WHAT WE BELIEVE

By Fr John Hainsworth

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Jesus Christ

The fundamental confession of Christians about their Master is this: Jesus Christ is Lord. It begins in the gospel when Jesus himself asks his disciples who they think that He is:

But who do you say that I am? Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God" (Matt 16:16).

Jesus is the Christ. This is the first act of faith which men must make about Him. At His birth, the child of Mary is given the name Jesus, which means literally Saviour (in Hebrew Joshua, the name also of Moses' successor who crossed the Jordan River and led the chosen people into the promised land). "You will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (Matt 1:21; Luke 1:31). It is this Jesus who is the Christ, which means the Anointed, the Messiah of Israel. Jesus is the Messiah, the one promised to the world through Abraham and his children.

But who is the Messiah? This is the second question, one also asked by Christ in the gospels-this time not to his disciples, but to those who were taunting him and trying to catch him in his words. "Who is the Messiah?" he asked them, not because they could answer or really wished to know, but in order to silence them and to begin the inauguration of "the hour" for which he had come: the hour of the world's salvation.

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question saying, "What do you think of the Christ (i.e., the Messiah)? Whose Son is he?

They said to him, "The Son of David."

He said to them, "How is it then that David, inspired by the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand till I put thy enemies under thy feet" (Ps 110). If David thus calls him Lord, how is he his son?"

And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions (Matt 22:41-46).

After Jesus' resurrection, inspired by the same Holy Spirit who inspired David, the apostles and all members of the Church understood the meaning of his words. Jesus is the Christ. And the Christ is the Lord. This is the mystery of Jesus Christ the Messiah, namely that He is the One and Only Lord, identified with the God Yahweh of the Old Testament.

We saw already how Yahweh was always called Adonai, the Lord, by the people of Israel. In the Greek Bible the very word Yahweh was not even written. Instead, where the word Yahweh was written in Hebrew, and where the Jews said Adonai, the Lord, the Greek Bible simply wrote Kyrios--the Lord. Thus, the Son of David, which was another way of saying the Messiah, is called Kyrios, the Lord.

For the Jews, and indeed for the first Christians, the term Lord was proper to God alone: "God is the Lord and has revealed Himself unto us" (Ps 11:8). This Lord and God is Yahweh; and it is Jesus the Messiah as well. For although Jesus claims that "the Father is greater than I" (Jn 14:28), he claims as well: "I and the Father are one" (Jn 10:30).

Believing in "One Lord Jesus Christ" is the prime confession of faith for which the first Christians were willing to die. For it is the confession which claims the identity of Jesus with the Most High God.

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WHAT WE BELIEVE...

Scripture

The Bible is the book of sacred writings of God's People of the Old and New Testaments.

The People of God of the Old Testament were the Jews, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, whose name was changed by God to Israel (Gen 32:28). These people are also called the Hebrews. They remain forever as God's chosen people for from them "according to the flesh" Christ, the Son of God, was born (Rom 9:5). This Son of God is Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah-King of Israel and the Savior of the world (See Mt 1-2, Lk 1-2, Rom 8:3, Gal 4:4, Heb 1-5). The Old Testamental writings of the People of Israel remain forever as the Word of God for all who believe in God and wish to know His divine Truth and to do His divine Will.

The People of God of the New Testament are the Christians -- those who believe in Jesus as "the Christ, the Son of the Living God" and who belong to the Church which He has founded upon faith in Himself (See Mt 16:13-20). The People of God of the New Testament also have their holy writings which bear witness to Christ and which are affirmed to be the Word of God.

Thus, the Bible as a book, or a collection of many books, has two main parts. It has the Old Testament writings which prepare the world for the coming of Christ, and, it has the New Testament writings which testify to the fact that Christ has come and has saved the world.

The Bible is called the written Word of God. This does not mean that the Bible fell from heaven ready made. Neither does this mean that God dictated the Bible word for word to men who were merely His passive instruments. It means that God has revealed Himself as the true and living God to His People, and that as one aspect of His divine self-revelation God inspired His People to produce scriptures, i.e., writings which constitute the true and genuine expressions of His Truth and His Will for His People and for the whole world.

The words of the Bible are human words, for indeed, all words are human. They are human words, however, which God Himself inspired to be written in order to remain as the scriptural witness to Himself. As human words, the words of the Bible contain all of the marks of the men who wrote them, and of the time and the culture in which they were written. Nevertheless, in the full integrity of their human condition and form, the words of the Bible are truly the very Word of God.

