Frequently Asked Questions
|What is 'unconditional love'?
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God: and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8
“God is love.” This is the one and only confession about the nature of God in the Holy Scriptures. It is also clear, from the Scriptures and from simply observing the wonder of creation that the motivation for God behind creation and redemption is Love. God creates everything visible and invisible out of nothing (Rom 4:17; Heb 11:3) and this, so the Holy Fathers taught was out of his love for all things, and not by any provocation or necessity. There was no motivation as to why He created, except love, and precisely love for humankind, ‘for whom he created the world’ (Liturgy of St Basil). And the only condition or expectation that God has from human beings is our love (Deut 6:5). From the very beginning, God reveals his Love as a Communion of Persons (Gen 1:26 Let Us make man in our image, according to Our Likeness…) The human person is also created in the image of God (Gen 1:26), and thus according to the Holy Fathers is the only creature called to be like God by grace, and therefore capable of knowing and sharing the love of God.
After the Fall, humankind lost this love and fell out of communion with God. The Prophet Jeremiah, lamenting the faithlessness of Israel, after experiencing the darkest hour of his people with the destruction of the Holy City, nevertheless hoped for salvation. He was convinced of God’s faithful love, “Thus says the Lord... “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” (Jer 31:3). This love, spoken of by the prophet culminated and reached its fullest expression through the sending of God’s Son to save the world through the Cross on Golgotha;
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (Jn 3:16-17)
This mystery reveals God’s love for humankind in a most radical way through the incarnation, death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is a practical, concrete expression of love, through which human beings encounter the mystery of God the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. (cf. Rev 1:4-6)
“Commemorating, the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection on the third day.” (Anamnesis of the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom), Christians are called to offer themselves in reasonable worship to God who ‘empties himself’ (Phil 2:5-8) for our salvation, and to offer themselves to their fellow human beings in imitation of this love which bears no expectation on the one who receives this love. To communicate this mystery St Paul, preached the ‘foolishness of the Cross’ (1 Cor 1:18) which reveals God’s radical love or man and salvation by Grace, of every human person, through faith (Rm 3:24): this saving faith being lived out and fulfilled through works of love (Gal 5:6)
Of this knowledge of God through this otherworldly love, Elder Porphyrios wrote;
“Love for Christ is something else. It is without end, without satiety. It gives life; it gives strength; it gives health; it gives, gives, gives. And the more it gives, the more the person wishes to fall in love.”
Shortly before his death, the Lord also gave this injunction to His Disciples; “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (Jn 13:34) Just before his death, Jesus forgave the penitent thief at his dying confession (cf. Lk 23:39-43) thus demonstrating the unconditional love of God for even the worst penitent sinner.
At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was sent upon the Church to guide her by making the love of the Lord present through the ages. (cf. Jn 16:13-14), and visibly throughout the Holy Sacraments. The same elder Porphyrios said that our relation to Christ is through love, and it is through love that we approach the Sacraments.
One way in which the Church describes this relationship, through her liturgy and spirituality is through the New Testament metaphor of marriage. Christ is the Bridegroom. The Church is His Bride.
With Christ, the Heavenly Bridegroom, at the centre, the life of the Christian changes. He enters into the mystery of death and resurrection of Christ, through Baptism and becomes one spirit with Him (1 Cor 6:17). St Paul said, “It is no longer I who live; Christ lives in me.” (Gal 2:20)
God’s love is revealed to all who are willing to accept it, through His Word, through His Creation, through the Church, as a gift. We are called to imitate this love in our life.
Why do I need to go to Church in order to believe in Christ?
The prevailing image of the Church amongst most people today is that of an organized religion with a distinct code of rules, a conglomeration of laws and complex structures. The Church is simply thought to be an institution in society alongside other institutions fulfilling the needs of people side by side with other entities like business, government, labor and entertainment. These people are happy to allot a role to the Church as long as it does not interfere in the functions of the other agencies. However, understood only as a society, entirely integrated in the world, the Church can lose its world-transforming power if it remains a mere institution alongside others. On the other hand, other people believe that Jesus did leave the keys to His kingdom to the Church as we read in St Matthew's Gospel (cf 16.9), but it would appear to them today, that the Church has lost those keys. And for this reason you hear many people say, "Jesus yes, Church no!"
But the Church is not a mere human society but has both a human and divine character. The Church is Christ throughout the ages; it is the body of Christ present in the world today. For this reason, whilst it is true that the Church is in the world, it is something more - it is the body of Christ – that is, God incarnate "prolonged unto the ages". And one needs to be in communion participating in the life of this body if one wants to be considered a member of the Church. Christianity is not simply knowing certain facts about Christ but experiencing Him through the life in the Church; by literally "eating and drinking" Christ Himself in the gift of Holy Communion.
It becomes apparent just how important it is to participate in the very life of the Church. One needs to be grafted upon the Church which and not stand afar simply knowing certain facts about it. Just like any organ or part of our body, as healthy as it may be in itself, cannot exist isolated from all other parts of the body, since there is an interdependence between all parts of our body, so too, human persons, as healthy as they may think they are alone, need one another if they want to live the fullness of life and not just survive. To be part of this body means precisely a distinct way of existing whereby we commune life; that is we exist only because we participate in the life-giving unity of the unified body.
