A handbook for use by those who wish to become acquainted with the ancient and apostolic Orthodox Church. Excellent for use with converts in adult membership classes.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE ONE, HOLY, CATHOLIC and APOSTOLIC CHURCH
WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT THE NICENE CREED
WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT JESUS
WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT THE HOLY TRINITY
WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT THE DIVINE LITURGY
a) The Bread Offering or Prosfora
b) The Gospel Book — God Talks To Us
c) You Are There
d) The Processions
WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT SALVATION
WE ARE THE CHURCH OF THE EARLY FATHERS
WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT THE CHURCH YEAR
WHAT THE WALLS OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT THE SAINTS
and the THEOTOKOS
WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT ESCHATOLOGY or LIFE
WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT THE SACRAMENTS
c) Chrismation or Confirmation
d) Penance or Confession
e) Holy Communion
f) Holy Matrimony
g) Holy Unction
h) Holy Orders
WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT THE BIBLE
WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT ICONS
WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT PRAYERS FOR THE DEAD
WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT PRAYER
a) Importance of Prayer
b) What is Prayer
c) Descend With the Mind into the Heart
d) The Fruit of Prayer
e) The Kingdom of God Within You
f) The Jesus Prayer
IN VIEW OF ALL THIS, WHAT THEREFORE
IS EXPECTED OF US?
Here is a genuinely different and practical book for the inquirer and potential convert to Orthodox Christianity. It is different in a number of ways, all of which commend this volume to wide use by pastors whose task it is to introduce the members of their inquirers classes to an Orthodox way of life which will touch their lives in a full and complete way.
Anyone familiar with Fr. Coniaris' previous writings knows that whatever the subject he writes about, he does it in a lively and interesting way. He has the knack of taking even the most difficult topic and presenting it in varying ways so that even the reader who is familiar with the topic is fascinated by the many different approaches to it. This book is interesting.
It would fail in its purpose, however, if the information that it contained was not a reliable introduction to the Orthodox Church. Yet, in spite of the fact that it avoids the pitfall of being ponderous and heavy – so characteristic of other introductions to the Orthodox faith – it is not shallow. This book is a full and authentic introductory guide to the Orthodox Church.
One of the unique features of this introduction is the way in which the witness of Scripture and the holy Fathers of the Church, especially the Greek Fathers is presented in conjunction with the contributions of modern and contemporary figures, thus serving to relate the inquirer to ancient truths which are witnessed to as well by more familiar contemporary voices. This book speaks the ancient truths in a modern voice.
So often, Orthodoxy has been presented as an exotic faith, strange and unrelated to the daily lives of contemporary people. Yet, if Orthodoxy is what it claims to be, this cannot represent the correct approach. If Orthodoxy is held to be "the true faith" of necessity it has its application to the lives of all people of every status, class, education and culture. This book presents Orthodox Christianity as a contemporary and livable faith.
Unlike other introductions for the potential convert, this volume is written so that it appeals to the whole person, not just the intellect. It is written to inspire as well as to inform, a special charisma of the author, Fr. Anthony Coniaris. It speaks concretely about what people are to do, how they are to share inline concrete and practical aspects of the Orthodox Christian way of life. This book is a practical guide for learning to share practically in the life of the Orthodox Church.
In all, the reader will find this volume a refreshing, interesting, authentic, contemporary, down to earth and practical introduction to the Orthodox Christian faith. It has been written primarily to introduce Orthodoxy to the potential convert. It has fulfilled its purpose.
Rev. Stanley S. Harakas, Professor
Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology Brookline, Mass.
The One, Holy, Catholic And Apostolic Church
What do we mean when we use the word "church"? Look at the tremendous variety of groups that call themselves ''churches''. In fact, anyone can establish a "church" for himself. There are many cults and other groups today that use the name "Jesus" and "church" very freely. You'll hear them calling themselves "Jesus People" or "Jesus Church," etc. But are they truly churches? Were they founded by Jesus and the Apostles? What kind of historical connection do they have with the apostles and the early church? If the Devil appears as an angel and quotes Scripture, then he can use even "churches" to lead people away from the one true God and His plan of salvation.
We need to define our terms carefully. Exactly what do we mean when we say "church"? We Orthodox Christians mean by Church the Body through which Jesus is present and active in the world today. It was founded by Christ through the apostles and has maintained a living, historical connection with the apostles through the ordination of its clergy. The fact that the bishop who ordains an Orthodox priest today can trace his ordination historically all the way back to the apostles and through them to Christ is a guarantee that the Orthodox Church was not founded by someone called Joe Smith a few centuries ago but by Christ Himself and traces its existence historically back to Jesus. We call this "apostolic succession". It means that our Church is the authentic and genuine Church or Body of Christ in the world today. It continues to teach not one man's interpretation of the faith but the complete deposit of faith as it was handed down to the Apostles by Jesus.
So there are some very important questions to ask when one hears the word "church". Was this "church" founded by God or by man? Does it have an unbroken historical connection with the early apostolic church? How else can we be certain that what it teaches is truly apostolic, truly Christian, truly the word of God and not one man's interpretation, or misinterpretation of that faith?
A group of evangelicals banded together recently to seek to find what they feel is lacking in their tradition: a living connection with the early church. They call themselves "The Orthodox Evangelicals" and they are in conversation with leaders of the Orthodox Church. Let me share with you what they are saying, "We are, for the most part, a people without roots. Some of us can only trace the beginnings of our denomination or church to some time in this century—arising over a split in this or that doctrine, or maybe even a personality clash between two strong leaders. Most of us have no sense of the past, no understanding of where we came from. . ." They are seeking their roots in the early apostolic Church of which the Orthodox Church is an historical continuation.
AN UNBROKEN HISTORICAL CONNECTION
In order to be used as evidence in court, the bullet used in the attempted assasination of President Reagan some time ago had to have an unbroken connection with the bullet that was removed from the president's body. Accordingly, a secret service agent was present during surgery. He witnessed the removal of the bullet. The surgeon signed a statement upon giving the bullet to the agent. The agent signed another statement when he delivered the bullet to the laboratory, etc. Such evidence of an unbroken connection between a bullet and a body is required in a court of law. Equal evidence is required to show that a church is indeed the genuine church founded by Jesus: the evidence of an unbroken historical connection with the apostolic church.
A church is the true Church of Christ if it can show historically that it was founded by Christ and has maintained a living connection over the centuries with that early Church. We need this historical connection in order to be assured that the deposit of the faith has not been tampered with but has been handed down to us in its entirety.
Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos, Professor of New Testament at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Theological Seminary, writes:
"... the Orthodox Church is the true Church of God on earth and maintains the fulness of Christ's truth in continuity with the Church of the apostles. This awesome claim does not necessarily mean that Orthodox Christians have achieved perfection: for we have many personal shortcomings. Nor does it necessarily mean that the other Christian Churches do not serve God's purposes positively: for it is not up to us to judge others but to live and proclaim the fulness of the truth. But it does mean that if a person carefully examines the history of Christianity he or she will soon discover that the Orthodox Church alone is in complete sacramental, doctrinal and canonical continuity with the ancient undivided Church as it authoritatively expressed itself through the great Ecumenical Councils." *
One of the distinguishing features of the Orthodox Church is her changeless-ness. The Orthodox Church baptizes by a three-fold immersion as was done in the early Church. It still confirms infants at baptism bestowing upon them the "seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit." It still brings babies and small children to receive Holy Communion. In the liturgy the deacon still cries out, "The doors, the doors," recalling early days when none but baptized members of the Christian family could participate in the liturgy. The Nicene Creed is still recited without the later additions. The Orthodox Church has two distinctive features: (1) her changelessness; (2) her sense of living continuity with the church of the early apostles.
THE NICENE CREE
In the Nicene Creed we confess: "I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church." What do these words mean? ONE means that the Church is one because God is one. "There is one body, and one Spirit . . . one hope . . . One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all" (Eph. 4:4-6). In His great Priestly Prayer, Jesus prayed that the Church may be "one" even as He and the Father are one (John 17:22).
