What I am about to post is enormous. I am not the author, and by posting it, I am not professing to agree with it. Though I agree with the vast majority of it, and I respect the whole of it. "I Believe..." was originally published on the backs of the Orthodox Wall Calendar published by St. Nectarios Press, Seattle, Washington, and copyright by St. Nectarios Press. It was written by the editors. It is not hear for any purpose but instruction, education, and glory to God.
I Believe...: A Short Exposition of Orthodox Doctrine
Concerning God the Father
I believe in God the Father, Who is without beginning, indescribable, incomprehensible, Who is beyond every created essence, Whose essence is known only to Himself, to His Son and the Holy Spirit; as it says in the Holy Scriptures, upon Him even the Seraphim dare not gaze.
I believe and confess that God the Father never became the likeness of any material form nor was He ever incarnate. In the theophanies (appearances of God) of the Old Testament, as our Holy Fathers bear witness, it was not God the Father Who appeared, but rather it was always our Saviour, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity (i.e., the Word or Logos, the Angel of the Lord, the Lord God of Sabaoth, the Angel of Great Counsel, the Ancient of Days) Who revealed Himself to the prophets and seers of the Old Testament. Likewise, in the New Testament, God the Father never appeared but bore witness to His Son on several occasions solely by a voice that was heard from Heaven. It is for this reason that our Saviour said, "No man hath seen God at any time; the Only-begotten Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him," (John 1:18) and "Not that any man hath seen the Father, save He Who is of God, He hath seen the Father" (John 6:46). In addition, Acts Four, Five and Six of the Seventh Ecumenical Council state that the Holy Trinity cannot be portrayed iconographically since He is without from and invisible. Therefore, God the Father is not depicted in the holy icons.
I believe that He is the cause of all things as well as the end purpose of all things. From Him all visible and invisible creatures have their beginning and there was a time when they did not exist. He created the universe out of absolutely nothing. The earth too had a beginning and man was created by God's love. The creation of man and of the universe was not out of necessity. Creation is the work of the free and unconditional will of the Creator. If He had so wished, He need not have created us; the absence of creation would not have been a privation for Him. The creature's love is not one which gives Him satisfaction. God has no need to be satisfied. He needs nothing. God's love cannot be compared to human love, even as His other attributes such as paternity, justice, goodness cannot be compared to their human counterparts. God's love is a love which constitutes a mystery unfathomable to man's reason or intellect. God has no "emotions" which might create passion, suffering, need or necessity in Him. Nevertheless, although the nature of divine love remains incomprehensible and inexplicable to human reason, this love is real and genuine and I confess, in agreement with Scripture, that God is love.
Concerning the Holy Trinity
I believe, confess and worship the Holy Trinity. I worship the One, Holy, Indivisible, Consubstantial, Life-Creating and Most Holy Trinity. In the Trinity I worship three persons -- three hypostases -- that of the Father, that of the Son and that of the Holy Spirit. I do not confuse the persons of the Most Holy Trinity. I do not believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are, as it were, three masks of a single person. None of the persons is alienated from the others, but each has the fulness of the Three together.
Concerning the Incarnation
I believe that from the moment of His conception in the virginal womb, Jesus Christ was one person, yet having two natures. From His conception, He was God and Man before birth, during birth and after birth. I believe and confess that the Most Holy Virgin Mary, after the image of the bush which burned and was not consumed, truly received the fire of the Godhead in Herself without being consumed thereby. I believe and confess that She truly gave of Her own blood and of Her own flesh to the Incarnate Word and that She fed Him with Her own milk.
I confess that Jesus Christ was, in His Godhead, begotten of the Father outside of time without assistance of a father. He is without mother in His divinity, and without father in His manhood.
I believe that through the Incarnation, the Most Holy Virgin Mary became truly the Theotokos -- the Mother of God -- in time. She was a Virgin before, during and after birth. Even as Jesus Christ arose from the dead despite the fact that the Jews had sealed His tomb with a stone, and even as He entered into the midst of His disciples while the doors were shut, so also did He pass through the virginal womb without destroying the virginity of Mary or causing Her the travail of birth. Even as the Red Sea remained untrodden after the passage of Israel, so also did the Virgin remain undefiled after giving birth to Emmanuel. She is the gate proclaimed by the Prophet Ezekiel through which God entered into the world "while remaining shut" (Ezekiel 44:2).
