- Doctrine -
God the Father
God the Father is the fountainhead of the Holy Trinity. The Scriptures reveal that the one God is Three Persons--Father, Son and Holy Spirit--eternally sharing the one divine nature. From the Father the Son is begotten before all ages and all time (Psalm 2:7; 2 Corinthians 11:31). It is also from the Father that the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds (John 15:26). Through Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit, we come to know the Father (Matthew 11:27). God the Father created all things through the Son, in the Holy Spirit (Genesis 1; 2; John 1:3; Job 33:4), and we are called to worship Him (John 4:23). The Father loves us and sent His Son to give us everlasting life (John 3:16).
Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Trinity, eternally born of the Father. He became a man, and thus He is at once fully God and fully man. His coming to earth was foretold in the Old Testament by the Prophets. Because Jesus Christ is at the heart of Christianity, the Orthodox Church has given more attention to knowing Him than to anything or anyone else. In reciting the Nicene Creed, Orthodox Christians regularly affirm the historic faith concerning Jesus as they say, "I believe...in one Lord Jesus Christ, begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made, who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again from the dead, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, whose Kingdom shall have no end."
The Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is one of the Persons of the Trinity and is one in essence with the Father. Orthodox Christians repeatedly confess, "And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified. . ." He is called the "Promise of the Father" (Acts 1:4), given by Christ as a gift to the Church, to empower the Church for service to God (Acts 1:8), to place God's love in our hearts (Romans 5:5), and to impart spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:7-13) and virtues (Galatians 5:22, 23) for Christian life and witness. Orthodox Christians believe the biblical promise that the Holy Spirit is given in chrismation (anointing) at baptism (Acts 2:38). We are to grow in our experience of the Holy Spirit for the rest of our lives.
Orthodox Christians confess God as Creator of heaven and earth (Genesis 1:1, the Nicene Creed). Creation did not just happen into existence. God made it all. "By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God. . ." (Hebrews 11:3). Orthodox Christians do not believe the Bible to be a scientific textbook on creation, as some mistakenly maintain, but rather God's revelation of Himself and His salvation. Also, helpful as they may be, we do not view scientific textbooks as God's revelation. They may contain both known facts and speculative theory. They are not infallible. Orthodox Christians refuse to build an unnecessary and artificial wall between science and the Christian Faith. Rather, they understand honest scientific investigation as a potential encouragement to faith, for all truth is from God.
Incarnation refers to Jesus Christ coming "in the flesh." The eternal Son of God the Father assumed to Himself a complete human nature from the Virgin Mary. He was (and is) one divine Person, fully possessing from God the Father the entirety of the divine nature, and in His coming in the flesh fully possessing a human nature from Mary. By His Incarnation, the Son forever possesses two natures in His one Person. The Son of God, limitless in His divine nature, voluntarily and willingly accepted limitation in His humanity, in which He experienced hunger, thirst, fatigue--and ultimately, death. The Incarnation is indispensable to Christianity--there is no Christianity without it. The Scriptures record, "Every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God" (1 John 4:3). By His Incarnation, the Son of God redeemed human nature, a redemption made accessible to all who are joined to Him in His glorified humanity.
Mary is called Theotokos, meaning "God-bearer" or "the Mother of God," because she bore the Son of God in her womb and from her He took His humanity. Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, recognized this reality when she called Mary, "the mother of my Lord" (Luke 1:43). Mary said of herself, "All generations will call me blessed" (Luke 1:48). So we, in our generation, call her blessed. Mary lived a chaste and holy life, and we honor her highly as the model of holiness, the first of the redeemed, the Mother of the new humanity in her Son. It is bewildering to Orthodox Christians that many professing Christians who claim to believe the Bible never call Mary blessed nor honor her who bore and raised God the Son in His human flesh.
Communion of Saints
When Christians depart this life, they remain a vital part of the Church, the Body of Christ. They are alive in the Lord and "registered in heaven" (Hebrews 12:23). They worship God (Revelation 4:10) and inhabit His heavenly dwelling places (John 14:2). In the Eucharist we come "to the city of the living God" and join in communion with the saints in our worship of God (Hebrews 12:22). They are that great "cloud of witnesses" which surrounds us, and we seek to imitate them in running "the race that is set before us" (Hebrews 12:1). Rejecting or ignoring the communion of saints is a denial that those who have died in Christ are still part of His Holy Church.
