Thursday, 19 April 2012

Orthodoxy and Salvation: Baptism and our natural progression in faith.

First a disclaimer: Any person saying that they know the exact requirements of salvation is not Orthodox, since Orthodoxy does not teach this, it teaches what the Apostles passed down to us and this is the closest we know to the Truth since these men were the Apostles of the truth himself. All I am doing in this piece is analysing a comparison between the Symbolic Baptism and Sola Fide of protestanism to orthodox Sacramental and Spiritual progression.
Many see faith alone as enough for Salvation, due to the cross, but Orthdoxy sees salvation as a process rather than a single event, which starts with Baptism.
A simple Scriptural example of this would be the Book of Acts where even though the Apostles have received the spirit and the gifts of it have been passed out to all there (including Gentiles), they still insisted that all must be baptised to receive salvation.  Rather than purely believing and having faith, an active role in the Sacramental life of the Church is a part of the process of Salvation.
For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.” (Acts 10:46-48)
So these people had received gifts from the spirit and certainly had Desire for Baptism since they were believers, but still required Baptism for their Salvation. Christ even stated this when he said “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” (Mark 16:16) He did into say simply faith, or faith and willingness but Faith and Baptism.
I find one problem with Western Theologies such as those arising with Protestantism and the rise of New Catholicism is this idea of Sacraments as simply symbolic and no more.  Baptism is reduced to being dunked into water and it being a symbol of renewal rather than the Sacramental act which the Apostles demanded of all during their time.  It is important to state that this pushing away from Sacramental Theology during the Reformation also applied to Communion and Marriage and to deny the importance of Baptism in Salvation Is akin to denying the Healing and Grace received through communion or sanctity of a Christian marriage.
Christ did not command "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:19-20) as a symbol, or say “Make them love me, give a few symbolic Gestures and leave it at that” he specifically told the disciples to get them baptized and have them obey the Teachings, which included Baptism. We even see this in the Didache (1st Century text containing the Teachings of the Apostles.) Baptism has been of HUGE importance since the time of Christ and this is the way of it. Christ taught it, his apostles taught it. I do not see why they would lie.
This was of course instituted  on Christ but became a requirement for all Pentecost. Pope Shenouda states that "we should understand that the way the thief was saved is irrelevant for the Christian era since neither the Church nor the Christian Priesthood had yet been established" when we look at rare cases pre-pentecost, such as St Dismas the Good Thief.
Another concept some will have a problem with is Faith and Works. Many, when they hear of faith and works see “Faith + Works= Salvation” as though faith and works are seperate. I personally see more of a “Faith (naturally leading to) works = Salvation” since no work which is not through Love can achieve anything substantial. The Timothy quote is not the only biblical mention of this. It is a large issue so I will not go into massive detail just now. Paul in Cor.3 says:

According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
So indeed faith is Christ is vital. Yet he also states that:
The fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”
Faith which produces works is needed and the Orthodox do not deny that these works come through Faith. Saint John Cassian calls this Synergy of Faith and Works.  Salvation is laid in the life of Christ as our foundation. However, our works for him don't earn us salvation, but neither are they unimportant. There is a reward, and that reward according to the Fathers is communion with Him more fully and completely. This is why Christ says:

He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him." (Jn 14:21)
"If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. "He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father's who sent Me. (Jn 14:23-24)
If you love Christ you will do good works, if you do not have the faith you will not. So Works come through true faith whether you do them with the goal of Salvation or through pure love. I see the statement of “Works are not needed for Salvation” as a moot point and see doing good as something a Christians should never even try to get out of. If you love Christ you WILL do good deeds anyway.  This is the Orthodox view of Faith and Works.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Icons – Depicting the visible

The word Icon comes from the Greek word ‘eikon’ meaning an image. In the Orthodox tradition Icons have a great spiritual significance and role in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church.
The practice of writing Icons in the Christian tradition was founded with Saint Luke, who is believed to have written images of the Virgin Mary. Some of these Icons still exist, such as the Theotokos of Tikvin. From then, this tradition has been passed down in the Orthodox Church, as it was in the Western Church until around the 1600’s. Icons are still used today in Orthodox liturgical life and venerated as they represent the saints and Martyrs in their heavenly bodies.

Icons serve many uses in the Church and have done since the first centuries. One clearly important role of Icons is education. Met Ware said that “He who lacks learning or leisure to study works of theology has only to enter a church to see unfolded before him on the walls all the mysteries of the Christian religion.” This was a key part of Early Christianity since when few could read the Homilies of a speaker and Icons of a Church were the greatest source of Education.

