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BASIC DOGMATIC TEACHING

An Orthodox Handbook

by Fr. Anthony Alevizopoulos

 

Chapter 25 - The Metamorphosis of the World

1. The world of passions and sin

The Holy Bible often speaks of the world and mentions the state it was turned into - after the Fall of man - and the catastrophe of the world's harmony.

"...the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one..." - that is, the entire world is under the power of the wicked one (1 John 5:19; cmp. John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11). Even in the personal life of each faithful, the antithesis between the world of the "flesh" and the world of the "spirit" can be seen. (Rom. 8,1-13).

"But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank Godthrough Jesus Christ our Lord! " (Rom.7:23-25).

These do not signify that the human body and matter in general can  be characterized as evil.  We know that man was created "in the image of God" (Gen.1:27). This doesn't refer to the body only, but to the whole man, as a psycho-somatic unity.  "Man is not only the soul, nor only the body, but both together, which we say were created according to the image of God", as saint Gregory Palamas says.

However, after the Fall, man is no longer in his natural state. His body is under the influence of passions. This is what the Holy Bible refers to as "flesh", and "the old man" (Eph.4:22; Coloss.3:9; Rom.6:6), which opposes the spirit - that is, the "in Christ" redeemed man. (cmp.Gal.5:16-19)

Thus, the Church cannot disregard the body. What She does fight against are the passions of the body. "We were not taught to be body-exterminators, but passion-exterminators", we read in the quotes of the desert ascetics. That is, Christians do not have as their concern the extermination of their body, but how they should exterminate the desires of the flesh - the "works of the flesh" (Gal.5:16-19); "false humility and neglect of the body, but of no value against the indulgence of the flesh."  (Coloss.2:23; cmp also 1 John 2:14-17).

"Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience," (Coloss.3:5-6. Cmp also 5:19-21). "And those who are Christs have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires."  (Gal.5:24).

 

2. The metamorphosis of the body

In the Church the value of the human body is incalculable. This is testified by the event of Christ's incarnation, which comprises the basis for the overall salvation of man and the entire world. The Apostle Paul says very characteristically: "For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily;" (Coloss.2:9; Cmp.Philip.2:5-11; Hebr.2:13-18; Isaiah 8:18, 41:8-9 e.a.).

This was the miraculous event that the Disciples had experienced atop the mount of the Transfiguration. That same Body of the Lord had not disintegrated in the tomb, but had been resurrected, so that the Apostles could actually touch those very wounds themselves (Psalms 15:9-10; Luke 24:39; John 2:21, 20:27; Acts 2:31-32; Revel.5:6).

Within Christ's new creation, man's body becomes a member of Christ's Body and the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor.6:15, 19). Consequently, man is called upon to glorify God "with his body" (1 Cor.6:20); to use his body "with sanctity and honour" (1 Thess.4:4); to offer it as "a living sacrifice and holy, pleasing to God" (Rom.12:1), so that "Jesus' life may be revealed in our body" (2 Cor.4:10).   The man of the new creation is indeed "one of His offspring" (Acts 17:28), a partaker of His glory - which he also reflects, with his body (2 Cor.3:18).

The Church's struggle therefore is not against the body, but against the body's passions. When the new creation's man is freed of his corruptive passions, then his senses and his entire body become pure and bright, and everything around him radiates God's love and glory.

In the lives of our Church's Saints there are numerous examples of this liberation from the passions of the body:

Saint John of the Ladder narrates an example of a certain holy ascetic, who had been asked to baptize a young woman and who, beholding the presence of female beauty had been "moved to the love of God and the shedding of ample tears" and "from that, greatly magnified the Creator God".

It was truly wondrous and astonishing - notes Saint John - for one to see how that same beauty in a man governed by passions can lead to his downfall, whereas in another (that is, a continent and virtuous one), it becomes the cause for wreaths and glory. That man, concludes Saint John, even prior to his death, is already living the resurrection and incorruptibility.

 

3. Honouring Holy relics

"We also venerate sacred relics" says Saint Gregory Palamas, "because they were not deprived of sanctifying power, just as godhood had not left the Magisterial Body of the Lord during His 3-day death."

This sanctifying power is the result of the relationship of the Saints with Christ; a relationship which does not pertain simply to the spiritual sector but also to our body, so that Saints are rendered "wholly" Saints, in having preserved blameless (by the Grace of God) "their whole spirit and soul and body, for the Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess.5:23), Who will "transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself."(Philipp.3:21).

