BASIC DOGMATIC TEACHING
An Orthodox Handbook
by Protopresbyter Fr. Anthony Alevizopoulos (1931 – 1996)
Dr. of Theology, Dr. of Philosophy
Chapter 2 – Cognizance of the Truth
1. Those taught by God
From what has been said, it has become obvious that when we refer to the “knowledge of God”, we do not imply any logical comprehension of Him, but rather a personal encounter with God. When a person surrenders wholly to God and desires to encounter the One that his soul yearns for, only then – after passing through the dense fog of ignorance – will God come to him and make everything around him luminous and will reveal Himself to that person. “He reveals the deep and secret things, knowing what is in the darkness, and the light is with Him” (Daniel 2:22). However, man must hunger and thirst truly for God. (Psalms 41:3, Jeremiah 38:25)
But, whoever acquires a taste of the presence of the divine light will sense his immense weakness and his vast unworthiness and will shout the words of the sinful woman:
«Lord, this woman who had fallen into many sins, on sensing Your Divinity did undertake to become a myrrh-bearer…», and «Lord, while immersed whole in sin, I can feel Your Divinity!… ».
All the Fathers of the Church agree on this point and they proclaim that the knowledge of God is a divine gift and not the result of a human endeavour.
Nobody can acquire knowledge of God, unless he becomes one who is taught by God. “There is no means by which we can come to know God – only to live within Him”, says Saint Gregory the Theologian. Saint Nilus the Ascetic also teaches: “If you are a theologian, you will truly pray, and if you pray, you are a theologian” (On Prayer, 61).
2. The prerequisites of the knowledge of God (Theognosy)
God does not reveal Himself to the man who seeks Him with his intellect.
He reveals Himself to the one who will love Him: “But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him”.(1 Cor.8:3) The one who loves God with his heart will hear His voice calling him to pass through the cloud, to ascend the mountain. However, for a man to meet God he must have humility (Matth. 5:3, 18:3, 1 Pet.5:5). Furthermore, he must have a cleanliness of heart (Psalms 33:19) “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God”, says the Lord (Matth. 5:8)
But all these are not enough, for man to attain divine revelation. He needs to also follow the teaching of Christ. “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9) “…whosoever does good, he is of God; whosoever does evil, he has not seen God.” (3 John 11)
If one is not a man of love, if he does not have humility, if he does not purify himself and does not preserve the teaching of Christ, he cannot be a true theologian – that is, a man who has come to know God. “…the one who says he abides in him ought himself to walk, just as He walked.” (1 John 2:6) For the one that does not purify himself, Saint Maximus uses an extremely severe expression. He characterizes him as “a demon’s theologian”.
“Beloved”, writes saint John the Evangelist, “now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. …. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.” (1 John 3:2-6)
The inner purity of man is not presented solely as a prerequisite for knowing God and as the fruit of his union with Him. The Lord Himself, when addressing the Father, says of His disciples:
“I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them..” (John 17:26)
Knowledge of God is an act of giving (Gal.4:9; John 6:44) and presupposes a personal relationship of man with Christ:
«No-one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). “No-one knows the Son except the Father, nor does anyone know the Father except for the Son and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” (Matth. 11:27) This personal relationship with the Son is realized – as we shall mention – with the presence of the Holy Spirit. (John 14:26. 15:26. 16:13 and thereafter).
3. Starting point and purpose of the knowledge of God
The starting point of the knowledge of God is, therefore, totally different inside the Church than it is in a philosophical quest thereof. However, its purpose – the end of the knowledge of God – is also different inside the Church.
This purpose was proclaimed by Christ with great clarity, in His prayer to the Father: “that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26)
The starting point of the knowledge of God is the personal acquaintance with Christ, and its end is Love, which is the expression of the life of the Holy Trinity – in other words, man’s participation in that life. “I am in them, and You are in Me, so that they may be made perfect in one…. that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:23, 26)
Christ is the starting point for the knowledge of God. It is that which John the Evangelist underlines at the beginning of his Gospel: “And the Word (Logos) became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth”. (John 1:14) The Purpose and the end of the knowledge of God is the in-Christ life – the perfect unity of man with Christ.
