Monthly Archives: March 2016

The Nicene Creed – Part 2

The Creed as we know it today arose from the short formula used at baptism.  Before Jesus Christ ascended into heaven he said to his disciples “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) And this is what the apostles did, traveling the world, preaching the Gospel and baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We know that at baptism now the person being baptized is plunged into the water three times as the priest says “the servant of God (name) is baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” If we look at the text of the baptismal service, prior to this plunging into the water the person being baptized (or the person’s sponsor in the case of a small child) is asked to recite the Creed to show that the person accepts the faith of the church. We have to remember that our baptismal service dates from the time when most people being baptized were adults and part of becoming a Christian was showing that one accepted the faith of the church and that was done by reciting the Creed. However, the Creed as we have it now, is a creation of the 4th century AD, as we shall see. Originally, before we had a full Creed, the one being baptized acknowledged that they accepted the church’s belief in the Holy Trinity.
When we recite the Creed, we say that Jesus Christ is “true God of true God, begotten, not made, of one essence with the Father…” This part of the Creed was established at the 1st ecumenical council held in the city of Nicea in 325 AD and it came about in this way: in the early 4th century, a priest of Alexandria in Egypt (then one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire) named Arius started teaching that Jesus Christ was not truly God. Aries was willing to say that Jesus was the Son of God, the Word of God, the Redeemer, the Savior and so on, but not that He was God. In a sense, Arius was like many modern people who will speak of Jesus Christ as a great moral leader, a spiritual master, but not God. In any case, many people were disturbed by Arius’ teaching and the Roman Empire itself was shaken, so much so that the Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great, called for a meeting of bishops, an ecumenical council, to discuss the issue and settle it. This issue came down to this: if Jesus is not God, He cannot save us. No human creature, no matter how exalted, could conquer the power of sin, death and the devil, and give eternal life to humanity. Furthermore, the council Fathers knew that the church had been baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit right from the beginning of the church, showing a belief that Jesus Christ is on the same level, so to speak, as the Father and the Holy Spirit. After much debate the council fathers established the sections of the Creed up to the part about the Holy Spirit (this was expanded at a later council), saying that Jesus Christ was of “one essence with the Father.” This word essence or substance (ousia in Greek) shows that Jesus Christ shares the same uncreated existence as the Father does. A follower of Arius could never accept this formula and Arius and those with him were excommunicated from the church.
This may seem like abstract theological arguments, but really the heart of our salvation is at stake. If Jesus is not truly God he cannot save us. No creature can do this, only God can. And so by establishing this first part of the Creed by the fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council in 325 AD, the reality of our salvation through Jesus Christ, true God of true God, is affirmed.

Fr. John

The Nicene Creed – Part 1

Since these articles began appearing they have focused on the saint or event of any given Sunday or day near that Sunday. However, beginning with this article, they will focus on the Nicene Creed, the most fundamental statement of the Christian faith.
The Creed was compiled at the first two ecumenical, or general councils of the Orthodox Church, Nicea (325AD) and Constantinople (381AD) and has been used since these to express the faith. Liturgically, there are two main places where the Creed is used. The first is Baptism. The Creed is recited by the person being baptized (or that person’s sponsor) to signify that the person accepts the Orthodox faith and intends to live by it. At the Divine Liturgy the Creed is recited or sung after the Great Entrance. The Great Entrance is the time that the priest, carrying the bread and wine which will become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, comes out of the sanctuary and re-enters the sanctuary through the Royal Doors (the doors in the center of the iconastas), placing the bread and wine on the altar. There is a litany and then the Creed. Before we recite it, the priest or deacon exclaims “The doors, the doors, in wisdom let us attend.”
People usually think that these words apply to the Royal Doors of the iconastas, but in fact they refer to the doors of the church. In the early days of the Church only baptized Christians were allowed to be in the church for the part of the Liturgy which followed the Great Entrance.
The Divine Liturgy has two parts: the Liturgy of the Catechumens and the Liturgy of the Faithful. The Liturgy of the Catechumens is the first part of the Liturgy beginning with “Blessed is the Kingdom” and ends at the Great Entrance. Catechumens are people who are preparing to be baptized or chrismated (in the early days of the church people usually entered the church as adults) who are studying the faith. This part of the The Nicene Creed – Part 1 (March 19, 2016)
Liturgy consists of psalms, the Beatitudes and the reading of the Epistle and Gospel, and sometimes the sermon. We can say that this is the teaching part of the Liturgy so learners could be present. As a matter of fact, catechumens did not learn the Creed until shortly before their baptism.
The second part of the Liturgy, the Liturgy of the Faithful, when Holy Communion takes place, was only for the believers and so at the cry “The doors, the doors…” the unbaptized had to leave the church and the church doors were closed and guarded.
This practice was when Christianity was illegal and the church had to be guarded from spies. However, this reminds us that at the Liturgy, no one is a passive participant, but a member of the Body of Christ (the Church) who will receive the Body (and Blood) of Christ in Holy Communion.
The recitation of the Creed at this point reminds us that practicing our faith is not something we do from habit or as a quaint custom, but rather requires a commitment to the truth of the Christian faith as expressed in the Creed.

