Queen and Mother

Recent posts have discussed the divine council of angelic beings which surround the throne of God, the way in which certain individuals in the Old Testament were exalted to join that council, and the way the saints in Christ become members of the divine council, sharing by grace in Christ’s rule over his whole creation.  Within these themes, and the mediatory role of the saints and their patronage, the Theotokos, Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ, has a special role, as has been recognized within the Christian faith from the very beginning.  The veneration of the Theotokos in the West developed in ways which ultimately produced Marian dogmas which the Orthodox Church does not recognize.  In response to these developments,…

The Saints in Glory

The word which we commonly read in English translation as ‘saint’ or ‘saints’, derived from the Latin ‘sanctus’, translates the Greek word ‘agios’ (plural ‘agiois’) which is seen constantly in the inscriptions of iconography.  In the New Testament, this word is used to describe both the worshipping community of the church in its sojourn on earth and the ‘dead in Christ’ (cf. Acts 9:13, 32, 41, Rom 1:7, 12:13, 1 Cor 14:33, 2 Cor 9:12, Eph 2:19).  This Greek term is actually the substantive form of the adjective ‘holy’, and could simply be translated ‘holy one’ or ‘holy ones’.  The reason it has traditionally been translated as ‘saints’ is to indicate that by the time of the New Testament, the…

Humans in the Divine Council

In last week’s post, God’s divine council, the angelic beings surrounding his throne with whom He shares graciously his governance of the heavens and the earth, was introduced.  There are several ways in which human persons in the Old Testament encounter and interact with the divine council.  These encounters and modes of interaction lay the groundwork for a transformed relationship in the New Covenant, which will be the subject of next week’s post.  Simply put, every encounter with God the Father in the Old Testament is mediated either through God the Son, as was discussed in a previous series on this blog, or by angelic beings, as will be discussed here. Though these encounters are far from common, the most…

God’s Divine Council

In the scriptures, when the hosts of angels, archangels, thrones, dominions, virtues, principalities, powers, cherubim and seraphim are described, they are described using predominately one of two metaphors.  The first of these has already been used here in the previous sentence, that of the ‘heavenly hosts’.  This reference to the multitude of angelic beings forms one of the names given to the God of Israel in the Old Testament, Yahweh Sabaoth.  Because of the similarity in English transliteration, this title is often confused with a reference to the Sabbath.  It is not, however, the Hebrew words ‘shabat’.  Rather, it is the plural substantive form of the verb ‘tsavah’.  This is the verb that is used in Genesis 1, for example,…

Who Wrote the Bible and Why Does it Matter?

The first question in this post’s title may seem an obvious area of discussion.  There have been articles, books, and documentaries with the title ‘Who Wrote the Bible?’  In any modern commentary on a book of the Bible, a significant amount of space is devoted to discussing the authorship of that book.  Introductions to the Old and New Testaments, the latter in particular, will devote a large portion of their text to various theories of authorship for different texts.  Beyond just the identity of an author for the text, texts of the Old Testament are frequently split into various source documents with various authors then proposed for various portions or layers of the text.  In the debates between liberal and…

Is the Book of Revelation Canonical in the Orthodox Church?

To ask in the present day whether or not any book of the New Testament is truly canonical in the Orthodox Church may seem odd.  While the history of the canonization process of the Old and New Testaments took place over several centuries and is neither neat nor tidy, it is an issue, particularly in the case of the New Testament, which has been settled for more than a millennium at this point.  It is taken for granted that the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and Protestants all share the same list of 27 canonical New Testament books.  Delving into the history of the book of Revelation in particular, however, and the arguments for and against its canonicity, reveals…

Christ in the Apocalypse

The book of Revelation takes its name from the first verse, identifying the text as ‘the Revelation (Apokalypsis) of Jesus Christ’.  This is important to understanding the text.  It is not the revelation of ‘end time’ events in the distant future.  It is not the revelation of esoteric spiritual secrets about the cosmos.  It is a revelation of who Jesus Christ truly is.  The Revelation received by St. John is a communication from Christ to seven churches in Asia Minor, who are facing persecution, schism, compromise, and heresy.  In answer to all of these difficulties faced by his people, Revelation proclaims the divine identity of Christ, who he is, what he has done, and what he shortly will do when…

Christ in the General Epistles

The ‘general’ or ‘catholic’ epistles are a group of texts within the New Testament consisting of the epistles of James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, and Jude.  These are a group of texts which are too often neglected for several reasons.  They are relatively short texts, which means though they are part of the Orthodox lectionary, they tend to be moved through very quickly, and mostly on weekdays in the regular lectionary cycle.  While the Pauline epistles share a common background and theological purpose, the general epistles are extremely eclectic.  James, for example, has little in common with the others.  Based on biographical information in the Acts of the Apostles and his own biographical comments in…

St. Paul the Mystic

As a bridge between the discussion of Christ in St. Paul’s epistles and Christ in the General Epistles, it is important to discuss a second factor in St. Paul’s understanding of Christ as God.  This concerns the oft-neglected area of St. Paul’s own personal practices of prayer and piety, and how this relates to both his vision of the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, in his call to be an apostle, and to his own direct knowledge of Christ as God.  While the previous post discussed St. Paul’s identification of the second hypostasis of Israel’s God as the person of Jesus Christ based on Second Temple Jewish tradition, this one will focus on the epistemological issue of how…

Christ in St. Paul’s Epistles

The Christology presented in the letters of St. Paul is particularly important to an understanding of the viewpoint of the New Testament as a whole, in that St. Paul’s epistles are the earliest documents, the first written, that discuss who Christ is.  Though obviously these letters were written after the events described in the gospels and, in most cases, the events described in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul’s written exhortations to the nascent Christian communities which he had established precede the setting down of the gospel accounts in writing.  If there was indeed some sort of ‘development’ of the understanding or the idea of Christ, from a ‘lower’ to a ‘higher’ Christology, one would expect to find in…