This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Apostasy of the Gentiles and the Ingrafting of Israel and the Church

Although I will be continuing a study of the Creeds in the following articles to come, I am doing a special address this week regarding something that has been weighing on my spirit for some time.   As many of my friends and readers know, I have been a stauch advocate for the indigenous Middle Eastern Christian communities for many years, and will continue to do so.  However, I also read the Bible, take what it says seriously, and know that Israel also has a right to exist.  This has caused a little bit of controversy with some over the past several years, and in recent months I have been engaging in some very heated debates with a few people from the Holy Land who are professing Christians yet they seem to have this hatred of Israel.  Many of these people call themselves Catholics or Orthodox, and indeed a statement recently that was released by some bishops in the Churches over there more or less made a condemnation of what they called "Christian Zionism" as a heresy, although the same bishops fortunately did uphold the right of Israel to exist.  Archbishop Cyril Bustros, of the Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Newton, recently authored an article in the eparchial magazine Sophia, in which he gave his thoughts on that meeting, which was held in October at the Vatican.  The statement itself is not the issue, as it does express a desire for harmony among the various populations of the Holy Land, but its implications have more or less given a carte blanche to some dhimmified Middle Eastern Christians to blast Israel - one Armenian Christian girl from Israel, named Mariam, in a heated discussion with me on a Facebook thread, even went as far as to blame Israel for all the problems and had the audacity to call Israel a "cancer on the region."  I would almost expect this from Muslims, but it has been a bit hard to swallow hearing that come from Middle Eastern Christians, and from an Armenian no less!  I have struggled over this issue for some time, and after much counsel and prayer, I have come to some conclusions of my own about all this, which I will share here.  Since for some reason these same people have a bias against Evangelical Protestants - for some reason they think Western Evangelical Christians are some warlike, militaristic, hawkish creatures that want to exterminate them and placate the Israelis or something, which in itself is nuts - and although I am personally not an Evangelical Protestant, I share with them a belief that Israel has a prophetic destiny.  However, I also do not agree with everything the Israeli government does, and one of my concerns is that Israel should be building more bridges with the indigenous Christians of the region, as they and Israel face the same enemies and they need each other.  That being said, I will be appealing to the Holy Tradition of the Church, just so I don't get accused of parroting Hal Lindsey or something. 

The writings of many Catholic and Orthodox saints and theologians over the centuries have much to say about the future restoration of the Hebrew people, but many sitting in the pews of those churches don't have a clue about it because both churches have agendas today which at time embrace a heresy called revocationism (in Protestant circles, it is also known as "Replacement Theology").  Basically, those who teach revocationism say that all the promises of God to national Israel now belong to the Church, and thus the Jews don't have a place in God's plan anymore because the Church is now the chosen people.  In that Vatican statement in October, Archbishop Bustros (he has been suspect to me for a while anyway, as in one of his books he also teaches that evolution is valid, something the historic Church never taught!) made the statement that "As for the idea of a chosen people, it is clear, according to Christian theology and especially to St. Paul that after Christ there is no longer a particular chosen people!" (Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros, "Peace for the Holy Land: The Promised Land and the Chosen People - A Two-State Solution."  in Sophia, Vol. 41, Number 1.  Winter 2011, page 5)  My question to the good Archbishop is this - according to whose interpretation is that statement true??  Any cursory reading of Ezekiel, Revelation, and other Biblical passages, both Old and New Testaments, points to the fact Israel as a people (not "spiritual" as in the Church either, but national, natural Israel!) has a BIG role to play in prophetic events.  Isaiah 19:23-25 also says that Israel and certain other nations will be "blessed" of God, and that passage is a very strong reference, I believe, to the modern Coptic Christians of Egypt and the Assyrians of Iraq specifically.  And, if one appeals to the Holy Tradition of the Church, there is more evidence that the Hebrew people will have an important role to play in the future of the Church, so let's talk about that now.