This is the reason that the preaching of the Apostles always had its beginning in the Person of Christ, and had as its purpose the tie with Christ and the “in-Christ” salvation (Acts 4:12; 5:28-32).
4. The provocation of the Cross
The person of Christ constitutes the beginning and the end of theognosy and man’s redemption. That is the Gospel – the salvific message – that the Lord brought to us.
However, neither the Judeans of the Apostolic era nor the Gentiles managed to accept it. Christ’s Incarnation, and especially His Cross and His death, were for the former a scandal and for the latter, folly. The reason for this was that Christ’s Cross – as well as His Incarnation – were a huge provocation for human logic.
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor.1:18).
“For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men..” (1 Cor.1:22-25. cmp. Gal.5:11).
One could say that here the Apostle is provoking both the Jews and the Gentiles. He does not feel the need to logically support his preaching, nor is he overcome by a sense of inferiority for it. On the contrary, he does this consciously, his purpose being NOT the support of the people’s faith on the basis of the power of human words and human wisdom, but “..in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”. “We speak,” he says, the “wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God had ordained before the ages unto our glory.” (1 Cor.2:4-7).
This same teaching was already being proclaimed by the Prophets of the Old Testament, whom the Apostle also invokes (1 Cor.1:19-20)
“…in vain do they worship Me, by teaching human precepts and teachings. Therefore look, I will proceed to remove this people. I will remove them and destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will hide.” (Isaiah 29:13-14)
5. The power of the Spirit
The knowledge of God, the true faith, is the result of the sermon pertaining to the Cross. However, the sermon alone is not capable of revealing God to mankind. Just as the sermon has God as its source (Who revealed Himself in the Person of Christ), likewise, the acceptance of that sermon on the part of man springs from the Holy Spirit, Who guides man towards Christ.
“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world” says the Apostle, “but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” (1 Cor. 2:12). ,
“…These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For “who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ..” (1 Cor.2:13-16 – cmp. Isaiah 40:13).
Therefore, it is not a matter of “persuasive words of human wisdom”, but “…in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God”. (1 Cor.2:4-5)
The above help us to understand why many people did not succeed in finding the path that leads to the truth and to life; in other words, the path that leads to Christ. We also comprehend why the Apostles – prior to the event of the Pentecost – were unable to recognize the Lord and perceive His glory.
And even those three disciples – who were present at the mount of the Transfiguration – did not experience at that moment the full majesty of the Lord’s glory. The apolytikion hymn of our Church says this quite characteristically, when it presents Christ as demonstrating His glory to His disciples “as much as they were able”; in other words, to the extent that were able to perceive the glory of Christ – not fully.
We also understand why the disciples abandoned Christ while He was on the Cross and why they were afraid (Matth.26:56; Mark 14:50; John 20:19) and why they didn’t immediately proclaim the Resurrection of Christ after He had revealed Himself to them.
The Apostles in actual fact recognized Christ, only after the Pentecost. Only then did they begin to preach, no longer feeling any fear towards the reactions of the Judeans and the Gentiles: with power and with authority.
6. Why are there atheists?
The Apostle James makes a basic discernment between the wisdom that “descends from above” and the “wisdom” which is characterized as “earthly, sensual, demonic” (James 3:15)
The one “wisdom” is the kind that is entirely disconnected from God; it is the one that does not result in the glorification of God but instead the glorification of man without God. That is why it is characterized as “demonic” (cmp. also Genesis 3:4 onwards).
The other kind of “wisdom” is not attributed to man’s effort, which is why it is kept hidden from the “wise and the prudent” of this world. It is revealed only to the “infants” (Matth.11:25; Luke 10:21) – to “the foolish ones of the world”, the “base ones” and the “weak ones”, so that “no flesh should glory in His presence”. (1 Cor.1:27-29)
All that we have mentioned here assists us to explain why so many people find difficulty in confessing the dogmas of our Church. The reason is because they rely exclusively on their own powers and seek something that they cannot “bear” with them alone. Because, as is evident, the things of God cannot be fully adapted to the potentials of human thought. God cannot possibly be known by man in the manner that man desires to know God.
