Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Orthodox Christian Faith - (Core faith on Church)

These are notes that was made in a hurry after a small message for the  half day Church School teachers' meeting in Edmonton  May 2015. 
The Orthodox Faith - Church
From Childhood, I have been told that ‘I am Orthodox ‘and figured this is what we as family and those that we meet in our Church must be. 
Not realizing the crux of what the Orthodox Faith is, I presumed these follow the rules; they are strict, conservative and unchanging and must be some kind of group like the Pharisees but Christians that evolved after Jesus Christ.
To see the image that was my mind, a reference passage from the Gospel is St.  Luke 6: 1-3, where even small things like eating a grain on Sabbath day matter to these Pharisees.  
For me these later day rule keepers has enforcers in our homes like parents and to me the main rule keeper was my Grandmother whom we have to grudgingly obey by going to attend Holy Qurbana on Sundays, participate with her in evening prayers together from the Oldest to the youngest, get up early on Feast Days to go to Church for services etc..
It was much later in my Engineering College days when somehow reciting the later part of the Holy creed on the Holy Spirit at lightning speed in a Church during the worship that a thought came to my mind to slow down and realized how carelessly that that I am talking of God the Holy Spirit. That realization made me very much humbled with the fact that this is what I have been doing all along the childhood when we say the Creed every time and the teaching and our faith cannot be separated from  what is ‘Church ‘ .
So I feel it appropriate to start learning and sharing on the four attributes that Holy Creed give to Church – ‘‘One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic ‘ , from what I have read and come to believe .
One –   To begin to know the Oneness of the Church, we need to know the Oneness is not something new but that we read our Lord praying in St. John 17
“I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.  All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one”  and
We see the early Church gathering together as ‘One’, awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit at the feast of Pentecost in Acts 1: 14 and thereafter in Acts 2: 44-48. Teaching of Church as ‘One’ is what was lived by the earliest Christians as taught by St Paul to the Church in Ephesus Ephesians 2: 12 – 22
remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
 For He himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,  by setting aside in His flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
This form the fundamental faith for the Orthodox Church as ‘One’ Body and thus makes it difficult for us to call the different groups of Christians that departed from it as ‘Branches’ or  ‘Churches’ and deviate from what it has believed from first century.
Holy -   From the above passage of  Ephesians 2 , it should be noted  that  the Holiness of the Church is in the work of the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit in its fullness within the Church and each of us joined to it by  Holy Baptism and Chrismation by being ‘ born again’ are called to be Holy .   In the Scripture of St. Mathew 5:48, our Lord asks His disciples to be perfect, therefore as your Heavenly Father is perfect ‘   In the Old Testament, we read the Lord asking the priests to be consecrated (Set apart) and commanding the people of God ‘Be Holy because I, the Lord your God, am Holy’.
 This is reiterated again to the Church in letters of the Apostles and their disciples to the early Church.  Read 1 Peter 1: 3 – 2:10.    Greek word for ‘Holy ‘is ‘Hagios’, which also mean ‘that which is separated’.  Our core faith is that the Church is set part and Holy because the Holy Spirit is guiding it and we have the model of those before who lived in it.
Catholic –   The word ‘Catholic’ using it as solely meaning ‘Universal’ has been misused trying bring to being other jurisdiction as within it and a major cause of for the separation of the Roman Catholics from the Eastern Orthodox in 1054 over the argument by the Church in Rome as overseer over the other places where the Church was (Antioch, Alexandria etc.) , also one of the key reason of disagreement with the Syrian  Church of Antioch which has come to assume it has a position to oversee the ancient Church in India.
The word Catholic actually means ‘in its fullness ‘and comes from joining two words - ‘Kat’ plus ‘Holiki’. Kat mean ‘according to’ and Holiki mean ‘the whole’. It translates to the Church where all its teachings, practices, faith and tradition in its fullness is  the ‘ Church’ and thus every parish by its own if it follows it can be attributed as ‘ Catholic’ . The word ‘Catholic’ was attributed as first used by the great father among the Saints, St. Ignatius of Antioch of 1st Century.
“Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful to baptize or give communion without the consent of the bishop. On the other hand, whatever has his approval is pleasing to God. Thus, whatever is done will be safe and valid. — Letter to the Smyrnaeans” (Source Wikipedia)
 This prayer of fullness within the Church is the prayer St. Paul shows as example to Church in Ephesians 3: 14-20.
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father,  from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,
Apostolic -   Apostolic does not mean a Church has to be founded by an Apostle or it has to have a chain of succession from the Apostles but that which is being built on the foundation of the teaching of Jesus Christ and that followed and practised by Apostles and the Church all along in which the essential is not compromised.
Having gone through the marks and going through the word  ‘ Orthodox ‘(‘ Ortho’ –  ‘Right’  and Doxa ‘ Glory’)  , for each of us as Sunday School teachers and individual members of Church  we have  great role to  understand and do what we are called to   ‘stand separated ‘ and  in continuing its mission in redeeming  humanity and the world  to be truly  give Glory to God.
Two final parting thoughts
How can we avoid the lack of dedication to put to practice like hose baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christians before us to live out the faith - faith that is consistent with what has been followed with Holy Tradition as lived and taught as taught by the Fathers, in accordance to Scripture, Creed and everywhere in the Church ?
What can we do to encourage and continue in foot path of the methods used by the Church consistently in deciphering what is essential and non- essential in our settings today to build on our faith and live it?  May God help us
1.    The Orthodox Church faith and practices – Fr. Mathew Vaidyan
2.    An article by Fr. Bijesh Philip -  St. Thomas Orthodox Seminary , Nagpur

Update :-  September 2016
A wonderful book on this topic recently picked up and will recommend to be read by all Sunday School teachers
- Christ and  the Church  by ArchBishop Gregory Afonsky 

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