The Doctrine of Creation
by Fr. Thomas Hopko
... Maker of Heaven and Earth…
The Orthodox Church believes that God the Father is the “Creator of Heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.”
To create means to make out of nothing; to bring into existence that which before did not exist; or, to quote the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom once more: “to bring from non-existence into being.”
The Orthodox doctrine of creation is that God has brought everything and everyone which exists from non-existence into being. The Scriptural description of creation is given primarily in the first chapter of Genesis. The main doctrinal point about creation is that God alone is uncreated and ever-existing. Everything which exists besides God was created by Him. God, however, did not create everything individually and all at once, so to speak. He created the first foundations of existence, and then over periods of time (perhaps millions of years, see 2 Pet 3:8) this first foundation of existence-by the power which God had given to it—brought forth the other creatures of God:
Let the earth put forth vegetation… let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures… let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds ...” (Gen 1:19, 20, 24)
Thus, although God is certainly the creator of everything. He acts gradually in time and by means of things previously made by Him to which He has given life-producing potencies and powers.
According to the Orthodox Faith, everything that God makes is “very good”: the heavens, the earth, the plants, the animals, and finally man himself (Gen 1:31). God is pleased with creation and has made it for no other purpose than to participate in His own divine, uncreated existence and to live by His own divine “breath of life” (Gen 1:30; 2:7).
By the Word of the Lord
the heavens were made,
and all their host by the
breath [or Spirit] of His mouth.
He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle;
He put the deeps in storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord,
let all the inhabitants of the world
stand in awe of Him!
For He spoke, and it came to be
He commanded, and it was made!
In the above-quoted verses as well as in the account of Genesis we must notice the presence and action of God’s Word and God’s Spirit. God the Father makes all that exists by means of His Divine Word—“for He spoke and it came to be”—and by His Divine Spirit who “moved upon the face of the waters” (Gen 1:2). We see already a glimpse of the Holy Trinity to be fully revealed in the New Testament when the Word becomes flesh and when the Holy Spirit comes personally to the disciples of Jesus on the day of Pentecost.
We must make special notice as well of the goodness of the created physical world. There is no dualism in Orthodox Christianity. There is no teaching that “spirit” is good and “matter” is bad, that “heaven” is good and the “earth” is evil. God loves His entire material creation with His eternal love and, as we shall see, when the physical creation is mined by sin He does everything in His power to save it.
Loving the whole of His good creation, God the Father dwells within the world that He has made because of His goodness and love for man. The omnipresence of God is one of the divine attributes of the Creator particularly stressed in Orthodox Christian teaching. This fact is directly affirmed in the prayer to the Spirit of God which is used as the opening prayer of Orthodox worship:
O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, who art everywhere and fillest all things. Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life! Come and abide in us. And cleanse us from every impurity. And save our souls, O Good One!
The fact that Christians pray: Our Father who art in heaven… (or, literally, “in the heavens”) is also an affirmation of the fact that God is present everywhere, for wherever men move on the face of the earth, over the seas or in the air, the heavens surround them with the presence of God. The Lord Jesus Christ, in order to have men realize that the true God, His Father, is not bound to one or another particular place, as were the pagan gods, teaches men to pray to the Father “in the heavens.” For the one true and living God is present to all, over all, embracing and encompassing all with His heavenly care and protection. The God who is “over all” is also “through all and in all” (Eph 4:5). By His Word and His Holy Spirit, God “fills all in all” (Eph I :10, 23).
Thus, the Apostle Paul also proclaimed to the Athenians, that whether men realize it or not, “in Him we live and move and have our being,” for “He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27-28). It is this fact of God’s omnipresence in His creation, and our own presence in and to Him, that is witnessed to so beautifully in Psalm 138:
Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from Thy Presence? If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, Thou art there
If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Thy hand shall lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Let only darkness cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to Thee, the night is bright as the day; for darkness is as light with Thee! (Ps 138:7-12)
From:The Orthodox Faith by Fr. Thomas Hopko