The Creed – Part 17

“…and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; Whose Kingdom shall have no end.”

The scripture readings at a funeral are these:
The Epistle (I Thessalonians 4: 13-17) – Brethren, we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.
The Gospel (John 5: 24-30) – Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment. “I can do nothing on my own authority; as I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.
Both of these passages refer, in the first instance, to the resurrection of the dead which will take place at the end of time when Christ comes from heaven to judge the living and the dead. This will be the Last Judgement when our place for all eternity will be given us. However, they also refer to the end of our own lives. John 4:25 tell us “…the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” And John 5:24 tells us that we have “… passed from death to life.” In other words, at our baptism, by going down into the water three times and coming up three times, we have become participants in Christ’s death and resurrection. In a sense, our resurrection at the end of time is the last part of a process which began at our baptism.
Although our final destiny for eternity will not be finally decided until the Last Judgement, we have a foretaste of heaven or hell after our death, when the particular judgement takes place. As in the Letter to the Hebrews says “And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb 9:27). Incidentally, in saying that it is appointed for human beings to die once, the Bible excludes the idea of many lives, i.e., reincarnation. Although some fringe groups in Christianity seem to have believed in reincarnation in some form, it has never been accepted by the church as a whole. The Bible describes the Last Judgement in Matthew 25: 31-46:
“… He will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man. Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect. “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing.”
This Gospel is read on Meatfare Sunday, the second Sunday before Great Lent. It makes clear that we all face judgement and that it will be based on the practical help and charity which we have offered to those in need. Have we fed the hungry, clothed the naked and visited those who are sick or in prison? We should note that Christ will not judge us on how ‘religious’ we were during life. Christ will not ask us how many church services we have attended or how strictly we fasted. Does this mean we do not have to practice our faith? No, because we know how difficult it often is to help people. Helping people often seems beyond our strength. It is the grace that we receive through practicing our faith that gives us the strength we need.
We have to remember that God loves us and He never wavers from that love. What is hell then? Hell is a willful, intentional turning away from God and other people. God loves us, but he respects our freedom also. He will not force us to love him. If we choose to turn our backs to God, He regretfully accepts this.
When we read these parables of judgement it may seem impossible for us to live up to them. However, as Christ says: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Mt 19:26)
But the point is, we will not be judge by some distant God far away from us, but by God who became a human being to save us. That is, Jesus Christ. Jesus was genuinely human (and genuinely God) and He knows what it is to be tempted. The Letter to the Hebrews says: “For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.” (Heb 2:18) and “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb 4:15).
Although Christ never sinned, He knew that temptation that human beings face and will judge us on this basis. The Kingdom that Christ will establish at the end of time is an everlasting kingdom. There is no kingdom ‘higher’ or ‘beyond’ Christ’s kingdom. But life in the kingdom will not be a static life. The process began at our baptism will continue for all eternity as we grow further and further in God’s love and God’s life.

Fr. John

The Creed – Part 16

“… And ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.”

During the forty days after Christ’s resurrection on Pascha (Easter) he appeared in his resurrection body to his disciples. Disciples here do not mean only the twelve. St. Paul, in his first epistle to the Corinthians writes:
“….. he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (I Cor 15:4-8)
Christ also appeared to Mary Magdalene. Incidentally, all this provides evidence for the truth of the resurrection. Christ did not only appear to his closest disciples but to a large number of people. It may be possible for a few people to share a hallucination, but appearing to such a large number of people in so many different times and places is strong evidence for the resurrection.
In any case, on the fortieth day after His resurrection, Jesus Christ ascended into heaven. The account of His ascension is found at the end of the Gospel according to St. Luke and in the beginning of the Book of Acts.
“Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them, while he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven.” (Lk 24:50-51)
“And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)
Originally these were two separate books. The Gospel tells us about Christ’s life, death and resurrection while the Book of Acts gives the history of the early church, or at least a few parts of it. These two book were written by St. Luke. St. Luke was a gentile (i.e., not a Jew) convert to Christianity. He was trained as a physician and not surprisingly scholars consider his Greek to be that of an educated man. He was a disciple of St. Paul and sometimes accompanied St. Paul on his missionary journeys.
This story may seem foolish to skeptics, but the idea of Jesus Christ’s bodily ascension into heaven tells us something important. When Jesus Christ became man he became a genuine human being. His body was not a sort of costume that He put on temporarily, as some gnostic heretics said, because to be human means to be embodied. Christ’s ascension means that He took our humanity with Him to heaven.
This means that our hope for the future being not the bodiless soul in heaven but rather of resurrection.
The ascension shows us that God and humanity are restored to communion. The sin of Adam and Eve had shut the gates of paradise to us and Christ’s ascension shows that the gates of heaven are now open to human beings. In addition, the Fathers of the church said that “God became man so that man can become God.” Now of course, we never acquire a divine nature, rather we become God-like by God’s grace. The Fathers call this theosis or deification. Christ ascended with a deified humanity showing us that we too are on the road to deification, or become god-like.
We should also pay attention to the phrase “sits at the right hand of the Father.” The phrase is more than a simple mentioning of Christ’s location. Rather no one can sit down at the right hand of a king, unless he is equal in dignity with the King. These few words remind us again that Jesus Christ is truly the Son of God, sharing the nature of the Father.
Finally, we should mention the Mother of God. Tradition tells us that after she died a genuinely human death Christ took her body and soul into heaven. This tells us that at the end of time, Christ will raise us body and soul from the grave and we will live in our resurrection bodies as Christ and the Mother of God do now.

