Sunday, July 2, 2006

Divine Justice, Substitution and Propitiation as Aspects of the Atonement in the Eastern Orthodox Confessions and Catechisms

The following is from The Longer Catechism of the Orthodox, Catholic, Eastern Church, also known as the Catechism of Metr. St. Philaret of Moscow, Examined and Approved by the Most Holy Governing Synod, and Published for the Use of Schools, and of all Orthodox Christians, by Order of His Imperial Majesty. (Moscow, at the Synodical Press, 1830).

208. How does the death of Jesus Christ upon the cross deliver us from sin, the curse, and death?

That we may the more readily believe this mystery, the Word of God teaches us of it, so much as we may be able to receive, by the comparison of Jesus Christ with Adam. Adam is by nature the head of all mankind, which is one with him by natural descent from him. Jesus Christ, in whom the Godhead is united with manhood, graciously made himself the new almighty Head of men, whom he unites to himself through faith. Therefore as in Adam we had fallen under sin, the curse, and death, so we are delivered from sin, the curse, and death in Jesus Christ. His voluntary suffering and death on the cross for us, being of infinite value and merit, as the death of one sinless, God and man in one person, is both a perfect satisfaction to the justice of God, which had condemned us for sin to death, and a fund of infinite merit, which has obtained him the right, without prejudice to justice, to give us sinners pardon of our sins, and grace to have victory over sin and death.

The following is from the Orthodox Confession of Faith of the Catholic and Apostolic Eastern Church also known as the Confession of Metr. Peter Mohyla, ratified by the Council of Jassy, 1642.

Q. 43. Which is the fourth article of faith?

R. "Who was crucified for us, under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried."

Q. 44. What does this article of faith teach?

R. It teaches six things. First, that he suffered and really died on the cross for us in his true humanity taken from the most pure Virgin. This is seen from Sacred Scripture where it says: "And Jesus crying with a loud voice, said: 'Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.' And saying this, he gave up the spirit." In addition, he truly shed his most precious blood for our sake, through which he redeemed us, as the Apostle says: "Who has predestined us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the remission of sins, according to the riches of his grace."

Q. 45. What else does this article teach?

R. It teaches that he suffered innocently because of our sins, as the Apostle puts it: "knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things as gold or silver, from your vain way of the tradition of your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb unspotted and undefiled." John the Baptist testifies to the very same thing, that he, innocent as a lamb, suffered because of our sins, when he says: "Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world." But, he suffered voluntarily, as he himself bears witness: "I have the power to lay it down, and the power to take it up again."

Q. 46. What does this article teach thirdly?

R. It teaches that Christ suffered on the cross according to the flesh, but not according to his divinity. For, the divinity neither suffered, nor was fastened to the cross, nor struck by spittle, nor hit by blows, nor did it die. As the Apostle clearly asserts, the flesh alone underwent all this: "Yet, now he has reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unspotted, and blameless before him." But, the divinity assumed by the humanity was never separated from the body nor from the soul, whether during the suffering and death on the cross or even after death, although the soul was separated from the body. For this reason the person of Christ was one and the same even at the time of death.

Q. 47. What does this article teach fourthly?

R. It teaches that the death of Christ was more distinctive than that of all other men and this for the following reasons. First, there is the seriousness of our sins, as the Prophet speaks about him: "Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows; and we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins." And yet another Prophet speaks in the person of Christ: "All you that pass by the way, attend, and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow," which has been thrust upon me. Another reason for the distinctive type of death that was Christ's is the following. He perfected on the cross the priesthood by sacrificing his very self to God the Father for the redemption of the human race, as the Apostle describes him: "Who gave himself a redemption for all." And in another place: "Christ also loved us and delivered himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odour of sweetness." And still elsewhere: "Because when as yet we were sinners, according to the time, Christ died for US." There he perfected also the office of mediator between God and man, as the same Apostle describes him: "And through him to reconcile to himself all things, making peace through the blood of his cross." And still elsewhere: "Blotting out the handwriting of the decree against us, which was contrary to us, he has taken the same out of the way, fastening it to the cross."

