The truth will make you odd.
Flannery O’Connor

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Trinity 5: The Co-eternal Son (Apologia Pt 7)

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In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. All things were created through him, and nothing that was made was made without him. And the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. St. John the Theologian (Jn 1.1,3,14)

As the Logos of God, the Son reveals God the Father. Logos is a multivalent word borrowed from Greek philosophy that the evangelist and theologian St. John used to allude to the Hebrew creation story while capturing a sense that the Logos continues to uphold creation. Logos literally means “Word,� but it also has strong connotations of “Principle� and “Reason.�

In the Hebrew creation story, God creates by his word. In Christ, creation is upheld in continuing creative activity. Beginning with St. Justin the Martyr in the second century, Christian writers talk about the Logos, the Principle “by whom all things were made,â€? while discussing the logoi or principles of creatures, which participate in the Logos and are upheld by him. This sense of Logos was especially favored by St. Maximus the Confessor. Logos is typically translated as “Wordâ€? in most English Bibles, but this loses much of the connation the word held for the original Greek readers of Scripture. In some Chinese Bibles, Logos is translated as Tao — “Pathâ€? or “Wayâ€? — recalling that early Christians called their faith “the Way.” Furthermore, Logos is etymologically at the root of the English word “logic,â€? reinforcing the sense of “principleâ€? or “reason.â€?

The Son is coeternal with the Father. He is eternally begotten — born or generated — of the Father. Being begotten of the Father is not an event that happens in time; it is a relationship of love between the Father and the Son in which God the Father is always and eternally bringing forth the Son and bestowing upon him the one, eternal divine nature.

As a man Jesus Christ has a beginning in time, when his conception was announced to the Virgin Mary; however, as God, he has no beginning. We will discuss this apparent contradiction further after we have explored the Incarnation. The fathers of the Council of Chalcedon — the fourth universal council of the Church — tackled this very knotted dilemma.

The Father is not first in time — the Father and the Son, along with the Holy Spirit, have eternally existed together in a communion of love — rather, he has a primacy of order. He is “firstâ€? because he is the fountainhead of the Trinity, sharing his divine nature with the Son and the Holy Spirit. But, as St. Basil reminds us, this explanation is for the weakness of our finitude, to help us understand the loving communion shared by the persons of the Trinity. It is not meant to exhaust it in our shifting, inadequate words. “When the Lord taught us the doctrine of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, he did not make arithmetic a part of this gift! …There is one God and Father, one only-begotten Son, and one Holy Spirit. We declare each of the persons uniquely, and if we must use numbers, we will not let an ignorant arithmetic lead us astray into polytheism.â€? (St. Basil, Treatise on the Holy Spirit)

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Filed under: — Basil @ 12:43 pm

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—» Trinity 5: The Co-eternal Son (Apologia Pt 7)

Trinity 4: The Son (Apologia Pt 6)

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It is difficult, if not impossible, to talk about the second person of the holy Trinity, the Son, without also talking about a man, the Jewish rabbi Jesus Christ.

During his lifetime, the Apostles were unaware of the divinity of their master and teacher. This ignorance is displayed repeatedly in the Gospel reflections of the evangelists. It was only in reflecting on the Passion, death by crucifixion, and Resurrection of their master that the Holy Spirit revealed to them what “Messiah� means. Christ and Messiah are Greek and Hebrew words, respectively, meaning “anointed.� Israel had been promised Messiah for untold ages; their very national identity was centered around the expectation of the coming reign of a divinely anointed Priest, Prophet, and King. It was not until the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles in power on Pentecost that they began to understand that Jesus, the Christ, is God enfleshed.

Jesus reveals something completely unheard of: The one God is a Trinity of persons. Neither polytheism nor monism, the orthodox faith revealed by Jesus is that there is one God, the Father, one God, the Son, and one God, the Holy Spirit. This is a completely new way of thinking about God, and its fullness continues today to elude many who box the mystery in. Heresy, as we have already stated, results from subjecting the mystery of God to finite and fallen human reason. The universal councils of the Church in the first millennium of Christian history responded to several heresies by setting up orthodox boundaries for thinking about the Trinity and Jesus Christ.

