Monthly Archives: September 2015

The Creed: And on the Third Day, He Rose Again, According to the Scriptures

The Orthodox Church believes in Christ’s real death and His actual resurrection. Resurrection, however, does not simply mean bodily resuscitation. Neither the Gospel nor the Church teaches that Jesus was lying dead and then was biologically revived and walked around in the same way that He did before He was killed. In a word, the Gospel does not say that the angel moved the stone from the tomb in order to let Jesus out. The angel moved the stone to reveal that Jesus was not there.

Jesus’ Resurrection is the bedrock of our faith. Why is the Resurrection important? Life no longer must end in eternal death! The joy we feel at Pascha—when heaven and earth touch, and time seems to fall away—is the joy of the Kingdom of God. When Christ comes again to raise the dead, His Church will experience this joy eternal.

(An aside: “according to the scriptures” reminds us that Christ’s death and resurrection had been foretold in the Old Testament scriptures. Ps. 16:10 reads, “For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.” This verse is quoted by both St. Peter and St. Paul in the book of Acts, to show that Christ’s resurrection was a fulfillment of the scriptures.)

“In His resurrection Jesus is in a new and glorious form. He appears in different places immediately. He is difficult to recognize. He eats and drinks to show that He is not a ghost. He allows Himself to be touched. And yet He appears in the midst of disciples, ‘the doors being shut.’ And He ‘vanishes out of their sight.’ Christ indeed is risen, but His resurrected humanity is full of life and divinity. It is humanity in the new form of the eternal life of the Kingdom of God.” (Hopko, “Doctrine,” p. 104)

Try this: Talk with your students about Pascha. What is it that we celebrate at Pascha? How do we prepare for that? What does each child in the class love about Pascha, and why? How do we feel when it is Pascha? Is the joy of Pascha different from any other feeling of happiness? Why?

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The Creed: And Was Crucified for Us Under Pontius Pilate, and Suffered, and Was Buried

At His crucifixion, Jesus took on our sins, and true to his human nature, suffered sin’s consequence: death. In this final act of selfless love and service, Jesus Christ died and burst the bonds of death.

In the icon of the Crucifixion, the skull under the cross represents the place where Adam was buried and reminds us that Jesus is the New Adam. Unlike Adam, who disobeys God’s command, Jesus was obedient to the Father and cooperated with Him. It is important that Jesus became man in order to overturn Adam’s sin. “For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15: 21-22) Orthodox Christians can never speak of the Crucifixion without remembering the Resurrection. We participate not only in the suffering of Christ, but also in His victory. Through His cross, joy is come into the world!

(An aside: the mention of Pontius Pilate in the Creed is intentional. It points to the fact that Christ’s death and resurrection are historical events and can be traced to a specific date in human history.)

“For when all was sinful, cursed and dead, Christ became sin, a curse, and dead for us—though He Himself never ceased to be the righteousness and blessedness and life of God Himself. It is to this depth… that Christ has humiliated Himself ‘for us men and for our salvation.’ For being God, he became man; and being man, he became a slave; and being a slave, he became dead and not only dead, but dead on a cross. From this deepest degradation of God flows the eternal exaltation of man. This is the pivotal doctrine of the Orthodox Christian faith… the doctrine of the atonement—for we are made to be ‘at one’ with God. It is the doctrine of redemption—for we are redeemed, i.e., ‘bought with a price,’ the great price of the blood of God.” (Hopko, “Doctrine,” p. 88)

Try this: Together as a Sunday Church School class, talk about “spoiler alerts.” What are they? When and where do we see them? How do they change our perspective on the movie, book, or story that they “spoil?”

When our family first joined the Orthodox Church, one of the things that we noticed and loved are all the “spoiler alerts” about Christ’s resurrection that the Church gives. Whenever Orthodox Christians talk in Church about Christ’s death, immediately we also find ourselves proclaiming His resurrection. (The Church Fathers did that on purpose, placing the focus on His bursting of the bonds of Hades and His opening of paradise to us once again, rather than focusing on His death.)

Talk together about the importance of this spoiler alert. Why SHOULD we always remember His resurrection when we talk about His death? When does the Church give us these “spoiler alerts?” Look for them during the Divine Liturgy. If you have time, get out your Holy Week service book, and flip through those services (especially near the end of the week) for these “spoiler alerts.” These services are full of them!