Fr. Elias Friedman was a South African Carmelite priest, born of Jewish ancestry, who founded an apostolate of the Church called the Association of Hebrew Catholics.  As a man of Hebraic heritage, Fr. Friedman had a very deep connection to his Jewish roots, and many converts since then (notably Rhonda Chervin, David and Rosalyn Moss, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, and others) have found that their faith as Catholic Christians has been enriched by their Hebraic roots, and they understand their prophetic significance.  Another group of people of Hebraic origins, the Anusim, are a much larger group - these are people who have ancestry going back to the days of the Inquisition, and their forebears were Jews who converted to the Church due to either political or religious reasons - my own heritage has roots in this, as I am the direct descendant myself of Spanish Anusim who later became French Huguenots and settled in the US during the 1700's.  There is said to be around 55 million descendants of the Anusim in the world, and they have some interesting identities - as much as 25% of the Penitente sect in the American Southwest was said to be of Anusim ancestry, as well as such notable people as Christopher Columbus.  There is a reason for this, and also I believe a prophetic significance as to why so many people are rediscovering their Hebraic roots.  It of course is also happening among Evangelical Protestants too, as the Messianic Jewish movement bears witness.  If you want to read more about the Anusim/Crypto-Jews, there are two sources I will recommend.  One is Dell Sanchez's The Last Exodus, which is available from http://www.4sephardim.com/publications.html, while the other is by Janet Lieberman Jacobs and is entitled Hidden Heritage: The Legacy of the Crypto-Jews, which you can find on Amazon.com.  Both books have some excellent information, and are worthy of a thorough read.

Now, I want to talk a little about something that deals specifically with the restoration of Israel and its grafting-in with the Church in the latter days, and I also want to talk about a coming apostasy of the Gentiles that many Catholic visionaries mentioned.   Fr. Friedman, in his book Jewish Identity, addresses the idea of the Chosen People well, and this is what he says on page 87:

Again, Rabbinical Judaism has no hesitation in equating post-Christic Jewry with the Chosen People.  Again, the Christian must beg to differ.  The rabbinical formula is inprecise rather than incorrect.  The Jewish people is a part of the Chosen People, a part of the elect people, a part of Israel.  Even prior to the Dispersion, Jewry represented no more than two of the twelve tribes of Israel.  The advent of Jesus Christ provoked yet another division in the people, between those who believed in Him and those who were incredulous.  "Do not suppose," Jesus warned His disciples, "that my mission on earth is to spread peace.  My mission is to spread, not peace, but division.  I have come to set a man at odds with his father, a daughter with her mother, a daughter-in-law with her mother-in-law; in short, to make a man's enemies those of his own household (Matthew 10:34-36).  Elias Friedman, Jewish Identity (Ypsilanti, MI:  The Miriam Press, 1987)

In other words, Jews are part of the Chosen, but not the whole chosen!  That makes sense, as the Scriptural prophecies always refer to all Twelve Tribes as being part of the promise, not just the fraction.  However, where are the rest??  Do they exist??  My answer to that is most definitely.  For one thing, in Israel now there is a surviving community of Samaritans who are descendants of the other ten tribes, and it is highly possible that in central Asia there are descendants as well, being that is where the Assyrians deported them in the 7th century BC.  Simcha Jacobovici, the "Naked Archaelogist" of History Channel fame, as well as others, have pointed to the Pathans of Afghanistan, a community called the B'nai Ysrael in northern India, and other peoples as having the DNA of the Ten Tribes, and that is a very strong possibility.  I cannot say on that for sure, but there is no doubt some remnant of the Ten Tribes survives somewhere, as they have a role to play later.  That leads me to something else that Fr. Friedman talks about. 

In Jewish Identity, Fr. Friedman goes to great lengths to distinguish between the terms "Jewish" and "Hebrew" or "Israelite."  In many passages of the book, Friedman denotes "Jew" as a purely religious term, while "Israel" or "Hebrew" is national; thus, the reason why converts to the Catholic Church are now called "Hebrew Catholics" rather than "Jewish Catholics."  As a religion, Judaism can have proselytes and converts that are not of Hebraic blood (the conversion of a tribe of Turks called Khazars in the 10th century is case in point, and many Russian and other Ashkenazic Jews still have ethnic links to the Khazars today), although Judaism is not a missionary religion in the sense that our Christian faith is.  Therefore, not everyone who is a "Jew" may be an Israelite.  On the other hand, there are people - the Khanayas in India, many communities of Sephardim in the Middle East, and of course millions of Anusim - that do have the Hebraic bloodline yet are not followers of rabbinic Judaism.  That is an important point as well to keep in mind, as that argument has been made in the past. 

Now that we have said these things to preface, let us now talk about Israel's redemption.  Many Church Fathers and saints have foretold of a time called the "Fullness of the Gentiles," which is also Scriptural and is a predicted sign of the Antichrist's coming.  As far back as St. Jerome, they were talking about that, and St John Crysostom stated that this conversion of Israel and the falling away of the Gentiles will occur in close proximity to the Second Coming of Christ (Desmond Birch, Trial, Tribulation, and Triumph. {Santa Barbara, CA:  Queenship Publishing, 1996}  pp. 416-418.).  Then, we look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which has this to say on the subject:

The glorious Messiah's coming is suspended at every moment of history until His recognition by all Israel, for a "hardening has come upon part of Israel' in their unbelief "toward Jesus...the 'full inclusion of the Jews' in the Messiah's salvation, in the wake of the full number of the Gentiles will enable the People of God to achieve the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ in which God may be all in all." (Birch, p. 419).

