Introducing the Church Year Classes Fall 2023

These classes are part of a Series presented in the Fall of 2023 to the Adult Catechumen Class at Transfiguration GOC, Austin Texas by Fr. George P. Bithos. This introduction is a brief glimps of the Church temple and its theology. The presentation is a raw recording of the class. Please excuse the less than polished video. Thank you…FrG

 

Who is God?

Have you ever considered the possibility that your idea of God is too small?  What do you think about when you hear the word “GOD”?  Maybe, it would help if we consider some of the Church’s teachings about God.  First, let’s ask the basic question  Who is God?”  There are certain fundamental Orthodox teachings on this question.  When we try to define God, we come to Mystery.  Beginning with that question: What is God?  The Church says “GOD IS” – He is beyond all human understanding, language, and abilities to grasp or describe.

God is Love; whoever sought to define Him would be like a blind person trying to count the grains of sand of the sea shore.  – St. John Climakos

God is a God, who out of Love, reveals Himself to his creatures and creation.  Our God is a Personal God, that is why the question is WHO is GOD and not WHAT is God.  Our God is a TRINITARIAN GOD.  What does this mean?  The nature of God as Trinity is explained St. Basil in this way:

The Father is the origin of all, the Son realizes, and the Spirit fulfills. Every thing subsists by the will of the Father, comes into being though the action of the Son, and reaches its perfection through the action of the Holy Spirit…The number three therefore comes to your mind: the Lord who commands, The Word who creates, the Breath who confirms and what can it mean to confirm, if not to make perfect in holiness.

                                              Treatise on the Holy Spirit – ST BASIL OF CAESARIA.

Think about the description of the nature of God, as we can understand him.  Keep in mind; we can never understand the essence of God.  Yet, all Three Persons of the Holy Trinity share the same essence (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed).  They are unique persons; they are distinct but never separate.  They have but one will, the will of the Father.  NONE of three ever acts separately and apart from the other two. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware states, “They are not three Gods but one God.”  What is it about God that we experience and know?  We Orthodox view what and how we experience the Trinity in this way.

      • GOD’S ESSENCE – WHAT “IS”, THE INNER BEING OF GOD, IS TOTALLY TRANSCENDENT.  MAN CAN NEVER KNOW THE NATURE OF GOD AND GOD’S OTHERNESS.  THIS IS BEYOND OUR ABILITY OR CAPACITY TO COMPREHEND.
      • GOD’S ENERGY – GOD’S OPERATIONS OR ACTS OF POWER.  THESE REVEAL GOD IN THE WORLD TO HIS CREATION.  THIS IS CALLED GRACE, LIFE AND POWER AND IT FILLS ALL THINGS.

 God is love (1 John, 8). The Persons of the Holy Trinity relate to one and another in a bond of LOVE, a perfect outpouring of selfless communion that is continuous, constant and mysterious.  This is the nature of the relationship of the life of God as Trinity.  Our destiny is to share this love and to express it in our lives.  When we talk about God, we mean the Holy Trinity; and when we will speak of Christ, the second person of the Trinity, we speak of the Son of God revealed and encountered in the created world.  In Christ, empowered by God’s Holy Spirit and through our Baptism and Chrismation, we have the potential to partake in the nature of God as Trinity (2 Peter 1, 3). 

For Orthodox, the true image of God and the true nature of man are revealed in history by one event.  God has revealed Himself to us in Christ.  Through the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos,. Christ accomplishes this by His Incarnation in the Flesh.  The Incarnation of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, reveals the image of the Father to the world and only through Him, in the Holy Spirit, can we KNOW God the Father (St. John 17, 25-26).  The hymn of Christmas, by St. Romanos the Melodist, summarizes the theology of incarnation with this phrase, “A new born child; God before the Ages”. 

The Incarnation is an act of GOD out of love.  It is an act of God identifying with our nature and of sharing His Nature with us.  The nature of God as Trinity was the topic of the first two Ecumenical Councils; the next five great Councils dealt with who is Jesus and what is His relationship to us, His creation.

      • JESUS CHRIST IS FULLY AND COMPLETELY PERFECT GOD.
      • JESUS CHRIST IS FULLY AND COMPLETELY PERFECT HUMAN.
      • JESUS CHRIST IS NOT TWO PERSONS BUT ONE.
      • JESUS CHRIST IN HIS HUMANITY IS LIKE US IN EVERY WAY,  SAVE HE IS WITHOUT SIN.

Earlier we said, the Godhead is a perfect community of love shared between the THREE Persons of the Trinity.  The Incarnation is also about sharing and participation.  Christ shares our humanity, even to death on the cross.  This act of perfect Love enables us, in Christ, through His Spirit to participate in the life of God.  We are called to intimate communion, even friendship with our Lord.  The entire history of Christ in the world can be summed up in one word ENCOUNTER.  Through Him, in Him and with Him, we encounter the Living God.  Christ assumed our human nature and our human body.  He transformed them with the Glory of God and showed us the true original beauty of our created potential.  He presents it to His Father, wholly transfigured, so that we might share in the Nature of God.