The Creed: And Was Incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and Became Man

From early times in the Church, there have always been people who questioned Our Lord’s humanity. Which words of the Creed begin the passage that tells us that Jesus is truly Man? What does the word incarnation actually mean?

That Christ became human is essential to our salvation. The words of the Creed tell us that Christ was not only completely God, but also completely man because He took flesh from the Virgin Mary. That is what incarnation means: “to take on flesh.” In the Creed, the Church Fathers wrote, “…and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man…” to attest to the true humanity of Jesus. Jesus, however, was not a mere mortal; He was, and is, the man whom the Son of God has become.

As Jesus was both God and Man, He achieved reunion with God for us in His very Being. He continued the act of salvation by His life, death, and Resurrection. In the early centuries, whether Jesus truly suffered and died was a matter of dispute. Hence the need to state in the Creed that indeed, as truly Man, He suffered and died, as anyone would, on the cross.

While it may seem odd to place the Annunciation, the Nativity, and the Crucifixion so close together (as they are in the Creed), they teach a lesson beyond that of Jesus’ true humanity. Namely they all show the “pouring out” or kenosis of Our Lord. Jesus poured out His being first into flesh, when He became Man, and then on the cross. As He did, so we are to do – we are to “pour out,” or sacrifice, ourselves for others.

Try this: As a class, discuss Christ’s humanity vs. His divinity as shown in scriptures. Divide into teams and have each person try to win a point for their team by identifying a scripture as demonstrating His humanity or His divinity as suggested in this activity: http://dce.oca.org/assets/files/resources/Jesus-Humanity-Divinity-Preteens.pdf

Sunday Church School classes of teens can watch this explanation of the Incarnation and discuss it together: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9YIKXJxcDU0

Find age-leveled ideas for discussing the incarnation with your students here: http://www.thrivingfamily.com/Family/Faith/2009/god-with-us.aspx

Want to learn more about the incarnation? Download St. Athanasius’ book “On the Incarnation” and study it! http://www.ccel.org/ccel/athanasius/incarnation

The Creed: Who for Us Men and for Our Salvation Came Down from Heaven

This part of the Creed states that Jesus is our Savior. What are we saved from?

“Salvation” is an interesting word. We don’t often hear it outside of church, and may not often think about needing it. Yet we call Jesus “Savior” and say that He achieved salvation for us. From what did He save us? Jesus saved us from the effects of consequence of sin, eternal death. After we have accepted Holy Baptism, and thus committed our lives to Jesus Christ, we must walk on the path of salvation that He showed to us when He became man. Orthodox Christians know that we must work out our salvation daily, as St. Paul tells us in Philippians 2:12: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

Jesus took on the consequences of our sins, which is death, thereby opening the path of salvation to us. However, we must walk in the path. When we sin, we have turned from the path. When we Repent, we return to the path that leads to eternal life.

Try this: Show this episode of “Be the Bee” to your Sunday Church School students to jumpstart a discussion on salvation: https://bethebee.goarch.org/home/-/asset_publisher/gAnk4cdUihei/content/-68-salvation-in-christ

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The concept of being saved by “accepting Christ as your personal Savior” is broadened in Orthodoxy, as we continue “walking the path of salvation” after conversion. If your students have friends who are Protestant, or perhaps they have seen television evangelists who speak of a more “instant salvation,” it is especially important to discuss and better understand the Orthodox viewpoint of salvation.

Here’s one way to do so: watch this video that uses two chairs to explain both the Protestant view and Orthodox view of Salvation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WosgwLekgn8. Discuss the differing views together.

The Creed: Light of Light, Very God of Very God

The Creed was formed (in part) because of a popular heresy at that time which stated that Jesus was part of God’s creation: that He was just a man. Which part of the Creed speaks of Jesus as truly God?

Shortly after the legalization of Christianity in 312, the Emperor Constantine convened the first ecumenical council. (“Ecumenical” is from the Greek economos, or “household.”) Indeed the entire “household” gathered: over 300 bishops from the Christian world. They came together to combat the heresy of Arianism that declared Jesus to be a “creature” of God, rather than coequal and coeternal.

