Bishop Alexander of the Russian Orthodox church
. . . . . . . . .
Every morning at its matins service the Orthodox Church proclaims: “God is the Lord and has revealed Himself unto us; blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Psalm 118:26-27). The first foundation of Christian doctrine is found in this biblical line: God has revealed Himself to us.
God has shown Himself to His creatures. He has not disclosed His very innermost being, for this innermost essence of God cannot be grasped by creatures. But God has truly shown what men can see and understand of His divine nature and will.
The fullness and perfection of God's self-revelation is found in His Son Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of the gradual and partial revelation of God in the Old Testament. Jesus is the one truly “blessed… who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Jesus, the divine Word of God in human flesh, comes to teach men by his presence, his words and his deeds. His disciples are sent into the world to proclaim Him and His Gospel, which means literally the “glad tidings” or the “good news” of the Kingdom of God. Those whom Jesus sends are called the apostles, which means literally “those who are sent.” The apostles are directly inspired by God's Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth (John 15:26), to “make disciples of all nations” teaching them what Christ has commanded (Matthew 28:19).
The early Church, we are told, “devoted themselves to the apostles' doctrine” (Acts 2:42). Doctrine means the pholosophy on which all teaching or instruction is based. The apostles' doctrine is the doctrine of Jesus and becomes the doctrine of the Christian Church. It is received by the disciples of every age and generation as the very doctrine of God. It is proclaimed everywhere and always as the doctrine of eternal life, through which all people and the whole world are enlightened and saved
It cannot be overstressed that divine revelation in the Old Testament, in the Church of the New Testament, in the lives of the saints, in the wisdom of the fathers, in the beauty of creation … and most fully and perfectly in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the revelation of God Himself. God has spoken. God has acted. God has manifested Himself and continues to manifest Himself in the lives of His people.
If we want to hear God's voice and see God's actions of self-revelation in the world, we must purify our minds and hearts from everything that is wicked and false. We must strive to love the truth, to love one another, and to love everything in God's good creation. According to the Orthodox faith, purification from falsehood and sin is the way to the knowledge of God. If we open ourselves to divine grace and purify ourselves from all evils, then it is certain that we will be able to interpret the scriptures properly and come into living communion with the true and living God who has revealed Himself and continues to reveal Himself to those who love Him.
The ongoing life of God's People is called Holy Tradition. The Holy Tradition of the Old Testament is expressed in the Old Testamental part of the Bible and in the ongoing life of the People of Israel until the birth of Christ. This tradition is fulfilled, completed and transcended in the time of the Messiah and in the Christian Church.
The New Testamental or Christian Tradition is also called the apostolic tradition and the tradition of the Church. The central written part of this tradition is the New Testamental writings in the Bible. The gospels and the other writings of the apostolic church form the heart of the Christian tradition and are the main written source and inspiration of all that developed in later ages.
This Christian tradition is given over from people to people, place to place,through time. Tradition as a word means exactly this: it is that which is “passed on” and “given over” from one to another. Holy Tradition is, therefore, that which is passed on and given over within the Church from the time of Christ's apostles to the present day.
Although containing many written documents, Holy Tradition is not at all limited to what is written; it is not merely a body of literature, but rather, the total life and experience of the entire Church, transferred from place to place and from generation to generation. Tradition is the very life of the Church itself, as it is inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit.
Not everything in the Church belongs to its Holy Tradition, for not everything in the Church is done by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and not everything in the Church pertains essentially and necessarily to the Kingdom of God. Some things in the Church are just temporal and temporary things, merely human customs and traditions of no eternal and everlasting value. Such things, in themselves, are not sinful or wrong. On the contrary, they may be very positive and very helpful to the life of the Church as long as they are not misinterpreted. Thus, it is very important in the Church to make the distinction between traditions which are merely earthly, human and customs that fade away and the genuine Holy Tradition which pertains to the heavenly and eternal Kingdom of God
Among the elements which make up the Holy Tradition of the Church, the Bible holds the first place. Next, comes the Church's liturgical life and its prayer, then its dogmatic decisions and the acts of its approved churchly councils, the writings of the church fathers, the lives of the saints, the canon laws, and finally, the iconographic tradition together with the other inspired forms of creative artistic expression, such as music and architecture.
All of the elements of Holy Tradition are organically linked together in real life. None of them stands alone. None may be separated or isolated from the other or from the wholeness of the life of the Church.
The written record of God's revelation is the Bible, which means the book, or the books. The Bible is also called the Holy Scriptures. Scripture as a word simply means writings.
The Bible was written over thousands of years by many different people. It is divided into two testaments or covenants. These words signify agreements, pacts, or we might say. “deals.” The two basic covenants are the Old Testament and the New Testament; each has its own scriptures. As a book, the Bible contains many different kinds of writings: law, prophecy, history, poetry, stories, aphorisms, prayers, letters and symbolical visions.
The Old Testament scripture begins with the five books of the Law called the Pentateuch, which means the five books. This section is also called the Torah, which means the Law. Sometimes these books may be called the Books of Moses, since they are centered on the exodus and the Mosaic laws.
In the Old Testament there are books of the history of Israel, which are called the Wisdom books, such as the Psalms, Proverbs, the Book of Job, and books of the prophecies, which use the names of the Old Testament prophets. A prophet is one who speaks the Word of God by direct divine inspiration. Only secondarily does the word prophet mean one who foretells the future.
The Orthodox Church also numbers among the genuine books of the Old Testament the so-called apocryphal books, literally meaning the secret or hidden writings. Other Christians put these books in a secondary place, as they are not considered to be derived from divine inspiration.
The center part of the New Testament part of the Bible is the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John who are called the four evangelists. The word evangelists means those who wrote the gospels. Gospel in Greek is evangelion which means the “glad tidings” or the “good news.”
In the New Testament scripture there is also the book of the Acts of the Apostles, written by St. Luke. There are fourteen letters called the epistles (which simply means letters) were written by the Apostle Paul, except for the Letter to the Hebrews, which may not have been written directly by him. Three letters are ascribed to the Apostle John; two to the Apostle Peter; and one each to the Apostles James and Jude. Finally, there is the Book of Revelation, also called the Apocalypse, which is ascribed to St. John as well.
For the Orthodox, the Bible is the main written source of divine doctrine since God Himself inspired its writing by His Holy Spirit (see 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter l:20). This is the doctrine of the inspiration of the Bible, written by men inspired by God, which are truly their own human words — all words are human — nevertheless may be called altogether the Word of God. Thus, the Bible is the Word of God in written form, because it contains not merely the thoughts and experiences of men, but the very self-revelation of God.
The center of the Bible as the written Word of God in human form is the person of the Living Word of God in human form, Jesus Christ. All parts of the Bible are interpreted in the Orthodox Church in the light of Christ since everything in the Bible leads up to Christ and speaks about Him (Luke 24:44). This is symbolized in the Orthodox Church by the fact that only the book of the four gospels is enthroned on the altars of our churches and not the entire Bible. This is so because everything in the Bible is fulfilled in Christ.
When the Church, which means literally the gathering or assembly of people who are called together to perform a specific task, assembles as God's People to worship, this task is called the liturgy of the Church. As a word liturgy means the common work or action of a particular group of people for the sake of all. Thus, the divine liturgy of the Christian Church means the common work of God done by the people of God.
The liturgy of the people who used the Old Testament was the official worship in the temple of Jerusalem according to the Mosaic Law. This included the annual feasts, fasts, private prayers and services held by the Israelites, at home or in the synagogues. Synagogues by definition are houses of gathering; they are not temples because according to the Law there was just the temple in Jerusalem, where the priestly worship was conducted. In the synagogues, the Israelites gathered for prayer and scriptural study, preaching and contemplation of the Word of God.
In the New Testament Church, the liturgy is centered in the person of Christ and is primarily a “christening” of the Old Testament liturgical life. The Christian Church retains the liturgical life of the Old Testament in a new and eternal perspective. Thus, the prayers of the Old Testament, the scriptures and the psalms, are read and sung in the light of Christ. The sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ replaces the Old Testament sacrifices in the temple. The Lord's Day, Sunday, replaces the old Jewish sabbath, which is Saturday.
The Jewish feasts also take on new meaning in the Christian Church with the central feast of Passover, for example, becoming the celebration of Christ's death and resurrection; and the feast of Pentecost becoming the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit which fulfills the Old Testamental Law. The Christian liturgical year is also patterned after the Old Testamental prototype.
From the basic foundation of the Old Testament liturgy the Church developed its own sacramental life, with baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity, chrismation, holy communion, marriage, repentance, and healing. The Churchly ministry and priesthood taking on specifically Christian forms and meaning. In addition, a great wealth of specifically Christian prayers, hymns and blessings were developed, along with specifically Christian feasts and celebrations in remembrance of New Testamental events and saints.
The living experience of the Christian sacramental and liturgical life is a primary source of Christian doctrine. In the liturgy of the Church, the Bible and the Holy Tradition come alive and are given to the living experience of the Christian people. Thus, through prayer and sacramental worship men are “taught by God” as was predicted for the messianic age (John 6:45).
In addition to the living experience of the liturgy, the texts of the services and sacraments provide a written source of doctrine in that they may be studied and contemplated by one who desires an understanding of Christian teachings. According to the common opinion of the Orthodox Church, the sacramental and liturgical texts — the hymns, blessings, prayers, symbols, and rituals-contain no formal errors or deformations of the Christian faith and can be trusted absolutely to reveal the genuine doctrine of the Orthodox Church. It may well be that some of the historical information contained in church feasts is inaccurate or merely symbolical, but there is no question in the Church, that the doctrinal and spiritual meaning of all of the feasts is genuine and authentic which provides true experience and knowledge of God.
As the church progressed through history it was faced with many difficult decisions. The Church always settled difficulties and made decisions by reaching a consensus of opinion among all the believers, inspired by God, who were led by their appointed leaders, first the apostles and then the bishops.
The first church council in history was held in the apostolic church to decide the conditions under which the gentiles, that is, the non-Jews, could enter the Christian Church (see Acts 15). From that time on, all through history councils were held on every level of church life to make important decisions. Bishops met regularly with their priests, also called presbyters or elders, and people. It became the practice, and even the law, very early in church history that bishops in given regions should meet in councils held on a regular basis.
At times in church history, councils of all of the bishops in the church were called. All the bishops were not able to attend these councils, of course, and not all such councils were automatically approved and accepted by the Church in its Holy Tradition. In the Orthodox Church only seven such councils, (some of which were actually quite small in terms of the number of bishops attending), have received the universal approval of the entire Church in all times and places. These councils have been termed the Seven Ecumenical Councils (see chart).
The dogmatic definitions (dogma means official teaching) and the canon laws of the ecumenical councils are understood to be inspired by God and to be expressive of His will for men. Thus, they are essential sources of Orthodox Christian doctrine.
Besides the seven ecumenical councils, there are other local church councils whose decisions have also received the approval of all Orthodox Churches in the world, and so are considered to be genuine expression of the Orthodox faith and life. The decisions of these councils are mostly of a moral or structural character. Nevertheless, they too, reveal the teaching of the Orthodox Church.
· Nicea I – 325, Formulated the First Part of the Creed, defining the divinity of the Son of God.
· Constantinople I – 381, Formulated the Second Part of the Creed, defining the divinity of the Holy Spirit.
· Ephesus — 431, Defined Christ as the Incarnate Word of God and Mary as Theotokos.
· Chalcedon — 451, Defined Christ as Perfect God and Perfect Man in One Person.
· Constantinople II – 553, Reconfirmed the Doctrines of the Trinity and of Christ.
· Constantinople III – 680, Affirmed the True Humanity of Jesus by insisting upon the reality of His human will and action.
· Nicea II — 787, Affirmed the propriety of icons as genuine expressions of the Christian Faith.
There are in the church a number of saints who were theologians and spiritual teachers who defended and explained the doctrines of the Christian Faith. These saints are called the holy fathers of the Church and their teachings are called the patristic teachings (Patristic is from the Greek word for father).
Generally speaking, the Orthodox tradition regards the teachers of heresies as not merely being mistaken, ignorant or misguided, but it accuses them of being completely aware of their actions, and therefore, sinful. A person merely misguided, mistaken, or teaching what he believes to be the truth, without being challenged or opposed, for his possible errors is not considered to be a heretic, in the true sense of the word. Many of the saints and even the holy fathers have elements in their teachings which Christians of later times have considered as being false or inaccurate. This, of course, does not make them heretics
The writings of the Church Fathers are not infallible, and it has even been said that in any given one of them, some things could be found which could be questioned in the light of the fullness of the Tradition of the Church. Nevertheless, taken as a whole, the writings of the Fathers which are built upon the biblical and liturgical foundations of Christian faith and life have great authority within the Orthodox Church and are primary sources for the discovery of the Church's doctrine.
The writings of some of those fathers who have received the universal approval and praise of the Church, through the ages, are of particular importance. Thses fathers are Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyons, Athanasius of Alexandria, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Cyril of Jerusalem, Maximus the Confessor, John of Damascus, Photius of Constantinople and Gregory Palamas: as well as, the ascetical and spiritual fathers such as Anthony of Egypt, Macarius of Egypt, John of the Ladder, Isaac of Syria, Ephraim of Syria, Simeon the New Theologian and others
The doctrine of the Church comes alive in the lives of the true believers, the saints. The saints are those who literally share the holiness of God. “Be holy, for I your God am holy” (Leviticus 11:44; I Peter 1:16). The lives of the saints bear witness to the authenticity and truth of the Christian gospel, the true gift of God's holiness to men
In the Church there are different classifications of saints. In addition to the holy fathers who are quite specifically glorified for their teaching, there are a number of classifications of the various types of holy people according to the particular aspects of their holiness.