It is not our individual virtues or attributes which will save us but our participation in the body of Christ which is the Church. And the centre of this communion is the Eucharist where we share the common nourishment of life; that is the body and blood of Christ which the fathers of the Church have called the bread of immortality. In this way, not only can we become one with Christ but we become one with all those present in this communal event. The human person must overcome this false sense of security that it is better to remain alone since there is no danger in getting hurt because living life in this way, totally isolated from others, leads to our death whilst still alive. Rather, the true destiny of human persons is to exist the way God exists, that is free - free from the bounds of death; loving - that is ceasing to draw their existence from their individuality which is corrupt and mortal and instead seeking the freedom of personal relationships - a life as communion of love.
What true sense of comfort and peace of mind being in this sign of solidarity between those around us. The greatest gift that the Church gives us is not simply teachings about Christ and salvation but Christ Himself and salvation itself since God promises that He is present in His Church. I end with a beautiful quote from Genesis regarding the Church: "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!" (Gen 28:17)
If God loves us, why does he allow suffering?
Firstly, we must remember that many times we all worry over things that we do not need to worry about. We may think we are suffering, whereas in reality we are worrying unnecessarily. It has been said: “If someone throws a dagger at you, it makes all the difference if you catch it by the blade or catch it by the handle.” Two people may be going through the same illness or other hardship, one may see it as a catastrophe, and the other may be a lot more patient and at peace.
Secondly it needs to be acknowledged that a lot of suffering occurs because of the faults and shortcomings of others. Some people are difficult to live with, cannot accept that they are wrong, have a huge temper, are selfish, greedy, etc. If God had pre-programmed all of us to be considerate, loving, humble etc, there would be a lot less suffering in the world. In response we need to explain that God has created us free, and that there is an enormous beauty in freedom.
On this issue of the trials we go through due to others we need to point out that the Fathers of our Church encourage us to actually see these trials as a type of blessing. For example if someone criticizes us we could respond with anger, or by becoming depressed. It is better however to realise that by being criticized we are being helped to achieve something we all desperately need: humility. If someone does something very unfair to us, again this has the potential to help us grow spiritually.
We can struggle to forgive them, and have the faith that God will bring justice. In general, if we are patient and tolerant with difficult people we are on the road that the saints walked on, a road that leads to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Why does God, who loves us so much, allow suffering? A number of points need to be raised:
1. We have been assured by the Bible that if God has allowed us to go through suffering, He knows that it is not greater than our ability to cope with it. “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under
it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
2. God knows better than us what is good for us.
3. A few years of suffering, even decades of suffering, is very tiny compared to eternity of happiness in Heaven, and if our patience helps to lead us to heaven, then it is worth it.
4. We can grow through suffering. Our Archbishop Stylianos once said, “There is a secret law, that God has put into the depths of his creations: that they will discover their best self not when they have worldly ease and wealth, but through suffering, poverty and humility. When the olive is beaten, it produces oil, when the oyster is injured, it produces a pearl.” Through suffering our eyes can open, we can realize things that previously we just could not comprehend. Through suffering can come character. “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3)
5. No-one can comfort another person who is suffering as well as someone who has suffered themselves.
Some atheists use science to say our “faith is a delusion”. How can we respond?
If we think deeply and sincerely, and meditate on we see and feel around us and within us, then we could suspect that being an atheist is a delusion. Indeed, to believe that all that we see around us and within us is simply here by an enormous fluke, that we are part of a vast and purposeless universe, is surely a lot harder to believe than belief in God. Deep inside us we all have an intuition, something that we cannot express in words or with reasoning, that there is a purpose to life, that the beauty we can experience cannot be there by a fluke, and that there is a God. As the famous mathematician Pascal once said, “The heart has its reasons that reason knows not.”
Some of you may be thinking that the beauty of nature etc does not prove that God exists, because science has been able to explain how this diversity and order came about. It is true that science has offered explanations for a lot of phenomena, however as science progresses it has introduced new questions, and many good scientists feel that science has if anything increased their faith in God. For example, in recent years physicists have realised that the universe contains some very basic constants, for example the speed of light, the force that binds protons and neutrons together, and if these were even a fraction of a percent different then there would be no solar system, no life. The probability of all these constants being “just right” to enable planets to go around the sun, to enable the formation of carbon, and ultimately to make life possible is so incredibly unlikely that it seems absurd to believe that it all happened without a creator. The most remarkable molecule in the universe is without a doubt DNA.
Evolution cannot explain the formation of DNA, this molecule, and the fact that it very occasionally makes a mistake when it replicates, is the basis of evolution. It has been worked out by scientists that the chance of random chemical reactions forming DNA is 10 40,000. This number is really huge! The number of atoms is the universe is about 1080!