The Bible is truly the Word of God in human form because its origin is not in man but in God, Who willed and inspired its creation. In this sense, the Bible is not like any other book. In the Bible, in and through the words of men, one finds the self-revelation of God and can come to a true and genuine knowledge of Him and His will and purpose for man and the world. In and through the Bible, human persons can enter into communion with God.

All scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).

It is the faith of the Orthodox Church that the Bible, as the divinely-inspired Word of God in the words of men, contains no formal errors or inner contradictions concerning the relationship between God and the world. There may be incidental inaccuracies of a non-essential character in the Bible. But the eternal spiritual and doctrinal message of God, presented in the Bible in many different ways, remains perfectly consistent, authentic, and true.

The Bible has many different human authors. Some books of the Bible do not indicate in any way who wrote them. Other books bear the names of persons to whom authorship is ascribed. In some cases it is perfectly clear that the indicated author is in fact the person who actually wrote the book with his own hands. In other cases it is as clear that the author of the book had another person do the actual writing of his work in the manner of a secretary. In still other cases it is the Tradition of the Church, and not seldom the opinion of biblical scholars, that the indicated author of a given book of the Bible is not the person (or persons) who wrote it, but the person who originally inspired its writing, whose name is then attached to it as its author.

In a number of instances the Tradition of the Church is not clear about the authorship of certain books of the Bible, and in many cases biblical scholars present innumerable theories about authorship which they then debate among themselves. It is impossible to establish the authorship of any book of the Bible by scholarship, however, since historical and literary studies are relative by nature.

Because the Orthodox Church teaches that the entire Bible is inspired by God Who in this sense is its one original author, the Church Tradition considers the identity of the human authors as incidental to the correct interpretation and proper significance of the books of the Bible for the believing community. In no case would the Church admit that the identity of the author determines the authenticity or validity of a book which is viewed as part of the Bible, and under no circumstances would it be admitted that the value or the proper understanding and use of any book of the Bible in the Church depends on the human writer alone.

The Bible is the book of sacred writings for God's People, the Church. It was produced in the Church, by and for the Church, under divine inspiration as an essential part of the total reality of God's covenant relationship with His People. It is the authentic Word of God for those who belong to God's chosen assembly of believers, to the Israel of old and to the Church of Christ today and forever.

The Bible lives in the Church. It comes alive in the Church and has the most profound divine meaning for those who are members of the community which God has established, in which He dwells, and to which, through His Word and His Spirit, He has given Himself for participation, communion and life everlasting. Outside of the total life and experience of the community of faith, which is the Church of Christ, "the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15) no one can truly understand and correctly interpret the Bible.

First of all you must understand that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Pet 1:20).

Scholars of the Bible can help men to understand its divine contents and meaning. Through their archeological, historical, and literary studies they can offer much light to the words of the scriptures. But by themselves and by their academic work alone, no men can produce the proper interpretation of the Bible. Only Christ, the living and personal Word of God, Who comes from the Father and lives in His Church through the Holy Spirit, can make God known and can give the right understanding of the scriptural Word of God.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. ... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. ... For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known (Jn 1:1-18).

Jesus Christ, the Word of God in human flesh, alone makes God known. And Jesus, besides being Himself the living incarnation of God, the living fulfillment of the law and the prophets (Mt 5:17), is also the One by whom the Bible is rightly interpreted.

And [being risen from the dead] he said to them, "O foolish men and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?"

And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself (Lk 24:25-27).

And he said to them, "These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. ... (Lk 24:44-45; also Jn 5:45-47).

Jesus Christ remains forever in His Church by the Holy Spirit to open men's minds to understand the Bible (Jn 14.26, 16:13). Only within Christ's Church, in the community of faith, of grace, and of truth, can men filled with the Holy Spirit understand the meaning and purpose of the Bible's holy words. Thus, speaking about those who do not believe in Jesus as the Messiah, the apostle Paul contends that when they read the Bible a "veil" hides its true meaning from them "because only through Christ is it taken away" (2 Cor 3:14).

Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their minds; but when a man turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all [i.e. believers in Christ] with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. Therefore, ... we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God (2 Cor 3:15-4:4).