Thus, there are the apostles who are sent to proclaim the Christian faith, the evangelists who specifically announce and even write down the gospels, the prophets who are directly inspired to speak God's word to men. There are the confessors who suffer for the faith and the martyrs who die for it. There are the so-called “holy ones,” the saints from among the monks and nuns; and the “righteous” those from among the lay people
There are canon laws of ecumenical councils, of provincial and local councils, and of individual church fathers which have been received by the entire Orthodox Church as normative for Christian doctrine and practice. The word canon means literally rule or norm or measure of judging. In this sense the canon laws are not positive laws in the juridical sense and cannot be easily identified with laws as understood and operative in human jurisprudence.
The canons of the Church are distinguished first between those of a dogmatic or doctrinal nature and those of a practical, ethical, or structural character. They are then further distinguished between those which may be changed and altered and those which are unchangeable and may not be altered under any conditions.
The dogmatic canons are the council definitions which speak about an article of the Christian faith; for example, the nature and person of Jesus Christ. Although such canons may be explained and developed in new and different words, particularly as the Church Tradition grows and moves through time, their essential meaning remains eternal and unchanging.
Some canons of a moral and ethical character also belong to those which cannot be changed. These are the moral canons whose meaning is absolute and eternal and whose violation can in no way be justified. The canons which forbid the sale of Church sacraments are this type.
In addition, there are,, canons of a practical nature which may be changed and which, in fact, have been changed in the course of the life of the Church. There are also some which may be changed but which remain in force, because the Church has shown the desire to retain them. An example of the former type is the canon which requires the priests of the church to be ordained to office, after reaching thirty years of age. Although this type of canon remains normative and does set a certain ideal which theoretically may still be of value, the needs of the Church have led to its violation in actual life. The canon which requires that the bishops of the Church be unmarried is the latter type
Taken by themselves, the canon laws of the Church can be misleading and frustrating, and therefore superficial people will say “either enforce them all or discard them completely.” But taken as a whole within the wholeness of Orthodox life - theological, historical, canonical, and spiritual - these canons do assume their proper place and purpose and show themselves to be a rich source for discovering the living Truth of God in the Church. In viewing the canons of the Church, the key factors are Christian knowledge and wisdom which are borne from technical study and spiritual depth. There is no other “key” to their usage; and any other way would be, both unorthodox and unchristian, according to the Orthodox faith.
The orthodox church has a rich tradition of iconography, as well as other church arts: music, architecture, sculpture, needlework, poetry, etc. This artistic tradition is based on the Orthodox Christian doctrine of human creativity rooted in God's love for man and the world in creation.
Because man is created in the image and likeness of God, and because God so loved man and the world, as to create, save and glorify them by His own coming in Christ and the Holy Spirit, the artistic expressions of man and the blessings and inspirations of God merge into a holy artistic creativity, which truly expresses the deepest truths of the Christian vision of God, man, and nature.
The icon is Orthodoxy's highest artistic achievement. It is a gospel proclamation, a doctrinal teaching and a spiritual inspiration in colors and lines.
The traditional Orthodox icon is not a holy picture. It is not a pictorial portrayal of some Christian saint or event in a “photocopy” way. It is, on the contrary, the expression of the eternal and divine reality, significance, and purpose of the given person or event depicted. In the gracious freedom of the divine inspiration, the icon depicts its subject as at the same time both human and yet “full of God,” earthly and yet heavenly, physical and yet spiritual, “bearing the cross” and yet full of grace, light, peace and joy. In this way, the icon expresses a deeper “realism” than that which would be shown in the simple reproduction of the physical externals of the historic person or event. Thus, in their own unique way the various types of Orthodox icons, through their form and style and manner of depiction, as well as, through their actual contents and use in the Church, are an inexhaustible source of revelation of the Orthodox doctrine and faith.
Musical expression may be added to the icon as a source of discovering the Orthodox Christian world view. However, this may be difficult because of the loss of liturgical and spiritual meaning of music, in the Church in recent years. Just as the theological meaning of the traditional Orthodox icon is being rediscovered, so is the traditional doctrinal significance of Orthodox music. The process in the latter case, however, is much slower, much more difficult and much less evident to the average person
Therefore to study the holy icons and the hymns of the Church's liturgy is a very important spiritual exercise for Christians. One can learn much about God and His gracious actions among men by a careful and prayerful contemplation of the artistic expressions of Church doctrine and life.
The Nicene Creed should be called the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed since it was formally drawn up at the first ecumenical council in Nicea (325) and at the second ecumenical council in Constantinople (381).
In the early Church, there were many different forms of the Christian confession of faith; many different “creeds.” These creeds were used originally in relation to baptism. Before being baptized a person had to state what he believed. The earliest Christian creed was probably the simple confession of faith that Jesus is the Christ, i.e. the Messiah; and that the Christ is Lord. By publicly confessing this belief, the person could be baptized into Christ, dying and rising with Him into the New Life of the Kingdom of God in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
As time passed different places had different credal statements, all professing the identical faith, yet using a variety of forms and expressions, with different degrees of detail and emphasis. These credal forms usually became more detailed and elaborate in those areas where questions about the faith had arisen and heresies had developed.
In the fourth century, a great controversy developed in Christendom about the nature of the Son of God (also called in the Scripture the Word or Logos). Some said, that the Son of God is a creature like everything else made by God. Others contended, that the Son of God is eternal, divine, and uncreated. Many councils met and made many statements of faith about the nature of the Son of God. The controversy raged throughout the entire Christian world.
It was the definition of the council which the Emperor Constantine called in the city of Nicea in the year 325 which was ultimately accepted by the Orthodox Church as the proper Symbol of Faith. This council is now called the first ecumenical council, and this is what it said:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light; true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man. And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried. And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; whose Kingdom shall have no end.
In connection with the controversy about the Son of God, the Divine Word, was the dispute about the Holy Spirit. The following definition from the Council in Constantinople in 381, which has come to be known as, the second ecumenical council, was added to the Nicene statement:
And (we believe) in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets. In one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
This whole Symbol of Faith was ultimately adopted throughout the entire Church. It was put into the first person form “I believe” and used for the formal and official confession of faith made by a person (or his sponsor-godparent) at his baptism. It is also used as the formal statement of faith by a non-Orthodox Christian entering the communion of the Orthodox Church. In the same way the creed became part of the life of Orthodox Christians and an essential element of the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church at which each person formally and officially accepts and renews his baptism and membership in the Church. Thus, the Symbol of Faith is the only part of the liturgy (repeated in another form just before Holy Communion) which is in the first person. All other songs and prayers of the liturgy are plural, beginning with “we.” Only the credal statement begins with “I.” This, as we shall see, is because faith is first personal, and then corporate and communal.
To be an Orthodox Christian is to affirm the Orthodox Christian faith, — not merely the words, but the essential meaning of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan symbol of faith. It also means to affirm all that this statement implies, and all that has been expressly developed from it and built upon it in the history of the Orthodox Church over the past centuries, to the present day
One God, the Father Almighty
The fundamental faith of the Christian Church is in the one true and living God.
“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one God; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be placed upon your heart, and you shall teach them to your children and you shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:4-8).
These words from the Law of Moses are quoted by Christ as the first and greatest commandment (Mark 12:29). They follow upon the listing of the Ten Commandments which begin, “I am the Lord your God… you shall have no other gods besides me” (Deuteronomy 5:6-7).
The one Lord and God of Israel revealed to man the mystery of his name.
And Moses said, “if they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?”
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'”
God also said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob has sent me to you: this is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (Exodus 3:13-15).
According to the Scriptures and the experience of the saints from both the old and new testaments, Yahweh is absolutely holy. This means literally that He is absolutely different and unlike anything or anyone else that exists (Holy literally means totally separated, different, other).
According to the Biblical-Orthodox tradition, even to say that “God exists” must be qualified by the affirmation that He is so unique and so perfect that His existence cannot be compared to any other. In this sense God is “above existence” or “above being.” Thus, there would be great reluctance according to Orthodox doctrine to say that God “is” as everything else “is” or that God is simply the “supreme being” in the same chain of “being” as everything else that exists.
In this same sense, the Orthodox doctrine holds that God's unity or oneness is also not merely equivalent to the mathematical or philosophical concept of “one”; nor is his life, goodness, wisdom, all powers and virtues ascribed to Him merely equivalent to any idea, even the greatest idea, which man can have about such an entity.
However, having warned about an overly-clear or overly-positivistic concept or idea of God, the Orthodox Church-on the basis of the living experience of God in the saints-still makes the following affirmations: God may certainly be said to exist perfectly and absolutely as the One who is perfect and absolute life, goodness, truth, love, wisdom, knowledge, unity, purity, joy, simplicity; the perfection and superperfection of everything that man knows as holy, true, and good. It is this very God who is confessed formally in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom as “God, ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever-existing and eternally the same.”
Jesus could call God Father because He is God's only-begotten Son. Christians can call God Father because through Christ they receive the Holy Spirit and become themselves sons of God.
For when the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (or, so that we all might be made sons). And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying “Abba! Father!” So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir (of the Kingdom of God; Galatians 4:4-7; The Christmas Epistle Reading in the Orthodox Church).
Thus, no man is naturally a son of God and no man can easily call God Father. We can only do so because of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit. And so, we say in the Orthodox Divine Liturgy:
And make us worthy, O Master, that with boldness and without condemnation, we may dare to call upon Thee, the Heavenly God as Father and to say: Our Father, who art in heaven
Maker of Heaven and Earth
The Orthodox Church believes that God the Father is the “Creator of Heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible..”
The Orthodox doctrine of creation is that God has brought everything and everyone which exists from non-existence into being. The Scriptural description of creation is given primarily in the first chapter of Genesis. The main doctrinal point about creation is that God alone is uncreated and ever-existing. Everything which exists besides God was created by Him. God, however, did not create everything seperately or at one time, so to speak. He created the first foundations of existence, and then over periods of time (perhaps millions of years-see II Peter 3:8) this first foundation of existence — by the power which God had given to it-brought forth the other creatures of God:
Let the earth put forth vegetation… let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures… let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds” (Genesis 1:19-24).
Thus, although God is certainly the creator of everything. He acts gradually in time and by means of things previously made by Him, to which He has given life-producing potencies and powers.
According to the Orthodox Faith, everything that God makes is “very good”: the heavens, the earth, the plants, the animals, and finally man himself (Genesis 1:31). God is pleased with creation and has made it for no other purpose than to participate in His own divine, uncreated existence and to live by His own divine “breath of life” (Genesis 1:30; 2:7).
By the Word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath (or Spirit) of His mouth. He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle; He put the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord, let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him! For He spoke, and it came to be! He commanded, and it was made! (Psalm 33:6-9).
In the above-quoted verses, as well as, in the account of Genesis we must notice the presence and action of God's Word and God's Spirit. God the Father makes all that exists by means of His Divine Word-"for He spoke and it came to be"-and by His Divine Spirit who “moved upon the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). We see a glimpse of the Holy Trinity to be fully revealed in the New Testament when the Word becomes flesh and the Holy Spirit comes personally to the disciples of Jesus on the day of Pentecost.
We must also take special notice of the goodness of the created physical world. There is no dualism in Orthodox Christianity. There is no teaching that “spirit” is good and “matter” is bad, that “heaven” is good and the “earth” is evil. God loves His entire material creation with His eternal love and, as we shall see, when the physical creation is ruined by sin, He does everything in His power to save it
All things visible and invisible
In addition to the visible, physical creation there is an invisible world created by God. The Bible sometimes calls it “the heavens” and other times refers to it as “above the heavens” Whatever its symbolical description in the Holy Scriptures, the invisible world is definitely not part of the physical, material universe. It does not exist in space: it has no physical dimensions. And so it cannot be located, and it has no “place” which can be “reached” by travel within the galaxies of the spatial, locatable “places” of the physically created universe.
However, the fact that the invisible, created world is purely spiritual and is not discoverable on a map of the created material spaces makes it no less real or truly existing. The invisible creation exists as different from the created material universe and, of course, as totally different from the uncreated, absolutely super-divine existence of the uncreated God.
Invisible created reality consists of hosts of bodiless powers, generally — although somewhat incorrectly — called the angels.
Angels (which means literally “messengers”) are, strictly speaking, but one rank of the incorporeal or bodiless powers of the invisible world
Generally speaking the appearances of these bodiless powers are described in a physical way ("six winged, many-eyed”; or in the “form of a man”). However, it must be clearly understood, that these are merely symbolical descriptions. By nature and definition the angels have no bodies and no material properties of any sort. They are strictly spiritual beings.
In addition to the created spiritual powers who do the will of God, there are, according to the Orthodox faith, there are those who rebel against Him and do evil. These are the demons or devils (which means literally those who “pull apart” and destroy) who are also known both in the Old and New Testaments, as well, as in the lives of the saints of the Church.
