Monthly Archives: October 2015

The Creed: I Acknowledge One Baptism for the Remission of Sins

“Baptism… means immersion or submersion in water. It was practiced in the Old Testament and even in some pagan religions as the sign of death and rebirth. Thus, John the Baptist was baptizing as a sign of new life and repentance, which means literally a change of mind… in preparation of the coming of the Kingdom of God in Christ.

“The baptismal experience is the fundamental Christian experience, the primary condition for the whole of Christian life. Everything in the Church has its origin and context in baptism for everything in the Church originates and lives by the resurrection of Christ. Thus, following baptism comes ‘the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit,’ the mystery (sacrament) of chrismation which is man’s personal experience of Pentecost. And the completion and fulfillment of these fundamental Christian mysteries comes in the mystery of Holy Communion with God in the divine liturgy of the Church. “ (Hopko, “Doctrine,” p. 129)

Hidden in this simple phrase of the Creed (“I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins…”) is a controversy that arose in the first centuries. While Christians were being persecuted, some denied their faith and thus excommunicated themselves from the Church. Later, many sincerely repented and wished to be part of the Church again. So, should they be re-baptized? It was decided that they should not, but rather, that they should repent, participate in the Mystery of Confession, receive penance, and then be re-admitted to Holy Communion.

In receiving Holy Communion, we identify ourselves completely with the Orthodox Church: its teachings, images, hierarchy, and history. The Eucharist is a profound mystery: it is God Himself of Whom we partake by grace, the very presence of Christ among us. Holy Communion is our nourishment for the journey we began at our baptism.

Many of us were infants when we were received into the Church. Because we could not speak for ourselves, our parents and godparents did so for us. We were set upon our journey without fully understanding it. Like toddlers who hold the hands of others in order to walk, we have been led in our Christian life. There comes a time, however, when we must reflect our personal faith and take our own steps. This is the beginning of spiritual maturity. What must we do to begin walking on our own? We must seek Christ so that we know for ourselves that He is Lord!

Try this:
Talk with your students about their baptism. Look together at pictures and discuss what you or they remember from that day. Talk about the physical things that happened, but also the spiritual, ie: “That was the day that you became a member of the Holy Orthodox Church! You were reborn in Christ, set apart to follow, serve, and love Him. The Holy Spirit came to dwell in you at your chrismation, just as He came to the disciples at Pentecost. It was a very special day for your spirit!” Point out how they wore white to symbolize their purity in Christ and their union with God’s holiness. Encourage them to keep living in a way that makes them more and more holy.

In case your students are having trouble remembering all that took place at their baptism, keep the following blog post handy. It offers a concise version of what happens during a baptismal service, as well as the symbolisms: http://www.onesmallchild.com/blog/greek-orthodox-baptism-from-generation-to-generation.


Find an idea of one way to teach students about baptism here: http://www.orthodoxcatechismproject.org/complete-title-list-a-m/-/asset_publisher/IXn2ObwXr9vq/content/baptism-i

The Creed: And I Believe in One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church

The Church is One: Just as God is One, the Church which belongs to Him is one, meaning unbroken and undivided. The Orthodox Church has preserved the fullness of the Faith since the time of the apostles. Since the Church began, there is still only one Orthodox Church.

The Church is Holy: Because God is present in the Church, and He is holy, the Church is also holy, or “set apart for God.” We take part in God’s holiness when we receive the Sacraments and live in communion with Him.

The Church is Catholic: The word “catholic” is best understood as “whole, complete, and lacking nothing.” The Church is what it is because God is who He is—whole and complete and lacking nothing!

The Church is Apostolic: An apostle is one who is sent or has a mission. Jesus Christ had a mission to bring salvation to the world. Jesus chose his disciples, and after his Resurrection, sent these disciples to preach the Good News to the world. We continue the same mission. We say the Orthodox Church is apostolic for two reasons: first, because its mission is to preach the Good News of salvation, and second, because it is directly connected to, and built upon, the teaching of the apostles.

