At long last we are coming to the end of our reflection on the Symbol of Faith, i.e., the Creed sung at every Divine Liturgy. We remember that this symbol of Faith was adopted at two ecumenical (general) councils in the years 325 and 381 AD. This Creed was adopted to avoid error concerning Jesus Christ and the Holy Trinity and to proclaim the Orthodox faith.
The Creed begins with the words “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” In other words the Creed begins with the creation of the world by God. The Creed ends with the end of the world: “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
What does all this mean? Sometimes people think that Christianity despises the material world allegedly thinking only of heaven. This is not true. In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, after the creation of the world it says: “And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.” (Gen 1:3) In other words, the world as created by God is good. However, the world as we experience it now is not totally good. In addition to the horrible things which human beings do, there are natural disasters, disease, famine and so forth. Somehow the world is not as God had created. The Church tells us that the world is fallen just as humanity is fallen. In other words, the world was wounded by the sin of Adam and Eve. We do not know clearly how this has happened and this is not provable by science but the Church has the firm conviction that the human race and the world are fallen together. As Saint Paul puts it in his Epistle to the Romans:
“…. for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now…” (Rom 8:20-22)
People sometimes think that Christians are concerned only with the soul and heaven, but this is not the case. Just as we believe that the dead will rise at the end of time so we believe that the material world will be restored at the end of time. As the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, tells us:
“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)
In other words, the whole created cosmos will be renewed and returned to the state in which God created it.
Although we do not know when all this will take place, we participate in this renewal of the world in the church. In the Church we are reborn through the water of baptism, we receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the form of bread and wine. We see and venerate icons and we smell the fragrance of incense. In other words, the material world is participating in the process of salvation giving us a foretaste of the transformed world to come. Finally, on theophany when we go to the harbor to bless the waters, we ask the Holy Spirit to sanctify (make holy) this water and all water and finally all of the creation. We are participating in the coming renewal of creation.
However, in the Bible we sometimes encounter verses that seem to say that the end of the world will be a total destruction of it. For example:
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:10)
But this passage does not predict the total annihilation of the world, but rather the world and all of humanity must go through a change which will be painful. Or to put it another way, we go through the horror of death to attain the joy of resurrection. This is true of humanity and of the material world.