The body therefore that we shall receive during the Coming of the Lord is His resurrected, transformed and deified body.  A foretaste and a depiction of this event are the sacred relics of the Saints of our Church. Their sanctifying power is the result of the association with the Body of the Lord, which the Saints had donned during Holy Baptism (Gal.3:27) and had preserved blameless up to the time of their mortal end (1 Thess,5:23); they are in other words the fruit of the uncreated divine energies.

The theological interpretation regarding the honouring of holy relics is analyzed by Saint Simeon the New Theologian, as follows:

"It follows that the soul which has been made worthy of partaking of divine grace because it was sanctified, must necessarily sanctify its whole body, because it is the soul that keeps the whole body together, inasmuch as it is found in all of its members. For this, just as the grace of the Holy Spirit appropriates the soul, thus also the Holy Spirit appropriates its body. However, while the soul is still with the body, the All-Holy Spirit does not transfer His full glory to the whole body, because it is necessary for the soul to show its intentions right to the very end of this lifetime - that is, it must show that it follows as it should the grace of the Holy Spirit.  However, when the end comes and the soul is separated from the body - that is, after  the struggle is finally over and the soul has won and has departed with the victory wreath - that is when the grace of the Holy Spirit appropriates and fully sanctifies the entire body of the said soul, and that is why the naked bones of the Saints exude healings and cure every sickness. Because when the soul is separated from the body during death, that is when the soul - alone and bodiless - finds itself together with complete divinity - that is, with divine grace - and becomes God by grace.  As for the (dead) body, it remains on its own, without the soul - together only with divinity - and reveals the Divine energy and miracles to people.  Because then, it is neither possible for the soul to have any obstacle to its energies on account of a bond with the body (having been separated from it), nor is the body any longer burdened (on account of the soul) by physical needs such as hunger, thirst and other such things. But, because they both - the soul and the body - have been released from every kind of need and temptation which they had on account of that bond between them, that is why Divine grace takes effect both in the one and the other, unimpeded, as though they have now become entirely God's - both the soul and the body - and have been appropriated by divinity through the God-pleasing polity that they pursued in this world while they were bonded together.  It is at the time of the common resurrection that the body will also receive the incorruptibility, which God had bestowed to the soul that was sanctified."

 

4. The precious relics in the first Christian record of martyrdoms

The honoring of Holy relics is not a later custom by Christians. It goes back to the first Christian years and remains a continuous tradition of our Church.

In the first record of martyrdoms by Saint Polycarp ( 156), a characteristic reference:

When the devil saw the martyr being rewarded with the wreath of incorruptibility, he "strived, so that we would not be able to retrieve his body, even though there were many who desired to do it, and to touch his holy body.  So he (the devil) prompted Nikites - Herod's father and Alke's brother - to meet with the ruler so that the martyr's body not be delivered to them (in case they leave him crucified and people begin to worship him).  He said these things with the prompting and the backing of the Judeans  - who were supervising us in case we removed him (the martyr) from the fire.  They did not know that it was not possible for us to abandon Christ, Who had suffered for the salvation of all the world - the immaculate One for the sake of sinners - nor ever worship anyone else, for we worship Him because He is the Son of God; however, as for the martyrs, we love them as befits disciples and emulators of the Lord, because of their incomparable love towards their King and Master...   When the Centurion saw the Judeans' quarrel, he placed the martyr between them and cremated him as was the custom.  Then, after collecting the martyr's bones - which were even more precious than precious stones and gold - we deposited them in a suitable place.  The Lord will help us to assemble there whenever we can, with joy and jubilation, in order to celebrate the memory of his martyrdom (his birth-day), and for the commemoration of those who had struggled before us, and for the testing and preparation of those who in the future are going to struggle."

This text is clear and needs no analysis. It further testifies that our Church's tradition of performing the divine Liturgy on the Holy Altar in which sacred relics have been deposited, is a proto-Christian tradition.

We have a similar testimony regarding the honouring of Holy relics, thanks to the second, extant record of martyrdoms of the year 177, which is the epistle by the communities of Vienna and Lyon addressed to the communities of Asia and Phrygia, in which are mentioned the martyrdoms that took place during the persecutions against the Christians of Lyon. 