In the New Testament, Christ not only provides the correct interpretation of the Bible, He also allows the believers themselves to be directly enlightened by the Holy Spirit and to be themselves "the letter from Christ. ... written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts" (2 Cor 3:3). Thus is fulfilled the prediction of the old covenant that in the time of the Messiah "they all shall be taught of God" by direct divine inspiration and instruction (Jn 6.45, Isa 54:13, Ezek 36:26, Jer 31:31, Joel 2:28, Micah 4:2, et. al.). It is only within the living Tradition of the Church under the direct inspiration of Christ's Spirit that the proper interpretation of the Bible can be made.


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WHAT WE BELIEVE...

The Divine Liturgy

The word liturgy means common work or common action. The Divine Liturgy is the common work of the Orthodox Church. It is the official action of the Church formally gathered together as the chosen People of God. The word church, as we remember, means a gathering or assembly of people specifically chosen and called apart to perform a particular task.

The Divine Liturgy is the common action of Orthodox Christians officially gathered to constitute the Orthodox Church. It is the action of the Church assembled by God in order to be together in one community to worship, to pray, to sing, to hear God's Word, to be instructed in God's commandments, to offer itself with thanksgiving in Christ to God the Father, and to have the living experience of God's eternal kingdom through communion with the same Christ Who is present in his people by the Holy Spirit.

The Divine Liturgy is always celebrated by Orthodox Christians on the Lord's Day which is Sunday, the "day after Sabbath" which is symbolic of the first day of creation and the last day -- or as it is called in Holy Tradition, the eighth day -- of the Kingdom of God. This is the day of Christ's resurrection from the dead, the day of God's judgment and victory predicted by the prophets, the Day of the Lord which inaugurates the presence and the power of the "kingdom to come" already now within the life of this present world.

The Divine Liturgy is also celebrated by the Church on special feast days. It is usually celebrated daily in monasteries, and in some large cathedrals and parish churches, with the exception of the week days of Great Lent when it is not served because of its paschal character.

As the common action of the People of God, the Divine Liturgy may be celebrated only once on any given day in an Orthodox Christian community. All of the members of the Church must be gathered together with their pastor in one place at one time. This includes even small children and infants who participate fully in the communion of the liturgy from the day of their entrance into the Church through baptism and chrismation. Always everyone, always together. This is the traditional expression of the Orthodox Church about the Divine Liturgy.

Because of its common character, the Divine Liturgy may never be celebrated privately by the clergy alone. It may never be served just for some and not for others, but for all. It may never be served merely for some private purposes or some specific or exclusive intentions. Thus there may be, and usually are, special petitions at the Divine Liturgy for the sick or the departed, or for some very particular purposes or projects, but there is never a Divine Liturgy which is done exclusively for private individuals or specific isolated purposes or intentions. The Divine Liturgy is always "on behalf of all and for all."

Because the Divine Liturgy exists for no other reason than to be the official all-inclusive act of prayer, worship, teaching, and communion of the entire Church in heaven and on earth, it may not be considered merely as one devotion among many, not even the highest or the greatest. The Divine Liturgy is not an act of personal piety. It is not a prayer service. It is not merely one of the sacraments. The Divine Liturgy is the one common sacrament of the very being of the Church Itself. It is the one sacramental manifestation of the essence of the Church as the Community of God in heaven and on earth. It is the one unique sacramental revelation of the Church as the mystical Body and Bride of Christ.

As the central mystical action of the whole church, the Divine Liturgy is always resurrectional in spirit. It is always the manifestation to his people of the Risen Christ. It is always an outpouring of the life-creating Spirit. It is always communion with God the Father. The Divine Liturgy, therefore, is never mournful or penitential. It is never the expression of the darkness and death of this world. It is always the expression and the experience of the eternal life of the Kingdom of the Blessed Trinity.

The Divine Liturgy celebrated by the Orthodox Church is called the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. It is a shorter liturgy than the so-called Liturgy of St. Basil the Great that is used only ten times during the Church Year. These two liturgies probably received their present form after the ninth century. It is not the case that they were written exactly as they now stand by the saints whose names they carry. It is quite certain, however, that the eucharistic prayers of each of these liturgies were formulated as early as the fourth and fifth centuries when these saints lived and worked in the Church.