In other words, look at official Church teaching on that - the Second Coming of Christ cannot happen until the Remnant of Israel is fully converted!!  And, preceding that, there will be an apostasy of the Gentiles.  Wow - now we are getting into some preaching!  I want to now take some time to talk about this "apostasy of the Gentiles," because it is very important that this fact is grasped, as it will give an idea as to what is going on.  So, strap on the seatbelts, as it's going to be an exciting ride, people!

Many, many verses of Scripture talk at length about this idea, and we are going to examine some of those now.  We go first to II Thessalonians 2:11, where it talks about the coming of the "lawless one," meaning of course the Antichrist.  It says that because they did not receive the love of the truth in verse 10, they were sent strong delusions from God Himself (in other words, letting them believe what they want to believe because they have rejected the truth).  The reason for this is found in a couple of other verses - I Timothy 4:1-3 talks about the present day, when people will depart from the faith and follow after doctrines of devils, and 2 Timothy 3:5 talks about people having a form of godliness but not the power of it, due to the fact they are following after things that in the next chapter at the 3rd verse says because they have "itching ears," heaping up teachers unto themselves and thus turning away from the truth.  Matthew 24:24 says even the very elect will be deceived, as 2 Timothy 3:13 talks about evil men and imposters increasing in number and worse than the last as they successively arise, deceiving and being deceived.  It must be remembered that all of these Scriptures are talking about the Church, and not the unconverted, so that says something there.  II Thessalonians 2:3 calls this a "falling away", and throughout the Gospels Jesus talked about it too, especially in His dichotomic parables about good fish/bad fish, sheep/goats, wheat/tares, and wise and foolish virgins.  The tares must, as Jesus taught, grow among the wheat, and they will be indistinguishable from it until the keen eye of the harvester (that is Jesus of course) can tell the difference. That being said, we go to Revelation, and a very revealing thing is mentioned here.  Revelation is of course both a prophetic book and a liturgical text, but a couple of chapters also addressed discipline issues to seven churches in Asia Minor at the time that the Holy Spirit specifically spoke to the Apostle St. John the Revelator concerning.  The last church, Laodicea, is of interest.  Scripture, you must also remember, is also multi-dimensional due to its divine origin, and as a result these passages have multiple meanings.  The text on Laodicea for instance is found in Revelation 3:14-19, and is a strong rebuke of the church by the Lord Himself for its lukewarmness in faith - the Laodicean Church essentially gave lipservice to the truth, but that was as far as it went, and Jesus found it to be unappetizing.  The passage also alludes to the end-times Church as well, in that many will call themselves Christians but are so only in name - they are mere tares in the wheatfield.  The Lord says to such people as a warning too - "not everyone who says "Lord, Lord" shall enter the kingdom of heaven," (Matthew 7:21) because "many are called but few are chosen."(Matthew 22:16).  All of this evidence suggests a coming apostasy in the Church, and we see it today.