 

5. The fragrance of the Holy Spirit

We all know that an ineffable fragrance emanates from the sacred relics of some Saints.  In the sacred Book of Saints we read about the holy great-martyr and miracle-working Demetrius the Myrrh-streamer: "So much myrrh streamed from his body, that, despite being distributed to the local pilgrims and to others who had come from afar, not only did it not diminish, but instead it flowed even more, thanks to the intercessions of the Saint. This myrrh however, also had the power to cause serious healings."

The same is mentioned for many other Saints, as, for example, Saint Nektarios of Aegina Island, Saint Savvas of the Serbs, and Saint Seraphim of Sarov.

What is this ineffable fragrance attributed to?

It is the "fragrance of Christ" (2 Cor.2:15), the presence of the Grace of the Holy Spirit, which enveloped the Saints during their terrestrial lives and which poured over their bodies.  It is, as we mentioned during the holy mystery of Chrismation "the Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit", the baptism of fire, which persists in the Saints of our Church and makes them sense an inexpressible warmth and an ineffable fragrance, which is the fruit if the Spirit.  This is why in the Orthodox Church the sacred myrrh is prepared with aromatic elements.

Truly amazing is the event that Motovilov had experienced during his conversation with Saint Seraphim of Sarov in the forest:

-What else can you sense, Filotheos? asked the Elder Seraphim.
-An unusual warmth. 
-But Batushka, we are sitting in the forest and it is winter. Below our feet is snow and on us is a layer of snow more than one vershok (4,4 cm.) thick, and snowflakes are falling too...  what kind of warmth can exist here?
I replied:
-The kind that exists when you bathe...
-And the fragrance? he asked. Is that like when we bathe?
-No, I replied. There is nothing in the world that resembles this fragrance. When my mother was alive, I loved dancing and would go to dances... I remember my mother used to sprinkle me with perfumes that she purchased from the best stores in Kazan. However, not even those perfumes gave out such a fragrance...
And the Batushka father Seraphim with a smile said to me:
-I too am aware of that.  It is exactly as you say, but I intentionally asked you, if that is how you also felt about it. It's the pure truth, Filotheos!  No earthly fragrant delight can compare to the fragrance that we are perceiving right now. Because right now we are enveloped by the fragrance of the Holy Spirit of God.  What on earth can compare to it?...

 

6. The miracles wrought by Holy relics

From all the above, the theological interpretation of the miraculous power of precious relics also becomes evident.

Examples of the miraculous powers of God's uncreated energies as manifested in sacred relics can be found initially in the Holy Bible.  Just how much the sacred relics of Holy men were venerated in the Old Testament can be witnessed in the case of Joseph, whose bones we are told were "watched over" (Wisd.Sirach 49:15) - that is, they were safeguarded with care.  We need to underline here the following amazing detail: whereas all contact with the body of a deceased person is characterized in the Old Testament as a "defilement" (Levit.21:1-9; Ezek.44:25), the Israelites transferred the bones of Joseph with great reverence, without this rendering the congregation of the people unclean (Gen.50:25; Exod.13:19).

Also characteristic is the case of a "man of God" who had strayed, not having kept God's commandment and for that, he was punished. So, when he departed from Baithel on his donkey, he encountered a lion on his path and was killed by it.  "His body" says the Old Testament "was thrown in the road, and the donkey stood beside it, and the lion stood beside the body."  (3 Kings 13:24).  Even that wild beast, which had become the instrument of divine justice, did not devour the dead body of the man of God, but in fact became reconciled with the donkey and the two of them together stood by the body, guarding the holy relic. Afterwards, it says that " And behold, men were passing by and saw the carcass thrown in the road, and the lion was standing by the carcass, and they came in and spoke in the town wherein the old prophet lived.  And the one who had brought him back from the way heard and said, This is the man of God who embittered the word of the Lord. And he went and found his body thrown in the road, and the donkey and the lion stood beside the body, and the lion did not eat the body of the man of God and did not crush the donkey. And the prophet took up the body of the man of God and laid it on the donkey, and the prophet brought it back to the city to bury him in his own grave, and they mourned over him, Woe, brother! And it happened, after he mourned him, that he said to his sons, saying, When I die, bury me in  this grave wherein the man of God is buried; lay me beside his bones, that my bones may be saved, along with his bones." (3 Kings 13:25-31).

