Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Christian Dogmatics and About God

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II. On faith


    In the previous lesson we completed our examination of cognizance. And of course with respect to the cognizance of God, we shall repeat the basic points, because they are related to the things we shall be discussing today.  I would like to remind you that cognizance (knowledge) has an ontological content, which means that it includes the identity of beings; that is, I acknowledge the existence of a being.


         This kind of identification, of recognition of a being’s existence: that this being exists and not another; that this is this, and not another; that this here is this table, and not the other table.  “Identifying” does not simply imply that this being is a being, but that it is this being and not any other being. We furthermore said that knowledge, as a means of identification of beings, is two kinds:


a)           It is the knowledge of things, i.e., of beings which appear as objects before us, which are given, which we identify because we are compelled to identify them; we identify them, we recognize them, by the method of isolating them from other objects; by describing their characteristic attributes based on the broader experience which we have.  We place them inside a lattice of relationships, along with other objects that we recognize, so that, from “things”, we make them “utilities”, which we can utilize.  This kind of knowledge cannot apply to God, for the obvious reasons that were explained.


b)           We now look at the other kind of knowledge, which we described as the knowledge pertaining to persons, that is, the identifying of a being in a state of freedom and love. “In a state of freedom” means that this being does not compel us to acknowledge its presence; that although it has certain characteristics and attributes which we may recognize, it willingly reveals its presence to us, and we likewise willingly identify it and acknowledge its existence. Knowledge is not forced on us in this case; we acquire this knowledge in a state of independence. “In a state of love” means that we acquire this identification of the other, within a loving relationship.  The other being is absolutely essential to our own existence; it is an existential inter-dependence. Thus, we come to know someone – God in this case – not in the form of an impersonal power that imposes His presence on us because of His attributes – His powers, let’s say – but, we come to know Him as a person Who comprises part of a loving relationship that is an integral and necessary part of our very existence.  And we subsequently recognize Him because He willingly reveals Himself and not because we are led there by our knowledge of the world (as in Platonism), or because of a logical observation or persuasion. It is not about a knowledge derived from a logical persuasion.


    We also said that this knowledge of God is offered to us within a loving relationship in which God is identified eternally, He is known eternally, despite us and despite the world; and this loving relationship is the relationship between the Father and the Son.  We therefore identify God in Christ, in the Son alone, by becoming a part of this existing relationship ourselves.  Only the Son knows the Father.  Whether in essence or by nature, we cannot know God, nor should we seek to thus know Him, because that would imply knowing Him compulsorily, i.e., based on His attributes. This is what is implied, when we say that God is known by Christ only. But because this method of knowing God also involves the factor of love, of a loving relationship, God is consequently known within the framework of a community that is created by the Holy Spirit, and that is why we cannot get to know God without Christ and without the Holy Spirit, Who shapes this lattice of loving relationships into a community.


         On the basis of these observations, we shall proceed to examine the meaning of faith; starting from today, we shall examine the main elements of Dogmatics, as presented in the Symbol of Faith (the Creed). This structure of Dogmatics is the only correct structure. If we stray from this structure, we systematize the dogmas on the basis of logical categories, e.g., when we have dogmatic concepts such as “salvation” etc., and we process all these meanings and make them part of a system, Dogmatics becomes a system of logic. However, if we examine the Creed, which, as we said, is not a logical structure, but is a structure based on existential relations that are introduced from the moment of baptism, and especially during the divine Eucharist, then we can consider ourselves on safe ground.


    Well, the Creed – the Symbol of Faith - commences with “I believe…..”.  What is the meaning behind “I believe”?  The problem with the relationship between knowledge and faith as you probably know, is one of the basic problems; but, the overall problematics behind it have their roots in certain prerequisites that developed in the West, which do not apply to us. The matter of knowledge and faith is for many a dilemma. You either know, or you believe. Whoever believes, forsakes knowledge : this is the dilemma of  “believe, and do not inquire” that is often quoted. There is a perception that knowledge precedes faith, or the reverse; that faith precedes knowledge and that at any rate it seeks the logic therein, as Augustine had said. This same theme, is a variation on the problem which, in a way, we have already touched on, i.e., if love precedes knowledge or knowledge love. In other words, can we love something that we do not know?