I recently did a re-read of Michael Rose's 2002 book Goodbye Good Men - How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church (Washington, DC:  Regnery Publishing).  The book was published by the author, a gifted journalist as well as a staunch traditional Catholic, at around the time the sex scandals in the Catholic priesthood in Boston and elsewhere started garnering national attention.  Rose attributes these scandals - and I must agree with him - to decades of liberal, apostate thinking coming into the seminaries that promote the homosexual agenda, liberal theology, and defiance of orthodox Church teaching.  As a result, many qualified priests - those who are devoutly Christian and believe in the fundamentals of the faith - are often blackballed by diocesan vocations directors as a result.  I too experienced that when applying for the Maronite diaconate back in 2005, when Fr. James Root, the Eparchy of Saint Maron's vocational director, more or less told my parish priest (a godly man who held the same convictions I did) that I was "too conservative."  Rose details the stories of many other seminarians and priests who have faced that same opposition and worse because they believe the Bible and the teachings of the Church.  As a result, many people - myself included - have opted for other churches because the Roman Catholic Church (and by default many Eastern-rite eparchies in communion with Rome) has taken these directions.  We all pretty much feel though that the Church left us rather than us leaving her, and that as discussed in the Scriptural passages above there is a great falling away, an apostasizing, of the Church.  Lest you think this is limited to the Catholics though, Evangelical Protestants are affected as well.  Many Evangelicals today are caught up in teachings that more closely resemble New Thought and occultic teaching than they do Christianity or the Bible, largely in part due to movements such as the "Word/Faith" TV preachers such as notably Joel Osteen, the "Seeker-Friendly" and "Purpose-Driven" philosophies of people like Rick Warren, James Rutz, and Bill Hybels, and this new thing called the "Emerging Church" movement, as propagated by such writers as Leonard Sweet, Richard Foster, and Malcolm McLaren.  I grew up conservative Pentecostal, and was born again at age 16 in a Southern Baptist church, and I can say that today those same denominations are hardly recognizeable from what they used to be as a result of bad theology and practice being disseminated in a large percentage of typical American Evangelical churches.  Though less affected, the Orthodox too have been hit - my spiritual mentor, an anointed, godly Greek Orthodox priest by the name of Fr. Eusebius Stephanou, calls many sitting in Liturgies these days little better than "baptized pagans," meaning they are culturally Christian but haven't had a true conversion experience.  This is particularly true among some Middle Eastern Christians, and explains a lot of the antisemitic attitudes and nasty infighting they have among themselves - they are Christian in name only, but their hearts are hard, which is what I will be getting to soon enough here.  Bottom line, these signs of decay in all Christian churches are signs of the apostasy of the Gentiles that so many Catholic and Orthodox visionaries, as well as a lot of Scripture passages, foretold.  Will it get worse??  Let me say that we ain't seen nothing yet!  One of those visionaries too was a godly Pope, Leo XIII, who in 1884 had a vision similar to the scene in the Book of Job in which Satan approached God's throne and challenged God, saying he could destroy the Church. According to the Pope's vision, Satan was given free reign in the 20th century to deceive and destroy the Church.  The result of that was this prayer that Pope Leo was given by the Holy Spirit:

Saint Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle; be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into Hell, Satan and all the other evil spirits, who prowl throughout the world, seeking the ruin of souls. Amen. (courtesy of http://www.stjosephschurch.net/leoxiii.htm)

Although Leo probably believed he received this vision in reference to the Catholic Church, I believe it applies to all of Christianity.  And, this is a prayer we as the faithful Remnant should pray everyday. 

The Apostasy goes further, much further, than Laodicea though, for years ago the Holy Spirit showed me something about that which revolutionized my study of prophecy. The Laodicean Church of Revelation 3, if it fails to head the warnings Jesus gave it, will become the "Mystery Babylon" false religion it talks about in Revelation 17.  Be warned people - it is coming!!  We see the seeds of it today, as churches are foresaking the faith to follow fads and what is "relevant" to the times.  Little do they know though that our ways are not necessarily God's ways. and many will fall away. That being said, there are some interesting things about this "Mystery Babylon" religion we should talk about.

A cursory reading of Revelation, as well as the book of Daniel and other passages, states that "Mystery Babylon" will be the religion of those who worship the Antichrist, or the Beast.  That is interesting, because the head of this "Mystery Babylon" religion will be a man who will have great spiritual authority that the Bible calls the False Prophet.  Many believe this False Prophet will be an apostate Pope - many Catholic writers over the centuries support this idea, including the 10th-century Saint Malachy, who had a vision of all the future Popes to come.  Over the years, and when I was growing up, many of the fundamental Protestant churches I grew up in taught that the Antichrist will be some head of the European Union, and of course the false prophet would be a defecting Pope who would embrace all the world's religions and combine them into one, possibly through the vehicle of the World Council of Churches.  Although plausible, some details were left out of how this would happen until very recently when many prophecy students began to re-examine the information in lieu of post-9/11 events and the role of radical Islam.  A good friend and fellow West Virginia-born prophecy teacher, Perry Stone, wrote a book about this in 2002 entitled Unleashing the Beast in which he indicated that new evidence pointed to the fact that the future Antichrist might be a Muslim, based on some Quranic prophecies about a Twelfth Imam, called the Mahdi, who would arise as a sort of Muslim Messiah of sorts.  Part of the prophecy that proved interesting is that this Mahdi would appear on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem with "Jesus", and "Jesus" would renounce his Messiahship and declare the Mahdi the true savior, thus compelling the Christians and Jews to convert.  That sounds eerily close to a Bible passage about the False Prophet and the Antichrist in Scripture in Revelation 13, where it talks about the False Prophet giving life to an image of the Beast, causing all to worship it.  Being Europe these days is being increasingly Islamized and Christianity has been largely abandoned, this is very possible.  The "Jesus" it speaks of could be an apostate Pope who allies himself with a powerful Islamic radical leader, and that Islamic leader could declare himself as "Allah incarnate" or something.  That being said, there are some stern and important warnings to be given to indigenous Middle Eastern Christians, especially the ones in the Holy Land who are so dhimmified by Islam that they side with the Muslims against Israel, and we will be getting into those shortly.  First though, I want to talk about the apostasy of the Gentiles and the restoration of national Israel with the Church.

