Part II: I Believe... Continued
Concerning the Theotokos
I believe that the nature of the Most Holy Virgin Mary is identical to our own. After Her free and conscious acceptance of the plan of salvation offered to man by God, the Holy Spirit overshadowed Her and the power of the Most High covered Her, and "at the voice of the Archangel, the Master of all became incarnate in Her." Thus our Lord Jesus Christ, the New Adam, partook of our nature in all things save sin, through the Theotokos, the New Eve. The nature of fallen man, the nature of Adam, which bore the wounds of sin, of degeneration, and of corruption, was restored to its former beauty, and now it partakes of the Divine nature. Man's nature, restored and regenerated by grace, surpasses Adam's state of innocence previous to the fall, since as the Fathers say, "God became man so that man could become God." Thus St. Gregory the Theologian writes: "O marvelous fall that brought about such a salvation for us!" man, created " a little lower than the angels" (Ps. 8:5), can, by God's grace, surpass even the angelic state, and so we praise the Most Holy Virgin Mary, as: "More honourable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim." I reject all the doctrines, which are alien to the teachings of the Fathers, concerning original sin and the "immaculate conception of Mary." Likewise, I reject every doctrine which endeavors to distort the position of the Theotokos, Who, with a nature identical to ours, represented all humanity when she accepted the salvation offered Her by God. Thus, God is the Saviour of the Most Holy Virgin as well and She is saved by the same grace whereby all those who are redeemed are saved. She is not the "Mother of the Church," as though She were dissociated from the Church or superior to It., but rather She is the Mother of all the faithful of the Church, of Which She also is a part.
Concerning the Saints
I believe that God "glorified those who glorify Him" (I Kings 2:30), that He is "wondrous in His saints" (Ps. 67:35), and that He is the "Saviour of the body" of the Church (Eph. 5:23). I believe that we are saved insofar as we are members of the Body, but that we cannot be saved by any individual relation with God outside of the Church. For the Lord said, "I am the true vine... As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in Me. If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned." (John 15:1, 4, 6). The saints are those members of the Church, the Body of Christ, who have achieved great sanctity and perfection. I believe that our God is the "God of our Fathers" and that He has mercy upon us because we are the children of our Fathers, who were and are His saints and His servants, as the Holy Scripture attests in many places. I believe that, even as St. James the Apostle says, "the prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16), even as the Three Youths who prayed in the fiery furnace attest: "Cause not Thy mercy to depart from us for Abraham's sake, Thy beloved, for Isaac's sake, Thy servant, and for Israel's, Thy holy one" (Dan 3:34). Those whom God has glorified, I also glorify. Because of Him Who glorifies them, I entrust myself to their prayers and intercessions, even as the Scriptures require, for the angel of the Lord appeared to Abimelich and counseled him to seek Abrahams's prayers, saying: "He shall pray for thee and thou shalt live" (Gen. 20:7). I believe that my worship and veneration of the saints is a well-pleasing worship offered of God since it is because of Him and for His sake that I worship them. I give adoration to no created thing, no other being, be it visible or invisible. I venerate no man for his own virtue's sake but "for the grace of God which is given" him (I Cor.1:4). In celebrating the feast of a saint, it is God Who is always worshipped, the saint's contest and victory being the occasion for God to be worshipped. Indeed, He is worshipped and glorified in His saints; He "is wondrous in His saints" (Ps 67:35). As He said, "I will dwell in them" (II Cor. 6:16) and, by grace and adoption, they shall be called gods (John 10:34-35). God Himself has granted His saints their ministry of interceding on our behalf. I supplicate them and I am in communion with them, even after their death in the flesh, since this death, according to the Apostle, cannot separate us from the love of Christ which unites us. According to the Lord's promise, they who believe in Him "shall never die... but are passed from death into life" (John 11:26, 5:24).
Concerning the Holy Icons
I venerate holy icons in perfect accord with the second commandment of the Decalogue [Ten Commandments] and not in contradiction to it. For, before the Incarnation of God, before the Nativity of Jesus Christ, any representation of Him would have been the fruit of man's imagination, a conception of man's reasoning concerning God Who is by nature and in His essence incomprehensible, indescribable, immaterial, inexpressible and unfathomable. Every conception or imagination concerning God will, by necessity, be alien to His nature; it will be false, unreal, an idol. But when the time was fulfilled, the Indepictable One became depictable for my salvation. As theApostle says, "we have heard Him, we have seen Him with our eyes, we have looked upon Him and have handled Him with our hands" (I John 1:1). When I venerate the holy icons I do not worship matter, but I confess that God Who is immaterial by nature has become material for our sakes so that He might dwell among us, die for us, be raised from the dead in His flesh and cause our human nature, which He took upon Himself, to sit at the right hand of the Father in the Heavens. When I kiss His venerable icon, I confess the relatively describable and absolutely historical reality of His Incarnation, His Death, His Resurrection, His Ascension into the Heavens, and His Second and Glorious Coming.