“There can only be one Church and not many. And this one Church, because its unity depends on God, Christ and the Spirit, may never be broken. Thus, according to Orthodox doctrine, the Church is indivisible; men may be in it or out of it, but they may not divide it.” (Hopko, “Doctrine,” p. 123)

“The holiness of the Church comes from God. The members of the Church are holy to the extent that they live in communion with God.” (Hopko, “Doctrine,” p. 124)

“To believe in the Church as catholic… is to express the conviction that the fullness of God is present in the Church and that nothing of the “abundant life” that Christ gives to the world in the Spirit is lacking to it. It is to confess exactly that the Church is indeed ‘the fullness of Him who fills all in all.’ (Eph. 1:23 and Coloss. 2:10)” (Hopko, “Doctrine,” p. 126)

“The last attribute of the Church is apostolicity. [The Church] has retained the apostolic faith through the apostolic suggestion of her officers and through the tradition of the Church, which has maintained her unity with the ancient church, a unity in spirit, faith, and in truth.” (Constantelos, “Understanding the Greek Orthodox Church,” p. 73)

There is an old saying: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” So it is for Christian. The step into the baptismal font is more of a “leap” than a step. Immersed in the water three times, unable to breathe, we symbolically die with Christ. When we rise from the water, we have life anew. We have “put on Christ.” We can begin our walk in His ways. We have begun our life’s journey, and our destination is union with God, or “theosis.” We were created for this union—to live united with God now and forever. We experience union with God most profoundly in the Mystery of the Eucharist. In receiving Holy Communion at the Divine Liturgy, we identify ourselves completely with the Church: its teachings, images, hierarchy, and history.

Try this: Talk with your Sunday Church School students about the Church. (Before you do, gather: a picture of your church building; grapes and/or a grapevine; a shepherd and/or sheep or picture of them; a doll or picture of a head and a body; a partially constructed lego building or picture of a building under construction; a photo of a home or a family; and a Bible.)
Look at the picture of your church building. Have a conversation that includes the following: “When we say, ‘I believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church,’ are we talking about this place? What if our church building was suddenly gone, as happens in some parts of the world where Christians are being persecuted? Could we still believe in one holy catholic, and apostolic church? Why or why not?” Go on to discuss what the Church really is. In Greek, the literal meaning of the word church, or ekklesia, is the ‘assembly.’ We get a more full understanding of what the Church is if we look at the word pictures in the scriptures. On a table, spread out all of the items you have gathered (except the church building picture which you have already used). Look up the following scriptures, read them aloud together, and then have the children select the item(s) from the collection which are described in that scriptural word picture. Remind the children that this word picture is describing the Church. Here are the scripture “word picture” passages:

John 15:1-8 (grapevine and branches)

John 10:1-16 (shepherd and flock)

Ephesians 1:22-23 (head and body)

Ephesians 2:19-22 (building under construction)

1 Timothy 3:15 followed by Hebrews 3:6 (home or family photo)


Talk about each word picture and how it relates to the Church. There are also other ways in which the Church is described both in scripture and by the Church Fathers, but this is a good starting point. (You could challenge older students to search the scriptures and come up with additional word pictures related to the Church!) Return to the picture of your church building. Ask again, “Is this what we are talking about when we say, ‘I believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church?’ If not, what ARE we talking about?” Challenge each other to think about these word pictures the next time you say this part of the Creed!

Check out http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/pomaz_church.aspx for more on each of the word pictures listed above, as well as much more on the “holy, catholic, and apostolic church” in which we believe!

The Creed: Who Spake by the Prophets

The Holy Spirit spoke through the prophets of the Old Testament as they reflected upon the condition of God’s people to whom they spoke. The prophets, the disciples, and we, as well, develop wisdom by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Wisdom is more than knowledge or intelligence. It is developed by reflecting upon what we have learned and upon life itself.

“In the Old Testament it was the Holy Spirit who inspired the prophets to speak about God… This same Spirit who spoke through the prophets of old speaks to us today through the Holy Bible and the Church to guide us to know the will of God for our lives… The Holy Spirit ‘who spoke through the prophets’ comes to dwell in us today to make us also prophets. The true meaning of ‘prophet’ is one who speaks in behalf of God.”  (Coniaris, “The Nicene Creed for Young People,” p. 66-67)

“Prayer, fasting, vigils, and all other Christian acts, however good they may be in themselves, certainly do not constitute the aim of our Christian life: they are but the indispensable means of attaining that aim. For the true aim of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God.” – St. Seraphim of Sarov

Try this: Talk together about the Holy Spirit and the times in which He appears in the Holy Scriptures. A few Old Testament examples include the Genesis 18:1-15 account of the Trinity’s visit to Abraham; Isaiah 61:1 and Ezekiel 11:5, where He spoke to two of the prophets; and Genesis 41:38, Numbers 27:18, and Daniel 4:8, 5:11-14, and 6:3, where He was “in” Joseph, Joshua, and Daniel. New Testament examples include His appearance at the Annunciation, at the Baptism of Christ, at the Transfiguration, and of course, at Pentecost. Of course there are many, many more examples in both Testaments.

