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Our Faith

What do we believe?

What do the Orthodox Believe? It is more to ask: “in whom do we put our trust?” “Believe” is a very vague word. Often it means simply holding an opinion without demonstrable evidence. But our faith is not an opinion, not one of many possible views. It is an affirmation of what ultimate reality is-dependable, trustable reality. We do not put our trust either in the ancient character of our Church or in any dogmas or doctrines. Our trust is in the One True God-Father, Son and Holy Spirit, eternal, self-existent, indivisible, infinite, incomprehensible, glorious, holy, not created or owing his being to something else, all-sovereign, Creator of the whole universe. All things are from Him. We too have our being from Him, acknowledge him as the source of our being. Of the being of all else, of all good and therefore worthy of adoration and praise. About the First Person of the Trinity, the Father we know only what the Son and the Spirit have revealed to us, and still continue to reveal. The knowledge or statable doctrine, but true worship in the community of Faith. True knowledge of God comes through the quality of our life than through intellectual clarification. Some things, however we can affirm conceptually, knowing well that these concepts do not fully conform to reality. The Triune God is beyond all conceptual comprehension not only by human beings, but by any created mind. He is, in a way different from the way anything else in creation is. We know the Triune God, not because we have comprehended his being, but through His operations or activities, the energies of God which come down to us through the Incarnate Son and through the Holy Spirit. The Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, share the same is-ness; their being is one-infinite, eternal, uncreated, self-existent, with three persons or centres of consciousness and response, always acting in concord and unison as one being. There is no gap or interval of time or space between the three persons; there is no senior or junior; greater or lesser.

We believe that Jesus Christ the Son of God became a human being, rules in the universe. All power in heaven (the aspects of the universe now not open to our senses) and on earth (that is, the universe in all-its tangible, sensible aspects) is given to Jesus Christ the God-Man. Death and Evil have been overcome, but they are still allowed to function, serving Christ’s purposes. They will disappear-love and life will triumph-this is the faith of the Church, and this we affirm. For us the Holy Spirit is Life-giver, Sanctifier and perfecter. We do think in terms of sin and grace, but the central category in our understanding of salvation is the life-giving Spirit. It is He who effects forgiveness of sins, removes barriers between human beings as well as between them and God, gives life, makes people more holy and God-like, and draws us to perfection. He works in the Church, through His special gifts, to build up the body of Christ and to make its members holy. He also works in the Creation, bringing all things to their fullness and perfection. While we do speak about these operations of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, who are not three Gods, but one God, we know next to nothing about His being as Triune God, It is important for us to confess the incomprehensibility of God. He is not to be discussed or explained, but to be worshipped and adored and acknowledged as Lord of all. We believe in the Church, all who acknowledge the Niceno Constantinopolitan creed do. The Church is the great consequence of the Son of God becoming flesh. It is this community that not only bears witness to Christ, but also is the abode of Christ, Christ dwelling in the Church, which is His body. It is in the Church that the life-giving power of the Spirit is at work. But the Church is not simply the community believers gathered together. It is a reality which spans heaven and earth, the risen Christ himself as chief cornerstone, the Apostles and Prophets as foundation, and all who belong to Christ from Adam to second coming being members of this one, holy Catholic apostolic community. The local Church is not a mere part of this one great heaven-and-earth community; it is the full manifestation of the One Church, especially when the community is gathered together with the Bishop for the hearing of the Word of God and for the Eucharistic participation in the one eternal sacrifice of Christ of the Cross.

