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

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