Beloved brothers and sisters,
CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN! ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ! ΑΛΗΘΩΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ!
THE MESSAGE OF THE HOLY BIBLE
by George Cronk
Prayer offered by the priest before he reads the Holy Gospel:
"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 those 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."
[This prayer should be said by all Orthodox Christians before they read the Holy Scripture. It should be offered with genuine humility, faith, trust and obedience to the Will of God.]
According to the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church, the Holy Bible is the book of salvation. Through the books of the law, the historical writings of ancient Israel, the wisdom literature, the writings of the Prophets, through the New Testament revelation of the "Good News" of salvation in Jesus Christ, the records of the earliest Christian communities, and ending with Saint John's Revelation (Apocalypse) of the last days, we have manifested to us the entire history of salvation--God's plan for the redemption of mankind and the world from the forces of evil and for the ultimate glorification of man and the world in the Kingdom of Heaven.
In the first chapters of Genesis, we see God's original plan for mankind. The Holy Bible tells us that men and women were created in the image and after the likeness of God, and that God has granted them dominion over earth and all that is within it. The Divine image is man's potentiality for perfect communion with God, and the Divine likeness is the actualization of that potentiality. Thus, man was created in order that he might grow into union with God (deification, theosis), and standing at the head of all creation, that he might bring with himself the entire cosmos to its Creator.
The first chapters of Genesis also relate to us, however, that instead of freely accepting God's gracious offer of union with Himself, man chose to follow his own will, to rebel against and to reject the love and will of God. This is the "fall" of mankind symbolized by Adam and Eve' partaking of the forbidden fruit, as depicted in the third chapter of Genesis. Thus, man failed to actualize his potentiality as the likeness of God; because of his alienation from the life-giving presence of God; man's need to participate in the divine nature has been frustrated. and as a result of this fall, man has come under the domination of evil, the fruits of which are spiritual blindness, mortality and sin.
The entire history of the people of Israel given us in the Old Testament Scripture is a striking illustration of this fallen condition of mankind....As human beings, the people of ancient Israel--like ourselves, like all peoples everywhere--owed their love and obedience to God alone. But we have all submitted our wills to the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil; we have devoted ourselves to self-love rather than to God-love. The human race has thus been separated from the presence and life of God, and in forsaking His gracious love and will, mankind has become completely subject to the tyranny of evil, death and sin.
Even after the fall, however God did not leave His creation entirely without His Grace and without the promise of ultimate deliverance. In Genesis, even as man is cast out of the Garden of Paradise, God shows His loving care by Himself making the garments with which Adam and Eve are clothed. Genesis also records Two Covenants that God makes with man: the Noahic Covenant, under which God promises not to remove life from the world, no matter how widespread evil becomes; and the Covenant with Abraham, under which God makes for Himself a chosen people, who would eventually bear the Messiah of the human race. In renewing this Covenant with Moses, God reveals His Law to His people, showing them the way in which they must live in order to restore themselves to God's loving fellowship. Furthermore, God inspired holy writers of the Old Covenant (Testament) to reveal His Wisdom unto His people, to teach them how to praise His Name (e.g., the Psalms), to give them practical precepts for fulfilling His Law (e.g., Proverbs) and to guide them into understanding the injustice and miseries of this FALLEN WORLD (e.g., Job, Ecclesiastes). Finally, God sends His Prophets to speak the light of truth in the darkness of the fallen world, and to reveal the great promise of future deliverance from the powers of this world.
All of these signs of God's providential care for His people are manifestations of God's Holiness. In response to them, god requires form us our own holiness--i.e., perfect love of God and absolute obedience to His law. This holiness is the prerequisite for man's entering into the fullness of the Divine Presence. But the testimony of the Holy Scripture is that man can do nothing through his own efforts to restore himself to God's love and fellowship. No matter how many times God delivers His chosen people from their enemies, no matter how often He reveals His truth, love and holiness to them, no matter how many prophets and wise men he inspires to lead them back to the truth they have forsaken, mankind continues to fall prey to the temptations of the Devil, to turn away from God and honor false idols--whether made of wood or clay, or of self-love, pride and self-interest. The message is clear; man, existing under the conditions created by the fall, is utterly lost and is thus in radical need of salvation. Fallen man needs a savior--he needs to be saved by God himself
All the above manifestations of God's holiness are fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. He is the only man completely follow the precepts of the Law; He is Himself the eternal wisdom of God; He is the inspirer of the words of the Prophets and the realization of their prophecy; He is the promised Messiah of the chosen people of Israel, and light to all nations. The New Testament--the book of the "New Covenant" between God and man--begins with the Four Gospels. The word "gospel." means "good news," and this good news is that God the Son--the Divine Logos [Word]--"became man" in order to draw mankind back into Communion with the Holy Trinity. The gospels testify how God Himself, in the Incarnation of the Son, took upon Himself all our suffering and travail, how in His perfect Love for His fallen creatures, even though He Himself was without sin, He paid the price for all of our sins voluntarily accepting death on the Cross to atone for our sins, and then destroying sin and its consequences through His glorious Resurrection on the third day. And now, through the Incarnation, Life, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, Exaltation and Second Coming of the Son of God, man can be liberated, from "the law of sin and death," from spiritual ignorance, mortality and sin.
In His Farewell Discourse in the Gospel of Saint John, Christ promises to send His disciples the Holy Spirit, the "Comforter", Who will guide them into all truth. And in the first chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, we see this promise fulfilled, as the Spirit descends on the early Christian community on the Day of Pentecost in "tongues as of fire". Through this gift of the Holy Spirit, which comes to all who are "in Christ"; we can be sanctified and so resume the original human project of growing morally and spiritually into the likeness of God. Through the "economy of the Son" and the "economy of the Holy Spirit," man can be reconciled with God and, on the basis of this reconciliation, he can receive his ultimate glorification as a son of God, a participant in the fullness of the divine life. Only through faith in Christ, and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, can men and women be reconciled to God and so escape everlasting condemnation when Jesus returns at the end of days to judge both the living and the dead.,
[to be continued]
CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN!
With sincere agape in our Risen Lord Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God