Victory Over Death and the Acquisition of a Resurrection Hypostasis

Christ Jesus is the savior of the world because in his divine person (hypostasis) he has united created nature and taken it through the crucible of death into a glorified eternal existence. Met John Zizioulas elaborates:

This victory is achieved in the Resurrection, without which there can be no talk of salvation, because death is the problem of creation. “If Christ has not been raised,” says St Paul, “your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15.14). Christ is “the Saviour of the world” not because he sacrificed himself on the Cross, thereby wiping away the sins of the world, but because “he is risen from the dead having trampled death by death.” The West (Catholic and Protestant) has viewed the problem of the world as a moral problem (transgression of a commandment and punishment) and has made of the Cross of Christ the epicentre of faith and worship. However, Orthodoxy continues to insist upon the Resurrection as the centre of its whole life precisely because it sees that the problem of the created is not moral but ontological; it is the problem of the existence (and not of the beauty) of the world, the problem of death. And the Resurrection of Christ was made powerful thanks to the union “without division” but also “without confusion” of the created and the uncreated; in other words, thanks to the love that makes the created and the uncreated surpass their limits and unite “without division,” and thanks to the freedom which means that the created and the uncreated do not lose their diversity by going beyond their limits in this union, but on the contrary preserve it, and so maintain their dialectical relationship. (Communion and Otherness, p. 261)

Mortal human beings can survive their created existence only by transcending themselves, going out of themselves in love and freely uniting themselves to an uncreated hypostasis. For this purpose God offers humanity the crucified and risen Christ.

The teaching of the fourth ecumenical council on the person of Jesus Christ, like the whole of patristic Christology, loses all meaning if it is not related to the problem of the created and the overcoming of death. If Christ is presented there as saviour of the world, it is not because he brought a model of morality or a teaching for humanity; it is because he himself incarnates the overcoming of death, because, in his own person, the created from now on lives eternally. (p. 259)

For the created to escape this destiny [of death], it needs a new birth, that is, a new way of being, a new hypostasis. It is not without reason that the Christology of Chalcedon insists on the fact that the hypostasis of Christ is that of the eternal Son in the holy Trinity; in other words, in the uncreated God, and not a human, that is, created, hypostasis. If the hypostasis of Christ had been created, death would have been just as fatal for him and victory over death impossible. The same goes for each human being. If our hypostasis is the one taken from our biological birth, then … freedom and love–those two constituents of existence—remain apart from one another and death follows. However, if only we can acquire a new hypostasis; in other words, if our personal identity, that which makes us persons, can spring from free relations which are loving and loving relations which are free, then our created nature, united without division and without confusion to the uncreated God, will be saved from its destiny of death. By means of Baptism, followed by the Eucharist, the Church offers us that possibility, because it gives us a new identity deeply rooted in a network of relationships which are not obligatory, like those which create the family and society, but free. (p. 263)

To be saved is to the incorporated into Jesus Christ. In union with the incarnate Son created beings are anchored within the uncreated God. In Christ they take on a new hypostasis, a new identity; in Christ they share the life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This theme is clearly found in the writings of both St Paul and St John the Theologian, but Zizioulas has recast it into the language of personal-relational ontology. Aristotle Papanikolaou explains:

What Christ offers for salvation for human existence, then, is not so much the divine energies as his own hypostasis. … Thus, the significance of the union in Christ is not the communication of divine energies, but becoming a “son” of God by transforming one’s hypostasis through a relationship identical with that of the Son. Christ is the “one” and the “many” in whom our hypostases are not merged or absorbed, but transfigured, or rather constituted in the relationship which Christ has with the Father. It is within this relationship that the human person becomes, or exists eternally as a unique and unrepeatable being. (“Divine Energies or Divine Personhood,” Modern Theology 19 [July 2003], p. 369)

Baptized into Christ we are made sons in the Son. This union with the risen Lord is the realization of immortality and eternal salvation. Thus sings the Apostle: “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?”

