And in One Lord Jesus Christ
Part of the Seven Talks on the Creed
He has revealed himself as the Living God, speaking to man, revealing Himself to man.
Knowledge, cognition, of God is not a one-way process, in the way man knows nature, but rather it is an encounter. Therefore we use the word revelation, not discovery. "Discovery" in the sphere of nature is always something one-sided: man gets to know nature. When man comes to know God, there is a meeting. It is like an encounter of two beings, two personalities. It is a dialogue.
Besides this, the word "Father" has been bequeathed to us by Jesus Christ. He invested this word with emotional warmth. "Father", as one who cares, as one who loves. He also invested this with a mystical sense, connected with His Person. He is both our Father, and He is His Father. But in a completely different way. We shall come to this later, when we talk about the Person of Christ.
We also call Him the Almighty. The "Almighty" [Russ. Vsiedierzhitel' lit. 'the Upholder of All'] is He Who constantly upholds [Russ. poddierzhivayet < dierzhat' 'to support. hold'] Existence. Existence does not belong to us by right. Existence is given to us. We can lose it. In the 103rd Psalm [KJV Psalm 104] it is said that when God deprives the world of His Spirit everything turns to dust. "It returns to its dust." The mysterious Name of God, the Existent One, which probably sounded like Yahwe, signifies "He Who possesses Being. He Who Is". When the Prophet Moses asked Him, "Who art Thou?" He answered him, "I am the One Who Is". This is a kind of definition of God.
So, He is the Almighty/the Upholder. "The Maker of heaven and earth." Not an outpouring, not an emanation, not an identity of man and God nor of nature and God, but something completely Other. Between the Absolute Creator and creation, us and everything else that is made, lies an abyss, for we are mere created works.
This is one of the special features of the Christian vision of Existence. "Let there be light," God says. "Let there be." He creates from nothing. And this does not mean that "nothing" is some kind of substance. Being itself did not exist and He gave it a beginning.
Today we shall turn to the second thesis of the "Symbol of Faith", which goes like this: "And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God."
In order to understand all these words, we have to turn to the Bible, to the Holy Scripture.
Without the Holy Scripture we shall not understand even one of these words. For Jesus is the earthly Name of God. Who has revealed Himself in man. Christ is a concept signifying "King". Why "king"? You will see in a minute. And what does Son of God signify? We shall speak about this later on.
So then, the God of the Holy Scripture, the God of the Bible, is the God that speaks to man. His revelation, what He puts into the human heart, has been recorded by the wise men and prophets of ancient Israel. And now in the new era, by the apostles, who compiled the Gospels and the other books of the New Testament. It does not follow that we are to think that the divine inspiration of Holy Scripture lies in the idea that its authors wrote as if in a trance, as if they were taking dictation. Already the Fathers of the Church pointed out that such an opinion -- and it did exist -- was false. For each of the Biblical authors writes in his own style. He has his own language, his own literary devices, his own character. In the Gospels this is most easily accessible for you; many of you have read them. You can notice immediately the deep difference between the spare, laconic, somewhat popular language of the Gospel of Mark and that of the Gospel of John, with its long periods, abundance of dialogues, with its completely different structure. Therefore we may speak of the divine inspiration of the Bible as a kind of divine-human mystery, as the intersection of two worlds -- of the soul of a man, the son of his time, a man permeated by the ideas of his epoch, with the specifics of his language and country, and of the outpouring of the spirit that flows through him.
Figuratively it may be expressed this way: just as the sun in passing through a crystal, or through a stained-glass window, changes its color and light, so is revelation, passing through the soul of a prophet or apostle, refracted in different ways. Therefore it is necessary to remember that although we sometimes say the Bible has one author, namely God, at the same time it has many authors, and these are human beings and quite varied. The question of how to distinguish in the Bible what is central and essential from what is transient, temporal, local or individual, constitutes indeed one of the disciplines of extensive Biblical studies. But every person who opens the Holy Scripture not just out of curiosity, but in order to hear the Voice addressed to you, will hear that Voice through the ages, through the peculiarities of language and style and concrete thought.
