BASIC DOGMATIC TEACHING
An Orthodox Handbook
by Protopresbyter Fr. Anthony Alevizopoulos (1931 – 1996)
Dr. of Theology, Dr. of Philosophy
Chapter 8 – The rectification
1. The Protevangelion (First Gospel)
As we have seen, the result of the fall was a differentiation in the very nature of man. Consequently, the legacy of fallen Adam was a ponderous one: the legacy of a sickly nature, of an old, decaying root whose fate was death and deterioration.
So, how could Adam’s descendants – all of humankind – be saved?
To achieve salvation, a new “root” was necessary – the root of a new Adam, and not someone from the old Adamian root. There was need of a new patriarch, who would restore man’s nature back to its union with God and would make man a participant once again in the life of God.
This could not be achieved by mankind whose origin was from the old root, of Adam, which had condemned it to deterioration and death. (Wisdom of Solomon 2:23). Man’s very nature had to be healed, so that by participating in that reborn nature, he would be able to re-connect once again with the source of his life – God – and live. (John 3:36, 14:6, 1 John 5:12, 20).This could never be achieved by man on his own, no matter how much he tried. The determining step had to be by God Himself.
It is a fact, that God – Who loved His people with «an everlasting love» (Jeremiah 38:3, Hebrews 31:3), showed this love of His, even on the day of the fall:
«And I will put enmity between you and between the woman and between your seed and between her seed; He will watch your head, and you will watch His heel.”» (Gen. 3:15)
I will place enmity between you and the woman; between your seed and her seed – that is, between your descendant and her descendant; He will crush your head and you will sting His heel…
The descendant of the woman, Who was to crush Satan and the works of Satan, shall become a new patriarch. Thus, whoever is descended from Him shall not find himself under the reign of deterioration and death.
2. Period of expectation
The entire history of the people of Israel is a foretaste and a foreshadowing of the coming of the woman’s “offspring” (seed) – that is, Christ – and the new communion between God and mankind, i.e. the Church.
God institutes a covenant with Noah and his descendants (Gen.9:8-17) and He reassures Abraham that his barren wife Sarah will bear a son, whom God will make into a patriarch of many nations:
«And I will bless her, and she shall become nations, and kings of nations shall be from her…” » (Gen. 17,16).
It is noteworthy that later on, when Sarah asked that her handmaiden (Hagar)’s son be sent away, this request seemed «harsh» to Abraham (Gen.21:11). God then said to him:
«…. “Do not let the matter be hard in your sight on account of the child and on account of the slave-girl; whatever Sarah says to you, obey her voice, for in Isaac offspring shall be named for you”» (Gen. 21:12).
The Apostle Paul refers to these prophecies in order to underline that they were realized in the Person of Christ.
« …For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” That is, those who are the children of the flesh (like the son of the servant girl Hagar); these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise (as was the son of the barren Sarah) are counted as the seed. (Romans 9:6-8, 4:1-25).
“Children of Abraham” are those who believe in the name of Christ (cmp. also Galatians 3:7-9). Furthermore, when the Apostle referred to God’s promise to Abraham He said: “In the instance of Abraham, promises were made to him and his descendant.” He did not say “and his descendants” as though implying many, but only one:
«Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one,“And to your Seed,”who is Christ. (Galatians 3:16. cmp. Gen.12:7, 13:15-16, 15:4-6, 17:7-8, 22:18).
From the time therefore of Abraham mankind has been waiting for that “seed”, through Whom all the tribes of the earth shall be blessed – that is, Christ. (Gen. 22:18, Acts 3:25-26).
That same promise was renewed by God, in the person of the Patriarch Isaac (Gen. 26:4, 24) and the Patriarch Jacob and in fact, in a manner very indicative of the Lord’s opus:
When Jacob received his father’s blessing and the wish that he might become the father of many nations (Gen.28:3-4), he departed for Harran of Mesopotamia. While in the area of Bethel, night fell and he lay down to sleep. He then saw in his dream a ladder, standing on the earth and its uppermost end touching the sky. Angels of God ascended and descended it; at the top of that ladder, Jacob saw the Lord leaning on it and heard Him say:
«…“I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; do not be afraid; as for the land which you are sleeping on, I will give it to you and to your offspring (seed). And your offspring (seed) shall be like the sand of the earth, and it shall widen out to the sea and to the southwest and to the north and to the east, and all the tribes of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. And see, I am with you, carefully guarding you in every way where you might go, and I will bring you back to this land, for I will not leave you until I have done all the things that I talked about to you.” »
And Jacob woke from his sleep and said:
«“The Lord is in this place—yet I did not know it!”»
And he was afraid and said:
«“How awesome is this place! This is nothing other than a divine house, and this is the gate of heaven.”» (Gen.28:12-17)
The «seed» therefore of the woman, which was to crush the serpent’s head, would also be the «seed» of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. That descendant would constitute the starting point of a blessing for the entire world, and, like a unique ladder, would link earth with heaven, and man with God, Who was at the top of that ladder and was “leaning” on it, thus confirming to Jacob that the expectation was justified.
