In EnglishTruths we hold

“These Truths We Hold” (Part XXV)

11 Οκτωβρίου 2009
Fresco from the Holy Great Monastery of Vatopedi (Mount Athos)

Fresco from the Holy Great Monastery of Vatopedi (Mount Athos)

Continued from (Part XXIV)

Concerning the Son of God — the Savior of the World.

The teaching of faith in the Son of God — the Savior of the World — is to be found in the third to seventh articles of the Creed.

For the salvation of mankind was accomplished the great mystery of godliness (1 Tim. 3:16), the mystery of His [God’s] will (Eph. 1:9). The Only-begotten Son (John 1:18) of God, descended from Heaven, was made incarnate, was born of the Virgin Mary in the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4), and was made flesh (John 1:14). He took a human body without its sin, and a human soul, and became true Man without ceasing to be True God (Rom. 9:5).

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Two Natures — the Divine and the Human — are united without confusion, unchangea-bly, indivisibly, and inseparably in the Person of Jesus Christ. Therefore He is called the God-Man (definition of the Fourth Ecumenical Council), and His Most-pure Mother is called the Theotokos (Mother of God) (Luke 1:43), who is “more honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious, beyond compare, than the Seraphim.”

Our Lord Jesus Christ manifested His divinity in His Gospel teachings and in His many miracles which no other man did (John 15:24), in which He revealed Himself as the Lord of the visible world (John 2:1-2, Luke 8:24; Matt. 14:26; Matt. 14:15-21); the Lord of human nature (Matt. 9:20-22; 14:35-36; Luke 4:40; Matt. 20:29-34; Matt. 9:32-35; 12:22; Luke 11:14; Matt. 8:1-3); the Lord of the invisible world (Matt. 8:28-34; Luke 8:26-40); and the Lord of Life and Death (Luke 7:11-16; Matt. 9:18-19; Luke 8:49; John 11:1-45). He also manifested His divinity through other signs and miracles that occurred at various moments of His life (Matt. 3:16-17; Mark 1:10-11; Luke 3:21-22).

Yet, as Man, the Savior was exposed to various dangers (Matt. 2:13; Luke 4:29), depriva-tions and tribulations (Luke 9:58), to malice, humiliation, and persecution (Matt. 12:24; John 5:18) during His earthly life.

Having illumined men with the light of the true knowledge of God (John 1:18) and hav-ing disclosed the will of the Heavenly Father (John 6:40), Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World, accomplishing the Divine Truth which had condemned sin (1 Tim. 2:6; John 1:29), endured mocking, abuse, the Passion of the Cross and death under Pontius Pilate (Matt. 26:47-75; 27:1-66). While His Body was in the Sepulcher, Christ descended into Hell, where He freed the souls of the righteous who had awaited His coming (1 Pet. 3:18-19; Eph. 4:8-9), and on the third day after His entombment was resurrected by the power of His divinity. During the forty days after His Resurrection, the Savior appeared many times to His disciples and continued to instruct them in the mysteries of His divine Kingdom (Acts 1:3).

Having accomplished our Redemption, the Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of His disciples, ascended into Heaven (Acts 1:9) and sits at the right hand of God the Father (Mark 16:19) with honor and glory in the same Body in which He had been resurrected from the dead. The Lord ascended into Heaven as the God-Man, for as God He was always in Heaven and in every place of God’s dominion (Ps. 103:22). After His Ascension the Savior was given all power in Heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18), and through His Divine Providence He preserves His Church, in which He is present through Grace (Matt. 28:20), instructing and giving wisdom to her shepherds, through the Holy Spirit (John 16:13), to administer rightly the word of Truth. Therefore Christ’s Church cannot sin in Truth, for she is the pillar and bulwark of the Truth (I Tim. 3:15) and the Kingdom of God on earth (Mark 1:15). This grace-bestowing Kingdom shall endure (1 Cor. 15:25) until the Lord Jesus Christ comes in His glory with His angels (Matt. 25:31) to judge the living and the dead (John 5:29), after which the Kingdom of Glory and Bles-sedness shall come, and of His kingdom there shall be no end (Luke 1:33).

Concerning the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Orthodox Church confesses the Holy Spirit as the True God, the Third Person (Hypostasis) of the Holy, Consubstantial, Life-Giving and Indivisible Trinity. The Church con-firmed her hope and faith in the Holy Spirit as God in the definition of the Second Ecumenical Council (Constantinople, 381), which was convened to condemn, among other things, the heresy of Macedonius who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. This definition entered into the Creed as the eighth article.

Holy Scripture testifies to the Holy Spirit while speaking of the very beginning of Crea-tion: The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters (Gen. 1:2). Further in Holy Scripture the Holy Spirit is mentioned frequently, disclosing His divine attributes. The Holy Spirit is the True God (Acts 5:3-4). He is glorified equally with the Father and the Son (Matt. 28:19), He is All-Knowing (John 14:26; 1 Cor. 2:10-11), Everywhere-Present (Rom. 8:9), Eternal (John 14:6), and Omnipotent (1 Cor.12:7-11). Creative activity is inherent in Him (Gen. 1:2; Ps. 32:6; Job 33:4), He regenerates souls, cleanses men of their sins and sanctifies them (John 3:5-6; 1 Cor. 6:11), and is the world’s Providence (Ps. 104:30). The Creed calls the Holy Spirit the Giver of Life, because through His activity man becomes a partaker in life eternal in God.

