Initially I looked at the definitions of the words “Theology” and Reality”, which I found very revealing and inspiring.
For Theology the following definitions were given:
• Study of or System of (especially Christian) religion
• Rational analysis of a religious faith
• The study of the nature of God and religious belief
And for Reality:
• Property of being real, resemblance to original;
• Real existence; what is real, what underlies appearances
• Existent thing
• Real nature of
• The state of things as they actually exist, to an idealistic or
notional idea of them.
• A thing that exists in fact, having previously only existed in one’s mind (we want to make the dream a reality)
• The quality of being life-like
• Existence that is absolute, self-sufficient, or objective, and not subject to human decisions or conventions.
This, one could say, is describing God as the Ultimate Reality.
But I must say that the definitions of Theology were not entirely satisfactory. Theology, as we understand it, is far more than knowledge about God obtained through academic studies. It is also the experience or experiencing of God: Christianity is a living faith, founded on revelation engendered or born of the Holy Spirit.
Metropolitan Anthony’s conversion is a very good example of this, as it came about by “encountering” Christ, or Christ revealing Himself, or by using Vladika’s own words he says that while he was reading the
beginning of St Mark’s Gospel . . . “I suddenly became aware that on the other side of my desk there was a presence. And the certainty was so strong that it was Christ standing there that it never left me.
This was the real turning point. Because Christ was alive …” (the Essence of Prayer, page xiv).
It is important not to forget about the experience or experiencing of God. When we look at the etymology of the word Theology it is a combination of two Greek words: Theos – meaning God; and Logos, importantly and
something we, maybe, at times, forget about, can mean: wisdom, reason, action, as well as, word.
This, one could say, is describing God as the Ultimate Reality.
Reading and re-reading and pondering the definitions, and thinking about them, made me turn this way, and that, but in the end it made me turn to the first book in the Bible, Genesis, and read, attentively, the first few Chapters, as if I was reading them for the very first time.
And I was overawed by the beauty and wisdom of what I read: here is summed up our whole story of creation and salvation, in a VERY compact form, and who would, when reading it, not believe that God, the Trinity, is the Creator of the Universe, that God exists, that He is Glorious? That we could sing out with the psalmist:
How magnificent are thy works, O Lord, in wisdom hast thou made them all! (ps. 103)
Now if I may, I would like to read to you the first five verses of the first chapter (of Genesis), as what is described in these verses stands out, I find, from everything that happens after, and I would like to share a little of the riches hidden in these verses.
1. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2. And the earth was without void and form; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
3. And God said, let there be light: and there was light.
4. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness.
5. And God called the light Day and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. (Quote from the King James Version)
So: we hear of God who exists before time, and who acts and creates –the word in Hebrew is bara – from the root B R – from which the word to speak –dibar- is formed. If we vocalise the letters D B R differently and say Devar – we have the word “word”. E.g. Deuteronomy is Devarim – the beginning runs like this: ele devarim asher Moshe dibar el ha-kal-israel – these are the words Moses spoke to all Israel.
It is not amiss to think of DBR-Word in connection with God the Word i.e. His Son, Jesus Christ – according to St. John’s gospel, In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was
God. (the Hebrew uses DBR – divar)
We hear of the Spirit of God MOVING upon the face of the waters. In Hebrew the word used is: m’rachefet, which can have a variety of meanings: to hover, to brood, to hatch, to shake, to tremble, to float; and in this context, I would like to draw your attention to: to brood/to hatch, as it reflects the connotation that the Spirit of God, which is the Holy Spirit (Basil the Great and Ephraim the Syrian), the Giver of Life, is actively taking part in bringing out/bringing forth
This is what St Ephraim the Syrian says:
“It was fitting for the Holy spirit to hover as a proof that in creative power He is equal to the Father and the Son. For the Father uttered, the Son created, and it was fitting for the Spirit also to offer His work. And this He did by hovering, thereby clearly showing that all was brought into being and accomplished by the Trinity”.
And elsewhere he says –commentary on the activity of the Spirit on the first day-: “The Holy Spirit warms the waters and made them fertile and capable of birth, like a bird when it sits with its outstretched wings on its
eggs and by its warmth gives them warmth and produces fertility in them. This same Holy Spirit represented for us then an image of Holy Baptism, in which by His moving over the waters He gives birth to the children of God”.