HOLY. The Church is holy because our Lord made her so. "Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing but that it should by holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-27). Not only is the Church holy but it is also her purpose to make us holy, i.e., different from the world, conformed to God's will.
CATHOLIC. The Orthodox Church is Catholic, meaning whole, because she has preserved the wholeness of the faith of Christ through the centuries without adding or subtracting to that divinely revealed faith. For this reason she has come to be known as the "Orthodox" Church, i.e., the Church that has preserved the full and true faith of Christ. Orthodox Christians believe that the Church, which has Christ Himself as Head and which is the temple of the Holy Spirit, cannot err. Her voice is the voice of Christ in the world today. The word "Orthodox" is applied to the Orthodox Church to designate that it has kept the true "Faith which was once delivered to the Saints" (Jude 1:3).
Catholic means also that the Church is universal. It embraces all peoples, the entire earth. "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. . ." Just as there are no distinctions within the love of God, so the Church stretches out her arms to the world. "Here there cannot be Greek or Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man . . ." (Col. 3:11). God's love is all-inclusive; so the Church is Catholic.
APOSTOLIC. The Church is apostolic because she teaches what the apostles taught and can trace her existence historically directly back to the apostles.
It was the Apostle Paul, for example, who established the Christian Church in Greece through his early missionary journeys. His letters to the Corinthians, the Thessalonians, the Philippians were written to the churches he had established in those Greek cities. The Church he founded there has never ceased to exist. It is known today as the Greek Orthodox Church. The Apostle Peter founded the church in Antioch which exists to this day as the Antiochian Orthodox Church. Other apostles established the church in Jerusalem, Alexandria and Cyprus. The Eastern Orthodox Church has existed in these places since the days of the apostles. From these cities and countries, missionaries brought the Gospel (Good News) of Jesus to other countries: Russia, the Ukraine, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, etc. This self-governing family of churches is known today as the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Thus, the Orthodox Church is the legitimate and historical continuation of the early Church. She has the same faith, the same spirit, the same ethos. "This is the Apostolic faith, this is the faith of the Fathers, this is the Orthodox faith, this faith has established the universe" (From the Sunday of Orthodoxy vespers).
The Church is both visible and invisible. The visible Church is the Church Militant on earth. The invisible Church is the Church Triumphant in heaven, "the heavenly Jerusalem . . . innumerable angels in festal gathering ... the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven" (Hebrews 12:22-23).
Christ has promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18) and that He would be with it until the end of the world (Matthew 28:20). St. Paul calls the Church "the pillar and ground of truth" (I Tim. 3:15).
SOURCE OF AUTHORITY
The highest authority of the Eastern Church is the Ecumenical Council, involving the whole church. When the bishops of the church define a matter of faith in an Ecumenical Council, a requisite for its recognition is the acceptance and consent of the whole Church. Only then can it be considered infallible, or inspired of the Holy Spirit, who resides in the whole church, consisting of clergy and laity, to guide it to all truth. This makes every person within the church responsible for Christian truth. There have been instances where decisions of the bishops in an Ecumenical Council have not been accepted because they were rejected by the church as a whole.
THE ORTHODOX CHURCH TODAY
Originally the early Church consisted of the five ancient Patriarchates: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. These cities constituted the chief centers of Christianity in the early days. Between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries Rome became separated from the other Patriarchates due to the latter's insistence on its supremacy. The other ancient patriarchates considered the bishop of Rome "first among equals," granting him a primacy of honor but not of jurisdiction. Constantinople then rose to primacy among the other Patriarchates since it was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. The primacy of Constantinople, however, has always been a primacy of honor—not of jurisdiction.
Through the years new Orthodox churches were established in many lands through missionary work so that the present family of Orthodox Churches covers the globe as shown in the outline listed below:
A. Ancient Patriarchates
1. Constantinople which includes Turkey, Crete, the Dodecanese Islands and the Diaspora.
2. Alexandria which includes Egypt and the rest of Africa.
3. Antioch which includes Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq.
4. Jerusalem which includes Israel and Jordan.
B. National Churches (some of which are newer Patriarchates)
1. The Church of Russia – the Soviet Union excluding Georgia
2. The Church of Cyprus
3. The Church of Greece
4. The Church of Bulgaria
5. The Church of Romania
6. The Church of Serbia
7. The Church of Albania
8. The Church of Georgia
9. The Church of Czechoslovakia
10. The Church of Poland
11. The Church of Sinai
C. Missionary Churches
2. Uganda and Kenya
5. South America
6. Western Europe
7. North America
D. Churches in the Diaspora
1. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America
2. The Orthodox Churches in the U.S.A., including the OCA whose autocephalous status is to be clarified at the forthcoming Ecumenical Council.
Fr. Kallistos Ware writes,
"In the East there were many Churches whose foundation went back to the Apostles; there was a strong sense of the equality of all bishops, of the collegial and conciliar nature of the Church. The east acknowledged the Pope as the first bishop in the Church, but saw him as the first among equals. In the west, on the other hand, there was only one great see claiming apostolic foundation – Rome – so that Rome came to be regarded as the Apostolic see . . . the Church was seen less as a college and more as a monarchy – the monarchy of the Pope.''
The insistence on the monarchy of the Pope aggravated by the atrocities the Crusaders inflicted on the population of Constantinople in 1204 led to a lamentable estrangement and separation of the Eastern Churches and Rome which we pray will be healed in time since the two Churches are apostolic and have so much in common.
WHAT IS THE CHURCH
The early Jews believed that God dwelled in a box which they called the tabernacle. They carried the box with them always. The box, of course, contained the stone tablets on which God had written the ten commandments. No one was ever to touch this sacred box. Once, a man did touch it by accident and was immediately struck dead. At another time when the box was captured by the Philistines, the Jews felt it was the end for them because they had lost their God. Later, they built a tent to house this box. Still later when Solomon built his famous temple in Jerusalem, the box or tabernacle was placed in the holy of holies.
R. L. Bruckberger writes, "In the deserts, God lived beneath a tent, in His tabernacle, and often during the night a column of fire stood above that tent among all the others, revealing to every eye that glory of His reassuring and terrible Presence. When His people were settled in the Promised Land, God continued for a long time to be satisfied with a tent, close to the palace of the king and the houses of man. It was only with regret, as it seemed, that He left His tent for the magnificent Temple that Solomon built."
Ever since Solomon built the Temple to house the tabernacle people have had the impression that the Church is a building. Yet when Solomon dedicated his Temple he said in his prayer of dedication: "But will God dwell indeed with man on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain Thee; how much less this house which I have built" (2 Chron. 6:18). How can God live in a building when even the whole universe is not big enough to contain Him? Solomon knew that God cannot be boxed in a house, no matter how magnificent it is. God is everywhere, in the streets, in factories, in schools, on lonely roads, in rooming houses. He cannot be contained or limited to a temple or a church. The whole universe is His Church.
God does not need this building we call a church, but we do. We need places that are specially dedicated to God, where people meet together with the one purpose of praising God and seeking to know His will. Of course, we can worship God on the golf course but we don't. We need a house of worship where everything: architecture, icons, music, vestments, chalices, sermon, incense, candles conspire to help us worship by bringing God into focus. A woman called a church one day and asked, "Will the President be in your church tomorrow?" The answer she received was, "I don't know if the President will be here, but God will." Truly, God is always present in His Church. He speaks through the Scripture readings. He offers Himself to us through Holy Communion. It is indeed His house. The ever-present danger, however, is that we will confine God to this house, imprison Him there and feel that the building is the only place where God is present, that it is His only house. It is not.
THE PEOPLE OF GOD
The God who lived in a tent with His people in the Old Testament, pitched His tent in a Person in the New Testament. This is the literal meaning of the word "eskinose" or "dwelt among us" in John 1:14, "And the word became flesh and pitched his tent among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as from the only Son from the Father." The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, took on a human nature". God has moved from the Temple of Jerusalem into the human nature of Jesus, as formerly He had moved form the Tabernacle into the Temple of Solomon."
