Christian Dogma and Defending God's Truth
by Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas and the South
On the SEVENTH SUNDAY OF PASCHA, Orthodox Christians commemorate the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council held in the city of Nicea in the year 325 A.D. At this gathering of bishops the Alexandrian priest Arius and the heresy of Arianism were officially condemned. Arius and his followers falsely taught that our Lord Jesus Christ was created by God and inferior to Him.
Members of this revered Council sought to protect the Orthodox doctrine and experience of Christ as being, "Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, of one essence with the Father, by Whom all things were made" (Nicene Creed).
It is a matter of record that the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church has always concerned herself with doctrine, articulating and defining as clearly as possible the divinely revealed truths about God and man. Modern religious thought, however, has a dislike for dogma, and frequently accuses the Church of dividing men with her strict adherence to her teachings; for her condemnation of what is wrong, heterodox; and for the willingness of her members to die for the truth. She is condemned for living in the past, and there are those who say that she is not prepared to meet modern crises and to offer men the solution to their problems. Individuals tell us to adjust ourselves to our surroundings, accept the least common denominator of dogma, and change our morality and ethics to fit changing social conditions. The condemnations and criticisms come from an imperfect understanding of human nature, of what man is and of man's relation to His Creator. The assumption is that man lives in a world totally different from the world into which Jesus Christ was born and lived His earthly life. It is said that possibly the Church was the answer for the state of the world in the last days of the pagan Roman Empire, but that now we face a different situation; that spiritual man must have a new, up-to-date, twentieth century solution to his problems.
This, of course, represents a very superficial view of man and the problems of life, of man's destiny. Many stress that man is making progress, with the great god of scientific discovery as his guide; that he no longer has need of the Church and the Church's God (as He has been traditionally understood), because man has learned to depend on and have confidence in himself. It takes little investigation, however, to discover that the problems of the individual today are not at all different from the problems of the individual 1998 years ago. Each person ministered unto by our Lord as recorded in the Holy Gospels has his or her parallel in modern society.
The Church teaches that there is an Absolute, Almighty, Good, Just, Loving God, Who revealed His truth to His chosen men. That truth has been preserved in Christ's Church, which He Himself established, and that truth does not change. God's answer to the problems of man is love: love of God and one's fellow man. His Church offers that answer to a suffering world, and there are probably very few fair-minded individuals who would deny that if we had love we would not have wars, crime, strife, deception, hatred and all that goes along with these. God proved His love by giving Himself for man, and in man's terms: He allowed His human life to be taken by His own creatures. This is the supreme sacrifice of love. The acceptance of and dedication to that sacrifice is the Church's reason for being.
This is why the Church so jealously guards, in all its purity, the deposit of faith left by our Lord during His earthly stay. This is why she condemns and will continue to condemn novelties (such as Arianism) that detract from the Person of Jesus Christ and His mission. The whole structure of the Christian Church is summed up in the precious document left to us by the first two Ecumenical Councils of the Church, which we call the Nicene Creed, and which we reaffirm each time we celebrate, in the Divine Liturgy, that supreme mystery of God's love for man. This is the only "least common denominator" for the Christian Church. We cannot deny or doubt any one of its truths. The forces of the enemy are at work to destroy the foundation of the Church, for in changing even one of the Church's fundamental principles, we run the risk of denying all of them.
The task of the Christian in our day is to declare, unflinchingly, that he accepts the truth of God, once delivered to the saints; that it is the guiding principle of his life; that he is wholly dedicated to it, no matter how attractive the world and all its pomp may be at times. We Christians must live in an atmosphere of love, for that is what our Lord tells us to do. We must show by our example that God's solution to man's problems is as workable now as it ever was. We must teach, but we must first learn our own lesson. Remember the words of our Lord: "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick and it giveth light to all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 5:14-16) These words give us an occasion to stop and think: We are told that as members of Christ's Church we are the light of the world — without the Church, all is darkness. Our good example will illumine those around us. If we have God's love for mankind in our hearts, we will be the most dynamic force possible, we will influence everyone we come into contact with. And in order to accomplish this we might not even have to open our mouths — "that they may see your good works and glorify God …"
If we Christians are to bring love to the world — which is our task — we must start to work in our own house. The first step toward the realization of our destiny is humility; awareness that we are members of the Mystical Body of Christ; that we are not proud, justified, or superior, but we are dependent upon one another. There must be a humble acceptance of the Church and her perfection, she teaches no error. The Holy Spirit, Who descended at Pentecost is the guarantee of that. We must love one another that with one accord we may confess, "Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity, one in essence and undivided."
The Church is one, and the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one, just as our Lord prayed: "Holy Father, keep them in Thy Name, those whom Thou has given Me: that they may be one as We are one" (John 17:11).
From The Dawn Publication of the Diocese of the South
Orthodox Church in America May 1998