The point had already been raised by Augustine. An answer was also given, and it had become prevalent in the West, to be later developed by Thomas Aquinatus in person, as well as by other, major Western thinkers.  Their stance was that if you don’t know, you cannot love; that we cannot love something that we know nothing about. Therefore, philosophically this would mean that the relationship that we create with a being, must have the prerequisite of objective recognition of that being. All of this, rests on the premise that knowledge is a matter of mental conception, while love is something emotional.


    But, we saw in the previous lessons that things are not like that for us; that in other words, you cannot know unless you love, as we saw in the Apostle Paul, in John’s 1st Epistle, etc.  However, we must elucidate this somehow, because it isn’t proper to distinguish between knowledge preceding love, or love preceding knowledge. This is equally wrong; we do not love, in order to attain knowledge. The correct thing to say – as has become evident from what we have said up to now – is that these two are identical, i.e., that knowledge is love and love is knowledge. Because, when love is comprehended as a relationship between persons, and not as an emotion or a natural attribute, it is then that this relationship is created, in which the other’s identity is revealed. And that is the meaning of “knowledge”: the revealing, the recognition of a being’s identity.  Hence, knowledge becomes actual, through a relationship of this kind, either through love, or with love, or within love. It follows that knowledge and love do not oppose one another; neither does one precede the other, however, they do relate to one another.


One could say the same about faith. Faith and knowledge are basically related. They are the same thing. Let us examine this more detail. I would like us to firstly bear in mind the historical prerequisites of that which we call “Symbol of Faith”. We have to refer back to the first lessons once again, basically to the liturgical experience of the Church.

What does “I believe” signify, within the framework of the Symbol of Faith?



    As you may perhaps know, during the ancient Church’s baptismal rite that was delivered to us in the 2nd century by Justinian (and later by Cyril of Jerusalem in more detail), in order for someone to be baptized, they must first be submitted to certain exorcisms; these exorcisms were accompanied by an invitation to the person being baptized to turn away from the West, and to face the East. This is a very important liturgical rite, because it denotes an act of reversal, of changing one’s position, from West to East. Further along, we shall see what meaning this about-face towards the East carries. However, the reversal itself signifies that in order for a person to declare “I believe”, he must firstly change his stance towards beings. Consequently, Faith is basically a stance that a person takes towards existence, and this stance is most assuredly the opposite of the stance that he takes with his biological existence. When man is born, he takes a stance towards life, towards beings, towards God. Well, this must be overturned, and afterwards, the about-face towards the East will take place (we shall see what this means).


You most certainly cannot say “I believe”, if you remain fixed in the same direction that you have taken from the moment of your biological birth.


Before analyzing this matter of “towards the East”, let’s take a look at the other basic aspect of this liturgical rite, which is, that the words “I believe” are in actual fact a response to a question. They can never be something that originates on its own, from whichever stance or whichever thought or placement that man may personally have. One must reply, to a question that is posed by others. The others, who pose the question, are the community of the church.  Consequently, it is not possible for a person to state “I believe”, outside the framework of the community of the church. A person cannot develop faith by remaining locked up, alone in his room; it is only possible within the community that poses this question. Thus, the words “I believe” are a reply to a question, and they cannot be presumed to be without a question.


The second basic element is the one that involves the “about-face towards the East”, which we shall see is of immense importance.  As you know, liturgically the East is the direction towards which the prayers of the early Christians were offered, because it is from that direction that Christ’s coming was expected. It was therefore the ultimate - eschatological let’s say – point of reference within the church’s liturgical rites. The turn towards the East therefore signified that we turn towards that point from which we anticipate the End of Time to enter and to materialize. From this aspect, Faith could therefore be viewed as an about-face turn towards the End of Time.


    Now note carefully how, on the basis of these observations, the definition of the term “faith” becomes more comprehensible, as seen in the Epistle to Hebrews.  You know that the only systematic definition of “faith” that we have, is the one found in the Epistle to Hebrews, chapter 11 verse (a) :  “…faith is the substance/hypostasis of things hoped for, and the grasping of things not visible..”.


