Monthly Archives: June 2016

The Creed – Part 13A

“… And He was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary…”

Incarnate literally means “in the flesh”. Here the Creed tells us that Jesus Christ, Son of God from eternity, becomes a genuine human being. We see the Latin word carne, meaning flesh or meat in another common English word, Carnival. Not everyone realizes that this word originally had a religious significance. It breaks down into carne (meat) and vale (farewell). As we know from places such as New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro, to name just two, carnival is held just before the beginning of Western Lent. It means that people were saying ‘farewell to meat”. This shows that originally Western Christians gave up meat for Lent just as Orthodox Christians still do.
This doctrine tells us that the Virgin Mary is the mother of Jesus Christ and God is His father. Jesus Christ became a real human being, one who knew hunger, thirst, exhaustion, pain and ultimately death. In the early church there were some false teachers who said that Jesus Christ only ‘seemed’ human, so his humanity was only a costume, so to speak, and that He only pretended to feel hunger, thirst, etc. Some even said that he did not leave footprints in the sand when he walked. However, the church saw this as a false teaching early on. The Church realized that if Jesus Christ was not genuinely human, he could not have transformed and redeemed humanity. As St. John writes in his first Epistle:
“By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world already. (1 Jn 4:2-3)
In the Orthodox Church, the Virgin Mary is often called Theotokos. This literally means ‘the one who bore God’ or ‘the God-bearer’. The Slavonic word “Bogoroditsa” means the same thing. One of the most important Orthodox prayers expressed this teaching:
It is truly meet to bless you, O Theotokos. Ever-blessed and most pure and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim, without defilement you gave birth to God the Word. True Theotokos we magnify you.
Because Jesus Christ is genuinely human He also felt temptation although He never sinned:
“For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Heb 4:15)
This means that Jesus Christ understands temptation and helps us in our temptations if we pray to Him. Also, Jesus Christ was obedient to His Father.
“And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:8)
In the early 5th century the Patriarch of Constantinople was a man called Nestorius. He wanted to affirm Christ’s genuine humanity which we count as true. But he went too far. He would not call the Virgin Mary “Theotokos” (God-bearer). He said that a human being could not be the Mother of God, so he called her “Christotokos”, the Christ-bearer. Although Nestorius did not intend to become a heretic he asserted Christ’s humanity so much he seemed to separate Christ’s divinity from his humanity.
The church realized that this was a danger to the faith and so in 431AD a Church council was held in Ephesus which condemned Nestorius and reaffirmed that the Virgin Mary is the God-bearer.
So the church affirms that Jesus is truly human and truly divine and the Virgin Mary is truly his mother in time, although He was begotten of the Father in eternity.

Fr. John

The Creed – Part 12

“… through whom all things were made.”

This passage tells us that Jesus Christ cooperated with God the Father and the Holy Spirit in the work of creation. We see this in St. John’s gospel “…all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:3) and St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians “… for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities — all things were created through him and for him.” (Col 1:16). Finally we should look at the Book of Psalms. In Psalm 33 verse 6 it says “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth.”
In this verse we see “the word of the Lord” and of course we believe that Jesus Christ is the word of God. Also, the “breath of his mouth” is the Holy Spirit.
The first two passages above are from the New Testament so of course they express Christian teaching. The psalm verse is from the Old Testament. When we, as Christians, read the Old Testament we do so from our Christian faith. And when we do so we find the foreshadowing of Christian belief, as in the psalm. Above.

“… who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven…”

So Jesus came down from heaven. What does this mean? To save us from what? We have to understand that God created Adam and Eve for eternal life and unity with Himself. At the very beginning in the Garden of Eden there was no sin or death.
However, Adam and Eve sinned. Because of their sin they became subject to death. This was not part of God’s original plan. We should note though that Adam and Eve’s subjection to death and exile from Paradise is not entirely a bad thing. If they had stayed in the Garden of Eden they would have eaten from the Tree of Life and become immortal. This sounds wonderful. However, it would mean that their sin would have become immortal. They would have lived eternally with the burden of their sin. And so the expulsion from Paradise is also an expression of God’s love. So to answer the questions asked above, Jesus came to save us from sin and death. So the path to eternal life with God is re-opened for us by Christ. We see this expressed in John 3:16:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
We see this same idea in one of the prayers of the Divine Liturgy every Sunday which says “… whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
We must remember though, when we say “came down from” that heaven is not literally above our heads. Heaven is something outside of time and space. In a sense heaven is everywhere. As John the Baptist says in St. Matthew’s Gospel: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mt 3:2) and Jesus Christ Himself says in Mt 10:7 “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And as Christ says in Luke “…for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (Lk 17:21). In other words, heaven is ‘breaking into’ or entering this world through the ministry of Jesus Christ. So in a very real sense we see a foretaste of heaven in this life. Above all, we participate in the Kingdom of Heaven in the Divine Liturgy where we worship God in the company of the saints and angels and receive the Body and Blood of the risen Christ.

Fr. John

The Creed – Part 11

“… light of light, true God of true God, begotten not made….”

This phrase continues the thought of the previous one stating that Jesus Christ is born of the father (begotten, not made) and so is true God of true God. It goes on to say that Jesus is light and in Him is no darkness (I John 1:5)

“… God is light and in him is no darkness at all”

This concept of Jesus Christ as ‘light of light’ is expressed in the hymn we sing at Vespers (evening prayer):
“O Gladsome Light of the Holy Glory of the Immortal Father, Heavenly, Holy, Blessed Jesus Christ! Now that we have come to the setting of the sun and behold the light of evening, we praise God Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For meet it is at all times to worship Thee with voices of praise. O Son of God and Giver of Life, therefore all the world doth glorify Thee.”

“… of one essence with the Father…”

This phrase is the most technical and perhaps the most difficult of the Creed. The quote above is from the translation of the Creed we use in the Orthodox Church in America, but there are different translations also. Let us look at a few:

“… of one substance with the Father”
“… consubstantial with the Father”
“… one in being with the Father”

The word ‘essence’ or ‘substance’ means one nature, what one is. For example we have a human being, Mary. Mary’s substance or essence is what she is, that is, a human being. She has a human nature. So we can say the substance or essence is what a person is and person refers to who the person is. In other words, Mary is the person. So, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit share the one, divine nature or essence, but they are three distinct persons in the Trinity.
One may ask why the Creed uses this technical, theological language. After all, “of one essence” is found nowhere in the Bible. Why do we need this technical language? The point is that Arius was willing to say that Jesus Christ is divine in some sense, but fundamentally was a creature. When one looks at the dividing line between the divine and human, between the maker and the made, according to Arius Jesus was on the human, created side. However, this phrase of the Creed states unmistakably that Jesus Christ is God in his very nature (Jesus also has a human nature but we will look at that point later). In other words, this phrase excludes anyone thinking that Jesus is a reature.
Even today there are many people who will say that Jesus Christ is a great spiritual or moral teacher, but not really God. But the phrase excludes the modern “Arius” as well.
The church had to write this in the Creed because it knows that if Jesus were not “true God of true God” He could not have fundamentally destroyed the power of sin, death and the devil. No created being, no matter how holy or wise, could not have done that. Only God can. So even if “of one essence” is a rather technical, theological language, it safeguards what the church has known from its being beginning, that Jesus Christ is God.

Fr. John