Their second function is in the Liturgical Worship of the Church. Icons play prominent roles such as in procession and the sacraments. This is not in a worship based role but in representation.  When a liturgy happens it is not just a liturgy on Earth but one in Heaven, making the representation of the saints important since they are in attendance n the Divine Liturgy to receive the portion of Christ as we do on Earth. We also see this with the use of the icon of Christ in the sacrament of Confession, with our confessions addressed to Christ through his Icon, as he receives out confession alone through the priest as an Icon of Christ in himself.

Many call this Idolatry but this definition and viewpoint simply show a lack of understanding of icons and their theological importance rather than any wrongdoing on the part of Orthodoxy.
There is in fact no condemnation of iconography in its Orthodox form in the bible. They is indeed condemnation of imagery of a human interpretation of the nature of God, which is the reason I abhor some of those abominable works in Catholic Cathedrals which Show the trinity or God with a big beard, but no condemnation of Showing Christ in his earthly form as his apostles saw him. I will explain the difference in the representation of God the Father and God in the incarnation now.

The 10 commandments say that “You shall not make unto the any Graven image…” explaining that God is a “Jealous God” and therefore to make something and worship it is to take away from the worship of one God. This is completely understandable in context since there is no way in which people could understand what God looked like, making an image of God an image of a human interpretation of God. Yet Iconography after the Incarnation is acceptable for this very reason.
Before the incarnation of God in Christ, there was no image of God and no knowledge of his form and the idea of looking upon God struck fear into the people.  We know of this through the Old Testament when those who glimpsed on God knew of this radiance, as with Aaron fearing Moses due to this. They even veiled his face so that they could not witness it, showing the humility and fear of the people.

When Christ arrived, he gave God a form, so God became matter in order to appear to us, becoming God in an earthly form. He also told us not to fear his presence and welcomed people to him, a stark distinction from the veiling and fear of the face of God. Christ became matter so that we could see him and talk to him without having to fear and with this we received an image of God which is not man made but from God himself.   Paul himself referred to the veil of separation between humanity and the witness of God when he said “We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away.” (2 Corinthians 13:3) So Moses was told not to make Idols since they will always be of a God we cannot see, and thus false but with the Incarnation we witnessed God in his very form and thus have knowledge of this, to make an image of what we have seen is not an Idol but a witness.

John of Damascus, in verbally annihilating the arguments of the iconoclasts in the 7th Council, explains this perfectly. He says that “In times past, God, without body and form, could in no way be represented. But now, since God has appeared in the flesh and lived among men, I can depict that which is visible of God.” In portraying what God has revealed of himself to us we are not sculpting Idols but showing the people what God has shown us. If God did not want us to see this he would not have become something we can see through his revelation in Christ and would not have.

With the incarnation we have God in matter and no longer have to rely on a human interpretation of God. This in itself means that Iconography can show a true image of God without it becoming a human version and thus Idolatry. God even made an image of himself In Christ, as Saint Paul explains when he calls Christ "the image of the invisible God.” for Christ is "the image of the invisible God. To hate God being represented through a physical form is, in a way, to hate Christ. As Met. Kallistos says of Iconoclasm, to refer to icons as Idolatry “is to betray the Incarnation, by allowing no place to Christ’s humanity, to His body; it is to forget that our body as well as our soul must be saved and transfigured.”

There is also a large difference between apparent worship and veneration. John of Damascus reminds us that "under the Old Covenant God commanded images to be made: first the tabernacle, and then everything in it." Indeed God orders Moses to build the Ark and detail it with “two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover.” Even detailing greatly as to the direction in which these should face. We know that the Ark was venerated for its contents but God had ordered Moses to have craftsmen design icons of heavenly beings.

The reason given in tradition that Moses was accepted in this task, apart from it being directly from God, is simply since it was not worshipped in the place of God. This is the same with Icons. John of Damascus also explains this, he says “I do not venerate the matter but I venerate the Creator of matter, Who became matter for me, Who condescended to live in matter, and Who, through matter accomplished my salvation; I do not cease to respect the matter through which my salvation is accomplished.”

To venerate an icon for what it represents is not Idolatry, unlike worshipping an item for what it is. Through icons we see the heavenly forms of Christ as well as our saints and Martyrs. Through asking the saints to pray to God for us we are not worshipping them but praising the holiness which God has bestowed upon them in the same way in which one might show respect to a priest or even kiss the Cross or Gospel book.

Through this veneration we are also inspired to holiness and to emulate those that came before us and to wish to live up to the example of another or ask them for assistance is not Idolatry.  As Saint Polycarp said to the centurion before his Martyrdom “For Him, being the Son of God, we adore, but the martyrs as disciples and imitators of the Lord we cherish as they deserve for their matchless affection towards their own King and Teacher.” There is a great difference between worship and veneration.