Grace and Divine Energies - Printable Version
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Grace and Divine Energies - donald wilson - 19-03-2009
I have a question that I believe is crucial to the progress of my own spiritual pilgrimage. I wonder if anybody on this forum would be able to help me.
The Protestant understanding of Divine Grace is, in a nutshell, considered to be, on the whole, Divine GOODWILL.
Grace, as I understand the Calvinistic definition, is not so much an existent, as an ATTITUDE. You get GENERAL grace, which is God's benevolence to all creation, and especially mankind, and then you get SPECIAL grace, that is God's affirmative attitude and resulting salvific benifits to the Elect - God's recipients of Gospel mercy.
Now what I need to know is this - Am I correct in thinking that the Orthodox position on Grace is that 'Grace' is not so much an ATTITUDE as and EXISTENT - ie. ENERGY.
If this is so, am I right in thinking that the entire universe lives, moves and has its being, moment by moment in by Divine Grace alone?
If it is soley the Energy of God - the 'Two hands (Ireneus)' of Son and Spirit, that hold the universe together, then Grace to Orthodoxy must be UNIVERSAL. Further, it must not be (as in Protestantism) merely a Divine attitude, but Divine action in which ALL things participate.
I realise that The Church will possess MORE grace than those outside - but could this be due to the CAPACITY to recieve God's grace, and not a predestined decree of God?
I would REALLY appreciate some light on this subject. PLEASE! Be condesending! Patronise me! I really dont care! I just want light on this vital question.
- admin - 31-03-2009
Sorry for the delay in replying to your excellent questions.
I think that you are right that grace in the Orthodox perspective is not an attitude, though of course there is that aspect to God's relationship with man and with His creation.
Grace, as far as I understand it, is the Divine presence. I am aware of the distinction between energy and essence, but I find that some who hold to it most strongly actually wish to create some sort of intermediary between God and his gracious activity in creation. As far as I am concerned grace is the direct activity of God in His world and in our lives.
I agree with you that the whole universe is held together by the activity of God, by His grace, and that the fact that the Sun shines on the righteous and on the wicked is a matter of grace, and not merely astro-physics.
Perhaps I would want to say that the Calvinist view of grace as an attitude is not entirely absent, because God's presence and activity IS a matter of His attitude towards us.
Does the Church possess more grace? I would say that this is so, but not because grace is a substance, but a presence which is rooted in a relationship. A poor analogy might be as follows. I am in Buckingham Palace and happen to be part of a crowd which is allowed into the audience chamber. The Queen is present and I am able to approach to within a few metres of her. Then she smiles and stretches out her hand and leads the person next to me to a seat beside her. It is a close family friend that she has known for many years. We were both as close as each other to the Queen, but she 'knows' the person next to me, and the person next to me 'knows' her.
As far as the predestined decree of God, well Orthodox do not understand salvation in such terms at all. I have tried hard to reconcile Calvinism with the Patristic and Orthodox position but I have found it very hard indeed because they seem to be based on very different premises about God, man and sin.
I think that the Orthodox position is that God wills all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. He wills that all men be raised from true death to true life, but he also wills that men make free choices. If we follow the idea of knowledge and relationship, I believe that in some sense the knowledge of and by God leads to more knowledge and a deeper relationship, which leads to a closer relationship.
We are led from grace to grace, which is from one experience of God to a deeper experience of God. St Seraphim of Sarov teaches us that the end of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, and this is, as far as I can see, the same as the acquisition of grace.
How does a Christian experience more of the Holy Spirit than a non-Christian? Not least because the Christian enters into an internal and personal relationship with God, who dwells within the Christian. For the Christian, life is grounded in God in much more than an external sense that God holds all things in being. Our personhood, our being, becomes increasingly conformed to the eternal being of God. We share in the gracious activity of God as far as is possible for a created being.
I hope just a little of what I have said answers your question.
Do come back with further comments.
The Case of the Wrong Recording! - Simon - 05-04-2009
Back in the 1980s (1984 or thereabouts I think it was) Granada broadcast the very frist episode in their superbly acclaimed adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes stories - and being something of a Sherlock Holmes fan I decided that as well as wathcing this first ever episode I would also record is, using the very latest in technology, the now (yes, I know) ancient and out-of-date video recorder. Well it was cutting edge technology back then and we can't all be teenagers and trendy young whatevers. Anyway, I watched it and enjoyed it - and when the programme finished I tried out my video recorder to see that it had come out okay... well the recording had come out fine, absolutely fine, but unfortunately what I had produced was a beautiful recording of the nine o'clock news on BBC rather than Sherlock Holmes on Granada/ITV! We will, I think, pass over my perhaps less than perfect spiritual reaction and instead draw some lessons from this frustrating failure of my attempts at cutting-edge technology.
