Monthly Archives: January 2018

The Orthodox Faith – The Symbol of Faith (16)

In this article we will look at some ideas we have already looked at, then go on to a new topic. If we ask ourselves what the ultimate source of authorities in a church, or if we ask what the ultimate criterion of truth is, we will get different answers. For example, many Protestants would say that the ultimate source and criterion of truth is the Bible. An English protestant once wrote that “The Bible and the Bible alone is the religion of the Protestants.” In other words, many Protestants would say that they don’t need tradition or church councils or bishops and priests to interpret the Bible. Individuals can read the Bible and understand it. Not all Protestants would put things this way, but many do.

For Roman Catholics the ultimate authority and criterion of truth is the Pope. That means that when the Pope teaches with his full authority on a matter of faith and words, he is protected by God from teaching error. This does not mean that everything a Pope says or writes is infallible. Actually the Catholic Church is very careful to make clear those occasions when he is teaching infallibly, so as not to make the Pope a kind of magical oracle.

When we, as Orthodox, look at Catholicism and Protestantism we may ask what the ultimate authority and criterion of truth in our church. It is the bishops and the ecumenical councils. In other words, the Catholics have the Pope, Protestants have the Bible and we have the Councils. However, there have been many times a council of bishops was called by the emperor, declared something to be an ecumenical council and yet the church has not accepted these councils as legitimate councils. Indeed when councils have met and issued some decree, the people of the church, that is the clergy, the monastics and the laity, did not passively accept what the council taught. When a bishop brought the teaching of a council back to his diocese there were periods, even decades, of fierce debate, polemics and arguments before the council’s ruling was accepted.

Therefore, as Orthodox we would not say that the Bible or the Pope or the councils are automatically infallible. If we want to use the word infallible we would have to say that the whole church, clergy, monastics and lay people, is infallible. This does not seem a simple and clear way of making decisions as the Catholic and Protestant approaches, but actually this is how the church has worked throughout history. We believe there is no authority above or beyond the church itself, led by the Holy Spirit from within, that is the ultimate authority and criterion.

The reader may now ask why all this material has been reviewed again in this series of articles, but this exposition was necessary before moving to the new topic, the filioque (we will explain this later) in which we will discuss how the above-mentioned criteria of truth functions in this specific case. We will see how these criteria operated differently in the Orthodox and Catholic Church in defining something. By the way, the word “filioque” means “from the son” and this refers to how the words of what we sing at the Divine Liturgy in the Creed got to be part of the Creed.

Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – The Symbol of Faith (15)

What happens when we die? For the atheist the answer is simple; consciousness disappears and the body disintegrates. Of course, many people believe in reincarnation. This belief was always marginal in the West but Hindus and Buddhists believe in reincarnation. In recent years more and more Westerners have adopted this belief. However, Westerners who believe in reincarnation often have a rather “romantic” view of it. One somehow learns that in a previous life one was Cleopatra or Napoleon and somehow learns that in a future life one will be a king or queen and so one goes on through eternity, experiencing many different lives. However, many Hindus and Buddhists believe that this cycle of birth, death and rebirth is a kind of prison and the goal of religion is to free one’s self from this wheel of reincarnation. Through religious practice one is freed from this when they achieve liberation or enlightenment. To repeat, the idea of reincarnation has always been a marginal one in Christianity. The Christian view is expressed in the letter to the Hebrews 9:27.

“….. it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment…”

We die and then experience the particular judgement and we learn how we will exist until the final judgement when Christ will come with his angels to judge the living and the dead. At this time, the dead will arise.

The Last Judgement is described in Matthew 25: 31-46. Jesus Christ makes it clear that we will be judged on the basis of the love and practical charity we have practiced during our lives. If we have fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked and visited those who are sick or in prison, we have done these things to Jesus Christ and will be sheep who will enter heaven. If we have not done these things we will be among the goats who do not enter the Kingdom. This is a severe judgement and we must prepare for it.

However, we should ask who the judge will be. We will not be judged by God the Father in Heaven. Rather we will be judged by Jesus Christ, as we see in John 5:26-27.

“For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man.”

In other words we will be judged by the Son of God who became the Son of Man. Jesus took on the fullness of our humanity. Jesus Christ knows what it is to be human. As the letter to the Hebrews says in 4:14-16.

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 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. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

We all will face a judge who shares and knows our humanity. Therefore let us lead lives of forgiveness and be prepared to be judged by the one who is love incarnate.

Fr. John