Fr Friedman correctly points out in his book that many Church authorities oftentimes fail to understand that any refutations against Jewish things in Church teaching do not invalidate the Jewish people and the promises God made to them, but rather the Jewish religion for its lack of recognizing Jesus as Messiah (Friedman, 89).  He cites a Vatican encyclical entitled Nostra Aetate in which it is plainly stated that the Jews will remain most dear to God and he does not renig on his promises nor of calls he issues (Friedman, 91) - a Scripture to back that up is Romans 11:29:  the gifts and callings of God are without repentance.  And why is that?  Hebrews 13:8 - Jesus Christ, who is God the Son, is the same yesterday, today, and forever!  Therefore, the Hebrew nation is still a chosen people, although their time fully is yet to come.  And, Fr. Friedman adds further ammunition to this when he writes on pp 93-94 the following:

The revocators (those who deny national Israel is still a chosen people) chose to ignore St. Paul's warning to the Gentiles that a similar fate would befall them if, like the Jews, they sinned by incredulity (falling away, apostasizing).  Today we see that millions have.  Dried up branches no longer bear fruit, they are being torn out of the olive tree and cast away.  They exhibit signs of decadence, more evident than what anti-semitic propaganda has attributed to the Jews.  In them are fulfilled the words of Jesus: "the last state of the man becomes worse than the first" (Matthew 12:45).

In other words, what Fr. Friedman is saying is that those "Christians" who apostasize by rejecting Biblical doctrine and Church teaching will be pruned away - that is happening now.  However, the gap must be filled somehow, and that is where prophecy from Scriptures speak to us now.  In Revelation 14:1, it talks about 144,000 sealed with the sign of God upon their foreheads, and over the years much teaching has been centered around this verse concerning the salvation of a Remnant of Israel.  Taking the whole picture into perspective, here are some facts - a schism in the Church, a faithful leader of the Remnant, and the ingrafting back in of national Israel into the Covenant.  With Church Tradition and Bible prophecy together on this, what this tells me is that because of the Gentiles' apostasy and falling away, God will reveal Himself again to Israel, of whom a Remnant of all Twelve Tribes will be born again as they see the revealed truth that Jesus is indeed their promised Messiah that the Prophets foretold.  Those Hebrew converts will be led by a clergy, if you will, of 144,000 anointed priests, who will have the authority of both the Levitical priesthood as well as the Apostolic priesthood, thus bringing into fullness and unity both Covenants of God.  The Church of the future will look much different too, as Jesus will restore much of the Temple worship and ceremony to His Church and it will take on a very Hebraic look.  It will be the Bride as Christ intended her to be, and it will be a glorious thing.  That is why it is not only important that Israel as a physical, geographical nation be restored, but the authority of the Church will revert back to national Israel as well because the Gentiles will largely have fallen away, most no doubt swept away by deceptions of the Antichrist and taking his mark, thus condemning their souls.  That of course does not mean Gentiles will not be part of the Church, as there will be a faithful Remnant of Gentile believers who will be one in faith, and one Church, with the Hebrew converts.  That is the Church of the future, people, and also the reason why many Jews now have come to Christ, both as Hebrew Catholics and Messianic Jewish believers.  More will come as well, so be looking! Also, although I need to devote a separate writing to this later, pay close attention to Isaiah chapters 18 and 19 - there are others who play a part in the Church of the future, including Assyrians, Ethiopians, and Copts.  It is going to get more exciting as time progresses and events unfold, and now is the time for people to pay attention closely. 