What do we see in this verse, in this definition of faith?  Well, exactly those elements that I have tried to describe and shall analyze again.  The first element is that faith is knowledge.  It is an existential identification.  Notice how the author uses the word substance - ‘Hypostasis’: “…faith is the substance…” .  The Hypostasis is an existential expression. We can translate it, with exactly that which I named existential identification; that something actually does exist; that it is precisely this, and not something else.  It was because of this interpretation of Hypostasis, that the term was officially included in the 4th century Dogmatics. Therefore, when we say that faith is hypostatical, we mean that with faith we can acquire recognition, or identification, of a being.  And naturally, “…of things” – or, similarly, of points in the same direction, ontologically.


But the second element is that this knowledge, this identification, this hypostasis, is eschatological. It is the “ substance of things hoped for…”, of things that are to come, things that we do not have before us at this moment. Therefore, it is with faith that one turns towards the future, towards the End of Time, and one acknowledges as substantial (notice the term substance) those things that from a physical aspect are without substance.  Hence the second part of the expression, which clarifies the first part : “….. the grasping of things not visible..” , things, which we cannot see – and here, the term “visible” has a certain Platonic background. The Epistle to Hebrews cannot be interpreted in any other way. When he says “ things not visible”, he is placing his finger on the Greeks’ focal point of knowledge, which was vision. Vision, therefore, generally means knowledge. The things that can be observed are those that convince us of their existence. Things “not seen” are those that are not subject to scrutiny by the senses in general. Hence, it is not a matter of vision alone, but any kind of scrutiny by the senses. Now, where is the importance here?


   The importance lies in that which I mentioned in an earlier lesson; that, while we cannot claim faith in those things that we can see, i.e., things that can be subjected to scrutiny by our senses (and this is where we must broaden the scope and not limit ourselves to the senses, but must also include logic, i.e., whatever convinces us logically, whatever convinces us through our senses, whatever convinces us objectively), on the contrary, we can claim faith when something convinces us, but not objectively, on account of our being obliged to recognize its existence.  Thus, the notion of freedom once again presents itself, in faith.  We do not believe because we must believe; or because we are obliged to believe. Whatever I said about knowledge previously, the same things apply, to faith.


My presence here is perceived by your senses, by your vision; it is important for you, from the aspect of knowledge. You cannot say that you do not recognize me, or do not identify me ontologically, because it is imposed on you by your senses; it is a compulsory knowledge for you. This is due to the fact that knowledge can be grasped; my substance/hypostasis is grasped by your senses, or by the senses of your mind - by your reasoning. Whichever the case, whether by reasoning or by the senses, that which is important, is that you cannot avoid acknowledging the hypostasis of a being, therefore, based on the definition in Hebrews, this cannot be called “Faith”.


Faith, therefore, is not something that the nature of things imposes on us as compulsory knowledge, nor is it something that is imposed on us by experience or by history; instead, it is that which comes to us as a hypostasis from the hereafter; it does not come from within history, or experience, or from the “not visible”. Which means that faith is not derived from things governed by nature and the senses.


In other words, faith calls upon us to take a leap beyond compulsory knowledge. We cannot combine these two things. And this compulsory knowledge is a very sensitive thing, because it can also have a psychological inference in which case, faith can be interpreted as trust between two persons. A child trusts its mother. Would we call this faith?  This is not what the term implies here, because this trust springs from a natural and empirical cause. The child has become convinced that its mother naturally loves it. From as early as gestation, the maternal filter has convinced it that its mother cares for it, and it is thus convinced empirically when it sees the dawn of life, where again the mother is there to take care of it. This is why a child cannot be fooled as to who loves it and who doesn’t.  It has tremendous intuition that comes from a grasping of “things not visible”, but very well “perceived”.


Obviously, this kind of trust cannot comprise the definition of faith; it is just plain trust, which is the way many people often perceive faith. 


I would say it is something much more dramatic. The dramatic thing about faith is that you are actually executing a giant leap, or a turn.  What happens then? Your basis, your hypostasis, no longer reside in those things that nature offers you as secure and governable things.  Hence, your faith is not supported on the prior experience of these already confirmed things; it comes from that turnabout, towards things that cannot be grasped by the senses.