The fault did not lie with Granada. They had produced a beautiful television adaptation of the story and broadcast it okay - for sure they had, as I had only just watched it and enjoyed it. The fault was entirely and absolutely mine. I had set the video recorder to another channel, not ITV.
Similarly we might say that God sends out His grace, His energies, Himself... but if my receiver is broken or turned off or tuned to somewhere else, then I fail to recieve what He is sending me. That's hardly His fault is it? In the Church I receive best reception, yes, agreed, but God is ever giving of Himself whether or not I am choosing the best reception or tuning in soemwhere sinful or diabolical instead...
I hope that sheds more light on your question, Don, than it did on A Scandal in Bohemia back 20 odd years ago! God's grace is perfectly available, which is to say God is always and ever available - it's down to us
Simon (the thoroughly untechnological)
IF and Then - Rick Henry - 06-04-2009
I think this is very insightful/helpful when you wrote:
Quote:I realise that The Church will possess MORE grace than those outside - but could this be due to the CAPACITY to recieve God's grace, and not a predestined decree of God?
And, I really like how this intersects with Simon's excellent analogy. Specifically where Simon wrote:
Quote:. . . but God is ever giving of Himself whether or not I am choosing the best reception or tuning in soemwhere sinful or diabolical instead...
Again, I think we are gaining a peek at the cooperation or a merging of the two free wills of God and man here. I really like this analogy of "reception" and "tuning in," I think this is correct and speaks directly to your original question(s) about 'capacity' to receive as opposed to 'predestined decree.'
I understand that there is a merging here of thinking between the ecclesiological and the individual in his/her direct/responsible and personal relationship with the Trinity that takes ultimately leads us down a familiar path. But, in the End, as it relates to the uncreated energies and the Apostle Peter's words of being 'partakers of the divine nature' our theology is a theology of union. It can only be 'theology in the first person' characterized by intimate communion of man and the Holy Trinity.
So I guess what I am sharing based on my study and experience (at this point in my life) is that if you are looking for clear iron clad answers to questions in Orthodoxy to be articulated by one and agreed on by all, more than not as it relates to questions such as yours, there will not be statements presented in the positive that will probably suffice. Or, to be condescending, as you have suggested . . . if you are looking for these kind of quick answers in a one-size-fits-all mode then good luck bud because you are going to need it! I think I am trying to spare you some grief here to be honest.
And, possibly this is exactly what attracts you to Orthodoxy, as it did me about four years ago (viz. a mystical theology based on experience).
But, do you see what I mean here Don? Possibly, you are now, like I have been in the past in terms of desiring to understand each cinder block of the foundation in Orthodoxy. You know that Christ is your foundation, as the Apostle says 'there can be no other.' But, as it relates to Orthodoxy, possibly you want to understand it before you commit to it, before you sell out to it in order to not be a personal illustration of the thinking that foundationalism is dead. Possibly, you, like me, do not want to ultimately subscribe to web of belief way of knowing whereby one's feet are never really grounded; but, instead it seems that a radical mode of questioning is maintained whereby as one has said " . . . then one's life never has any form or function." And, who wants that?
So, as it relates to your questions here and elsewhere, as well as other discussions we have had in other threads with Father Peter and John Charmley, what if the answers are only found, truly found in one's direct and responsible relationship with God the Trinity? What if this is the only answer that there is that is iron clad?
What if the revelation that you seek cannot be found in a series of statements (dogmatic or otherwise); but, can only be found in such and by some as Simon's metaphor [above] which points to the answer which is can be found only by the one in his/her direct and responsible relationship with God?
And, think about this please Don, regarding your question and just about all questions any Christian could ask--with the exception of those like what color socks should I wear today, IF the revelation of God the Holy Trinity--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the basis (foundation) of all Christian theology,and 'theology in the first person,' one's experience, with the mystery of the Trinity, is the only way to truly know the answers to these questions whereby one becomes grounded for oneself and regardless of what category or "ism" one is placed with, THEN do we need to allow some room for a philosophy of unknowing in order to know the mystery of the Trinity in its fullness and in order to make any progress on the path toward perfect union with God?
What is unknowing, what is a web-of-belief? How do these things intersect with either protestant thought or post modern thinking (or the methodology of most cults)? Who cares!
What is an answer? What is a non-answer? I guess this depends on one's point of view.