I also would like to say something about the Waters. One wonders how can the Spirit move over the Waters? When were they created? And how can He, after creating the firmament, divide the waters into waters under and waters above the firmament? (In vs. 6 and 7 on the second day). In the Hebrew text the word employed for Heaven in verse 1, is hashamayim, which is a contraction of the word for fire –esh- and water –mayim-.
It was dark (there was darkness upon the face of the deep) and God said (ve’imer – not related to bara; according to Saint Athanasius the Great God spoke to his only begotten Son): let there be light, and there was light. And God saw that the light was GOOD – in Hebrew tov – which has a sense of being pleased/taking pleasure in. If you read the remainder of the first chapter you will see that God says this every time about the things He has made. And at the end when He saw EVERY thing he had made, he says: behold, it was VERY GOOD (Gen. 1:31).
And then God divides the light from darkness – the light He calls DAY and the darkness NIGHT. And there was evening and there was morning, day one or one day. (yom echad).
This verse is rather mysterious or full of mystery and wonder: Light has come, and darkness has been dispelled. But all the same boundaries are placed between the darkness and the light, the light is
called Day and the darkness Night. It was evening, it was morning, day One. So the Light comes, the Light goes. And please take note, it is before the Sun and the Moon are created!
All that happens on Day One is so awesome and there is a quality, by lack of a better word, to it, which is not repeated in what follows.
And so the story of creation unfolds in a most beautiful and orderly manner. Then as a “crowning”, last act, God says: “Let us make man (chelovek; in Hebrew Adam) in Our image, according to Our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of heaven, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that moves on the earth. So God made man (chelovek, adam); in the image of God He made him; male and female He made them. (Gen.1: 26-27)
It is worthwhile to note that God initially says Let us make man in Our image and according to Our likeness (verse 26) and subsequently we read (verse 27): in the image of God he made him; male and female He
made them. So the word “likeness” has disappeared, however, it remains something for Man to become / to attain to (theosis).
God blesses them and says: Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and gives them every seed-bearing herb, and every tree, whose fruit yields seeds, as food to eat. And to the animals he gives all the green vegetation. So everybody (Man and animals) was a vegan (herbivore). (Gen 1:28-3-).
God planted a garden especially, for Man to live in. And not only the garden. God created everything (the whole universe) not only for our use (ie. for Men), but also that we, seeing the great wealth of creation, might be astonished at the might of the creator and might understand that all this was created with wisdom and unutterable goodness for the honour of Man. (St. John Chrysostom)
In the middle of the garden God plants two special trees: 1. The tree of life; 2. The tree of learning of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam can eat the fruit from all the trees, but is commanded not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for whatever day he eats from it he shall surely die by death (moth tamoth).
So Adam and Eve live in paradise, literally in a blissful state.
We all know what happens Adam and Eve did eat, and with profound consequences, not only for mankind, but also for all of creation.
Firstly they saw they were naked. The unique unity that existed between Adam and Eve is broken, they do not see each other any longer as the same being, but as another being, or not as the other-myself, but as the other-other, so opposed to one another (paraphrase of Metr.Anthony); and they need to hide from one another: they cover themselves with figleaves and then, when they hear God walking in the garden, they hide from Him. And God, not seeing them, calls out: Adam where art thou? Adam answers that they had to hide since they were naked. Then God starts questioning Adam first, who mentions Eve; then Eve, who mentions the Serpent; and then God makes a pronouncement on each one of them: He curses the Serpent and circumscribes him: his head shall be bruised; so we know the serpent will not have the last word, so to speak. We might ask ourselves, his head shall be bruised, but how? According to the Fathers by the Cross.
To the woman he says: (Gen.3:16) I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception: in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children: and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee;
To Adam he says, vs. 17: Because they have eaten God cursed the ground, and tells them what their lives will be like from now on. “In sorrow shalt thou eat of it (the ground) all the days of thy life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee and thou shalt eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,
till thou return unto the ground; for out of it was thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return”. (Gen 3: 19); And then before banning them from the garden of Eden, God made them coats of skin and clothed them. Eden he protects at the east by Cherubims and a flaming sword, which turned every way to keep the way of the tree of life.