The distinctive property of the Third Person of the Trinity — the Holy Spirit — is that He proceeds from God the Father, Who, according to St. Maximus the Confessor, “confers His one nature upon the Son and upon the Holy Spirit alike, in Whom it remains one and undivided, not distributed, while being differently conferred; for the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Fa-ther is not identical with the generation of the Son by the same Father.” The procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father is eternal and comprises the Spirit’s personal property, belonging to Him alone as the Third Person of the Trinity.

The Orthodox Church has always preserved and will continue to preserve unaltered the Undivided Church’s teaching on the Holy Spirit’s personal property — the eternal procession of the Spirit from the Father — the definition of the Second Ecumenical Council and the teaching of the Church Fathers in the spirit and power of Holy Scripture. She preserves untouched the formulation of the Creed as set out by the first two Ecumenical Councils. The Fathers of the fol-lowing Ecumenical Councils forbade any alterations in the Creed through addition or deduction of any new words.

As Holy Scripture teaches, the Father creates everything by the Son in the Holy Spirit. According to St. Cyril of Alexandria, “it is the Father Who acts, but by the Son in the Spirit; the Son also acts, but as the power of the Father, inasmuch as He is from Him and in Him according to His own Person. The Spirit also acts, for He is the All-Powerful Spirit of the Father and of the Son.”

The Holy Spirit participated with the Father and the Son in the creation of the world, for by the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth (Ps. 33:6), and of man (Gen. 1:26-27) .The Holy Spirit bore witness of Himself through the Prophets and the chosen men of God, proclaimed the Lord’s Truth and Will to God’s people, and disclosed the coming Messiah in the prototypes: No prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men, moved by the Holy Spirit, spoke from God (2 Pet. 1:21).

The action of the Holy Spirit never ceased in the world, but it was only with the coming of Christ the Savior into the world that the fullness of God’s saving grace was made accessible to men. And from His fullness have we all received, grace upon grace (John 1:16).

The Holy Spirit was revealed to the world in a special way on the day of the founding of Christ’s Church — Pentecost — when He descended upon the Holy Apostles in the form of ton-gues of fire (Acts 2). From that charismatic moment to the present the Holy Spirit abides in the Church as Christ Himself bears witness: And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Comforter, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth (John 14:16).

Everything in the Church is filled with the Holy Spirit. The action of His grace abides in every sacrament of the Church and extends to all forms of divine service. In the Holy Eucharist, the supreme sanctifying moment in the Church’s daily liturgical service, the prayers and rites are linked, above all, with the invocation of the Holy Spirit. The Church prays that through Holy Communion we may commune with the Holy Spirit; that we, having partaken of the Holy Gifts, may bear the living Christ in our hearts and be temples of the Holy Spirit.

Concerning one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

The Holy Church was founded by our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:28). The purpose of Christ’s Church is the salvation of man. It is only in the Church that full union of man and God takes place, and this union is the basic condition for salvation.

By His suffering on the Cross the Lord Jesus Christ made atonement for human sin (John 1:29; Heb. 7:27) and by His Holy Blood He founded the Church (Acts 20:28), so that in her we might live by Him and for Him (2 Cor. 5:14-15). Therefore there is no guarantee of salvation outside of the Church.

We are brought to the Church by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; for the Lord said that He would found the Church on the confession of faith (Matt. 16:18). Members of the Church are justified by God’s grace (Rom. 3:24-30) and saved by God’s power (Rom. 1:16) through faith in Christ and His Resurrection (Rom. 10:9) and by works of faith (James 2:17-26).

The Church is One as the Lord Who founded her is One (John 10:18). The Church is Ho-ly, for she lives, acts, and thinks by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5; 8:15; 9:17). The Church is Catholic, for her flock has one heart and one soul (Acts 4:32) and her catholicity is dominant. The Church is Apostolic, for she keeps the Apostolic Succession by the laying-on of hands upon the hierarchs (Acts 6:6; 14:23; 20:28), and sacredly holds the Apostolic Tradition (2 Thess. 2:15).

St. Paul calls the Church the mystical Body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23), and this definition of the Church as Christ’s Body is not a symbol or abstraction, but an expression of the Church’s real mystical life, indicating the real union of God and man in Christ.

On one hand, as founded by God, the Church received her being and exists outside the usual order of human life and cannot be compared with it because she is a phenomenon full of profound mystery. On the other hand, however, the Church is a community of people united by their Orthodox faith, its doctrine, the hierarchy, and the Sacraments. The human side is changea-ble and imperfect, but the Church is Holy and Divine because she is sanctified by the Blood of Jesus Christ and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, Who gives mankind true life in God.