If you are an atheist then you would have to believe that the mind is explained only by the electrical circuits that occur in your brain, you would not believe in the soul. In recent times philosophers and brain scientists have increasingly delved into this difficult area. They have identified what they call the “hard problem.” Aspects of the mind such as memory, the ability to play chess, etc, are not trivial but not “hard”. For example computers can play chess and have memory. What is “hard” to understand, and what no computer can do, is aspects of the mind such as self awareness. What we can be more sure about than anything else is the fact that we are aware of our own selves, we can not only think and love and feel, we are also aware of ourselves thinking and feeling these things. No computer can do this. Is this self awareness due to physical circuits in my brain? If we think deeply about these things - think about our own thinking - then we can come to a conviction that surely we have inside us something that is beyond the physical, what we in the Church call soul.
There is a lot more one could say, but space does not permit. Many of the readers of this article may have experienced miracles in their lives, very many of you may have experienced how beautiful it is to be a Christian, how the ways of the Bible and of the Church really work, really do bring peace and happiness, a peace that is different to what the world offers (John 14:27).
Ultimately, what can lead us to true and genuine faith, a faith that can change our lives and make us want to give ourselves to the Church and into the hands of Jesus, is not scientific or philosophical arguments, but the Grace of God. Faith is a gift - a gift to the humble and to the genuine and sincere.
What is the Orthodox Church?
The Emperor Constantine having brought the persecutions of the Christians to an end, brought at the same time peace to the Church. But this was not to last.
The Church was now facing enemies not from the outside but from inside. These were the heretics, who although Christians were altering the teachings of the Church, by mixing them with their own distorted ideas. And what is more they were spreading those ideas with great fanaticism.
A Heresy consists of teachings that are contrary to the official teachings of the whole Church. The first and most serious of the heresies was that taught by Arius, a Christian priest from Alexandria.
He was teaching that our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was not equal to God the Father, but that He was the most perfect being created by God before the creation of the world. The ideas of Arius were condemned by the local Synod of Alexandria, but his teachings were spreading like bushfire, threatening the unity of the Church as well of the Empire. To restore the peace of both, the pious Emperor Constantine, called all the Bishops of the universal Church to a Synod - the first Ecumenical Synod - which took place in Nicene (Nikaia), a town near Constantinople, in the year 325 AD.
The 318 holy Fathers of the Church who took part in the Synod, declared with the help of the Holy Spirit " that Jesus Christ is God and of the same substance as the Father, without beginning and eternal ". The Synod also formulated the first seven articles of the Creed (the Nicean Creed), which deal with the essence of the Father and the Son.
The holy Fathers condemned Arius and his teachings, but he remained unrepentant, and was exiled by the Emperor. The followers of Arius continued to cause upheaval in the Church, and peace was only restored when the Emperor, Theodosius the Great, imposed the decisions of the Synod as obligatory for everyone, thus establishing the triumph of the Orthodox Faith!
What is the Priesthood?
The sacrament of the Priesthood, was instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ, when He selected His Apostles to be his successors and those who were to continue His work on earth. The priests (clergy) are themselves the successors of the Apostles to this day.
The ordination of a cleric (bishop, priest or deacon) takes place during the Divine Liturgy.
Priests can only be ordained by a bishop, who places his hands upon the head of the upon him so he can fulfil his vocation. However, it is the High Priest, Jesus Christ, who actually performs the sacraments through His Holy Spirit, whilst the priests are His visible servants on earth for the performance of these sacraments.
There are three offices of the priesthood: -
1. Bishop - He can perform all the sacraments, especially that of ordination of the clergy. He is obliged to teach the people the truth of the Gospel, maintain correctly the teachings (dogmas) of the Church, and govern his diocese not only in spiritual but also in practical matters.
2. Priest - He can perform all the sacraments except that of ordination, and hear the confessions of the faithful, after special permission by the bishop.
3. Deacon - He helps the bishop or the priest to perform the sacraments, but he himself cannot alone perform any of them.
The office of the clergy is enormously responsible and their calling is directly from God, so the faithful have a duty to obey them, support them and honour them.
Are Orthodox Christians?
Yes, we are Christian because Christ is the head of our Church and the reason for our existence. Orthodox is a Greek word meaning "right worship" and "right faith." Greek, Russian, Serbian, Romanian, Antiochian Orthodox etc. are all the same faith. The only difference is the language. The Orthodox Church is actually a 'family' of churches, consisting of many jurisdictions (or ethnic groups if you will). At the same time, the Orthodox Church is not a 'country club'. You are welcome regardless of where your parents, grandparents or ancestors came from. Just keep the Gospel of Jesus Christ first and foremost.
Do you have to confess your sins to a priest?
No. You confess your sins to God in the presence of a priest who will help you overcome them and proclaim God's forgiveness, as promised in Holy Scripture.
Jesus tells His disciples to hear the sins of the people and impart His forgiveness, just like at the Last Supper He tells them to perform what we know as the Eucharist and Holy Communion. Confession was a public part of Christian life in the early Church. In his epistle, James teaches his readers to "confess to one another" (James 5:16). In fact, in the early Christian Church, confession was public. Secret and private confession (at home by oneself) is a modern idea completely unknown in the Bible and throughout Christian history. A Confession which is not made before God, humanity and creation, is no confession at all. This is the Orthodox Faith.