(21 April 2013)

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16 Responses to Victory Over Death and the Acquisition of a Resurrection Hypostasis

  1. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    It’s been five years since I wrote this article. Upon re-reading it this morning, this phrase jumped out at me: “death is the problem of creation.” I expected to see the word “fallen” immediately preceding “creation.” Ditto for this sentence: “However, Orthodoxy continues to insist upon the Resurrection as the centre of its whole life precisely because it sees that the problem of the created is not moral but ontological; it is the problem of the existence (and not of the beauty) of the world, the problem of death.”

    I now see why some of Zizoulas’s critics believe that he has identified finitude with fallenness. After writing this series of Ziloulas I moved on to other things and haven’t returned to him. I don’t know the status of the debate between Zizioulas and his critics.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert says:

      Yes indeed that is very problematic with Zizioulas’ position. Redemption constitutes a departure from one’s creaturely nature. The debate came to an impasse if I am not mistaken – the Met.’s defense only furthered the ‘controversy’.


  2. Lee M. says:

    In addition to the issues mentioned above–I wonder if there’s a danger here of downplaying the cross too much (though I agree it has been overemphasized in some western theology). In particular, the NT makes a big deal of the fact that Jesus not only died, but died the particularly shameful and degrading death of the cross. (This is a major theme in Fleming Rutledge’s recent book on the Crucifixion.) That is, the Risen One is also the Crucified, and these two parts of the Paschal mystery interpret each other. On Zizioulas’ account (though I realize it’s just an excerpt from a longer work), would it make a difference if Jesus had died peacefully in old age?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      Great question Lee. This caught my eye because I’ve just recently read Rutledge’s book and engage it elsewhere.

      Actually I thought the point you make here (that the entire career of the Incarnate One is what saves/redeems us, Christ as the ‘risen-crucified one’) was not adequately made by Rutledge who I think over-invested in a particular understanding of the Cross as absolute dereliction which she identifies as the Second Death (Rev. 21.8). In my view, Resurrection does end up interpreting the identify of the one on the Cross and, I think, makes so absolute a dereliction impossible. That said, I do agree one can read the Resurrection so triumphalistically that Jesus only suffers a minor inconvenience. So as you say, Christ is not just ‘the Risen One’ but rather ‘the Risen-Slaughtered One’ simultaneously.

      I don’t know what others think about this, but given our human predicament (sin, violence, etc.), I think a violent death was an essential piece of the puzzle, but not because God required its violence. There’s no satisfaction in that sense (which I don’t think Rutledge finally avoids). Rather, we required it. We would not have it any other way given our enslavement to violence, and that sinful violence had to be borne and unmasked. The Cross is where it’s borne. The resurrection is where it’s unmasked.

      Had Jesus died peacefully as an old man and rose again, his resurrection would doubtless address a certain anxiety we have about our mortality (Heb 2.14-15), but it would not unmask the violent narratives that enslave us.

      Apart from the resurrection we have no idea that it’s ‘God’ on the Cross, and apart from the Cross, we have no idea that the risen Jesus bore our violence in forgiveness. Zizioulas seems committed to expounding the dynamics of the first part of the equation (that without resurrection we have no means of transcending mortality), while Rutledge is seeks to expound the dynamics of the second (that without Jesus’ dying violently at our hands, we have no grounds for seeing in him God forgiveness of us).

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      • One of the difficulties I have seen in the East-West divide is balance. I know my own Protestant instincts place more value on the Cross than the Resurrection. I think that a dialectic paradigm to the Lord’s Passion might be the most helpful, where the Cross and Resurrection inform and interpret each-other.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Lee M. says:

        Tom, I really like the way you put it. I agree that Rutledge may go too far in emphasizing the dereliction of the cross. I also agree that she’s not wholly successful at blunting some of the criticisms of satisfaction/substitution theories of the Atonement–ultimately, it seems that, for her, God still “needs” the death of Jesus to forgive us, even if she (rightly) insists that it is God in Christ who is reconciling us to God.

