Monthly Archives: November 2016

The Creed – Part 20

“…I confess one baptism for the remission of sins, I look for the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come.”

A ritual similar to Christian baptism has existed and does exist in other religions. There is a kind of natural symbolism of being cleansed with water as being cleansed from sin, ignorance etc. Christian baptism is symbolic also, but when we say symbol we must not think of meaning that it is only a symbol, that nothing actually takes place.
Rather through baptism we become participants of Christ’s death and resurrection. In the case of the baptism of an infant, when the child goes under the water three times the infant is sharing in Christ’s three days in the tomb. When the child comes up out of the water three times the child is coming out of the tomb with Christ. St. Paul expresses this in his Epistle to the Romans in this manner:
“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.” (Rom 6:3-5)
People are not always aware that a second sacrament follows baptism. After the baptism, the person is anointed with chrism. Chrism is an oil made with fragrant herbs by the Patriarch, Archbishops and Metropolitans of each local church and then distributed to all parishes. This is the Sacrament of Chrismation. In baptism we are freed from death, in Chrismation we receive the Holy Spirit. In a sense Chrismation is our own personal Pentecost. We remember that fifty days after Christ’s resurrection the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles. This is described in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Here is an excerpt:
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4)
When we are anointed with the chrism the priest says “the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit”
In the Old Testament, anointing is a sign of being set apart, or made holy. Kings and prophets were anointed. For example we read of the Prophet Isaiah’s anointed with the spirit (Isaiah 61:1). Likewise, we read of the anointing of David as king in the Book of Samuel (Samuel 16:13). The Orthodox sacrament of Chrismation is equivalent to the Roman Catholic sacrament of Confirmation. However, there are two major differences. In the Roman Catholic Church (and others) Confirmation is separated from baptism by several years and performed on older children. Also, it is performed only by the bishop.
In the Orthodox Church priests administer the sacrament with chrism prepared by the head of the local church.
The Creed ends with the resurrection of the dead. The Christian hope is not simply for the soul to live in heaven after death, but rather for the resurrection of the body. Although soul and body are separated at death, this is most unnatural. Human beings were created for an embodied life, and we will be embodied souls, again at the resurrection of the dead at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ at the end of time.
Finally we arrive at the life of the world to come; this is described in the Book of Revelation:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Rev 21:1-5)

Fr. John

The Creed – Part 19B

“…In one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”

When we hear the word “catholic” we immediately think of the Roman Catholic Church. However, just as the Roman Catholic Church would say that it is orthodox, so we, the Orthodox Church, say our church is catholic, as it says in the Creed.
The word catholic has two basic meanings. First it means universal, in the sense that the church is spread throughout the world, on all the continents of the world, including Antarctica.
However, this sense of the universality does not mean simple majority rule. At the time when Arius was denying the full divinity of Jesus Christ, most of the bishops of the church went along, at least passively, especially in the Eastern half of the empire, with the exception of St. Athanasius the Great, Patriarch of Alexandria. Only he and a few associates refused to accept the heresy. Hence it has been said that the whole Catholic Church was down to the one small group with St. Athanasius and his associates fleeing from persecution in a small boat on the Nile. It is clear then, that though catholic means universal, it does not mean a simple majority of believers or even of bishops is necessarily right.
The definition of catholic as given above is more one typically used among Western Christians.

Trinity Church, Russian Orthodox Church, near Russian Bellingshausen Station, Antarctica

Trinity Church, Russian Orthodox Church, near Russian Bellingshausen Station, Antarctica