The Divine Liturgy has two main parts. The first part is the gathering, called the synaxis. It has its origin in the synagogue gatherings of the Old Testament, and is centered in the proclamation and meditation of the Word of God. The second part of the Divine Liturgy is the eucharistic sacrifice. It has its origin in the Old Testament temple worship, the priestly sacrifices of the People of God; and in the central saving event of the Old Testament, the Passover (Pascha).

In the New Testament Church Jesus Christ is the Living Word of God, and it is the Christian gospels and apostolic writings which are proclaimed and meditated at the first part of the Divine Liturgy. And in the New Testament Church, the central saving event is the one perfect, eternal and all-sufficient sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the one great High Priest who is also the Lamb of God slain for the salvation of the world, the New Passover. At the Divine Liturgy the faithful Christians participate in the voluntary self-offering of Christ to the Father, accomplished once and for all upon the Cross by the power of the Holy Spirit. In and through this unique sacrifice of Christ, the faithful Christians receive Holy Communion with God.

For centuries it was the practice of the Church to admit all persons to the first part of the Divine Liturgy, while reserving the second part strictly for those who were formally committed to Christ through baptism and chrismation in the Church. Non-baptized persons were not permitted even to witness the offering and receiving of Holy Communion by the faithful Christians. Thus the first part of the Divine Liturgy came to be called the Liturgy of the Catechumens, that is, the liturgy of those who were receiving instructions in the Christian Faith in order to become members of the Church through baptism and chrismation. It also came to be called, for obvious reasons, the Liturgy of the Word. The second part of the Divine Liturgy came to be called the Liturgy of the Faithful.

Although it is generally the practice in the Orthodox Church today to allow non-Orthodox Christians, and even non-Christians, to witness the Liturgy of the Faithful, it is still the practice to reserve actual participation in the sacrament of Holy Communion only to members of the Orthodox Church who are fully committed to the life and teachings of the Orthodox Faith as preserved, proclaimed and practiced by the Church throughout its history.

In the commentary on the Divine Liturgy which follows, we will concentrate our attention on what happens to the Church at its "common action." By doing this we will attempt to penetrate the fundamental and essential meaning of the liturgy for man, his life and his world. This will be a definite departure from the interpretation of the Divine Liturgy which treats the service as if it were a drama enacted by the clergy and "attended" by the people, in which each part stands for some aspect of Christ's life and work. (e.g., the prothesis stands for Christ's birth, the small entrance for the beginning of his public ministry, the gospel for his preaching, the great entrance for Palm Sunday, etc.) This latter type of interpretation of the Divine Liturgy is an invention, which, although perhaps interesting and inspiring for some, is nevertheless completely alien to the genuine meaning and purpose of the Divine Liturgy in the Orthodox Church.

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WHAT WE BELIEVE...

The Church

... In one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church ...

Church as a word means those called as a particular people to perform a particular task. The Christian Church is the assembly of God's chosen people called to keep his word and to do his will and his work in the world and in the heavenly kingdom.

In the Scriptures the Church is called the Body of Christ (Rom 12; 1 Cor 10, 12; Col 1) and the Bride of Christ (Eph 5; Rev 21). It is likened as well to God's living Temple (Eph 2; 1 Pet 2) and is called "the pillar and bulwark of Truth" (1 Tim 3:15).

One Church

The Church is one because God is one, and because Christ and the Holy Spirit are one. There can only be one Church and not many. And this one Church, because its unity depends on God, Christ, and the Spirit, may never be broken. Thus, according to Orthodox doctrine, the Church is indivisible; men may be in it or out of it, but they may not divide it.

According to Orthodox teaching, the unity of the Church is man's free unity in the truth and love of God. Such unity is not brought about or established by any human authority or juridical power, but by God alone. To the extent that men are in the truth and love of God, they are members of His Church.

Orthodox Christians believe that in the historical Orthodox Church there exists the full possibility of participating totally in the Church of God, and that only sins and false human choices (heresies) put men outside of this unity. In non-Orthodox Christian groups the Orthodox claim that there are certain formal obstacles, varying in different groups, which, if accepted and followed by men, will prevent their perfect unity with God and will thus destroy the genuine unity of the Church (e.g., the papacy in the Roman Church).

