BASIC DOGMATIC TEACHING
An Orthodox Handbook
by Protopresbyter Fr. Anthony Alevizopoulos (1931 – 1996)
Dr. of Theology, Dr. of Philosophy
Chapter 1 – The Salvific Truth
1. The Truth is a person
When Pontius Pilate asked Christ if He was King, the Lord replied: “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice..” (John 18:37)
Then Pilate asked: “What is truth?” (John 13:38)
But with this phrase, the question was not posed correctly. The truth is not a thing, nor is it an abstract meaning, so that we might ask “what the truth is”. The truth is not “something”; it is “someone”. It is not a thing; it is a Person, and that is the reason we must ask “Who is the truth?”
The answer to this question was given by Christ to His disciples. He had told them that He was going to His Father and that He would return to collect them and lead them there, so that they would thereafter all be with Him. “where I go you know” He said to them, “and the way you know ” (John 14:3-4).
Then Thomas said to Him: “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?”
And the Lord replied to him: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no-one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him”
Then Philip said to Him: “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.”
And Jesus said to him: “I have been with you for so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me, has seen the Father; so how can you say ‘show us the Father’?” (John 14:5-9, cmp Hebr.10:19-20)
All the above are proof that Christ – when speaking of the truth or the path that leads to the Father Who is Life itself – was speaking of the same thing: I am the Truth; I am the Way, I am the Life; whoever therefore knows Me, also knows the Father.
The Truth, therefore, is not something; it is Someone – it is the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ; in other words, the incarnate Logos (John 1:14), Whom we must become familiar with in order to have life (1 John 5:13, cmp John 6:47)
Christ is the truth. Only He can lead man to the heavenly Father, in order to render him a participant of God’s life (John 14:6, 17:2-3, Luke 10:22). “Grace and truth came, through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17)
However, the disciples of Christ were unable to “contain” this truth under their own power. That is why the Lord was going to send the “Spirit of Truth” – to guide them to the full truth. The Spirit “will take of what is Mine and declare it to you” (John 16:12-14.)
From these words by Christ, we can see that the knowledge of God -and theology- commence from the event of the revelation that was manifested in the Person of Christ “in these last days” (Hebrews 1:1) and from the event of the presence of the Holy Spirit inside the heart of man.
The Apostles were always near Christ; they would constantly hear His sermons, and witness His miracles. However, it was still impossible for them to know the truth through their own abilities.
When, at another time, Christ had asked His disciples to tell Him WHO they thought He was, and Peter replied that He was the Son of God, the Lord replied with those famous words. Basically, that Peter was not led to that truth with his own human abilities; rather, God Himself revealed it to him. (Matthew 16:17)
2. The example of Job
We all know the story with Job. He tried to penetrate the mysteries of God through conversation and logic, without any results. But when God revealed Himself to him, he comprehended that it was impossible for him to achieve on his own that which he desired, and was deeply overwhelmed. “Whereas before I would hear an aural report of You”, he said to God. “now, however, my eye has seen You; therefore I disparaged myself and wasted away, and I regard myself as dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6),
Therefore, what is significant is not the words that pertain to God; it is humility and the purity of heart, during one’s search for God. “It is a great thing, for one to speak of God”, says Saint Gregory the Nazianzene, but, he adds “it is an even greater thing, if one cleanses himself for God.”
3. The revelation given to Moses
We said that man cannot find God on his own, and that it is necessary for God Himself to reveal Himself inside the heart of a person.
In what manner does God reveal Himself to man? We can observe this, in the example of Moses.
“And the Lord said to Moyses, “When you go down, testify solemnly to the people, and purify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes, and be prepared for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down upon the mountain Sina before all the people.” (Exodus 19:10-11)
Elsewhere, Moses receives the instruction from God to take Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and seventy elders and to ascend the mountain, after instructing the population to remain at the foot of the mountain (Exodus 24:1-2)
Moses, according to God’s instruction, offers a sacrifice and sprinkles the population with the blood of that sacrifice. He then climbs up the mountain, together with the persons that God had appointed. On the mountain, Moses’ companions did not see God; they only saw “the place where the God of Israel stood” – and that place “and that which was beneath his feet, like something made from lapis lazuli brick and like the appearance of the firmament of heaven in purity.” (Exodus 24:10)
Moses then received the following instruction from God: “Come up to me into the mountain, and be there. And I will give you the stone tablets, the law and the commandments that I wrote to legislate for them.” (Exodus 24:12)
Then Moses took Joshua of Navi with him and they climbed to the highest summit of the mountain, which was covered by the cloud. (Exodus 24:13-15)
“And God’s glory descended upon the mountain, Sina, and the cloud covered it for six days, and the Lord called Moyses on the seventh day from the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the Lord’s glory was like a flaming fire on the top of the mountain before the sons of Israel. And Moyses entered into the midst of the cloud and went up into the mountain, and he was there on the mountain for forty days and forty nights..” (Exodus 24:16-18)
“…and sounds and lightning and dark cloud were occurring upon the mountain Sina… Now the mountain Sina was smoking in its entirety, because God had come down upon it in fire, and the smoke was rising up like the smoke of a furnace… Moyses was speaking, and God answered him with sound….” (Exodus 19:16-19; cmp. Deuteronomy 4:11-12 and 5:22)
God, therefore, is found “in thick darkness”, a dark cloud… (2 Chronicles 6:1 and Ezekiel 10:4). “He caused him to hear his voice, and he led him into the deep darkness, and he gave him commandments face-to-face, a law of life and knowledge, to teach Iakob a covenant and Israel his judgments […].” (Wisdom of Sirach 45:5)
4. Man’s receptiveness
Thus, inside the cloud, where it was not possible for Moses to discern anything with his corporeal eyes and with human abilities – God speaks to him and reveals Himself.
This was the way that Moses was able to comprehend that the revelation of God’s glory was not the result of an intellectual endeavour, but a work of God – the fruit of the presence of the Holy Spirit within his heart.
For God to speak to the Israelites, they had to be cleansed internally and be purified, and the divine revelation was to be analogous to the internal cleanliness of each one of them.
The multitude – which had so many times wavered in its love towards God and in the cleanliness of their hearts – had progressed only as far as the foot of the mountain. As such, it was only able to see the glory of God from afar – like a fire on the mountain top.
Moses’ escort had climbed up the mountain together with him, and could see “the place where God had stood”.
Joshua of Navi had climbed even further up. Finally, God invited Moses to enter the cloud – on the uppermost point of the mountain – and to remain there for forty days and nights, in order to receive the full revelation of God.