This is the reason why the Word of God was made flesh, and the Son of God became the Son of Man: so that we could enter into communion with the Word of God and by receiving adoption might become the Sons of God.  Indeed, we should not be able to share in immortality without a close union with the Immortal.

                                                                                                St. Ireneaus of Lyons

In Christ, we are called to KNOW the Father.  This knowledge is the prayer of Christ before his crucifixion.  His Resurrection abolished the hold which death had on us since our fall.  His Accession granted us an intercessor at the Throne of God.  At Pentecost, He asks the Father to send His Spirit to continue His Presence among us.  His Second Coming will give the righteous immortality and perfect communion with God.  These words of prayer explain our relationship to God the Holy Trinity. 

My hope is the Father, 

My refuge is the Son.

 My Protection is the Holy Spirit,

O Holy Trinity – Glory to You.

                                            St. Ioannikios the Great

Christ is Risen!
Fr. George

 

“With the Fear of God, with Faith and Love, Draw near”

 

“With Fear of God with Faith and Love… ”

During Great Lent we are given the medicine of eternity, Holy Communion, not only on Sunday or Saturday, but during the week at each Pre-Sanctified Liturgy.  At every Divine Liturgy, we are called to partake of Christ with the  words: “With the Fear of God, with Faith and Love draw near” The fear of God is not the type of fear that means we are petrified and so terrified of God that we quake and live in horror; instead this “fear” is awe, reverence and veneration.  We know the holiness of God as Trinity and our separation from Him caused by our own sinfulness. This awe requires us to look at ourselves honestly and to understand the great gulf between us and Our Lord.  But, there is more to the invitation to the Chalice than fear. There are two more phrases that we need to consider. 

With faith!  How can we approach God without faith?  We understand the great gulf between us, but faith can overcome this separation.  This faith is faith in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, Our Lord becoming one of us; truly God and truly Man.  This faith is a faith in His great mercy. His love and mercy for His creation is so great that  He put on our humanity through the Theotokos and by the Holy Spirit. His love for us allows us to relate personally to Him. He assumed our nature to decrease the separation between us.  This mystery is beyond our understanding. The result of His love for us is to lessen the “fear” we have of Him, but to increase the awe we have in our hearts for His great love for us. How can we fear a God who loves us so much as to become man for our salvation?  Can we live in dread of someone who is there waiting for us to reach out to Him. He waits so that His strength supports us in every moment of our weakness no matter what that is.  With faith, we are certain that He is our gentle shepherd who searches us out when we’re lost and carries us on His shoulders when we’re too weak to walk to Him. This faith is a faith in God’s love for us. This faith is an assurance of Christ’s continued presence among us, His people. 

When we realize Christ is there in the chalice waiting for us, there is only one response – Love.  Love for God, a burning desire for Him to be the centre of our life.  With the invitation of the Church, we are called to partake and become one with Him. Not only are we invited to become one with Him,  but also to become one with all who share in His Cup. This is true love, to become part of each other. Love is only love when it is shared with another. Christ became one of us and shared our nature because of His love. By sharing Him, we share in each other. It is a miracle of His love that we enter into an intimate relationship with each other as a community of faith.  As we partake of Holy Communion, “With the fear of God,  with Faith and Love,” not only do we draw near to Christ; but equally near to each other. The closeness of this bond is the unity that makes us the Church, Body of Christ with one head – Our Lord God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Answer the invitation!  Let us meet Christ and each other at His Cup of Love each time we are prepared to be one with Him.  Have a blessed Great Lent!

Yours in His Love…… Fr. George

The Nativity in the Flesh of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ

For Orthodox, the true image of God and the true nature of man are revealed in history by one event.  God has revealed Himself to us in Christ.  Through the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, Christ accomplishes this by His Incarnation in the Flesh.  The Incarnation of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, reveals the image of the Father to the world and only through Him, in the Holy Spirit, can we KNOW God the Father (St. John 17, 25-26).  The hymn of Christmas, by St. Romanos the Melodist, summarizes the theology of incarnation with this phrase, “A new born child; God before the Ages”. 

The Incarnation is an act of GOD out of love.  It is an act of God identifying with our nature and of sharing His Nature with us.  The nature of God as Trinity was the topic of the first two Ecumenical Councils; the next five great Councils dealt with who is Jesus and what is His relationship to us, His creation.

  • JESUS CHRIST IS FULLY AND COMPLETELY PERFECT GOD.
  • JESUS CHRIST IS FULLY AND COMPLETELY PERFECT MAN.
  • JESUS CHRIST IS NOT TWO PERSONS BUT ONE.
  • JESUS CHRIST IN HIS HUMANITY IS LIKE US IN EVERY WAY, SAVE HE IS WITHOUT SIN.