In the early Church, confession was made to the whole congregation. Afterwards the priest read a prayer over the person which manifested God's forgiveness. With time this practice became difficult to keep up because of growth in Church membership. Confession to the whole congregation ceased by the fourth century and the priest came to represent the whole congregation in Confession.
The priest would hear the person's sins, offer guidance and encouragement and then pray over the person. This is how confession is still practised today. Confession is totally based on the Bible and Holy Tradition.
All right, now on to your worship. Why are your churches and services so elaborate?
The first thing you notice when you visit us is that Orthodox worship engages the five senses. The burning candles and oil lamps, colour, form, symmetry, the touch of icons, the smell of incense, the sounds of the chanting, the taste of Christ's Body & Blood in Holy Communion- all serve to focus our entire being on the worship of the living God. Corporate worship does not simply mean we worship with our ears and minds (by simply listening to the 'preacher'). This is how worship has been since Apostolic times - worshipping with the WHOLE being. In terms of aesthetic beauty, we feel it necessary to adorn the house of God more so than our own place of dwelling for the simple fact that we love Him.
Why are there so many 'pictures' around The Church?
We read in the Epistle to the Hebrews (12:1-4) that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (literally, the martyrs) who watch after us and urge us on in our race towards Christ. We believe that the saints who have already run their race on earth indeed surround us - as in a stadium where the crowd urges the athlete on. In our homes as well as our churches, Orthodox Christians image this reality through the placement of icons.
I was told that the Orthodox worship pictures. Isn't that against the Commandments?
Sorry, you were told wrong! The Holy Icons ("pictures") are honoured as reminders of the Glory and Presence of God, and venerated as such. ONLY God, the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are due worship. (How can the Church practice that is so contrary to God's Law?) That is one reason you will find no statues in Orthodox temples - their inclusion in our tradition never developed as that too closely resembled the pagan piety of the early days of our Church, during the time of the Apostles. But icons, rather than attempting to depict reality, point to the Kingdom of God. They are often referred to as "picture windows to Heaven". In other words, you will not only hear the Gospel in an Orthodox Church, you will see it! The icons act as "tools" in our spiritual worship and witness to the sanctification of all creation and matter that occurred when Christ Jesus, the Son of God, took on human flesh. The Divine/Human Person of Jesus became the living icon of God (John 10:30; 14:6-11) in the flesh. With regard to the use of icons transgressing the second commandment of the decalogue, it must be remembered that Christ has already fulfilled the law under the Old Covenant and therefore the Commandments of old need to been seen now in the light of the New Covenant. The Church has already dealt with those who disagreed with or could not understand the place of icons (ie: the 'iconoclasts') in the 8th Century through the decisions of the 7th Ecumenical Council.
You keep mentioning "The Church" over and over again. Why?
Basically, Jesus Christ did not come to establish such a thing as "Christianity". Even the word is not in the Holy Scriptures. What Christ Jesus did do was to establish the Church, which Scripture calls both His Body and His Bride. The communion which man seeks with God is found by being part of the Church, something which St. Paul calls a "great mystery", whereby we become members of Christ: "of His flesh, and of His bones." (Ephesians 5:30) The Bible also tells us that such as were being saved were added to the Church (Acts 2:47). They were not merely making "decisions for Christ" -- again, not a Scriptural term -- but they were repenting, being baptised for the remission of their sins, and being added to the Church. (Acts 2:38 ff.) There, they were continuing steadfastly in the Apostle's doctrine and fellowship, the Breaking of Bread (what is commonly called Holy Communion today), and prayer. Finally, from the day of Pentecost, the "birthday" of the Church, the Bible never speaks of Christians who were not a part of it. This sort of sums up why we speak so much of "The Church".
Why haven't I heard of the Orthodox Church before?
Beats me! It's been around since the day of Pentecost (circa 33AD). You probably haven't heard about it because we are a conservative Church that sounds no trumpets in our social programs but rather attempts to lead individuals, each in his or her own circumstances, into communion with God, the very purpose for which the Church exists. Believe it or not, there are at least 250 million Orthodox Christians throughout the world.
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Teachings Of Orthodoxy
| What does `Theotokos' mean?
Although this term refers to the Virgin Mary, it is in fact a statement of conviction about who we believe Christ to be.
The Greek term ‘Theotokos’ literally means ‘the one who gave birth to God’. We thereby confess our faith that Christ is not simply an enlightened teacher or prophet. Nor is He a human being who somehow ‘achieved’ divinity through His life and work. Rather, He is God in the flesh. He became a full human being, like us, without for a moment ceasing to be fully divine.
The Holy Mother of God is therefore always seen in relation to Christ Whom she brought into the world, through the will of the Father, in the Holy Spirit.
It was through her that the Incarnation took place. The eternal Son of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, became human and entered time, born as a human Child.
Thus, He who is born beyond time from the Father without a mother, was born in time from a Mother without a father.
It is an incomprehensible mystery. And it is a cause for the faithful to glorify God. In every Church Service, we hear this term of honour repeated time and again whenever the Mother of God is referred to.