Concerning the Veneration and Worship of the Holy Icons
I venerate the holy icons by prostrating myself before them, by kissing them, by showing them a "relative worship" (as the definition of the Seventh Ecumenical Council says) while confessing that only the Most Holy Trinity is to be offered adoration. By the words "relative worship" I do not mean a second rate worship, but that they are worshipped because of their relation to God. God alone, Who is the cause and the final goal of all things, deserves our worship; Him alone must we worship. We worship the saints, their holy relics and their icons only because He dwells in them. Thus, the creatures which are sanctified by God are venerated and worshipped because of their relation to Him and on account of Him. This has always been the teaching of the Church: "The worship of the icon is directed to the prototype." Not to venerate the saints is to deny the reality of their communion with God, the effects of Divine sanctification and the grace which works in them; it is to deny the words of the Apostle who said, "I no longer live, but Christ liveth in me." (Gal. 2:20). I believe that icons are a consequence of and a witness to the Incarnation of Our Saviour and an integral part of Christianity; thus there is no question of a human custom or doctrine having been superimposed upon the Tradition of the Church, as though it were an afterthought. I believe and I confess that the holy icons are not only decorative and didactic objects which are found in Church, but also holy and sanctifying, being the shadows of heavenly realities; and even as the shadow of the Apostle Peter once cured the sick -- as it is related in the Acts of the Apostles -- so in like manner do the holy icons, being shadows of celestial realities, sanctify us.
Concerning the Holy Relics of the Saints
I believe and I confess that when we venerate and kiss the holy relics, the grace of God acts upon our total being, that is, body and soul, and that the bodies of the saints, since they are the temples of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 6:9), participate in and are endued with this totally sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit. Thus, God can act through the holy relics of His saints, as the Old Testament bears witness; for there we see that a man was resurrected by touching the bones of the Prophet Elisseus (II Kings 13:21). Therefore, I neither venerate holy relics for some sentimental reason, nor do I honour them as merely historical remains but acknowledge them as being, by the grace of God, endowed with intrinsic holiness, as being vessels of grace. Indeed, in the Acts of the Apostles we see that the faithful were healed by touching the Apostles' "handkerchiefs" and "aprons" (Acts 19:12).
Concerning the Holy Scriptures
I believe that all the Scriptures are inspired by God and that, as St. John Chrysostom says, "It is impossible for a man to be saved if he does not read the Scriptures." However, the Holy Scriptures cannot be dissociated from the Church, for She wrote them. The Scriptures were written in the Church, by the Church and for the Church. Outside the Church, the Scriptures cannot be understood. One trying to comprehend the Scriptures though outside the Church is like a stranger trying to comprehend the correspondence between two members of the same family. The Holy Scriptures lose their meaning, the sense of their expression and their content for the man who is a stranger to the Church, to Her life, to Her Mysteries and to Her Traditions, since they were not written for him. I believe and I confess that there is no contradiction whatsoever between the Sacred Scriptures and the Tradition of the Church. By the word "Tradition," I do not mean an accumulation of human customs and practices which have been added to the Church. According to the holy Apostle Paul, the written and oral Traditions are of equal value; for it is not the means of transmission that saves us, but the authenticity of the content of what has been transmitted to us. Furthermore, the teaching of the Old Testament as well as that of the New Testament were transmitted orally to God's people before they were written down. Therefore, the Holy Scriptures themselves are a part of Holy Tradition which is a unified whole and we must accept it as a whole, and not choose bits and parts according to our private opinions or interpretations. The official versions and texts of the Orthodox Church are the Septuagint version of the Old Testament (which was used by the Apostles when they recorded the New Testament) and the Greek text of the New Testament. Translations into the various languages have also been approved by the Church and are extensively used. I acknowledge that there are a plurality of meanings for each verse of the Bible, provided that each interpretation be justified by the teachings of the Holy Fathers who are glorified by God. I reject all human systems of interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, whether they be allegorical, literalistic, or otherwise. I confess that the Holy Scripture was written through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and that it is solely through the Holy Spirit that we can read and understand It. I acknowledge that I cannot read or understand the Scriptures without the assistance of the Holy Spirit and the illumination of the Tradition of the Church, even as the eunuch of Candice could not understand the prophets without the aid of St. Philip, who was sent to him by the Holy Spirit (Acts 8). I denounce as blasphemous every attempt to correct, re-adapt or "de-mythologize" the sacred texts of the Bible. I confess that Tradition alone is competent to extablish the Canon of the Holy Scriptures since only Tradition can declare what belongs to it and what is foreign to it. Moveover, I confess that the "foolishness of preaching" (I Cor. 1:21) is superior to the wisdom of man or his rationalistic systems.
