ORTHODOX CATECHISM TOPICS
By: Fr. Anthony Alevizopoulos
PhD. of Theology, PhD. of Philosophy
The entire world is God's creation and therefore it is by nature good; evil does not have an ontological existence. Natural evil is the result of discord which was created after man's fall; even death is a means of educating man in order to lead him back to communion with God. Moral evil, sin, does not have its cause in man's nature, but in man's disposition.
Through man's fall, all of nature was dragged into servitude to corruption. God, however, in the person of His Incarnate Word or Logos entered into the reality of the world and renewed it. By His death, Resurrection and Ascension, He led man, whom He had assumed, to the life of incorruption and immortality; and He exalted him to the height of the glory of God the Father.
This glory, which during the second coming of oui Lord shall become our possession, is prefigured in the life of the Church, and especially in the life of the saints. The bodies of the saints, the sacred relics, are surrounded by the sanctifying grace of God and become a source of divine blessings and miracles (IV Kings 13,21. Wisdom of Sirach 18,14). The grace, honor and glory which God grants to the relics of the saints constitute a foretaste and predepiction of man's transfiguration and that of all creation. This same grace surrounds the saints even during this life and can be discerned in some as warmth, in others as light, or through various miraculous energies, which are blessings for man. Even material objects in the life of the Church bear God's grace.
The presence of God's grace and glory in man and in material creation prefigures the liberation of all of creation from servitude to corruption and guarantees the certainty of our hope in life and incorruption. The world's sanctification was also wrought in the Jordan River during our Lord's Baptism. The hymns of our Church on the day of Epiphany and the prayers of the Great Sanctification of the Waters reveal the new reality of the world: "Today the earth and the sea share in the world's joy and the world is filled with gladness", states the prayer of St. Sophronios of Jerusalem.
Christ hallowed the waters of the Jordan, the banks of the river and all of creation: " You, Ο Lord, being baptized in the Jordan did sanctify its waters"; "having hallowed the waters of the Jordan You did crush the power of sin"; " Today creation is enlightened; today all things rejoice, the heavenly together with the earthly", states the hymnology of our Church.
Through the participation of the material creation in the divine worship of the Church and in the praise and doxology of God the hope of incorruption is expressed. In the Divine Liturgy all of creation is taken on and becomes a new creation in Christ. It is the bread and wine that becomes the Body and Blood of Christ, the candles, the icons, the Holy Cross; and all the material objects participate in some way in the Divine Liturgy. The water, the oil, the incense, the palms, the flowers, and even the new harvest of the crops of the earth are blessed, and the whole world regains that which it lost through man's fall: internal unity, the correct relationship with God, which is an eucharistic relationship, a relationship of offering in which all things are referred up and offered to God, Who becomes once again the centre of the world.
The unity of the entire creation which offers up "with one mouth" doxology to the Triune God is expressed at the end of the prayer for the Great Blessing of the Waters: "...that with the elements, and men, and Angels and with all things visible and invisible they may magnify Thy most holy Name, together with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen." Man thus forsakes his autonomy and his egoistic use of God's creation; he once again finds his correct place in the world and his "royal" and "priestly" ministry (Gen. 1, 28. 2, 15).
The Christian does not reject this world, nor does he consider it to be something negative. He is not called to abandon the world, but to serve or liturgize in it. Christ wants his faithful to be in the world; to be "the salt oi the earth" and "the light of the world" (Matth. 5, 13-14). If our world is "tasteless and unsalted" and in darkness, if it follows a process of disintegration, then this means that Christians do not serve "as the salt of the earth" and the "light of the world". We must not then look for the cause of the world's misfortune in others.
This place that the Christians hold in the world implies responsibility for the preservation and the sanctification of God's creation, a task which stems from the service which God intrusted to man in Paradise ("...to cultivate and preserve", Gen. 2, 15). A Christian cannot be indifferent to the world's problems; he must labor to bring the world once again back to its doxological relationship with God. This means that the use of the world cannot have as its centre the satisfaction of man's ego and the "needs" which man constantly creates.
The true believer does not attribute absolute and exclusive value to the needs of this life nor to man's abilities. He does not intervene in God's creation in an autonomous way, independent of God's will, and egocentrically; he feels that he is responsible for creation. He does not seek knowledge and use of God's creation "unconditionally". The faithful does not use the powers of the world in a manner not blessed by God and contrary to the balance and harmony in creation and to the unity of God's world.