This passage clearly testifies the conviction of that Prophet regarding the miraculous state of the sacred relics of a holy man, even if he had momentarily disobeyed God's commandment and was punished. A further testimony regarding the miraculous state of holy relics is the stance of the donkey, as well as the lion - who had become an instrument of God and had remained standing near them with honour and reverence. 

But the miraculous power of the divine energies that act through the relics of holy people is also evident in the case of the Prophet Elisha.  The Old Testament mentions that a certain dead person had been thrown upon the Prophet's grave. As soon as the dead body touched the bones of Elisha, he was revived: "And Elisaie died, and they buried him. And lightly armed men of Moab came in the land when the year came. And it happened, when they were burying the man, that behold, they saw the lightly armed man, and they threw the man in the grave of Elisaie, and he went and touched the bones of Elisaie, and he revived and stood up on his feet." (4 Kings 13:21. Cmp. also Wisd.Sirach 48:14).

From within the holy book of Saints of our Church we know of many miracles that occur through holy relics. In the Bios of Saint Nektarios, among other miracles is also the following:

"On the day of the blessed repose of the Saint, the husband of a certain pious woman - who lacked any faith and piety - happened by good fortune to kiss the right hand of the Saint during the translation of the precious relic to Aegina Island.  Paradoxically, he felt the Saint's hand to be warm and supple, and, in wonder of this phenomenon, he underwent a change and, by the grace of the Saint, became truly faithful and pious."

 

7. The miraculous power of material objects in the life of Saints

From the Holy Bible we know that the Lord's miraculous power was manifest even in His garment (Matth.9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:44-48). For example, when He arrived in Gennesaret : "And when the men of that place recognized Him, they sent out into all that surrounding region, brought to Him all who were sick,  and begged Him that they might only touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched it were made perfectly well."(Matth.14:35-36; Mark 6:56; Matth.9:20-22). 

In the Acts of the Apostles, it mentions that: "...God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them." (Acts 19:11-12).

As for Peter, it says that even his shadow possessed the healing power of Christ: "so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them. Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed." (Acts 5:15-16).

We can thus better understand all those amazing events that we encounter in the lives of the Saints.

On the day of the repose of Saint Nektarios, for example, the following miracle took place:

A little while after the Saint's passing, and while the sacred tabernacle of his body was still in Hospital, the mere contact with his garment which happened to be thrown onto an adjoining bed was enough to restore the health of another patient who was a paralytic.

 

8. "The image of Your ineffable glory am I"!

All that has been said above can interpret why, during the funeral service of a Christian, we light candles before the deceased bodies of our brethren, as we do before holy icons. The body of a Christian person is characterized as "the image of the ineffable glory of God", albeit bearing "the stigmata of our trespasses", as the relative hymn of our Church mentions.

 

9. The metamorphosis of Creation

Everything that was mentioned about the Saints of our Church, about the Holy icons and the veneration of sacred relics, do not comprise the final glory of the world. They are only the "betrothal" signs of the final metamorphosis of mankind and the entirety of Creation at the end of Time. 

All of Creation "...was subjected to futility..." and "the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now"  (Rom.8:20, 22); however it too "...will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God." (Rom.8:21) (*)

This is the reason that we can see all of Creation co-celebrating the event of liberation, in the Person of Christ:
Angels, together with shepherds offer glorification; Magi travel together with a Star....
 
Everyone comes to Him and offers their own gifts:
The Angels, their hymn; the skies, the Star; the Magi, their gifts; and we, a Virgin Mother.
 
And on the night of the Resurrection:
Now, everything is filled with light; both the heavens and earth and the underworld; 
All of Creation therefore celebrates the resurrection of Christ, in which it is secured.

The hymns of our Church move within the Spirit of the Holy Bible, which pre-announces this overall joy of Creation for the event of salvation.

The Prophet Isaiah says about God's people : " see, those who are subject to Me shall be glad with joy, [...]  But to those who are subject to him, a new name shall be called, which shall be blessed on the earth; for they shall bless the true God, and those who swear on the earth shall swear by the true God,  for they shall forget their first affliction, and it shall not come up into their heart. For heaven will be new, and the earth will be new, and they shall not remember the former things, nor shall they come upon their heart..." (Isaiah 65:14-17)  and "For as the new heaven and the new earth, which I am making, remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your offspring and your name stand." (Isaiah 66:22; Cmp. 2 Pet.3:13; Revel.21:1).