The Church serves to establish the Kingdom of God on earth, for she was preordained by Christ to serve as a means of transfiguring the world in the Light of the Gospel Truth and to be-come the leaven for the Kingdom of God (Matt. 13:33). The Church is the pillar and bulwark of the truth, for she is the Church of the living God, Who is Truth itself. Therefore everything in her is true — the confession of faith, sanctification by the Sacraments, the bestowal of grace, life ac-cording to God — life upheld by God in her, God’s help and His promises. The words the pillar and bulwark express the truth’s firmness, immutability, and changelessness.

The Apostles, like Christ Himself, teach only one Church; they teach the unity of all in God: There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all (Eph. 4:4-6).

The unity of the Church is founded on the mutual love of all the members of the Church: If we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us (1 John 4:12). For it is precisely in that we share the bonds of love that we constitute the Church, the true Body of Chr-ist, and for this reason the Lord commands us to love one another (John 15:17). It is by prayer offered in unity of spirit that the unity of the Church is achieved.

The unity of the Church exists by the power of the Divine Grace in the Holy Spirit. The unity of all the members of the Church with Christ and between one another exists in its highest form in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist — in partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ: The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread (1 Cor. 10:16-17).

The unity of the Church is protected by the Canons of the Ecumenical Councils, the rules of the Holy Fathers of the Church, and Holy Tradition. The existence of Local Orthodox Churches does not contradict the unity of the Church. The fact that they are separate in their visi-ble organization does not prevent them from being spiritually larger members of the one body of the Universal Church, or from sharing the One Head, Christ, and the one spirit of faith and grace. This unity is given visible expression by a single confession of faith and by communion in prayer and the Sacraments. The Local Orthodox Churches continually maintain Eucharistic Communion, honor and respect the traditions of every Church, and always show one another their concern in mutual love.

If the Church is a unity, she is also divine and holy by her nature and essence. She was founded by our Lord Jesus Christ and sanctified by His Passion and His Holy Blood. The Church is sanctified by the power of Christ the Savior’s prayers (John 17:11-19). The Church is also holy by virtue of Christ’s teaching. Through the glad tidings of the Gospel the Lord reveals His will to men, calls them to salvation and indicates the way to salvation and sanctity (Heb. 4:12).

The Holy Spirit, dwelling permanently in the Church, fills her with His sanctifying grace (1 Cor. 12:13). The Spirit sanctifies man and awakens him to deeds of selflessness and sanctity (1 Cor. 3:16-17; Rom. 8:1-15). Divine service, the Sacraments, sermon, ritual, singing, fasting, prayer, icon, and architecture — everything bears the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit and is di-rected towards the salvation of man.

The great assembly of Saints in the Orthodox Church is a living testimony to the sanctity of the Church. This is a proof of the reality of the life and action of Divine Grace in the souls of men. The Church is also holy through the lives of those of her children who, striving for Christian perfection, have devoted themselves entirely to the fulfillment of the will of God, of His Holy Commandments.

The extent to which a person preserves his sanctity is the extent to which he remains a member of the Church. Our sinfulness is outside the Church. Some individuals remain members of Christ’s Church by virtue of the rudiments of the sanctity that is in them. That is why the process of the grace of salvation consists in our full sanctification, in the complete elimination of sin from the community of believers and from separate individuals.

Faith in the Church is not a substitute for faith in God. To believe in the Church is to be-lieve that she is the mystical Body of Christ (Eph. 1 -.22-23), that she is the concentration of grace on earth where man receives sanctification, and the abode of the grace of God throughout all ages, world without end (Matt. 16:18; 28:20; Eph. 3:21).

To have faith in the Church means to venerate in piety the true Church of Christ and to obey her teaching and commandments in the conviction that she is filled with the saving grace which guides and teaches us, and which pours forth from her One, Eternal Head — our Lord Je-sus Christ.

Because she is the Body of Christ the Church is fully in possession of all that is required for man’s sanctification and salvation through grace. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the divine Founder of the Church, Who taught men to have faith, love and charity, bade men above all to have faith in Him as their Lord. And as no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3), we must commune in the shrine in which the Holy Spirit permanently abides, and which we call the Church.

Faith in Christ leads us to the Church, and life in Christ is life in the Church. Thus, he who does not believe in the Church does not believe in God either. The Christian’s life is imposs-ible without faith in the Church, without abiding in the Church. It is impossible to understand Christ’s teaching and to commune with Christ without the Church, for our salvation is not just the reward for a righteous life, but also consists in the gradual merging of our life with the life of the Church, that is, the Body of Christ. The Church regenerates and renews all those who enter her and she vitalizes and elevates man, making him fit for a new holy life in Christ.

There is nothing accidental or arbitrary in the Church. Everything in her takes place through God’s ordination. All that has been prescribed by the Church is and must be law for each and every one of us. The Christian also believes in the Church because obedience to the Church is obedience to God, and by serving the Church he serves God and earns His approval.

The Lord inspires man with faith in the Church through His grace by drawing him into the life of the Church. The Christian feels the power of Divine Grace acting upon him through the Holy Sacraments, the rites and the whole order of Orthodox Church life; and as he lives this life man attains an unshakeable conviction of the truth of his faith in the one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

To be continued…