Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Creed – Part 10

“… the Son of God, the Only-Begotten; begotten of the Father before all ages.”

The difficulty in understanding this phrase is the word “begotten”, a verb no longer used in English. To see what it means, let’s look at an older Bible translation of Matthew 1:2-3:
“Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren; And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram;….”
Now let’s look at these lines in a more modern translation:
“ Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram…”
So to beget means to become the father of. It is somewhat unfortunate that the word is no longer used because it makes clear that Jesus Christ is born of the Father and not made by him. In other words, we can say that like gives birth to like. An animal begets an animal and a human being begets a human being, and God begets a divine Son. The point is, Jesus Christ was born of God (begotten of God) and not made by Him. This crucial phrase is in the Creed, of course, because in the early 4th century AD the priest Arius was teaching that Jesus Christ was made by God, not born of him. In other words, Jesus Christ was a creature made by God. Arius said that Jesus was the greatest creature made by God, but still a creature. In other words, Jesus Christ was a  human being and nothing more. So this phrase is present to exclude the false teaching of Arius.
This phrase also defends against adoptionism. This is the idea that Jesus Christ was simply a human being adopted by God at some point, perhaps at his baptism.
Again, this would place Jesus Christ on the same level as the rest of Christians because we become adopted sons and daughters of God at our baptism. In other words, Jesus is always, eternally the Son of God. God begot Jesus before all time in eternity:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God;…” (John 1:1-2)
This means that God lives eternally. Even before the creation of angels, the cosmos and human beings, God the Father had an object of his love in Jesus Christ (and the Holy Spirit). If God is simply an isolated being, what or whom did he live before creation? Believing that Jesus is begotten of the Father eternally, helps us to understand how God is love in his very being from all eternity.

Fr. John

The Creed – Part 9

“… and in one Lord, Jesus Christ”

In the ancient Jewish bible there were no vowels, only consonants. In other words the name “Barbara” would be “Brbr”. The word “beautiful” would be “btfl”. As one can imagine, this made for certain difficulties in reading the words and some words are so obscure that even Jewish scholars don’t know how to pronounce them. One of the words is the “name” of God. In Exodus 3:14 God says to Moses “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, `I AM has sent me to you.” The consonants for how “I am who I am” are “JHVH” or “YHWH”, and no one knows how they were pronounced in Hebrew or in any other language. For example older Bible translations give this name as Jehovah. Most scholars disagree and say that the name is best pronounced Yahweh, but no one knows for sure. However, the point is that pious Jews did not and do not pronounce the name of God. When they read this name instead they substitute the word “Adonai” which in English is best translated as “Lord”. In Greek the translation is “Kyrios” so Kyrios is actually a way of pronouncing the name of God. When we read the New Testament and we see the word Lord it is a translation of Kyrios. So when we see the word Lord used to address Jesus or describe Jesus, the Greek word is Kyrios. But the word Lord does not always have the meaning of God. For example:
“The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” (Jn 4:15 -RSV)
“The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” (Jn 4:49 – RSV)
We see that the word was translated as “Sir” in certain cases. The modern Greek word for “mister” is Kyrie. However, then as many cases where Kyrios really means God. For example:
“…for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Lk 2:11)
“Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”” (Jn 20:28)
“To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom 1:7)
 “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy
Spirit be with you all.” (II Cor 13:14)
So the word Lord applied to Jesus was a way of saying that Jesus was God. The point is this, the apostles, as 1st century Jews, clearly believed in one God. However, through Christ’s words and deeds they came to understand that He was God, but they had to struggle to express this. After all, they did not have the theological vocabulary of Trinity, Person, Substance, etc. So by calling Jesus Lord, they could affirm their faith in the one God and to affirm the divinity of Jesus Christ.
We shall note that the name Jesus Yeshua in Hebrew means “Yahweh saves”, or loosely Savior. And of course, we should remember that Christ is not Jesus’ last name.
Our English word Christ comes from the Greek “Christos” which means Messiah. Messiah means the Anointed One. In the Old Testament prophets, priests and kings were anointed with oil. In the past kings and queens were anointed also. Even Queen Elizabeth is an anointed queen. In the church all of those baptized are also anointed.
But the “Anointed One” refers to the Messiah. So we see once again that the Bible is a very subtle book and one needs to pay close attention to draw out the meaning. And of course, we do not make up our own meaning but we accept the church’s interpretation, expressed in us in the writing of the Fathers and in the teachings of the church.

Fr. John

The Creed – Part 8

“… and of all things visible and invisible.”

