When we use the word symbol in English we usually mean that something “stands for” something else, as when we say that a flag symbolizes a nation. But there is also a sense in which symbol means not real. When some Christians say that Jesus Christ is symbolically present in Holy Communion they seem to mean that Christ is not really present in Holy Communion. However, we call our fundamental Orthodox statement of faith, the Creed (I believe in one God….) the Symbol of Faith. But by calling the Creed a symbol, the church certainly does not mean it is not real. However, the opposite of the word symbolic is not real, but rather diabolic.
On November 8th the church celebrates the feast of St. Michael and All Angels. The angels are referred to in the Creed which says “I believe in one god… maker of all things visible and invisible”. The word invisible refers to the angels. The angels have the duty of praising God and acting as messengers between God and humanity. But we also must remember that the devil is a fallen angel. Our word devil comes from the Greek word diabolos, which breaks down to a prefix “dia” meaning apart, separate and “ballein” meaning to throw. So diabolos means the one who throws apart. And this is indeed what the devil does. He sows discord, tearing human beings away from God (Adam and Eve in the garden) from each other (Cain killing Abel and the entire history of human violence), and away from nature. For that matter, he divides human beings within themselves.
And this is where the word symbol comes in. It too is a Greek word combining the prefix “syn”, meaning together and “ballein”, to cast. In other words Jesus Christ the church celebrates the feast of St. Michael and All Angels. The angels comes to us as the one who reunites humanity with God, human beings with human being and humanity with nature. As St. Paul writes in the Letter to the Ephesians “[Christ] is our peace, who has made both one and has broken down the middle wall of separation.” (Eph 2:14) and in Galatians “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ.” (Gal 3:28)
This process of the healing of alienation and hostility began with Christ’s life, death and resurrection and will be completed at the end of time. However, as we wait in hope of Christ’s second coming let us work in our own way to heal any hostility or alienation we encounter in ourselves, others, in society or in the world.