But, I am saying that regarding the question behind most of the questions of the one who would be Orthodox, the enquirer of Orthodoxy, the clear answer(s) are few and far between, and most of these seem to come in the way of pointing to the Way, as Simon has done well above (and sometimes grunting about the way in an unknown language, like a caveman, while pointing as I do most of the time).
So as we consider what you have asked about one's capacity to receive God's grace, I wonder if all the above seems like rubbish to you, or if it seems like a way in which there can be harmony and peace in both one's way of knowing and state of being that can be viewed as a "greater grace?"
Yes, very good Simon! Where do we tune in? Do we tune in to systematic theology because it seems to have the most clear reception; or, do we tune in more to a mystical theology even if it seems to be a less clear channel initially?
- donald wilson - 07-04-2009
Thank you all for the stimulating responses to my post. All three responses have - to some degree - really helped me. Yes, as you all say, grace must be much more than simply a mere Divine attitude.
I suppose that in the long run, as Rick commented, clear and concrete answers to religious questions are so very often slippery and elusive. But this raises another question.
Surely in the Orthodox Church there are at least SOME non-negotiables - things that are proclaimed as being objective revelation from God. Things that can be discerned as being truth by the mystic as well as by the logician.
Faith must have an object to focus upon.
I think this - for me anyway - has been, in the past, the attractiveness of Protestantism - It offers a clear systematic theology that is sourced in Scripture - a spiritual 'road map' complete with distance markers and relevent rest rooms (see for example the Westminister Confession). This is the basic claim of the slogan Sola Scriptura. And I think that as humans we all long for such authority and certainty.
But on the other hand, I have over time come to realise that mystery in religion is something that is inevitable, it must be so - how else can mere mortals concieve of uncreated reality except by metaphor, simile and illustration? Although I am not at present no longer a 'card carrying' Protestant, I am as yet uncertain as to where to plant my flag of commitment.
But having said all this, I still insist - that there MUST be some objective non-negotables in Christianity, and it is (in a rather fuzzy nutshell) where I am stuck.
Yes! I am prepared to accept a more mystical understanding of God - but HOW do I come to even this knowledge without some propositional statements? It seems to me that the Early Church Fathers fought for objective non-negotables such as Christ's Divinity, Person and purpose. Are not the creeds objective statements? It is this that I think I'm looking for - a definate 'road' to walk on.
I wonder if you can help me out in this regard - Yours in Christ
- Rick Henry - 07-04-2009
After reading your last post, I think we may have some things in common.
And, I know this is probably not what you want . . . but, simply put, I wonder what you make of this claim which represents a majority view in my neck of the wood?:
Quote:Orthodox doctrine is purely pastoral since it does not exist outside the context of the cure of individual and social ills and perfection.
As you can see the assertion being put forth is that Orthodox doctrine does not exist outside of this context.
- admin - 07-04-2009
Yes, you are right, there are non-negotiables, and my particular theological interest is in Orthodox Christology and in the Christological controversies of the 5th-7th centuries.
I came to Orthodoxy out of a Brethren experience which had lost touch with theology and was essentially a pattern of life lived in a particular cultural matrix. When I discovered the Reformed tradition it was, for a while, a breath of fresh air, because it showed that there were things that could be said about God, and they could be considered true and foundational.
If I moved on from a Reformed way of thinking it was not because I did not wish to continue to have some theological foundations to root myself into, but more because I did not find that a simply propositional approach nourished my soul, anymore than the Christian moralism of my youth.
As I grew towards a greater appreciation of the Orthodox-Catholic spiritual tradition it was hand in hand with a growing knowledge of and interest in the Orthodox-Catholic theological tradition as well. The one feeds the other, though it is not clear to me that either one has precedence.
Within Orthodoxy, and I have been formally Orthodox for 15 years now, there is a sense that true theological understanding is rooted in prayer, rather than in the intellect. So the simple soul who truly prayers may well know more of God than someone like me who knows a lot about God but whose experience of God is limited by my experience of prayer.
This truth does not seem to me to negate the need for systematic theological insights, but I have come to the position where I understand that I will not be saved by my propositional knowledge about God, and need to put a lot more work into my spiritual life. I am sure that this is clear to many Christian in many traditions, but it has been something that I have had to learn.
Nevertheless it seems to me that propositional truths are part of the scaffolding which helps support the building of a life in Christ. We cannot do without these truths, but at some point the building bears its own weight and the propositions are understood to be provisional in some sense, and limited by human language.
These necessary propositions are rooted in the Scriptures, as the revealed word of God, and in the credal statements of the Church, and in the spiritual and liturgical tradition.