Q. 48. What does this article teach in the fifth place?

R. It teaches of the burial of Christ, that is, just as he really suffered on the cross, so he truly died thereupon. And he was really buried in the designated place. And the reason this was done was so that nobody would later doubt the true resurrection of Christ from the dead. If, however, he were buried in some hidden and private place, then the Jews would have used this occasion to disgrace the fact. But, on account of the greater faith in and the glory of the glorious resurrection of Christ, the minds of the Jews were so perturbed as to have come to Pilate and say: "Command, therefore, the sepulchre to be guarded until the third day." Pilate said to them: "You have a guard; go, guard it as you know. And they departing, made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone and setting guards." And it is this very guard of the Jews that displayed the best testimony that Christ rose from the dead. For indeed they were then very terrified, as Scripture says: "And behold there was a great earthquake. For an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and coming, rolled back the stone (from the entrance of the grave) and sat upon it. And for fear of him, the guards were struck with terror, and became as dead men." The same ones later "came into the city and told the chief priests all things that had been done." Whereby they were forced to utter the very same words that the angel of the Lord said to the women: "You seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he is risen, as he said. Come, and see the place where the Lord was laid. And going quickly, tell his disciples that he is risen." It is for this reason that his burial is mentioned, so that everyone might be certain, that the disciples did not secretly take and bury him in an hidden place, as the evil Jews might have spread about, after having bribed the soldiers. The-grave in which he lay removes the suspicion of such a thing, as also does the sealing of the stone with the Jewish guards, as well as Joseph and Nicodemus, men of honor among the Jewish people, so too the shroud in which he was wrapped and the headcloth left in the grave after Christ's resurrection, which was not secretly washed by the disciples. Together with this teaching, one must also consider that according to the prophecy it was necessary that his burial be glorious, and such it was and so it remains even until today. And so, whoever approaches Christ with faith and great love, receives the great remission of sins, by virtue of which he comes to Christ.

Q. 49. Besides these and other things, might one goodwillingly ask, where could the soul of Christ be found after his death and before the resurrection?

R. The soul of Christ was joined to the divinity, existing separately from the body, and with this same divinity it descended into Hell, although there is no mention here of this matter; nevertheless, as is affirmed in all church hymns, Christ descended into Hell in his soul and divinity. It is most obviously asserted in that church hymn: "You were in the tomb, O Christ, according to the flesh, but in Hell with your soul as God, in heaven with the thief in majesty, with the Father and the Holy Spirit." He led out from Hell the souls of the Holy Fathers and brought them to Paradise, along with the thief who believed in him on the cross.

Q. 50. What does this article teach in the sixth place?

R. Since mention was made of the cross of Christ, on which Christ died and purchased our salvation, we are provided the opportunity to consider this cross, about which the Apostle says: "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world." And in another place: "For the word of the cross, to them indeed that perish, is foolishness; but to them that are saved, that is, to us, it is the power of God." We must, therefore, revere for these important reasons the holy cross, the sign of Christ, which has been given the power to turn away evil spirits through the shedding of the blood of the Son of God and the death which he accepted on it. St. Cyril of Jerusalem, therefore, says: "Whenever we sign ourselves with the holy cross, the devil cannot be present and endure this, for he realizes that Jesus Christ was fastened to the cross for the sake of our salvation and the destruction of the power of the devil, for the name of Christ is usually thereby invoked, but the evil one flees from us and tempts no more; and so we should cross ourselves very often, for not rarely are we tempted by the devil, which temptations we can repell only through the holy cross and calling upon the name of Jesus Christ; but not only from ourselves can we repell him, but from everything else, as our food and drink." Therefore, the same St. Cyril also teaches: "Make the sign of the Holy Cross when eating, drinking, sitting, standing, speaking and even walking." And no affair should be undertaken, unless first the sign of the cross is made, at home or on the road, day or night, everywhere.

The following is from the Catechism Of The Greek Orthodox Church by the Rev. Constas H. Demetry, D. D., Doctor of the Ecumenical Throne.


Q. What Dogma is found in the fourth article?

A. In the fourth article we find the Dogma of the Propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus.

Q. What is the propitiatory or atoning sacrifice of Jesus?

A. The sacrifice of His sinless life, which He offered upon the cross, which was necessary to offer to God, and which He did that the divine Justice, which had been insulted by the disobedience of our First Parents, might be propitiated.

Q. What would have occured if this sacrifice of Jesus had not been offered?

A. The body of man, after undergoing in this life all this misfortune, would finally have died, as also now, but without any hope of a resurrection, and the soul would have been punished eternally in the life to come far from God; while now, because of the sacrifice of Christ, the soul is delivered from punishment, (if man believes in Him and is perfected living after His commandments), and the body is to be raised and united each with its soul.

Q. Could any other have offered this sacrifice?

A. No; neither man nor angel, because no man was without sin, and an angel could not offer a sacrifice sufficiently to satisfy the divine righteousness, because a creature, however much it can do, cannot do it of itself alone, but only by the aid of Divine Grace.

Q. What is the power of the sacrifice of Jesus?

A. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ has the power to forgive the sins of all men, of every age, who believe in Jesus and repent for their sins, while still in this life, and to make them children of God after they have been children of wrath by reason of disobedience of Adam and Eve.

Q. What became of the men who were living before the propitiatory sacrifice was offered?

A. As many as believed in Jesus as the Messiah, as the prophets had prophesied of Him, and kept the Mosaic Law, were redeemed when Jesus, after His crucifixion, decended into Hades (Hell), not into punishment, but into the place where the aforesaid were detained and bore to them the glad tidings of their redemption, (I Peter, Chapter 3, Verse 19), (Book of Hebrews, Chapter 11, Verse 40), and (Book of Ephesians, Chapter 4, Verses 8-10).

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