Posts tagged ‘Christian Church’

The New Israel of God

We are bought with a great price

Matthew 21:33-42

AUDIO HERE

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Sometimes, things work out in a way that seems a little ironic, funny, to me. This past week I had a very good discussion with a dear Orthodox friend of mine, and because of the topic of that discussion, the parable that we just heard from St. Matthew’s Gospel was one of the passages that we looked at. Near the end of this particular conversation, my friend commented that the teaching of the Orthodox Church on our topic was something he’d never heard before, and there was a desire that what we believe should be taught. Of course, there are so many potential questions and discussions that none of us could even exhaust the wealth of the Church. But I took this conversation happening this week coupled with today’s reading as a sign of sorts, an opportunity to discuss in some detail the purpose of this parable.

If you were to turn my conversation this week into a question it would be the same question that our Lord’s parable answers – what is the relationship of God with the people of Israel [by Israel, I mean throughout this homily ‘the people of the Old Covenant’]? What is the status of the promises made to those people? What is the place of the Old Covenant people in the plan of God for our salvation after the coming of the Messiah? This is an important enough question that our Lord offers an answer in several places, and it is addressed in multiple places in the New Testament Epistles as well. This is also a question that continues to cause confusion today – the relationship of the Church and Israel and God. You can easily see the confusion by looking at all of the various approaches taken in other Christian groups around us in society today.

Why is this question so important? As St Paul says in Galatians (ch 3), the promises of God will never pass away. God made promises to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, to bless their children and to make a great nation of their people. The Messiah was promised, God’s blessing and protection was promised. These promises of God are eternal, St. Paul says. So they either lie with the people of the Old Covenant, the heirs according to the flesh of Abraham, or perhaps they lie with the Church, or perhaps somehow the lie with both. Answering this question might not seem all that important to us at first glance, but the Scripture writers thought it important, and I think we will too after thinking on it a few more minutes. It is definitive for how we are to live in our relationship with God.

Now, finally, to our Lord’s parable. The parable is told to the chief priests and leaders of the Temple – and they understand exactly what our Lord is saying, because they try to “lay hands” on Him after He tells this parable. The landowner is God the Father. The vineyard is the world, the Promised Land, all of the promises of God to His people. The vineyard is given to the vinedressers, to the people of Israel. But when God comes to reap the spiritual fruits of the people, they have none. They ignore his messengers – the prophets and the priests, the judges and the kings – and they even abuse them and kill them. Finally the Son of the Father comes [Jesus Christ], and the vinedressers kill Him, and try to lay claim on the vineyard of their own. This is parallel to Adam and Eve in the garden, wanting the blessings by their own power. So the Father punishes the evil vinedressers, and He takes away the vineyard, and gives it to another. The Fathers, in keeping with the flow of the parable, certainly understand this to mean that the promises given to the people of the Old Covenant are taken away, and given now to the Church. And our Lord ends by quoting the Psalms, “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes” The Gentiles, rejected by the Jews and the Old Covenant, actually become the cornerstone of the New Covenant and the Church of Christ.

As we see in our Lord’s parable, the question really comes down to – who are the chosen people of God? Or to put it another way – who truly are the followers of the way of God? God’s chosen people, those who follow Him and are His children, these are the heirs of the promises of God. And remember, the promises are not about exclusivity – God wants to pour out His grace on all mankind – but to receive that great grace, we must be followers of Him. St. Paul continues along the same teaching as Christ (obviously) in Galatians 3, where he even more clearly spells out the answer to this question that Christ addresses in the parable this morning. It’s a very dense chapter dealing with the law, grace, the promises, Israel, the Old Covenant, the New Covenant, Christ, and the Church – but we can pull out these two beautiful verses that spell things out very clearly. “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He [God] saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ [Christ is the seed of Abraham!]…and if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (16&29). Very clearly here St. Paul again tells us that the Christian Church is now the chosen Body of Christ, the heirs of the Kingdom of God.