The Bible is divided into two parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament. What connects them? One word, one concept, one reality, one power. We define it as Christ. Christ means "king". The New Testament speaks about it, the Old Testament anticipates it. But why "king"? What does this reign mean for us, and where does this term come from? First let me tell you about the Covenant.
When man is in the grip of pride, he challenges Nature and God, he wishes to operate on his own. Even if these impulses sometimes seem noble to us, they are doomed to defeat. When man bows down to God as to a despot, as to an oppressive, merciless, despotic power, he replaces the true God, the God of freedom and love, with an idol. Against all this, opposed to this, stands forth the central Biblical idea of Covenant. In the Ancient Hebrew language the Church Slavonic word zaviet [sometimes translated as 'statute, ordinance' but used to render Gk diatheke 'testament, covenant' -- .TR.], is brit, in Russian soyuz · alliance, agreement'. It is an agreement between God and man.
You will ask, can there be a "covenant" between a transient, imperfect, ephemeral creature, such as we are, and the Eternal God, with "the One Who made the universe, the Absolute, the Almighty" -- as Shota Rustaveli said. It turns out that this is possible. Why? The same Bible teaches us that God raises man up. He made him from clay, from dust, but breathed into him the breath of life from Himself. Thus, the mystery of man's duality, the mystery of the paradox of man's existence, lies in our participation both in the world of nature, given over to change and death, and in the heavenly, spiritual, divine world.
Man is called to be a co-creator, an accomplice of God. He becomes as it were His likeness on earth. The Bible uses this term directly: man is the image and likeness of the Creator. The Lord says, "Let us make man in our image and likeness." If that is the way it is, then man is potentially a free creature.
Man is a thinking creature, self-aware and comprehending moral truths. An ethical creature. Insofar as man carries within himself this Image and Likeness, he is higher than everything in the cosmos. He straightaway rises up over the world, and becomes a giant in comparison with Nature. But not in comparison with his Creator. But on the other hand, he can be related to Him. Therefore God accomplishes His purposes through us, through human beings, through all together and through each one individually.
The Bible teaches us that in this world the plan of the Creator does not prevail, does not triumph, does not reign. That in this world, which is open to freedom, demonic powers create a disturbance, opposing the harmony of the cosmos, opposing the final purposes of God. Jesus Christ calls the demon, Satan, the "prince of this world". It is in the light of this that we are to understand the Biblical word, the Biblical term, "Kingdom of God", or "Reign of God". That is the purpose of the cosmos. It is that song of harmony, that fullness of Being, that infinite perfection, that opens up before Nature only when she herself chooses this divine path. But how can she choose it, if Nature does not have free will? She has it only in us. Therefore man is Nature, aware of herself. Man is the crown of Nature. We bear responsibility for the animals, for the whole planet. We stand before God in her name.
The Apostle Paul says that all creation groans and is in torment, awaiting the revealing of the sons of God. That's us, you and I; we are the sons of God, the children of God, [or] we should be. When man steps back from this calling, he becomes the oppressor of Nature, her corrupter, her destroyer. He turns his back on his own Creator; he destroys his own soul. Instead of harmony and fullness, of the symphony of life, he creates a monstrous cacophony of evil, disintegration and ruin.
You may ask how come the Creator didn't foresee this? A naive question. It is a question that belittles the Creator and represents Him to be like some kind of master craftsman, who fashions a robot and then the robot gets out of control. It is not at all like that.
If we are free creatures, it means that there is open before us the possibility of choosing a false path. But when we receive the consequences to which false paths lead, we ought not to say that is God's fault. For through His wise men and prophets, and finally, through the Gospel of Christ, He warned us of these consequences.