Prayer to the Saints
Prayer to the saints is encouraged by the Orthodox Church. Why? Because physical death is not a defeat for a Christian. It is a glorious passage into heaven. The Christians does not cease to be a part of the Church at death. God forbid! Nor is he set aside, idle until the Day of Judgment.
The True Church is composed of all who are in Christ--in heaven and on earth. It is not limited in membership to those presently alive. Those in heaven with Christ are alive, in communion with God, worshiping God, doing their part in the Body of Christ. They actively pray to God for all those in the Church--and perhaps, indeed, for the whole world. So we pray to the saints who have departed this life, seeking their prayers, even as we ask Christian friends on earth to pray for us.
The Second Coming
With the current speculation in some corners of Christendom surrounding the Second Coming of Christ and how it may come to pass, it is comforting to know the beliefs of the Orthodox Church are basic. Orthodox Christians confess with conviction that Jesus Christ "will come again to judge the living and the dead," and that "His Kingdom will have no end." Orthodox preaching does not attempt to predict God's prophetic schedule, but to encourage Christian people to have their lives in order that they might have confidence before Him when He comes (1 John 2:28).
Heaven is the place of God's throne beyond time and space. It is the abode of God's angels, as well as of the saints who have passed from this life. We pray, "Our Father, who are in heaven. . ." Though Christians live in this world, they belong to the Kingdom of heaven, and that Kingdom is their true home. But heaven is not only for the future. Neither is it some distant place billions of light years away in a nebulous "great beyond." For the Orthodox, heaven is part of Christian life and worship. The very architecture of an Orthodox church building is designed so that the building itself participates in the reality of heaven. Saint Paul teaches we are raised up with Christ in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6), "fellow citizens with the saint and members of the household of God" (Ephesians 2:19). At the end of the age, a new heaven and a new earth will be revealed (Revelation 21:1).
Hell, unpopular as it is among modern people, is real. The Orthodox Church understands hell as a place of eternal torment for those who willfully reject the grace of God. Our Lord once said, "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched--where 'Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched' " (Mark 9:43, 44). He challenged the religious hypocrites with the question: "How can you escape the condemnation of hell?" (Matthew 23:33). His answer is, "God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:17). There is a Day of Judgment coming, and there is a place of punishment for those who have hardened their hearts against God. It does make a difference how we live this life. Those who of their own free will reject the grace and mercy of God must forever bear the consequences of that choice.
Sin literally means "to miss the mark." As Saint Paul writes, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). We sin when we pervert what God has given us as good, falling short of His purposes for us. Our sins separate us from God (Isaiah 59:1,2), leaving us spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1). To save us, the Son of God assumed our humanity, and being without sin, "He condemned sin in the flesh" (Romans 8:3). In His mercy, God forgives our sins when we confess them and turn from them, giving us strength to overcome sin in our lives. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
Salvation is the divine gift through which men and women are delivered from sin and death, united to Christ, and brought into His eternal Kingdom. Those who heard Peter's sermon on the Day of Pentecost asked what they must do to be saved. He answered, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). Salvation begins with these three "steps": 1) repent, 2) be baptized, and 3) receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. To repent means to change our mind about how we have been, turning from our sin and committing ourselves to Christ. To be baptized means to be born again by being joined into union with Christ. And to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit means to receive the Spirit who empowers us to enter a new life in Christ, be nurtured in the Church, and be conformed to God's image.
Justification is a word used in the Scriptures to mean that in Christ we are forgiven and actually made righteous in our living. Justification is not a once-for-all, instantaneous pronouncement guaranteeing eternal salvation, no matter how wickedly a person may live from that point on. Neither is it merely a legal declaration that an unrighteous person is righteous. Rather, justification is a living, dynamic, day-to-day reality for the one who follows Christ. The Christian actively pursues a righteous life in the grace and power of God granted to all who are believing Him.
Sanctification is being set apart for God. It involves us in the process of being cleansed and made holy by Christ in the Holy Spirit. We are called to be saints and to grow into the likeness of God. Having been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, we actively participate in sanctification. We cooperate with God, we work together with Him, that we may know Him, becoming by grace what He is by nature.
When the young Church was getting underway, God poured out His Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and their followers, giving them spiritual gifts to build up the Church and serve each other. Among the specific gifts of the Spirit mentioned in the New Testament are: apostleship, prophecy, evangelism, pastoring, teaching, healing, helps, administrations, knowledge, wisdom, tongues, interpretation of tongues. These and other spiritual gifts are recognized in the Orthodox Church. The need for them varies with the times. The gifts of the Spirit are most in evidence in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church.