Our God as Trinity  is a perfect community of love shared between the Three Persons of one essence.  The Incarnation is also about sharing and participation.  Christ shares our humanity, even to death on the cross.  This act of perfect love enables us, in Christ, through His Spirit to participate in the life of God.  We are called to intimate communion, even friendship with our Lord.  The entire history of Christ in the world can be summed up in one word ENCOUNTER.  Through Him,  in Him and with Him, we encounter the Living God.  Christ assumed our human nature and our human body.  He transformed them with the Glory of God and showed us the true original beauty of our created potential.  In His Ascension He present our humanity  to His Father, wholly transfigured, so that we might share in the Nature of God. As we celebrate the great miracle of Christ’s incarnation let us allow Christ to be born in our hearts as He was born in that humble manger in a cave. By allowing Christ to be born within us we can become His presence in the  world to love our fellow human beings as He loves us. 

Ria and I wish you and your families a blessed Nativity and a joyous 2021. God Bless Fr. G 

Basic Question

Do I know what the Church is? 

This might at first appear to be a foolish questions to ask and I do not ask it lightly. This fundamental question is most appropriate as we prepare to welcome Christ being born in the world. Most adults in the Church are too embarrassed to admit what we don’t understand or what we don’t know. For many of us asking ourselves this question we really must answer, “I don’t truly know what the Church is!” We might answer it is a place I go to pray or a place I go to be with other Orthodox Christians. The basic truth of our faith is that our God is a personal God who humbly came to earth, being born in a manger, so that each of us could enjoy a personal relationship with Him. This is the miracle of Bethlehem. Knowing this, the most basic question we should ask to help answer the question: “What is the Church?” is another question: “Do I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” 

Through God’s Holy Spirit, we are no longer lonely individuals. We become personally united with Christ and through Him with each other. The Church transcends time and space. It has cosmic dimensions that connects us with Christ and all our fellow Orthodox Christians. This bond is not limited even by physical death. The Church is Christ and all who are joined with him.  This miracle is the mystery of faith.  As St. Paul explains in his letter to the Hebrews: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen” (Hebrews 11, 1). We cannot see the Church, yet it is! It is for us the ultimate reality, the Kingdom of God on earth and a foretaste of heaven. This is as personal a relationship as we can experience. This is the answer to the ultimate question that makes the Church a reality in our lives. Once again, St. Paul says it best, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”    

 After His Crucifixion and Resurrection and Ascension, Our Lord sent His Holy Spirit to empower us; so that we could truly live our life with Him. With our Baptism, we become new creatures in Christ. At our Chrismation, we are given, as a free gift, His Spirit to allow us to grow in Him.  By partaking in Holy Communion, we become united to Christ. The added dimension is that we are also united to everyone who participates in His Body and His Blood. The Church is actualized when we, as the faithful, come together and become the Body of Christ. This is the mystery that began in that manger in the cave of Bethlehem.  As His Nativity approaches, let us look to Christ to enlighten us to truly be the Church, to have Christ born in our hearts as He was born of the Virgin. Only in this way can we know Him and know within our being that we are the Church. 

I pray you all have a blessed Nativity.  May Our Lord continue to bless you, your family and all of us. ….Fr G

Clergy at Risk

As you know I have only recently been ordained into the Holy Priesthood. As the son, nephew and cousin of priests, I can attest to the truth of this article. I know and respect George Stavros who  is the  Clinical Associate Professor of Pastoral Psychology and serves as the Executive Director of the Danielsen Institute at Boston University. He is a a world authority and expert in this field. He is also a devoted family man and pious Orthodox Christian.  As you interact with your parish priest please be aware of the demands on his time and the effect on his family. God Bless…..fr g

Eastern Orthodox Clergy: An At-Risk Population

 

 

St. Theodore the Studite

Today our Holy Church commemorates the feast of St. Theodore the Studite. I feel a special closeness to St. Theodore. He was a leading voice that loudly called for the use of icons in the Church. He lived in the latter part of the 8th century and the early part of the 9th. century. This was the time that the Church was torn apart by the controversy concerning the use of Holy Icons. This controversy was divided into two distinct period. The first period was that time prior to the 7th Ecumenical Council (Nicaea II). The great writer in defense of Icons of this time was St. John of Damascus. After the Council, there was a resurgence of iconoclasm lead by the Emperors Constantine V and Leo V.  During this time Theodore, the abbott of the Studium Monastery of Constantinople rose up and wrote a wonderful treatise “On the Holy Icons,” which is available in translation for all to appreciate. Additionally, Theodore wrote many hymns used during Great Lent and other feast of the church year. His many  letters are  also available for us to really get to know this great monastic father.  Theodore suffered torture and pain for icons and stood his ground in spite of all the forces against him. He renewed monastic rules and these rules are used by Orthodox monasteries all over the world today.  May the strength and faith of St. Theodore guide us and may he always intercede to our Lord on our behalf.    

Apolytikion of Theodore the Studite

Plagal of the Fourth Tone

You are a guide of Orthodoxy, a teacher of piety and modesty, a luminary of the world, the God inspired pride of monastics. O wise Theodore, you have enlightened everyone by your teachings. You are the harp of the Spirit. Intercede to Christ our God for the salvation of our souls.

Kontakion of Theodore the Studite

Second Tone

Ascetic in truth and equal to the Angel’s life, thy life was made bright with contests and martyric trials; and the holy Angels’ companion was thou, Theodore, blest of God; now together with them, O Saint, thou ceaselessly prayest Christ in our behalf.