OrthodoxyToday.org | Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis | Mar. 14, 2008
One of the statements in the Synodikon proclaims: “This is the faith of the Apostles. This is the faith of the Fathers. This is the Faith of the Orthodox. This is the faith that sustains the universe.” What does this statement mean?
Some see it as an elitist statement — “This is the Faith of the Orthodox” — It is this faith, as opposed to some other faith, that sustains the universe. Some see it as a nostalgic statement — “This is the faith of the Apostles, this is the faith of the Fathers”–This is a faith of yesteryear, and this one of the occasions during the year that we take that faith from the shelf and dust it off. Some see it as an irrelevant statement — “This is the faith of the Apostles, this is the Faith of the Fathers” — therefore it is not a faith for me, it is not a faith that is relevant in the 21st Century. And some see it as a statement of identity — this is the faith of the Apostles, preserved by the Fathers and saints of the church to this very day. This is the faith, the prayer, the love, the moral backbone that sustains the universe. At least it is supposed to be.
The Orthodox faith is not the faith of the Apostles of yesteryear, or the faith of the Priests and Hierarchs of today, but it is a collective faith of everyone. And the Orthodox Faith is not just collective, but it is personal. That’s why when we confess our faith and recite the Creed, we don’t hide behind a collective “we” but confess what we believe in a very personal way, “I believe.”
And what is it that we believe? Do we believe in a culture? Do we believe in the church building? Do we believe in the icons? No. We believe in God, the way we confess Him in the Nicene Creed. And we believe that the Apostles, the Fathers and the Saints of the church have been guided by the Holy Spirit to establish Orthodox Theology and Tradition that is practiced in the same way throughout the world. The Canon of Scripture, the Holy Bible, was codified in the Fourth Century, and since that time, has served as a guidebook for what Christians believe and how they are supposed to live.
The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, which is celebrated on the Sundays of Great Lent, was written in the Fourth Century. Later in the Fourth Century, St. John Chrysostom edited the Liturgy into the service we celebrate on most other Sundays during the year. The Nicene Creed which we recite at every Divine Liturgy, was last edited by the Orthodox Church in the year 381 — it is the oldest Christian Creed of any church. And so the Traditions and Practices of Orthodoxy have been in their present form for a long time — they are timeless, they are legitimate. Imagine how powerful and Spirit-inspired these things are that they haven’t been changed in 1,600 years!
Some people comment, why doesn’t the church change to conform with the times we live in? Because the Message of Christ, His Saving work, His purpose in redeeming the world, hasn’t changed at all, one bit. So why is it that churches continue to change and reconfigure themselves to fit the world? The world, our world, and our individual lives in it, are supposed to configure themselves around the Gospel, not the other way around.
The Creed is not just a basic statement of faith. It is the proclamation of what it means to be an Orthodox Christian. If someone asks me what do I believe about God, I recite the Creed for them. Before receiving Holy Communion, I confess and I affirm what I believe by reciting the Creed. How can one dare to approach to receive the Body and Blood of Christ without a convicted affirmation of a sincere belief in God?
If we believe, collectively as a church, and if we as its individual members confess honestly, “I believe,” then the Creed should have a profound impact on each of our lives. We say, “This is the faith that sustains the universe,” and yet in many churches, it is a faith that can barely hold up the roof.
The faith of the Apostles is what St. Paul refers to in the Epistle lesson read on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, people who “through faith conquered kingdoms, worked righteousness, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, became valiant in battle. . .others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, others had trials of mockings and scourgings, trials and imprisonments, they were stoned, sawn in two, destitute, afflicted.” (Hebrews 11: 33-37)
We’ve dumbed down morality, but God hasn’t changed the meaning of what is righteous. We’ve worked hard to take God out of society, but he still wants us to come back in repentance so He can lead us to heaven. We’ve compartmentalized the faith that has upheld the universe, the faith that survived 400 years of Ottoman Oppression and a generation of Communist tyranny. We’ve made faith into a convenience, a possession, a company, a drive through fast food joint.
This is not the faith of the Apostles, the Fathers, the Martyrs and the Saints — theirs was a faith that led them from sacrifice to glory, not from convenience to confusion. And that’s what God wants for us — believe, understand, live, sacrifice, glory, triumph.
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