God now lives not in a Temple but in a human person. The Lord Jesus becomes the living Temple of God.
This same Jesus in turn comes to pitch his tent in us through the great Sacrament of Holy Communion. "He who eats my flesh and drinks my Blood abides in me, and I in him" (John 5:56). Through the Sacrament of Chrismation (Confirmation) we receive within us God the Holy Spirit which prompts St. Paul to say, "Do you not know that you are God's temple, and that God's Spirit dwells in you?" Now God abides in His people. Each one of us becomes a temple, a walking church.
So the church is not only a building; it is also the people in whom God dwells. The building is not merely the house of God; it is even more the house of God's people. The people are the Church. (By people we mean clergy and laity together constituting the fulness of the Church.) During the first three centuries of Christianity some Christians even worshipped underground in catacombs because of the persecutions. Yet the Church existed – and even flourished-despite the paucity of church buildings; for, you see, the Church is God's people. There was also a period when the early Christians worshipped in private homes. Again the Church was not identified with a specific building; the Church was God's people. If your church building is ever destroyed this will not mean that your church will cease to exist. The people are the Church. They will worship in homes, or in a hall. The Church is not primarily a building; it is a group of people who have responded to God's call and gather every Sunday to be with Him. The Greek word for church EKKLESIA means "those who have been called out." A Christian is one who has been called out of the world and belongs to Christ.
In the Old Testament God had chosen the Jews to be His people. They were to be a new community through which God would save the world. He revealed Himself to them that they in turn may reveal Him to the other nations. When the old Israel refused to believe in Jesus as the Promised Messiah, the Church was called by God to be the "new Israel," the new chosen people, the new saving community that is to spread the "good news" of what God has done in Christ to all people across the face of the earth. We the people became the Church, the tabernacle of God's saving presence in the world. "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (I Peter). Human beings, not stone and mortar, were to be the symbol of God's presence in the world. God has chosen man himself as His Temple.
YOU ARE CHRIST'S BODY
Desiring to work among us, God the Son took to Himself a human body like ours. We call this the Incarnation: With and through that body God acted in Christ during the 33 years that He lived in this world. He taught; He healed; He forgave; He offered Himself on the Cross for our salvation. Then on Ascension Day His body left the earth, and was no longer active among us.
If God intended, after the Ascension, to do any more work among us, He must either bring that body back again (as He will do when He comes at the Last Judgement), or else He must use some other body. He has chosen to do the latter, is time it is not a physical body like the one born of the Virgin Mary. It is instead an organism which St. Paul likens to a body when he says, "You are Christ's body." All those Christians who have been baptized, who have received i Holy Spirit, who share in the life of Christ through Holy Communion, make the Body that is to be the instrument of Christ's work on earth. In other words, Christ lives and works today through all those who make up this new Body in the world, i.e., the Church. We are the Church.
"WHO DO YOU SAY THAT 1 AM?"
Jesus asked Peter one day, "Who do you say that I am?" Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Then Jesus said to Peter, blessed are you Simon. . . You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church." What did Jesus mean by "rock"? Did He mean that the Church was to built on Peter the man? Or did He mean Peter's confession of faith in Jesus? We believe it was both. The Church is founded on Peter's confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. It is also founded on Peter and the other apostles as true believers, fully surrendered to Jesus. It is on such believing, surrendered people that God has done His building down through the ages. It is on m that He is building now.
THE CHIEF CORNERSTONE AND THE PILLARS
St. Paul compared the Church to a structure. The chief cornerstone is Jesus (Eph. 2:20-22). "Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid" (I Cor. 0-11). The foundation consists of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20). "The living stones" that make up the structure are the believers. The first of these living stones are Peter, Andrew and the other apostles who were first to confess Jesus as the Messiah.
The picture of the church as a structure whose cornerstone is Christ brings to mind the saying of a Spartan king. He had boasted that no nation in the world had walls like Sparta. But when a visitor came to visit Sparta he saw no walls at all, and asked the Spartan king where the walls were. The king pointed to a group of Spartan soldiers: "These are the walls of Sparta," he said, "and every man of m a brick." In exactly the same manner, every Christian is a living stone built o the structure of the Church.
Jesus says in Revelation, "He who conquers, I will make a pillar in the house my God." In the old days it was customary when an eminent leader had finished his years of service that the highest honor to be paid him was to have a pillar erected in one of the pagan temples. Sometimes those pillars, such as the Porch of the Maidens on the Acropolis in Athens, were actually sculptures of the sons being honored. They were literally holding up the roof and walls of the temple. Each one of us is called to be such a living pillar in the Church of Christ doing our share to hold up the canopy of God's witness in the world.
BODY OF CHRIST
We have said that the Church is more than a building; it is the people of God. As the people of God we make up the Body of Christ that is active in the world today. Through Baptism we are grafted into the Body of Christ and made members of it. Through Holy Communion we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus within us. Thus the Body of Christ is constituted. "We, who are many, are one bread, one body; for we all partake of the one bread" (I Cor. 10-17). As Christ was present in the world in His physical body for thirty-three years, so today He continues to be present in us, the members of His mystical body, in whom He dwells. As God humbled Himself by taking the form of a human being and concealing His divinity under the figure of a suffering and crucified Servant, so now He humbles Himself by allowing this body of believers, this weak and imperfect body, which is the Church, to represent Him on earth, to speak, to judge, and to prophesy in His name.
All this means that Christ is dependent on the Church. As St. Chrysostom said, "So great is Christ's love for the Church that He, as it were, regards Himself as incomplete, unless He has the Church united to Him as a body." This means that we are the instruments through which Christ must work in the world today. As Annie Johnson Flint wrote,
"He has no hands but our hands
To do His work today,
He has no feet but our feet
To lead men on His way.
He has no voice but our voice
To tell men how He died, .
He has no help but our help
To lead men to His side"
BE THE CHURCH
It is clear, then, that the Church is more than a building, it is people; believing people; baptized people, chrismated people, surrendered people, people in whom Christ dwells, people who listen to and obey the voice of God, people who have truly committed their lives to Him as Lord, people who have a personal praying relationship to Him, who listen to and obey His voice.
As Bishop Dmitri writes the Church is "the company of thouse who have put on Christ by being baptized in Him, sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit in Chrismation, forgiven of their sins in Confession, and nutured by the Heavenly Food in the Holy Mystery of His Body and Blood. . . The Church is a divinely instituted unity of people, united by the Orthodox Faith, the law of God, the hierarchy, and the Holy Mysteries. It is the Mystical Body of Christ." 6
Someone said, "The holiest moment of the church service is the moment when the Church – God's people – strengthened by preaching and sacrament – go out the church door into the world to be the Church. We don't merely go to church; we are the Church."
Recently a student was telling his pastor about a conversation he had with a fellow student in the dormitory. The fellow student did not believe in God. The student said to the pastor, "How can I get this fellow to church, so he can get some help?" The pastor replied, "Don't try to get him to come to church. He'll probably refuse anyway. You must be the Church to him where you are ... in the wash room, in the locker room, in the class, in the dorm, on the playing field. You are the Church to that fellow student.''
The reason we come to church every Sunday is to listen to Christ, to praise Him, to receive Him within us that we may go out into the world and (Seethe Church the rest of the week.
"0 when will you start-being the church; stop making the church a place to go to, and make it something to be." 7
A LIFE-GIVING STREAM
The Prophet Ezekiel (Chapter 47:1-2 and 6-12) sees a vision of the river of life. It flows from the altar of the Temple into the world. As the stream flows on, it gets deeper and deeper. As a result, the stale waters of the dead sea are revived and the sea swarms with fishes. Wherever the stream flows there is life as it makes trees and plants grow. What is this but a picture of the streams of blessings that are to flow from the Church into the world? What is this but a picture of the refreshment, the renewal and the life that Christ wishes to bring to the world through His Church, i.e., through us His people, the members of His Body, His saving community.