That being said, I have a warning to Middle Eastern Christians, particularly those in Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon, where anti-Israel sentiment and chumminess with Islamic radicals have divided and weakened Christian communities there.  Be careful how you deal with Israel, as she is the future of the Church!  Also, many of you - Palestinians, Armenians, and others - are only Christian in name only, are Christian because your families were, and many of you have not had a personal conversion and accepted Jesus Christ as truly your Lord and Savior.  If you would have, you would understand things better.  And, in doing so, it does not mean you have to cease becoming Catholic or Orthodox and convert to some Evangelical Church either - on the contrary, you may actually become better Catholics and Orthodox.  You need to consider this a loving yet stern warning that Jesus is coming back someday for His Bride, the Church, and you all should know that because you confess it in the Creed during Liturgy every Sunday being it is a cardinal doctrine of the Church.  Therefore, you need to get right, cease from being "baptized pagans" and become real followers of Jesus Christ, making Him the Lord of your lives.  And, you need to have forgiveness in your heart for Israel - many of you have been so brainwashed by all the Islamic terrorist and Pan-Arabist propaganda that you think Israel is your enemy, and many of you deny all of a sudden hundreds of years of persecution that was much worse under the Islamic demonic religion that raped the Middle East of much of its identity and sent millions of innocents to either hell or an early death.  Your hatred of Israel has corrupted your Christianity, folks, and you fail to see how important Israel truly is.  Does that mean every action of Israel should be sanctioned as right?  No it does not - Israelis are humans, they sin, and are capable of some bad things too just like you are!  When you condemn Israel, you look in the mirror and see your own hatred and bitterness.  You are so eager to forgive an antichrist system like Islam - which many of you ideologically fornicate with like common street whores - although Islam has denied you liberties for centuries.  That is blatant hypocrisy.  Also, you are Christians, yet many of you fight each other while the world laughs at what fools you make of yourselves - a comedy special here in the US recently aired a clip of Armenian and Greek monks getting into a knock-down-drag-out fight in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on Easter, the holiest day of your Church year!!  What is the matter with some of you, seriously??  Some of you don't need Islamic oppression or "zionist conspiracies" to destroy you, as you seem to be doing a fine job of it yourselves.  Therefore, read this teaching, study it, and consider it a warning - I do love you as Middle Eastern Christians, and I write this to you, but at the same time some of you need a sound slap upside your heads to wake you up.  As to others who may read this, hopefully it will inform you better of what God's plans for us are, and maybe enrich your spiritual lives too.  God bless you all until next time.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Nicene Creed - A Teaching

Earlier this week, there was a bit of a discussion on apologist John Ankerberg's Facebook page regarding the importance of the early Creeds of the Church, and their usefulness today.  That being said, it inspired me to do my own study and teaching on the Creeds, being that I am a Catholic Christian and they are an important part of our faith.

The name of the Creed, also called the Nicene-Costantinopolitan Creed, comes from a Church council that was convened in AD 325 in the burg of Nicea, a suburb across the Bosporus from the Roman capital of Constantinople.  It was convened in order to establish sound teaching on the relationship of Jesus Christ to God the Father, and was thus a strong affirmation of Jesus' divinity, which was being challenged at that time by heretics like Arius.  It later, along with the Apostles' and Athanasian Creeds, became one of the pivotal statements of Christian doctrine that was universally accepted by all of the Church, and being it was all Scripture-based, it is an important affirmation of fundamental Christian belief today.  Many of us in liturgical/sacramental traditions are familiar with the Nicene Creed, as it is recited at practically every liturgy.  However, it is also held in high regard as well by conservative Protestants, who accept its authority as a summary of sound Christian fundamentals.  Therefore, it is something that binds us together as the Remnant of Christ, regardless of our denominational monikers.

What I want to do here is basically go point-by-point with the Creed, giving Scriptural references, and this can be used as a catechetical tool.  Therefore, let us begin.

"I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible..."  This first phrase of the Creed establishes that there is one God, and that all things were created by him, including us.  Scriptural reference for this is very basic - Genesis 1:1.  For those who believe in evolution, this statement will prove problematic if you claim to be a Christian, and that evolution and Christianity cannot be reconciled.  God created this world and all the universe as well, and none of us "evolved" from anything.  There are differences among us of course (I am what is called an Old-Earth Creationist, as one example) as to when the beginning of creation took place, but we all know God is the Creator.  And, despite what Stephen Hawking says, God DID create this world and everything in it, and Hawking and others are fools who will one day regret the stand they take.

"And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God."  The Old Testament Prophets attest to this truth, that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Son of God.  The Council Fathers made a strong point of mentioning this because certain among the heretics of that time were actually teaching that God had no Son (those same heretics later influenced Islam, which teaches this as well).  However, John 3:16 says otherwise.

"Begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God..."  In Revelation 1:8 and 22:3, Jesus Himself reveals to the Apostle Saint John that He is the "Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End," and in John 8:58, when Jesus was being challenged by the Jews regarding a statement that He made about Abraham anticipating His coming, He says plainly that "before Abraham was, I AM."  John 1:1 also affirms His pre-existence ("In the beginning was the Word...").  And, of course, there is Hebrews 13:8, which affirms that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, thus affirming His pre-existence. 