When the Creed refers to all things invisible it is referring to angels. God created the angels before creating the material world and human beings. The word “angelos” in Greek means ‘messenger” and being messengers is one of angels’ most important roles. We will remember that in St. Luke’s gospel we read about the angel Gabriel being sent to the Virgin Mary to tell her that she has been chosen to become the mother of Jesus Christ.
We know the names of only a few angels, but a 5th-6th century book, The Celestial Hierarchy, written by St. Dionysius the Areopagate, tells us that the angels are divided into nine choirs or groups. The highest of these choirs are those who serve God directly, that is, the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones. The choir closest to us is composed of Dominions, Archangels and Angels. Scripture and tradition tell us that angels are always around us, especially at the Divine Liturgy. In the Old Testament we read about the Cherubim present at the service in the temple in Jerusalem:
“In the year that King Uzzi’ah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.
And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;…” (Isaiah 6:1-3).

The Book of Revelation describes the Liturgy in heaven:

“And round the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all round and within, and day and night they never cease to sing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Rev 4:6-8).

The four living creatures mentioned here are the angels worshipping before the throne of God. At our Divine Liturgy, during the Great Entrance when the priest carries the bread and wine into the sanctuary the choir sings the Cherubic Hymn showing the presence of angels:
Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim, and who sing the thrice-holy hymn to the life-creating Trinity, now lay aside all earthly cares. That we may receive the King of All, who comes invisibly upborne by the angelic hosts. Alleluia!”
We can see the continuity of the presence of angels at work in the New Testament and the Divine Liturgy in the Orthodox Church.
In addition to angels being at Liturgy we all have our own Guardian Angel and we should frequently pray to them. One short prayer we can say is: “O holy angel of God, my guardian, pray to God for me.” There are other longer prayers to our guardian angel that we can find in an Orthodox prayer book either in print or online. Of course, in addition to the good angels there are the fallen angels, the demons.
These are the angels headed by Lucifer (or Satan) who rebelled against God. We read about this in the Book of Revelation

“Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world — he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” (Rev 12:7-9) and the Gospel of Luke: “And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10:18).

No one knows for sure why some of the angels rebelled against God but many believe it was because Satan and his followers could not tolerate being subordinate to God because they were so filled with pride. We know that Satan wants to lead us into rebellion against God. We remember the devil in the form of a serpent tempting Eve in the Book of Genesis and Satan tempting Jesus in the Gospels during his stay in the wilderness.
In general, we see the demons being very active during Christ’s ministry, opposing Him in various ways. For example, Christ deals with people who were possessed by demons and we also see that Satan “entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve…” (Luke 22:3) leading him to betray Christ. But the Gospel makes clear that Christ has complete authority over demons and that Christians then and now have nothing to fear from demons if we put our faith in Christ.
In baptism we are set free from the powers of the devil and if when we sin after baptism, through Confession we are set free again from the Evil One. Finally, by partaking of Holy Communion we participate in the resurrected Christ and his victory of Satan and the demons.

Fr. John

The Creed – Part 7

Maker of heaven and earth…..

In this part of the Creed we confess God as creator of all that exists, the angels, the material universe and human beings. And right here we should note the difference between create and make. We, as human beings, make things out of materials which already exist. God creates from nothing. In in some forms of early Greek philosophy it was thought that God created out of something. This something might be without form, shape or dimension, but it still was something, some prime matter. However, we as Christians believe that God created from nothing.
It is interesting that human beings don’t naturally come to the idea of creation out of nothing very easily. In Greek and Indian philosophy it was thought that the material world was eternal, that in some sense it emanates from God and that at the end of time it will ‘retract’ into God. This is the cyclical view of the world. There is no beginning or end in the proper sense of these terms. But the Semitic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, believe in creation as revealed by God. In this way of looking at things the world was created at a certain time and will end at a certain time and is not cyclical.
We see God as creator in the first sentence in Genesis, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1) and following. Of course, Jews don’t believe in the doctrine of the Trinity so when they read this first chapter of Genesis, they see this as the story of an solitary God creating all things. However, we as Christians, believe that God is one in essence but tripersonal. And so when we read this chapter we see indirect pointers to the belief in the Trinity. For example, in Genesis 1:2 “…….and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters”. When we read this word spirit, we can see a reference to the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity.
The action of the Holy Spirit in creation is in Psalm 104:30, “When thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created; and thou renewest the face of the ground.” And throughout this chapter we see “… and God said…” being repeated over and over. Here we see a reference to the Word of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, i.e., Jesus Christ before he came into this world. This is found in John 1:1-3 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.
So, in a Christian reading of this chapter we see the three divine persons participating in the act of creation.
Another reference to the Trinity is in Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” because we see God using the plural pronouns “our” and “us” to express His actions.
It is probably worth mentioning that it is not necessary to take the six days of creation as six 24-hour days, as we reckon time now, although many Christians do take this literally. Even some of the early Fathers of the church saw these days as representing longer periods of time. For that matter, there was not time before God created it, along with the matter of the universe.
Of course, when non-Christians read this first chapter of Genesis they do not see the presence of the Holy Trinity. However we believe that God has guided us in this understanding show us the deepest and true meaning of the chapter and the whole Bible.

Fr. John