Faith, therefore, involves a non-support of our security, of our substance, by anything that can be grasped logically by our senses or our experience, because that would comprise a form of compulsion.  From a positive viewpoint, it means placing our security in whatever cannot be grasped by our senses and cannot be confirmed by our experience.  And when I say experience, I am referring to historical experience, as well as psychological experience, which may be pursuant to faith, but is not a presupposition and a basis for faith.


This lifestyle was the one pursued by the first Christians, in a way that is difficult for us to comprehend today.


All these definitions of faith, which we also see in Hebrews and are a taken for granted during the baptismal experience, had the following prerequisites:


    Upon being baptized, and subsequently embracing faith, the first Christians were asked to thoroughly change the basis of their hypostasis. The source of their identity could no longer be found in the things that other people resorted to. This meant chiefly two things, two kinds of relations, which placed them under crisis. And that is why faith was called “crisis”: because they went through this important crisis, this significant turnabout, this turn from the West to the East.


One kind was biological relations. And this is a basic kind, because it is the first thing that gives us a sense of security.  I mentioned the child earlier on. Its security was founded in its physical relations with its parents, with its family. If, therefore, it is removed from inside these relations, and you then ask it to identify itself, to relate itself, or be identified by us, in other words, to be recognized independently of these relations, then you are asking it to be uprooted, to make a change in its hypostasis.


The second kind, which was also determinative for one’s sense of security, for one’s identity, is that of social relations; specifically, the kind that existed between the first Christians, as it still does today, i.e., the political element, or civilian. In other words, imagine a person travelling without a passport; a person who is not acknowledged by any public authorities.  He would the most non-existent person; essentially the most ignored and unrecognized.  He cannot even identify himself; neither can he have a sense of security.  Because security stems from the fact that I belong to a certain community, to a certain country, which can vouch not only for my integrity, but for my very existence – that I indeed exist.  Quite often, one wonders why birth certificates are required. There can be no more obvious thing, than the fact we were born; nevertheless, someone has to certify that we were born, otherwise, without this social factor’s certification of our birth, it would seem that we were never born. Therefore, if we are not recognized by the state, that we belong to it, we have no social basis for security.  Just as if we had no family, no parents, we would have no biological basis.


These two bases are the ones that define our identity, and these are also the governable bases, of things “visible”.


Here is the premise, on which the definition of faith relies, and the first Christians’ experience was of this kind.  They were asked to do two things, with their faith and their baptism. Firstly, they had to forsake even their family. To the extent where we read in the Gospel that “if you do not forsake your kindred, you cannot follow me”, as Christ said. Luke also stresses this point, with these harsh words: “if you do not hate your kindred, you cannot follow me”;  in other words, a complete uprooting. You cannot attain faith unless you uproot yourself from the security provided by your biological hypostasis.


The second thing – which again applied to the first Christians but does not apply to us – is that they had no civilian recognition. It was necessary for Constantine the Great to come along, and bestow legal recognition to Christians. They were – in a way – outcasts, and they lived as outcasts. And that is why Paul says in his Epistle to Hebrews that “we have no permanent city here, but we yearn for the one that is to come”.  This is a paraphrasing of the definition of faith. “City” here implies the constitution. “Our constitution exists in the heavens”.  “We have no city” in this context means that we do not have any civilian hypostasis, we have no identification, we have no passport as Christians.


    With baptism therefore, you lose your passport. You acquire an identity that is not acknowledged by the state as being yours.  And what happens then?  “We yearn for the city that is to come”.  Here we have the eschatological reference. Our “city”, the one that has naturalized us as citizens, the one that gives us our identity, is “yet to come”. It is not yet present.  So, imagine being a naturalized citizen of a city that has not yet established its presence in history. This is indeed faith; this giant leap, the certainty that is acquired that we really do exist, that we really do have an identity which Someone acknowledges Whom we cannot see, and Who promises us certain things in the future and, based on these promises, to believe that you truly have an hypostasis, an identity.


Therefore, this turnabout towards things beyond our control or as yet unconfirmed historically, empirically or biologically, this is the essence of faith. And that is why faith is interwoven with freedom; because, as explained earlier on, this faith does not stem from any certainty governed by logic or experience.  Not even when, through faith, God reveals Himself to us and we become aware of this relationship, and consequently acknowledge it as an experience.  Again, faith must not rely on, or stem from, these empirical experiences. Quite often, despite the absence of any such evidence – or, when God often remains silent and withdrawn and we do not see Him, even in a spiritual experience – that is when faith is true faith: when someone acknowledges that God exists and that His promises are realities, even when experience and logic tell us differently.