Concerning the Church
I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, and that It was instituted by God through the power of the Holy Spirit and by revelation. I reject the idea that the Church is a form of piety which is the fruit of a philosophical or historical evolution, or the fruit of human reason and ingenuity. The Church is instituted by God and is a tree which is rooted in the Heavens. We receive nourishment of its fruits, although the planting remains supernatural. I believe that no other Name under heaven has been given us by which we can be saved, besides that of Jesus Christ. I believe that one can not dissociate Jesus Christ from His Church, which is His Body. I believe with St. Cyprian of Carthage that the man who does not have the Church for his Mother cannot have God as his Father, and that outside the Church there is no salvation. I believe that neither ignorance, nor lack of awareness, or even the best intentions, can excuse one and justify him or her for salvation; for if even in the true Church, "the righteous will scarcely be saved" (I Peter 4:18) as the Scriptures say, how can one conclude that ignorance or error -- even if it be inherited -- can excuse one or that good intentions can lead us with certainty into the Kingdom of Heaven? According to His boundless mercy and righteousness God deals with those who are outside the Church, and the Apostle forbids us to concern ourselves with the judgements of God concerning such people. God did not institute schismatic and heretical assemblies that they might work in parallel with the Church for the salvation of men. For this reason, schismatic and heretical assemblies ("churches") are not workshops of salvation; rather, they are obstacles created by the devil, wherein error and truth are mingled in different proportions so that the true Church may not be recognized. Therefore, with the Holy Fathers I confess that: "The martyrdom of heretics is suicide and the virginity of heretics is fornication." Outside of the Church there is no true Baptism, nor any other Mystery. Hence, the Apostolic Canons and the canons of the Ecumenical Councils forbid us to pray with schismatics and heretics, be it in private or in Church, as they forbid us, under the penalty of defrockment and excommunication, to permit them to function as clergymen.
Concerning How the Church's Organization is Superior to Ethnic Considerations
I believe and I confess that the Church makes no distinction in the race of Her believers or their nationality or their language. The sister and autocephalous Orthodox Churches have been historically delimited by national, geographic, and jurisdictional boundaries, but not as if these had any scriptural or messianic significance. Thus, according to Canon Law, there can not be two bishops named for the same area. The Church's brotherhood and unity is enacted by God and permeates the very essence and nature of God. This unity is not subject to racial, familial, national, political, economic, cultural or social considerations, which are of this world ("The things which are Caesar's," Matt. 22:21). The brotherhood of the Church is one of "the things which are of God," and the "world has no part in it." (In 1872, the Ecumenical Patriarchate condemned as heresy the concept of "phyletism" which places a particular nationality and its interest, goals and aspirations above the Church.)
Concerning the Head of the Church
I believe that the only Head of the Orthodox Church is our Lord Jesus Christ. The Orthodox Church has never had, nor shall ever have a "universal" bishop. A "primate" or an "Ecumenical Patriarch" is not a prelate with universal jurisidiction over the Church, nor was the Pope of Rome, nor the Pope of Alexandria, for that matter, ever so considered in the early centuries before the rise of Papal pretensions, expecially from the ninth century on. The titles "patriarch," "archbishop," "metropolitan," and so forth, do not denote a difference of episcopal grace. The unity of the Orthodox Church is expressed by the harmony of Her bishops, by Her common Faith, common Law, and common spiritual life. Every bishop (the visible head) and his flock (the visible body) constitute the fulness of the Body of Christ. There can be no Church without a bishop, even as a body cannot exist without a head. Since He is God, our Lord Jesus Christ, despite His Ascension into the Heavens, remains with us until the end of time in accordance with His promise (Matt. 28:20); therefore, since He is not absent, He does not require a "vicar," in the Papal sense, to rule over His Body. The Holy Spirit directs the Church and accomplishes that incomprehensible identification in which our incarnate Lord Jesus, and the Holy Eucharist, and the assembly of the Church are one and the same and are called the Body of Christ. The Ecumenical and Local Councils do not invent symbols of faith, but, guided by the Holy Spirit, bear witness to what has been delivered by the Church at every time, in every place, and by every one; and they promulgate the canons necessary to put the Faith into practice as it has been lived and professed from the beginning. Infallibility is an attribute of the Catholicity of the Church of Christ, and not an attribute of a single person or, de facto, of an hierarchical assembly. A council is not "ecumenical" because of the exterior legality of its composition (since this factor does not oblige the Holy Spirit to speak through a council), but because of the purity of the Faith of the Gospels which it professes. "Truth (i.e. conformity to the Apostolic Tradition) judges the Councils," says St. Maximus the Confessor. There is no "pope," superior to the Councils who must ratify them, but rather it is the conscience of the Church, which, being infallible, does or does not recognize the authenticity of a Council, and which does or does not acknowledge that the voice of the Holy Spirit has spoken. Hence, there have been councils which, though fulfilling the exterior conditions of ecumenicity, were nonethless rejected by the Church. The Church's criterion, according to St. Vincent of Lerins, is the Church.