Answering this question of “who are the people of God?” is important because we need to know what it is that God would have us doing. If the Old Covenant remains intact and those are the chosen people, then the Church as something separate is not doing what she should be doing. But we see clearly here from our Lord’s words, and from the words of St. Paul, that the Church of Christ is the New Israel, heirs to the promises, and the place where man comes to be saved. The people of the Old Covenant had as their major task the preparation of the world for the Messiah – He has come, and now is the time to follow Him.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Author Matthew Jackson

The Arian Heresy – Fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Today we remember the Father’s of the 1st Ecumenical Council. Homilies can have many different approaches or focuses, and this morning I’d like us to spend some time learning about the 1st Council. If the Church feels that it’s important for us to commemorate these Father’s on the 7th Sunday after Pascha every year, then it’s also important for us to know about what they did.
The 1st Ecumenical Council was convened by the Emperor St Constantine in the city of Nicea in 325 AD. It was called for a very specific purpose – to discuss certain beliefs that were gaining in popularity among the Christian laity and even the clergy. These beliefs we know today as Arianism – the beliefs were held and taught by the Alexandrian priest Arias. In fact, the heresy of Arias became so wide spread at one point that a majority of our bishops identified themselves as Arians. It was an incredible danger to the Church. The Arian controversy was tearing apart the Church, and therefore having a great impact on the Empire, hence Constantine’s decision to convene the Council. As I’ve already mentioned, during the Council, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the teachings of Arias were condemned as heresy, and Arias as a heretic (heresiarch). So what were these teachings which were powerful enough to have such an effect on the Church, and for the 1st Council to be called to deal with it?
Arianism was, and is (there are still people who hold to these beliefs today) a belief regarding the inner life of the Holy Trinity. This belief was explained by Arias himself in a letter – “But we say and believe and have taught, and do teach, that the Son is not unbegotten, nor in any way part of the unbegotten; and that he does not derive his subsistence from any matter; but that by his own will and counsel he has subsisted before time and before ages as perfect God, only begotten and unchangeable, and that before he was begotten, or created, or purposed, or established, he was not.” This long phrase is often simplified to the phrase – “There was a time when He was not.” Arians believed that only God the Father was unbegotten and existing for all of eternity, but that the Word, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, had been created by the Father at some point before the creation of the world. The Word was still considered and called divine, but He was less in His divinity than the Father. The fullness of the Divinity was not present in the Word. They also taught (though it’s talked about less) that then the Father and the Son created the Holy Spirit. So they would say that there is one God, the Father, and while the Son and Spirit were considered divine, they were lesser divinities than the Father.
The implications of this belief on the Incarnation are obvious – the created Word was incarnate as Jesus, who was a created man. So for the Arians, God did not become man, but rather the Word, who was Himself a creature, became man. The Father’s immediately saw that this teaching undermined man’s salvation. If God did not become man, then there is ultimately no salvation for man. Our salvation is ensured because God took human flesh, joined our nature eternally to the fullness of the Godhead. The teachings of the Arians, though they failed to initially see it, undermined man’s salvation. Any perversion of the fullness of the truth about Christ, about God, puts at risk a proper understanding not only of God, but also of humanity, and our salvation.
In response to the Arian heresy, not only did the Father’s formulate Orthodox Christology at the 1st Council, but they also composed the Nicene Creed, in which we confess: “…one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light, true God of true God; begotten, not made, of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made.” The Father’s were very careful not to try and explain the inner workings of the Holy Trinity (many heresies have started with that attempt). We preserve the Biblical language – only-begotten – we don’t attempt to explain it, it is a great mystery. As the Fathers say, what can we understand about a Son begotten of a Father with no mother, a Son equal in age and sharing in everything of His Father. It surpasses human logic. But it’s vitally important that we know and confess that the Word is co-eternal and equal with the Father and the Spirit.
The Faith was once and for all delivered to the Saints, as St Jude says in his epistle. And our duty as Christians is to preserve this Faith, to live this Faith, to share – to witness to – this Faith, and to pass it on to the next generation unchanged.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Matthew Jackson