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19-3 Orthodox Christianity in Bulgaria - Sunday School - Day 2




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This article is from the Bulgaria FAQ, by Dragomir R. Radev radev@tune.cs.columbia.edu with numerous contributions by others.

19-3 Orthodox Christianity in Bulgaria - Sunday School - Day 2

SUNDAY SCHOOL - DAY 2

THE ACT OF FAITH

I BELIEVE...

Originally the Creed was recited with "We believe",
affirming the "common mind and one heart", the universality
of the Church and therefore the emphasis was laid on the
collective, rather than the personal aspect of faith. Later,
with the development of the Church consciousness and the
refinement of the elements of personal religiousness, they
started reciting it as a personal, rather than collective
statement of faith.

But is what is "to believe"? What is "faith"? Is it the
self-deceiving whimsical picture of a world, governed by
supreme powers, combined with subconscious fear of personal
death, that stimulates the mind to create the images of
Heaven and Hell? Is it just another ideology? Is it a
psychological deviation? What is the relation between "I
believe" and "I know"? These are questions, that have
troubled the minds of many generations, including our own.
Contrary to many people's expectations, the progress of
science and technology did not bring about ultimate answers
to the ancient questions; the only effect that the
technocratic age has had upon the problem of personal faith
and the existence of God is that it distracted the attention
of whole generations from its clear realization. The result
is not the problem's disappearance, but the decreasing
number of individuals, who face it in their lifetimes.

The Scripture itself explores the different aspects and
proper modes of faith. But there is also in it a definition
of faith, although very brief. It it to be found in the
Epistle to the Hebrews, usually ascribed to St. Paul, one of
the Twelve apostles: "Now faith is the substance of things
hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the
elders (i.e. the Jews in the Old Testament - P.S.) obtained
a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds
were fraimed by the word of God, so that the things which
are seen were not made of things which are visible." (Heb.
11:1). This short statement is one of the most explored
passages in the Bible, especially nowadays, with the recent
development of gnoseology, the science of rational
perception and knowledge.

Therefore a statement a faith presupposes knowledge,
but not the kind of knowledge we all know from our sensual
or mental experience. As it refers to a reality different
from our material world and beyond it (transcendental), the
tools of natural science are useless, if we want to get to
know it. The spiritual reality, the existence of God and the
angelic powers cannot be "detected" with any technological
means or by the rational means of analysis. The usual
question of the non-believers "Where is God? Show Him to
me!" thus has no meaning and is a consequence of
misunderstanding of the difference between the two realities
- the created and the uncreated one (e.g. the material world
- the Universe), and the transcendent existence of God,
which is beyond the borders of our knowledge and
understanding.

A natural question would be "Where do we get this
supernatural knowledge about God, then? Since He is so
unreachable by any human means, how would we even know of
His existence?"

This is the problem of the sources of the divine
revelation. We can distinguish several such sources:

- the material world itself. The law of cause and
effect could be applied to trace the mere fact of the
Being's existence (which in itself is an effect) to its pre-
existential cause, which, according to the believers, is God
himself. This is called "the ontological argument".

- the moral law in Man. The ability to distinguish
between good and evil, the subtle sensitivity about an ever-
existing supreme justice; inspite of many behavioral
explanations of the moral phenomena, still one of the most
profound and convincing explanations are the theological
ones.

- the feeling of a purpose in the life of the
individual and the existence of the Universe. This is the
"teleological argument".

- the recorded Revelation - the Bible or the Word of
God. It consists of the Old and the New Testaments, the Old
being the sacred writings of the Jewish nation, covering a
long period of its history and actually regarding the events
of this hisotry as a manifestation of God's intervention in
human history in general. The New Testament is an account of
the fulfillment of the expectations of a Messiah, a
legendary figure, expected by the ancient Jews and foreseen
in their prophetic writings. The Messiah is Jesus Christ the
Nazarene, a real figure, who has lived during the rule of
Herod, king of the Roman province of Judea. In the person of
Christ, according to Orthodoxy, the ultimate revelation is
to be completed - God Himself takes human nature and "walks
among us in flesh". The meaning and purpose of this
incarnation will be discussed later.

Generally speaking, there is nothing in the physical
reality that can not serve as some sort of revelation; all
human cultures have developed different imagery, stories and
beliefs to express something common for all mankind - the
deeply rooted in every human being religiousness, i.g. the
possibility, the potential of religious faith, of direct
perception of the divine.

Therefore, when an Orthodox Christian starts his/her
statement of faith with "I believe...", he is not speaking
to himself and is not proclaiming a desired state of things,
having nothing to do with reality. He is rather answering a
supernatural call for obedience and recognition, that comes
from outside, and at the ame time from his own personal
depths. It is the outward expression of Man's personal act
of faith, carried out again and again, reaching to find his
own self-identity in a complicated world. In those two
simple words there is a whole ontology (vision of the
essence of being) and a clear anthropology (vision of the
essence of Man); a picture of a created Universe and a
response from a living soul to the divine call from its
Creator.

The act of faith is a necessary first step on the path
of Christian fulfillment. Without faith the secret knowledge
of God will not be revealed; the virtues cannot be practiced
effectively and salvation cannot be achieved. There are
dozens of examples in the Bible on the importance of
personal faith for receiving the grace of God, His loving-
kindness and forgiveness. Strictly speaking the nonbeliever
is in a different state or mode of being than the believer,
he/she has a different supernatural status - not only in the
eyes of God, but objectively, in his own nature.
Reproachful, as it may sound, this is an argument, upon
which many religions agree (I mean the status of Man before
and after the personal act of faith). Believers know the
difference and that is one of the main drives for evangelism
(please do not associate it with street or TV evangelism),
of sharing the Good News with others and thus helping them
to partake in the divine nature and to perceive the truths
from the "other reality" I already mentioned.

In my next posting I will deal in brief with the other
part of the first section of the Creed, namely, the dogma of
the Holy Trinity and His three persons (hipostasis).

VOCABULARY: Godhead - Bozhestvo. The Holy Trinity, regarded
in its unity, rather than in the aspect of the differences
between the three Persons.

Religion - from re-legare, a Latin word for "to
reunite", to join together something that has previously
been broken or cut apart.

Bible - from "biblia" (Greek word for "books"), i.g.
the collection of the sacred writings of Christianity. A
general agreement on the contents of the Bible was reached
no earlier than the 3-4th century, when there was a need of
a common written source for all Christians. This concerns
only the books of the New Testament; the Old Testament is
basically all the major books of the Jewish Torrah (The Five
Books, ascribed to Moses) and the writings of prophets,
poets, hitorians, etc. - but every book deals with some
aspect of the revelation of God to the Jewish nation.

 

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