It is worth recalling that Elizabeth pre-empted the title Theotokos when she greeted Mary as “the mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:43) soon after the Annunciation. The Holy Virgin then prophesied that “all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). This scriptural passage magnifying God’s divine plan is joyfully chanted at every Orthros Service to this day.
In short, to describe the Holy Mother of God as ‘Theotokos’ is not a ‘diversion’ from Christ, but a re-affirmation of our devotion to Him.
How does one enter the Orthodox Church?
It is a matter of fact that more and more people in the Western societies, from all walks of life and mostly intellectuals, become interested in Orthodoxy. Incarnating the original message of the Gospel and exploring it within various historical, cultural and geographical contexts, the Orthodox tradition exerts ineffable attraction upon those looking for more spiritual ways. The secret of its success lays in the fact that Orthodoxy ultimately is, if anything, the ‘newness of life’ (Romans 6:4), the supreme celebration of life and restoration of its fullness in light of the traditional apostolic criteria, in Christ’s Holy Spirit. Its message, consequently, is not exhaustible by any ideological statements or ethicist commandments, since within the frame of Orthodoxy both faith and life are being intricately interconnected. Paraphrasing the words of St John Chrysostom, Orthodoxy illustrates excellently the application of the following principle: ‘your life should reflect your teachings; your teachings should preach your life’.
This characteristic is reflected in the preliminary instruction (catechism) received by the converts (catechumens). And in fact, during their catechetical instruction, the converts to Orthodoxy are introduced to our way of living which combines the doctrinal and ethical aspects into a complex synthesis. Given this complexity, coming to Orthodoxy unfolds as a process of gradual assimilation. Inaugurated by an act of personal decision, this process takes the effort of conversion, of reshaping or μετάνοια, engaging the change of one’s mind and life in accordance with the ecclesial criteria. Along this journey, an essential aspect is represented by the relation of the convert with the spiritual father, who is a true embodiment of tradition and the one able to introduce wisely the convert to the rhythms of the Church’s life. This is the meaning of His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos’ statement, that ‘Christian faith is basically the result of communion between two persons’.
With respect to the process of ecclesially incorporating converts, various Orthodox Churches follow different patterns. The major differences occur with the reception of the adults whose upbringing has taken place within other Christian denominations. In this respect it is to be noted that while some Churches baptise again all heterodox coming into Orthodoxy, the majority of Orthodox Churches (including the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia) receive them by chrismation, or anointing (the equivalent of the heterodox ceremony of confirmation), after passing the necessary stage of the catechetical instruction. Also, a few Orthodox Churches ask the converts to abjure the heretical teachings and practices they professed before their conversion to Orthodoxy, as a prerequisite of either the catechetical instruction or the reception of the holy mysteries (sacraments) of baptism and/or chrismation.
The policy is, however, more clear with respect to receiving to Orthodoxy the converts coming from non-Christian backgrounds. For such cases, the converts should all pass the catechetical stage of instruction and after to receive all the sacraments of initiation: baptism, chrismation and communion.
After the reception of the holy mysteries (sacraments), the converts are considered full members of the Church, enjoying all the blessings of partaking with the people of God.
What is Religious Faith?
There can be no better description of the meaning of true Faith than that given by the Apostle Paul.
«Faith is that, that gives substance to our hopes, and makes us certain of things we do not see» (Hebr. 11, 1).
This means that Faith is the absolute certainty and unshakable conviction, that I the believer, will partake of future blessings which do now exist, which appear not to exist, but which I hope and wait for them to be realized and expect to enjoy them.
Such blessings are the second coming of Jesus Christ, the day of the final judgement, the resurrection of the dead, and life in the eternal Kingdom of God. The Christian also believes that he will be freed from the tyranny of sin, he will receive help to become a sanctified individual (theosis), and he will be protected from the many dangers which threaten the integrity of his soul.
And what of the «things we do not see» ? – such as, the creation of the World, the birth, life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the angelic hosts, the spiritual world of the souls, and of one’s own soul. All these are unseen, but the Christian is so convinced of their existence, as though he has seen them with his own eyes.
The ultimate purpose of such true faith is to accept Jesus Christ as my own personal Saviour, as well as that of every one else in the World, and to unquestionably accept and believe all His teachings and live my life according to them. It is such faith that transforms this earth into heaven and this life into a veritable paradise.
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History of Christianity
|What were the main issues discussed in each of the Ecumenical Synods?
The ecumenical (from the Gr. οἰκουμένη, civilised world) synods (from the Gr. σύνοδος, travelling together, common way) are symptomatic for the ecclesial mindset and experience, manifesting the communal dimension of our faith. The seven ecumenical synods share in common the fact that – while addressing the various heresies which challenged the Church of the first millennium – they have formulated doctrines representing crucial guidelines for our faith and life till the end of times. It is important to note that ‘formulating’ cannot be mistaken for ‘innovating’; the canonisation of a doctrine means to bring it to a clear and purely apostolic expression, in order to constitute a faithful guide into the Christian mystery.
