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The Creed and Core Beliefs: Changing Our Understanding of our Most Basic Relationship

September 1, 2013

“Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and Became Man.”

NativityRelationships are not just about connections between people. They are also internalized, defining who we are at a level of core beliefs. This is true in our development as children. It is true in our spiritual lives as well. Anyone familiar with the Old Testament knows that in the age prior to the Incarnation when human moral sensitivities were coarse and idolatry rampant, human beings’ relationship with the true God was understood primarily as a contract between unequals: “I will be their God and they will be my people.”(Genesis 17:7-8)  The entire book of Leviticus sets forth the legal terms of a treaty between God and man, whose compliance would bring blessings and whose abrogation curses. The misadventures and calamities of the children of Israel in the Old Testament, however, reveal quite clearly that even those chosen from the mass of humanity were unable to live up to this contract and covenant with God. Theirs was a broken relationship that left those under the shadow death with broken spirits as well.

And so our compassionate Lord humbled Himself further and sought to transform people from within, changing the very way in which they would understand their relationship with God by elevating them from the state of being lawful (or lawless) servants to children who are loved and invited to love in return. In the incarnation of God, human beings would be given a new prototype for a relationship based on an unfathomable love: “God empties Himself taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8).  In the Incarnation, it is as though there is a strange, yet glorious reversal, the Creator and Law-Giver appears not only as a man, but even further as a humble and obedient slave, doing what we could not do through the power of a love mightier than the law and more enduring than creation.

The incarnation would begin a new relationship that would be completely healed allowing the broken human spirit to now soar to the heavens to the very bosom of God the Father, the soul’s ultimate home. Saint Athanasius the Great famously captured the new possibility, the new relationship, the new gift that the incarnation made possible when he wrote: “God became man so that man might become a god.”  God empties Himself and offers Himself as a human to humanity for the sake of humanity.  This changes the nature of the relationship between God and man, thereby transforming the way human beings would also understand themselves.  This is why Saint Paul tells the Romans, “Now I say, that the heir, as long as he is a child, differs nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”

In our daily lives, we are grateful for the neighbor that watches our house when we are on vacation, a friend who remembers a birthday or anniversary, and someone who consoles us when life is difficult.  How much more has God done for us?  When we were estranged from Him and His commandments, He doesn’t send another prophet to us.  Rather, He sends His beloved, only-begotten Son to us to become one of us, for our sakes.  In assuming our nature, the Lord Christ makes possible a new and eternal friendship between earth and heaven, between man and God.

There is no more perfect relationship between God and humanity imaginable than what was accomplished for us in the incarnation. God becomes man so that man, through grace, can become like God and have communion with Him.  This new and wondrous relationship is internalized in us with a feeling of perfect security, a sense of sacred purpose, and an undeniable pledge of infinite value.  As the Psalmist notes, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.”

It is precisely in the Incarnation that man finds his purpose and worth. Our destiny is truly divine. We are more of a treasure than the most precious diamond.  We are more valuable than the most radiant angels, for God Himself has chosen to empty Himself and become one of us.  With an awareness of the incarnation planted firmly in our hearts, we have every reason to feel secure, every reason to be hopeful, and every reason to know that we are loved. By virtue of the incarnation, we can have a relationship with God more intimate and more transformational than any other relationship in the universe and in the process we become aflame with divine love that will translate us from earth to heaven even as it translated the Son of God from heaven to earth.

  1. This is a good series you’re posting, Father Alexis. I even thought of it in particular when someone elsewhere on the Internet said that he found dogma irrelevant or unhelpful to his efforts to be a loving man. I’m glad to come across commentary such as this.

    • Thank you, Virgil, for the encouragement. I think people who find dogma irrelevant or unhelpful don’t understand dogma, its relation to faith, and its relation to life. Abstractions can seem irrelevant and unhelpful, but clarity about what God has revealed to us is as relevant and as helpful in the spiritual life as light is necessary to see.

  2. I love the relational aspect, the communal imperative, of our salvation. i do believe, in regards to a lot of our talks about soteriology that we can forget that salvation is first and foremost communal, covenantal.

    on the walls of the high school where I lived and went to school (Mt. Mission School in Grundy VA), there was a unknown quote I saw everyday for 7 years as I entered for classes. It read, “I am a person of worth created in the image of God to live and to relate.” This has always been my driving force of understanding faith, of understanding life. I have created my own motto of this here, which is true identity, my true humanity:

    “I am a person of WORTH created in the Image of God the Father, the Almighty, to live, to love, and to commune with fellow humankind and with the Blessed Trinity.”

    Thank you for pointing out how powerfully the Incarnation brings to life our relational salvation, father. This is a wonderful insight 🙂

    • And thank you, John, for your own comments about the importance of the communal aspect being really a natural product of creation in the image of God.

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