"Behold," He says through the Prophet Moses, "I set before you two Paths, the path of life and the path of death.” Then you will ask, "But why then does man choose the path of death so often." There is no rational, philosophically abstract, logically founded answer to this question, nor in principle can there be one.
The great Russian thinker Nikolai Berdyaev emphasized that to completely explain the will to evil would be to justify and rationalize it, i.e. to make it reasonable, whereas the will to evil is a blind impulse. It is irrational. Each one of us, from our own experience, is capable of gelling a feeling for the absurdity, the monstrosity, the insanity of evil. It must be said that in human history as a rule evil is irrational. If we just look at the events of our 20th century, we shall see here so much madness, real madness, that a question involuntarily arises concerning a mass loss of mind.
There was nothing really rational in the deeds of the dictators, of the oppressors, of the tyrants. Who incited Adolf Hitler to make war on our country? Was it reason, was it common sense? Who incited Stalin to make war on his own people? Was it common sense? If there had been any common sense here, he would have understood that to exterminate millions of people and moreover the best among them meant to put the country on the brink of catastrophe for several generations. But he was in the grip of madness and was surrounded by mad people. The same kind as Hitler was. Only with Hitler this insanity was obvious, whereas with Stalin it was known only to Bekhterev and other psychiatrists who established a diagnosis of paranoia.
So, evil is insanity. You and I will never plunge into the depths of this, and never will understand what it is. Only poets, only people who intuitively portray and feel this reality are able to give us a hint of this abyss. But it exists. But the point is that when humanity opposes God, He does not abandon it. This is the meaning of the Biblical story of the Flood.
Many people begin to debate, like the heroes of Saltykov-Shchedrin, the two generals, about whether there was a Flood or was not. It is an allegory. Do you think that the Bible described this event just because there was such a catastrophe? Have there not been enough global catastrophes on the Earth, volcanic eruptions, floods? For what did the Holy Book find it necessary to speak about this? In order to show us that when humanity betrays its calling, the world loses its meaning and returns again to watery chaos, that is, to its original condition.
But note that God does not let everything perish. He still finds even among us human beings those who will continue the battle, who will participate in His work. It is here that the Covenant arises, the Old Covenant. The first stage is the Covenant with Abraham.
Almost two thousand years before our era a little group of people leaves Mesopotamia, contemporary Iraq, and heads for the West. At that time many peoples were on the move. But this group of people, headed by Abraham, went not merely in search of new pastures and new lands. The reasons for the migration were religious. God called Abraham and said, "Go, leave the house of your father, leave the heathen, leave your country, and go to another country to which I will lead you." Soren Kierkegaard, the now famous Danish philosopher of the 19th century, wrote, "Abraham became a hero of faith, because he went to meet the unknown, because he fully trusted this mysterious voice that called him." Abraham is a hero of faith, because he went in spite of everything. God promised him progeny through which all peoples and tribes of the Earth should be blessed, but his wife was barren and of advanced age. God promised him land, but he was a stranger and an alien. He had nothing except complete faith in God. He told the Most High. "Yes. Here I am, I will follow Thee."
That is why the Apostle Paul after two thousand years speaks of Abraham as our common father, the father of all who believe the prototype of the man who trusts in God. The word "faith" in Ancient Hebrew is emuna, from the word aman, 'firmness, strength'. It is faithfulness. He trusted Him and believed in the faithfulness of God to His word. The objective reality that surrounds us can seem frightening and threatening, can seem like a dark power to us, and it must have been that way then also. Abraham was similar to the other pagans who knew of the demonic powers enveloping the world, but he took a look higher and said, "Yes, I am going." "Abraham believed God and this was counted to him as righteousness," we read in the Book of Genesis.
Please notice, and pay attention to this: it is not said that he believed in God. To believe in God, in the final analysis, is the destiny of every human being, but he believed God, he trusted Him, he believed that His word is. Really, the last word. He did not stop to ask. "How can I have descendants, if my wife is unable to bear a child?" He did not ask. "And how will all the tribes and nations of the Earth be blessed through my children?" He did not ask anything. He got up and went. And God makes the first Covenant with him.