We are never allowed to forget even in a small local church the presence of this great cloud of witnesses who share with us the life of the One Church. We remember at every Eucharist the departed as a whole, and especially the Apostles, great teachers, and spiritual leaders who have helped build up and protect the Church from error and deviation. It is not a law that we have to ask the Saints to intercede for us. We do it with great joy and genuine appreciation of their past and present role in the one Church of Jesus Christ. Of the great Saints in the Church, the first (after Christ) and unique place goes to the Blessed Virgin Mary, for she was the first to hear the Gospel of the Incarnation of our Lord from the Archangel, and to receive Him, on behalf of all of us human beings, into her womb. She is the mother of Christ, and thus mother of all the faithful who are joint-heirs with Christ. But she is also the Theotokos, the Godbearer, for the one whom she bore in her womb was truly God himself. For her, Jesus Christ was not an ordinary human being who was then adopted or exalted as Son by God the Father. No, He is the Second person of the Trinity, who dwelt in the womb of Mary without being absent from the “place” of His eternal being. Jesus Christ is now fully God as he always was, of the same being as God the Father. He is also fully a human being, sharing our fallen human nature, but without incurring sin. His humanness and his Godly nature are inseparably and indivisibly united without change or mixture. One divine-human Christ, one Person, with one united nature and faculties which combine the divine and the human. Our union with this divine-human nature of Christ is what makes us participate in the divine nature (2 Pet. 2:4; Hebrews 2:10-14) without ceasing to be human beings. Salvation for us means more than escaping hell and going to heaven. It means separation from evil and growth in the good. It means eternal life with true holiness and righteousness. It means also being united with Christ in his divine-human nature, in his sonship and rule over the universe. It means becoming more and more God-like in love, power and wisdom. This is what the Holy spirit makes possible. What is humanly impossible becomes reality by the grace and power of God. The participation in Christ’s body and His being and nature becomes possible, by the grace of God, by the Holy Spirit, through the “mysteries of the Church” (roze-d-idtho in Syriac), which are called Sacraments in the West. These mysteries, mainly Baptism -Chrismation-Eucharist, are acts in the community of Faith by which the eternal and eschatological (i.e. pertaining to the last times) reality of our oneness with Christ becomes experienced by faith in the Church, in time, here and now.

There are other mysteries also-Confession-Absolution for forgiveness of sins for the baptized, an anointing of the Sick for deliverance from Sin and Sickness. Marriage too is a mystery of the Church, because it unites Man and Woman in an act of permanent mutual commitment and permanent union, reflecting the Union of Christ with His Bride, the Church, or of God with the new Humanity. Another great mystery of the Church is hierotonia (or hierothesia) the special laying of hands for receiving special gifts of the Holy Spirit – for the Bishop as the mystery -presence of Christ the High Priest and Good Shepherd with His Church, and the related ministries of ruling elders (priests or presbyters) and serving ministers (deacons and deaconesses). We hold the Bible in very high regard. The Gospel is the Word of Life, the proclamation of life and salvation to the world. We hold the Scriptures in the highest respect, and no other writings can have the same standing, for the primary witness to Christ is in the Scriptures. We revere the Scriptures as the inspired Word of God, and all our prayers, as well as the services of the mysteries of the Church are saturated with Biblical reference, and always completed by the public reading of the Scriptures. Icons are important for us. These mediate to the worshipping community the presence of the Saints, and of the saving events of our Lord’s incarnate life. We do not make images of the unseen God. We consecrate icons to mediate to us the God bearing persons and events which have been actually manifested to our senses.

For us Tradition is not something old, static, and life-less; it is the life of the Church as a counting body, with the presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit in it. It is the Spirit that makes the Tradition alive and it bears witness to Christ; it also moves forward in expectation of the final fulfilment. Hence Tradition for us is dynamic. It includes knowledge of Christ, the teaching of the Apostles, the doctrine of the Saints and fathers, the practices of worship developed by the community of faith, its way of doing things and practicing love. Scripture is part of this tradition. Tradition is not just a body of knowledge, but a way of life and worship and service. Our worship as a community is the centre of our life, not our own personal articulations of faith. It is there that the Church, united with Christ, participates in Christ’s self-offering for the world. Our daily life flows out from worship and has to be a life of love and compassion, caring for the needy, struggling against evil, serving the poor. Our hope is focused on Christ’s coming again. It is only in that coming that evil would be separated from good, death from life, so that the good can triumph eternally and grow eternally also. In that coming there will be a reconstitution of the universe; all things shall be made new; evil shall be banished. Death and darkness would be finally overcome; light and life and love will triumph. It is our task to bear witness to this final reality, while living it out here and now, as much as we can, beset as we are by sin and frailty. Thy Kingdom Come Lord. And when Thou comest in Thy Kingdom, remember us poor sinners also.