        I think we can still say that the cross is a judgment on human sin (along the lines you suggest) without embracing the cruder satisfaction-type understands; without the cross, I do think human culpability threatens to drop out of the picture.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        Fr Al insisted I correct my typos:

        “The Cross does is where it’s borne” should read “The Cross is where it’s borne.”
        “…we have no grounds for seeing in him God forgiveness us…” should read “…God’s forgiveness of us.”


        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Tom, I really appreciate your obedience to my magisterial mandate (restricted to you alone, by the way) that your comments not contain any spelling and grammatical errors. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        I do not know if Zizioulas underplays the crucifixion—I have forgotten so much—but I doubt it. Zizioulas is firmly located within the Eastern liturgical tradition, and that tradition cannot be rightly accused of diminishing or ignoring our Lord’s terrible sufferings and death. I can say this confidently, as we have just recently celebrated Holy Week. But I think it is true that the Eastern tradition does not understand the sufferings and death as something good in itself, as if God’s suffering and death were necessary to reconcile God to humanity. I have not read Rutledge’s book, but I perhaps Patrick Reardon’s book on the atonement should be read alongside hers. Orthodox Christians begin and end with the resurrection of Jesus. All is Pascha. The Cross is thus a triumph of the goodness of God over the principalities and powers and of death itself. Into this victory we have been baptized.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Gregory Francis says:

      I also would like to add that the violent death of Jesus on the cross, at “our hands,” carries the notion that not only the world in a neutral sense, but the false “prince of this world,” the hostile principalities and powers manifested in the imperial Roman system, and in the passions of the mob, and in the human condition, put Jesus to death only to be overpowered. While a peaceful death may have accomplished the same thing, it seems to me that, in Jesus’ life and the NT in general, Sheol itself as an agent, at God’s permission, caused the violent death because its time was running short and ran itself against Jesus to its own demise.

      The type of death of Jesus “could not be” – and I guess I’m using that loosely – the peaceful death of the Patriarchs, allowed by God in good time, or Moses, by the kiss of God, but “had to be” the beleaguered death of the Psalmists, the descent of Jonah, or the Suffering Servant, where the “cords of death” act in opposition to God’s authority. In a violent death, its true force as an antithetical power is exposed – or, as Tom said, “unmasked.”

      The violence was not God’s violence, but rather the violence of God’s enemies – or, at least, the violence of God’s enemies, given permission by God. And admittedly the distinction there is murky, depending on whether the psalmists hold God secondarily responsible for leaving them to their fate, like in Psalm 42 (“all your waves and breakers…”) or the prophetic depiction of the Exile, or not, as in the classic case of Psalm 18 where God appears purely as the Savior against the purely hostile forces of death.


  3. Robert says:

    There’s a false east vs. west narrative and it manifests in various ways. The east/resurrection – west/crucifixion is another such. I don’t think Met. Zizioulas can be charged with marginalizing the crucifixion.


    • I think that the narrative is real, but based in misunderstanding and often fraught with caricatures. The truth of the matter, regardless of the ecclesial divide, the East and West need each other. On the other hand, I don’t think it is wrong to have certain emphases within a tradition or a school of thought, these just need to be balanced by an openness to other sources.


      • Robert says:

        Yes, grand narratives based on false caricatures borne out of ignorance and convenience; I’ve been west and east for decades -theologically, ecclesiastically, physically- the neat divide (mystic vs scholastic, oneness vs diversity, nature vs. hypostasis, resurrection vs. crucifixion, etc. etc.) just doesn’t hold up and IMO needs to be called for what it is – big fat nonsense.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Jack says:

    This seems not much different than maximus the confessor’s view. Createdness itself is not sin, but Maximus is emphatic in several places that in the end, man is called to transcend the conditions of finitude. In deification man takes on the divine and uncreated “mode” of existence, though his “substance” remains created and human. Maximus even goes so far as to say that those who are deified are liberated even from “being generated” and indeed take on beginningless (not merely endless) life. His “ever moving repose” seems to me unequivocally about the transcence of distance and temporality. He does indeed stress that this is a life of communion, but it is an ineffable communion. He seems emphatic that the “8th day of creation” transcends all finitude yet God remains God and we, creatures.


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