I believe that matter is not co-eternal with the Creator, and there was a time when it did not exist, and that it was created out of nothing and in time by the will and the Word of God. I believe that matter was created good but drawn into sin and corruption because of man, who was established initially as the ruler of the material world. Even though the creation "lieth in evil" and corruption, yet it is God's creation and therefore good; only through man's will in using creation evilly can sin be joined to creation. I believe that creation will be purified by the fire of the Last Judgment at the moment of the glorious Advent of our Saviour Jesus Christ and that it will be restored and regenerated and that it will constitute a New Creation, according to the promise of the Lord: "Behold, I make all things new" (Rev. 21.5). "New heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness" (II Peter 3:13).
Concerning the Spiritual Hosts
I believe that the angels are not mythical but noetic beings created by God, that they had a beginning in time and that they are not eternal or immortal by nature, but only by Divine Grace. Although they possess a different nature than ours, their spiritual and incorporeal nature is nonetheless real and is subject to other laws and other dimensions foreign to human nature. They are conscious persons. In the beginning they were created perfectly good, perfectly free, having the faculty of will and choice. Some angels made a good choice by remaining faithful to their Creator, whereas others used their liberty in an evil manner and estranged themselves from their Creator and rose up against Him and, becoming darkened and wicked, fell from God and turned into demons. The demons are envious of man because of the glory of the eternal destiny for which he was created, and they seek his ruin and utter destruction. They have no real power over those who have received Baptism, yet they tempt us so that we ourselves might make ill use of our freedom. But the angels, because of their loyalty and their communion with God, know no envy and are not jealous of man's destiny. Rather, they have been endowed with a nature superior to man's so that they might help man realize his purpose through the aid of Divine Grace; they rejoice when a man succeeds in realizing the aim of his existence. The angles are humble, they are instructed by the Church, they belong to the Church and celebrate with us in glorifying the Creator; they pray for us and attend to our prayers. All beings created by God's wisdom, will, and love are fashioned on a hierarchical principle and not on an egalitarian principle. Even as men on earth differ according to what gift each has received, so also do the angels have distinctions among themselves in accordance with their rank and their ministry.
I believe that only God is eternal and immortal by nature and in essence. The angels and the souls of men are immortal only because God bestows this immortality upon them by grace. If if were not for the immortality which God bestows by His divine will, neither the angels nor the souls of men would be immortal of themselves.
Men's souls have no pre-existence. The how of the soul's birth, as well as separation from the body at the moment of the latter's biological death that it might be reunited to the body when the dead are raised at the Second and glorious Coming of our Saviour is a mystery which has not been revealed to us.
Concerning the Mystery of Evil
I believe that God created neither death nor suffering nor evil. Evil has no hypostasis or existence as such. Evil is the absence of good; death is the absence of life. Evil is the alienation of the created being who has estranged himself from God; it is the degeneration of an essence which was created good. The sinner dies, not because God slays him in punishment so that He might revenge Himself on him -- for man cannot offend God, nor does God experience any satisfaction at the death of a man -- the sinner dies because he has alienated himself from the Source of Life. God is not responsible for evil, nor is He its cause. Neither is God blameworthy because He created man's nature with the possibility of alienating itself. If He had created human nature without free will, by this imposed condition He would have rendered the created intelligent being purely passive in nature; the creature would simply submit, not having the possibility of doing otherwise, since it would not be free. However, God wished that, after a fashion, we too should be His co-workers in His creation and be responsible for our own eternal destiny. God knows in His infinite wisdom how to transform the causes of evil into that which is profitable for man's salvation. Thus God uses the consequences of evil so as to make roses bloom forth from the thorns; although He never desired the thorns, nor did He create them in order to use them as instruments. He permitted these things to exist out of respect for our freedom. Thus God permits trials and sufferings without having created them. When suffering comes upon me, I must receive this as an unfathomable proof of His love, as a blessing in disguise and without feeling indignant, I must seek out its significance. As for temptations, I must avoid them, and for the sake of humility, beseech God to spare me from them, even as our Saviour teaches us in the Lord's Prayer: "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." Yet, in all trials, temptations, and sufferings, we conclude our prayer as did the Saviour in the garden of Gethsemane: "Not My will, but Thine be done" (Luke 22:42).