Punctually, the seven ecumenical synods debated:
The first (Nicaea, 325AD) – the heresy of Arius, who denied the divinity of Christ, considering him a mere creature. Against Arianism, the Church stated that Christ is the Lord, truly God and Only-begotten Son of God, of one essence with the Father, from whom he is eternally born and not created in time.
The second (Constantinople, 381AD) – the heresy of Macedonius, who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit, considering him as inferior to the Father and the Son. Against Macedonianism, the Church stated that the Holy Spirit is Lord and Giver of life, originating eternally from the Father and being worshipped and glorified together with the Father and the Son as their equal. The most famous outcome of the first two synods is the (Nicene-Constantinopolitan) Creed.
The third (Ephesus, 431AD) – the heresy of Nestorius, who was unable to acknowledge the inner ‘hypostatic’ relation between the two natures, divine and human, of Christ, speaking of two persons (acting subjects). Against Nestorianism, the Church stated that there is one Christ, the incarnate Son and Logos of God, who united hypostatically (in his own eternal person) the human nature he assumed from the Theotokos. As a direct consequence of the hypostatic union, the Church emphasised the existential outcomes of the incarnation, namely the humanisation of God (who was truly crucified in the flesh) and respectively the deification of man (who was truly introduced in the divine life).
The fourth (Chalcedon, 451AD) – the heresy of Eutychius, who affirmed that the human nature of Christ was so much deified that it was eventually absorbed by his divinity; therefore in Christ would have been just one nature, the divine. Against Eutychianism (or Monophysitism), the Church stated that although the hypostatic union is perfect from the very moment of Christ’s conception, none of the two natures – divine and human – is changed or abolished. Contemplated from the point of view of his two unconfused natures, Christ is truly God and truly man; contemplated from the point of view of the undivided hypostasis/person, there is one Christ who lived the features of his both natures in a complex way (a mode labelled by later theologians as theandricity, Godmanhood).
The fifth (Constantinople, 553AD) – various heresies, such as the late Palestinian Origenism (speaking of the pre-existence of the souls, interpreting God’s creation in pessimistic terms, denying the permanence of the Logos’ incarnation and announcing the final restoration of all beings, including the demons) and a series of Antiochian authors who either supported Nestorius or have been his inspiration (Diodore of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrus, Ibas of Edessa). The council represents an essential phase within the ecclesial process of articulating dogmatically the reality of incarnation and its salvific consequences, on the one hand, also of interpreting Chalcedon in light of Ephesus and the traditional Christology as formulated by St Cyril of Alexandria. The most famous outcome of this council is the hymn Ὁ Μονογενής, Only-begotten.
The sixth (Constantinople, 680AD) – two related Christological heresies, intended as compromises between the Orthodox and the Monophysites: Monoenergism (teaching that in Christ was active or energetic only the divine nature) and Monotheletism (teaching that in Christ was manifested only the divine will). Against the two heresies, the Church stated that since the hypostatic union did not annihilate the characteristics of the two natures, we must acknowledge that both are active in Christ. More specifically, according to the natures, in Christ there are two energies and two wills, and according to the hypostasis one complex (theandric) energy and will.
The seventh (Nicaea, 787AD) – the iconoclasm, or the heresy of those denying the possibility of visually representing God and the saints, also the legitimacy of the icon veneration. The Church stated against the iconoclasts that since God the Logos assumed hypostatically our flesh, becoming visible, we can represent him in the icons, together with his saints who are his living icons. The council specified also that (1) the icons express visually what the Scripture proclaims by words, (2) iconography represents the Bible of the analphabets, and (3) the veneration addressed to the icons goes to the originals (the persons represented by them).
It is obvious that all the above mentioned heresies still exist, even if under various forms, determining us to remain faithful to the ecumenical synods as the accurate expression of the apostolic faith. Also important to note is the fact that by all their decisions, the ecumenical synods defended ultimately the possibility of our participation in the divine life and deification through Christ and the Holy Spirit.
If we put aside for a while faith, can one believe in the resurrection of Jesus based solely on historical evidence?
1. Could the Bible have been made up, and have nothing to do with real events?
The first thing I would like to say is that if one reads the Bible carefully, and particularly if one tries to live as the Bible says, one can come to feel that this Book is truly genuine and holy. Secondly, the Bible has been studied in a very scholarly and scientific way. Such an inquiry can lead to a conclusion that the Bible does not have the features of legend, but of genuine history, of genuine eyewitness accounts. For example, if you study the different accounts of the Resurrection, you will soon discover contradictions.
If you were making up these accounts, you would not have made it so difficult for those analysing what you wrote. Such contradictions are exactly what you would expect if different people had to recall what they witnessed. These contradictions can be harmonized, solutions that are at least feasible have been worked out, this has been difficult, but it can be done.
Another piece of evidence comes from the historical fact that if someone had made up the Resurrection story, they would not have had women being the first to witness the Resurrection: the testimony of women in first century Palestine was universally regarded as useless. The Gospel writers however recorded what actually happened.
2. Could those that said they saw Jesus after his death have lied?
We know that these people changed the whole world, and many of them died for what they believed. If they knew they were lying, they would not have had the strength to achieve such amazing things.