However, in Orthodoxy the dimension of catholic prevails. In that sense, catholic means wholeness. The catholic church contains the whole of the faith, the true beliefs and the true practices of the faith. In that sense, in all local churches the catholic church is present. Nothing missing or incomplete. The best example of this wholeness is found when the bishop is surrounded by his priests, deacons and laity gathered together for the Liturgy. Of course the bishop can’t be in every church at the same time, but the bishop is present in two ways. First the bishop has ordained the priest of the local community and blessed him to serve in that church. Also, on every altar in the Orthodox Church there is a piece of cloth containing a relic and the bishop’s signature. In these ways the bishop is present at every Liturgy.
However, emphasizing the fact that each local church is catholic might seem as if we are falling into a kind of congregationalism with each local church doing its own thing. However, this is not the case. We know this because a bishop is always consecrated by three bishops from other local churches, so they ensure unity. Also, before a bishop is consecrated he has to recite the Creed demonstrating his Orthodoxy.
In this way, we can see that the catholic church is present in each local church, the local church is in communion with other local churches.
church-in-antarctica-2The next mark of the church is Apostolic. The Greek word apostello means to send. In that sense Jesus Christ is an apostle, in the sense that he is sent by God. Then Jesus Christ chooses twelve apostles to spread his teaching. The Apostles themselves sent other people to preach the faith and this is a process continued throughout the centuries. In a sense, all of us are apostles. In other words, we are sent by Christ, by the Church to carry our faith into the world. This does not mean that we are called to be preachers, to wear our faith on our sleeve, although we should never be afraid to express our faith in appropriate ways. But we are certainly sent to bring Christ’s loving, healing presence into whatever situation we find ourselves.
One other thing that should be mentioned is that of apostolic succession. This means there is a line of bishops going back all the way to the first bishop appointed by the apostles. The history is not entirely clear but we see in the New Testament, especially in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles, the apostles chose men and lay their hands on them and prayed making them bishops.
In the New Testament times, the title of these men were in a fluid state, but the fact that the apostles chose others as their successors is quite clear. Some Christian Churches, including the Orthodox Church, have this unbroken line or Apostolic Succession, but other Christian Churches have broken it off and no longer have bishops.
So, God sent Christ, Christ sent the apostles, the apostles sent the bishops and the bishops send us to bring Christ’s presence into the world.

Fr. John

The Creed – Part 19

“…In one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”

The four words, One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, are called the four notes or marks of the church. In other words, they give us the four basic characteristics of the church.
When we see the word “one” we are apt to say that the church is not one. After all, in addition to the Eastern Orthodox Church, there is the Roman Catholic Church and many Protestant churches. It seems the church is divided, and only ‘one’ in some vague, spiritual, invisible sense. However, we as Orthodox would say that the Orthodox Church is the one church. At first glance this may seem terribly arrogant. It appears that we are denying that the word church can be used for the non-Orthodox, and indeed, there are some who would say that we cannot use the word church for non-Orthodox. It can also seem that we are saying that we are better than other Christians. But we aren’t saying that. Rather, we are saying that where we Orthodox differ from other churches, it is the Orthodox Church that is, in fact, Orthodox. To give a few examples, as Orthodox we can appreciate the Roman papacy as an institution. We can say that in a united church, the Bishop of Rome would have the position of ‘first among equals’. However, when the Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Pope is the infallible primate of the Church and that he can make infallible statements about faith and morals on his own authority, without the consent of the Church, we would say that the Roman Catholic Church is wrong in teaching this.
In regard to Protestantism, we can admire its devotion to the Bible. The Protestant love of the Bible, which is visible both in personal devotional reading and in scientific biblical scholarship, is something which we as Orthodox can appreciate and admire. However, when Protestants deny the role of Tradition in interpreting the Bible, we can say they are wrong.
So, we as Orthodox say that we have the “right belief” (this is what Orthodox means) when we differ from Catholics and Protestants. That doesn’t mean that we deny the fact that we admire aspects of Catholicism and Protestantism. Moreover, we might recognize we have much in common. After all, the Catholics and many Protestants recite the Nicene Creed, just as we Orthodox do. We know from past articles in this series that there is, at least, one difference between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox versions of the Creed, but this does not change the fact that we are at one in the rest of the Creed. So, we as Orthodox make the claim that we are the One Church.
The Creed tells us that the church is holy. We believe, quite literally, that the church is the Body of Christ. Christ is the head, we are the members. As Saint Paul writes:
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (I Cor 12:12-23, 27)
We cannot say that the Body of Christ is anything other than holy. One might object to this saying that the ‘church’ has done many bad things throughout the course of history.
However, this is a bad way of stating things. Of course individual Christians have done and do bad things, sometimes in the name of the Church. But we commit sin on our own. The Church itself does not sin. As a matter of fact, when we sin we are separating ourselves from the Church. This does not mean that we are ‘unbaptizing’ ourselves when we sin, but we are distancing ourselves. In that sense confession is like a new  baptism, in that the stain of sin is removed by the tears of repentance. The tears we shed at confession, as the water of baptism, wash away any sins we have. Now, of course, many of us have never shed a tear at confession (and we shouldn’t force ourselves to do so) but the point of confession is restoration to the Church.

Fr. John