The Trinity, the Incarnation, the Church, the Sacraments, Spirituality
I would have to say that these are all necessary. But if we take the Church as an example. We would want to say - the Church is the Body of Christ and perhaps there is no salvation outside the Church. But what do these propositions mean? As we begin to explain them it seems that in my experience we find that though there is a core concept which is clear, at the boundaries our words fail us, because to speak when we should be silent is to say too much or too little.
This does not mean that we cannot say much about the Church, but as we grow in Spirit we hesitate to say very much at all.
The Church is the place where we are saved. Yes it is. It is the place where I am being saved. But what about the experience of sin within the community which calls itself Church? What does that mean? What of those who are not formally Orthodox and who are bearing visible and manifest fruits of salvation? Sometimes it is best to be silent. In the case of the Church the dangers of speaking out of turn are that we fall into a narrow cultlike exclusivity which ignores all actions of grace outside a clear and explicit membership roll, or else we fall into a vague, liberal acceptance of everything which is claimed to be Christian as truly of the Church.
I would suggest that the true way begins with the proposition and leads into a silence.
If we take your own situation. There are those among some Eastern Orthodox communities who would say that you are not a Christian because you do not belong to their visible community of faith. This is one way of dealing with the proposition that there is only salvation in the Church. Perhaps those in some liberal denominations would say that we are all Christians, we are all part of one rich tapestry and that no tradition is any better or more meaningful than we make it. This is another way of resolving the proposition that there is only salvation in the Church.
I am not happy with either. But it seems to me that I cannot and should not try to find some other answer that resolves all of the questions and paradoxes. I just need to be silent before the mystery that there are sinners in the visible Church and saints outside it.
I live out this paradox by trying to treat all those who love Christ as fellow pilgrims, while also considering the Orthodox Church as a precious gift to be shared and not a possession to be owned.
I am finding this with all the foundational propositions.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. What does this mean? I know what it means in an Orthodox propositional sense. I know this well and have written on the subject. But what does it mean at the level of a spiritual reality that leads me into silence? How does this proposition change me and transfigure me? That is what I am earnestly seeking to find out. This is surely the real meaning of the proposition - I mean when it changes me and is not merely an intellectual artifact.
So there are plenty of propositions, and many of them are the same as used by the Reformed tradition, but often, through reflection and within the matrix of our own Orthodox tradition they are understood differently.
Perhaps the Creed is a good place to start. It does not provide all of the answers, and is itself a product of a particular time and particular controversies, but it does seem to me to itemise many of the most important aspects of the faith. Perhaps we could consider what they are, and what the basic Orthodox propositions might be for each aspect.
- donald wilson - 08-04-2009
Thank you for the reponses. Firstly, in my reponse to Rick's question - No. I do not consider the Christian kerugma to be something that is merely meaningful when confined within a particular paradigm (how very postmodern!). Christianity may well serve a pastoral need, but its claims must at bottom be far in excess of this. They must be objective. If I really do believe, for example, that God created all things ex nihilo, then Being itself - that inescapably brute fact - must be included as part of my Christian confession, and surely Being cannot be considered open to doubt (unless of course, you are a raving Solipsist1). I believe that the Gospel claims must be true whether accepted or not, otherwise it is not worth the effort of serious consideration.
But here I come up against my brick wall - How does one arrive at the objective certainty? Where does one draw the line between the essential and the superficial? This has been the jist of my question.
Father Peter, I thank you for your respone. Scaffolding...YES! That is a very helpful insight! You have given me some good stuff to chew over, thank you. Yes, I do agree with you that the Creed would be a good place to start nailing down some absolutes. Do you have any sugestions on how one could begin in this direction?
God bless you both
- Rick Henry - 08-04-2009
Your comments are very insightful to me when you wrote:
Quote:No. I do not consider the Christian kerugma to be something that is merely meaningful when confined within a particular paradigm (how very postmodern!).
To be very honest, when I first read this, I rejected what you implied feeling that this seeming majority view of "pastoral theology" that I shared with you was not a mini-narrative, but because it is written about widely and widely held that it was a meta-narrative . . . but, as I thought about it more I decided you were spot on and no matter how one holds this up to the light and turns it different ways, in the end, it is always "experience enabling experience" as we consider both "theology in the first person" and "pastoral theology." I have studied extensively in the past, and written about somewhat the areas of overlap and contradistinction between postmodernism and Orthodoxy (in theory and practice). But, you are spot on here.