CHRIST WITH US
A person who visited West Germany following the Second World War said that in visiting the bombed-out cities he noticed that people were coming out of the basements of wrecked buildings, gathering bricks and building first not factories to restore the economy, but churches. When asked why, the reply he received was, "We build churches first because it is here that our people will get the spirit to rebuild."
The Church is a source of strength because it is none other than Christ prolonging Himself through space and time; Christ continuing to be present with us; Christ continuing to save us; Christ continuing to fill us with the fullness of God's life.
There is a legend about Zacchaeus the dishonest tax collector whom Jesus called down from a sycamore tree one day to have dinner with him. Zacchaeus, as you recall, was converted as a result of this personal encounter with the Master. In later years, the legend says, Zacchaeus used to rise early every morning, carry a bucket of water to this tree and carefully water its roots. On one occasion his wife followed him and when asked the reason for this strange concern over an old sycamore tree, Zacchaeus replied, "This is where I found Christ." The Church is where we find Christ. There we are baptized. There we hear His word. There He comes to dwell in our hearts when we receive Him in the Holy Eucharist. This is why we love the Church. This is why we support it. This is why we work for it. This is why we go out into the world every Sunday to be the Church wherever we are.
1.The Church is the Body of Christ in the world today. Through this Body, Christ continues to be present and active in the world:
2.In order to be genuine, the Church must have an unbroken historical connection with the early apostolic church that was founded by Jesus.
3.The Orthodox Church, one, holy, catholic and apostolic, is the true Church of God on earth. It has kept the fullness of Christ's truth, the complete deposit of faith, in continuity with the Church of the apostles.
4.The decisions of an Ecumenical Council, formulated by the bishops under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and accepted by the clergy and the laity, constitute the highest authority of the Orthodox Church.
5.The Church is not to be identified with a building but with God's people in whom God dwells and through whom He is active in the world.
6.The Body of Christ is constituted through Baptism, Chrismation, and the Eucharist. Through Baptism we are grafted into the Body as members; through Chrismation we are sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit; through the Eucharist Christ comes to dwell in us making us truly members of His Body, the Church. In the words of St. John Chrysostom: "Christ is the Head of the Body, but of what use is the Head without hands, without eyes, without legs, without ears?"
7.As members of Christ's Body, as God's people, we are called to be the Church wherever we are. We leave the liturgy and go out into the world to be the Church.
Fr. Lev Gillet, a French Orthodox monk, who wrote many books on Orthodoxy, described the Orthodox Church as follows:
"Equally far removed both from authoritarianism and individualism, the Orthodox Church is a Church both of tradition and freedom. She is above all a Church of love ... a strange Church so poor and so weak ... a Church of contrasts at the same time so traditional and so free, so archaic and so alive, so ritualistic and so personally mystical, a Church where the pearl of great price is so preciously preserved, sometimes under a layer of dust, a Church which has often been unable to act but which can sing out the joy of Easter like no other. . ."
8.Sermon given by Fr. Lev Gillet at the anniversary service for the death of Mgr. Irenee Winnaett (March 1938) in Vincent Bourne "La Quete de Verite & Irenee Winnaert" (Geneva 1970).
What We Believe About the Nicene Creed
The word "creed" is derived from the Latin word credo meaning, "I believe." What you believe and base your life (on is your creed. And everyone – even the atheist – has a creed, because everyone bases his life on something. Sartre, for example, an atheist and an existentialist had his creed. He expressed it this way: "Life is absurd. Love is impossible."
The Old Testament creed was the Shema: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one . . ." (Deut. 6:4).
Orthodox Christians also have a creed. Some of the earliest Christian creeds are found in the Bible. For example, John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have life everlasting." This is a creed. Another very early Christian .creed that we find several times in the Scriptures is the simple declaration: "Jesus Christ is Lord" (I Cor. 12:3; Phil. 2:11).
A SYMBOL OR PASSWORD
The Christian creed is also called a symbol. The term "symbol" comes from a word that meant a watchword or a password in a military camp) Thus for the early Christian the creed or symbol was a password which identified him as a true Christian.
The creed has also been defined in terms of a map. A. Leonard Griffith writes, "Creeds are to religion what maps to geography. The early explorers who landed on the shores ot North America drew maps of the regions through which they traveled. . . So through the centuries men have experienced something of God . . . and of what they have experienced they have formulated creeds, religious maps for the guidance of future generations."
Others have compared the Christian creed to the Pledge of Allegiance. It's sort of a summary of what we believe, and when we recite it, it's like making our pledge of allegiance to God.
A password, a map, a summary of our faith, a pledge of allegiance – all of these tell us something of what the creed is. Now we come to the question:
HOW DID THE CHRISTIAN CREEDS ORIGINATE?
First, there was a need for a short summary of the faith to which those who were being baptized could subscribe. Some of the earliest Christian creeds were written to be confessions of faith for those about to be baptized.
Secondly, the early creeds, as St. Athanasius said, were written to be "Signposts against heresy." They were written to combat false teachings. As a matter of fact, it was the great heretics who prompted the writing of the great creeds. The creeds were written as replies to the false teachings of those in the early church who tried to distort the truths of Christ.
Many creeds existed in the early Church: the Apostles' Creed and the Athanasian Creed among them. The Apostles' Creed dates from the middle of the second century. According to tradition, each one of the Twelve Apostles contributed a clause to its composition – hence its name. Although it is not apostolic in origin, the Apostles’ Creed is apostolic in its teaching. The Athanasian Creed dates from the fifth century. This creed was influenced by the writings of St. Athanasius. Both these Creeds were written by local churches to be recited it Baptism as confessions of faith.
In the 4th Century the Church decided to compose one uniform, official creed for the whole Church. The result was the Nicene Creed written by the First and Second Ecumenical Councils. The fact that the Creed was written by the Church assembled in Ecumenical Council demonstrates that the Creed is not one man opinion. ("I'm entitled to my be belief and you to yours"). The Nicene Creed is the whole Church articulating and expressing its faith under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is why in reciting the Nicene Creed the early Christians said not "I believe" ... but "We believe". They were saying, in other words, "This is not only my own personal faith; it is also the expression of faith of the entire Christian community".
It goes without saying that no finite creed can ever say everything there is to say about the infinite God. The Creed is merely a divinely inspired human statement to help us in our understanding of God. St. Paul called Christ, God’s "inexpressible gift" which underlines the fact that no creed can ever capture or exhaust the full meaning of Christ.
Nevertheless, acknowledging our finitude, we cannot remain silent about what God has don for us. We must communicate our faith however inadequately. This is what the Church has attempted to do through the Creed. We need to know what we believe and in Whom we believe if we are to live as Christians.
This is why we have the Nicene Creed which has been described as "… a spellbinding summary of the Christian faith accepted today by most of the major Christian bodies as a superlative expression of our faith. Through it we MV m echoing the voices of the Scriptures and of the early martyrs and saints. It ll indeed a faith to live by." 2
CREEDS AND DEEDS
Of course, Christianity is much more than a creed; it is a deed, a life to be lived. Those who look down on creeds and say, "It is not creeds but deeds that are important"– these people forget that every deed proceeds from ft creed. So a creed is important because what we really believe will ultimately find expression in our lives.
Sometimes we hear people say, "It doesn't matter what one believes as long as he is sincere in his belief." This is quite naive because Hitler was sincere very sincere in what he believed but unfortunately he had the wrong, creed.
Most of the trouble caused in the world today is caused by people who have the wrong creed whether it be Communism, materialism, play-boyism, secularism or atheism. If we Christians believe that we have the right creed then we have an obligation to become better acquainted with it that we may translate it into deeds – deeds that will bring glory to God, This is what creeds are made for: to be translated into life.
