us. And Jesus replied, “I have been with you such a long time and yet you still do not know me Philip? He that has seen me has seen the Father; so how can you say show us the Father.” (John 14:8-9) Here there is no clearer testimony concerning the divinity of Christ, his equality and consubstantiation with the Father. Because Christ’s words can only be valid if he is God in exactly the same way the Father is God.
The Orthodox Church teaches according to Holy Scripture that Christ is both perfect God and perfect man. As God he is equal and of one substance with the Father and as man it is only natural that he is lower than God. But because he has two natures it follows that he also has two wills the divine and human and he sometimes speaks and acts as God and at other times he speaks and acts as a human. When he speaks and acts as a human it is usually in connection with the Passion, the Resurrection and his Ascension into heaven because these he suffered as a man. When Christ speaks of the Father as greater than himself he is referring to his human nature because as God the Word he was and is always with the Father and had no need to go to him.
Christ acts according to both his natures. Each nature acts according to its own properties: In the story of Jairus’ daughter the human hand raises the young girl, the divine restores her to life; when Christ walked on water, the human feet walked on the surface of the water, because the divinity had made it firm. “It is not the human nature that raised Lazarus, it was not the divine power which shed tears before the tomb,” said St. John of Damascus. The two wills proper to the two natures are different, but He who wills is one, though He wills in conformity with each of the two natures. Each nature exercises its own free will. Christ’s divine nature had a specific task to perform and so did His human, without being confused nor subjected to any change or working against each other: the divine performing miracles and the human performing the ordinary acts of daily life.
In all cases where the Father is mentioned as being greater than Christ it is always referring to Christ’s humanity and not his divinity. Thus the verse from 1 Corinthians which says “The head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3) refers to his manhood as does the passage from Mark “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.” (Mark 13:32) But this passage also reveals another side of his human nature. As a perfect human being Christ had all the characteristics of human nature and one of these is ignorance. In the account of Lazarus’ resurrection we see how the humanity of Christ is revealed by his weeping but also of his ignorance of where Lazarus was buried. A hymn for the feast says: “Foreknowing all things as God, Thou hast foretold to the apostles the death of Lazarus; yet at Bethany, when in the presence of the people, thou hast as man asked where Thy friend was buried, being ignorant of this.” (Lauds)
You mentioned the Prayer of Gethsemane where Christ says: “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matt. 26:39) These words do not prove as some would say that Christ is not God but only confirm that Christ is also human and acts according to both his natures. Here we see his human nature freely manifesting itself in fear of the approaching passion. The prayer of Gethsemane was an expression of horror in the face of death, a reaction proper to all human nature, especially to an incorrupt nature which should not submit to death, and for whom death could only be a voluntary rending contrary to nature. When His human will refused to accept death, and His divine will made way for this manifestation of His humility, the Lord in conformity with His human nature, submitted to struggle and fear, and prayed to be spared from death. But since His divine will desired that His human will should accept death, the humanity of Christ voluntarily accepted the Passion.
For centuries the Church has had to defend her teachings from heresies that undermined the two natures and the two wills of Christ. This the Church did by calling together Ecumenical Councils, where after careful examination of the scriptures, dogmas were formulated to define the official teachings of the Church.
The fourth Ecumenical Council was summoned to deal with the dogma of the two natures of Christ. It was held in Chalcedon, near Constantinople in 451 under Emperor Marcian. A total of 630 bishops were present. A new heresy was spreading its tentacles led by an archimandrite called Eutyches and his aid Dioscorus who was now Bishop of Alexandria. The previous Council dealt with the Nestorian controversy which denied that the person of Christ who was born of Mary was both God and Man and divided him into two persons and two natures, this new heresy taught exactly the opposite. Eutyches and Dioscorus confused the two natures into one. They said that Christ’s human nature which was less perfect, dissolved itself in His divine nature which was more perfect, thus Christ only had one nature the Divine. This heresy is called Monophysite a composite word from ‘mono’ meaning one and ‘physis’ meaning nature. Hence, the term Monophysitism overemphasized the divine nature of Christ, at the expense of the human. The Council condemned Monophysitism and formulated the dogma that Christ has two complete natures: the divine and the human in the following statement:
"Following the holy Fathers we teach with one voice that the Son [of God] and our Lord Jesus Christ is to be confessed as one and the same [Person], that He is perfect in Godhead and perfect in manhood, very God and very man, of a reasonable soul and [human] body consisting, consubstantial with the Father as touching His Godhead, and consubstantial with us as touching His manhood; made in all things like unto us, sin only excepted; begotten of the Father before the worlds according to His Godhead, but in these last days for us men and for our salvation born [into the world] of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God according to His manhood. This one and the same Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son [of God] must be confessed to be in two natures, unconfusedly, immutably, indivisibly, inseparably [united], and that without the distinction of natures being taken away by such union, but rather the peculiar property of each nature being preserved and being united in one Person and subsistence, not separated or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, as the Prophets of old time have spoken concerning Him, and as the Lord Christ hath taught us, and as the Creed of the Fathers hath delivered to us."