  1. Over the next few months, as you read the Scriptures together, keep a list of His appearances, adding to the list as you find more.
  2. Or divide into two teams and search the scriptures to find as many other references to the Holy Spirit as possible, seeing who collects the most!
  3. Or print this card-matching game (whose purpose is matching icons/symbols related to the Holy Spirit to phrases about Him), prepare the cards, and then play a game with them: http://www.orthodoxcamps.org/assets/files/christianed/holy%20spirit%20icon%20game.pdf.

The Creed: Who Proceedeth From the Father, Who With the Father and the Son Together is Worshipped and Glorified

God the Holy Spirit, like God the Son, existed from all eternity with the Father. In fact, all three always work together. Consider the Creation of the world, as described in Genesis 1:1-3 and in John 1: 1-3, where St. John refers to the Son as “the Word.” God (the Father) fills the Creation; He creates through His Word, the Son; and the Holy Spirit enlivens and sustains creation.

Not one of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity was created; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have existed together from eternity. We glorify the Trinity each time we make the sign of the cross by praising, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…” We sing that the Trinity is “one in essence, and undivided.” It is a mystery that one God can be three Persons, and that three Persons can remain as one God.

“Originally, the Holy Fathers… stated that the Holy Spirit ‘proceeds from the Father.’ Later the Western Church arbitrarily inserted the words ‘and from the Son,’ [also called the filioque clause] meaning that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son… The Orthodox Church has preserved the Nicene Creed in its original form… for the following reasons: First, the Ecumenical Councils forbade any changes to be introduced into the Creed except by another Ecumenical Council. the Creed belongs to the whole Church and one small part of the church has no right to change it. Secondly, the Orthodox believe the filioque to be theologically untrue… Orthodoxy has always taught what the Bible teaches: Christ sends the Spirit but the Spirit proceeds from the Father. This preserves the unity in the Godhead…” (Coniaris, “The Nicene Creed for Young People,” p. 63)

Try this: Look at the Trinity icon (or “The Hospitality of Abraham”). This icon represents the Trinity in the form of the three angels who visited Abraham and Sarah. Read the account in Genesis 18: 1-15. Talk about the icon as you observe it. Point out the following: the Trinity sits side by side as equals around one table, united peacefully in their purpose, since they are of one mind and one will. They form a circle and allow us to see inside this circle. This teaches that we are invited to participate, by grace, in the life of the Trinity. God created human beings to live in union with Him forever.

The Creed: The Giver of Life

The Holy Spirit inspired the first disciples to preach fearlessly, even unto death, the good news of Jesus Christ. The holy Spirit inspires us as we struggle to live as our Savior commanded. Jesus said, “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” (John 15:4) It is through the Holy Spirit that we abide, or stay with Jesus. The Holy Spirit abides in us and is the lifeline for our journey.

In the first words of the Old Testament, we read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:1,2) The Spirit was (and continues to be) the “breath” of God that gave Adam life. The Spirit is the “breath of life” for all that lives, and especially for man, who has been made in the image and likeness of God. for this reason we often refer to the Holy Spirit as the “Giver of Life.”

“God the Father created the world through the Son (Word) in the Holy Spirit. The Word of God is present in all that exists, making it to exist by the power of the Spirit. Thus, according to Orthodox doctrine, the universe itself is a revelation of God in the Word and the Spirit. The Word is in all that exists, causing it to be, and the Spirit is in all that exists as the power of its being and life.” (Hopko, “Doctrine,” p. 143)

Try this:

Help your children think about the Holy Spirit by using familiar objects (an egg, water in its various forms, and the wind) for examples, as suggested in activity #1 at http://ministry-to-children.com/holy-spirit-mystery-lesson/. Then lead your children into the scriptures to find answers to questions about the Holy Spirit as suggested in this puzzle-piece matching and scripture-reading activity (activity #2) at http://ministry-to-children.com/finding-him-holy-spirit-lesson/.

The Creed: And I Believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord

This part of the Creed was added in 381 at the Council of Constantinople. Even though the Church had been baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit for centuries, the statement was necessary to counter the false teaching that the Holy Spirit was not God.

The Holy Spirit is an important Person of the Trinity, Who helps us live our faith every day. Our faith journey can be challenging. We face many temptations, and it would be impossible to successfully make this journey alone. Jesus, at His ascension, promised help to His disciples: “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49) The descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples was the fulfillment of this promise, and also marked the earthly beginning of the Church. We celebrate this beginning (and the descent of the Holy Spirit) every year at the Feast of Pentecost.