The first universal or ecumenical council proclaimed what Christians continue to recite in every Liturgy or Mass as the Nicene Creed: that Jesus Christ is the

…one Lord…, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of light, true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made….

Jesus is a man, but he is also God. As the Son and Word of God, he reveals in his person all the fullness of God the Father. The orthodox faith of the Christian Church is that the man Jesus Christ reveals God to us. Not only in words nor only in deeds—in the fullness of his person, he reveals God the Father. St. Paul teaches that the Son is “the exact image (ikon) of the Father.� Later bishops of the Church, such as St. Irenaeus in the second century, would identify the Son as the explanation (exegesis) of the Father. The fullness of this explanation of God by the Son is seen in the Incarnation, because the Lord Christ is the fulfillment and perfect explanation of the Jewish Scriptures, which Christians call the Old Testament. We will explore the Incarnation further after we discuss creation and the fall of man.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 11:19 am

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Trinity 2: The Father (Apologia Pt 5)

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There is one God because there is one Father. Scripture uses God as a name for the Father almost exclusively. “…[T]here is only one God, the Father, who created everything, and we exist for him….” (1Co 8.16) The God of the Old Testament is the Father. For this reason, the Son is called the “Son of God,” and the Spirit, the “Spirit of God.”

The Father eternally begets — gives birth to or generates — the Son and shares his divine nature with him. The Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father, and the Father shares his divine nature with the Spirit, as well. Thus, there is one God, sharing one divine nature in a communion of three unique and distinct persons. The divine nature is the nature of the Father, which he freely shares with the Son and the Spirit.

For this reason, we call the Father the source or fountainhead of the Trinity. No person of the Godhead is greater than another, all are equal in essence, equal in power, equal in glory. However, the divine nature is the nature of the Father, timelessly shared with the Son and the Spirit in a way beyond our comprehension.

What is the difference between generation and procession? The meaning of the distinction has not been revealed to us. We only know that there is a difference: The Son is not the Spirit, nor is the Spirit the Son. They are distinct persons within the Godhead.

Next, we will look at the persons of the Son and the Spirit.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 7:12 pm

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Trinity 1: Nature and Person (Apologia Pt 4)

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“The Way that can be explained is not the true Way.” This opening line from the Tao te Ching perhaps best introduces the mystery of the holy Trinity.

How does one begin to speak of this mystery? First, we must recognize that we are speaking of a deep and wonderful mystery. A mystery is not a riddle that demands a resolution. A mystery is a deep truth that will eternally elude every limited human attempt to exhaust it. No matter how much we say about a mystery, there is always infinitely more that can be said. No matter how much we learn about a mystery, we will never comprehend it.

God, the holy Trinity, is just such a mystery. A God that can be explained is not the true God. When we believe we understand God, we have in fact replaced the living God with an idol. A God in a box is not God. God has never had a begining and will never have an end. God has eternally been and eternally will be.

Holy Scripture teaches, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (1Jn 4.16b) Love means living together in communion — personal union and harmony of will and action. God is a communion of three persons— Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — who share a common divine nature.

When we speak of person and nature, we hit upon a deep mystery which God has shared with us by creating us in his image. We will discuss this further when we talk about the creation of man. The nature of something is its whatness — everything that can be described about it. The person is the unique, indefinable essence that is capable of loving communion with other persons. Created natures can be described with words and understood through teaching, but persons can only be known through communion. A simple example will help us understand what we mean here.

Identical twins share the exact same genetic material. In almost every respect, they are identical. When describing twins, we are hard-pressed to come up with any distinguishing characteristics. However, anyone who has known identical twins will tell you that they are each unique persons. Once you enter into communion with them, you no longer confuse them. Almost intuitively, you can tell them apart, because you know them on the level of the person, not on the level of their nature.

