The Orthodox Faith – The Symbol of Faith (5)

Some people accuse Christianity of having a negative view of human beings, seeing humanity only as poor, wretched sinners. However, in fact Christianity has a quite positive view of human beings. The Book of Genesis tell us that we are created “in the image and likeness of God” (Gen1:26). Human beings have fallen into sin, of course, but this does not destroy the image and likeness of God within us. We can say that Jesus Christ came into the world to restore and renew the image of God within us.​After the creation of the material world, including flora and fauna, God creates humanity and says that human beings are given dominion, or authority, over the material world. This does not mean that humanity can abuse the natural world, but rather humanity is called to make God present in the world to reflect His love for the world and finally, to offer the good things of this world, in gratitude to God. Actually, human beings are higher than angels. It is humanity that was given authority of the world. Only human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. Finally the Son of God became a human being, not an angel.
As a matter of fact, the Fathers of the Orthodox Church wrote that “God became a human being so that human beings can become God”. Now this is a bold saying but we should not misunderstand it. God is God by nature. But we become like God through grace. Or to put it another way, Jesus Christ is the Son of God by nature, but we become sons and daughters of God through adoption in the sacrament of baptism. The only thing that hinders this process is sin, but God has given us through the church, the forgiveness of sins so that we can overcome this.
​This is a process that will continue through all eternity. Some people imagine heaven as a static world, but in fact we will be growing into God’s beauty, truth and goodness forever. We can never exhaust the riches of God.
​In fact, we learn what it means to be a human being by looking at the Holy Trinity. The Trinity teaches us that we are not made to be “rugged individualists”. Rather we are made to be persons in loving relationships with other persons, both divine and human. God is not an isolated monarch, but rather exists as a Trinity of loving persons. There is a difference and even hierarchy in the Trinity. The Trinity is One, but God the Father is the source and cause of the person of the Son and Spirit, but they are equal to each other. This is how we human beings should relate to other people. We share a common nature with the rest of humanity but as persons we are unique. To be human means to be in relationship with other persons, divine and human. As human beings we are not homeless parts of a collective, nor are we isolated individuals. This means there can be differences and hierarchy among humans, but we are all equal to one another. Or to put it another way, Christ said in Luke 22:25-27
“…… “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves.”
​In other worlds, Christ tells us that among Christians there should be no tyranny of one over another, but rather to be a Christian leader is to be a humble servant.
​So let us continue that path we are on, growing in knowledge and love of God through eternity, existing in relationship with the person of the Trinity and other human beings.

Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – The Symbol of Faith (4)

As Christians we believe that the world was created by God, as it says in the Creed “I believe in one God… the maker of all things visible and invisible.” This idea of creation is not held by atheists who believe that the world, with its complexity and beauty, just came into being by chance, or by believers of some Eastern religions in which the world “emanates” from God, the world flows out of God and then flows back, in a process of eternal return.​As Orthodox we believe that the entire Holy Trinity took part in creation. Although the Old Testament does not teach about the Trinity very clearly, when we Christians read it we see hints of the Holy Trinity. In the creation account in the book of Genesis we read:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.” (Gen 1:1-3)
​The first verses mentions the spirit or breath of God and the following verse begins with “And God said…” Of course when a person says something, he says a word. And we believe this world to be Jesus Christ. Or in psalm 33:6-9 we see another reference to the world being created by the Word of the Lord (i.e., Jesus Christ) and by the breath or spirit of God.
“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth. He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle; he put the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord, let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood forth. (Ps 33:6-9)
In the Book of Genesis the world is said to have been created in six days and many people take this to mean six 24-hour days as we experience now. However, even in the patristic period some Fathers believed the six days could be six long periods of time. The idea is that God started the process and guides its development.
​The Bible also tells us that the created world is “very good” (Gen 1:31). Of course we know that the world is not perfect. In addition to human sin there are diseases, natural disasters and so on. This is because the material world somehow fell together with Adam and Eve. However, because the world is fundamentally good, Christianity does not see salvation as a flight from the material world, but rather will be transformed at the end of time together with the resurrection of humanity.
​Although Christianity does not accept pantheism (that God and the world are one) it believes that God is present in every place for the created world. For example, the prayer:
O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of blessing and Giver of Life, come and abide in us and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.
​It says that God is “everywhere present and fillest all things.” This same omnipresence of God is expressed in Psalm 139:7-12 and Acts 17:27-28.
“Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there thy hand shall lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Let only darkness cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to thee, the night is bright as the day; for darkness is as light with thee.”
“….. Yet he is not far from each one of us, for `In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your poets have said, `For we are indeed his offspring.’ (Acts 17:27-28)
Another part of the created world is that of the bodiless powers (angels). It is somewhat incorrect to call all the bodiless powers angels, because angels are only one rank of the nine categories of bodiless powers. There are Angels Archangels, Principalities, Powers, Virtues, Dominions, Thrones, Cherubim and Seraphim. The word angel means messenger and in the Bible we see the bodiless powers conveying messages from God to humanity and, in general, mediating between God and the world. The demons or the devil are also bodiless powers created by God who rebelled against God and were cast into hell.
​So we see that the created world, i.e., the world of angels, the world of inanimate and animate things, and the world of human beings comes from the hand of God and is guided, sustained and loved by Him.

 Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – The Symbol of Faith (3)

The most fundamental belief in Christianity is the belief in one God. This is something we share with Judaism and Islam, although of course, Christianity believes that God is a Trinity, which Jews and Muslims do not.
This belief in one God is expressed in the book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” (Deut 6:4)
The first words “Hear, O Israel” are “Scema” in Hebrew and this verse is the most important prayer in Judaism. It is recited in morning and evening prayers and Jews try to repeat it just before they die. Jesus Christ repeats this prayer in Mark 12:29 “Jesus answered, “The first is, `Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one”, showing that He believes in this traditional confession of faith But who is this one, God? He partially reveals Himself in the incident of the burning bush in Exodus:
“Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, `The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, `What is his name?`; what shall I say to them?”; God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say  his to the people of Israel, `I AM has sent me to you.'” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, `The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: this is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.” (Ex 3:13-15)
The name Yahweh means something like “I am what I am” or “I will be what I will be” or simply “I am”. The name Yahweh was considered so holy that Jews never said it.
When they read the Bible they say “Adonai” or Lord rather than say, Yahweh. The word Yahweh was spoken only once a year by the high priest in the Holy of Holies in the temple in Jerusalem.
Therefore God’s “name” is “I am” showing that God is the ultimate reality, the creator of all things that exist. It is interesting to notice that in St. John’s Gospel especially, Christ frequently makes “I am” statements. “I am the good shepherd”, “I am the light of the world” and so on. These “I am” statements are a subtle way of Jesus Christ saying that He is God. This is especially clear in the following incident in John 8:52-59.
“The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, as did the prophets; and you say, `If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you claim to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing; it is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say that he is your God. But you have not known him; I know him. If I said, I do not know him, I should be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad.”; The Jews then said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they took up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.”
When Jesus says “before Abraham was, I am” (in Greek ego eimi) He is making a clear statement of His divinity which the Jewish leaders saw as blasphemy, and for which they sought to kill Him.
St. John Chrysostom (ca. 349-407) commenting on this statement of Jesus Christ attaches more theological significates to “ego eimi”. In his 55th homily on John he says:
“But wherefore said He not, ‘Before Abraham was, I was’ instead of ‘I am’. As the Father uses this expression, I am, so also does Christ; for it signifies continuous Being, irrespective of all time. On which account the expression seems to them to be blasphemous.”
So God is the great “I am” and Jesus Christ shares this status. God is the absolute, ultimate reality. Because of this God is sometimes called the “Supreme Being”. The idea is that there is a great chain of being from atoms to rocks t plants to an animal to human being, with God being at the top of the chain. However, to say that God is the Supreme Being implies that the being of God is the same as the being of creatures, although more exalted. However, God’s ‘being” cannot be compared to the being of creatures. It is a unique kind of being, and so the Fathers of the Church say that God is beyond being or beyond existence to show that God exists in a radically different way than the way creatures exist.
All of the makes it seem that God is infinitely far from us. But Jesus Christ taught us that ‘Yahweh” is our loving Father and can be addressed as “Abba” or “dear Father”.
In this way, the infinite God is shown to be as close to us as our human fathers are or even closer.
All of the above is not simply a philosophical game. It is an attempt to express the paradox of God’s infinity brought close to humanity.

Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – The Symbol of Faith (2)

The Creed begins with “I believe”. What does it mean to have faith, to believe? Basically, there are two kinds of faith, “faith that” and “faith in”. “Faith that” means believing something intellectually, acknowledging that certain propositions or statements are true. So, for example, we believe that God exists, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. When we say that these statements are true, this is “faith that”. However, faith in the intellectual sense is not enough. For example, St. James writes in his epistle that “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder.” (James 2:19). The demons, as fallen angels, know that God exists and Jesus Christ is the Son of God. They are supernatural beings with certain knowledge of God, but they hate God the Father and Jesus Christ. Their knowledge does them no good.
“Faith in” means trusting God, knowing that God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit know us and care for us. We know through faith that even in the difficult times in our lives, we are in the hands of a loving God.
Normally we differentiate between faith and reason and saying that they are two separate things. However, they go together. We would not believe something to be true that is completely unreasonable. If someone tells us that a wooden statue is a god or that we should worship a sacred cow, we would not do so because these things are obviously unreasonable. However, our reason can give us some knowledge of God. For example, St. Paul writes that our knowledge of the beauty, harmony, and complexity of the world gives us reason to believe in God. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. …” (Romans 1:19-20) In the same epistle St. Paul tells us that our conscience can lead us to God. In other words, every human being, regardless of religion, instinctively knows certain things are right and wrong. When people do something wrong their conscience bothers them. This voice of our conscience tells us that there is a divine law-diver. St. Paul writes “For God shows no partiality. All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them…” (Romans 2: 11-15)
However, reason can only take us so far. It tells us that God exists, but we would not know that god is our loving Father, caring for each of us personally, if it were not for the prophets of Israel and primarily for the teaching of Jesus Christ. Again, we would not know that God is the Holy Trinity without the revelation of Jesus Christ. These are just two of the things that revelation teaches us. In other words, we have to go beyond reason and accept what God has revealed to us through faith. Faith does not contradict reason, but it gives us a deeper understanding of God than reason alone can tell us.
Therefore, we should rejoice in the deeper knowledge which comes through the revelation contained in the Old Testament and more fully through Jesus Christ, believing in God and His Son, both in the sense of intellectual agreement and loving trust.

Fr. John