Monthly Archives: June 2017

The Orthodox Faith – The Symbol of Faith (7)

​Sometimes when people think about salvation history they have the following scheme in mind: The Old Testament is about God the Father, the New Testament is about Jesus Christ, and the ongoing life of the church is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. It is easy to see why people think this way. When we read the Old Testament we do not see Jesus Christ mentioned by name. On the other hand, Jesus Christ is the central figure of the New Testament. And when the church is born on Pentecost it is with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. However, this way of looking at things is quite wrong. This is because the three persons of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – always act as one. We saw in an earlier article the Son of God and the Holy Spirit cooperate with the Father in creating and sustaining the world. As the Gospel of John has it: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.” (Jn 1:10).​Also, the church teaches that when God appeared to people in the Old Testament it was the pre-incarnate Son of God who appeared. For example, in the Book of Exodus we see the following:
“And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and lo, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.” When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here am I.” Then he said, “Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” (Ex 3:2-6)
It was the pre-incarnate Son of God who is speaking to Moses. Or in the Book of Isaiah we find:
“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 purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it. (Is 55:10-11)
When this passage speaks about the word it is referring to Jesus Christ who is the Word of God.
​This, of course, is the Christian view of the Bible. For the Jews this is nonsense. But we believe that Jesus Christ is the fulfilment of the Old Testament and with our knowledge of Jesus Christ we can see the deeper meaning of the Old Testament. We should remember that when the Apostles were teaching the only Bible they had was the Old Testament because the New Testament was only gradually coming into being in the 1st century AD.
Going further into the Creed we see that Jesus Christ was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. The Church has always insisted that Christ was born miraculously of a Virgin. The church believes that the Virgin birth was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah.
“Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Imman’u-el.” (Is 7:14)
This translation comes from the Greek version of the Old Testament. “Parthenos” indeed means virgin in Greek. The Hebrew version of the Bible simply has the words “young woman”. But the Church looking at the whole of salvation history has insisted the Greek word Parthenos (virgin) is the correct reading of the text.
​Sometimes people think that the church believes that sex is somehow dirty and sinful, and that is why Jesus had to be born of a virgin. This is not the case. Rather the church teaches that the one who came to bring salvation to humanity can never be in need of salvation himself, as would be the case if he were born in the normal manner. Yes, Jesus Christ is genuinely a human being, but His humanity was not in need of salvation. This is because of the virgin birth. Jesus is a real human being but not a ‘mere’ human being, a human being like any other human being.
​Looking at the two points covered in the article, that Jesus Christ, the Son and Word of God, was always present and active in the world, but became fully present with His birth from the Virgin Mary.

Fr.John

The Orthodox Faith – The Symbol of Faith (6)

We all want to go to heaven. Heaven is the good place. We certainly don’t want to go to the other place. There are probably as many conceptions of heaven as there are human beings. We all have our individual idea of heaven. However, there is sometimes the idea that heaven is a little bit boring. People talk about heaven as a place where angels strum harps and swing censers. The fullest description of heaven is to be found in the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible. Let us look at some verses from this book.
“At once I was in the Spirit, and lo, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne! And he who sat there appeared like jasper and carnelian, and round the throne was a rainbow that looked like an emerald. Round the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clad in white garments, with golden crowns upon their heads. From the throne issue flashes of lightning, and voices and peals of thunder, and before the throne burn seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God; and before the throne there is as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. 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 4:2-8)
When we read this passage, it reminds us of the Divine Liturgy. There is a throne (the altar), white robes (vestments), lamps of fire (candles), and the hymn “Holy, holy, holy” which we sing at Liturgy. Finally in Revelation 5:8,
“And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints;”
We have bowls of incense. This really does seem like the heavenly version of our Liturgy.
​However, this does not necessarily appeal to everyone. At one time an Orthodox priest was teaching a class of bright teenagers about heaven. To describe the glories of heaven the priest compared heaven to a never-ending Liturgy. For him, this was the height of beauty. However, the teenagers in the class reacted with horror. For them the Liturgy was a rather boring event their parents took them to. For them, the idea of a never-ending Liturgy was a nightmare.
​The problem here arises out of our conception of eternity. We are tempted to think of eternity as a never-ending succession of minutes and hours. This is not the case. Eternity is a condition of no time. Time only began to exist when the universe was created. Time is the opposite of eternity. Eternity is the eternal now. This being the case, there is no possibility of being bored in heaven because it is the eternal now, not a succession of minutes and hours. This notion of eternity also tells us something about Jesus Christ. The Creed says “…. And one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages.” Naturally, we think of God the Father as being eternal. But the Creed says, that Jesus Christ was begotten of the Father. This sounds like the Father was first and the Son second. Obviously when human parents beget a child, they existed before the child came into being. As a matter of fact, heretics such as Arius thought the Father was first and the Son second. [Arius was infamous for saying that “There was a time when He (Jesus) was not. In other words, because the Son is begotten by the Father He is the second. However, Arius is forgetting about the difference between eternity and time. This is a false teaching and Arius was condemned and the Creed written.] However, the begetting of the Son takes place in eternity, the eternal now. As the Creed says “before all ages”. In other words, Christ was begotten in the eternal now before time so Jesus Christ is just as eternal as the Father. Of course, as human beings we cannot really conceive of the eternal now. We can only think of a succession of minutes and hours. Nevertheless, we can be sure that the eternal now of heaven will be anything but boring.

Fr. John