On the Sunday of Forgiveness, on which we commemorate The Casting Out of Adam from Paradise, the Church sings:
Adam was cast out of Paradise through eating from the tree. Seated before the gates he wept, and lamented with a pitiful voice and saying: “Woe is me, what have I suffered in my misery! I transgressed one commandment of the Master, and now I am deprived of every blessing. O most holy Paradise, planted for my sake and shut because of Eve, pray to Him that made thee and fashioned me, that once more I may take pleasure in thy flowers”. Then the Saviour said to him: “I desire not the loss of the creature which I fashioned, but that he should be saved and come to knowledge of the truth; and when he comes to me I will not cast him out.
Let us take note: The mission/task of Man, be fruitful etc. and to grow into God’s likeness (i.e. theosis), does NOT change and neither does God abandon the world on the contrary. He will continue to send His messengers in the form of prophets, and finally His Own Son.
BUT the gap between God and Man, and Man and Man, has widened ever since. I think that is how we experience it. Even when we know that in Christ the gap has been bridged. First we have the sin of Cain who kills his brother Abel out of jealousy.
Then the earth, because it is so full of sin, is drowned with all that is in it, except Noah and his family, and the animals in the ark. To which someone added: And the fish, of course, they did not drown!
After the Flood, God blesses Noah and his kin with the same words as he did Adam at the beginning of creation: Be fruitful, and multiply and replenish the earth. Originally He gave “greens/vegetables” as food, NOW God adds something else: and the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth . . . . Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you (Gen.9: 1-3).
Man can kill, not to say murder, an animal for food. So Man commences to live with ‘killing’, which is a far cry from the beginnings in paradise.
And when we look at today’s world, with all the horrific things going on, apart from killing animals, for a basic necessity, we kill it for luxury. E.g. let us say 200 grs of meat in a week is enough to maintain a healthy diet. But what do we do? We maybe eat 3x as much! And not only with meat, we do it with every thing, we exploit the earth’s resources not only for necessities, but for luxuries (pleasure), and for personal gain (wealth) at the cost and deprivation, and exploitation of others, resulting in wars and killing of each other.
The Fall –falling away from God- is like a wound that runs through all creation and through our own heart and has made us weak, but when we allow ourselves to be weak, in the sense that we are aware that we are
weak, the grace of God can be strong. (2Cor.12:9-11).
Also, I have been pondering about the existence of the two trees in the Garden of Eden, especially the tree of the learning of the knowledge of good and evil. My impression is, that the commandment not to eat from its fruit was given by God out of Love for Man. You see, God in fact acknowledges what the serpent had suggested to
Eve, that they will be like gods, knowing good and evil. (Gen.3: vs.5 and vs.22).
The same as the sending forth from the garden, I also am tended to think it was an act of love. I do apologize that I can’t say more about this now, as this would be a subject of another paper.
Recently I was at a Youth Conference of about 800 youths, where the following question was posed:
Who of you has got more than one pair of trainers? Most of the hands went up, and there were those youngsters who were very proud/happy/keen to share that they had at least TEN pairs! And there were some who only had one pair, and some who had no pair at all.
And here is another story: A Goddaughter rang her Godfather to ask him what he would get her for
her birthday. He said he did not know, what did she need, did she have any suggestions. She was not so sure, maybe a new designer dress? The Godfather knowing that her father was a rather successful businessman,
and that she had cupboards full of clothes, said to her: Oh I see, hum, hum, I am not so sure, why don’t you think about it and give me a ring when you know what you NEED?
You see the reality is that there is a BIG difference between what you WANT and what you NEED.
To be fair to the goddaughter she rang her Godfather again to say there was not anything she actually needed.
To several people I posed the question: Do you think we face up to reality? None of them thought we actually did, and that it was rather difficult to do, but some interesting conversations followed.
One of the persons said: The World is full of temptations and encourages you to use your imagination that will lead you to fantasy. The Church encourages you to use your imagination to lead you to Reality; Truth.
And to clarify, the person used the word ‘imagination’ in the following sense: “Well, when I set out to do something, I can imagine what effect it might have on somebody else”.
As it appears to be rather difficult to face up to Reality, how do we avoid it, what do we do instead?
And there was a conversation that really made me think and reflect, which I would like to share with you.