Satan (which means literally the enemy or the adversary) is one proper name for the devil, the leader of the evil spirits. He is identified in the serpent symbol of Genesis 3 and as the tempter of both Job and Jesus (Job 1:6; Mark 1:33). He is labeled by Christ as a deceiver and liar, the “father of lies” (John 8:44) and the “prince of this world” (J John 12:31; 14:3 0; 16:11). He has “fallen from heaven” together with his evil angels to do battle with God and his servants (Luke 10:18; Isaiah 14:12). It is this same Satan who “entered Judas” to effect the betrayal and destruction of Christ (Luke 22.3).
The apostles of Christ and the saints of the Church knew from direct experience Satan's powers against man for Man's own destruction. They knew as well Satan's lack of power and his own ultimate destruction when man is with God, filled with the Holy Spirit of Christ. According to Orthodox doctrine there is no middle road between God and Satan. Ultimately, and at any given moment, man is either with God or the devil, serving one or the other
Man is God's special creature. He is the only one “created in the image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:26). He is created by God from the dust at the end of the process of creation (the “sixth day”) and by the special will of God. He is made to breathe “the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7), to know God, to have dominion over all that God has made.
Man is created as di-sexual “male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27; 2:21) — in order “to be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 2:28). Thus, according to Orthodox doctrine sexuality belongs to the creation which God calls “very good” (Genesis 1:31), and in itself it is in no way sinful or perverse. It belongs to the very nature of humanity directly willed by God.
As the image of God, ruler over creation and co-creator with the Uncreated Maker, man has the task to “reflect” God in creation; to make His presence, His will and His powers spread throughout the universe; to transform all that exists into the paradise of God. In this sense man is definitely created for a destiny higher than the angels. This conviction is affirmed by Orthodox Christianity not only because of the Scriptural emphasis on man as made in God's image to rule creation, which is not said about angels; but it is also affirmed because it is written of Jesus Christ, who is truly the perfect man and the Last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45) that “God has highly exalted him and bestowed upon him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).
It is the Orthodox doctrine that one can understand and appreciate what it means to be human only in the light of the full revelation of Jesus Christ. Being the Divine Word and Son of God in human flesh, Jesus reveals the real meaning of manhood. As the Perfect Man and the Last Adam, the “man from heaven,” Jesus gives us the proper interpretation of the story of creation given in the book of Genesis. For as the Apostle Paul has written, Adam finds his significance as “the type (or figure) of the one who was to come,” namely Jesus Christ (Romans 5:14).
Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man (Christ) is from heaven… Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven (1 Corinthians 15:45-49).
According to Orthodox theology, to bear the image of God is to be like Christ, the uncreated Image of God, and to share in all of the spiritual attributes of divinity. It is, in the words of the holy fathers, to become by divine grace all that God Himself is by nature. If God is a free, spiritual, personal Being, so human beings, male and female, are to be the same. If God is so powerful and creative, having dominion over all creation, so human creatures, made in His image and according to His likeness, are also to exercise dominion in the world. If God exercises dominion and authority not by tyranny and oppression, but by loving kindness and service, so are His creatures to do likewise. If God Himself is love, mercy, compassion and care in all things, so must His creatures, who were made to be like Him, must be the same. And finally, if God lives forever in eternal life, never dying, but always existing in perfectly joyful harmonious beauty and happiness with all of creation, so too are human beings made for everlasting life in joyful and harmonious communion with God and the whole of creation
Man and woman, male and female, are created by God to live together in a union of being, life and love. The man is to be the leader in human activities, the one reflecting Christ as the new and perfect Adam. The woman is to be man's “helpmeet,” the “mother of all living” (Genesis 2:18; 3:20). Symbolized in the relationship of Mary and the Church, the New Eve, to Christ, the New Adam, as the one who inspires man's life and completes his being and fulfills his life, the woman is not man's instrument or tool. She is a person in her own right, a sharer of the nature of God, a necessary complement to man. There can be no man without woman — no Adam without Eve; just as there can be no woman without man. The two exist together in perfect communion and harmony for the fulfillment of human nature and life.
The differences between men and women are real and irreducible. They are not limited to biological or physical differences. They are rather different “modes of existence” within one and the same humanity; just as, we might say, the Son and the Holy Spirit are different “modes of existence” within one and the same divinity, together with God the Father. The male and female are to be in spiritual as well as bodily union. They are to express together, in one and the same humanity, all of the virtues and powers that belong to human nature as made in the image and according to the likeness of God. There are no virtues or powers that belong to man, and not to woman. All are called to spiritual perfection in truth and in love, indeed in all of the divine virtues of God given to His creatures.
The word sin means literally “missing the mark.” It means the failure to be what one should be and to do what one should do.
Originally, man was made to be the created image of God, to live in union with God's divine life, and to rule over all creation. Man's failure in this task is his sin which has also been called his fall.
The “fall” of man means that man failed in his God given vocation. This is the meaning of Genesis 3. Man was seduced by evil (the serpent) into believing that he could be “like God” by his own will and effort.
In the Orthodox tradition, the eating of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” is generally interpreted as man's actual taste of evil, his literal experience of evil as such. Sometimes, this eating is also interpreted (as by St. Gregory the Theologian) as man's attempt to go beyond what was possible for him; his attempt to do that which was not yet within his power to realize.
Whatever the details of the various interpretations of the Genesis story, it is the clear doctrine of Orthodoxy that man has failed in his original vocation. He disobeyed God's command through pride, jealousy and the lack of humble gratitude to God by yielding to the temptation of Satan. Thus man sinned. He “missed the mark” of his calling. He transgressed the Law of God (see 1 John 3:4). And so he ruined both himself and the creation which he was given to care for and to cultivate. By his sin-and his sins — man brings himself and all creation under the rule of evil and death.
In the Bible and in Orthodox theology these elements always go together: sin, evil, the devil, suffering and death. There is never one without the other, and all are the common result of man's rebellion against God and his loss of communion with Him. This is the primary meaning of Genesis 3 and the chapters which follow until the calling of Abraham. Sin begets still more sin and even greater evil. It brings cosmic disharmony, the ultimate corruption and death of everyone and everything. Man still remains the created image of God-this cannot be changed-but he fails to keep his image pure and to retain the divine likeness. He defiles his humanity with evil, perverts it and deforms it so that it cannot be the pure reflection of God that it was meant to be. The world also remains good, indeed “very good,” but it shares the sorry consequences of its created master's sin and suffers with him in mortal agony and corruption. Thus, through man's sin the whole world falls under the rule of Satan and “lies in wickedness” (1 John 5:19; see also Romans 5:12).
This is the fundamental message: man and the world need to be saved. God gives the promise of salvation from the very beginning. This promise begins to be fulfilled in history in the person of Abraham, the father of Israel, the forefather of Christ.
And the Lord said…to Abram (later named Abraham) “I will make you a great nation…and by you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3; also 22:15).
Abraham believed God; and from him came the people of Israel from whom, according to the flesh, came Jesus Christ the Saviour and Lord of Creation (See Luke 1:55, 73; Romans 4; Galatians 3).
The entire history of the Old Testament finds its fulfillment in Jesus. All that happened to the chosen children of Abraham happened in view of the eventual and final destruction of sin and death by Christ. The covenants of God with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel which means “the one who struggles with God); the twelve tribes of Israel; the story of Joseph; the passover, exodus and reception of God's Law by Moses; the entrance into the promised land by Joshua; the founding of Jerusalem and the building of the temple by David and Solomon; the judges, kings, prophets and priests; everything in the Old Testament history of God's chosen people finds its final purpose and meaning in the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and glorification of God's only Son Jesus the Messiah. He is the one who comes from the Father to save the people from their sins, to open their tombs and to grant eternal life to all creation.
And in One Lord Jesus Christ
The fundamental confession of Christians about their Master is this: Jesus Christ is Lord. It begins in the gospel when Jesus himself asks his disciples who they think that He is:
But who do you say that I am? Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 6:16).
Jesus is the Christ. This is the first act of faith which men must make about Him. At His birth, the child of Mary is given the name Jesus, which means literally Saviour (in Hebrew Joshua, the name also of Moses' successor who crossed the Jordan River and led the chosen people into the promised land). “You will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21; Luke:31). It is this Jesus who is the Christ, which means the Anointed, the Messiah of Israel. Jesus is the Messiah, the one promised to the world through Abraham and his children.
But who is the Messiah? This is the second question, one also asked by Christ in the gospels — this time not to his disciples, but to those who were taunting him and trying to catch him in his words. “Who is the Messiah?” he asked them, not because they could answer or really wished to know, but in order to silence them and to begin the inauguration of"the hour” for which he had come: the hour of the world's salvation.
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question saying, “What do you think of the Christ (i.e. the Messiah)? Whose Son is he?
They said to him, “The Son of David.”
He said to them, “How is it then that David, inspired by the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying 'The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand till I put thy enemies under thy feet!' (Psalm 110). If David thus calls him Lord, how is he his son?”
And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions (Matthew 22:41-46).
After Jesus' resurrection, inspired by the same Holy Spirit who inspired David, the apostles and all members of the Church understood the meaning of his words. Jesus is the Christ. And the Christ is the Lord. This is the mystery of Jesus Christ the Messiah, namely that He is the One and Only Lord, identified with the God Yahweh of the Old Testament
For the Jews, and indeed for the first Christians, the term Lord was proper to God alone: “God is the Lord and has revealed Himself unto us” (Psalm 118). This Lord and God is Yahweh; and it is Jesus the Messiah as well. For although Jesus claims that “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28), he claims as well: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
Believing in “One Lord Jesus Christ” is the prime confession of faith for which the first Christians were willing to die. For it is the confession which claims the identity of Jesus with the Most High God.
Because of his perfect love, God sent forth his Son into the world. God knew in the very act of creation that to have a world at all would require the incarnation of his Son in human flesh. Incarnation as a word means “enfleshment” in the sense of taking on the wholeness of human nature, body and soul.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as the only-begotten Son of the Father. And from his fullness have we all received grace upon grace” (John 1:14-16).
Сame down from heaven
The affirmation that the Son has “come down from heaven and was incarnate” does not mean that the Son is located somewhere “up there” in the universe and then descended onto the planet earth. That He came “down from heaven” is the Biblical way of saying that the Son of God came from the totally “other” divine existence of God, outside the bounds and limits of all space and time located within the created, physical universe. In general we must remember again the symbolical character of all of our words and affirmations about God.
The affirmation that the Son came “down from heaven” also should not be interpreted in the sense that before the incarnation the Son of God was totally absent from the world. The Son was always “in the world” for the “world was made through Him” (John 1:10). He was always present in the world for He is personally the life and the light of man (1 John 4).
As “created in the image and likeness of God,” every man-just by being a man-is already a reflection of the divine Son, who is Himself the uncreated image of God (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3). Thus, the Son, or Word, or Image, or Radiance of God, as He is called in Scriptures, was always “in the world” by being always present in everyone of his “created images,” not only as their creator, but also as the one whose very being all creatures are made to share and to reflect. Thus, in his incarnation, the Son comes personally to the world and becomes Himself a man. But even before the incarnation He was always in the world by the presence and power of his creative actions in his creatures, particularly in man.
In addition to this, it is also Orthodox doctrine that the manifestation of God to the saints of the Old Testament, the so-called theophanies (which means divine manifestations), were manifestations of the Father, by, through and in his Son or Logos. Thus, for example, the manifestations to Moses, Elias or Isaiah are mediated by God's divine and uncreated Son.
It is the Orthodox teaching as well, that the Word of God which came to the Old Testament prophets and saints, and the very words of the Old Testament Law of Moses, which are called in Hebrew the “words” and not as we say in English, the “commandments,” are also revelations of God by his Son, the divine Word. Thus, for example, we have Old Testamental witness to the revelation of God's Word, such as that of the Prophet Isaiah, in almost the same personalistic form as is found in the Christian gospel:
For, as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither, but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I propose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:10-11).
Thus, before His personal birth of the Virgin Mary as the man Jesus, the divine Son and Word of God was in the world by His presence and action in creation. particularly in man. He was present and active; also in the theophanies to the Old Testament saints; and in the words of the law and the prophets, both oral and scriptural.
and He was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man
The divine Son of God was born as a man from the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1; Luke l). The Church teaches that the virgin birth is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (Isaiah 7:14), and that it is, as well the fulfillment of the longings of all men for salvation which are found in all religions and philosophies in human history. Only God can save the world. Man alone cannot do it because it is man who must be saved. Therefore, according to Orthodox doctrine, the virgin birth is necessary, but not because of a false idolization of virginity as such or because of a sinful repulsion to normal human sexuality. Nor is it necessary as some would contend to give “added weight” to the moral teachings of Jesus. The virgin birth is understood as a necessity because the one who is born must not be merely a man like all others, needing salvation, but the Saviour of the world. He cannot merely be one of the race of Adam, born of the flesh, like all of the others. He must be “not of this world” in order to save the world.
Jesus is born from the Virgin Mary because he is the divine Son of God, the Saviour of the world. It is the formal teaching of the Orthodox Church that Jesus is not a “mere man” like all other men. He is indeed a real man, a whole and perfectly complete man with a human mind, soul and body, but at the same time He was the Son of God. Thus, the Church formally confesses that Mary should properly be called Theotokos which means literally “the one who gives birth to God.” For the one born of Mary is, as the Orthodox Church sings at Christmas: “He who from all eternity is God.”
Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One, and the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One! Angels, with shepherds, glorify Him! The wise men journey with the star! Since for our sake the eternal God was born as a little child! (Kontakion of the Nativity).
Christ has entered the world becoming like all men in all things except sin.
He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him (God the Father) who judges justly (1 Peter 2:22; Hebrews 4:15).
Jesus was tempted, but he did not sin. He was perfect in every way, absolutely obedient to God the Father; speaking His words, doing His works, and accomplishing His will. As a man, Jesus fulfilled his role perfectly as the Perfect Man, the new and final Adam. He did all things that man fails to do, being in everything the most perfect human response to the divine initiative of God toward creation. In this sense, the Son of God as man “recapitulated” the life of Adam, i.e., the entire human race, bringing man and his world back to God the Father and allowing for a new beginning of life free from the power of sin, the devil and death.
As the Saviour-Messiah, Christ fulfilled as well all of the prophecies and expectations of the Old Testament, fulfilling and crowning in final and absolute perfection all that was begun in Israel for human and cosmic salvation. Thus, Christ is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, the completion of the Law of Moses, the fulfillment of the prophets and Himself the Final Prophet, the King and the Teacher, the one Great High Priest of Salvation and the Perfect Sacrificial Victim, the New Passover and the Bestower of the Holy Spirit upon all creation.
It is in this role as Messiah-King of Israel and Saviour of the world that Christ insisted upon His identity with God the Father and called Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life: the Resurrection and the Life, the Light of the World, the Bread of Life, the Door to the Sheepfold, the Good Shepherd, the Heavenly Son of Man, the Son of God, and God Himself, the I AM. (Gospel of St. John).
In the third and fourth centuries attempts were made to teach that although Jesus is truly the incarnate Son and Word of God, that the Son and Word Himself is not fully and totally divine, but a creature — even the most exalted creature — but a creature made by God like everything else that was made. This was the teaching of the Arians. Against this teaching, the fathers, such as Athanasius of Alexandria, Basil the Great, his brother Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory the Theologian of Nazianzus defended the definition of faith of the first and second ecumenical councils which held that the Son and Word of God — incarnate in human form as Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah-Christ of Israel — is not a creature, but is truly divine with the same divinity as God the Father and the Holy Spirit. This was the defense of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity which preserved for the Church of all ages the faith that Jesus is indeed the divine Son of God, of one essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one of the Holy Trinity.
At the same time, in the fourth century, it was also necessary for the Church to reject the teaching of a certain Appolinarius, who claimed that although Jesus was indeed the incarnate Son and Word of God, the incarnation consisted in the Word merely taking a human body and not the fullness of human nature. This was the doctrine that Jesus had no real human soul, no human mind, no human spirit, but that the divine Son of God, who exists eternally with the Father and the Spirit, merely dwelt in a human body, in human flesh, as in a temple. It is for this reason that every official doctrinal statement in the Orthodox Church, including all of the statements of the ecumenical councils, always insists that the Son of God became man of the Virgin Mary with a rational soul and body; in other words, that the Son of God really became human in the full meaning of the word and that Jesus Christ was and is a real human being, having and being everything that every human being has and is. This is nothing other than the teaching of the Gospels and the New Testament scriptures generally.
Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same nature … (being) made like His brethren in every respect (Hebrews 2:14-17).
In the fifth century a long and difficult controversy developed over the true understanding of the person and nature of Jesus Christ. The third ecumenical council in Ephesus in 431, following the teaching of St. Cyril of Alexandria, was most concerned to defend the fact, that the One who was born of the Virgin Mary was no one other than the divine Son of God in human flesh. It was necessary to defend this fact most explicitly because some in the Church, following Nestorius, the bishop of Constantinople, were teaching that the Virgin Mary should not be called Theotokos - a term already used in the Church's theology, because it was claimed that the Virgin gave birth to the man Jesus, whom the Son of God had become in the incarnation, and not to the Son Himself. In this view, it was held that there is a division between the Son of God born in eternity from God the Father and the Son of Man born from the Virgin in Bethlehem; and that although there is certainly a real “connection” between them, Mary merely gave birth to the man. As such, it was held, Mary could be called, Theotokos, only by some sort of symbolic and overly-pious stretching of the word, but that it is rather dogmatically accurate to call her Christotokos (the one who gave birth to the Messiah) or Anthropotokos (the one who gave birth to the Man that the Son of God has become in the incarnation).
St. Cyril of Alexandria and the fathers of the council in Ephesus rejected the Nestorian doctrine and claimed that the term Theotokos for the Virgin Mary is completely and totally accurate and must be retained if the Christian faith is to be properly confessed and the Christian life properly lived. The term must be defended because there can be no division of any sort between the eternal Son and Word of God, begotten of the Father before all ages, and Jesus Christ, the Son of Mary. Mary's child is the eternal and divine Son of God. He — and no one else — was born of her as a child. He — and no one else — was incarnate in human flesh from her. He — and no one else — became man in the manger in Bethlehem. There can be no “connection” or “conjunction” between God's Son and Mary's Son because they are in fact one and the same person. God's Son was born of Mary. God's Son is divine; He is God. Therefore, Mary gave birth to God in the flesh, to God as a man. Therefore, Mary is truly Theotokos. The battle cry of St. Cyril and the Council in Ephesus was just this: The Son of God and the Son of Man — one Son!
This teaching about Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, was further elaborated and explained by the definition of the fourth ecumenical council in Chalcedon in 451. This was necessary because there was a tendency to stress the divine nature of Christ to such an extent that His true human nature was underplayed to the point almost of being rejected. At the fourth council the well-known formulation was made which says that Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son and Word of God is one person (or hypostasis) having two full and complete natures: human and divine. Particularly, inspired by the letter of Saint Leo, the Pope of Rome, the fourth council insisted that Jesus is exactly what God the Father is in relation to His divinity. This was a direct reference to the Nicene Creed which claims that the Son of God is “of one essence with the Father,” which simply means that what God the Father is, the Son is also: Light from Light, True God from True God. And the council insisted as well that in the incarnation the Son of God became exactly what all human beings are, confessing that Jesus Christ is also “of one essence” with all human beings in respect to His humanity. This doctrine was and is defended as teaching nothing other than the apostolic faith as recorded in the Gospels and the New Testament writings, for example, those of the Apostle Paul:
“Though He was in the form of God, (Jesus) did not count equality with God a thing to be clung to, but emptied Himself, taking on the form of a servant, being found in the likeness of men. And being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8; See also Hebrews 1-2, John 1).
The critical words in the definition of faith of the Council of Chalcedon are the following:
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), and He is perfect in Divinity and perfect in Humanity, true God and true Man, of a rational soul and (human) body consisting, of one essence with the Father as touching His Divinity and of one essence with us as touching His Humanity; made in all things like unto us, with the exception of sin only; begotten of His Father before all ages according to His Divinity: but in these last days, for us men and for our salvation, born (Into the world) of the Virgin Mary, Theotokos, according to His Humanity. This one and the same Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son (of God) must be confessed to be in two natures, without mixture and without change, without separation and without division (i.e., without fusing together Divinity and Humanity so that the proper characteristics of each are changed or lost; and also without separating them in such a way that there might be considered to be two Sons and not One Son only) and that without the distinction of natures being removed by such union, but rather, that the peculiar property of each nature being preserved and united in one Person and Hypostasis, 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 have spoken concerning Him (e.g., the Immanuel of Isaiah 7:14), and as Jesus Christ has taught us, and as the Creed of the fathers has delivered to us
In the sixth century, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian wanted to reaffirm the fact that the followers of the council of Chalcedon really believed that Jesus Christ is the incarnate Son and Word of God, one of the Holy Trinity. He wanted to do this primarily to convince those who did not accept the fourth council that its definition did not reintroduce the error of Nestorius. To do this, the Emperor called the council, now known as the fifth ecumenical council in Constantinople in 553 which further served to clarify the Orthodox position in regard to the person and action of Christ. The following are some of the key texts of this council:
If anyone understands the expression “one Person only of our Lord Jesus Christ” in this sense, that it is the union of many hypostases (or persons), and if he thus attempts to introduce into the mystery of Christ two hypostases or two persons, and after having introduced two persons speaks of one Person only in the sense of dignity, honor or worship … (and) shall calumniate the holy council of Chalcedon, pretending that it used this expression (one hypostasis and person) in this impious sense … let him be anathema.
If anyone shall not call in a true acceptation … the holy, glorious and ever-virgin Mary, the Theotokos … believing that she bare only a simple man and that God the Word was not incarnate of her … (and) shall calumniate the holy synod of Chalcedon as though it has asserted the Virgin to be Theotokos according to the impious sense … let him be anathema.
If anyone using the expression “in two natures” does not confess that our one Lord Jesus Christ has been revealed in the divinity and in the humanity, so as to designate by that expression a difference of the natures of which an ineffable union is made without confusion, in which neither the nature of the Word was changed into that of the flesh, nor that of the flesh into that of the Word, for each remained what it was by nature, the union being hypostatic (i.e., in the one Person); but shall take the expression to divide the parties … let him be anathema.
If anyone does not confess that our Lord Jesus Christ who was crucified in the flesh is true God and the Lord of Glory and one of the Holy Trinity, let him be anathema.
In the seventh century, the question of how to understand, define and confess the person and action of Jesus Christ continued to cause divisions among the believers. Some said that after the Son of God became man, He had just one activity and will — the theandric activity and will of the Word-made-flesh. These people, called monothelites, insisted that the One Person of Christ, in uniting the natures of God and Man in His One Person, fused together the human and divine will and activity in such a way that they no longer could be distinguished.
The sixth ecumenical council met in Constantinople in 680-681. Following the teachings of St. Maximus the Confessor, who was imprisoned and tortured for his doctrines, it decreed that just as Christ is really fully divine and fully human, the perfect union of Divinity and Humanity in one Person, so also He must have both a real human activity and will and a real divine activity and will — according to each of His natures — and that these two wills and activities, like the natures themselves, should not be understood to be fused or mingled together into one so as to lose their proper natural characteristics and properties. This decision was based on the fact that since the Son of God remained fully divine in the incarnation, He must continue to have His proper divine activity and will; and that since He became fully human in the incarnation He must also have a complete and perfect human activity and will; and that the salvation of mankind requires that the distinction — but not the division or separation of each of these respective activities and wills remain in the incarnate Saviour. The following is part of the definition of faith of the sixth council:
… in Him are two natural wills and two natural operations without division, without fusion, without change and without separation according to the teaching of the holy fathers. And these two natural wills are not contrary to one another (God forbid!) … but His human will follows, and not as resisting and reluctant, but rather as subject to His divine and omnipotent will … For as His most holy and immaculate animated flesh was not destroyed because it was deified and continued in its own state and nature, so also His human will, although deified, was not suppressed, but was rather preserved … We glorify two natural operations … in the same Lord Jesus Christ our true God, that is to say a divine operation [or action] and a human operation [or action] … For we will not admit one natural operation in God and in the creature… 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 hypostasis [or person] in which He both performed the miracles and endured the sufferings … Wherefore we confess two wills and two operations concurring most fitly in Him for the salvation of the human race.
In the eighth and ninth centuries the question of the person and nature of Christ continued in the controversy over the veneration of the holy icons in the Church. At this time many were found, including emperors and secular rulers, who claimed that the veneration of icons is wrong because it is the sin of idolatry. They claimed that as God is invisible and has commanded in the Old Testament law that men are not to make “graven images,” so it is wrong to depict and to honor images of Christ and the saints.
The defenders of the veneration of the holy icons, led by Saints John Damascene and Theodore Studion, claimed that the central point of the Christian faith is that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” and that “we have beheld His glory” (John 1:14). Referring to the holy scriptures, they insisted that belief in the incarnation of the Son of God calls for the veneration of icons since Jesus Christ is a real man with a real human soul and body, and as such can be depicted. They said that those who were against the holy icons reduced the incarnation to a “fantasy” and denied the true humanity of the Son of God in His coming to man. Thus they made reference to the words of Jesus Himself in His dialogue with Philip:
Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father and we shall be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'Show us the Father” (John 14:8-9).
The defenders of the propriety of icon veneration also referred to the apostolic writings of Saint John and Saint Paul:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands concerning the Word of Life — the Life was made manifest, and we saw it (1 John 1:1-2).
“The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness [in Greek: eikon] of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
He is the image [in Greek: eikon] of the invisible God, the first born of all creation; for in Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth … all things were created through Him and for Him … for in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Colossians 1:15-20).
In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by a Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world. He is the reflection of the glory of God and the express image of His person, upholding the universe by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:1-3).
The seventh ecumenical council in Nicea in 787 officially declared that the Christian faith is to be proclaimed “in words and images.” And while making clear the teaching that holy icons may be made; that they are not to be worshipped — for only God Himself is worthy of worship — but are to be venerated and honored; the seventh council also made the following statement about Christ in reference to the veneration of icons:
… we keep unchanged all the ecclesiastical traditions handed down to us, whether in writing or verbally, one of which is the making of pictorial representations, agreeable to the history of the preaching of the Gospel, a tradition useful in many respects, but especially in this, that so the incarnation of the Word of God is shone forth in real and not merely in fantasy, for these have mutual indications and without doubt have also mutual significations.