That ground where God acts and upon which Jacob had laid down, is characterized as sacred. It constitutes a foreshadowing of the Church – man’s true homeland – to which he is brought back by Christ. It is the “divine house of God and the gate of heaven”, as Jacob himself cried out.
Indeed, the Lord certifies that «a ruler shall not be wanting from (the tribe of) Judah and a leader from his thighs (offspring) until the things stored up for him come, and he is the expectation of nations.(Gen. 49:10)
Even more specifically speaks the Prophet Isaiah, when referring to Jesse, Jacob’s descendant:
«And a rod shall come out of the root of Iessai, and a blossom shall come up out of his root. And the Spirit of God shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and godliness» (Isaiah 11:1-2).
The Apostle Paul, who refers to this prophecy, says that it was fulfilled in the Person of Christ. (Romans 15:8-12).
«…because a child was born for us, a son also given to us, whose sovereignty was upon his shoulder, and he is named Messenger of Great Counsel, for I will bring peace upon the rulers, peace and health to him. His sovereignty is great, and his peace has no boundary upon the throne of David and his kingdom, to make it prosper and to uphold it with righteousness and with judgment from this time onward and forevermore.» (Isaiah 9,6).
The prophet does not omit to describe the Saviour’s redemptive opus and man’s redemption through His Blood, which He offered voluntarily for our sake:
«He bears our sins and grieves for us, and we thought Him to be in pain and stricken by God, and in affliction; however He was injured for our sins, and was bruised for our iniquities; an education of peace for us (was) upon Him. By His bruising, we have been healed. All of us have strayed like sheep; man had strayed on his path, and (so) the Lord delivered Him unto our sins. And He, being abused, did not open His mouth; like a sheep to the slaughter He was led, and like a lamb before its shearer (He was) mute; thus did He not open His mouth and the Lord wants to cleanse him from that injury. If you (likewise) give something for sin (an expiatory sacrifice for one’s sins), your soul shall see a long-living seed; and God shall want to take away from the pain of his soul, so that he may show him light and forge according to prudence, vindicate the righteous one who works good deeds to many, and their sins He shall remove.. (Ησαΐας 53,4-11)
This was the prophecy that the Ethiopian could not comprehend. Philip, however, who had gone to meet him upon God’s instruction, explained to him that it was referring to the Person of Christ. (Acts 8:31-35)
But it is not only Isaiah. Almost all of the Prophets mention the God-Man Jesus and long for His coming.
In David’s psalms it mentions:
«Sacrifice and offering You did not want, but ears (body) You fashioned for me. Whole burnt offering and one for sin You did not request. Then I said, “Look, I have come; in a scroll of a book it is written of me. To do your will, O my God, I desired.» (Psalm 39:7-9)
What is the significance of these prophetic words? The Holy Spirit informs us in the New Testament that the Son -through the mouth of David- speaks to the Father and and refers to His divine Incarnation:
«…but a body You have prepared for Me…. we will have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all»… (Hebrews 10:5-10)…. for the sanctification and salvation of mankind..
The same interpretation is given by the Apostle to verse 8:18 of Isaiah:
«…Here am I and the children whom God has given Me.” Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:13-17).
Also, the Prophet Michaias foresaid that the awaited Christ would be born in Bethlehem and that His origins and His beginning will be beyond even the days of Creation; in his words: «And you, O Bethlehem, house of Ephratha, are very few in number to be among the thousands of Judah; one from you shall come forth for me to become a ruler in Israel, and his goings forth are from of old, from days of yore.» In other words, He would be the beginning of the ages (Michaias 5:1) In the New Testament it is written that this prophecy came true in the Person of the Lord (Matthew 2:6).
The Prophet Daniel goes even further, by ascribing to Him the description of God-Man:
«… lo, as it were a son of man was coming upon the clouds of heaven. And he came as far as the ancient of days, and the attendants were present with him. And royal authority was given to him, and all the nations of the earth according to posterity, and all honor was serving him. And his authority is an everlasting authority, which shall never be removed— and his kingship, which will never perish.» (Daniel 7:13-14)
The «seed», therefore, of woman would not be a common man, nor, simply, God’s chosen one, or a prophet or a national hero. He would be a “powerful God” :
His sovereignty is great, and his peace has no boundary upon the throne of Dauid and his kingdom, to make it prosper and to uphold it
with righteousness and with judgment from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord Sabaoth will do these things. (Isaiah 9:,6)
and «…lo, as it were a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven» (Daniel 7:13), in other words, it was the God-Man Christ.
3. Today this prophecy is fulfilled
All of the prophecies of the Old Testament testify about Christ (John 5:39). However, they are all in a “shadow” (Hebrews 10:1), inside a “veil”, which «remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ» (2 Corinthians 3:14).
