The Creed – Part 18B

…And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father. Who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified. Who spoke by the prophets.”

One of the main activities of the Holy Spirit is in the act of creation together with the Father and the Son. This role is seen in the first two verses of the Book of Genesis which begins to narrate the creation of the world:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. (Gen 1:1-2)
This is also seen in the Book of Psalms:
When thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created; and thou renewest the face of the ground. (Ps 104:30)
Of course, one of the main roles of the Holy Spirit is to inspire the prophets to proclaim God’s word to the people. It is important to clearly understand the mission of the prophets. When we hear the word “prophecy” or “Biblical prophecy” (especially on television) we tend to think of prophecies as detailed messages about what will take place in the future. We do see many prophesies of the future in the Old Testament prophecies, such as the coming of the Messiah or the destruction of Jerusalem.
However, the main role of the prophets is to proclaim God’s message to the people. So in the Old Testament we see God sending prophets to protest again the oppression of the people when rich and powerful in the Jewish kingdom were mistreating the poor and needy. In such cases God sent prophets that tell the rich and powerful that they are disobeying God’s will with their oppression and they need to change or God will punish them. On the other hand, when the Jewish people were in difficult and dangerous situations, such as being in captivity in Babylon, God sent prophets to comfort the people, reassuring them that God had not abandoned them.
So we see that the prophets are not “fortune tellers”. As one theologian put it “The prophets are not primarily foretellers as forth tellers.” To foretell is to predict the future. To “forth tell” or tell forth is to proclaim God’s word to his people even if it is not a prediction of the future.
As we see in the verse of the Creed we are looking at now, one of the other main roles of the Holy Spirit is to inspire the prophets. We see many examples of this in the Old Testament:
When they came to Gib’eah, behold, a band of prophets met him; and the spirit of God came mightily upon him, and he prophesied among them. (1 Sam 10:10)
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; (Is 61:1)
And he said to me, “Son of man, stand upon your feet, and I will speak with you.” And when he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me upon my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. (Ez 2:1-2)
Turning to the New Testament we also see the Spirit active. For example at Christ’s baptism we read:
And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.” (Mk 1:10-11)
Later Christ is lead to the desert for forty days and nights of prayer by the Holy Spirit:
The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him. (Mark 1:12-13)
Jesus said the following when he opened his ministry in Capernaum quoting from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah:
“… and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:17-21)
Later on in the New Testament when the apostles and the Mother of God were together on the day of Pentecost:
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:4)
Finally in the 3rd century, Saint Irenaeus said the Word and the Spirit are the two hands of God participating in the creation of the world and maintaining its existence.
So the Holy Spirit is present and active in heaven in the created world, in the church and in human beings. At the prayer “O Heavenly King” we here that the Holy Spirit is “everywhere present and filling all things.” We are never far from the Spirit.

Fr. John

The Creed – Part 18A

“…And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father. Who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified. Who spoke by the prophets.”

As we saw earlier in this series, the Creed was composed at two ecumenical councils. The first part of the Creed which we have been looking at up to now was written at the Council of Nicea in 325AD. The part we are looking at now was written at the Council of Constantinople in 381AD. We may remember that the Council of Nicea met because a priest named Arius was saying that Jesus Christ was not God, so this part of the Creed clearly states that Jesus is “true God of true God.” Later on, some people were denying that the Holy Spirit was God so this addition to the Creed was made.
As we know, the part of the Creed about Jesus Christ states that the Son is “begotten (born) of the Father.” While the Creed used the term “begotten” (to be born of) to describe Jesus Christ, the Creed says that the Holy Spirit “proceeds” from the Father.
What is the difference between “begotten” and “proceed”? In fact, no one knows. The Fathers of the Church affirm that there is a difference but add that there is now way of knowing what the difference is.
The version of the Creed given in this series of articles is, of course, the version we use in the Orthodox Church. If we look at the version used in the Western churches we see it stated that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son”. In other words, the Western church has added “from the Son” to the original version of the Creed. This addition is known as the ‘filioque’ which means ‘and from the Son’ in Latin.
These few words are one of the major disagreements between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. One of the earliest mentions of the filioque is found in the writing of St. Augustine. It appears also in the writings of other Western Fathers. It was first added to the Creed in Spain in the 6th century. At first, the popes resisted this addition to the Creed, but more and more people in the West used this form of the Creed so finally in 1014 the Pope ruled that ‘filioque’ should be officially added to the Creed.
So in the Orthodox Church we use the original version of the Creed. We base this on Christ’s words:
“But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me.” (Jn 15:26)
The words were added to the Creed to strengthen the doctrine that Jesus Christ is really God. But the Creed does this already. Some Orthodox theologians say that the filioque is a major heresy (false teaching) which is at the root of many negative things in the Western Church. Others say that filioque can be understood in an Orthodox way.
But all Orthodox Fathers and theologians say that the Pope had no right to alter the text of the Creed written and accepted by a long list of ecumenical councils. So this issue relates to the disagreements about the role of the Pope. For Orthodox, the Pope (if he were Orthodox) would be the first among equals of the bishops of the church, without any special power of his own. For Roman Catholics, the Pope is the infallible primate of the church. This is a fundamental disagreement between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church and until this question is resolved there can be no unity between the Orthodox and Catholic churches.
It has to be admitted that the matter of the filioque is a highly technical theological issue. However, the Fathers of the Church stress its theological importance.
But one can easily see the question about the authority of the Pope. Is his power so great that he can alter the Creed on his own authority? In other words, does the Pope have absolute authority over the other bishops of the church? The Catholics say yes, the Orthodox say no. It’s unfortunate that this division exists, but perhaps with God’s help one day it will be resolved.

Fr. John

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.”