Fr. John

St. Gregory Dialogos, Pope of Rome, 540-604 AD (commemorated March 12th, The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts)

Icon - Gregory-DialogosAs mentioned in a previous article in this series, many of the bishops of Rome, the popes of the first millennium of Christianity, are saints in the Orthodox Church.
Indeed, many Western saints of the first millennium are Orthodox saints. However, we still think of them as being primarily one or the other, Eastern or Western. But there are saints which transcend the East-West divide and show most clearly that the church, at least of the first millennium, was simply the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church,” as we recite in the Creed. St. Gregory is one of those saints.
Saint Gregory was born into a noble family which was close to the church. Several of his relatives are saints. He was well-educated. After his father’s death he converted his family home into a monastery. He had a deep respect for the monastic life, calling it “an ardent quest for the vision of our creator.”
However, in 579, Pope Pelagius the Second sent him to Constantinople, the city of the Roman Emperor, as his ambassador. He tried to get the emperor to send troops to defend Rome against various warring tribes. In this he was unsuccessful. He also engaged in theological debate while there.
In 585 he returned to his monastery in Rome. However, in 590 he was chosen as Pope. One of the most important acts of St. Gregory as Pope was sending St. Augustine of Canterbury to Britain to evangelize the people there. Although there was an earlier Celtic church in Britain, it was rather isolated and cut off from the main body of the Church in Europe.
St. Gregory was also active in the field of liturgy. He influenced the development of the Latin Mass and the typical form of plainchant became known as “Gregorian  Chant”, although it was only attributed to him several centuries after his death. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, celebrated during Great Lent, is attributed to him.
St. Gregory is famous for many of his writings. His commentary on the Book of Job and his rules for pastors have their relevance today. He also wrote his “Dialogues” (that is why he is called Dialogos in the Orthodox Church). This is a book about saints and miracles in sixth century Italy. A large part of this book is dedicated to St. Benedict and is one of the main sources of information about him. St. Gregory also left behind collections of sermons and letters.
As mentioned above, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is attributed to St. Gregory. This Liturgy is first mentioned in church canons from the 7th century, which means it existed earlier, close to the time of St. Gregory. However, in its present form the Presanctified Liturgy shows a later Byzantine influence rather than a 6th century Roman one. The Presanctifed is an evening service. It combines Vespers (the evening prayer of the church) with the reception of Holy Communion. However, there is no consecration at this Liturgy. Communion is given from the Holy Communion consecrated the previous Sunday. It can be celebrated on Wednesday and Friday, but it is sometimes just celebrated on one of those days. In the beginning of the Liturgy we have the reading or chanting of psalms which the choir is doing as the priest is preparing the Holy Gifts. After the Little Entrance, there are scripture readings from the Old Testament. At the Great Entrance (made in silence) the Holy Gifts are placed on the altar. After a litany and the Our Father the clergy and the people receive Communion.
As we have seen, it is difficult to trace a direct connection between the service and St. Gregory Dialogos, but it is attribution to him reflects St. Gregory’s importance as a saint linking East and West, a saint who reflects the ancient unity of the Church.

Troparion — Tone 4

Receiving divine grace from God on high, glorious Gregory, and strengthened with its power, you willed to walk in the path of the Gospel, most blessed one. Therefore you have received from Christ the reward of your labors. Entreat Him that He may save our souls.

Kontakion — Tone 3

Father Gregory, you showed yourself to be an imitator of Christ, the chief Shepherd, guiding the orders of monks to the fold of heaven. You taught the flock of Christ His commandments. Now you rejoice and dance with them in the mansions of heaven.

Pater Noster Our Father Lord’s Prayer in Latin Gregorian Chant

Fr. John