Fr. John

The Creed – Part 15D

“… And on the third day He rose again, according to the scriptures.”

At last we come to the heart of the Christian gospels, the resurrection. Basically, we know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God because of the resurrection. If Christ had not risen from the dead he would just have been one more of history’s religious teachers.
For example, Buddha was born in the 5th-6th century in what is now Nepal. After years of meditation he believed that he had achieved enlightenment. Based on this, he began to teach the path to enlightenment. He gained many followers who sought enlightenment and so Buddhism was born. However, whatever good points he had he did not rise from the dead.
It is the same for Mohammed. He was born around 570 AD and he convinced many people that he was God’s final prophet. However, once again he did not rise from the dead.
Much the same could be said of other religious founders. Whatever their virtues, they live and died as ordinary human beings. It is the resurrection that makes Jesus Christ unique.
As St. Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians (I Cor 15: 12-19):
“Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.”
Incidentally, one will sometimes hear or read someone saying that the story of Christ’s resurrection is only a myth that was believed many years after the life of Jesus.
However, the letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians was written at 55 AD, within 25 years of the life of Christ, in other words, when many witnesses were still alive. This letter shows that the resurrection was believed by all the early Christians, many of whom had been witnesses to the life and death of Jesus Christ and the apostolic preaching of the resurrection.
When we read the accounts of Christ’s resurrection appearances we see that His resurrection body was similar to his earthly body, but it was changed also. He could appear and disappear at will. Closed doors were no barrier to Him. Sometimes when he appeared he was not immediately recognized, even by his closest associates. For example, in Luke 24: 13-31 we see two of Jesus disciples walking on the road to Emmaus after Christ’s death. At first, they do not recognize Him as He walked and talked with them. They only recognized Him when he ‘broke the bread.’ (This points toward the Holy Eucharist. When we receive Communion we will see Christ in the breaking of the bread). See also John 20:19 when Christ appears through closed doors.
“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
We should remember that in addition to Christ’s resurrection there are other people in the Gospels who were returned to life. For example, the raising of the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11),
“Soon afterward he went to a city called Na’in, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the city, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a large crowd from the city was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” And he came and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still.
And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up, and began to speak. And he gave him to his mother.” or the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:35-42).
“While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But ignoring what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. When they came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, he saw a tumult, and people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a tumult and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Tal’itha cu’mi”; which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and walked (she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement.”
Finally we have the story of the raising of Lazarus found in John 11:1-46. However, there is a major difference between the return to life of these people and Jesus’ resurrection. Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter and the son of the widow of Nain all rose to a normal, human life and all died a natural death later. When Christ rose, he rose for eternity. When we rise when Christ comes again we too will rise for eternity, never to die again.
So we see that Christ’s resurrection is the heart of our faith. Of course, we commemorate Christ’s resurrection on Pascha, but every Sunday is a commemoration of the resurrection. We can understand why St. Seraphim of Sarov greeted people through the year with the phrase “Christ is risen, my beloved.”

Fr.John

The Creed – Part 15C

“… And on the third day He rose again, according to the scriptures.”