In the Creed, the Church Fathers stated that Jesus was truly God with the phrases beginning with “Light of Light.” They continued to emphasize the equality of Father and Son with the phrases, “Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father.” In the Creed, “begotten” has a special meaning assigned to it. Jesus was “begotten,” not created. Everything that exists is created by God. Only God Himself, the Trinity, is not created. Jesus existed from all time with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

“The Word, that is, the Son, was always with the Father.” (Irenaeus, “Against Heresies, Book IV,” ch. 20, section 3, 180 AD)

“Christ Jesus, the Son of God, because of His surpassing love for His creation, condescended to be born of the virgin.” (Irenaeus, “Against Heresies, Book III,” ch. 4, section 2, 180 AD)

The divine Son of God was born in human flesh for the salvation of the world. This is the central doctrine of the Orthodox Christian Faith; the entire life of Christians is built upon this fact. They Symbol of Faith stresses that it is “for us men and for our salvation” that the Son of God has come. This is the most critical biblical doctrine, that “God so loved the world that He gave his only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (Hopko, “Doctrine,” 66)

Try this: Challenge your Sunday Church School students to pay attention during the next Divine Liturgy you attend. Tell them to pay attention to how we express our belief in Jesus as God. We state this truth during the Creed. But where else in the liturgy do we say, sing, or show it? And how do we do so? The next time you gather together as a class, talk about your findings. For fun, divide the class into two teams and see which team can list the most ways in which we tell or show about our belief in Jesus as God during the Liturgy. Create a master list and keep it posted in your classroom so that you can add to it as weeks go by.

The Creed: One Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God

What is the first thing that the Creed states about Our Lord Jesus Christ? Why is it important that Christ is the Son of God? What does that mean for all of humanity?

Adam, who was made in God’s image and likeness, walked with God in the evenings right after the world was created. “Walking with God” is a metaphor that describes the union that first existed between God and man. Humanity was created for that kind of union with God. Unfortunately, very soon that union was broken. Adam and Eve’s sin disrupted it. Since that time, God has worked to reunite mankind with Himself. Jesus Christ, the true God and true man, achieved that reunion.

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the perfect human being. He is all God intended for each of us to be. He is Love personified. He lived his life on earth without sin and in complete union with God. His life, death, and Resurrection achieved salvation for the world. Jesus was truly God and truly man.

“Jesus Christ is the only proper Son who has been begotten by God, being His Word and first-begotten, and power; and, becoming man according to His will, He taught us these things for the conversion and restoration of the human race” (Justin Martyr, “First Apology 23,” 150 AD).

Try this with your Sunday Church School class: use a cup of water and a bowl of (frozen water) ice cubes for an object lesson to help your students think about Christ, who is God, taking on human form. (See page 5-6 of http://www.powermarkcomics.com/comics/pdf/Lesson%207%20-%20Seeker%20Series%20Curriculum.pdf for a detailed description of how to do so, complete with discussion suggestions.)

The Creed: Maker of Heaven and Earth

The statements about God in the beginning of the Nicene Creed include the fact that He is the Creator. Why did God create all things, including humans?

That is a good question: why did God create everything — plants, animals, humans, as well as heaven and the angels? He created everything because of love. We humans are the summit of God’s creation and He wants to live in unity with us. God made us to live in loving union with Him forever. How are we “the summit of God’s creation?” Well, He created us in His own image!

“The Creed starts with the statement of belief ‘in One God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.’ God made everything because He is perfectly good. He made everyone and everything so that all would be good and happy with Him.” (Little Falcons issue #37, “The Creed,” p. 6.)

Try this: Bring mirrors into your Sunday Church School class and talk about this concept. Encourage the students to think about what it means to be made in God’s image. Suggest this way for them to begin to understand the concept: “Look in a mirror. Who do you see? You see your image there, right? That reflection, your image, is not you, yet it reflects you. So it is with God and human beings. We reflect, or share God’s qualities. God is Creator, and He gave us the potential to create. God created freely, and gives us free will over our lives. God created out of love, and gives us the potential to love. This ability to love is the attribute in which we are best able to reflect God’s image.”