One more Covenant would be established after several centuries, in the 13th c. BC. The distant descendants of Abraham, a small clan who called themselves the sons of Israel, settle down for a while in Egypt. There they have to endure the oppressions of Pharaoh, and then God sends them a prophet, brought up among the Egyptians, bearing the Egyptian name of Moses. He calls them to freedom. He calls them to make a Covenant with God in the wilderness -- not in wealthy Egypt, where although they had to work under duress, they were always sated and had shelter and relative security, but in the desert, where there was neither water nor lodging, where the dwelling-place of the demons is.
With enormous difficulty he roused these people, who were well-established where they were and disinclined to move, and they followed him, with constant grumbling, and constant looking back to the abode of slavery. This is also an eternal archetype. Because every human being is a slave of the evil that lies within him or her. In order to tear ourselves loose from this, it is necessary to perform a kind of heroic feat of faith and go to meet the unknown.
So they come to Mt Sinai in the south of the Sinai Peninsula, and there God gives them ten commandments through Moses. Of these ten commandments only four pertain to God. Full respect for God, rejection of all idols, the keeping of one day in the week holy to God. All the rest pertain to human relationships.
What conclusion can we draw from this? It means that according to the Mosaic Revelation, you may serve the Lord in the first instance by what you do to serve human beings, your brothers and sisters. Moses brought these commandments on two engraved stone tablets. No doubt you all remember how they are represented, in representations by Michaelangelo of Moses holding these stone tablets. He gives two commandments as basic, which subsequently Jesus Christ defined as the chief commandments, on which the whole Old Covenant is built: love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, all thy strength, and thy neighbor as thyself. Those are the two commandments.
What does this mean? We can understand what it means to love our neighbor. In the final analysis, God arranged things so that nature teaches a mother to love her child, and a man to love his wife, and a woman her husband, and so forth in the narrow family circle. But from this natural love there grow out wider relationships, relationships of friendships: one may love one's native country, one may love people who think the same way one does, one's brothers in faith. But how to love God? Meanwhile the Apostle John in the New Testament says. "He does not love his brother, does not love God." It means that the commandments are unusually closely connected. Of course, this question is resolved only in inner Christian experience, in inner religious experience in general.
Love for God begins with gratitude, because we are extremely ungrateful creatures. Whatever happens to us in life, we take the good part as our due. But just suppose for a minute that we haven't deserved anything that is beautiful in life. The sparkling snow, the blue sky, the autumn forest, the sounds of music, and all of life -- the beauty of life, the fullness of life that has been given to us, and which we make such bad use of.
Do we give thanks often for this? Here I feel like calling to mind a poem of Dmitri Merezhkovsky, who wrote precisely about this thankfulness:
I thank Thee O God for letting my eyes see the world, Thy eternal temple, and the night, and the waves, and the dawn ... I feel Thee everywhere, Lord, everywhere -- in the quiet of night, and in the most distant star, and in the depth of my soul. As long as I live, I will pray to Thee, I will love Thee, I will breathe by Thee; when I die, I shall merge with Thee, like the stars with the morning dawn, I want my life to be an unceasing praise of Thee, I thank Thee for midnight and dawn, for life and death.
Thankfulness for everything. I recall one French writer, who shortly before his death in the last century wrote in his diary, "I had a beautiful life, I don't know who to thank, but I am thankful with all my soul." That sincere admission is more valuable than some obtuse indifference. Think about this a little today. We can love the sun, the night, the stars, love, a stream, the water we drink -- everything that is given to us. Think a little about the world of phenomenal existence in which we are included. How much happiness it has in it -- although we didn't earn it and poison and damage everything. Whose hands are these that embrace us? Then you will suddenly realize that it is possible to love God, and that in fact it is possible to love only Him. Only Him. Because all that we love in the world, and everyone that we love in the world, all this is through Him, in Him, with Him. Therefore the most ancient commandment about love for God is the beginning of religion. In this love there is both wonder and delight, and I say again, first of all, gratitude.