"... for the mountains and the hills shall leap forth as they welcome you with happiness, and all the trees of the field shall clap with their branches." (Isaiah 55:12).

All of Creation therefore will participate in the joy of "the liberation of the children of God", because it also participates in that liberation. (Rom.8:21).

The Orthodox Church gets a foretaste of that total liberation from its yoke of slavery and expresses it in a unique manner in Her liturgical space - with the architecture of the Temples, the Holy Altar, the Bishop's throne, the sacred pulpit, and all the objects used during worship; for example, the sacred vessels, the candles, the incense, the oil, the "antidoron" bread, the holy water, etc.. Each and every one of these is a part of God's creation - they are God's gifts, which man receives and offers back to God, just like the bread and the wine of the Divine Eucharist.  Just as the bread and the wine are turned into Body and Blood of Christ, likewise the wood, the paintings turn into holy icons, the walls become Temples of the living God, the candles and the incense turn into prayers. Everything is assumed into the body of Christ, in the Church, and they all belong to the transformed world of Grace. (cmp.1 Chron.29:10-16).  It is their reference to Christ and His God-human Body that makes even material things partakers of the grace of Christ and renders them a source of gifts of the Holy Spirit.  In this way, matter is enveloped by the spirit, it is sanctified and thus making it palpable to us and allowing us to venerate it as something sacred.

On this topic there is the touching story of the Holy New-martyr Ahmed, who was blessed by perceiving the fragrance of the Uncreated grace of God, through the "antidoron" bread morsel of his young servant girl used to eat. The young girl lived together with the Muslim Ahmed, according to the Mohammedan custom, and the "antidoron" morsel used to be brought to her by an elderly Christian woman.  This is how the incident is described in the book of Saints:

Whenever this happened - that is, whenever the young servant girl consumed the antidoron - and Ahmed happened to be near her, he could sense a beautiful fragrance coming from her mouth.  He therefore asked her what she ate sometimes so that her mouth smelled so fragrantly.  She, not knowing what was happening, would say that she had not eaten anything. But he insisted on asking her in order to find out.  So she told him that she ate nothing else, except for the morsels of bread that had been blessed by the Priests, which were then brought to her by that elderly lady, whenever she returned from the Christians' Church.  Ahmed then felt the desire to see the manner by which the Christians received the bread, as well as the order of their Church.  So, dressing himself in the manner that Christians dressed, he went to the Great Church that was in the Patriarchate, where he stayed on to observe the Divine Liturgy.  The Lord of All, Who knows the secrets of people's hearts, added a second miracle to the first, and thus led him to the awareness of the Truth. So, while he was inside the Church, he noticed that during the ritual procession towards the Royal Door, the priest walked without touching the ground and was bathed in light; he also noticed that when the Patriarch was blessing the congregation with his hand, shafts of light emanated from his fingertips, which illuminated the heads of the Christians. But, even though the rays of light fell on the heads of all the Christians, they did not illuminate his head. Having done this twice, three times, he still noticed the same thing happening. The blessed Ahmed, having been convinced to believe, unhesitatingly called upon the Priest, who ensured his rebirth though Holy Baptism, and thereafter he remained for a long time secretly Christian. When, during a meeting the potentates were discussing what the most significant thing in the world was, they asked him also.  Ahmed replied in as loud a voice as he could, that the most  significant thing of all was the faith of the Christians.  Having confessed immediately afterwards that he himself was a Christian, he checked with outspokenness the falsehood in the Mohammedans' deluded beliefs, which caused him to receive the wreath of martyrdom after being beheaded upon the command of the ruler, on the 3rd of May, in the year 1682.

(*) OODE note:
The English NKJV text of Rom.8:20-21 says: " 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God."
It should be noted that the original Greek text does not say "because of Him" (the capital H denoting the Lord);  Creation was NOT subjected to futility because of the Lord, but because of man.  Creation unwillingly resigned itself to futility, along with the one who had imposed it (man), in the hope that it too would be liberated from the bondage of corruption, in order to partake of the freedom of the glory that God's children would be receiving in due course...
20 ῇ ὰ ό ἡ ί ὑά, ὐ ἑῦ, ἀὰ ὰ ὸ ὑά, ἐ᾿ ἐί 21 ὅ ὶ ὐὴ ἡ ί ἐή ἀὸ ῆ ί ῆ ᾶ ἰ ὴ ἐί ῆ ό ῶ έ ῦ ῦ.