The Orthodox believer knows that man after the fall ceased to offer creation up to God as a doxology, i.e. to practise his priestly duties vis-a-vis creation; it was he who led creation into servitude to corruption. Within the Church however, he acquires the experience of freedom from this servitude. With this experience he is now called to return to the world with the assurity of the transfiguration and salvation of the entire creation. Having once again acquired within the liturgical place his correct relationship with creation and his correct place within it, he is called to practise his service as priest of the world.
This transfiguration of man and creation in the Church is still not yet the "new heavens" and the "new earth". These will become a reality during Christ's Second Coming. Thus it is that the Christian hope is "not of this world". Every chiliastic-messianic concept which looks to an establishment of an earthly kingdom and the creation of Paradise on earth, is foreign to the spirit of Christ.
Christians respect the authorities of the world and submit themselves to human laws which do not go against their Christian hope (Rom. 13, 1-8. Acts 3, 30). They do not preach a "gospel" conforming to the aspirations and the aims of this world. This is the saving message of the Church to a world which has an exclusively intersecular character and can discern no other vertical dimension in its life. It is for this reason that Orthodox Monasticism with its ascetical character and heavenly orientation offers to our society a great service. It shows to contemporary man, who is exclusively orientated towards the horizontal dimension, the vertical dimension which is at the centre of monastic life.
The monks thus constitute the indicators of the reality of heaven, which man who lives in the world cannot easily grasp. Monasticism opens the way to the absolute experience of life in Christ: a way of asceticism and obedience which is followed throughout one's life without ending; a way which is at the same time dangerous for those who fail to remain humble and steadfast in love that "seeks not its own". This life of the monastics constitutes a continuous vocation to contemporary man's disposition and an excellent prefiguration of the future life.
This anticipation of a new life creates in the Christians the conviction that here on earth they are strangers and sojourners, and that in traversing this life they walk towards their true homeland (Hebrews 11, 13-16). The believer has his eyes always fixed upon heaven and considers death to be the last stop in his journey, his "passing on" or birth into the next life.
We believe that after their separation from the body the souls of the righteous are in the hands of God (Wisdom of Solomon, 3,1) and they await the resurrection of the bodies, so that they may "totally" become partakers in God's love and glory. On the contrary, the souls of the unrighteous who in their lives rejected God's love and communion with Him and with the brethren, and who had as the only centre of reference their "ego", are deprived of this love, for their egoism does not allow them to accept it.
Christ's Second Coming will signal the general resurrection; our bodies will be clothed with incorruption and immortality. The righteous shall be raised unto life, the unrighteous unto condemnation. This will be the general judgment of the world; God's love will judge man in accordance with the position he assumes towards it, i.e. whether he accepts it or rejects it.
The Lord desires the salvation of all men, and their return to their true homeland: to the love and communion with the Triune God. This we call Paradise. By this word we do not mean a material but a spiritual reality. Holy Scripture compares this communion to the relationship between the Bridegroom and the Bride, and their union is compared to marriage (Rev. 19,7).
The sons of the Kingdom shall be eternally united with Christ and shall henceforth absolutely live the condition of being "one in Christ"; then shall we be in Him participators by grace of His unity with the Father ("I in my Father and you in me" Jn 14,20). All who live in this life closed up within themselves, all those who do not rejoice in seeing the face of their brother shall be deprived of this joy. They of their own accord have chosen their eternal torment.
Christ's Second Coming is for the faithful the fulfilment of their hope, just as is the arrival of the Bridegroom for the Bride. This is why the preparation for the reception of the coming Christ constitutes the chief concern of this life.
But when shall the Lord come? Christians do not concern themselves in pinpointing a specific date. They are vigilant and take care to be ready at every moment, for the Lord shall come suddenly, when we do not expect Him (Matth. 24, 13. 33. Acts 1, 7). The Lord Himself warns us to protect ourselves from false prophets who will be workers of guile and treachery. Outwardly they shall appear in the guise of Christ or in the form of an angel (Matth. 24, 4-5. 23-27. II Cor. 11, 13-15). Their teaching shall not be identical with that oi Christ; thus the knowledge of the only real truth oi Christ is necessary in order to avoid error and deceit.
THE ORTHODOX CHURCH Its Faith, Worship and Life
Rev. Antonios Alevisopoulos, Th.D., Ph.D
Translated by Rev. Stephen Avramides
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