“Wisdom” says the wise Solomon, is “a puff of the power of God, and an emanation of the glory of the Almighty”; it is a “a reflection of eternal light and a spotless mirror of the activity of God and an image of his goodness”. (Wisdom of Solomon 7:25-26 – Septuagint). .
“Who has learned your counsel unless you gave wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high?” the same one asks again (Wisdom of Solomon 9:17 – Septuagint).
History presents numerous examples of people who were unsuccessful in their quest for God, because they relied on their own powers and on human potentials. Many philosophers before Christ as well as thinkers attempted to become acquainted with God through their logic. It was of course to be expected that they would fail. Then there are others, who ended up in a total denial of God and proclaimed that God doesn’t exist, while others said that there is a “certain power”, an “impersonal God” Who however does not enter into any personal relationship with mankind.
God is the way and the truth and life (John 14:6). He therefore cannot be afar; He cannot be an impersonal being that does not come into a relationship with man or show any interest for the world – as some assert. “I am an approachable God says the Lord, and not a God far away”: I am the God Who is close to you; I am not a distant God, says the Lord through the mouth of the prophet. “Do I not fill the sky and the earth?” He adds. (Jeremiah 23:23-24; cmp. Matth.23:32; Mark 12:26)
Therefore God – man’s savior – is not far away from him; He is close to him – within him. He is revealed inside the heart of man, by the Holy Spirit. (John 14:26; 1 John 2:20, 27)
For this to happen, man must admit his weakness, cleanse his heart with humility and repentance and ask for God to be revealed to him. If he does not do this, he is condemned to remain – without the life-giving Lord – as an atheist. But not all “atheists” belong to this category. Some people, who were engulfed in sin and carnal vices, had denied God because faith would have entailed consequences in their everyday behaviour (Proverbs 28:5, Psalms 13:1); whereas, by denying Him or by perceiving Him as distant – as a Being that is not concerned with man’s life – then they would be able to quietly pursue their unruly lives without the risk of being checked for it.
The Lord “is found, by those who do not test Him and He reveals Himself to those who do not disbelieve in Him”, says the Wisdom of Solomon.
“…For crooked thoughts separate from God, and his power, when it is tested, convicts the foolish, because wisdom will not enter a soul that plots evil or reside in a body involved in sin. For a holy and disciplined spirit will flee from deceit and depart from senseless thoughts and be ashamed when unrighteousness approaches.” (Wisdom of Solomon 1:3-5 – Septuagint)
The knowledge of God, therefore, demands a cleanliness of heart and a purity in disposition. The wicked man – just like the devil, who is the personification of every wickedness and every temptation – can never attain the true knowledge of God, as much as he may search – even if he memorizes the content of the entire Holy Bible.
Characteristic of this point is the second temptation of Christ:
As we are informed by the evangelist, the evil spirit transports Christ to the edge of the topmost point of the Temple and says to Him:
“If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘ He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and,‘ In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.” (Matth.4:6, Psalms 90:11).
Here, Satan’s intention was not a pure one. Satan was not seeking any personal union with Christ – that is, the true one, theognosy. On the contrary, he sought to lure the Lord into an action that was wicked, as it was not an action of trust, love and obedience to the Will of the Father. It did not respond to the divine plan; instead, it was an attempt for His subservience to Satan’s plan.
It was for this reason that the Lord replied as follows:
“Again, it is written: You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” (Matth. 4:7, Luke 4:12, Deut.6:16. Cmp 1 Cor.10:9, Numb.21:5-6)
Thus, whoever does not begin with a pure disposition will never approach the divinity of the Lord and will not be able to become united with Him – as much as he may research, as much as he may study the Holy Bible.
“My soul thirsted for the living God. When shall I come and appear to the face of God?” (Psalms 42:2)
The one who will yearn for God with his soul and will run like a thirsty deer to the water springs (Psalms 42:1) – that is, to Christ (John 4:10, 14, 7:37) – he will receive the “living water” (John 4:10). The one who will try to quench his thirst on his own, will never achieve it.
“I shall give to the one who thirsts, from the spring of the water of life, for free” (Revel.21:6)
“And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely”(Revel.22:17; cmp.Isaiah 55,1).