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New Unit published 4th November
The Discovering Orthodoxy online catechesis has just published a fifth unit in the Beginning with Prayer series considering the practice of unceasing prayer.
Access to this unit requires free registration on the Discovering Orthodoxy course. Just follow the Registration link at the top of the page.
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In this introductory unit Father Peter Farrington describes the structure of the course material, and H.E. Metropolitan Seraphim speaks about the value of catechesis, or spiritual instruction.
A short essay considers some of the thoughts of St Cyril of Jerusalem in regard to catechesis, while a brief Bible Study invites students to consider the necessary aspect of study as part of the Orthodox Christian life.
What is Faith?
In this unit Father Peter Farrington invites us to consider the nature of Christian Faith. It is often parodied as belief without reason or a naive trust in myths and legends. On the contrary the Christian faith is something reasonable, grounded in experience and evidence.
Is it necessary to have faith to be able to benefit from an Orthodox catechesis? Father Peter describes the different varieties and degrees of faith, and finds the beginning of faith in the desire to know God.
Evidence for God
In this unit Father Peter Farrington considers whether science requires an atheistic point of view, or whether it is possible and reasonable to engage in scientific studies while also believing that there is an intelligent and purposeful creator.
The unit also considers the variety of scientific evidence which allows scientists to consider that the existence of God makes most sense.
Beginning with .. Church History
In this unit H.E. Metropolitan Seraphim of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate will be introducing the study of Church History as a necessary aspect of our catechesis.
It is we look back to the life of the Church that we learn how to live in the present and with hope for the future.
Discovering Orthodoxy - Unit 2 - What is Faith?
What is Faith? - Text
In the Old Testament the word used most frequently to describe faith is some form or other of the Hebrew word amun. This word has a sense of firmness, of dependableness, of being true and certain, even of being like a foster parent or a nurse. The same type of idea is used in those Hebrew forms which are translated as faith, faithful and faithfulness. This is very different to the idea of Christian faith which is mocked and ridiculed by aggressive atheists at present. Faith, so these atheists insist, is a naive and childish acceptance of fairy tales as if they were true, and a constant dependance on a Santa Claus figure who is asked to provide gifts in return for various ritual acts.
But this is not what is meant by the word amun/faith in the Old Testament. On the contrary it has the sense of relying on something dependable and trusting in something or someone who is reliable. When the Old Testament was translated into Greek before the time of Christ by the Jewish community of Alexandria, becoming the Septuagint version used by our Lord Jesus Christ, this word was translated as various forms of the Greek word pistis which also has the sense of that which can be trusted. But the Hebrew of the Old Testament for the word faith was also translated into words such as mercy and truth, because these also expressed aspects of what faith means in the Judeo-Christian context.
Faith, in such a sense, does not mean simply believing things ABOUT God. Indeed the Bible says that even the demons believe such facts, since they cannot be escaped from in the case of such spiritual beings. But the demons do not have faith IN God. To have faith in God is to place our trust in God as someone who is trustworthy. To be faithful is to have such a faith that is unshaken by circumstances and remains rooted in a dependance on God.
An examination of the Gospels, considering all those who are commended for their faith by our Lord Jesus Christ himself will show that in each case there was some determined action of trust in God. Not a vague hope that God would work things out, nor a mere belief in facts about God, but a personal trust in the person of God.
Yet we should not imagine that only a mature and fully formed faith or trust in God is commended. On the contrary, the very first and most fragile signs of such faith are pleasing to God. The father whose son was often thrown into a fire by an evil spirit was asked by the Lord Jesus...
"If you can believe,all things are possible to him who believes". Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"
That word believe is pistis and its various forms. It doesn't mean to believe facts. The Lord isn't asking the father to try really hard to believe certain facts, just as in the story of Peter Pan at the pantomime everyone is asked to believe very hard in the existence of fairies. He is being asked to trust, and to trust in one who can do all things. If you can trust God then all things are possible to him who trusts God.
And the father offers that trust which he finds within himself, full of fears and anxieties undoubtedly. And this is all that is asked of us all, whether at the beginning of the Christian journey or near its end. That we give to God all that trust of which he is worthy, and which we have, by experience, come to realise is his due. The father in this case had surely heard of other miracles which Christ had performed, and he placed his trust, limited as it was, in Christ in the hope that he might also take care of his son. We also begin with the experience of others, through reading the Scripture, the lives of saints, and observing the character and behaviour of those around us who are Christians. And at some point we also offer our limited and fragile trust to God, the gift of our faith, and even as we cry out 'Lord, I believe, help my unbelief', we find that all things are possible. Not because of us, and not because we have forced ourselves to believe something that we are not convinced of. But because we have begun to place our trust in the almighty and loving heavenly Father.
St Cyril of Jerusalem speaks of the Devil seeking to place obstacles to faith in the path of those engaged in catechesis. He says..
Beware lest he bite you with unbelief. He sees so many receiving salvation, and is seeking whom he may devour. You are coming in unto the Father of Spirits, but you are going past that serpent. How then may you pass him? Have your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; that even if he bites, he may not hurt you. Have faith indwelling, a steadfast hope, a strong sandal, that you may pass the enemy, and enter the presence of your Lord. Prepare your own heart for the reception of teaching, for fellowship in holy mysteries. Pray more frequently, that God may make you worthy of the heavenly and immortal mysteries.
If we are to have faith and trust in the person of God, rather than simply to hold to propositions about God, then we must be conscious of the presence of personal evil which wishes to prevent us having faith. St Cyril refers to a passage in the letters of St Paul which speaks of the Christian wearing the armour of God, and he particularly identifies the need to be well-shod so that we cannot be bitten by spiritual snakes, and will not lose our footing. Since faith has the sense of firmness then it is appropriate for him to describe the 'strong sandal' we need to wear as being made up of an inner faith and trust in God, and a steadfast hope in God.
There will perhaps be many times when we have to say, 'Lord, I believe, help my unbelief'. But we must also follow St Cyril's instruction to prepare our hearts for this process of catechesis. We may wisely begin by adopting his rule for those he was himself beginning to instruct - pray more frequently. If faith is trust in the person of God, then we must grow closer to this Divine person, and must experience his holy presence more often if we wish to grow in faith and trust. We cannot completely place our trust in a person we do not know.
What is Faith? - Audio/Visual
Father Peter Farrington discusses the meaning of faith in the Christian context and ask whether faith is necessary to understand Orthodoxy..
What is Faith? - Bible Study
It would take a lifetime to study in detail each and every reference to faith in all its forms in the Scriptures, indeed the personal study, experience and growth in faith is the work of the Christian life. In this very brief Bible Study we will look at just two passages from the Gospels in which our Lord Jesus Christ commends a person for their faith.
The first passage is..
And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment. For she said to herself, "If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well." But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, "Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well." And the woman was made well from that hour.
and the second is..
When Jesus departed from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out and saying, "Son of David, have mercy on us!" And when He had come into the house, the blind men came to Him. And Jesus said to them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" They said to Him, "Yes, Lord." Then He touched their eyes, saying, "According to your faith let it be to you." And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, saying, "See that no one knows it." But when they had departed, they spread the news about Him in all that country.
In reflecting on these passages, what or who was the object of faith in each case? What did this faith cause the people in each passage to do? On what basis was each one healed of that which afflicted them? How would you best describe the faith being shown in each case? Is it a vague hope for the best, or a firm and determined trust in the person of Christ?