Christian Forums and Message Board

Christian Interests => Organized Religion and Religious Movements Discussions => Eastern Orthodox Forum => Topic started by: CDHealy on Thu Jan 15, 2009 - 14:00:18

Title: The Centrality of the Incarnation in Orthodoxy
Post by: CDHealy on Thu Jan 15, 2009 - 14:00:18
I'm quite happy to see my PM request for an EO forum was met by others who agreed.  To help inauguarate this forum, I thought I'd start off with the following topic.

For the Orthodox, the central doctrine which unites and brings coherence to everything in Orthdoxoy--dogmas (such as the Trinity), worship (such as the Sacraments), and prayer (such as theosis, or the dotrine about our becoming partakers of the divine nature as in 2 Peter 1:3-4)--is that God became flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ.

As I've been attempting to argue in another post--what we believe about Mary we don't believe simply because she's Mary, we believe because of Jesus, that the person she gave birth to was God.  We believe in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper that the Bread becomes the Body of Christ and the Wine becomes his Blood, not because of some magical words from the priest, but because God became man.  And as St. Irenaeus wrote at the end of the second century: if we can believe that Jesus was both divine and human, we have no problem believing the Bread is his Divine Body and the Wine his divine Blood.  We believe that the Church is served by Bishops, Priests and Deacons because we believe Christ's Church shares the same incarnate qualities as her head, and that there is a physical, historical connection between the Church he founded and the Church that continued through time to today.

My point here is not to argue for real Presence, a specific Church polity, or various Marian doctrines, it's to point out that what we believe in Orthodoxy all goes back to the Incarnation.

Indeed, neither do Orthodox overemphasize one particular aspect of the Incarnation as do some Christians.  To hear some Christians talk, it's almost as though there's no need for the Resurrection because salvation was accomplished on the Cross.  Not for Orthodox.  The entirety of Christ's Incarnation from conception by the Holy Spirit to Ascension into heaven is a part of how we are saved, for we are not saved merely by being moved from one forensic column in God's ledger book to the other: from guilty to innocent.  We are not saved merely by the removal of personal guilt for our personal sins.  We are saved body, soul and spirit (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:23).  We regulate what we eat because our bodies are being saved.  We confess our sins because our souls are being saved.  We unite ourselves in God's grace to God through regular times of prayer because our spirits are being saved. [Note: I'm using this tripartite classification for illustrative purposes.  I'm not arguing a tripartite structure of the human person over a bipartite structure.]

This is why we celebrate the circumcision Jesus underwent as a baby.  He shed his first drops of blood for us when he was but a baby.  This is why we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus--because here was revealed directly to us for the first time the reality of the Trinity.  This is why we celebrate his Passion, and his Resurrection.  And this is why we insist that Jesus didn't leave behind his resurrected human body when he ascended to heaven, and why we insist that a man sits on God's throne, the God-man Jesus Christ.

By focusing on the centrality of the Incarnation in toto, we Orthodox are saved from the imbalances that creep into so much of non-Orthodox soteriology: distortions such as penal atonement, that Christ died only for a limited few, and so on.   And these distortions are also why many non-Orthodox truly don't understand Orthodox teachings on Mary, the Sacraments, the Church, and so on.  They are coming to our doctrines from a standpoint of distortion and overemphasis and are bound to misunderstand what we're saying.

Such as Mary is the Mother of God.
Title: Re: The Centrality of the Incarnation in Orthodoxy
Post by: trifecta on Thu Jan 15, 2009 - 18:19:12
I agree with what you wrote here Clifton.   The other major focus of Orthodoxy (to me anyway) is the Trinity.  Both of these concepts are so difficult to grasp, especially for those of us in the West. 

Both the Incarnation and Trinity involve the otherness of God, so for us who want to understand everything (like Stephen Hawking for example) the concepts are somewhat frustrating, because we will never understand them.