"WHO PROCEEDS FROM THE FATHER"
Originally, the Holy Fathers who composed the Nicene Creed stated that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father." Later the Western Church arbitrarily inserted the words "and from the Son," meaning that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. This is the famous "filioque" clause which was a cause of much friction between the Eastern and Western Churches. The Orthodox Church preserved the Nicene Creed in its original form without the filioque for the following reasons:
First, the Ecumenical Councils forbade any changes to be introduced into the Creed Except by another) Ecumenical Council. The Creed belongs 'to the whole Church and one small part of the Church has no right to alter it. Secondly, the Orthodox believe the "filioque" to be theologically untrue. The Orthodox Church logically thinks that God knows best about Himself. It was Jesus Himself who said, "When the Paraclete, has come, whom I will send to you from the Father – he will bear witness to me" (John 25:26). "But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me" (John 15:26). Orthodoxy has always taught what the Bible teaches: Christ sends the Spirit but the Spirit proceeds from the Father. This preserves the unity in the Godhead according to which the Father is the unique origin and source of the Trinity.
Thus, the Nicene Creed has been preserved by the Orthodox Church in its original entirety and completeness.
A CORRECT CREED FOR CORRECT PRAYING
In addressing the catechumens in the early Church, Augustine said: "What you have just recited, by the grace of God, is the Orthodox statement of the Christian faith, on which the Holy Church is firmly established. You have received the Creed and rendered it back. Be sure that you keep it for ever in your minds and hearts. Say it over to yourselves when you get up in the morning, think of it as you walk down the street, remember it during meals. Let your heart rneditate upon these precious words even while you are asleep.
"Now according to the Church's tradition, after giving you the Creed we next go on to teach you the grayer our Savior gave us (the Lord's Prayer). This, too, must be learned by heart and recited next week and this too must be repeated continually by all who embrace the Christian faith.
"There is a text of scripture that says that all who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved (Joel 2:32). But, as St. Paul says, how can people call on the name of the Lord unless they believe in Him? (Rom. 10:13-15). This passage of scripture explains why we do not teach you the Lord's Prayer until you have learned the Creed. We give you the Creed first so that you will know what to believe, and then the prayers so that you will know who it is that you are praying to and what to ask Him for. Then you will be praying in faith, and your prayer will be heard.
1.The creed is a short summary of faith required of those who were baptized.
2.The Nicene Creed, written by the First and Second Ecumenical Councils
represents the official creed of the Orthodox Church. It is a statement of faith
written by the entire Christian Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
3.One's creed matters since what we believe ultimately finds expression in our lives.
4.The Orthodox Church has preserved the Nicene Creed in its original form without the filioque clause.
5.A correct creed is necessary for correct praying.
6.Recited in every liturgy, the Nicene Creed is a constant renewal of our baptismal confession of faith.
THE NICENE CREED
We share with you the words of the Nicene Creed:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages.
Light of light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one essence with the Father, through Whom all things were made. Who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary, and became man. Crucified for our salvation under Pontius Pilate, He suffered and was buried.
And on the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures. And ascended into heaven, and sat at the right hand of the Father. And He shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who, together with the Father and the Son, is worshipped and glorified; Who spoke through the Prophets.
I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge One Baptism for the remission of sins. I await the Resurrection of the dead. And the life of the Ages to come. Amen.
What We Believe About Jesus
A group of English writers were discussing what they would do if certain heroes of history were suddenly to entry the room. What would they do if Shakespeare or Dante were to appear before them? Finally someone asked, "What would we do if Jesus were to appear before us?" One member of the group, Charles Lamb, replied, "If Shakespeare were to enter this room, I should to do him honor; but if Jesus Christ were to enter, I should fall down and give Him worship."
Charles Lamb expressed the difference between Jesus and the great men of history. The greatness of men would make us rise in respect; the greatness of Jesus would compel us to kneel in worship.
The Nicene Creed states correctly what Orthodox Christians believe about Jesus when it says we believe: "…in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light, True God of True God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father, through Whom all things were made."
It has been said that the Nicene Creed contains 101 Greek words of which 84 are concerned with the Son. The most dominant emphasis of the Creed is Christ.
St. John repeatedly refers to Christ as the Word. The term is most appropriate. Unless a man speaks a word, we cannot know him. Words communicate meaning. They enable others to know what is on our mind. As words express our inner thoughts, so Christ – the Word of God – communicates to the thoughts of God. He came to earth to be God's "language" in speaking to man. In Christ dialogue with God is re-established.
The Creed proceeds to tell who Jesus is. It describes Him as Lord – a word which was used throughout the Old Testament for God. It is a title the early Church deliberately gave to the glorified Jesus to express that He is the absolute and undisputed creator and possessor of the entire universe, that He is the Master, we the servants. One of the earliest Creeds of the Church was "Jesus is Lord" (Romans 10:9; I Cor. 12:3; Col. 2:6).
After the word "Lord" in the Nicene Creed, we come to the word "Jesus." This was the name indicated from heaven for the Child born in the manger in Bethlehem: "And the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus' "(Luke 1:30-31). Jesus is the Greek for the Jewish name "Joshua" which means "God is salvation." A further explanation of the name Jesus is found in Matthew 1:21, "You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.''
The nature of Christ's mission was announced from heaven before He was born. He was to be named JESUS (God's salvation) because His primary purpose was to save His people from their sins. There is no mention at all of His teaching, for His teaching would be ineffective unless there was first salvation.
Is there any name more precious than Jesus? "Jesus" – he name ul whose mention all things bow, those in heaven, those on earth and those under the earth. "Jesus" – the name that brings comfort to the afflicted, strength to the weak, hope to the hopeless, forgiveness to the sinner, courage to the faltering, life to the dying. "Jesus" – the name that is above all other names; the name that becomes a prayer expressing and fulfilling the needs of our souls; the name at whose prayerful mention impossible things begin to become possible.
Jesus is the human name of God's Son. It denotes His human nature since He was fully man and fully God in one and the same person.
The next name the Creed applies to Jesus is "Christ." Christ is a Greek word which means "the anointed one." It recalls the ancient Hebrew custom of anointing a person who was set apart for a high office, as David was anointed by Samuel in the name of the Lord before he became King. The Greek word "Christ" is the equivalent of the Hebrew word for "Messiah". Thus the title "Christ" means the Messiah or the anointed one. It is important to remember this, because it means that when we speak the words "Jesus Christ" we are confessing the essence of what we believe as Orthodox Christians. Since "Jesus" is a name, and "Christ" is a title, when we put the two words together and say "Jesus Christ" we are confessing our faith that Jesus is the Messiah, or the One anointed by God to save His people. As Peter proclaimed, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God" (Matt. 16:16).
A Jewish soldier who had attended Christian services during World War II went to a rabbi and asked him the difference between the Messiah of the Jews and the Jesus of the Christians. The rabbi explained, "The difference is that we Jews believe the Messiah is still to come, whereas Christians believe he has already come in Jesus." To this, the soldier asked what was an unanswerable question, "But, rabbi, when our Messiah does come, what will he have that Jesus does not have? Will he have more love? more positive goodness? more miraculous power? more purity of life? more divine forgiveness? more perfect righteousness?"
The ancient Jews had such great fear of God that they would not even pronounce His name. God Himself dispelled this fear by giving us His name in two of the most beautiful words mankind has ever known: "Jesus Christ" – words that make real the presence of God and bring Him into our hearts.
The whole truth of who God is and who man is has been disclosed to the world in and by Jesus. That is why Jesus could say, "I am the Truth." It is as if truth were wearing a veil before and now in Jesus the veil is removed. Jesus is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, with the veil removed. As we read in Hebrews 1:1-2,
"In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days He has spoken to us by a Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He created the world."
The Apostle John writes about Jesus,
"No one has ever seen God; the only Son who is in the bosom, of the Father, He has made Him known" (John 1:18).
St. Paul summarizes our faith as to who Jesus is:
"He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities – all things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the Church; He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything He might be pre-eminent. For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross" (Col. 1:15-20).
Augustine's response to Jesus should be our response: "I listen, He is the one who speaks. I am enlightened; He is true Light. I am the ear; He is the Word."
