ORTHODOX CATECHISM TOPICS
By: Fr. Anthony Alevizopoulos
PhD. of Theology, PhD. of Philosophy
After the fall, man, we are told by Holy Writ, was cast out of paradise (Gen. 3,24). God, however, through this expulsion, did not lead man to despair, for He simultaneously sowed within Him the hope of salvation.
The final outcome of his vicissitude would be accomplished with the coming of the offspring of the "woman", who would crush the "head" of the "serpent" (Gen. 3,15). Man had to prepare himself systematically for this advent, for his restoration was not the result of force but the fruit of God's love which man accepted. Man had to accept once again in freedom the saving action of God.
The Orthodox Church believes that God wanted to prepare mankind for His saving intervention through the election of the people of Israel and the preaching of the Old Testament Prophets. The prophetical message had as its centre the awaited offspring of the "woman".
This Saviour of mankind was Jesus Christ in whom God united Himself with man and in this way man became a partaker of God's life. Christ is not two persons, a human and a divine, but one: a theandric person. He was one Christ, not two.
God's union with man in the person of Christ did not shatter the human nature, because the union of the divine and the human nature in the One Christ took place "without confusion, without separation, without change, without division". The two natures are not confused between themselves in a mixture, nor does the one separate itself from the other. Moreover, the human nature does not change into the divine nature nor does the divine change into the human. In this way the Son and Word of God took on human nature and in His unique person He led him to communion with God. One of the hymns of the Church states:
" You assumed my corrupt and mortal nature, You clothed me in incorruption, and You raised me up to eternal and blessed life,
where, Ο compassionate Lord,
do thou give rest to those whom you assumed".
The Orthodox Christian does not attempt to approach the God-manhood of Christ rationally; he accepts it with humility as revelation from God, as a "great mystery" (I Timothy 3, 16), which identified with man's very salvation.
Salvation through Christ, then, is not to be found in the showing of some "way" outside his person, or in the keeping of certain commandments on man's part. No effort whatsoever on the part of the created could ever lead to the uncreated, i.e. to freedom from the bondage to corruption and death. The uncreated and eternal God, in the Person of Jesus Christ, transcends the ontological abyss separating the created from the uncreated. This is accomplished, not that God might live the life of the created, but that He might raise created man to divine life beyond corruption and death. This communion of mortal man with immortal and eternal God is communion "according to energy" and not "according to essence"; this means that man does not partake of God's essence, that he is touched by God's energy, i.e. His Grace. And because the divine energy is from the essence of God, the communion between God and man is a real communion which grants life to man without doing away with him; it does not constitute a confusion or mixture of human nature in God's. God saves man while respecting his person; He attributes to it inestimable value.
All that we have mentioned shows that faith in Christ's God-manhood constitutes man's only hope, because he finds in this faith λ deeper meaning in life even beyond the grave. St. Paul calls salvation in Christ a great mystery of piety; "Truly great is the mystery of our piety: God was revealed in the flesh, vindicated through Spirit, appeared to the angels, proclaimed to the nations, believed in throughout the world, ascended in glory" (I Timothy 3,16).
Man's salvation therefore is identified with the event of God's incarnation. God through this manner assumes man and saves him. Belief that we will make this fact, this event, of our salvation our own possession is the great mystery of piety.
Christ is now the new head of the human race. Holy Scripture underlines the fact that He is the saviour of God's new people: the Church, which constitutes "His Body", having Him as its very head (Math. 1,21. Ephes. 5,23). In speaking about the Church He describes her as the "kingdom of God". For in the Body of Christ the heavenly and the earthly, i.e. angels and men, are to be "recapitulated" (Ephes. 1,10), so as to be under the one Head and to be ruled by Christ.
This is what Christ meant when He said that with His coming, the kingdom of heaven was at hand (Matth. 4,17. 10,7). Indeed, with the re-formation of the Church the mystery of the kingdom is now "within you" (Lk. 17,21); all of mankind is touched by the grace of God, is sanctified in its totality and ruled by the Head, which is Christ.
Man is inaugurated into the kingdom of God (into the Body of Christ) through Holy Baptism, and he is called to live the life of the Body, i.e. to become a partaker of salvation in Christ, of the life in Christ. In this sense, he can now say along with St. Paul, " I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2,20). For this reason, Paul's task aimed at "...such time as Christ shall be formed within you" (Gal.4,19). The Lord Himself assures everyone who shall love him in truth, that he shall be loved by God the Father "and we will come to him and make our home with him"; we will dwell with Him! (Jn. 14,23).
It is important to underline that the body which Christ assumed was no different than our body. It was a created body and thus suscepitible to corruption and death. And indeed, Christ subjected Himself to these in order to meet death and destroy it through His death in the flesh on the Cross, and to liberate us from its bonds, thus becoming the first born from the dead (I Cor. 15, 55-58). In this way the believer, incorporated into the human flesh which Christ assumed, in the body of Christ, makes his own that communion which was brought about in the person of Christ and is led to theosis; In Christ the uncontained God becomes contained and in Christ man becomes a "partaker of the divine nature" (II Peter 1,4).
The path which God chose in order to save man is the path of love and honour towards His creature. God Himself undertook the task of man's salvation. In God's eyes apostate man did not cease to be something precious. For this reason He did not search him out and summon him back through "a representative or a messenger"; He Himself set out in search of him and "emptied Himself out, taking the form of a servant". He humbled Himself (Philp. 2,7-8), in order to raise man up from the state of dishonour to the heights of honour. He offered him the communion of His love without crushing him, without violating man's personality.
That which now remains for man is his disposition. He is still free and can make his own choice; the believer knows that there is but one road to salvation: Christ, who said, "I am the way...no one cometh unto the Father except through me" (John 14,6). There is no other way to salvation outside the God-man Jesus Christ; neither can our brother save us. How then can someone else save us? No one can offer anything to God to atone for him. He does not have the price to pay for his soul, even if he were to labour all his life.
This is underlined by Holy Scripture: "No one can ransom a brother, there is no price one can give to God for it. For the ransom of life is costly and can never suffice" (Psalm 48, 8-9). In harmony with Holy Scripture one of the hymns of the Church emphasizes:
"Being crucified, ο Christ,
tyranny has been done away with;
the power of the enemy has been trampled upon;
for neither angel nor man,
but the Lord Himself has saved us.
Glory to Thee".
Here then every idea of self-development, self-realisation, self-discovery and self-salvation is overthrown and shown to be incompatible with the Christian faith. Man's participation is found in his free and total consent to the saving work of God in Jesus Christ.
THE ORTHODOX CHURCH Its Faith, Worship and Life
Rev. Antonios Alevisopoulos, Th.D., Ph.D
Translated by Rev. Stephen Avramides
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