As we have seen in the last two articles, the Old Testament is filled with prophecies that are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The prophecies are obviously in verbal form. However, in addition to these there are actions or events in the Old Testament which point forward to Jesus Christ and other aspects of the Christian faith.
For example, Moses encounters a bush that was burning and not consumed (Exodus 3:2).
“And Moses said, “I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.”
The Fathers usually says that this points forward to the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God who gave birth but never ceased to be a virgin. In the story of the Exodus when the Jewish people were escaping slavery in Egypt, Moses parts the waters of the Red Sea so that the Hebrews could escape (Exodus 14:21-22).
“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.”
In other words, the Jewish people were saved by descending into the waters and coming out of them. This prefigures baptism, when we are saved by doing down into the water of the baptismal font. We remember that when the Jewish people were in the desert they were short of food so God sent them manna from heaven to earth (Exodus 16:13-15).
“In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning dew lay round about the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as hoarfrost on the ground. When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat.”
This miraculous food which nourished the Jewish people physically points forward to Holy Communion when we receive another kind of bread from heaven. In another incident in the Book of Exodus the Jews were fighting with Amalek and his soldiers. Moses was watching the battle from a hill. Whenever Moses lifted up his hands the Jews were winning against Amalek. But when he lowered his hand the forces of Amalek prevailed. Moses’ armd grew tired so two men held up his arms on each side (Exodus 17:12).
“But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat upon it, and Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.”
Moses outstretched arms which gave victory to Israel over its enemies point forward to Christ’s victory on the cross when we are saved from our enemies by Christ who stretches his arms out on the cross.
All of these examples so far have come from the Book of Exodus. This is because this book is about Israel’s escape from slavery in Egypt and this whole book points forward to our escape from the slavery of sin, death and the devil through Jesus Christ.
One final example: we remember the story of Jonah who was cast into the sea and swallowed by a great fish (Jonah 1:17, 2:1-2, 10).
And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying, “I called to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and thou didst hear my voice. And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.”
In other words, just as Jonah emerged from the fish after three days Jesus Christ came out of the depths of the earth after three days. In these last three articles we have seen how the Old Testament points forward to the New Testament in prophesies and prefiguring events. There are many more prophesies and events than those mentioned here so further study of the Old Testament with the help of a study bible can help us to understand our faith better.

Fr. John

The Creed – Part 15B

“… And on the third day He rose again, according to the scriptures.”

As mentioned previously, many prophesies of the Old Testament which Christians see as pointing toward Jesus Christ and not seen that way by the Jews. This is especially true of passages relating to the suffering of Christ and His meaning for all people.
We remember that God promised to send a Messiah, a redeemer for all human beings. However, by the time of Jesus Christ many of the Jews saw the Messiah as a political, even military, figure who would cast the Roman occupiers out of Palestine and found a Jewish kingdom there. Many people in Jerusalem thought that Jesus Christ was going to do this on Palm Sunday. As our Lord enters Jerusalem
“Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mt 21:8-9)
However, as the days passed and Jesus didn’t throw the Romans out, the crowds turned against Him.
“… Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man whom you call the King of the Jews?” And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” (Mk 15:12-13)
So Jesus Christ was not the national Messiah of the Jews, a political Messiah. As mentioned previously, Jesus saw his role of Messiah as that of the suffering servant. To see how Jesus Christ thought of his role, read chapter 53 of the Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament. Here are some quotations from this chapter:
“For thus says the Lord: “You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money. For thus says the Lord God: My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there, and the Assyrian oppressed them for nothing. Now therefore what have I here, says the Lord, seeing that my people are taken away for nothing? Their rulers wail, says the Lord, and continually all the day my name is despised.” (Isaiah 53: 3-5)
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Hark, your watchmen lift up their voice, together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 53: 7-9)
Beyond this, Jesus Christ thought of Himself as Messiah for all nations. In doing so, he fulfilled many predictions of the Old Testament about just such a figure.
“It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. “(Isaiah 2:2-3)
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)
“For I know their works and their thoughts, and I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Put, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands afar off, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the nations.” (Isaiah 66:18-19)
As we can see from these passages, Jesus Christ saw his role as fulfilling these universalist predictions, being the savior for all of humanity.
The other issue is that the Jews rejected the idea that the Messiah would suffer, although there are many Old Testament prophesies which point to it. As mentioned previously, to understand Jesus role as the suffering servant one should read Isaiah 53.
The notion of a suffering Messiah was so alien to the Jews that when Jesus Christ predicted he would be crucified this announcement went completely over the Apostles’ heads. This is why when Jesus was crucified all the disciples, with the exception of St. John and the women disciples, ran away and went into hiding. It was  only after the Resurrection that the apostles began to understand the Messiah as a suffering servant.

Fr. John