Within the unity of the Church man is what he is created to be and can grow for eternity in divine life in communion with God through Christ in the Holy Spirit. The unity of the Church is not broken by time or space and is not limited merely to those alive upon the earth. The unity of the Church is the unity of the Blessed Trinity and of all of those who live with God: the holy angels, the righteous dead, and those who live upon the earth according to the commandments of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Holy Church

The Church is holy because God is holy, and because Christ and the Holy Spirit are holy. The holiness of the Church comes from God. The members of the Church are holy to the extent that they live in communion with God.

Within the earthly Church, people participate in God's holiness. Sin and error separate them from this divine holiness as it does from the divine unity. Thus, the earthly members and institutions of the Church cannot be identified as such with the Church as holy.

The faith and life of the Church on earth is expressed in its doctrines, sacraments, scriptures, services, and saints which maintain the Church's essential unity, and which can certainly be affirmed as "holy" because of God's presence and action in them.

Catholic Church

The Church is also catholic because of its relation to God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. The word catholic means full, complete, whole, with nothing lacking. God alone is full and total reality; in God alone is there nothing lacking.

Sometimes the catholicity of the Church is understood in terms of the Church's universality throughout time and space. While it is true that the Church is universal -- for all men at all times and in all places -- this universality is not the real meaning of the term "catholic" when it is used to define the Church. The term "catholic" as originally used to define the Church (as early as the first decades of the second century) was a definition of quality rather than quantity. Calling the Church catholic means to define how it is, namely, full and complete, all-embracing, and with nothing lacking.

Even before the Church was spread over the world, it was defined as catholic. The original Jerusalem Church of the apostles, or the early city-churches of Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, or Rome, were catholic. These churches were catholic -- as is each and every Orthodox church today -- because nothing essential was lacking for them to be the genuine Church of Christ. God Himself is fully revealed and present in each church through Christ and the Holy Spirit, acting in the local community of believers with its apostolic doctrine, ministry (hierarchy), and sacraments, thus requiring nothing to be added to it in order for it to participate fully in the Kingdom of God.

To believe in the Church as catholic, therefore, is to express the conviction that the fullness of God is present in the Church and that nothing of the "abundant life" that Christ gives to the world in the Spirit is lacking to it (Jn 10:10). It is to confess exactly that the Church is indeed "the fullness of him who fills all in all" (Eph 1:23; also Col 2:10).

The Apostolic Church

The word apostolic describes that which has a mission, that which has "been sent" to accomplish a task.

Christ and the Holy Spirit are both "apostolic" because both have been sent by the Father to the World. It is not only repeated in the Scripture on numerous occasions how Christ has been sent by the Father, and the Spirit sent through Christ from the Father, but it also has been recorded explicitly that Christ is "the apostle ... of our confession" (Heb 3:1).

As Christ was sent from God, so Christ Himself chose and sent His apostles. "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you ... receive ye the Holy Spirit," the risen Christ says to His disciples. Thus, the apostles go out to the world, becoming the first foundation of the Christian Church.

In this sense, then, the Church is called apostolic: first, as it is built upon Christ and the Holy Spirit sent from God and upon those apostles who were sent by Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit; and secondly, as the Church in its earthly members is itself sent by God to bear witness to His Kingdom, to keep His word and to do His will and His works in this world.

Orthodox Christians believe in the Church as they believe in God and Christ and the Holy Spirit. Faith in the Church is part of the creedal statement of Christian believers. The Church is herself an object of faith as the divine reality of the Kingdom of God given to men by Christ and the Holy Spirit; the divine community founded by Christ against which "the gates of hell shall not prevail" (Mt 16:18).

The Church, and faith in the Church, is an essential element of Christian doctrine and life. Without the Church as a divine, mystical, sacramental, and spiritual reality, in the midst of the fallen and sinful world there can be no full and perfect communion with God. The Church is God's gift to the world. It is the gift of salvation, of knowledge and enlightenment, of the forgiveness of sins, of the victory over darkness and death. It is the gift of communion with God through Christ and the Holy Spirit. This gift is given totally, once and for all, with no reservations on God's part. It remains forever, until the close of the ages: invincible and indestructible. Men may sin and fight against the Church, believers may fall away and be separated from the Church, but the Church itself, the "pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15) remains forever.

... [God] has put all things under His [Christ's] feet and has made Him the head over all things for the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

... for through Him we ... have access in one Spirit, to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow-citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

... Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that he might sanctify her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish ... This is a Great Mystery ... Christ and the Church ...
(Eph 1:21-23; 2:19-22; 5:25-32).