As far as "Light from Light" is concerned, as I write this we have just celebrated Christmas, which of course is observed on December 25th.  It is of interest to note that although December may not be the actual birthday of Jesus, as many scholars have placed his birth in September, it may actually be the time He was conceived of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Theotokos.  Two things stick out in that regard.  First, Christmas is celebrated at the same time as a major Jewish festival, Channukah, and if you history buffs will recall Channukah commemorates when the Temple was reclaimed from the pagan king Antiochus Epiphanes by the Maccabees, and as a result, a miraculous light appeared in the menorah in the Holy Place of the Temple.  Our bodies, as described by Scripture, are called "temples of the Holy Spirit," and Mary the Theotokos is often compared to both the Ark of the Covenant (which was seen as an archetype of her by some students of prophecy) as well as a icon of the Temple.  Therefore, just like the Light of holiness was restored to the Temple, so was Jesus, the Light of the world, sent to us to restore us to our God.  Hence, that is important.  Secondly, if Jesus was birthed in September, as some Bible students are beginning to speculate, what that means is that Jesus would have been born during the Jewish Feast of Rosh Hashanah, and if you know something about that, it is also known as the Feast of Trumpets and signifies a new year being birthed.  With Jesus, a new chapter in humanity was birthed - through Him, we were made righteous before God, and thus He was our ultimate Atonement.  He died and was resurrected during Passover too, which means that he was the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God slain for the sins of the world.  Looking at it from that perspective (Christianity and the life of Jesus center prominently around Jewish ceremonial observance, which also is interesting!) He represents the ultimate act of God's mercy toward us - God taking our form, sacrificing Himself for us to be reconciled to Him, and thus our restoration to what God called us to be; thus, Jesus is Very God of Very God, as the Creed states.

Also, in the older Western liturgies such as the Tridentine Latin Mass and the 1928 Anglican Book of Common Prayer, it is customary to bow the head in reverence at the mention of Jesus' name.  This reminds us too that this is not only the Son of God, but also God the Son.

"Begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made"  This elaborates on the last part, in that it reaffirms the divinity of Jesus.  Although Virgin-born, Jesus was begotten, and not created - Jesus is an eternal being, as God Incarnate, and therefore is not a created being but merely took on the garb of humanity in order to be a perfect sacrifice for our sins.  Again, this refuted heretics like Arius who denied the divinity of Christ, as well as Nestorius, who more or less stated (or at least certain of his followers did) that Jesus was only God after the Resurrection but was a man before.  This also affirms that Jesus has a dual nature - He is fully God and fully man at the same time, both in His life as well as His resurrection and ascension.

"Who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man..."  This is John 3:16, that God so loved the world that He Himself, in the incarnation of Jesus, gave Himself for our sins.  In the liturgy, at the point where it begins "and was incarnate..." it is customary to genuflect, rising at the end of the statement.  The genuflection constitutes an act of memorial that Jesus came to save each and every one of us who desire salvation, and is a lost practice in so many "modern" liturgies.

"And He was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate: He suffered and was buried..."  This is taken straight from the Gospel accounts of the Passion of our Lord, and is fundamental to our faith; Jesus died for us.  He is again here the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God who has taken our sins and has extended God's mercy, which we don't deserve yet is freely given to us.

"And on the third day He rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures..."  Again from the Gospels, this is the Resurrection, and we of course commemorate this on Easter Sunday.  The joyous Orthodox hymn of Paska,"Christ has risen from the dead, by death He trampled death, and to those in the tombs He bestoweth life!" expresses this truth well. Without the Resurrection, there is no salvation.  It is as important as the Cross, as it completes the work of redemption God intended for us.

I have used newer verbiage here, because in the older rendering it says "according to the Scriptures."  In fulfillment of the Scriptures is a stronger affirmation of our faith.

"And ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of the Father..."  The Ascension of the Lord is the next important event on the Church calendar after the Resurrection, because Christ returned to heaven to prepare a place for us.  The Ascension is accounted in Mark 16:19 and in Acts 1:9-10.

"And He shall come again with glory to judge the quick and the dead, and of His kingdom there shall be no end."  This is the Blessed Hope, the Second Coming of Christ.  It is a prophetic event yet to happen, and the New Testament devotes much space to this.

First, the truth conveyed here is that Jesus will return, and that is cardinal to our faith.  As to the specifics, Church tradition allows for a number of interpretations, and the minors do not affect the major.  I have my own convictions on this, that it is immanent, and that certain things can foretell when the time is at hand.  Therefore, it means little in the greater scheme of things if you are a dispensationalist, amillenialist, premillenialist, etc.  The important thing is that the fact Jesus is coming back is recognized and accepted, as it is a foundational doctrine of the Church.