We could then say that faith is that giant leap towards a Being, whom we believe loves us, no matter what. Regardless of how much evidence to the opposite we may have, we believe that this Person never abandons us, that it loves us, and that we consider it an inseparable part of our existence, and that we cannot exist otherwise.  Of course we could, as we are free to do so, as we are not objectively obliged to acknowledge His existence; but when we – of our own free will - make this loving relationship part of our existence, we are in fact acknowledging His existence and are hinging our security from it, and not from our experience or any other objective realities.


The first Christians actually made these giant leaps, as a result of which, faith had acquired a special content. The content was the acquisition of an identity that was now given by God, and also an eschatological community; a community that will come into being, in the future.  Therefore, you are not hinging your faith, your security, in any of those things that a state normally supplies, or those things that a family gives you.


That is why it is so important to notice these words, in the Lord’s Prayer : “Our Father, the One in heaven…”. We often demote the meaning of “in heaven”; we bypass it, and simply assume that God is “in heaven”. But, the words “in heaven” contain a reasoning; they stress “in heaven”, as opposed to “on earth”. This must be interpreted in conjunction with other things that Christ had said, such as “…and call no-one on earth your Father; your Father is one, in heaven..”, or “…if you do not abandon your father and your mother…..” All these are one and the same thing; they are a stance that the faithful is asked to take, which calls for hinging one’s security on things that cannot be governed biologically, empirically, or historically, because “in heaven” is not something that can be defined objectively.  This transcendence, this “in heaven”, is the way in which the Hebrews described the transcendence and the independence of God.


Thus, with faith, you are developing a relationship that on one hand connects you to God as a Father, in such a way that you cannot govern God because He is “in heaven”; and on the other hand, a relationship with others, which is not the compulsory sort of relationship that the state or the family imposes.


So this is what the first Christians meant when they said “I believe”. I will repeat the main point: they understood it to mean that they were asked from that day forth – from the day of their baptism – to no longer regard the source of their security or their identity, or even their very hypostasis, as being the state or their family or whatever else is governed by their faculties and by logic; instead, they should regard their source as being God, Who is “in heaven” and not “on earth”, Who cannot be grasped by the senses, and Who surpasses our experience; He and the “future city”, which in essence are the “things hoped for” and not those already acquired.


  At this very point, on the basis of this observation, this definition of faith, a serious issue is immediately raised: What about the historical revelation of God?  Do we have any historical elements – I would say historical “proofs” – of God’s existence?  If we put aside the physical proofs, which are basically pagan, we have no proof of God based on nature, although in a certain sense we do perceive God from nature also, without this being the point on which our faith rests. Doesn’t historical proof ( which was of great importance especially to the Hebrews ) also comprise evidence that supports our faith, as we can see in the Gospel ?  After all, this God in Whom we believe, is not without witness (Acts, 14,17). He did not leave Himself unwitnessed. There are witness accounts of His existence; they are chiefly of historical nature. The fact that He miraculously saves the Israelites from difficult situations is utilized constantly by the Bible, when it says “Do you forsake this God? Do you not believe in God, Who did this and this for His people?”  All these accounts are proof of His existence; empirical proofs, if you like. And furthermore, isn’t the supreme proof that we Christians have, of the witnessed existence of God in the person of Christ Himself, as well as Christ’s life and Christ’s death - all of which are historical events – a natural and objective basis for our faith?


This is where we must be very careful, because although they are a basis for our faith, they should also not be. This needs to be explained.


That which has already been given to us by God in witness of His existence, cannot be ignored in the Faith. That is why the Symbol of Faith commences with, and continues with, the acts, the works of God in history. But should this be the basis that supports our faith?  If we observe the way in which God provides evidence of His existence throughout History, even with the Resurrection of Christ, we shall see that all these events contain a paradoxical factor. Although the events themselves are certainties and are real, however, it’s as though God doesn’t want them to be compulsorily convincing.  Sometimes I think to myself, what would have happened if Christ’s Ascension had not taken place, and things continued just as they did, after His Resurrection? Who could then not believe in God? God’s presence would have been absolutely compulsory and most convincing.  If you saw Christ circulating amongst us the way Thomas saw Him and inspected Him and then believed, would it be possible for you not to believe?