Concerning Man and Sin
I believe and I confess that God created man neither mortal nor immortal, but capable of choosing between two states, as St. John of Damascus teaches us (Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book II, chap. 30). Man's bad choice and ill use of his free will caused his nature to be defiled by sin and become mortal. Human nature's defilement and alienation from God are caused by sin which entered into the world through a single man, Adam. Baptism in the true Church liberates us from the effects of sin and enables us to "work" for our salvation. Yet, even as after the Lord's Resurrection both the memory of His sufferings and also the marks of these sufferings were preserved in a material manner, so also after our Baptism does our nature preserve our weakness, in that it has received only the betrothal of the Divine adoption which shall be realized only at the glorious coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, our regeneration by Baptism is just as real as our Saviour's Resurrection. The Most Holy Virgin Mary was born with the same nature as ours. She could not of Herself have maintained the state in which the Archangel found Her on the day of the Annunciation, because She also, like all of us, had need of God's Grace. God is the Saviour of the Virgin not only because He purified Her, but also because by Divine Grace and Her will She was protected from a state of personal sin.
Concerning Man and His Free Will
I believe that man "works" for his salvation. Salvation is not imposed upon him in spite of himself as Augustine of Hippo's and John Calvin's doctrine of predestination would have it, nor is it obtained solely by the endeavors of human will, as Pelagius taught. Salvation is synergetic, that is, man co-operates in the work of his salvation. God does not take upon Himself the role which belongs to man; likewise, man can attain to nothing by his own efforts alone, neither by his virtue, nor by observing the commandments, nor by a good disposition. None of these things have any value for salvation except in the contest of Divine Grace, for salvation can not be purchased. Man's labors and the keeping of the commandments only demonstrate his will and resolve to be with God, his desire and love for God. Man cannot accomlish his part of co-operation in his salvation by his own power, however small this part may be, and he must entreat God to grant him the strength and grace necessary to accomplish it. If he perceives that he does not even wish his own salvation, he must ask to receive this desire from God "Who gives to all men and disregards none." For this reason, without despising man's role, we say that we receive "grace for grace" (John 1:16) and that to approach and enter the Church is according to the Fathers, "the grace given before grace," since in reality all is grace. This is the true meaning of the words of the Holy Fathers, "although it be a question of grace, yet grace is granted only to those who are worthy of it" indicating by the word "worthy" the exercise of our freedom of will to ask all things from God.
Concerning Faith and Works
I believe that man's natural virtue -- whatever its degree -- cannot save a man and bring him to eternal life. The Scriptures teach: "All our righteousness is like unto a menstrual rag" (Isaiah 64:6). The fulfillment of the works of the Law does not permit us to demand or to merit something from God. Not only do we have no merits or supererogatory works, but Jesus Christ enjoins us that when we have fulfilled all the works of the Law, we should esteem ourselves as nothing but "unprofitable servants" (Luke 17:10). Without Jesus Christ, a man's personal virtue, his repute, his personal value, his work, his talents and his faculties matter but little; they matter only insofar as they test his devotion and faith in God. Our faith in Jesus Christ is not an abstraction but rather a communion with Him. This communion fills us with the power of the Holy Spirit and our faith becomes a fertile reality which engenders good works in us as the Scriptures attest "which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). Thus, according to the Apostles, faith engenders true works; and true works, which are the fruit of the Holy Spirit, bear witness and prove the existence of a true faith. Since faith is neither abstract nor sterile, it is impossible to dissociate it from good works. It was by this same faith in the same Jesus Christ that the righteous of the Old Testament (who are venerated to the same degree as the other saints in the Orthodox Church) were saved, and not because of their legalistic or disciplinary observance of the Law. Faith is also a gift of God, and a man relying on his own efforts, his own piety, or his own spirituality, cannot of himself possess this faith. Yet faith is not imposed: to those who desire it, God grants it, not because of a fatalistic predestination, but because of His Divine foreknowledge and His disposition to co-operate with man's free will. If God has given us faith, we must not think ourselves better than others, nor superior or more worthy than them, nor should we think that we have received it because of our own merits, but we should attribute this favor to the goodness of God Whose reasons escape us. We must thank Him by bowing down before the mystery of this privilege and be conscious that one of the attributes of faith is the "lack of curiousity." It is neither works nor faith, but only the Living God Who saves us.