The holy Trinity is three divine persons eternally interdwelling one another in perfect communion. As we continue to explore the mystery of the Trinity, we will talk about the persons of the Trinity and how these three persons share a single divine nature in communion. As we do, it may be that the concepts seem impossible, or maybe just too much for us to grasp. This is exactly as it should be; remember: “The Way that can be explained is not the true Way.”

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Filed under: — Basil @ 9:11 pm

«— Says Who 2 (Apologia Pt 2)
—» Trinity 1: Nature and Person (Apologia Pt 4)

Says Who 3 (Apologia Pt 3)

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“Tradition” is a shorthand for all the means by which the Christian faith is passed on to us. Since initiation into the Church is primarily the beginning of a new life, all of these means fuse together in actual practice.

The foundation of all Tradition is Jesus Christ, as we said before. The Church is the body of Christ, and she is the sacrament of Christ’s continuing presence in the world. A sacrament (or a mystery) is the physical revelation in a concrete form of a reality that is otherwise invisible. The priest Alexander Schmemann once said that the Church is not an institution with Sacraments, but a Sacrament with institutions.

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and those gathered with them and empowered them. He constituted them into a new reality, the Church of Christ. The Greek word for Church is ekklesia, which can also be translated “gathering” or “assembly.” The Russian word is sobor, a similarly rich word which can also mean “council” or “assembly.” This communicates something lost in English-speaking countries: The Church is a fundamentally conciliar reality. This relates directly back to what we said earlier about being consistent with the witness of those who precede us. The Holy Spirit constitutes Christians into the Church, uniting them to Christ as his body and giving them authority to act in his name.

Thus, the main organ of Tradition is life in the Church.

Looking at the writings of holy Tradition, holy Scripture has the pride of place. Most teachings can be traced to Scripture, even if only to a single line or verse which might not appear relevant to someone outside the boundaries of the Church. In addition, Tradition must remain consistent with the witness of Scripture, since Scripture records the life of Christ and the earliest Christians, as well as the people of God specially prepared to bring forth the God-man Jesus Christ: the nation of Israel, the Jews. Scripture receives its authority from the teaching authority of the Church, since it is the Church in council which decides which writings are canonical, or authentic and authoritative. The bishops of the Church therefore have an obligation to faithful Christians to instruct them in how to understand Scripture.

After Scripture in importance are the decisions of Church councils — including the Symbol of Faith, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, which we will discuss further on —the hymns and liturgy of the Church, the writings of the Church Fathers, icons, and finally oral traditions.

As we continue in this Apologia for classical Christian faith, these will be the sources we will build on. In our next installment, we will begin with belief in God as a Trinity.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 5:16 pm

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—» Says Who 3 (Apologia Pt 3)

Says Who 2 (Apologia Pt 2)

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Since Jesus Christ is the ultimate revelation of God to humanity, his life and teachings are the point of reference for all Christian beliefs and practices. After his suffering, death, and resurrection, he commissioned his apostles to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” As a result, he promised, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The process of making disciples is one of intiation into a way of life. In their time with their master, the apostles did not learn only what could be written in books. They learned intimately the kind of person Jesus is. This is what they passed along to the first Christian disciples and what the Church has continued to pass along to Christian disciples in every generation.

From the very beginning, however, Christians have faced the ever-present temptation to change what they have received. The only truly good news is the story of our redemption through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. But this good news means following the commands of Christ, which are sometimes difficult. Addtionally, God’s plan of salvation boggles the limited minds of men. These two things together are the root of every heresy. A heresy is a warping — sometimes very subtle — of the way of life that has been delivered to us by Christ in the Church. Humans want to bend the gospel — the good news of Christ — and make it easier: either easier to fit into the limited categories of reason, or easier to live the old ways of life — or both.