In the seventh century another heresy appeared denying that Christ had a human will and the Sixth Ecumenical Council was convened to examine and condemn its teachings. The Council met in Constantinople in 680 AD and was convened by Emperor Constantine IV (Pogonatos) and was attended by 170 bishops. The previous Councils concerned themselves with the Monophysite heresy, this new heresy was called Monothelitism. It said that although the God-man Christ had two natures, yet since He is a single person, He has only one will and subsequently only one mode of activity: the divine. In other words Christ didn’t have a human will or his human will was totally absorbed into his divine will. The Council replied that if Christ has two natures, if follows that He also has two wills and two operations. In each act of Christ one can see two distinct operations, for Christ acts in conformity to both natures, and by both natures. The two wills proper to the two natures are different, but He who wills is one, though He wills in conformity with each of the two natures. Each nature exercises its own free will". Christ's divine nature had a specific task to perform and so did His human, without being confused nor subjected to any change or working against each other: the divine performing miracles and the human performing the ordinary acts of daily life.
The dogma is as follows:
"We declare that in Him (Christ) are two natural wills and two natural operations indivisibly, inconvertibly, inseparably, inconfusedly, according to the teaching of the holy fathers. And these two natural wills are not contrary the one to the other (God forbid!) as the impious heretics assert, but His human will follows and that not as resisting and reluctant, but rather as subject to His divine and omnipotent will. For it was right that the flesh should be moved, but subject to the divine will, according to the wise Athanasius. For as His flesh is called and is the flesh of God the Word, so also the natural will of His flesh is called and is the proper will of God the Word, as He Himself says: “I came down from heaven, not that I might do mine own will, but the will of the Father which sent me.” where He calls His own will the will of the flesh, inasmuch as His flesh was also His own. For as His most holy and immaculate animated flesh was not destroyed, because it was deified, but continued in its own state and nature, so also His human will, although deified, was not suppressed, but was rather preserved according to the saying of Gregory the Theologian: “His will [the Saviour’s] is not contrary to God but altogether deified”.
We glorify two natural operations indivisibly, immutably, inconfusedly, inseparably in the same our Lord Jesus Christ our true God, that is to say a divine operation and a human operation, according to the divine preacher Leo, who most distinctly asserts as follows: “For each form does in communion with the other what pertains to it, the Word, namely doing that which pertains to the Word, and the flesh that which pertains to the flesh”.
For we will not admit one natural operation in God and in the creature, as we will not exalt into the divine essence what is created, nor will we bring down the glory of the divine nature to the place suited to the creature.
We recognize the miracles and the sufferings as of one and the same [Person], but of one or the other nature of which He is and in which He exists, as Cyril admirably says. Preserving therefore the inconfusedness and indivisibility, we make briefly this whole confession, believing our Lord Jesus Christ to be one of the Trinity and after the incarnation our true God, we say that His two natures shone forth in His one subsistence in which He both performed the miracles and endured the sufferings through the whole of His economic association and that not in appearance only, but in very deed, and this by reason of the difference of nature which must be recognized in the same Person, for although joined together yet each nature wills and does the things proper to it and that indivisibly and inconfusedly. Wherefore we confess two wills and two operations, concurring most fitly in Him for the salvation of the human race."
Some of the language used by the Church in her dogmas might be difficult to understand, but as these are statements defining the official beliefs of the Church they must be written with precision and with very delicate distinctions leaving no room for errors that could be misinterpreted by her enemies.
If you still have questions concerning certain passages that I may not have answered feel free to write again. Most of what I have written can be found on my website on the Talks page and in the book "Instructions for joining the Orthodox Church" where I cover the dogmas of the church, the disputes, the differences between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic and Protestant, the sacraments, fasting, prayer and a great deal more.

With love in Christ
Fr. Christopher