NOT THE WINDOW BUT THE LIGHT
An American lady of the Bahai religion was once lecturing in India. According to the Bahai faith all religions are equally true. They believe, for example, that Jesus was just another great teacher like Buddha. He was not the way but one of the many ways to God. Since the Bahai lady spoke only English, an Indian was translating for her. In her lecture she said, "The sun rises in the morning, and as it ascends in the heavens it shines through the various windows in the house, one after another. Each religion represents a window through which the light shines. Jesus is one such window." The Indian translator interpreted faithfully what she said, but at the end of the sentence he added in his own language, "I beg to differ with the lady, Jesus Christ is not the window. He is the Light itself."
Pascal summarized what Jesus means to us with these beautiful words:
"Not only do we understand God only through Jesus Christ, but we understand ourselves only through Jesus Christ. We understand life and death only through Jesus Christ. Apart from Jesus Christ, what we know is neither our life nor our death, neither God nor ourselves."
Jesus took on our humanity, cleansed it and transformed it into a holy and glorious humanity. He made man the tabernacle of God's presence, the temple of the Holy Spirit. Through His ascension Jesus even took our human nature into Heaven with Him. How can anyone now say, "I'm only human" in a derogatory and cheap way?
Sometimes we are tempted to think that the closer we come to God, the more we must give up our human nature; the more like God we would be, the less human we can be. But that is not true. The only time we deny our humanity is when we fall into sin. The farther away we travel from God, the less human we are. Then it is that we lose our humanity and need to come back to God to recover it.
TO DEHUMANIZE JESUS
To dehumanize Jesus is to make Him an ideal impossible of fulfillment. Jesus was fully God but also fully man. Sometimes we find it difficult to keep the two natures together. Most often we feel that His divine nature was so overpowering that it swallowed up His human-nature, so that He came out in the end more divine than human. But this is not so. He was complete God and complete man in one and the same Person.
To be truly human is to be like Christ Who was truly God but also truly human, like us in everything except sin. If we are going to say, "I'm only human," let's say it not as an excuse for sinning; let's say it as we look at the perfect example of what a human can truly be: Jesus! Jesus came to show us what it means to be truly human and to give us the power to become like Him.
JESUS PRESENT THROUGH THE AGES IN THE LITURGY
This same Jesus is made present to us today through the Divine Liturgy. This is expressed so beautifully and so simply in the epiclesis prayer that is addressed to the Holy Spirit for the consecration of the bread and wine:
"And make this Bread the Precious Body of Thy Christ. Amen. And that which is in this cup, the Precious Blood of Thy Christ. Amen. Changing them by The Holy Sprit. Amen. Amen. Amen."
The continuing presence of Jesus in our midst is the main theme of the liturgy as expressed in the words the celebrant priest addresses to the priest co-celebrating with him during the liturgy: "Christ is in our midst," to which the response is given: "He is and ever will be." The liturgy is thus the sacrament of Christ's permanent saving presence among us today.
1.As words express our inner thoughts, so Christ – the Word of God – communicates to us the thoughts of God. He is God's self-communication.
2.Jesus is Lord – absolute and undisputed creator and possessor of the entire universe. He is the Master, we the servants.
3.The human name JESUS (meaning God is salvation) expresses Christ's mission. He came to save His people from their sins.
4.When the title "Christ" (meaning the Anointed One or the Messiah) is applied to Jesus it becomes a confession of faith indicating our faith that Jesus, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, is the Messiah.
5. Jesus is God with the veil removed.
6. To be truly human is to be like Jesus.
7. Jesus is fully human and fully God.
8. The liturgy is the sacrament of Christ's permanent saving presence among us today.
What We Believe About the Holy Trinity
Epiphany, or more specifically Theophany, is the manifestation, the showing forth of God in His fullness! Christ's baptism in the Jordan is a manifestation of God to the world for two reasons. First, it is the beginning of our Lord's public ministry. Jesus went down into the water of the Jordan known to most people only as the son of Mary and Joseph. He came out ready to reveal Himself in word and deed as what He had been from all eternity, the Son of God. Secondly, Epiphany is the manifestation of God, because it was there at the baptism of Jesus that all three Persons of the Holy Trinity appeared together for the first time. The Father's voice testified from on high to the divine Sonship of Jesus. The Son accepted His Father's testimony, and the Holy Spirit was seen descending from the Father in the form of a dove and resting upon the Son.
"So Jesus was baptized, and as He came straight up out of the water, suddenly heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and resting upon Him. And with that, a voice came from heaven, which said, This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:16).
The threefold disclosure of God is also the subject of the troparion of the feast:
"When Thou, O Lord, was baptized in the Jordan,
The worship of the Trinity was made manifest.
For the voice of the Father bore witness unto Thee,
Calling Thee the beloved Son,
And the Spirit in the form of a dove
Confirmed His word as sure and steadfast.
O Christ our God,
Who hast appeared and enlightened the world,
Glory to Thee."
THE TRINITY IN DAILY WORSHIP
God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – plays an important role in the life and worship of the Orthodox Christian. We make the sign of the cross with the thumb and first two fingers representing the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We bring these three fingers together to signify that we believe not in three Gods but in One. We are baptized in the name of the Trinity; we are forgiven in the name of the Trinity; we are married in the name of the Trinity; every liturgy begins with the name of the Trinity; we bless the name of the Trinity: "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit"; we are blessed in the name of the Trinity: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father and the 'fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all"; every Sunday we confess our faith in the Holy Trinity when we say in the Nicene Creed: "I believe in one God, the Father Almighty . . . and in one Lord Jesus Christ . . . and in the Holy Spirit." All prayer in the Orthodox Church is addressed to the Triune God. We pray to God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.
DO WE BELIEVE IN THREE GODS
Does this mean that we believe in three Gods? A Jewish girl testifying for those who sought to outlaw religious practices in public schools said, "Talk about God in school was about a God who was not my God. These other people don't believe in one God . . . they believe in a Trinity – a Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit."
The Moslems emphasize the oneness of God. Their basic creed is, "There is no God but God, and Muhammed is the apostle of God." Again and again they stress that "God is one" and "God has no partners". They accuse Christians of worshipping three Gods – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is even a joke which says that Christians offer three Gods and one wife whereas Moslems offer three wives and one God!
A story is told of a little boy who, singing in the choir of a church which used the Athanasian Creed in its liturgy, added under his breath whenever he came to the eighth verse "The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the Holy Ghost incomprehensible—the whole thing incomprehensible."
Dorothy Sayers has said, "Of all the Christian dogmas, the doctrine of the Trinity enjoys the greatest reputation for obscurity and. Remoteness from common experience."
If the whole thing is so incomprehensible, obscure and remote, why bother about it? When there are so many urgent, down-to-earth problems that we have to face every day, why waste time talking about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? It reminds me of Cardinal Cushing's story about the time he was called on to give last rites to the victim of a fatal accident. He asked the victim, "Do you believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost?" The man opened one eye and said to those around him, "Here I am dying, and he's asking me riddles.
The doctrine of the Trinity may seem obscure and remote; yet it is one of the basic teachings of the Orthodox Church. It is basic because it tells us so much about God, about how Christians have experienced His presence in the past and about how we may experience the fullness of His presence-today.
WHAT THE TRINITY IS NOT
To understand what we mean by the Trinity, let us first state what it is not. The Trinity is not the name of a phase that God went through. First, He was the Father Who in the beginning set everything in motion; then God was the Son Who came to earth in the form of Jesus; and, now, God is the Spirit Who is trying to get us to believe about the Father and the Son. The Bible doesn't say that. At the baptism of Jesus all three persons were involved simultaneously in one event.
Other wrong doctrines are: (1) the Father alone is God; the Son and the Holy Spirit are creatures as we are; (2) God is one; the Son and the Spirit are merely names for relations which God has with Himself, i.e., the Thought and Speech of God is called Son, while the Life and Action of God is called the Spirit; (3) the Father is one God, the Son another God, and the Holy Spirit still another God. In other words, there are three Gods. All these doctrines have been rejected by the Church. How then does the Church defend its doctrine that God is both One and yet Three?