For this reason, our Church chants the following on the Eve of Christ’s Birth, during the service of the first hour:
«Bethlehem, prepare yourself; Manger, spruce yourself up», «Bethlehem, prepare yourself; Manger, spruce yourself up; Cave, receive inside you; the Truth has come; the shadow has passed. And God has been revealed to mankind from the Virgin. He took on our form and deified the assumption (the whole of man). That is why Adam and Eve are renovated, shouting out: “Favour (Christ) has been revealed on earth, to save our kind.”».
The «seed», therefore, of the woman – the «root of Jesse», the Saviour of the world, is Christ (Matthew 1:2-16; Luke 3:23-38). All of the prophecies of the Old Testament which refer to the anticipated redeemer, were fulfilled in the Person of Christ.
The Prophet Isaiah pre-announces the wondrous events of the anticipated Saviour:
«… our God is repaying judgment; yes, he will repay; He Himself will come and save us. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall hear; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute shall be clear, because water has broken forth in the wilderness and a gully in a thirsty land; the dry place shall turn into marshlands, and in the thirsty land there shall be a spring of water; the joy of birds shall be there— a bed of reed and marshlands. A pure way shall be there, and it shall be called a holy way; and the unclean shall not pass by there, nor shall be there an unclean way, but those who have been dispersed shall walk on it, and they shall not go astray. And no lion shall be there, nor shall any of the evil beasts come up on it or be found there, but the redeemed shall walk on it. And those gathered together because of the Lord shall return and come to Sion with joy; everlasting joy shall be above their head, for upon their head shall be praise and gladness, and joy shall take hold of them— pain and sorrow and sighing will have fled away.» (Isaiah 35:4-10).
Our Christ assures us by His word that these are realized in His Person and in the congregation – as we shall see – of the Church, “in Christ”.
When referring to His works, He would say: «for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me» (John 5:36). To John’s disciples, who asked Him on behalf of their Master if He was the One that was to come, or if they should wait for someone else, He replied:
«…“Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them» (Matthew 11:4-5).
When referring to the Prophet Isaiah, He said: «Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing» (Luke 4:18-21· cmp Isaiah 61:1-2).
The fulfilment of God’s promises in the Person of the Lord was also verified by the elderly prophet Symeon, which had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit – that is, that he would not know death before having seen the Lord’s Anointed One. Thus, when the Infant was brought to the Temple, this righteous man came along – inspired by the Holy Spirit – and received the Child in his embrace, glorified God, and exclaimed:
«Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared before the face of all peoples; a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people, Israel.» (Luke 2:29-32).
However, the question is posed: How is it possible for God to become a man? How can the “uncontainable” One be contained in a mother’s womb?
This comprises an ineffable mystery, which we are called upon to believe in and to venerate, together with the Virgin Mary, with the righteous Joseph, with the shepherds and the Magi from the Orient. That is why our Church expresses this mystery with the following words in the Matins of Christmas Day:
«How could the One Who cannot be contained in the whole universe be contained in the womb? Certainly in the manner that only He knows, that only He wished and favoured. For, although He was fleshless, He was voluntarily incarnated. And the “One Who Is” became for our sake that which He was not; without forsaking His divine nature, He took on our own remnant. Twofold were You born, o Christ, in wanting to replete the world above».
4. The ultimate Adam
As mentioned earlier, Christ is the Person in Whom the promises (Genesis 12:7) are fulfilledl He is the Patriarch of the New Israel (Romans 4:1-25, 9:6-8, Galatians 3:16, Acts 3:25); He is also the Saviour of the world (Luke 2:11). It is for this reason that He is characterized in the Holy Bible as “the first-born among many brethren” (Romans 8:29, cmp. Hebrews 2:11), and as the “ultimate Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45),
«The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord, from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption» (1 Corinthians 15:47-50).
From this passage it is very obvious that what saves man is his descent from the “new Adam” – that is, from Christ. This is the central idea that the Holy Bible repeats many times. «…For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, was abundant for many.» (Romans 5:15. cmp. John 3:6, 1 John 1:2-3, Ephesians 2:14-18).
Death came into the world through the first Adam; but through the second one, Christ, resurrection came. «For, as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. […] Christ is the first, afterward those who are Christ’s during His coming» (1 Corinth 15:22-23). When saying that man is saved by his descent from the new Adam – Christ – we are to understand that the Lord is the incarnated Son and Logos of God – the One Who was able to re-connect man to the life of God. Faith, therefore, in Jesus Christ – «the Son of God, Who was incarnate […]and was made man; and was crucified […] and suffered and was buried; and […] He rose again […] and ascended into heaven, […] and He shall come again», is imperative and basic for our salvation. (See 1 Corinthians 15:14, Hebrews 2:9-18, Ephesians 2:14-22).
«And He is the head of the body, the church, Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.» (Colossians 1:18-20).
«And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight. if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast…» (Colossians 1:21-23).
«But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.» (Ephesians 2:13-22).
In this way, we become a «new creation», a new, in-Christ creation, a «new man» (2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 6:15).
This is the “good news” – the Gospel – that Christ brought to the world. That is why the Apostles (who undertook the dissemination of that Gospel) were named “deacons of reconciliation”.
«Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word (the reason) of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God…» (2 Corinthians 5:17-20).