The Old Covenant contains in it a most important discovery, namely that the moral condition of a society is connected in the closest manner with its fate, that man must in real life, not simply in daydreams, establish righteousness, good, and justice.
When further events had shown how weak and unworthy the people were, prophets appeared, great writers, the authors of the basic books of the Old Testament, besides those of Moses, who proclaimed, "The Covenant has been broken, and there will be retribution visited on the community of the Old Covenant, Ancient Israel. Retribution, because evil begets evil."
First of all there was the temptation of paganism: sometimes we are astonished at why the people were so attracted to paganism. It is because the pagan deified war, fertility, sex, gold. These all were taken as gods, as sovereign powers, as "Baals" as they called them in the East, to whom the people bowed down. This remains the case even now, only they bear different names.
The prophets came out against tyranny, unrighteousness, oppression, against religious formalism, against ritualism, against nationalistic conceit, chauvinism, against wars, against violence. For this reason we can say that Peter Chaadaev was right when he wrote that the teaching of the prophets is not something pertaining only to the past, which is valuable to us only because the prophets foretold the coming of Christ, but that this teaching has full topicality even today.
But the prophets also foretold that God would conclude a New Covenant (Brit Hadasha = "New Covenant") with a remnant of the Church. (This is a special concept. the remnant -- that is, those who kept faith). They foretold how this would come about. The will of the Creator, the Kingdom of beauty, fullness, harmony, of the symphony of peace, would come through One Who would be the true King of humanity. Not as a conquering monarch, spilling blood and standing on the head of his enemy, not as a dictator and a tyrant, but as One Who Himself would come to the people and would suffer their sufferings, hurt with their diseases, and take upon Himself the sin of the world. As if taking upon Himself the blow of retribution that falls inescapably on a world that is filled with the poison of evil.
He would bring the Kingdom of God to earth.
So now we are on the threshold of the New Testament. You all know of the holiday of the Birth of Christ. It is the holiday that revives in our memory an event, the appearance of this King on Earth.
A king in antiquity was called an anointed one. This word has been retained subsequently and in Russian terminology. This term originates from the ritual of anointing. In deep antiquity, when a leader, a king, or a prophet went to take up his service, a cup of sanctified oil was poured on their heads -- olive oil, which from time immemorial symbolized preservation from evil, that is to say, the protection of something good from the presence of the bad. The king was called melech, mashiach or, in Greek transcription, messiah. This translates into Greek as Christos. Christ.
The King of the New Covenant is such an Anointed One.
As one of the poets of the last century wrote in a touching little song, "He was not born in palaces, nor in well-appointed houses; w here He lay in swaddling-clothes, no gold was to be seen."
The Birth of Christ itself takes place in wretched circumstances. He is born in the backyard of a house, where livestock are kept, and He is placed not in a cradle but in a feeding-trough for cattle. Christ does not come as a teacher having the sanction of the authorities of His time, not as a conqueror, not as a priest, not as a philosopher surrounded by wise disciples. He comes to people as a common man, a carpenter from the provinces. He hides His secret and reveals it only to those who have seen Him and recognized the divine presence in Him.
Why was all this necessary? Why is it necessary even now? So that man might receive Him freely, voluntarily. So that there might not be any kind of violence to the spirit and conscience of people. God the Thunderer, God the Lord, is in a certain measure a projection of our secret dreams, of our subconscious. When we want to have such a lord, a slave lives within us, who is looking for a firm hand. We see a different hand -- the hands of Christ, pierced through and nailed to the Cross. In Him there are no projections of our dreams. He took into His fate, as it were, all the bitterness of human existence -- the labor, and the misunderstanding of those close to us, and the bitterness of rejection, and betrayal, unjust judgment, torture, and death. Everything. He entered our existence and as it were descended to the bottom of it. He called to Himself those who were able to perceive Him, to make out this spark in the darkness.
