Four Major Aspects of the Church's Faith and Experience
From: Understanding the Greek Orthodox Church, Hellenic College Press, Brookline, Massachusetts 1998.
The Relevance of the Church Today
Orthodoxy stands on the optimistic side of the different conflicting ideologies and creeds of the twentieth century. Α great part of Western Christendom suffers from a number of dilemmas, such as the opposition of nature and grace, faith and works, the oral word and the sacrament, Scripture and tradition, the clergy and the laity, and other theological problems. The Orthodox Church emphasizes a natural revelation in harmony with revealed grace, faith and good works, the word and the sacrament, Bible and tradition, clergy and laity. Divine revelation is viewed not as sudden lightning or thunderbolt from the sky, but as a cosmic sun whose rays converge in the person of Christ and continuing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Orthodox believe in the revelation whose rays have penetrated many minds and thoughts through various channels in the course of man's history. Orthodoxy is optimistic because of its belief in the dignity of man; because of its doctrine of the deification of human nature under God; because of its belief in the philanthropia of God and of man. The gospel of the Orthodox Ekklesia is the gospel of the resurrection, of triumph, and of victory. For in Orthodoxy the human being does not stand alone and that there is only holy history:
That God reigns supreme and all evolves under His watchful providence and plans, which are often beyond man's capacity to comprehend.
The significance that Orthodoxy places on humanity can be considered its unique contribution to modern thought. To the Orthodox Church, a person is much more than a biological being, a social animal, or a sexual phenomenon. He or she is a created dependent being, made by God, a psychosomatic entity, a being made of dust and deity, made "a little less than God" (Ps. 8:5) and at the same time "like the beasts that perish" (Ps. 49.12). The Church teaches that the power that should regulate the lives of men is an expression of philanthropia -agape, a unique contribution to the modern world, for it is the answer to the agony and spiritual isolation of modern man.
The Orthodox Church emphasizes brotherly love not only toward her members and toward Christians of other faiths, but toward all people. It is a fundamental doctrine of the Orthodox faith that all men created in the image of God are equal; for God there is no inequality between coloured and white, male and female, one nationality or race and another. Christ restored this human image, which had been almost destroyed because of man's rebellion against God. All men are called to the restoration accomplished by the resurrection of Christ.
Of course, the ancient Greeks' concept of man has much in common with the Christian view For the Pythagorean philosophers the spirit of man was simply a fallen deity imprisoned in the human body. And for the Stoic philosophers the soul of man was a spark of divinity that upon death of the body returns to the universal God. But while in Greek antiquity the divine element within us is assimilated by the universal deity upon death, in the view of Christianity man preserves his individuality by the grace of God. Man is not only the Supreme Being upon the earth, but an immortal being as well.
Α hymn of Resurrection proclaims: "Let us embrace one another. Let us forgive all things to those who hate us and say: "Christ is risen from the death, by death trampling upon death and bestowing life upon those in tombs."
So it is an act of love when people forgive one another. It is an act of love when they pray for each other. It is an act of love when they humble themselves before each other. Ιn an age of anxiety and of the degradation of human nature, Christianity's gospel of God's philanthropia must find an analogous response in our love for one another. Indeed we "owe no one anything, except to love one another» (Rom. 13:8), as "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" Jn. 3:16).
The Orthodox Church prays for hope, charity, and love. As a church that has suffered the brutalities of man, she pleads for sanity and understanding among the powerful of the earth, lest they recklessly destroy man, the image and the masterpiece of God. Orthodoxy's message to the Christian world can be summed up in the words of Saint Peter: "Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth... love one another earnestly from the heart... through the living and abiding word of God" (1 Pet. 1:22-23).