The Orthodox Faith – The Symbol of Faith (1)

Having looked at the sources of doctrine, we now turn to the expression of these doctrines in the Creed. Our English word Creed comes from the Latin word “credo”, I believe. In Orthodoxy, the Creed is usually called the Symbol of faith. Symbol, in this case, means bringing together or uniting and it brings together the basic truth of Orthodoxy. The Creed is sometimes called the Nicene Creed because the first part was adopted at the first Council of Nicea which met in the year 325AD, that is from “I believe” to “..whose kingdom shall have no end.” However, it should more accurately be called the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed because of the second part, that is from “..I believe in the Holy Spirit” to the Amen, was adopted at the first Council of Constantinople which meat in 381 AD.
We recite this Creed at every Divine Liturgy, but its first use was at Baptisms and of course, it is still used at baptism. The earliest Creeds are found in the New Testament. The first Creeds were simple confessions that Jesus is the Son of God or Messiah or Lord. Remember that the first converts to Christianity were adults and they had to confess the faith before Baptism. We see such short Creeds in various place in the New Testament. For example, in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans “…… because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9) In the Book of Acts, we see St. Philip telling the Ethiopian Eunuch about Jesus Christ and the Eunuch decides to become Christian. “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture, he told him the good news of Jesus. And as they went along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptised?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptised him.” (Acts 8:35-38)
From these simple Creeds arose the more detailed Creed we are familiar with. These longer creeds were adopted to clearly express the church’s faith when it was under attack. For example, in the early years of the 4th century, a priest of Alexandria in Egypt was teaching that Jesus Christ was not God but a very holy man. The Church knew that if Jesus Christ were simply a human being he could not have saved us from sin and death. The teaching so shook the Church it was having a negative effect on Roman society, so the Emperor Constantine the Great called a meeting of bishops in the city of Nicea in Asia Minor. After much discussion, Arius and his viewpoint were condemned and the first part of the Creed, which clearly confesses the divinity of Christ was adopted as the most fundamental statement of Christian doctrine. Later in the 4th century, some people were teaching that the Holy Spirit was not God. The bishops then met in Constantinople and adopted the second part of the Creed which states the divinity of the Holy Spirit.
Both parts of the Creed were put together and since the 4th century the person being baptised or his/her sponsor, if the person is a baby has recited it. Later it began to be sung at the Divine Liturgy as it is today.
It is important to notice that the Creed adopted at the councils began “we believe” because the Creed is the faith of the whole Church. However, at the Divine Liturgy, it begins “I believe”. What is interesting is that all the other prayers at the Liturgy are said in the plural, that is we or our or us. This is because the church is not simply a collection of individuals but rather a corporate body. However, no one can believe for another person. We learn the faith from others but we have to express our personal faith in God. No one can do this in place of another (except, of course, in the case of babies being baptised).
The point is we are Orthodox not simply because of our nationality or language, but because we personally affirm the truth of Orthodoxy. We express this through our saying or singing of the Creed.

Fr. John

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