One can escape from Reality in different ways: for example alcohol, drugs, occupying oneself with many (good) things, like Martha, to name but a few.
Another way is trying to be someone one is not. For example, one gets caught up in the world, making money or wanting to have a higher social status.
One has the idea to earn a living, and a very good living at that, in becoming a lawyer in the City (of London). A good stable job, good prospects, long hours, and a very good renumeration (salary).
Firstly, when one has got a job interview one wants to look the part i.e. “professional”, and one would like to maintain that image when one has got the job. One dresses to express something one hopes to be or become and one wants other people to think one IS like that.
Secondly, there are not many people who are well suited for being a lawyer in the City, because that way of life does not allow much time for reflection. If one needs time to reflect, one can’t do it, and can’t live that kind of life and you simply will not be happy. You will be forcing yourself into a situation that you, so to speak, have
not been made for. Your gifts might lie elsewhere. We all have been given different talents to work with.
When one stays “closer to oneself”, i.e. when one is with God and accepts who one is, then one doesn’t lose time and does not become distracted by pursuing an idealized vision of oneself, which one can’t possibly attain, because one is not made that way.
When one gives first place to God and turns to Him, one can become who one is or is meant to be, and if one does not pre-occupy oneself with whom one thinks one wants to be, one finds one has TIME to turn and to listen to God.
One thinks: “O God has a plan for me” and one tries to think out what this plan is. One thinks it is a ready-made plan, and it might be very difficult for someone set in this mode to grasp that that is not quite the case.
God has such respect for Man, and for Man’s free will, that He leaves him free!
God has created us, Mankind, so that we could participate in His divine life (1Peter1:4) or to put it differently, His “plan” is to be present with each one of us in our every day life, using circumstances, examples, words or thoughts to restrain us from sinning and to draw us to real good.
When one starts following this plan of making God, the Holy Trinity, the centre of one’s life, turning to and listening to Him, one should become happy with oneself, and then one will be doing the things one should be doing. One must give up/surrender all one’s worries and all one thinks one should be, and accept what God has made one to be.
Or in other words, it is the way of the Cross, of continual repentance, and a way of “joyful mourning”.
(Luke 10:38-42 and Luke 14:27-33).
That can be easier said, than done! Of course!
Facing Reality requires Openess and Courage, also Humility, Acceptance and Dieing.
But where do we start? How to acquire these characteristics?
Christ, before performing his miracles, often asks: do you believe I can do it? It is active faith in Him, even when it is very, very small like a mustard seed … it can move mountains. (St. Matthew 17:20).
Our faith often is small, not to say tiny, and has not “blossomed out” as yet, though we imagine it has . . . and when we discover this, the enemy whispers to us that it is not worth it, there is no point. It sounds very logical, and we think we have lost all faith and get discouraged.
But Christ says, that the little we have suffices, over and over again.
There are the two stories of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes: (St. John; St. Mark & St. Matthew).
The disciples thought: what is a few loaves and fishes against thousands of people? Nothing! It simply won’t do, it is not going to be enough and it is not worth it, even to try to give a few to eat. And yet! With Christ these loaves and fishes feed multitudes; so much so, that when they gather up the crumbs, they fill many baskets!
So let us not grow weary and lose heart, but let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith! (Hebrews 12:2,3).
Vladika once said: don’t lose heart, for there is hope, HOPE, HOPE!!! In Christ and in His Most Pure Mother.
So, Let us turn to our help, our hope and sure protection, our Most Holy Lady, the Mother of God.
Let us turn to her, through whom we have been made godlike. (Vespers of the Dormition)
Let us learn from her, who is so full of grace, what it means to face Reality.
Let us learn from her Openess and Courage, Humility, Acceptance and Dieing.
She who said: Let it be to me according to thy word and gave birth to the Saviour of our souls! (St. Luke 1:38; tropar Hail, Mother of God).
Let us turn to her who is the Mother of Life and has passed over into life! (Tropar of the Dormition; tone 1).
Thy birth, O Mother of God, has brought joy to all the inhabited earth: for from thee has shone forth the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God. He has loosed us from the curse and given the blessing; He has made death of no effect, and bestowed on us eternal life. (Tropar of the Nativity of the Mother of God; tone 4).