When I said “… as though God doesn’t want…”, I am deducing this from Christ’s comment to (doubting) Thomas in the Gospel of St. John: Yes, come and see so that you may be convinced, but, “…blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed…”. In other words, it is as though He is saying that He prefers those who believe without seeing, without the aid of any empirical reassurance.  And why are they blessed? Because they believe and they know voluntarily and not perforce.  When Thomas becomes convinced, his faith loses its freedom. As does every person who is convinced objectively. Just as my being here does not allow you to voluntarily ignore my presence. Not unless you decide on a senseless existential vault into the absurd, and say “You may truly exist, but to me, you do not exist”. This is another way to express one’s freedom, but here we have all the problems of the absurd.


Anyway, the Lord’s Ascension does have this element, and perhaps it is the most important one. This is why the Ascension is associated with the administering of the Holy Spirit, which itself is freedom. Its inauguration coincides with Christ’s Ascension, or in other words, the no longer compulsory recognition of His presence and the no longer compulsory knowledge and compulsory faith; thus, a new era is inaugurated, in which we now believe without being compelled to.


God now addresses our free will, and this free will is a characteristic of the Spirit, of Faith….  I repeat, God gives us signs of His presence, but not in a committing way.  He gives them in such a way, that you can even say no, if you so wish. I think that even Paul could have said “no”, and furthermore, if it had been someone else in Paul’s place, he could have quite easily shrugged off what happened on the road to Damascus, by saying “that was just my imagination”.


And here we see the crucial point : that our faith is supported by the witnessed presence of God, but not in a way that imposes restrictions on our freedom, that is, they leave us a margin for denial. God never reveals Himself in a way that does not allow us to say “no”; “no, I do not acknowledge that You exist”.


This point is directly related to the Church’s experience, or more so to the faith, as an experiencing of God within the Church. Be careful, because here there are a number of things that have been confused and must  be cleared up.  First of all, the Sacraments of the Church. The Sacraments of the Church are a form of knowledge of God, as well as a form of signs on which our faith is rooted.  However, it would be a mistake to envisage the Sacraments in a way that would strangle our faith’s freedom. When Christ offers Himself in the form of bread and wine, He offers Himself in a way that permits our free will to not recognize Him thus.  Recognition and faith in the Sacraments are not a result of persuasion, convincingness or constraint. That is why the essence of the Sacraments is exactly their paradoxical nature. This is what is referred to, in the Epistle to Hebrews:  “…faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the grasping of things not visible..”.


I would say the same thing applies in the case of ascetic experience. There also, we are often given the impression that we have a constant, convincing, almost objective presence of God in the person of a Saint, which compels us, convinces us, that God is present. However, even the miracles of saints are performed in such a way, as to leave a margin for those who wish to doubt them.  I don’t think that we should rely too heavily on miraculous acts, as they may render one’s faith in God’s presence entirely impregnable from every aspect; or, obligatory.  Quite simply, God wants to give us signs of His presence, naturally, without destroying our freedom. And this is exactly what He does, through His saints.  That is why the saints’ lifelong experience is such that always includes moments – perhaps even periods – of God’s absence, even though they are convinced of His existence.  Saints often encounter moments when God’s presence is neither proven objectively, nor experienced.


Thus, faith is not an end product of Christian experience. Faith, according to Paul, “will be rescinded”. Because there will come a time when this “hypostasis of things not visible” will no longer exist, as they are destined to become “visible”. Likewise, the “grasping of things hoped for” will no longer apply: the things now hoped for, will have then become reality.  And when that moment comes, the only thing that will survive – according to Paul – is Love. Because, where else would you then hinge your faith?  Faith hinges on this status – the status of things hoped for but not visible, which you are asked to acknowledge as existing. If this status no longer exists, then there is no need for faith any more.


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Greek text

Translation by A.N.

Article published in English on: 6-7-2005.

Last update: 4-8-2005.