 

The Creed

 

The Ecumenical Council of Nicea and Nicene Creed

The Oriental Orthodox Churches recognize only three ecumenical councils and the council of Nicea is the first among them. The Nicene Council, also known as First Ecumenical Council, was held in 325 and is one of the most important councils in Christian history. It was originally called by Emperor Constantine in order to address the challenges posed by Arianism. The council established the foundations of orthodox Christian belief with the Nicene Creed.

Two reasons are usually cited to justify the council’s ecumenical status. Firstly, the Emperor ordered that all legitimate bishops from the whole Church shall participate and secondly, a problem that affected the whole Church, namely, the Arian controversy was discussed and decided upon in the council. It was the Emperor Constantine himself, who opened the council on 20th May 325. He affirmed that the decision of the council shall be binding to the whole Church and he promised himself as the guarantor of unity between the state and the Church so that the decision of the council shall be universally binding. Also he declared that his successors would follow his policy.

318 bishops participated in the council, who are called ‘holy fathers of Nicea’ or just ‘holy 318’. The number 318 has a biblical significance as the bishops are seen like 318 servants of Abraham (Gen 14:14). Main participants were Ossius of Cordoba, Alexander of Alexandria, his deacon and secretary Athanasius, Eusthathius of Antioch, who was consecrated to the see of Antioch shortly before the council, and Eusebius of Caesarea, who accepted the homo-ousius teaching just before the council of Nicea. Arius and Eusebius of Nicomedia and some other Arian supporters were also present in the proceedings. The council concluded on 19th of June officially, although, some records say that the council went on for some more time.

The council gave out four documents: 1. Confession of faith (Symbol), which Arius and two of his supporters declined to undersign and were thereby excommunicated and exiled to Illiricum. 2. The council decided upon the date of Easter and controversies on this issue were settled. 3. 20 Canons to the question of ecclesiastical discipline. 4. A synodal letter, which was sent to all sister Churches to explain the proceedings of the council and thereby a call to obey the decisions of the council.

Symbol of the Council of Nicea:

“We believe in one true God, the Father almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only begotten, begotten of the Father, that is, out of the ousia of the Father, God out of God, Light out of Light, true God out of true God, begotten, not made, of the same ousia as the Father, through whom all things were made, both those things in heaven and those on earth, who for us men and our salvation came down, took flesh, and was made human, suffered and rose up on the third day, ascended unto heaven and will come to judge both the quick and the dead; And in the Holy Spirit.

But those who say that there was a when, when He was not, and that He was made out of nothing (what did not exist), or who say that He is of another hypostasis or ousia, or that the Son of God is created or subject to change or alteration, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematize.”

Date of Easter:

From the time of Polycarp of Smyrna (first half of the second century), the date of Easter was a matter of dispute. Irenaeus of Lyon has also expressed his opinion on this issue, but there was no consensus about this problem among the Church as a whole and therefore, the council of Nicea decided upon this question. Alexandrine Church as well as the Western Church celebrated Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon in spring season and this was according to the Synoptic tradition. The Church in Asia Minor celebrated Easter according to the Jewish pattern, namely, the first Sunday after Nissan 14th, which was eventually the Johannine one too. The council of Nicea decided that Easter was to be celebrated according to the Alexandrine-Western practice, namely, on the first Sunday after the first full moon in spring season.

Canons of the Council:

Council of Nicea issued 20 canons on issues that matter to the discipline of the Church. Ecclesiastical structures are dealt with in canons 4-7, 15 and 16. Dignity of ordained people is mentioned in canons 1-3, 9, 10 and 17. The problem of open confession of sins during a liturgical action is the theme in canons 11-14. The question how to reinstate the lapsed, schismatic and heretics etc. into the Church is dealt with in canons 8 and 19. Liturgical admonitions are given in canons 18 and 20. From the above narration, it is clear that there is no systematic treatment of problems in the order of canons. Yet, these canons are considered as most important and binding to the whole Christian Church even today.