In later times, the doctrines of the real divinity and real humanity of Jesus Christ were witnessed and defended by such saints as Simeon, the New Theologian (d. 1022) and Gregory Palamas, the Archbishop of Thessalonika (d. 1359) in their teachings about the real sanctification and deification of man through living communion with God through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit in the Church. In and through Christ, the Word incarnate, human persons can be filled with the Spirit of God and can be in genuine communion with God the Father, participating in the uncreated being, life and light of the Most Blessed Trinity. If Jesus Christ were not true God and true Man, this would be impossible. But it is not impossible. It is man's experience of salvation and redemption in the life of the Church of Christ.
And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried
Although Jesus did not sin and did not have to suffer and die, he voluntarily took upon himself the sins of the world and voluntarily gave himself up to suffering and death for the sake of salvation. This was his task as the Messiah-Saviour:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to bring good tidings to the afflicted…to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…to comfort all who mourn…to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning” (Isaiah 61:1-3).
And at the same time, Jesus had to do this as the suffering servant of Yahweh-God.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised. and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and by his stripes (i.e. wounds) we are healed.
All of us, like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before his shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgement he was taken away …And they made his grave with the wicked, and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the Lord (Yahweh) to bruise him; he has put him to grief; when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand; he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge, shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore, I will divide him a portion with the great and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many (or the multitude) and made intercession for the transgressors (Isaiah 53).
These words of the prophet Isaiah written centuries before the birth of Jesus tell the story of his Messianic mission. It began officially, before the eyes of all, in his baptism by John in the Jordan. By allowing himself to be baptized with the sinners though he had no sin, Jesus shows that he accepts his calling to be identified with the sinners: “the Beloved” of the Father and “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29; Matthew 3:17).
Jesus begins to teach, and on the very day and at that very moment when his disciples first confess him to be the Messiah, “the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” Jesus tells immediately of his mission to “go to Jerusalem and suffer many things…and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:16-23; Mark 8:29-33). The apostles are greatly upset by this. Jesus then immediately shows them his divinity by being transfigured before them in divine glory on the mountain, in the presence of Moses and Elijah. He then tells them once more: “The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day” (Matthew 17:1-23; Mark 9:1-9).
The powers of evil multiplied against Christ at the end: “The kings of the earth counsel together against the Lord and His Christ” (Psalm 2:2). They were looking for causes to kill him. The formal reason was blasphemy, “because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:31-38). Yet the deep reasons were more personal: Jesus told men the truth and revealed their stubbornness, foolishness, hypocrisy and sin. For this reason every sinner, hardened in his sins and refusing to repent, wishes and causes the crucifixion of Christ .
The death of Jesus came at the hands of the religious and political leaders of his time, with the approval of the masses: when Caiaphas was high priest, “under Pontius Pilate.” He was “crucified for us…and suffered and was buried” in order to be with us in our sufferings and death which we brought upon ourselves because of our sins: “for the wages of sin are death” (Romans 6:23). In this sense the Apostle Paul writes of Jesus that “having become a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13), “for our sake he (God the Father) made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
The sufferings and death of Christ in obedience to the Father reveals the super-abundant divine love of God for his creation. For when all was sinful, cursed and dead, Christ became sin, a curse and dead for us, though he himself never ceased to be the righteousness and blessedness and life of God Himself. It is to this depth, of which lower and more base cannot be discovered or imagined, that Christ has humiliated himself “for us men and for our salvation.” For being God, he became man; and being man, he became a slave; and being a slave, he became dead and not only dead, but dead on a cross. From this deepest degradation of God flows the eternal exaltation of man. This is the pivotal doctrine of the Orthodox Christian faith, expressed over and again in many ways throughout the history of the Orthodox Church. It is the doctrine of the atonement for we are made to be “at one” with God. It is the doctrine of redemption — for we are redeemed, i.e., “bought with a price,” the great price of the blood of God (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 6:20).
Have this mind among yourselves which you have in Christ Jesus who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant (slave), being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).
In contemplating the saving and redeeming action of Christ, it has become traditional to emphasize three aspects (the perfect image of human life, the reconciler of man with God, and the destoyer of death) which in reality are not divided, and cannot be; but which in theory (i.e., in the vision of Christ's being and activity as the Saviour of the world) may be distinguished. The first of these three aspects of the redeeming work of Christ is the fact that Jesus saves mankind by providing the perfect image and example of human life as filled with the grace and power of God.
Christ is the incarnate Word of God. He is the Teacher and Master sent by God to the world. He is the embodiment of God Himself in human form. He is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). In Him “the fullness of divinity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). The person who sees Jesus sees God the Father (John 14:9). He is the “reflection of the glory of God and the express image of His person” (Hebrews 1:3). He is the “light of the world” who “enlightens every man … coming into the world” (John 8:1-9). To be saved by Jesus Christ is first of all to be enlightened by Him; to see Him as the Light, and to see all things in the light of Him. It is to know Him as “the Truth” (John 14:6); and to know the truth in Him.
And you will know the truth and the truth will make you free (John 8:31).
When one is saved by God in Christ one comes to the knowledge of the truth, fulfilling God's desire for His creatures, for “God our Saviour desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). In saving God's world, Jesus Christ enlightens God's creatures by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God who is the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father and is sent into the world through Christ.
If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. And I will pray to the Father, and He will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; you know Him, for He dwells with you, and will be in you (John 14:15-17).
But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you … (John 15:26).
When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth … (John 16:13).
The first aspect of salvation in Christ, therefore, is to be enlightened by Him and to know the truth about God and man, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, which God gives through Him to those who believe. This is witnessed to in the apostolic writings of Saints John and Paul:
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom, but taught by the Spirit, interpreting, spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit. For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:13-16).
For (God) has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of His will, according to His purpose which He set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth. To me … this grace was given … to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God … that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known … (Ephesians 1:8-10; 3:9).
For I want … that their hearts may be encouraged as they are knit together in love, to have all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery in Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:1-3).
But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you know all things. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and know that no lie is of the truth. … but the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need that any one should teach you; as His anointing teaches you about everything, and is true and is no lie, just as it has taught you, abide in Him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit which He has given to us (1 John 2:20-27; 3:24).
The first aspect of man's salvation by God in Christ is, therefore, the ability and power to see, to know, to believe and to love the truth of God in Christ, who is the Truth, by the Spirit of Truth. It is the gift of knowledge and wisdom, of illumination and enlightenment. It is the condition of being “taught by God” as foretold by the prophets and fulfilled by Christ (Isaiah 54:13; Jeremiah 31:33-34; John 6:45). Thus, in the Orthodox Church, the entrance into the saving life of the Church, through baptism and chrismation is called “holy illumination” (See Book 11 on Worship).
For it is God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).
The second aspect of Christ's one, indivisible act of salvation of man and his world is the accomplishment of man's reconciliation with God the Father through the forgiveness of sins. This is the redemption and atonement strictly speaking, the release from sins, and the punishment due to sins; the being made “at one” with God.
While we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man — though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows His love for us, because Christ died for us while we were sinners. Therefore, since we are now made righteous by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God. For, if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life. Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation (Romans 5:6-11).
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-19).
The forgiveness of sins is one of the signs of the coming of the Christ, the Messiah, as foretold in the Old Testament… they shall all know me, from the least to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jeremiah 31:34).
Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the Lamb that is slain that through Him all sins might be forgiven. He is also the great high priest, who offers the perfect sacrifice by which man is purged from his sins and cleansed from his iniquities. Jesus offers, as high priest, the perfect sacrifice of His own very life, His own body, as the Lamb of God, upon the tree of the cross.
For to this you have been called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps. He committed no sin; no guile was found on His lips. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten; but He trusted to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Pastor and Bishop of your souls (1 Peter 2:22-25).
According to the scriptures, man's sins and the sins of the whole world are forgiven and pardoned by the sacrifice of Christ, by the offering of His life His body and His blood, which is the “blood of God” (Acts 20:28) — upon the cross. This is the “redemption,” the “ransom,” the “expiation,” the “propitiation” spoken about in the scriptures which had to be made so that man could be “at one” with God. Christ “paid the price” which was necessary to be paid for the world to be pardoned and cleansed of all iniquities and sins (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:3).
In the history of Christian doctrine, there has been great debate over the question of, to whom Christ “pays the price” for the ransom of the world and the salvation of mankind. Some have said that the “payment was made to the devil". This is the view that the devil received certain “rights” over man and his world because of man's sin. In his rebellion against God, man “sold himself to the devil” thus allowing the Evil One to become the “prince of this world” (John 12:31). Christ comes to pay the debt to the devil and to release man from his control by sacrificing Himself upon the cross.
Others say that Christ's “payment” on behalf of man had to be made to God the Father. This is the view which interprets Christ's sacrificial death on the cross as the proper punishment that had to be paid to satisfy God's wrath over the human race. God was insulted by man's sin. His law was broken and His righteousness was offended. Man had to pay the penalty for his sin by offering the proper punishment. But no amount of human punishment could satisfy God's justice because God's justice is divine. Thus the Son of God had to be born into the world and receive the punishment that was rightly to be placed on men. He had to die in order for God to receive proper satisfaction for man's offenses against Him. Christ substituted Himself on our behalf and died for our sins, offering His blood as the satisfying sacrifice for the sins of the world. By dying on the cross in place of sinful man, Christ pays the full and total payment for man's sins. God's wrath is removed. Man's insult is punished. The world is reconciled with its Creator.
Commenting on this question about to whom Christ “pays the price” for man's salvation, St. Gregory the Theologian in the fourth century wrote the following in his second Easter Oration:
Now we are to examine another fact and dogma, neglected by most people, but in my judgment well worth enquiring into. To whom was that Blood offered that was shed for us, and why was It shed? I mean the precious and famous Blood of our God and High Priest and Sacrifice.
We were detained in bondage by the Evil One, sold under sin, and receiving pleasure in exchange for wickedness. Now, since a ransom belongs only to him who holds in bondage, I ask to whom was this offered, and for what cause? If to the Evil One, fie upon the outrage! If the robber receives ransom, not only from God, but a ransom which consists of God Himself, and has such an illustrious payment for his tyranny, then it would have been right for him to have left us alone altogether!
But if to God the Father, I ask first, how? For it was not by Him that we were being oppressed. Next, on what principle did the Blood of His only-begotten Son delight the Father, who would not receive even Isaac, when he was being sacrificed by his father, (Abraham), but changed the sacrifice by putting a ram in the place of the human victim? (See Genesis 22).
Is it not evident that the Father accepts Him, but neither asked for Him, nor demanded Him; but on account of the incarnation, and because Humanity must be sanctified by the Humanity of God, that He might deliver us Himself, and overcome the tyrant (i.e., the devil) and draw us to Himself by the mediation of His Son who also arranged this to the honor of the Father, whom it is manifest He obeys in all things.
In Orthodox theology, generally, it can be said that the language of “payment” and “ransom” is rather understood as a metaphorical and symbolical way of saying that Christ has done all things necessary to save and redeem mankind enslaved to the devil, sin and death, and under the wrath of God. He “paid the price,” not in some legalistic or juridical or economic meaning He “paid the price” not to the devil whose rights over man were won by deceit and tyranny. He “paid the price” not to God the Father in the sense that God delights in His sufferings and received '"satisfaction"' from His creatures in Him. He “paid the price” rather, we might say, to Reality Itself. He “paid the price” to create the conditions in and through which man might receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life by dying and rising again in Him to newness of life (See Romans 5-8; Galatians 2-4).
By dying on the cross and rising from the dead, Jesus Christ cleansed the world from evil and sin. He defeated the devil “in his own territory” and on “his own terms.” The “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). So the Son of God became man and took upon Himself the sins of the world and died a voluntary death. By His sinless and innocent death accomplished entirely by His free will and not by physical, moral, or juridical necessity He made death to die and to become itself the source and the way into life eternal. This is what the Church sings on the feast of the Resurrection, the New Passover in Christ, the new Paschal Lamb, who is risen from the dead:
Christ is risen from the dead!
Trampling down death by death!
And upon those in the tombs bestowing life!
And this is how the Church prays at the divine liturgy of Saint Basil the Great:
He was God before the ages, yet He appeared on earth and lived among men, becoming incarnate of a holy Virgin;
He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being likened to the body of our lowliness, that He might liken us to the image of His Glory.
For, through man, sin entered into the world, and death by sin, so it pleased Thine Only-begotten Son, who was in the bosom of Thee, the God and Father, who was born of a woman, the holy Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary, who was born under the law to condemn sin in His flesh, so that those who were dead in Adam, might be made alive, in Thy Christ Himself.
He lived in this world and gave commandments of salvation; releasing us from the delusions of idolatry, He brought us to knowledge of Thee, the true God and Father. He obtained us for His own chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.
Having cleansed us in water, and sanctified us with the Holy Spirit, He gave Himself as a ransom to death, in which we were held captive, sold under sin.
Descending through the cross into Sheol — that He might fill all things with Himself — He loosed the pangs of death. He arose on the third day, having made for all flesh a path to the resurrection from the dead, since it was not possible for the Author of Life to be a victim of corruption.
So He became the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep, the first-born of the dead, that He might be Himself truly the first in all things … (Eucharistic Prayer of the Liturgy of St. Basil).
The third and final aspect of the saving and redeeming action of Christ, therefore, is the deepest and most comprehensive. It is the destruction of death by Christ's own death. It is the transformation of death, itself, into an act of life. It is the recreation of Sheol — the spiritual condition of being dead — into the paradise of God. Thus, in and through the death of Jesus Christ, death is made to die. In Him, who is the Resurrection and the Life, man cannot die, but lives forever with God.