The Liturgy is a dress rehearsal for this too, and we are reminded of that in the book of Revelation, which is a liturgical text as well as a prophetic one.  Also, two important phrases - one used in the West and one in the Eastern Church - express this hope as well and are repeated frequently in the Liturgy regarding the fact that "of His Kingdom there shall be no end."  The first, used in older Western Liturgies, is "world without end."  That phrase is used as a benediction to many liturgical prayers.  In the East, the equivalent phrase is "Unto Ages of Ages."  Both express the same thing in different words.  And, both are based on the same doctrine that is expressed in this part of the Creed too.

The final section of the Creed is divided into four parts, and they are these:

1.  The Holy Spirit
2.   The Church
3.   The Sacrament of Holy Baptism
4.   Our Eternal Reward

"And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, the Giver of life:  who proceedeth from the Father.  Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spake by the prophets..."  This affirms a central truth of the Christian faith - God is a Trinity, the Holy Spirit is a person of the Trinity, and as such the Holy Spirit is fully God.   Therefore, as God, the Holy Spirit receives the same worship as the Father and the Son.   There are some, especially among liberal professing Christians and the New Age movement, that have taught some bizarre things regarding the Holy Spirit.  Some treat Him as if He is an "it," an ethereal "force" similar to what a Jedi from Star Wars uses.  That is simply bad theology.  Other weird ideas, such as the followers of Qabala, have taught that the Holy Spirit was actually God's wife and is a woman named "Shekinah."  I am not going to be doing an in-depth study of the Holy Spirit now, as that is for later, but sufficive to say orthodox Christian belief knows and understands the Holy Spirit as a person, as God, and as real as any one of us are.  Thus, that is basic doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

A second thing about this passage of the Creed is its wording.  I use the Eastern Church version of the Creed, which does not include an addition added by the Western Church later called the ex Patre Filioque clause.  It was added to the Western version of the Creed at the Council of Toledo in 589 in order to combat an anti-Trinitarian heresy.  It was never part of the original Creed, and therefore I personally don't use it based on John 15:26.   The Latin translation of this text is "and the Son," and was inserted after the part above which says "who proceedeth from the Father."  However, if my Western brethren choose to use the ex Patre Filioque, I don't see it as something to split hairs over either; I just prefer to not include it because I want to remain true to the original Creed as it was drawn at the Council.

"And I believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church..."  Romans 12:4-5 says there is but one Body, and that we all have our place and function in it.  The denominational division within Christianity over the centuries is a great scandal and tragedy, and it is unfortunate that there is all the division over stupid formalities in many cases.  Personally, I count as brethren all Christians who uphold this faith, and those include Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox.  I believe, as time starts to come to a climax and the return of Christ comes near, the true Remnant of believers will constitute what this phrase in the Creed says. 

"I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins..."  The Mystery of Holy Baptism is our initiation into the Church, and it does carry with it a powerful sacramental grace that reflects in us our own death, burial, and resurrection in Christ, thus washing away our sins by His blood.  Baptism is the tie that binds the Church together, and we are marked for Christ with the seal of Baptism.

"And I expect the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come, Amen."  One day, by Rapture or repose, we will all meet Jesus if we die in a state of grace with Him.  The promise we receive at death is that we will be resurrected with glorified bodies one day.  In I Thessalonians, it talks about this when it describes what some conservative Protestants call the Rapture, but nonetheless is something real that will happen one day - the dead in Christ will rise first, and we that remain will be caught up with them in the clouds when Jesus returns for His Bride. 

I have also used a modern Eastern phraseology for this too, as the older text says "and I look for the resurrection of the dead."  "Looking for" is like waiting on a bus, in my opinion, and "expect" better states the sentiment we should have, as it is the "Blessed Hope" of all faithful who die in Christ.  And, expectation has a more positive, anticipatory tone to it as well - it is a joyous event, and the culmination of our Christian pilgrimage to the heavenly Zion.  Thus it is not merely an event to look for, but a blessing to expect joyfully.

That is essentially a breakdown of our Creed as we know it, and hopefully it helps you to understand our faith as Christians better, because this is a wonderful statement of that faith.  The Creed is also a prayer, a weapon against Satan, and a personal confession of our personal faith.  Therefore, even if you are not part of a liturgical/sacramental church like me, you can still benefit from this theologically rich and doctrinally sound statement of fundamental Christian doctrine.  I also want to examine soon the other two major Creeds, the Apostles' and the Athanasian, as they are integral to our faith as well.  God be with and bless each of you until next time.