The history of Nicene Creed:

As it seen above, the Nicene Creed was first adopted in 325 at the First Universal Christian Council of Nicaea. The Coptic Church has the tradition that the original creed was authored by Athanasius. There is also a strong tradition that the Nicene Creed was the local creed of Caesarea brought to the council by Eusebius of Caesarea. However, the creed was not in the full form that we see and use today!  It is in the second Ecumenical Council in 381 added the section that follows the words “We believe in the Holy Spirit” hence the creed is also known in the history as “Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed”, referring to the Creed as it was after the modification in Constantinople.

The third Ecumenical Council, Ephesus in 431, reaffirmed the 381 version, and decreed that “it is unlawful for any man to bring forward, or to write, or to compose a different Faith as a rival to that established by the holy Fathers assembled with the Holy Ghost in Nicæa.”

The Filioque controversy:

Amongst the Latin-speaking churches of Western Europe, the words “and the Son” (Filioque) were added to the description of the procession of the Holy Spirit, in what many have argued is a violation of the Canons of the Third Ecumenical Council. Those words were not included by either the Council of Nicaea or that of Constantinople, and hence Eastern Orthodox theologians consider their inclusion to be a heresy.  The dispute over the Filioque clause was one of the reasons for the East-West Schism. The clause had been adopted in the west , although the Third Ecumenical Council (431) had prohibited to individuals the promulgation of any other creed. The manner of the clause’s adoption was therefore controversial and in the 10th century Photius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, used this clause in his conflict with the Pope. He accused the West of having fallen into heresy and thereby turned the Filioque clause into the doctrinal issue of contention between East and West.

Conclusion:

The Eastern Orthodox Churches those who follow the uncorrupted faith of the Three Holy Ecumenical Synods have thus the Creed in the following formula. Since it the declaration of our Faith and cream of our theological stand point, it is the duty of the Church and believers to recite it in all our liturgical prayers and keep hold its faith in their daily life.

I have also did a biblical analysis of the Nicene Creed to show that how much its words and usages  are owed and quoted from the Holly Bible, the word of God and the chief resource of the Church. One could see many more quotations from the word of God, however, what I did is giving model study of it.

The Nicene Creed

We believe in one true God (Heb 11:6, 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, Romans 3:29-31, Eph 4:6) The Father Almighty (1Cor. 8:6Rev. 1:8) Maker of heaven and earth (Ex. 20:11, Gen. Ch. 1 &2) and of all things visible and invisible (Jer. 32:17. Col. 1:16) And in the one Lord (Acts 10:36) Jesus (Matt. 1:21) Christ (John 4:25-26), the only-begotten Son of God (John 1:14), begotten of the Father before all worlds(1 John 4:9), Light of Light, very God of very God (John 1:4, 1 John 1:5-7, John 12:35-37, John 5:18), begotten, not made (John 8:58), being of the same substance with the Father (John10:30); and by whom all things were made (John 1:3); + who for us men and for our salvation (Mat 1:21) came down from heaven (John 3:31), + and was incarnate of the Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of God (Luke 2:6), by the Holy Ghost (Luke 1:35), and became man (John 1:14); + and was crucified for us (Mark 15:25) in the days of Pontius Pilate (Matt 27:22-26); and suffered, and died, and was buried (Matt 27:50-60); And the third day rose again (Matt 28:6) according to His will (1.Cor 15:4), and ascended into heaven (Luke 24:51), and sat on the right side of the Father (Mark 16:19); and shall come again in His great glory (Matt 25:31), to judge both the quick and the dead (2 Tim 4:1); whose kingdom shall have no end (Luke 1:33); And in the one living Holy Spirit (John 14:26), the life-giving Lord of all (2cor 3:17-18, Is. 6:8, Acts 28:25 Rom 8:2, 2.Cor 3:6), who proceeds from the Father (John 15:26): and who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified (Rev. 4:8), who spoke by the Prophets and Apostles (2 Peter 1:21); And in the One (John 10:16), Holy (Eph 5:26-27, 2 Peter 2:5&9), Catholic (Rom 10:18 “Catholic” means universal or comprehensive, as well as “relating to the ancient undivided Christian church”) and Apostolic (Eph 2:20) Church; and we acknowledge one Baptism (Eph. 4:5) for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), and look for the resurrection of the dead (Rom 6:5), and the new life in the world to come (Mat. 25:34., Rev. 21:1-7). Amen.

Prepared by : A.P.Eapen

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