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes in Him who sent me has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life (John 5:24).
“I am the Resurrection and the Life! He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).
“It is Christ Jesus who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us! Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? … For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:34-39).
This is the doctrine of the New Testament scriptures, repeated over and over again in many ways in the tradition of the Church: in its sacraments, hymnology, theology, iconography. Christ's victory over death is man's release from sins and man's victory over enslavement to the devil because in and through Christ's death man dies and is born again to eternal life. In his death sins are no longer counted. In his death the devil no longer holds him. In his death he is born again to newness of life and is liberated from all that is evil, false, demonic and sinful. In a word, he is freed from all that is dead by dying and rising again in and with Jesus.
But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for every one… Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death He might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those, who through fear of death, were subject to lifelong bondage (Hebrews 2:9-15).
And He rose again from the dead on the third day, according to the Scriptures
Christ is risen from the dead! This is the main proclamation of the Christian faith. It forms the heart of the Church's preaching, worship and spiritual life, “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14).
In the first sermon ever preached in the history of the Christian Church, the Apostle Peter began his proclamation:
Men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man attended to you by God with mighty works and signs and wonders which God did to him in your midst, as you yourself know-this Jesus delivered up according to a definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. But God raised him up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it (Acts 2:22-24).
Jesus had the power to lay down his life and the power to take it up again:
For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it again; this charge I have received from my father (John 10:17-18).
According to Orthodox doctrine there is no competition of “lives” between God and Jesus, and no competition of “powers.” The power of God and the power of Jesus, the life of God and the life of Jesus are one and the same power and life. To say that God has raised Christ, and that Christ has been raised by his own power is to say essentially the same thing. “For as the Father has life in himself,” says Christ, “so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5:26). “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
The Scriptural stress that God has raised up Jesus only emphasizes once more that Christ has given his life, that he has laid it down fully, that he has offered it whole and without reservation to God — who then gave it back in his resurrection from the dead.
The Orthodox Church believes in Christ's real death and his actual resurrection. However, Resurrection, does not simply mean bodily resuscitation. Neither the Gospel nor the Church teaches that Jesus was lying dead and then was biologically revived and walked around in the same way that he did before he was killed. For example, the Gospel does not say that the angel moved the stone from the tomb in order to let Jesus out. The angel moved the stone to reveal that Jesus was not there (Mark 16; Matthew 28).
So, it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.
Thus, it is written, the first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam (i.e. Christ) became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, then the spiritual.
The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man from heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven (1 Corinthians 15:42-50).
The resurrection of Christ is the first fruits of the resurrection of all humanity. It is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, “according to the Scriptures” where it is written, “For Thou doest not give me up unto Sheol (that is, the realm of death), or let Thy Godly one see corruption” (Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:25-36). In Christ all expectations and hopes are filled: O Death, where is your sting? O Sheol, where is your victory? (Hosea 13:34).
He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces … It will be said on that day, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation” (Isaiah 25:8-9).
Come, let us return to the Lord: For He has torn, that He may heal us; He has stricken, and He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; On the third day He will raise us up, that we may live before Him (Hosea 6:1-2).
Thus says the Lord God: Behold I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.
And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.
And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live … (Ezekiel 3 7:12-14).
And ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father
After his resurrection from the dead, Jesus appeared to men for a period of forty days after which he “was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19; see also Luke 24:50 and Acts 1:9-11).
The ascension of Jesus Christ is the final act of his earthly mission of salvation. The Son of God comes “down from heaven” to do the work which the Father gives him to do; and having accomplished all things, he returns to the Father bearing for all eternity the wounded and glorified humanity which he has assumed (See e.g. John 17).
The doctrinal meaning of the ascension is the glorification of human nature, the reunion of man with God. It is indeed, the very penetration of man into the inexhaustible depths of divinity.
We have seen already that “the heavens” is the symbolical expression in the Bible for the uncreated, immaterial, divine “realm of God” as one saint of the Church has called it. To say that Jesus is “exalted at the right hand of God” as St. Peter preached in the first Christian sermon(Acts 2:33) means exactly this: that man has been restored to communion with God, to a union which is, according to Orthodox doctrine, far greater and more perfect than that given to man in his original creation (See Ephesians 1-2).
Man was created with the potential to be a “partaker of the divine nature,” to refer to the Apostle Peter once more (2 Peter 1:4). It is this participation in divinity, called theosis (which literally means deification or divinization) in Orthodox theology, that the ascension of Christ has fulfilled for humanity. The symbolical expression of the “sitting at the right hand” of God means nothing other than an expression. It does not mean that somewhere in the created universe the physical Jesus is sitting in a material throne.
The Letter to the Hebrews speaks of Christ's ascension in terms of the Jerusalem Temple. Just as the high priests of Israel entered the “holy of holies” to offer sacrifice to God on behalf of themselves and the people, so Christ the one, eternal and perfect High Priest offers himself on the cross to God as the one eternal and perfect Sacrifice, not for himself but for all sinful men. As a man, Christ enters (once and for all) into the one eternal and perfect Holy of Holies: the very “Presence of God in the heavens.”
We have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God… (Hebrews 4:14).
For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens…He has no need like those high priests to offer sacrifice daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once and for all when he offered up himself.
Now, the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the sanctuary and the true tabernacle which is set up not by man but by the Lord (Hebrews 7:26; 8:2).
For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf (Hebrews 9:24).
When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, then to wait until his enemies should be made a stool for his feet (Hebrews 10:12-13; Psalm 110:1).
Thus, the ascension of Christ is seen as man's first entry into that divine glorification for which he was originally created. The entry is made possible by the exaltation of the divine Son who emptied himself in human flesh in perfect self-offering to God.
And He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead
This Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven, will come the same way as you saw him go into heaven (Acts 1:11).
These words of the angels are addressed to the apostles at the ascension of the Lord. Christ will come again in glory, “not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28).
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangels' call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:11, The Epistle Reading of the Orthodox Funeral Service).
The coming of the Lord at the end of the ages will be the Day of Judgment, the Day of the Lord, foretold in the Old Testament and predicted by Jesus himself (e.g. Daniel 7; Matthew 24). The exact time of the end is not foretold, not even by Jesus, so that men would always be prepared by constant vigil and good works.
The very presence of Christ as the Truth and the Light is itself the judgment of the world. In this sense all men and the whole world are already judged or, more accurately, already live in the full presence of that reality of Christ and his works-by which they will be ultimately judged. With Christ now revealed, there is no longer any excuse for ignorance and sin (John 9:39).
At this point, it is necessary to note, that at the final judgment, there will be those “on the left hand” who will go into “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20). That this is the case is no fault of God's. It is the fault only of men, for “as I hear, I judge and my judgment is just,” says the Lord (John 5:30).
God takes no “pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 18:22). He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the Truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). He does everything in His power so that salvation and eternal life would be available and possible for all. There is nothing more that God can do. Everything now depends on man. If some men refuse the gift of life in communion with God, the Lord can only honor this refusal and respect the freedom of His creatures which He Himself has given and will not take back. God allows men to live “with the devil and his angels” if they so desire. Even in this He is loving and just. For if God's presence as the “consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29) and the “unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16) which delights those who love Him only produces hatred and anguish in those who do not “love His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8), there is nothing that God can do except either to destroy His sinful creatures completely, or to destroy Himself. But God will exist and will allow His creatures to exist. He also will not hide His Face forever.
The doctrine of eternal hell, therefore, does not mean that God actively tortures people by some unloving and perverse means. It does not mean that God takes delight in the punishment and pain of His people whom He loves. Neither does it mean that God “separates Himself” from His people, thus causing them anguish in this separation (for indeed if people hate God, separation would be welcome, and not abhorred!). It means rather that God continues to allow all people, saints and sinners alike, to exist forever. All are raised from the dead into everlasting life: “those who have done good, to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29). In the end, God will be “all and in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28). For those who love God, resurrection from the dead and the presence of God will be paradise. For those who hate God, resurrection from the dead and the presence of God will be hell. This is the teaching of the fathers of the Church
… those who find themselves in Gehenna will be chastized with the scourge of love. How cruel and bitter this torment of love will be! For those who understand that they have sinned against love, undergo greater sufferings than those produced of the most fearful tortures. The sorrow which takes hold of the heart which has sinned against love, is more piercing than any other pain. It is not right to say that sinners in hell are deprived of the love of God … But love acts in two different ways, as suffering in the reproved, and as joy in the blessed (St. Isaac of Syria).
Thus, man's final judgment and eternal destiny depends solely on whether or not man loves God and his brethren. The conditions of the final judgment are already known. Christ has given them Himself with absolute clarity.
When the Son of Man shall come in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations and He will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and He will place the sheep at His right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at His right hand, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”
Then the righteous will answer Him, “Lord, when did we see Thee hungry and feed Thee, or thirsty and give Thee drink? When did we see Thee a stranger and welcome Thee, or naked and clothe Thee? And when did we see Thee sick or in prison and visit Thee?”
And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”
Then He will say to those at His left hand, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”
Then they also will answer, “Lord, when did we see Thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to Thee?”
Then He will answer them, “Truly. I say to you as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.” And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matthew 25:31-46; Gospel Reading for Meatfare Sunday).
It is Christ who will judge, not God the Father. Christ has received the power of judgment “because He is the Son of Man” (John 5:27). Thus, man and the world are not judged by God “sitting on a cloud.” as it were, but by One who is truly a man, the One who has suffered every temptation of this world and has emerged victorious. The world is judged by Him who was Himself hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked in prison. wounded, and yet the salvation of all. As the Crucified One, Christ has justly achieved the authority to make judgment for He alone has been the perfectly obedient servant of the Father who knows the depths of human tragedy by His own experience.
And in the Holy Spirit, Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets
The Holy Spirit bears the title of Lord with God the Father and Christ the Son. He is the Spirit of God and Spirit of Christ. He is eternal, uncreated and divine; always existing with the Father and the Son; perpetually worshipped and glorified with them in the oneness of the Holy Trinity.
Just like the Son, there was no time when there was no Holy Spirit. The Spirit is before creation. He comes forth from God, as does the Son, in a timeless, eternal procession. “He proceeds from the Father,” in eternity in a divinely instantaneous and perpetual movement (John 15:26).
Orthodox doctrine confesses that God the Father is the eternal origin and source of the Spirit, just as He is the source of the Son. Yet, the Church affirms as well that the manner of the Father's possession and production of the Spirit and the Son differ according to the difference between the Son being “born,” and the Spirit “proceeding.” There have been many attempts by holy men inspired by God and with a genuine experience of His Trinitarian life to explain the distinction between the procession of the Spirit and the begetting or generation of the Son. For us it is enough to see that the difference between the two lies in the distinction between the divine persons and actions of the Son and the Spirit in relation to the Father, as well as, to each other and to the world. It is necessary to note further that all words and concepts about God and divinity, including those of “procession” and “generation” must fade before the mystical vision of the actual Divine Reality which they express. God may somehow be grasped by men as He has chosen to reveal Himself. However, the essence of His Triune existence remains-and will always remain-essentially inconceivable and inexpressible to created minds and lips. This does not mean that words about God are meaningless. It only means that they are inadequate to the Reality which they seek to express.
The Holy Spirit is essentially one in his eternal existence with the Father and the Son; and so, in God's every action toward the world, the Holy Spirit is necessarily acting. Thus, in the Genesis account of creation it is written: “The Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). It is this same Spirit who is the “breath of life” for all living things and particularly for man, made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:30; 2:7). Generally speaking the Spirit in Hebrew is called the “breath” or the “wind” of Yahweh. It is he who makes everything alive, the “giver of life” who upholds and sustains the universe in its existence and life (e.g. Psalm 104:29; Job 33:4).
The Holy Spirit also inspires the saints to speak God's word and to do God's will. He anoints the prophets, priests and kings of the Old Testament; and “in the fullness of time” it is this same Spirit who “descends and remains” on Jesus of Nazareth, making him the Messiah (anointed) of God and manifesting him to the world. Thus, in the New Testament at the first epiphany (which means literally showing forth or manifestation) of Christ as the Messiah-his baptism by John in the Jordan-the Holy Spirit is revealed as descending and resting upon him “as a dove from heaven” (John 1:32; Luke 3:22. See also Matthew 3:16 and Mark 1:9). It is important to note, both here and in the account of the Spirit's coming on the Day of Pentecost, as well as in other places in the Scriptures, that the words “as” and “like” are used in order to avoid an incorrect “physical” interpretation of the events recorded where the Bible itself is literally speaking in quite a symbolical and metaphorical way
The Christian Church lives by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit alone is the guarantee of God's Kingdom on earth. He is the sole guarantee that God's life and truth and love are with men. Only by the Holy Spirit can man and the world fulfill the reason that they were created by God. All of God's actions toward man and the world-in creation, salvation and final glorification-are from the Father through the Son (Word) in the Holy Spirit; and all of man's capabilities of response to God are in the same Spirit, through the same Son to the same Father.
“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies through the Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11).
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth.
When the Spirit of Truth comes he will guide you into all the Truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come (John 16:13; see also John 14:25; John 15:26).
In one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church
Church as a word means those called as a particular people to perform a particular task. The Christian Church is the assembly of God's chosen people called to keep his word and to do his will and his work in the world and in the heavenly kingdom.