This is why a Christian has an obligation to his brothers and sisters — living, dead, and unborn — never to change the good news that he has received. He may use new tools, new metaphors, new stories, but he must never invent any new teachings. The good news has been passed on to us from untold previous generations — some of whom shed their blood to protect its integrity. The Latin word for this passing on is traditio; thus, another word for the teaching of the Church is Tradition. Sometimes, tradition is misunderstood as dead or constricting. But Jaroslav Pelikan, a famous church historian, once noted, “Tradition is not the dead faith of the living, but the living faith of the dead.” In other words, the living, vibrant faith that breathed new life into the apostles, the martyrs, and the saints who confessed their faith against all odds is the same faith that breathes new life into us. This is why modern Christians, when they add their voices to the 2000 years of Church teaching, must be careful to ensure that their witness is consistent with that of those who precede them.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 5:05 pm

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Says Who? (Apologia Pt 1)

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Many people look at the world around us and believe that there must be a God. Usually this is an intuitive response to the beauty of the world: a magnificent sunset, a stream proceeding endlessly to a green horizon, a starry sky of diamonds against the black velvet of night — experiences that leave us speechless, sure that someone must be responsible for it all. Sometimes, these experiences are coupled with a philosophical investigation of the idea of God’s existence, and one of the many proofs for God’s existence adds further support to belief.

However, we cannot induce from these things what kind of creator God is. Is he good or bad? For us or against us? In the end, we cannot even know that God is a creator separate from what we see around us. As proof, one need only look at the vast multiplicity of religions in the world. So many people, searching for the reasons for their lives. If one were to judge truth in religious belief from this multiplicity of religions, one would be tempted to conclude that truth in religion was an illusion — all religious beliefs are equally fantastic and unbelievable.

The only way we could know for certain anything about God is if he told us himself. He would need to reveal himself to us. Christians believe that this is exactly what has happened. The name for Christian Scripture is the Bible; it records God’s revelation to us. Beginning with our first parents — given the names Adam and Eve in Scripture — God has patiently revealed himself little by little. Everything has been done “in the fulness of time”: when human society was ready and the moment was right for the fulfillment of his plan.

In a comment on my post A Charge to Keep I Have, Pete asks,

This discussion seems to be… yet another argument about whether the Orthodox church is the only true church…. Does every issue have to become this? I’m not asking from a position of cynicism (yet)—I sincerely want to know whether it?s possible to have real dialogue… about other issues without reference to the Orthodox/“Heterodox? issue.

Karl brings it down to the real issue in response:

[A]ll truth claims eventually come to their core: by what authority does one claim that [X] is true? In regards to Orthodox vs Heterodox discussions of ANYTHING, [the] issue must at some point touch on the Authority Issue. Otherwise we just shout Scripture verses, or philosophical syllogisms, or whatnot back and forth totally befuddled as to why the other person ?just doesn?t get it.?

From our POV, this is a waste of time. We might as well get to the real issue: How do you know that what you believe is true?

The New Testament Scriptures testify to the life of Jesus Christ, whom Orthodox Christians believe to be God. The Orthodox believe that the Incarnation of God is the ultimate authority for all questions. “Incarnation” is a word from Latin meaning “enfleshment.” For Orthodox Christians, Jesus Christ was not merely a man, but God enfleshed as a man.

None of the books of the Bible were written by Jesus. There is no evidence, in fact, that he was even interested in leaving any teachings or instructions in writing at all. His actions — as recorded by the writers of the gospels, the books of the Bible that describe his life — seem to indicate that he was more interested in forming a community of which he is the head. Christians call this community the Church.

Just before his ascent into heaven, Jesus left his authority with a group of twelve hand-picked men called Apostles. These men had lived with Jesus for three years and were intimately familiar with his teachings. In addition, on Pentecost they were filled with the Holy Spirit, who enabled them to recall and teach what they had learned with power and authority. The Holy Spirit also brought them together and constituted them into a new reality, the Church, which Orthodox Christians believe is one with Jesus Christ, its head and founder.

This is why St. Paul considers the Church to be “the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

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Filed under: — Basil @ 6:16 pm