Concerning the Church and Holy Tradition
I believe that the Church is directed by the Holy Spirit. I believe that, in the Church, man cannot invent anything to take the place of revelation, and that the details of the Church's life bear the imprint of the Holy Spirit. Hence, I refuse human reason the right to make clear distinctions between what it thinks to be primary and what secondary. A Christian's moral life can not be dissociated from his piety and his doctrinal confession of faith. I denounce as being contrary to Tradition the dissociation of the Church's profession of Faith from Her administration. By the same token, the Church's disciplinary canons are a direct reflection of Her Faith and Doctrine. I reject any attempt to revise or "purge," "renovate," or "make relevant" Orthodoxy's canonical rules or liturgical texts.
Concerning the Life That Is To Come
I believe in the existence of eternal life. I believe in the Second Coming, that is, the glorious return of the Lord, when He sahll come to judge the living and the dead, and render to each man according to the works that he did while living in the body. I believe in the extablishment of the Kingdom of His righteousness. I look for the resurrection of the dead, and I believe that we will be resurrected in the body. I believe that both the Kingdom of God and Hell shall be eternal. I do not transgress the Fourth Commandment when I observe Sunday, the eighth day, the day which prefigures the "new creation," since formerly, before the Incarnation, the primordial perfection of the creation of the world was commemorated by the Sabbath day of rest. By observing Sunday, I confess the new creation in Jesus Christ, which is of greater import and more real than the existing creation which yet bears the wounds of sin. I believe also that both the righteous and the sinners who are departed now enjoy a foretaste of their final destiny, but that each man shall receive the entirety of what he deserves only at the Last Judgement. God loves not only those who dwell in Paradise, but also those who are in Hell; in Hell, however, the Divine love constitutes a cause of suffering for the wicked. This is not due to God's love but to their own wickedness, which resents this love and experiences it as a torment. I believe that, as yet, neither Paradise nor Hell has commenced in a complete and perfect sense. What the reposed undergo now is the partial judgment, and partial reward and punishment. Hence, for the present, there is also no resurrection of the bodies of the dead. The saints, too, await this eternal and perfect state (even as a "perfect" and everlasting Hell awaits the sinners), for, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, St. Paul states, "and these all (i.e., all the saints), having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise, since God has provided some better thing for us, so that they without us should not be made perfect" (Heb. 14:40). Therefore, all the saints await this resurrection of their bodies and the commencement of Paradise in its perfect and complete sense, as St. Paul declares in the Acts of the Apostles, "I believe all things which are written in the law and in the prophets, and have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust" (Acts 24:14-15). But even though they do not yet partake of their glory fully, the intercessions of the saints are nonetheless efficacious even now, for St. James in his Catholic Epistle, did not say "the effectual prayer of a righteous man shall avail much," but rather, "availeth much" (James 5:16) even now. I believe that Paradise and Hell will be twofold in nature, spiritual and physical. At present, because the body is still in the grave, both the reward and the punishment are spiritual. Therefore, we speak of Hades (i.e., the place of the souls of the dead) because, as such, Hell (i.e., the place of everlasting spiritual and physical torment) has not yet commenced. Hades was despoiled by our Saviour by His descent thither and by His Resurrection, but Hell, on the contrary, shall be eternal. In that day, Christ shall say unto those on the left, "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the Devil and his angels" (Matt. 25:41). This is attested to in the Gospels by the demons also, in the miracle of the healing of the demoniac who lived in the district of the Gadarenes. For, at the approach of our Saviour, the demons cried out, "What have we to do with Thee, Jesus, Thou Son of God? Art Thou come hither to torment us before the time?" Thus, they are not yet in Hell, but they do know that a Day has been appointed when Hell shall commence. I do not believe in "purgatory," but I believe, as the Scriptures attest, that the prayers and fasts made by the living for the sake of the dead have a beneficial effect on the souls of the dead and upon us, and that even the souls that are in darkness are benefited by our prayers and fasts. The public prayers of the Church, however, are reserved exclusively for those who have reposed in the Church. Insofar as it depends upon my own wish, I shall not permit my body to be cremated, but shall specify in my Will that my body be clothed, if possible, in my Baptismal tunic and be buried in the earth from which my Creator took me and to which I must return until the Saviour's glorious Coming and the Resurrection from the dead.
The End and Glory Be to God