Beloved brothers and sisters,
CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN! ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ! ΑΛΗΘΩΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ!
AN ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN PRAYER BEFORE READING THE HOLY BIBLE
Shine in our hearts, O Merciful Master, the Pure Light of Thy Divine Knowledge, and open the eyes of our mind that we may understand the teachings of Thy Gospel; implant in us also the fear of Thy Blessed Commandments, that, we, trampling down all carnal desires, may enter upon a spiritual manner of living both thinking and doing all things that please Thee. For Thou art the Source of Light for our souls and bodies, O Christ Our God, and unto Thee we ascribe Glory, together with Thy Eternal Father, and Thine All-Holy, Good, and Life-Giving Spirit, now and forever, and from all ages to all ages. Amen.
THE MESSAGE OF THE HOLY BIBLE
by George Cronk
[source: The Message of the Bible: an Orthodox Christian Perspective]
God the Father has offered us salvation through the mission of His Son and through the Ministry (Diakonia) of the Holy Spirit. However, this offer is made to us as free human beings, and we must accept it freely into our lives in order to realize its redemptive and glorifying effect. The testimony of the Apostles to the early Church communities in acts and in the New Testament Epistles is that we must "work out" the salvation offered and made possible by the Holy Trinity "in fear and trembling"; we must appropriate this salvation; we must explicitly and freely respond to the mercy and love of God shown in His redemptive purpose. To be saved, we must first of all admit our sinful alienation from God and recognize our inability to make ourselves right with God through our own efforts. Because of his fallenness, all of man's attempts at "self-salvation" are pathetic and futile. Man must, therefore, accept through faith what God has done for us in Christ; he must, with the help of the Holy Spirit, submit to Christ as the Lord and Master of his life. Only on this basis can we become right with God and be restored to a condition of Divine sonship.
God's salvation comes to those who, on the basis of a personal, decisive and freely chosen faith, acknowledge Jesus as Savior, and through continual repentance and obedience to God's will, submit to Jesus as Lord. But to be obedient to Christ, and to submit to God's will means to become wholly a part of His body. The door to the Kingdom of Heaven has been opened by Jesus Christ, through His Incarnate Life and through His redemptive and reconciling ministry. But to pass through that door, fallen man must accept Christ's gift of the Holy Spirit, which was first bestowed not on Christians as individuals, but on the entire body of the Christian community--the Church--and which is now given in and through the life of the Church. Through the Sacramental, devotional and moral ministry of the Mystical Body of Christ. Christians are regenerated, edified and, ultimately, glorified in the power and indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. With a few exceptions (e.g., Timothy and Titus, who themselves stood at the head of church communities), all the Epistles of the New Testament were addressed not to individuals but to either specific church communities or to the Church at large. The book of Revelation (Apocalypse) is also addressed primarily to Seven local communities which are named in the text; and modern scholarship shows that the Gospels themselves were all composed in the context of specific major Church communities. God's salvation comes to us through the mediation of Christ's body, the Church. Thus, the Church is God's sacrament of salvation to the world, the visible means of grace by which man may be elevated to the divine energies and life of the Holy Trinity.
The continuity of the life of the Church throughout all ages is assured by her Holy Tradition. It is this tradition which first carefully preserved the memory of Christ's word and deeds I oral for which guaranteed the harmony of the content of all the written records of Christ's revelation, and which then passed down from generation to generation the New Testament Scripture for the edification and sanctification of all believers of all times. Thus, there can be no opposition between Scripture and Tradition. For, first of all, the New Testament is itself a primary and normative articulation of the Church's Tradition. Secondly, but equally, all who wish to know and be faithful to that Tradition will turn first of all to the Holy Bible, and will continually read and study it, treasuring its words in their hearts, and reciting and singing these holy words out loud together, with their brothers and sisters in the Church, in her liturgy and throughout her life.
In sum, our salvation is a result of man's identification with Christ through faith. Through faith, man enters into the life of Christ, which is the life of God, lived through the Grace of the Holy Spirit in the fullness of the body of the Church. Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, man receives power to grow morally and spiritually into the perfect Image of Christ. Through freely and personally responding to God's offer of salvation, each one of us can be delivered from the bondage of evil, sin and death. And through the life of the Church, we may therefore enter into communion with God the Father, through God the Son, and in God the Holy Spirit. Through the Divine Economy of Salvation, revealed in the Holy Scripture of the Church and passed on to all generations in her Holy Tradition, each one of us may become a partaker of the Divine Nature, a participant in the glorious energies and life of the Holy Trinity, a living icon of God!M
From Saint Anthony in the Philokalia (ch. 150, 1st volume):
"God is Good, dispassionate, and immutable. Now someone who thinks it reasonable and true to affirm that God does not change may well ask how, in that case, it is possible to speak of God as rejoicing over those who are good and showing mercy to those who honor Him, and as turning away from the wicked and being angry with sinners. To this it must be answered that God neither rejoices nor grows angry, for to rejoice and to be offended are passions; nor is He won over by the gifts of those who honor Him, for that would mean He is swayed by pleasure. It is not right that the Divinity feel pleasure or displeasure from human conditions. He is Good, and He only bestows blessings and never does harm, remaining always the same. We men, on the other hand, if we remain good through resembling God, are united to Him, but if we become evil not resembling God, we are separated from Him. By living in holiness we cleave to God; but by becoming wicked we make him our enemy. It is not that He grows angry with us in an arbitrary way, but it our own sins that prevent God from shining within us and expose us to demons who torture us. And if through prayer and acts of compassion we gain release from our sins, this does not mean that we have won God over and made Him to change, but that through our actions and our turning to the Divinity, we have cured our wickedness and so once more have enjoyment of God's Goodness. Thus to say that God turns away from the wicked is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind."
The atheist, skeptics and agnostics will say: "Does not Holy Scripture itself often speak about the "anger of God"? Is it not God Himself Who says that He will punish us or that he will pardon us? Is it not written that 'He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him' (Hebrews 11:6)? Does He not say that vengeance is His and that He will requite the wickedness done to us? Is it not written that it is fearful to fall into the hands of the Living God?"
In his discourse entitled "That God is Not the Cause of Evil", Saint Basil the Great writes the following:
"But one may say, if God is not responsible for evil things, why is it said in the book of Isaiah, 'I am He that prepared light and Who formed darkness, Who makes peace and Who creates evils' (45:7)." And again, "There came down evils from the Lord upon the gates of Jerusalem" (Mich. 1:12). And, "Shall there be evil in the city which the Lord hath not wrought?" (Amos 3:6). And in the great Ode of Moses, "Behold, I am and there is no god beside Me. I will slay, and I will make to live; I will smite, and I will heal" (Deut. 32:39). But none of these citations, to him who understands the deeper meaning of the Holy Scriptures, casts any blame on God, as if He were the cause of evils and their creator, for He Who said, "I Am the One Who makes light and darkness," shows Himself as the Creator of the universe, not that He is the creator of any evil... "He creates evils," that means, "He fashions them again and brings them to a betterment, so that they leave their evilness, to take on the nature of good."
Saint Isaac the Syrian writes: "Very often many things are said to the Holy Scriptures and in it many names are used not in a literal sense...those who have a mind understand this".
The Orthodox understanding of the wrath of God is not an endorsement of universalism. God alone knows who is saved. But it is a call for universal love. For there is nowhere (certainly within the New Testament) that we are commanded to hate. We are to love our enemies. And if that is to be anything more than lip-service then it must first be modeled in the Good God and grafted within us by His grace.
With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God