The Doctrine of God
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- Written by Fr. Thomas Hopko
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The Doctrine of God
by Fr. Thomas Hopko
... One God, the Father Almighty…
The fundamental faith of the Christian Church is in the one true and living God.
Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one God; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be placed upon your heart, and you shall teach them to your children, and you shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise…” (Deut 6:4-8).
These words from the Law of Moses are quoted by Christ as the first and greatest commandment (Mk 12:29). They follow upon the listing of the Ten Commandments which begin, “I am the Lord your God… you shall have no other gods besides me” (Deut 5:6-7).
The one Lord and God of Israel revealed to man the mystery of his name.
And Moses said… “...if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
God also said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, ‘Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob has sent me to you: this is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.’” (Ex 3:13-15)
God’s name is Yahweh which means I AM WHO I AM; or I AM WHAT I AM; or I AM WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE; or simply I AM. He is the true and living God, the only God. He is faithful and true to his people. He reveals to them His divine and holy Word. He gives to them his divine and holy Spirit. He is called Adonai: the Lord; and his holy name of Yahweh is never mentioned by the people because of its awesome sacredness. Only the high priest, and only once a year, and only in the holy of holies of the Jerusalem Temple dared to utter the divine name of Yahweh. On all other occasions Yahweh is addressed as the Almighty Lord, as the Most High God, as the Lord God of Hosts.
According to the Scriptures and the experience of the saints of both the old and new testaments, Yahweh is absolutely holy. This means literally that He is absolutely different and unlike anything or anyone else that exists (Holy literally means totally separated, different, other).
According to the Biblical-Orthodox tradition, even to say that “God exists” must be qualified by the affirmation that He is so unique and so perfect that His existence cannot be compared to any other. In this sense God is “above existence” or “above being.” Thus, there would be great reluctance according to Orthodox doctrine to say that God “is” as everything else “is” or that God is simply the “supreme being” in the same chain of “being” as everything else that is.
In this same sense the Orthodox doctrine holds that God’s unity or oneness is also not merely equivalent to the mathematical or philosophical concept of “one”; nor is his life, goodness, wisdom, and all powers and virtues ascribed to Him merely equivalent to any idea, even the greatest idea, which man can have about such reality.
However, having warned about an overly-clear or overly-positivistic concept or idea of God, the Orthodox Church—on the basis of the living experience of God in the saints—still makes the following affirmations: God may certainly be said to exist perfectly and absolutely as the one who is perfect and absolute life, goodness, truth, love, wisdom, knowledge, unity, purity, joy, simplicity; the perfection and superperfection of everything that man knows as holy, true, and good. It is this very God who is confessed formally in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom as “...God, ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever-existing and eternally the same.”
It is this God—the Yahweh of Israel—whom Jesus Christ has claimed to be His Father. God Almighty is known as “Father” through His son Jesus Christ. Jesus taught man to call the Almighty Lord God of Hosts by the title of Father. Before Jesus no one dared to pray to God with the intimate name of Father. It was Jesus who said, “Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven ...”
Jesus could call God Father because He is God’s only-begotten Son. Christians can call God Father because through Christ they receive the Holy Spirit and become themselves sons of God.
For when the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (or, so that we all might be made sons). And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying “Abba! Father!” So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir [of the Kingdom of God].
(Gal 4:4-7, The Christmas Epistle Reading in the Orthodox Church)
Thus no man is naturally a son of God and no man can easily call God Father. We can only do so because of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit. And so we say in the Orthodox Divine Liturgy:
And make us worthy, O Master, that with boldness and without condemnation, we may dare to call upon Thee, the Heavenly God as Father and to say : Our Father, who art in heaven…
In contemplating the revelation of God our Father in the life of His people in the Old Testament and in the life of the Church in the New Testament, certain attributes and properties of God can be grasped by men. First of all, it can be clearly seen that God is Love, and that in all of His actions in and toward the world, God the Father expresses His nature as Love through Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the expiation for our sins.
So we know and believe that love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1 Jn 4:11 -16)
... God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us (Rom 5:5).
Being the God who is Love, our Father in heaven does all that He can for the life and salvation of man and the world. He does this because He is merciful and kind, longsuffering and compassionate, willing to forgive and to pardon man’s sins so that man might share in the life and love of God. These gracious attributes of God are recalled in the scriptural psalmody normally chanted at the beginning of the divine liturgy in the Church.
Bless the Lord, O my soul! And forget not all His benefits! Who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases! The Lord is compassionate and merciful, long suffering and of great goodness! (Ps 102).
From:The Orthodox Faith by Fr. Thomas Hopko