In the Scriptures the Church is called the Body of Christ (Romans 12; I Corinthians 10, 12; Colossians I) and the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5; Revelation 21). It is likened as well to God's living Temple (Ephesians 2; I Peter 2) and is called “the pillar and bulwark of Truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
The Church is one because God is one, and because Christ and the Holy Spirit are one. There can only be one Church and not many. And this one Church, because its unity depends on God, Christ and the Spirit, may never be broken. Thus, according to Orthodox doctrine, the Church is indivisible; men may be in it or out of it, but they may not divide it.
According to Orthodox teaching, the unity of the Church is man's free unity in the truth and love of God. Such unity is not brought about or established by any human authority or juridical power, but by God alone. To the extent that men are in the truth and love of God, they are members of His Church
Orthodox Christians believe that in the historical Orthodox Church, there exists the full possibility of participating totally in the Church of God, and that only sins and false human choices (heresies) put men outside of this unity. In non-Orthodox Christian groups the Orthodox claim that there are certain formal obstacles, varying in different groups, which, if accepted and followed by men, will prevent their perfect unity with God and will thus destroy the genuine unity of the Church (e.g. the papacy in the Roman Church).
The Church is holy because God is holy, and because Christ and the Holy Spirit are holy. The holiness of the Church comes from God. The members of the Church are holy to the extent that they live in communion with God.
Within the earthly Church, people participate in God's holiness. Sin and error separate them from this divine holiness, as it does from the divine unity. Thus, the earthly members and institutions of the Church cannot be identified as such with the Church as holy.
The faith and life of the Church on earth is expressed in its doctrines, sacraments, scriptures, services and saints which maintain the Church's essential unity, and which can certainly be affirmed as “holy” because of God's presence and action in them.
The Church is also catholic because of its relation to God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. The word catholic means full, complete, whole, with nothing lacking. God alone is full and total reality; in God alone is there, nothing lacking.
Sometimes the catholicity of the Church is understood in terms of the Church's universality throughout time and space. While it is true that the Church is universal-for all men, at all times and in all places - this universality is not the real meaning of the term “catholic”, when it is used to define the Church. The term “catholic” as originally used to define the Church (as early as the first decades of the second century) was a definition of quality rather than quantity. Calling the Church catholic means to define how it is, namely, full and complete, all-embracing, and with nothing lacking
To believe in the Church as catholic, therefore, is to express the conviction that the fullness of God is present in the Church and that nothing of the “abundant life” that Christ gives to the world in the Spirit is lacking to it (John 10:10). It is to confess exactly that the Church is indeed “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23; also Colossians 2:10).
The word apostolic describes that which has a mission, that which has “been sent” to accomplish a task.
Christ and the Holy Spirit are both “apostolic” because both have been sent by the Father to the World. It is not only repeated in the Scripture on numerous occasions how Christ has been sent by the Father, and the Spirit sent through Christ from the Father, but it also has been recorded explicitly that Christ is “the apostle…of our confession” (Hebrews 3:1).
As Christ was sent from God, so Christ Himself chose and sent His apostles. “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you… receive ye the Holy Spirit,” the risen Christ says to His disciples. Thus, the apostles go out to the world, becoming the first foundation of the Christian Church.
In this sense, the Church is called apostolic: first, as it is built upon Christ and the Holy Spirit sent from God and upon those apostles who were sent by Christ.,filled with the Holy Spirit; and secondly, as the Church, in its earthly members sent by God, to bear witness to His Kingdom, to keep His word, to do His will and His works, in this world.
The Church, and faith in the Church, is an essential element of Christian doctrine and life. Without the Church, as a divine mystical sacramental and spiritual reality in the midst of the fallen and sinful world, there can be no full and perfect communion with God. The Church is God's gift to the world. It is the gift of salvation of knowledge and enlightenment of the forgiveness of sins, of the victory over darkness and death. It is the gift of communion with God through Christ and the Holy Spirit. This gift is given totally, once and for all, with no reservations on God's part. It remains forever, until the close of the ages: invincible and indestructible. Men may sin and fight against the Church, believers may fall away and be separated from the Church, but the Church itself, the “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) remains forever.
… (God) has put all things under His (Christ's) feet and has made Him the head over all things for the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
… Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that he might sanctify her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish … This is a Great Mystery … Christ and the Church … (Ephesians 1:21-23; 2:19-22; 5:25-32).
I confess one baptism for the remission of sins
The way of entry into the Christian Church is by baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19, the Baptismal Gospel Reading in the Orthodox Church).
Baptism as a word means immersion or submersion in water. It was practiced in the Old Testament and even in some pagan religions as the sign of death and rebirth. Thus, John the Baptist was baptizing as the sign of new life and repentance which means literally a change of mind, and so of desires and actions in preparation of the coming of the Kingdom of God in Christ.
In the Church, the meaning of baptism is death and rebirth in Christ. It is the personal experience of Easter given to each man, the real possibility to die and to be “born anew” (John 3:3).
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (Romans 6:3-5; Baptismal Epistle Reading in the Orthodox Church; See also Colossians 2:12; 3:1).
The baptismal experience is the fundamental Christian experience, the primary condition for the whole of Christian life. Everything in the Church has its origin and context in baptism for everything in the Church originates and lives by the resurrection of Christ. Thus, following baptism comes"the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit,” the mystery (sacrament) of chrismation which is man's personal experience of Pentecost. And the completion and fulfillment of these fundamental Christian mysteries comes in the mystery of Holy Communion with God in the divine liturgy of the Church.
Only persons who are committed to Christ, in the Orthodox Church, through baptism and chrismation, may offer and receive the holy eucharist in the Orthodox Church. The holy eucharist is Holy Communion. As such it is not just a “means of sanctification” for individual believers, a means through which private persons gain “communion” with God according to their own private consciences, beliefs and practices. It is rather, the all-embracing act of Holy Communion of many persons, having the same faith, the same hope and the same baptism. It is the corporate act of many persons having one mind, one heart, one mouth in the service of one God and Lord, in one Christ and one Holy Spirit.
To participate in Holy Communion in the Orthodox Church is to identify oneself fully with all of the members of the Orthodox faith, living and dead; and to identify oneself fully with every aspect of the Orthodox Church: its history, councils, canons, dogmas, disciplines. It is to “take on oneself” the direct and concrete responsibility for everyone and everything connected in and with the Orthodox tradition and to profess responsibility for the everyday life of the Orthodox Church. It is to say before God and men that one is willing to be judged, in time and eternity, for what the Orthodox Church is and for what the Orthodox Church stands for in the midst of the earth.
Entering into the “Holy Communion” of the Orthodox Church, through baptism and chrismation, one lives according to the life of the Church in every possible way. One is first of all faithful to the doctrine and discipline of the Church, by faithful communion with the hierarchy of the Church who are those members of the Body sacramentally responsible for the teachings and practices of the Church; the sacramental images of the Church's identity and continuity in all places and all times. When one enters into the community of marriage, a union of one man and one woman forever according to the teaching of Jesus Christ, this union is sanctified and made eternal and divine in the sacramental mystery of matrimony in the Church. When one is sick and suffering, he “calls for the priests of the Church” to “pray over him, anointing him with oil” in the sacramental mystery of holy unction (Cf. James 5:4). When one sins and falls away from the life of the Church, one returns to the “Holy Communion” of the divine community by the sacramental mystery of confession and repentance. When one dies, he is returned to his Creator in the midst of the Church, with the prayers and intercessions of the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ and the Spirit. Thus the entire life of the person is in and with the Church for the life of fullness and newness in God Himself. The Church is the mystical presence of God's Kingdom which is not of this world (See Book 11, Worship).
The confession of “one baptism for the remission of sins,” therefore, is the confession of the total newness of life given to men in the Church because Christ is risen.
Then, if you have been raised with Christ, you should seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4).
Thus, in the Church, the whole of life is the one which begins in the new birth of baptism, the “life hid with Christ in God.” All of the mysteries of the Christian faith are contained in this new life. Everything in the Church flows out of the waters of baptism: the remission of sins and life eternal.
I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world (ages) to come
The Orthodox Church does not merely believe in the immortality of the soul, but also in the goodness and ultimate salvation of only spiritual reality. Following the Scriptures, Orthodox Christians believe in the goodness of the human body and of all material and physical creation. Thus, in its faith in resurrection and eternal life, the Orthodox Church looks not to some “other world” for salvation, but to this very world so loved by God, resurrected and glorified by Him, filled with His own divine presence.
At the end of the ages God will reveal His presence and will fill all creation with Himself. For those who love Him it will be paradise. For those who hate Him it will be hell. And all physical creation, together with the righteous, will rejoice and be glad in His coming.
The wilderness and the solitary places will be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom in abundance (Isaiah 35:1).
For behold I create new heavens and a new earth says the Lord, and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create, for behold I create Jerusalem a rejoicing and her people a joy (Isaiah 65:17-18).
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not merely an “article of faith” which men are called to “believe.” It is not simply a dogma which the Church requires its good members to “accept on faith.” Neither is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity the invention of scholars and academicians, the result of intellectual speculation and philosophical thinking.
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity arises from man's deepest experiences with God. It comes from the genuine living knowledge of those who have come to know God in faith.
The paragraphs which follow are intended to illustrate what God has revealed of Himself to the saints of the Church. To grasp the words and concepts of the doctrine of the Trinity is one thing; to know the Living Reality of God behind these words and concepts is something else. We must work and pray so that we might pass beyond every word and concept about God and to come to know Him for ourselves in our own living union with Him: “The Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 2:1 8-22).
In the Old Testament we find Yahweh, the one Lord and God, acting toward the world through His Word and His Spirit. In the New Testament the “Word becomes flesh” (John 1:14). As Jesus of Nazareth, the only-begotten Son of God becomes man. And the Holy Spirit, who is in Jesus making him the Christ, is poured forth from God upon all flesh (Acts 2 17).
One cannot read the Bible nor the history of the Church without being struck by the numerous references to God the Father, the Son (Word) of God and the Holy Spirit. The New Testament record, and the life of the Orthodox Church is absolutely incomprehensible and meaningless without constant affirmation of the existence, interrelation and interaction of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit towards each other and towards man and the world.
The main question for the Church to answer about God is that of the relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. According to Orthodox Tradition, there are a number of wrong doctrines which must be rejected.
One wrong doctrine is that the Father alone is God and that the Son and the Holy Spirit are creatures, made “from nothing” like angels, men and the world. The Church answers that the Son and the Holy Spirit are not creatures, but are uncreated and divine with the Father, and they act with the Father in the divine act of creation of all that exists
A second wrong doctrine is that God is one, and that the Son and the Spirit are merely names for relations which God has with Himself. Thus, the Thought and Speech of God is called the Son, while the Life and Action of God is called the Spirit; but in fact-in genuine actuality-there are no such"realities in themselves” as the Son of God and the Spirit of God. Both are just metaphors for aspects of God. Again, however, in such a doctrine the Son and the Spirit have no existence and no life of their own. They are not real, but are mere illusions.
Still another wrong doctrine is that the Father is one God, the Son is another God, and the Holy Spirit still another God. There cannot be “three gods,” says the Church, and certainly not “gods” who are created or made. Even less, can there be “three gods” of whom the Father is “higher” and the others “lower.” For there to be more than one God, or “degrees of divinity” are both contradictions which cannot be defended, either by divine revelation or by logical thinking.
Thus, the Church teaches that while there is only One God, yet there are Three who are God — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit-perfectly united and never divided yet not merged into one with no proper distinction. How does the Church defend its doctrine that God is both One and yet Three?
First of all, it is the Church's teaching and its deepest experience that there is only one God because there is only one Father.
In the Bible the term “God” with very few exceptions is used primarily as a name for the Father. Thus, the Son is the “Son of God,” and the Spirit is the “Spirit of God.” The Son is born from the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father-both in the same timeless and eternal action of the Father's own being.
In this view, the Son and the Spirit are both one with God and in no way separated from Him. Thus, the Divine Unity consists of the Father, with His Son and His Spirit distinct from Himself and yet perfectly united together in Him.
What the Father is, the Son and the Spirit are also. This is the Church's teaching. The Son, born of the Father, and the Spirit, proceeding from Him, share the divine nature with God, being “of one essence” with Him.
Thus, as the Father is “ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever-existing and eternally the same” (Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom), so the Son and the Spirit are exactly the same. Every attribute of divinity which belongs to God the Father -life, love, wisdom, truth, blessedness, holiness, power, purity, joy-belongs equally to the Son and the Holy Spirit. The being, nature, essence, existence and life of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are absolutely and identically one and the same.
One God: One Divine Action and Will
Since the being of the Holy Trinity is one, whatever the Father wills, the Son and the Holy Spirit will also. What the Father does, the Son and the Holy Spirit do also. There is no will and no action of God the Father which is not at the same time the will and action of the Son and the Holy Spirit.
In Himself, in eternity, as well as towards the world in creation, revelation, incarnation, redemption, sanctification and glorification — the will and action of the Trinity are one: from the divine Father, through the divine Son, in the divine Holy Spirit. Every action of God is the action of the Three. No one person of the Trinity acts independently of or in isolation from the others. The action of each is the action of all; the action of all is the action of each. And the divine action is essentially one.
