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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 3 - Evidences for God
Evidences for God - Text
It might seem that the Fathers of earlier centuries could have nothing of value to say to us about the evidence for God's existence which we find especially in the scientific discoveries of our own times. But the scholars of the past were no less intelligent than the best academics of our own time, though of course they were also required to act within the constraints of those things which had been learned. In many respects they asked the same questions which arise in our own minds. How did all things begin? Who was it who brought all things into existence?
One of those who used the Scriptures to reflect on these question was Severian of Gabala. He was a famous Syrian bishop and preacher who lived in Constantinople at the end of the 4th century. We are fortunate to have many of the homilies or sermons he preached on the Book of Genesis, and it is worth considering a few of his teachings from the very first sermon which considers the phrase at the beginning of the Bible, 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth'.
If a building can not exist without solid foundations, the various things created also can not shine in all their glory if the creation was not in the beginning. I know that many of our holy Fathers have treated this subject of the creation of the world, they said on this some great and beautiful things, according to the measure of grace which the Holy Spirit dispensed to them. However numerous, great and admirable may have been their considerations, we should not keep silent for that, and not expose the thoughts the grace of the Spirit suggests to us.
We can find several things in this passage. In the first place we learn that many other Christian teachers have considered the creation of the universe, and that it must therefore be a matter of some significance. It should be said that the Greek philosophers either held the view that the universe was eternal and had always existed, or else that it was formed out of an eternally present formless matter. It was the Jewish religion, and then Christianity deriving from it, which insisted that in fact the universe had a definite beginning, and we find that science confirms this ancient view.
But we also see that Severian is clear that the creation of the universe is not incidental to the Christian faith and message but central to it. Everything else which exists shines with its own special interest because it depends on the creation of all things in the beginning by God.
Now Severian continues, and his homily can be found online here... (Homily 1 on Genesis)
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." In six days God made everything. However, there is a profound difference between the first day and the following ones: on the first day, God made everything from nothing: starting from the second day, he made no more from nothing, and he merely changed as he wished the elements created on the first day.
Here we see that Severian makes a distinction between two types of creation which he sees described in Genesis. In the first place there is a creation from nothing, and in the second place we see the development of that which has already been created so that it forms the elements which appear on each day.
It is remarkable how this ancient teaching can easily be used to describe the views of those leading modern scientists who have considered the evidence of science and have decided that it points to the existence of an intelligent and purposeful creator. In the first place science is not able to explain at all adequately how the universe could begin from nothing, and in the second place science is not able to adequately explain how life could arise from non-life. But the presence of a creator explains both the creation from nothing of our vast unverse with all its basic laws and forces, and also the development within that universe of life in all its complexity and apparent design and purpose.
The lecture in this unit describes the views of many modern scientists, not all are Christians by any means, who nevertheless believe that science points to a God who created and a God who then formed what he had created, using the laws and processes he had built into the universe to a great extent, to form the complex life we see and experience ourselves.
Severian says a little later,
On the first day, therefore, the Lord created the raw material of his creatures; on the other days he gave them their shape and ornament.
This can easily be understood as representing both the creation from nothing and then the development of that which has been given existence. Now the intention is not to show that Severian, and any other Fathers of the Church agree in all points with all scientists - many are determined atheists and this would not be easy at all. But certainly Severian agrees with those many senior and serious scientists who are discovering that the existence of a creating God makes more scientific sense than the operation of blind chance. We should at least be able to conclude that serious Christian faith need not be afraid of science, nor consider that the evidence of science cannot be evidence of God, this is not more that Severian is suggesting, based on his own understanding of the universe.
Orthodoxy is not oblivious to the study of the world around us, but it must be a study that is honest and reflects on the evidence discovered in a neutral manner. When this takes place then we may well discover that far from contradicting our faith it agrees with that which has already been taught in ages past. We can certainly agree that the universe had a beginning, and science has proved this. And we can agree that those things which we see with greater complexity in the world have arisen by the organisation, however this is understood, of that which already has been created. In this we also find science proving that which Orthodoxy has already taught.
Evidences for God - Audio/Visual
Father Peter Farrington discusses the relation of faith in God to scientific studies, and considers some of the evidence that is leading scientists to reconsider their view of God..
Evidence for God - Bible Study
Of course we do not expect the Holy Scriptures to contain scientific evidences for the existence of God, but this does not mean that the authors of the Bible did not reflect on how the universe seemed to reveal the presence and activity of a Creator.
The Psalms are an example of this reflection on creation, and you should read passages from three of the Psalms and consider what they teach us about the Psalmists thoughts as he considers the heavens above him.
These Psalms are Psalm 19, Psalm 50 and Psalm 97. Read each of these Psalms carefully and thoughtfully. How are we asked to consider the creation as a means of evidence for God and His activity?
Psalm 19 begins...
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims the work of his hands.
In what way might the heavens declare His glory and the earth his activity? And what might this have meant to a believer before the scientific age? What can it mean for believers now, as the telescope and microscope reveals so much more?