3. Can we be sure that Jesus’ tomb truly was found empty?
It would have been so easy for the enemies of the Christians to disprove what the Christians were saying: they could have simply presented the body in the tomb. It is precisely because they could not find such a body that they resorted to saying that someone must have stolen the body.
4. Could those that saw the Resurrected Christ actually have seen a vision or a hallucination?
We must not lose sight of the fact that on multiple occasions and under various circumstances different individuals and groups of people (including over 500 at once) experienced appearances of Jesus alive. If you study Jewish religion of the time, no-one ever talked about Resurrection of an individual. Those that saw the Risen Christ were not expecting this, they were in no way primed.
There are other objections, but these are easy to dismiss and not highly regarded amongst scholars. In summary, if one looks rationally at the evidence we have for the Resurrection of Jesus, one can decide that this probably was a historical event that really occurred. Of course, a Christian, even one who has leanings toward rational thought, has other reasons to believe in God. He just has to look around him, and within himself, and can come to the conclusion that it is a lot more likely there is a God than that there is only a purposeless physical universe.
Ultimately, however, true and deep faith is a gift of God, a gift to the sincere and humble- “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
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|Why does the Priest commune the Body and Blood of Christ of separately?
When addressing many questions concerning practises of Orthodox faith and worship, the answers have sometimes more to do with the changing ways of doing things rather than adherences to rules or directives. This question relating to the differences of reception of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Divine Liturgy is a case in point. Receiving of the Body of Christ directly into the hands and drinking the Blood of Christ directly from the chalice, is actually the more ancient practice and is dealt with by some of the Canons of the early Councils of our Church (e.g. from the ‘Quinisext Council’ in Trullo in 692 AD). The Clergy still follow this ancient custom down to this day. However, the practice for the laity has changed for most celebrations of the Divine Liturgy. The laity receives the Body and Blood of Christ combined in the Holy chalice, via a sacred spoon directly into the mouth. Such a change has taken place for many reasons; concerns for ease of reception and care when distributing the very real presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ in particular.
The ‘Liturgy of Saint James’ is celebrated on only one day each year, on his Feast Day - 23rd October; it is this James who is identified as the ‘Brother of God’. During this service, the Holy Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ is distributed separately; first the Holy Body and then the Holy Blood. This service reflects the more ancient practice.
However we are to receive the ‘Holy Communion’, it must be remembered that we are partaking of the Body and Blood of the incarnate Son of God. We do so with care, with humility, and ‘with fear of God, with faith and love we draw near’.”
What is the Kiss of Peace?
Within the contemporary order of the Divine Liturgy the clergy concelebrating perform the kiss of peace, right before the proclamation of the confession of faith (the Creed). This moment within our ritual takes place when the deacon (or the priest) exhorts: Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess… and the people respond: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Trinity of one essence and inseparable. Parallel to this dialogue, the clergy in the holy altar come one by one, starting with the bishop or the presbyter presiding at the liturgy, and they kiss the holy gifts and then kiss one another. More precisely, the concelebrants come and greet the bishop or the presiding presbyter, embracing each other and proclaiming: Christ is in our midst – He was and is and will be. From the outset, this ritual was understood by the Church as a necessary condition for the continuation and fulfilment of the holy synaxis. Our prayers and offerings cannot be presented to God if there is no peace and love between us (cf. Mt 5:23-24).
During the first Christian millennium, the kiss of peace was a ritual act performed by all those who participated in the holy synaxis, as a manifestation of the “chosen race” and “royal priesthood” which is the people of God (cf. 1 Peter 2:9). This reality is echoed by the most characteristic greetings in the Pauline epistles, such as: greet one another with a holy kiss (Ro 16:16; 2 Cor 13:11-12), greet all the brethren with a holy kiss (1 Thess 5:26). In the second century, St Justin Martyr also mentioned this gesture of the entire worshipping community: we salute one another with a kiss (First -Apology 65). This communal act was still performed during the sixth and seventh centuries. In fact, the author known by tradition as St Dionysius the Areopagite observed: all exchange the ritual kiss (The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy 3:2), and called this moment the divine kiss of peace (The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy 3:3, section 8). St Maximus the Confessor gave an ecclesial interpretation of the practice: The spiritual kiss which is extended to all prefigures and portrays the concord, unanimity and identity of views which we shall all have among ourselves in faith and love at the time of the revelation of the ineffable blessings to come (Mystagogy 17). He also suggested that the kiss of peace is related, together with all the other elements of the Divine Liturgy, to the mystery of the transformation of the individual believer into members of the people of God, called with one name, that of Christ (cf. Mystagogy 1 & 24).Today, various Christian Churches preserve the custom of shaking hands, in remembrance of this venerable act.
As a Manifestation of our unity as people of God, who- Strive to obey the commandment of the lord to “love one another” (John 13:34), the kiss of peace gives substance to our confession in the one faith. Only by loving each other, as confirmed by the kiss of peace, may we proclaim the undivided Trinity as the paradigm and source of all communion. A Church established on the bedrock of love and compassion reflects the splendour of the Trinitarian life.
In the Creed what do you mean by the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church?