10. "...so that also through elements may Your Name be glorified!..."

It has become evident with all that has been said, that in the Orthodox manner of divine worship, especially underlined are the element of love and the element of personal relationship that God enters upon, with His entire Creation.  Through divine worship, the Orthodox Church also proclaims faith in the One, Triune God - that is, the God of love - and the love of Christ's divine humanity - in the par excellence expression of the Triune God's love towards mankind and the world.

God is love. A love that is poured out - as we have seen- through the uncreated divine energies, to the world also. With His creation of the world, God enters upon a personal relationship with that world, while the Lord - with His incarnation - enters that created world.  It is therefore understood that we too must embrace with respect and love everything that God has fashioned and everything that His Grace has transformed.  That way, we do not idolize the works of God, but rather express our honour, reverence and worship to the Creator God Himself.  Everything we do must be "for the glory of God" (1 Cor.10:31) and God must be glorified "in everything, through Jesus Christ" (1 Pet.4:11). This Orthodox truth is expressed perfectly by a prayer of the sacred Service for the Great Blessing of the Sanctification of the Water: so that by the elements, and by the angels, and by the people and by visible things and invisible things, may Your All-holy Name be blesses, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and to the ages of the ages, Amen.

If we were to look at the world as being outside any pertinence with Christ - that is, in a state of corruption and death - then it would not have been permissible to bestow any honour towards the things of the world. An honour such as that would be purely idolatry.  But, when we perceive the world in its association with the Body of Christ, the Church - that is, when we consider the transformed world, liberated from the bondage of the devil, then it is our duty to honour those things of the "in-Christ" transformed world. The reason is that Christ's world is a source of blessings (1 Cor.10:4; Wisd.Sirach 38:5), and what is more, that honouring and veneration is conveyed to Christ Himself, Who is the source of salvation as well as sanctification (1 Cor.10:4;; Wisd.Sol.16:7).

Orthodox divine worship does not address a God Who is impersonal and foreign to man and the world.  It is addressed to the One and only Triune God; the God of love, Who, through His Son, enters the world and transforms the world. That is why we worship God, not apart from the world, nor "the world per se" (as certain heretics assert), but from within the world, which is assumed and transformed wihtin the Body of Christ - the Church. Besides, this is clearly taught by the Holy Bible, which underlines the presence of God's glory within the world.

As mentioned earlier on, many are the instances where the uncreated glory of the Triune God has been made manifest in the world: there is the case of the Flaming Bush (Exod.3:2 etc), the luminous cloud that led the Israelites (Exod.13:11), the flashes atop the mountain (Exod.24:17) and the illumination of Moses' countenance (Exod.34:29-30) as well as other instances.  "...Do I not fill the sky and the earth? says the Lord." (Jerem.23:24. cmp.Psalms 138:7-8).  "For Your incorruptible spirit is in all things" (Wisd.Solom.12:1), "Because the spirit of the Lord fills the world" (Wisd.Solom.1:7; cmp.Acts 2:2).

All of these verses reveal to us that God's creation - all of His creation - is the carrier of God's glory. "But I live, and My name is living; and the glory of the Lord shall fill all the earth" - as God had said to Moses (Num.14:21).  "...'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Sabaoth; the whole earth is full of his glory!' "  chant the Seraphim, before the Throne of the Triune God (cmp.also Psalms 71:19, 18:1-7).  That same, uncreated divine glory also made its appearance on Mount Tabor (Matth.17:2) and in the lives of the Saints of our Church (Acts 7:55, 9:3, 22:6-11).  The presence of God's glory within the world does not make any allowance for the worship of God "per se" - that is, separately from creation, which is "filled with His glory" (Isaiah 6:3).  This is why the Orthodox Church worships God in each and every thing, which the Holy Spirit "abides in" and "completes", and through Whom His sanctifying grace (which is the grace of God) is poured forth and acts upon the world: Upon the Virgin Mary and the Saints; upon the Holy Bible, upon the Holy Cross, upon holy relics, holy icons, and upon all the liturgical objects, as well as the sanctified (holy) water, the oil of the Unction, the sacred oil-lamps, and upon all of the transformed creation of God.

