Monthly Archives: December 2018

The Orthodox Faith – The New Testament – Church History (6)

No doubt all of us have felt guilt or shame over something we’ve said or done. We see this in the Book of Genesis, that after eating the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve feel shame.

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:6-12)

This feeling of shame or guilt comes from our conscience. Atheists and secularists will tell us that what we call our conscience is nothing more than the rules of our family, church, school, society, etc. which we have internalized. We certainly cannot deny the influence of these external factors, but nevertheless the Church would insist that the conscience is an integral part of our humanity as creatures of God.

Of course, conscience is not limited to Christians but is shared by the whole of humanity. Because of this we see similarity with how people deal with guilt. One way of freeing oneself from a guilty conscience is sacrifice. People might sacrifice fruit, vegetables, small animals, large animals and even men and women as a way of being freed from guilt. The idea is that the sacrifice, being something important or valuable to ourselves, will satisfy the wrath of the Holy God who hates sin, but loves the sinner.

This common human response to sin is seen in great detail in the Old Testament. The third book of the Bible gives detailed instruction on how to do this. This is the origin of the word scapegoat. An unblemished valuable animal is selected, then the priest transfers the sin and guilt of the people to this animal which is then slaughtered. This is supposed to release people from sin.

This may seem barbaric and superstitious to us, but in Judaism before Christ and much of the non-Christian world today, sacrifice is an important element of human religion.

However, even in Old Testament times, people especially prophets, began to recognize the futility of animal sacrifice and longed for something more meaningful, more profound. Sensitive people realized that this never-ending road of sacrifice did not really do the job. The Old Testament sacrifices were a shadow of something more.

Of course, this something more is Jesus Christ. Throughout the New Testament Jesus is seen as the Lamb of God, the ultimate sacrifice offering. Jesus is the one pure and spotless lamb. And most importantly, He is truly human. As the Divine-Human Son of God, Jesus took on the burden of all of human sin and through His death, the effects of human sin and death was finally blotted out.

This idea of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of all the sacrifice of the Old Testament is the dominant theme of the Epistle to the Hebrews. This Epistle gives a detailed examination of how Christ fulfilled the Old Testament law of sacrifice.

Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – The New Testament – Church History (5b)

As mentioned above, many Protestant churches do not have the same kind of hierarchy that the Orthodox Church has and say that the threefold orders of bishop, priest and deacon is not found in the New Testament.

It is true that we do not find these three orders in exactly the same form we have today. However, we can see the beginnings of such a hierarchy.

Many people think that Christianity consists of a person or individual and Jesus. Of course, Christians have to have a personal relationship with Jesus, but Christianity is not a religion of rugged individualists. We know this because Jesus Christ chose twelve apostles to preach the Gospel and govern His church. It is no accident that Christ has chosen precisely twelve apostles. Israel had twelve tribes, several of which have disappeared in the course of time. However, it was believed that they would come together at the end of time when the Messiah came. Jesus Christ chose the twelve apostles to judge these tribes. 

Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matthew 19:28)

The word Apostle comes from a Greek word meaning to send. Christ sends the apostles to preach the Gospel.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 2819-20)

As we see, Christ clearly left a structure to govern the church.

In the rest of the New Testament, after the Gospels we see the development of the hierarchy as we see the apostles choose people who would govern the church after them. We can see the apostles ordaining bishops, priest and deacons with the layon on of hands with prayer. For example, in the Book of Acts we see the apostles ordaining deacons.

“These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands upon them.” (Acts 6:6)

The background is this: In the early Jerusalem Church food was distributed to the poor widows. However, the Greek speaking Christians said their widows were being neglected by the Hebrew Christians, so the apostles ordained men to serve the Greek speakers.

The exact word “deacon” is not found here, but deacon means “one who serves” and the men chosen here were ordained to help with the distribution of food to the poor. We do not find the deacons serving Liturgy in this passage. But we do see the beginning of the order of deacons here.

As we know, St. Paul was directly commissioned by the risen Christ Himself. However. St. Paul did not go off by himself and create his own kind of Christianity. Rather he made sure that what he was teaching agreed with the teaching of the other apostles. Moreover, we see St. Paul being ordained.

“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:2-3)

We see St. Paul ordaining his disciple Timothy.

“Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands…” (2 Timothy 1:6)

It must be said that we do not see a clear distinction between bishops and elders, presbyters in the New Testament. The Greek word “episcopos” means basically “overseer”. The Greek word presbyteros, from which we get our word priest basically means “elder”. It seems that these terms were used interchangeably in certain places. For example, in Acts 20:17 we see elder, presbyter, priest and 20: 28, overseer, bishop. Or in Philippians 1:3 Paul addresses the bishops and deacons.

In the 1st and 2nd century documents outside the New Testament we see these orders becoming more developed. By the early 2nd century, the letter of St. Ignatius of Antioch we see the threefold hierarchy of bishop, priest and deacon in the contemporary sense. The fact that the threefold hierarchy was so widespread by the early 2nd century with no opposition shows that the early church saw the emerging hierarchy we in full continuity with the bishops, presbyters and deacons of the New Testament, ordained by the apostles, ordained by Christ.

Fr. John