n our day there is a widely held view that religious dogmas are not compulsory but secondary: even if they still have a certain historical value, they are no longer vital for Christians. Moral and social agendas have become the main concern of many Christian communities, while theological issues are often neglected. The dissociation of dogma and morality, however, contradicts the very nature of religious life, which presupposes that faith should always be confirmed by deeds, and vice versa.
Faith is the path on which an encounter takes place between us and God. It is God who takes the first step: He fully and unconditionally believes in us and gives us a sign, an awareness of His presence. We hear the mysterious call of God, and our first step towards an encounter with Him is a response to this call.
It has never been easy to hear the message of faith. In our day we are usually so engrossed in the problems of earthly existence that we simply have no time to listen to this message and to reflect on God. For some, religion has been reduced to celebrating Christmas and Easter and to observing a few traditions for fear of being 'torn away from our roots'.
Throughout the ages, people have come to God in diverse ways. Sometimes the encounter is sudden and unexpected, sometimes it is prepared by circuitous paths of searching, doubts and disillusion. Occasionally God 'closes in' on us, catching us unawares, while at other times we discover God and turn to Him on our own.
For as long as humans have lived on earth they have striven to find the meaning of their existence. In Ancient Greece the philosophers studied the universe and its laws. They investigated human nature and human reason, hoping to discover knowledge of the first causes of all things.
The majority of peoples in the pre-Christian world followed various polytheistic beliefs and cults.
There was one chosen people, however, whom God entrusted with knowledge of Himself, of the creation of the world, and of the meaning of existence. The ancient Jews knew God not from books, not from the deliberations of wise men, but from their own age-old experience.
'How can we speak of the Divine names? How can we do this if the Transcendent surpasses all discourse and all knowledge..? How can we enter upon this undertaking if the Godhead is superior to being and is unspeakable and unnameable?', says Dionysius the Areopagite. At the same time, God, being totally transcendent, is present in the created world and revealed through it.
'Father' is the traditional, biblical name for God. His children are the people of Israel: 'For Thou art our Father, though Abraham does not know us and Israel does not acknowledge us; Thou, O Lord art our Father, our Redeemer from of old is Thy name' (Is.63:16). The fatherhood of God is, of course, not a matter of maleness for there is no gender in the Divinity.
Christians believe in God the Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Trinity is not three gods, but one God in three Hypostases, in three personal beings. What mathematics and logic consider an absurdity constitutes the cornerstone of our faith, namely that 1=3 and 3=1. Christians participate in the trinitarian Godhead not through logic but through repentance, that is, through a complete change and renewal of the mind, heart and feelings (the Greek word for 'repentance' - metanoia - literally means 'change of mind'). To touch upon the mystery of the Holy Trinity is impossible unless the mind changes from a rational way of thinking and becomes illumined by divine grace.
One of the simplest ways of explaining the mystery of the Trinity is that reportedly given by St Spyridon of Trimithund at the Council of Nicaea (AD 325). According to tradition, when asked how it is that Three can simultaneously be One, St Spyridon responded by taking up a brick and squeezing it.
God the Trinity is not a frozen entity, not something static or lifeless. On the contrary, within the Trinity there is the plenitude of life and love. 'God is love', says St John the Theologian (1 John 4:8; 4:16). Yet there can be no love without the beloved. A lonely, isolated monad can love only itself: self-love is not love. An egocentric unit is not a personality.
A fundamental difference between the biblical account of creation on the one hand, and that of the Hellenistic on the other, is that the latter never affirmed a creation ex nihilo . Plato's Demiurge produces everything from primordial matter; the biblical Creator constructs the world out of nothing: 'Look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed' (2 Macc.7:28).
At the dawn of creation, before God made the visible world, but after the creation of the angels, there was a great catastrophe, of which we have knowledge only by its consequences. A group of angels opposed itself to God and fell away from Him, thereby becoming enemies of all that was good and holy. At the head of this rebellion stood Lucifer, whose very name (literally meaning 'light-bearing') indicates that originally he was good.
Without intrinsic substance or being, evil materialized into an active agent of destruction when it was 'hypostasized', that is, when it became a reality in the form of the devil and the demons. Fr Geogres Florovsky speaks of evil as 'nothingness', as 'a pure negation, a privation or a mutilation'. Evil is primarily a lack, an absence of goodness. Compared with the Divine being, the operation of evil is illusory and imagined: the devil has no power where God does not allow him to operate.
According to the Old Testament, the visible world was created in six days. It is difficult to imagine that reference is being made to a conventional six-day period. The biblical six days of creation are not six ordinary days but rather six consecutive stages which unfold gradually to form the epic picture of the great Artist.
'And God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good' (Gen.1:3-4). The light of the first day is neither sunlight nor moonlight (these appeared on the fourth day), but is the light of the Godhead reflected in created being.
The above texts are taken from the 'Online Orthodox Catechism' by Bishop Hilarion (Alfeyev), as adapted from his book, The Mystery of Faith. These materials are copyright by the author, and are used here with permission. They must not be reproduced in any manner, including reproduction on another website.