Since each person of the Trinity is one with the others, each knows the same Truth and exercises the same Love. The knowledge of each is the knowledge of all, and the Love of each is the Love of all.
If taken in distinction, each person of the Trinity knows and loves the others with such absolute perfection, knowledge and love that there is nothing unknown and nothing unloved of each in the others, and all in all. Thus, if the creaturely knowledge of men can unite minds in full unanimity, and if the creaturely love of men can bring the divided together into one heart and one soul and even one flesh, how incomparably more perfect and absolutely uniting must be the oneness when the Knowers and Lovers are eternal and divine.
In Orthodox terminology the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are called three divine persons. Person is defined here simply as the subject of existence and life, hypostasis in the traditional church language.
As the being, essence or nature of a reality answers the question “what?” the person of a reality answers the question “which one?” or “who?” Thus, when we ask “What is God?” we answer that God is the divine, perfect, eternal, absolute… And when we ask “Who is God?” we answer that God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
In who God is, there are three persons who are each absolutely unique and distinct. Each is not the other, though each is still divine with the same divine nature and form. Therefore, while being one in what they are; the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are Three in who they are. And because of what and who they are-namely, uncreated, divine persons-they are undivided and perfectly united in their timeless, spaceless, sizeless, shapeless super-essential existence, as well as in their one divine life, knowledge, love, goodness, power, will, action, etc.
Thus, according to the Orthodox Tradition, it is the mystery of God that there are Three who are divine; Three who live and act by one and the same divine perfection, yet each according to his own personal distinctness and uniqueness. Thus, it is said that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are each divine with the same divinity, although each in his own divine way. As the uncreated divinity has three divine subjects, so each divine action has three divine actors; there are three divine aspects to every action of God, yet the action remains one and the same
God the Father created the world through the Son, (Word) in the Holy Spirit. The Word of God is present in all that exists, making it exist by the power of the Spirit. Thus, according to Orthodox doctrine, the universe itself is a revelation of God in the Word and the Spirit. The Word is in all that exists, causing it to be, and the Spirit is in all that exists as the power of its being and life.
This is most evident in God's special creature, man. Man is made in the image of God, and so he bears within him the unique likeness of God, which is eternally and perfectly expressed in the divine Son of God, the Uncreated and Absolute Image of the Father. Thus, man is “logical”; that is, he participates in God's Logos (the Son and Word) and so is free, knowing, loving, reflecting on the creaturely level the very nature of God as the uncreated Son does on the level of divinity.
Man also is “spiritual”; he is the special temple of God's Spirit. The Breath of God's Life is breathed into him in the most special way. Thus, among creatures man alone is empowered to imitate God and to participate in His life. Man has the competence and ability to become a Son of God, mirroring the eternal Son, reflecting the divine nature, because he is inspired by the Holy Spirit as is no other creature. Thus, one saint of the Church has said that for man to be a man, he must have the Spirit of God in him. Only then, can he fulfill his humanity; only then can he be made a true Son of God, likened to him who is only-begotten.
On the most basic level of creation, therefore, we see the Trinitarian dimensions of the being and action of God: the Word and the Spirit of God enter man and the world to allow them to be and to become that for which the Father has willed their existence.
With man's failure to fulfill himself in his created uniqueness, God undertakes the special action of salvation. The Father sends forth His Son (Word) and His Spirit in yet another mission. The Word and the Spirit come to the Old Testament saints to make known the Father. The Word, as it were, incarnates himself in the Law (in Hebrew called the “words”) which is inspired by the Spirit. The Spirit inspires the prophets to proclaim the Word of God. Thus, the Law and the Prophets are revelations of God in His Word and His Spirit. They are partial revelations, “shadows” (as the New Testament calls them), prefiguring the total revelation of the “fullness of time” and preparing its coming.
When the time is fulfilled and the world is made ready, the Word and the Spirit come once more — no longer by their mere action and power, but now in their own persons, dwelling personally in the world.
The Word becomes flesh. The only-begotten Son is born as a man, Jesus of Nazareth. And the Spirit who is in him is given to all men to make them also sons of the Father in an eternal development of attaining His perfection by growing forever “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
Thus, in the New Testament we have the full epiphany of God, the full manifestation of the Holy Trinity: the Father through the Son in the Spirit to us; and we in the Spirit through the Son to the Father.
The life of the Church is the life of man in the Holy Trinity. In the Church all become one in Christ, all put on the deified humanity of the Son of God. “For as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). The unity of the Church is the unity of many into one, the one Body of Christ, the one living temple of God, the one people and family of God.
Within the one body there are many individual members. Many “living stones” constitute the living temple. Many brothers and sisters make up the one family of which God is the Father. The unique diversity of each member of the one Body of Christ is guaranteed by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Each unique person is inspired by the Spirit to be a true man, a true son of God in his own distinct way. Thus, as the Body of the Church is one in Christ, the one Holy Spirit gives to each member the possibility of fulfilling himself in God and so of being one with all others in calling God “Father” (See 1 Corinthians 12).
Then the Church, as the perfect unity of many persons into one fully united organism, is a reflection of the Trinity itself. For the Church, being many unique and distinct persons, is called to be one mind, one heart, one soul and one body in the one Truth and Love of God Himself. The calling of the Church to be one in all things is the prototype of the vocation of all mankind, which was originally created by God, as many persons in one nature, ultimately destined by God forever-more-perfect growth in free unity of Truth and Love, in the life of God's Kingdom.
The sacraments of the Church portray the Trinitarian character of the life of God and man. Each person is baptized by the Holy Spirit into the one humanity of Christ. Being baptized, each person is given the “seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit” of God in chrismation to be a “christ,” (i.e. an anointed son of God to live the life of Christ.)
In marriage the unity of two into one, makes the new unity a reflection of the unity of the Trinity, and the unity of Christ and the Church. For the family of many persons united in one truth and love is indeed the created manifestation of the one family of God's Kingdom, and of God Himself, the Blessed Trinity.
In penance, once more we renew our new life as sons of the Father, through the grace of Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, forgiven and reunited into the unity of God in His Church.
In holy unction the Spirit anoints the sufferer to suffer and die in Christ and so to be healed and made alive with the Father for eternity.
The priesthood itself, the ministry of the Church, is nothing other than the concrete manifestation in the Church of the presence of Christ by the same Holy Spirit who makes accessible to all men the action of the Father and the way to everlasting communion in and with Him.
Finally, the “mystery of mysteries,” the Holy Eucharist, is the actual experience of all Christian people led to communion with God the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit through Christ the Son who is present in the Word of the Gospel and in the Passover Meal of His Body and Blood eaten in remembrance of Him. The very movement of the Divine Liturgy towards the Father through Christ the Word and the Lamb, in the power of the Holy Spirit-is the living sacramental symbol of our eternal movement in and toward God, the Blessed Trinity
At the end of the ages, Christ will come in the glory of God the Father, He will make the Father known throughout all creation. The Holy Spirit will fill all things and enable all to be in union with God, through Christ for eternity. Again, we have the presence and action of the Holy Trinity.
What we know and experience now in the world as members of the Church will be manifested in power in the life of the kingdom to come. The essence of life everlasting is the life of the Holy Trinity, the same eternal life given to us already in the mystery of faith.
And I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb (Christ) are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun…for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb (Christ) is the light thereof.
And the throne of God and the Lamb (Christ) shall be in it, and his servants shall see him..and they shall see his face
And the Spirit and the Bride (the Church) say Come! (Revelation 21:22; 22:3, 17).
In the eternal life of the Kingdom of God, the Holy Trinity will fill all creation: the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. Every man enlightened by Christ in the Spirit will know the invisible Father. “And this is eternal life, that they may know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Such knowledge is possible only by the indwelling of the Spirit of God, “the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23; 2:22).
Come O Ye People! Let us adore the Three Personal Godhead, the Son in the Father with the Holy Spirit.
For before all time the Father gave birth to the Son, co-eternal and co-enthroned with Himself.
And the Holy Spirit was in the Father, glorified with the Son.
Adoring One Power, One Essence, One Divinity, Let us cry:
O Holy God who made all things by the Son through the cooperation of the Holy Spirit! O Holy Mighty through whom we know the Father and through whom the Holy Spirit comes into the world!
O Holy Immortal, the Spirit, the Comforter, who proceeds from the Father and rests in the Son!
O Most Holy Trinity! Glory to Thee! (The Vespers of Pentecost).
This article was adapted from The Orthodox Faith Volume I, by Thomas Hopko, published by the Department of Religious Education. The Orthodox Church in America. 1976. NY. Used by permission.
Arseniev, Nicholas, Revelation of Life Eternal, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1962.
Barrois, Georges A., The Face of Christ in the Old Testament, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1974.
Bulgakov, Sergius, The Orthodox Church, London, Centenary, 1935. Also available in paperback from the American Review of Eastern Orthodoxy, New York, n.d.
Cabasilas, Nicholas, The Life in Christ, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1974.
Lossky, Vladimir, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, London, James Clarke, 1957 .
— The Vision of God, London, Faith Press, 1963 .
— In the Image and Likeness of God, St. Vladimir's Press, 1974.
Meyendorff, John, The Orthodox Church, New York, Pantheon Books, 1962.
— Orthodoxy and Catholicity, New York, Sheed and Ward, 1 966.
— Christ in Eastern Christian Thought, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1975.
Pelikan, Jaroslav, The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700), Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, I 974.
Schmemann, Alexander, For the Life of the World (Sacraments and Orthodoxy), St. Vladimir's Seminry Press, 1974.
— Of Water and the Spirit, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1974.
Ware, Timothy, The Orthodox Church, New York, Pelican, 1963.
SELECTED ARTICLES FROM SAINT VLADIMIR'S THEOLOGICAL QUARTERLY
Afanasiev, Nicholas, “The Canons of the Church: Changeable or Unchangeable,” SVQ, XI,2,1967.
Athenagoras, Metropolitan (Kokkinakis),"Tradition and Traditions,” SVQ, VII,3,1963.
Basil, Archbishop (Krivosheine), “Is a New Orthodox 'Confession of Faith' Necessary?,” SVQ, XI,2, 1967.
Barrois, George, “The Antinomy of Tradition,” SVQ, XIII,4, 1969.
Bobrinskovy, Boris, “Ascension and Liturgy,” SVQ, III,4, 1959.
Bogolepov, Alexander, “Which Councils are Recognized as Ecumenical?,” SVQ, VII,2,1963 .
Clement, Olivier, “Science and Faith,” SVQ, X,3, 1966.
Florovsky, Georges, “On the Tree of the Cross,” SVQ, OSI, 1953.
— “And Ascended into Heaven…,” SVQ, OS2, 1954.
Hopko, Thomas, “The Bible in the Orthodox Church,” SVQ, XIV, 1-2, 1970.
Kesich, Veselin, “Criticism, the Gospel and the Church,” SVQ, X,3,1966.
— “Research and Prejudice,” SVQ, XIV,1-2,1970.
Kniazeff, Alexei, “The Great Sign of the Heavenly Kingdom and Its Advent in Power” (On the Theotokos), SVQ, XII, 1-2, 1969.
Koulomzin, Nicholas, “Images of the Church in Saint Paul's Epistles,” SVQ, XIV, 1-2, 1970.
Meyendorff, John,"Historical Relativism and Authority in Christian Dogma,” SVQ, XI,2, 1967.
— “The Orthodox Concept of the Church,” SVQ, VI, 2, 1962.
— “Tradition and Traditions,” SVQ, VI,3, 1962.
— “Doctrine of Grace in St. Gregory Palamas,” SVQ S2, 1954.
Romanides, John, “Original Sin According to St. Paul,” SVQ, OS4, 1-2, 1955-56.
Schmemann, Alexander, “Ecclesiological Notes,” SVQ, X1,1, 1967.
Verhovskoy, Serge, “The Highest Authority in the Church,” SVQ, IV,2-3, 1960.
— “Procession of the Holy Spirit according to the Orthodox Doctrine of the Holy Trinity,” SVQ, OS2, 1953.
— “Some Theological Reflections on Chalcedon,” SVQ, II, I, 1958.
|| The Orthodox Faith (Dogma) || Family and Youth || Sermons || Bible Study || Devotional || Spirituals || Fasts & Feasts || Coptics || Religious Education || Monasticism || Seasons || Missiology || Ethics || Ecumenical Relations || Church Music || Pentecost || Miscellaneous || Saints || Church History || Pope Shenouda || Patrology || Canon Law || Lent || Pastoral Theology || Father Matta || Bibles || Iconography || Liturgics || Orthodox Biblical topics || Orthodox articles || St Chrysostom |||| Bible Study || Biblical topics || Bibles || Orthodox Bible Study || Coptic Bible Study || King James Version || New King James Version || Scripture Nuggets || Index of the Parables and Metaphors of Jesus || Index of the Miracles of Jesus || Index of Doctrines || Index of Charts || Index of Maps || Index of Topical Essays || Index of Word Studies || Colored Maps || Index of Biblical names Notes || Old Testament activities for Sunday School kids || New Testament activities for Sunday School kids || Bible Illustrations || Bible short notes
|| Prayer of the First Hour || Third Hour || Sixth Hour || Ninth Hour || Vespers (Eleventh Hour) || Compline (Twelfth Hour) || The First Watch of the midnight prayers || The Second Watch of the midnight prayers || The Third Watch of the midnight prayers || The Prayer of the Veil || Various Prayers from the Agbia || Synaxarium