This is the "ortho-dox" (upright belief) - that is, the proper manner of worship of the Triune God, and the reason our Church is called "Orthodox Church".

 

11. The sanctification (blessing) of the waters

In the Old Testament there is a beautiful incident that portrays the uncreated Divine Energies acting upon the waters of the River Jordan so that they healed Naiman, a general of Syria:

"And as for Syria, they went out lightly armed and took captive from the land of Israel a little girl, and she was in the presence of the wife of Naiman. And she said to her mistress, Would that my lord (note: her husband) were in the presence of the prophet of God who is in Samaria! Then He will recover him from his leprosy.  (3 Kings 5:2-3)

Equipped with letters of reference by the king of Syria, Naiman went to the king of the Israelite people and from there he went on to meet the Prophet Elisha. However, the Prophet sent a messenger telling him to go to the Jordan river and wash himself in order for him to be healed of the leprosy:

"And Elisaie sent a messenger to him, saying, Going, wash seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh shall return to you, and you shall be cleansed. And Naiman became angry and went away and said, Behold now, I kept saying that he will come out to me and stand and call out in the name of his god and lay his hand on the place and recover the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharphar, rivers of Damascus, better than the Jordan and all the waters of Israel? Going, shall I not wash in them and be cleansed? And he turned and went away in a rage. And his servants approached and said to him, The prophet spoke a great word to you; shall you not do it? even because he said to you, Wash, and be cleansed. And Naiman went down and immersed himself in the Jordan seven times, according to the word of Elisaie, and his flesh returned like the flesh of a small child, and he was cleansed. And he returned to Elisaie, he and all his camp, and he came and stood and said, Behold, indeed I know that there is no god in all the earth but only in Israel, and now accept the blessing from your slave. And Elisaie said, The Lord lives, before whom I stand, if I will accept it! And he urged him to accept, but he refused.(3 Kings 5:10-16)

As Naiman himself quite rightly noted, it was not a case of the waters of the Jordan possessing magical qualities; it was the healing power of God's uncreated divine energies whose presence had distinguished the waters of the Jordan from the waters of the rivers of Damascus.  It was exactly the presence of those divine energies that rendered the water therapeutic and also the reason that Naiman acknowledged the God of Israel as the only true God. (cmp.also Luke 4:27).  This was the same healing power that the waters of the Pool of Bethesda presented, during the moments it was being stirred up by an angel of God: "For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had." (John 5:4; cmp also 9:7).

However, according to the hymn of our Church on the Theophany, "the nature of the waters" was sanctified, with the Lord's Baptism in the River Jordan:  "Today the nature of the waters is sanctified, The Jordan bursts forth and turns back the flood of its streams, on seeing the Master being immersed."  "Jordan River, fill yourself with delight; earth and sea, hills and mountains and mankind's hearts, leap for joy now, having admitted light within you..."  In the River Jordan, it wasn't just the waters that had received Christ; something far more important had taken place:  Christ had received its waters in His embrace, as well as all the other elements of nature and had sanctified them - just as He had received all of Creation in His open embrace upon the Cross, and had liberated it from the bonds of the devil.

Thus, the blessed water that is sanctified by Christ's Body - which is the Church - is not the ordinary water of the fallen world. Taste-wise, it is of course no different to that water; however, the fact that it was embraced by the Church and became a "spiritual drink" that springs from the "spiritual rock" which is Christ (1 Cor.10:4), renders it a source of blessings and grace. (Exod.15:25)

For this reason, a beautiful blessing of our Church says:  "Lord, You, Who had condescended to be baptized in the Jordan and in that way sanctified the waters, lend Your ear and hear us. And bless us all who, with bowed heads, indicate the form of a servant.  Make us worthy to be filled with Your sanctifying grace by drinking a little of this water and sprinkling ourselves with it.  May it be for the health of our soul and our body, for You are the One Who sanctifies our souls and our bodies, and it is for this reason that we extend our glorification, our gratitude and our veneration to You, and Your Beginning-less Father and Your Most Holy and Benevolent and Life-giving Spirit, now, and  forever, and unto the ages of the ages. Amen."

 

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Article published in English on: 25-1-2014.

Last update: 6-2-2014.

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