Every item in our Creed is a statement about what we believe as Orthodox Christians. The Creed begins with a series of statements about God and then immediately proceeds to talk about the Church. This is significant as it tells us immediately that the church is not a building or even an institution in the worldly sense. It is an article of faith and therefore non-negotiable for Orthodox Christians. But what do we mean by ‘church’? The Greek word for church - εκκλησια is a translation of the Old Testament Hebrew word qahal - which means literally "assembly" and in the Biblical usage, the Assembly of the People of God. In the New Testament it came to mean the People of God assembled together in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Gospel our Lord said that wherever the ‘church’ or assembly of believers gathered, he was mystically present among them (cf. Matt 18:20) The New Testament uses the word ‘Church’ in the plural (eg. The seven churches of Asia (cf. Rev 1:11) and in the singular, when St Paul talks about the Church being the body of Christ. (cf. 1 Cor 10:16; 11:29; 12:27; Eph 1:23) It follows that the followers of Jesus Christ from the earliest times established faith communities or churches that were part of the One Church of Christ with Christ at it’s head. St Paul says that God the Father has made Christ “the head over all things for the church, which is his body...” (Eph 1:22). He also said a person becomes one body with Christ in Baptism (cf.’ Rom 6:4-11) so wherever the church – the assembly of believers were, the fullness of Christ’s presence was there also and that Christ and the Church were inseparable.
Consequently this brings us back to the four adjectives used in the Nicene Creed: "one, holy, catholic, apostolic." 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). There cannot be many churches visible or invisible. There can only be one Church of Christ and that unity is expressed through the Faith in the One God and Father, One Lord Jesus Christ and One Holy Spirit – the Triune God.
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 through His Grace and our free will.
CATHOLIC. The Orthodox Church is Catholic, meaning universal and 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 “once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). 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. 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. The Apostles Peter & Paul founded the church in Antioch which exists to this day as the Antiochian Orthodox Church. Other apostles established the church in Jerusalem, Alexandria, Greece 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. The Church does not have as its founder someone called ‘Joseph Smith’ in the 18th century, but with Jesus Christ and the Apostles two thousand years ago. 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 therefore 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). The Church is therefore the Kingdom of God on earth, which manifests in its fullness the Grace of God’s redemptive work in Christ to the world.
Why do we light candles in the Church?
For Orthodox Faithful the lighting of candles in Church is a worshipful act that is very rich in meaning.
The unlit candle represents us before we came close to Christ- when we were then spiritually dead. However the lit candle that stays upright signifies those who have been enlightened by Christ. Indeed, light represents the light of Christ according to Jesus’ own words, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12). If we just rely on our own abilities, our intelligence and human wisdom, we will live in darkness, we will not know the purpose of life, what is truly important, how to live, etc. By submitting to the revealed truth of Christ, light comes into this darkness and our eyes open, we perceive truths and beauty that we could not perceive before.
When we light a candle we are in a sense promising to let our life shine as Christ commanded in Matthew 5:16: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven.
As the candle gives out light it melts silently, without noise and commotion. We too need to bring the light of Christ to others, and we to need to do this in silence, without showing off or portraying ourselves.
Also, as the candle melts, so every Christian needs to melt in their work with others- they needs to offer their spiritual and physical strengths, they need to not worry about becoming tired, they need to sacrifice themselves as they give themselves to acts of love for their fellow human beings.
It is also common in our Church to light a candle for someone in need, to honour a saint, or to commemorate a deceased loved one.
Of course, we should not use candles as a kind of magical substitute for our own prayers- we use candles as an expression of our own prayers, in a sacramental fashion.
What does the Small and Great Entrance symbolise?
The “Small Entrance” is the procession with the Holy Gospel book which takes place in the early part of the Divine Liturgy. It symbolises Jesus Christ coming into the world as the “Word of God” to teach and instruct us into the ways of God, to know and understand His will and, to ultimately prepare us for the Kingdom of God. It prepares us for the first major focus of the liturgy that is, listening to God’s word.
The “Great Entrance” is the procession of the holy gifts of bread and wine which occurs after the Gospel Reading and the censing at the Cherubic Hymn. The previously prepared and covered gifts are taken in procession from the Prothesis table inside the Altar Sanctuary, out into the congregation, down the centre aisle, back into the Sanctuary through the Royal Door. Once inside the Sanctuary, they are placed onto the Holy Altar ready for the Anaphora - the Eucharistic offering and consecration into the Body and Blood of Christ.
The “Great Entrance” symbolises Jesus Christ coming into the world not only to teach, instruct and to prepare us for the Kingdom of God, but also to offer Himself for us on the Cross as a sacrifice of Love. In other words, it symbolises everything God has done for us in Christ to save us and bring us into eternal life with Him. The whole action of the “Great Entrance” reminds us and proclaims that God came into the world as one of us in Jesus Christ and willingly suffered and accepted death to save us from death and sin. We could say, then, that the “Great Entrance” is the procession of Christ into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, going there in humility to lay down his life for us and for our salvation. The great entrance prepares us for the second and final focus of the liturgy which is the Eucharist.
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