THREE PERSONS – ONE SUBSTANCE
As Orthodox Christians we do not believe that God is only one person, and also three persons; and we do not believe that God has only one nature, and also three natures. This would be absurd. But we believe that what is in certain respects one is in other respects three. God is one if consider His nature, but three if in this one nature we consider His person.
For example, in what they are, three men are one: they are all human beings. But in who they are, they are three persons, each absolutely unique and different from the others. Now in who God is, there are three persons, who are each unique and distinct, but in what they are, these three persons are one God, one substance. We do not say that there are three Gods, and yet these three are one. That would be ridiculous. But there are three divine persons in the one Godhead. The divine substance or nature is not three but one. One in what they are, three in who they are: Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. In the words of the Athanasian Creed:
And the Catholic faith in this, that we worship
one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;
Neither confounding the Persons, not dividing the Substance
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son,
and another of the Holy Ghost.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy
Ghost is all one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal…
All this talk about one-in-three and three-in-one is not a lot of mumbo-jumbo. The Gospel is very positive. If the church believes in and teaches the doctrine of the Trinity, it is for very good reason. We believe that the whole Christian Gospel is summed up I this mysterious doctrine of three Persons, Father Son, and Holy Spirit in one God.
Let us begin with the basic Christian teaching that God is one. We cannot imagine what good news this was to the pagan world which believed not in one God but in many gods. We can read in missionary books today of the tremendous relief pagans feel when they learn from Christian missionaries that, instead of a whole host of gods and spirits to be satisfied, there is only one great God Who rules over all.
It is a terrible thing to believe in many gods. If one believes in blind fate, in astrology, in lucky numbers and charms and mascots as well as in the Almighty then one's heart is torn apart. There are too many gods to satisfy. "No n serve two masters," said Jesus. Anything more than one God is too 'or there is only one true God. This was one of the most precious truths 1 revealed in the Old Testament: "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one God".
Wasn't this great truth enough? Why did Christianity have to go on from the One God to the Three-in-One? Why did it have to say something so complicated about God as the Trinity? Some say that all of this was the product of the Greek philosophy – they tell us – somehow got mixed up with the Bible somewhere the second, third and fourth centuries and that ruined the simple God of the Old Testament. Admittedly, the early Christian Fathers used certain words and ideas like consubstantial that were floating around during those centuries, but they m in order to stammer out their reaction to an astonishing fact they had experimented through the coming of Christ. Something happened to those early i that gave them a more complete picture of God. Let us see what it was.
THE EXPERIENCE OF THE EARLY CHRISTIANS
Trinity is based primarily on the experience of the early Christians. When they met Christ, they met God. "My Lord and my God!" said Thomas, e the Christ, the Son of the living God," said Peter. "He who sees me, sees the Father," said Jesus. "I and the Father are one." "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself," said Paul. Then at Pentecost they experienced overwhelming sense of the divine Presence in their lives and they remembered that this was the Spirit of God promised by the prophet Joel in the Old Testament.
The doctrine of the Trinity was not dropped from heaven by God. In fact, the word Trinity is never even mentioned in the Scriptures. It came from the way the Christians experienced God. It was an experience before it ever became a doctrine.
The doctrine was an intellectual expression of what the early Christians be compellingly real in their own lives.
Peter, for example, knew God in three ways. He knew God as "Father". He knew God as "Son" in the person of Jesus Christ. On Pentecost he experienced God as "Holy Spirit", as a Presence and Power within his own heart and within the Church.
How clearly we see the Trinity in God's plan of salvation. "God (the Father) the world that He gave His only Son (Jesus) that whoever believes in not perish but have life everlasting" (John 3:16). Then Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to abide with us forever. The Holy Spirit is as necessary for salvation as is Jesus. It was the Holy Spirit Who originally brought Jesus to us. "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit . . ." (Matt. 1:20). It is the Holy Spirit Who continues to bring Jesus to us today. In every liturgy we kneel as the priest prays the EPICLESIS that the Holy Spirit may come upon us and upon our gifts of bread to(transform them into the Precious Body and Blood of Jesus.
St. Paul speaks of the "grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit". These were blessings of the Trinity that he had experienced personally. David H.C. Read says, "That there is one God, and that we know Him as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is the witness of the New Testament, th continuous faith of the Church, and the experience of every one of us who believes".
When Elizabeth Barett poured out her love for Robert Browning she wrote, "How do I love thee& Let me count the ways". That is what the early Christians said of God: "How do I love Thee? Let me count the ways. I love You, Lord, as Creator, I love You as Savior, I love You as the Holy Spirit, comforter, the power of God’s presence within me".
The doctrine of the Trinity then, is an expression of the three aspects of our experience of God. We think of Him as God the Creator or Father. We think of Him as revealed historically in the Person of Jesus as the Son of God. We experience Him as a pervading, continuing presence and power in our lives – as God the Holy Spirit.
There are people who will say, "The Trinity… that’s a little too complicated for me. I want a simple God, a God I can understand". Well, we shall never be able to understand God completely. This is the reason we cannot understand the Trinity. This is not to say, however, that we cannot express the Trinity in a way that is easy to understand. The Trinity means that I believe in God the Father Who made me, God the Son Who saves me, God the Holy Spirit Who lives in me. God the Father: for us in love eternally! God the Son: with us in grace, historically, but also eternally! God the Holy Spirit: in us in power, experientially, historically, and eternally! God the Father: God above me. God the Son: God beside me. God the Holy Spirit: God within me and within the Church.
We learned a few moments ago that it is good news to learn that God is One. But, as we have seen, there is still better news in the message that the One God is a Father in heaven Who loves us, a Brother Savior Who died for us, a Holy Spirit Who dwells with us today as powerfully as He dwelt among the apostles 2,000 years ago. The doctrine of the Trinity, then, in summing up the entire New Testament experience of God, also sums up the whole Christian Gospel/
THE TRINITY IN SCRIPTURE
The doctrine of the Trinity, which is based on man’s experience of God in the New Testament, is anchored in Scripture.
The Lord Jesus said in His great commission, "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…" (Matt. 28:19). The Three Persons are mentioned specifically in the great commission yet the unity of the three is stated in the use of the word "name" not "names". No one can be a Christian without being baptized said Jesus. And no one can be baptized except in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which is to say that no one can be a Christian unless he believes in the Trinity. This is the great gate, th only entrance to Christianity.
We saw previously that the Trinity was present at the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. Jesus stood there as the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove and the voice of the Father was heard saying, "This is my beloved Son".
The Three Persons appeared together.
St. Paul speaks of "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit" in II Corinthians 13:14.
St. Peter mentions the Trinity in his first letter, "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ . . . chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ . . ." (I Peter 1:2).
There are also glimpses of the Trinity in the Old Testament. When God is about to create man He says, "Let us make man in our image and likeness" (Genesis 1:26). In the next verse we read, "And God made man in his image and likeness." The plural words, "us" and "our", seem to suggest several persons. The singular word "his", however, suggests that the several persons were somehow one.
The Hebrew word for God in the Old Testament "Elohim" is plural yet it takes a verb in the singular, and if an adjective goes with it, that too is in the singular. Three Persons yet one God.
Our belief in the Trinity, firmly anchored as it is in Scripture, remains a mystery. It reveals the fullness of God to us and yet at the same time it hides Him from us. For no one can really understand how God can be three distinct Persons yet one God.
When we say that the Trinity is a mystery, we should define what we mean by mystery. An excellent definition of mystery is found in the book "What is Faith" by Eugene Joly:
"A mystery is not a wall against which you run your head, but an ocean into which you plunge. A mystery is not night; it is the sun, so brilliant that we cannot gaze at it, but so luminous that everything is illuminated by it".