Without the Holy Spirit, where would we be? The Holy Spirit within us is our connection to God. He enables us to live courageously. The Holy Spirit inspires us to love and forgive. The Holy Spirit also makes the mysteries possible and unites us to one another during the Eucharist. United as a eucharistic community, we exist within the Kingdom – the Church – while on earth. The Holy Spirit guides the Church.

“In the Bible the term ‘God…’ is used primarily as a name for the Father. Thus, the Son is the ‘Son of God,’ and the Spirit is the ‘Spirit of God.’ The Son is born from the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father — both in the same timeless and eternal action of the Father’s own being. In this view, the Son and the Spirit are both one with God and in no way separated from Him. Thus, the divine Unity consists of the Father, with His Son and His Spirit distinct from Himself and yet perfectly united together in Him.” (Hopko, “Doctrine,” p. 139)

Salvation is the work of the Trinity: the Father created us with a desire for union with Him. When union was lost, Christ opened the path of salvation and reunion. It is the Holy Spirit Who enables us to walk the path.

Try this:

Discuss these common phrases with your Sunday Church School students: “school spirit” and “spirit of liberty.” Ask what each phrase means. Then, look at the word “inspiration,” which comes from the root word “spirit.” Talk about “spirit” – is it real? How so? Talk about the word “inspiration” itself: It is a part of our life that we cannot see, but we know is real. Ask your students, “What does it mean to be inspired? Who inspires you?” Talk together as a class about possible comparisons that could complete this statement: “Spirit is to inspiration as ________ is to __________!”

As Orthodox Christians, we are inspired by a Person. This Person’s role is exactly that – to inspire! The Person is the Holy Spirit, Who has been inspiring people for as long as there have been people living on earth! Talk together about how He inspires you and how to be more aware of His presence in your life.

Find a myriad of inspiring stories and quotes at http://inspiremykids.com/.

The Creed: And He Shall Come Again with Glory to Judge the Living and the Dead, Whose Kingdom Shall Have No End

Jesus came into the world not to condemn it, but rather to restore it. He came to reunite us with God. By living on Earth as a man, He showed us the path to God; and by His death and Resurrection, He opened the gates of heaven for us. the path to salvation is clear: we are to imitate Christ, having compassion, especially for the lowly, with whom Jesus chose to be numbered. “…Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25:40)

“The very presence of Christ as the Truth and the Light is itself the judgement of the world. In this sense all men and the whole world are already judged, or more accurately, already live in the full presence of that reality — Christ and His works — by which they will be ultimately judged. With Christ now revealed, there is no longer any excuse for ignorance and sin.” (Hopko, “Doctrine,” p. 111)

What will happen at the end of the world? All will be raised from the dead and placed in the presence of God. If our lives were lived in union with God, the presence of God will be paradise. If we opposed God and lived for our own selfish desires, the presence of God will be hell.

“The Kingdom of God as a spiritual, divine reality is given to men by Christ in the Church. It is celebrated and participated in the sacramental mysteries of the Faith. It is witnessed to in the scriptures, the councils, the canons and the saints. It will become the universal, final cosmic reality for the whole of creation at the end of the ages when Christ comes in glory to fill all things with Himself by the Holy Spirit, that God might be ‘all and in all.’ “ (Hopko, “Doctrine,” p. 117)

Try this:
Think together about death and about how to be prepared for Christ’s judgement “of the living and the dead” when that judgement happens. Begin by remembering. Look at photos of family members and/or friends who have departed this life. Talk about these people, how they impacted your life, and how/why you miss them. Then discuss the following questions: “ What happens when we die?” (We believe that when we die we await the general resurrection and receive a foretaste of heaven or hell, as our life has determined.) During this discussion, remind each other that these beloved people who have preceded us in death are already waiting for the general resurrection. Then ask, “Have you ever thought about your eventual death?”

Then talk about this: The Church Fathers taught there are two paths through life: the way of darkness and the way of light. We choose our path. Whatever circumstances and decisions we encounter on our journey, we know that we are not alone. The saints who we see on icons are already in the presence of God. As we travel the path to eternity, they are good company for us on the way. Also, Christ promised that the Holy Spirit would give us wisdom and understanding. As our Savior traveled with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, He Himself travels with us now, on our journey into eternity. Talk about ways to choose the way of light. “What can we do today, right now, that will show that we are choosing the way of light? Who can we ask to help us?” Pray together, asking the Holy Spirit to guide you and the saints to pray for your salvation.