The Light shines in darkness," the Apostle John tells us. The light of the Gospel shines in darkness. This is the Second Covenant. The First Covenant, the old one, was entered into by Abraham and Moses. The New Covenant was entered into at the Last Supper.
But again, this is still very much the humiliated situation of Christ. No temple, no hall of triumph, but rather a dark room where the disciples gathered by lamplight. Christ performs a mysterious ritual. There is bread and wine in front of Him. The New Covenant. A union of the heart, a union of love. The Covenant was entered into, and it continues to live today.
We live in the difficult, but beautiful era of the New Covenant. Christ united heaven and earth, and this is why He is one Lord. Jesus is His earthly name, Yeshua, in Ancient Hebrew, Jesus in Greek and in Russian. Christ means He is King, King of our hearts, King of the world to come, a King Who has set up His Gospel in opposition to all the kingdoms of this world. He belongs to Heaven, although He came to Earth. Therefore we call Him the Son of God.
"Son" in Biblical language signifies belongingness. He belongs to the divine nature. He is at one and the same time our brother and our God.
The enormous expanses of the Universe, the endless black gaps of the Cosmos, the mysterious processes that take place in a drop of water and in an atom -- all this is in the hands of the invisible Creator.
And it is before Him that we stand.
In order that we might hear His voice, He had 10 become one of us, to enter into the world of man.
He revealed the greatest mystery to us. His wisdom and His power was revealed in nature and the cosmos. Through Jesus Christ, and through His forerunners, the prophets, His will was revealed. His will is that man should learn love, should learn to open his heart, should learn service.
We won't find this in nature or in the cosmos. We will find it, however, in the Word of God, in the Holy Scripture, in the two Testaments, which show us the difficult path of man from trembling, rapture, fear, opposition, struggle -- to acceptance.
The acceptance has been accomplished. A solemn moment. Near the town of Caesarea Philippi Christ is walking with the disciples. He has rejected the crowd that wanted to proclaim Him King. He has become a wanderer in alien parts. See how He walks tiredly, His cloak is covered with dust. He walks along the road and the disciples are quiet, in fear and in lack of understanding. A deep love attaches them to Him, but at the same time they cannot help putting questions: why did He reject the enthusiastic crowd, why had He not proclaimed a campaign against the pagans; why had He not overthrown the yoke of tyranny? He, Who could work miracles.
But He is silent about Himself. Then He asks them as it were indirectly, "Who do men say that I am?" They begin to speak: a prophet, perhaps even a prophet come back to life, a prophet out of the past, and then He asks them, for the first time unequivocally and directly, "And who do you take Me for?" And Peter says. "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."
The Lord answers him, "Blessed are you, Simon Peter, for it is not man that revealed this to you, not anything human, not flesh and blood, but the Father in Heaven. You are Peter [stone, rock]; on this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against Her."
When did Peter say these words? Not at a moment of the Savior's earthly success, but at a moment when He seemed to suffer complete defeat, when it was no longer possible to expect anything, when He was almost banished. It was then that Peter saw in this Wanderer, this Exile, walking along the road, the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
It was an act of freedom, an act of choice, an act of faith, an act of faithfulness. The "Symbol of Faith" stands upon it. This part of it is the chief one for us, because God the Creator is honored in other religions, by the Muslims, by the Jews, and many others. But for us there is a revelation of God in Jesus Christ which is in no other religion.
It is always necessary to remember that in all faiths there is beautiful art and music, bells and rosaries, and traditions, and philosophy, and theology. But Christ is something that only we have. Therefore it is not accidental that we all, some billion people on Earth, call ourselves Christians. But then the "Symbol of Faith" takes us more deeply into the mystery of Jesus. We shall talk about this with you next time.