This is what the mystery of the Trinity is to us, like "the sun, so brilliant that we cannot gaze at it; but so luminous that everything is illuminated by it."
There are those who refuse to believe in a God they cannot understand. They seem to forget that a God fully explained would cease to be a God. God is so great that He will remain beyond our comprehension. St. Paul expresses this truth when he writes, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are his judgements, and his ways past finding out . . . For who hath known the mind of the Lord? . . . For of him and through him and for him are all things: to whom be glory forever."
Dorothy Sayers has written, "Why do you complain that the proposition that God is three-in-one is obscure and mystical and yet acquiesce meekly in the physicist's fundamental formula, '2P-PQ equals IH over 2Pi where I equals the square of minus 1', when you know quite well that the square root of minus 1 is paradoxical and Pi is incalculable". We readily accept this paradoxical formula that we do not understand and yet we balk at accepting the mystery of the infinite as expressed by the Trinity.
We cannot explain how the seed draws from the soil the exact chemicals it needs to produce its own particular color, fragrance and fruit. This is but one of many mysteries in life that we do not understand. If we cannot understand these how can we expect to understand God fully and completely? If we are bewildered and baffled by the many, ordinary, natural mysteries here on earth, such as the nature of electricity, how can we expect to understand completely the nature of God?
St. Augustine was walking along the seashore one day. His thoughts were centered on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. How could God be Three – and yet be One? He passed a little girl filling a hole in the sand with water. He asked what she was doing. The reply was, "I'm emptying the sea into this little hole I've dug." The wise theologian smiled and said to himself, "I am trying to do exactly what that little girl is doing. I'm trying to crowd the infinite God into this finite mind of mine."
It is not that we cannot understand God at all. The very purpose of the Trinity is to help reveal God to us. The water in the sand hole is part of the ocean, yet not the whole of it. Out there, there is more – infinitely more. So it is with our knowledge of God.
Throughout history many analogies have been used to try to help us understand how God can be three Persons yet one God. None of these analogies is perfect, yet each helps cast some light on the mystery.
For example, a soul has three capacities: will, understanding and memory; yet it is but one soul. Water has three forms: solid (ice), liquid (water), and vapor (steam), yet its chemical composition does not change; it remains one. The sun is composed of beat, gas and a gigantic mass of matter; yet it is one. The author of "Jesus – A Dialogue With the Savior" writes, "The Father has a thought and His thought is expressed and pronounced by the Word (Jesus). And what is the Spirit? The Spirit is the breath which bears the words. He is the voice which conveys the Word. He is the tongue of fire". The work of salvation begins with the Father who "so loved the world," is realized by the Son, and is compieted by the Spirit.
All these analogies are but weak human efforts to try to understand the infinite God. Immanuel Kant said once that there are limitations to our finite minds and that with these limitations we can contemplate but not engulf that are infinite. When we come into the presence of God, we do not understand; rather, we bow in awe and cover our eyes, for His brilliance is so great as to be blinding.
THE REAL MEANING OF MYSTERY
It is good that God is so great, so high above our understanding. That is the kind of God we need, a God who cannot be captured with words, a God who stretches our thoughts so that we have to use symbols and sacraments to express Him.
But mystery is not enough. We can't live on mere mystery. Moreover, this word mystery never means sheer mystery in the New Testament. It means a divine 'secret' which it has pleased God to reveal to us; a secret so mysterious that we could never even begin to discover it for ourselves by human search, if God had not taken the initiative and given us the clue. But He has done this in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.
And that brings us to the meaning of the Holy Trinity. What does it say to us?
HOW ACCESSIBLE GOD IS
It says, first, not only how mysterious God is but how accessible. God becomes one of us in Christ. He becomes our Brother sharing our sorrows, our weaknesses, our temptations, our suffering, our death. The ancient pagan gods dwelt high on Mt. Olympus. Jesus comes to stand beside us as Immanuel: God with us. How near, how approachable, how available, how inescapable, every day, everywhere, with ordinary people in this ordinary world – this is the God who became man in Jesus; the God Who at Pentecost came as the Holy Spirit to abide within each of us filling us with the Presence and Power of God. God above us. God beside us. God within us. This is what the doctrine of the Trinity tells us. Without the Trinity God would be unknowable as well as inaccessible.
When the early fathers said that there were three "Persons" in the Godhead, they did not use the term in exactly the same way we use it when speaking of people. They used it only for the lack of another word to express what they meant. Augustine wrote, "They are certainly three, but if we ask' three what?' human speech is overcome by its great poverty. Then we say, 'three persons'; not to express the reality, but to save ourselves from silence" (De Trinitatae VII, 8). They used the word "Person" not to limit God to our level; they used it because personality was the highest they knew and God could not be less than that. He had to be more – far more! Jesus expressed this often with His words: "how much more". "If you who are evil know how to give good things to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him".
The word "Person" was chosen to help us understand that each Person of the Trinity is Someone to Whom we can speak, of Whom we can make a request, Whom we can love and with Whom we can have a personal relationship. The Trinity, then, is like the brilliant sun, impossible to gaze into, yet illuminating our knowledge of God as One Who is approachable and accessible in Christ and through the Holy Spirit.
GOD IN HIS FULLNESS
The doctrine of the Trinity preserves God in His fullness. To the Christian the word "God" by itself is too vague). The Trinity amplifies and describes God more fully. To us "God" means the Father Who loves us, the Son who saves us, the Holy Spirit Who abides within us. God the Creator. God the Redeemer. God the Inspirer. Anything less than this would not be the God of the New Testament. In the words of St. Paul, the fullness of God consists of "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit." The only way we Christians can express everything we mean by that overwhelming word "God" is to say "Father, Son and Holy Spirit." We cannot in any way speak adequately about God without speaking of Christ and the Holy Spirit in the same breath. The doctrine of the Trinity, then, preserves God in His fullness.
Bishop Theophan the Recluse has said, "We are saved by the good will of the Father through the merits of the Son by the grace of the Holy Spirit."
We need the Holy Trinity. Who is it who does not need the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ? "You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ," writes St. Paul, "that, though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty, you might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9). Who is it who does not need the love of God? "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him might not perish but have life everlasting" (John 3:16). Who is it who does not need the communion of the Holy Spirit? "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you" (Acts 1:8). Yours can be the grace of Christ, yours the love of God, yours the communion of the Holy Spirit. This is the meaning of the Trinity which sums up the whole Gospel, presenting us with the fullness of God's presence, power and love. God above me. God beside me. God inside me. The French author, Francois Mauriac, said once that no one who is created by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit can ever count himself unimportant. This is why the Church never tires of singing in gratitude: "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen."
St Irenaeus pictures the Trinity as God the Father stretching His two arms out to us in love, one arm is Jesus and the other arm is the Holy Spirit. Surely such love demands a response!
My hope is the Father,
My refuge is the Son,
My protection is the Holy Spirit,
Holy Trinity, Glory to Thee.
— An Orthodox Prayer
1. God is one. There are not a whole host of gods to be satisfied. Though He is one in substance, God has been experienced in the history of God's people as the Father Who created us. Son Who saves us, the Holy Spirit Who empowers us. He is three Persons yet one God, one substance.
2. Although the doctrine of the Trinity reveals God to us, i.e., God above us, God beside us, God within us, it also serves to hide God from us by reminding us that we shall never be able to understand God completely with our finite intelligence. No one can understand how God can be three Persons vet one God) It is a mystery.
3. The doctrine of the Trinity is anchored in Scripture (Matt. 28:19. 2Cor. 13:14).
4. The Trinity expresses the essence of our Orthodox Christian faith: the work of salvation begins with the Father who "loved the world," is realized by the Son through His death and resurrection, and is completed by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
5. The Trinity makes God knowable as Father, Son and Holy Spirit and accessible as One Who comes to us through Jesus ("God with us") and the Holy Spirit (Pentecost).
6. The word "God" is amplified and described more fully through the Trinity. The fullness of God is "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit" (2 Cor. 13:14).