And, believe it or not, I am actually driving at a possible answer to the gist of your question with all of this But, this post of mine here is somewhat as (cue Pink Panther music) the elusive 'Good Doctor,' John Charmley, once said, "sometimes one has to push the wrong button to get the right answer." As you wrote:
Quote:But here I come up against my brick wall - How does one arrive at the objective certainty? Where does one draw the line between the essential and the superficial? This has been the jist of my question.
I would like to share a paraphrase of the words of another about my initial question to you the other day:
Quote:Others in the Community have recently said, and I would wish to echo here that theology and doctrine, abstracted from the pastoral dimension of "experience enabling experience," becomes essentially empty. More, it becomes essentially demonic.
And, at this point in our conversation, it doesn't matter if we agree with this or not, but what can be extracted from this that is helpful, I think, is the expression "experience enabling experience." This is because in Orthodoxy there is a learning anew in each generation of the Truth of Orthodoxy which is passed down from generation to generation. And, in this as well, there is an axiom regarding our approach to what is essential and what is superficial that goes along the line of "each as is appropriate for oneself." So this is an individual thing, or possibly better yet an personal thing.
And, there are different schools of thought on what is being said here as it relates to obedience and aceticism, as well as the role of the priest as spiritual father and the role of a spiritual father or spiritual mother that is not one's priest.
And, Father Peter can do a better job in his sleep, as he has, with a fuller picture . . . but this "line" that you want drawn between the essential and superficial is not a line that will be one-size-fits-all. Possibly, you are thinking of expressions from the protestant and non-Orthodox Christian traditions like "let us have agreement in the essentials, and in the non-essentials let us have love." Or, I think of Emery Bancroft's theology book for theology 101 in many Baptist Bible Colleges where he coined the expression about "knowing why we believe what we believe." But, such thinking is not entirely helpful here.
And, if you are like I was a couple of years ago . . . right about now you are rejecting this as some kind of double talk or wondering what the difference is between some of what I am sharing (epistemologically) and lets say the way of knowing of the Charles Manson cult. But, I wonder if you can consider the possibility that this line that you are asking to be drawn in terms of essentials and the superficial, as it pertains to salvation/sanctification is a line that only you can draw.
Possibly, you would like to have a list that shows views about the Virgin Mary that are exceptable for admission to Orthodoxy. Or, possibly you would like to have a range of acceptable views of the eucharist, the body and blood that shows the acceptability of a view of a symbolic realism or a realist symbolism . . . but, there is no such thing. And, even if there were, if you were to visit a local visible Orthodox Church, the priest of that church, or his bishop, might have a different train of thought.
Another way to look at this would be to consider how you would answer me if I asked you to explain to be the different views of the various protestants and non-Orthodox Christians on the incarnation in relation to the deification of the flesh, and all of this in relation to the Kerygma of Christ, the Proclamation of Christ, which was and is The Kingdom of Heaven. This is not a cut-and-dried thing to say the least especially as it relates to the different views of what happened during the fall and those who proclaim the Proclaimer as opposed to those who proclaim what He proclaimed . . . (possibly this is not the best analogy) . . . but I guess the point is some things don't work so well with bullet points.
And, possibly I can use this as a place to land this thing now . . . But, hopefully, you can glean something here that may help you to see that in many ways a confessional church does not have much in common with the Orthodox Church.
In this sense, a confessional entity is a historically late phenomenon (as is revivalism for that matter). At best this is something to be transcended by those of us who are more open minded towards a confessional pluralism in terms of at least dialogue. But, now I am in danger of hitting the throttle again here and zooming back up, so I will just end it with my apologies and hope that there is something here that may be of use now, or down the road as it relates to your question(s) about "objective certainty."
Either way, good to have you here Don.
- admin - 08-04-2009
Dear Don and Rick.
Thanks for some further interesting posts. It is so good to have this place where we can discuss meaning and value and substance without a narrow confessionalism.
I can understand both Don's desire for some structure, and Rick's explanation that Orthodoxy doesn't seem to be a place where the structure can be really nailed right down. It is a bit like the idea of an arrow fired at a tree which goes half way to the tree, and then half way to the tree, and then half way, and then half way, so that it is clear where it is going but in the fine detail always seems liable to hesitancy and provisionality.
I wonder also if there is a sense that the concreteness does not lie in where we are starting, but where we are going. This is not to say that 'every road leads to God', because I don't believe that, but certainly every journey starts in a different place and is unique.
Does the journey begin when we accept certain propositions? Or does it begin when we hear and respond to a call, without even quite being aware of it? For myself, my journey into Orthodoxy did not begin 15 years ago when I was received into the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, or 5 years before that when I started to study Orthodoxy, but when I was a toddler growing up in a devout and committed Evangelical home. That is where I first learned of Christ and was drawn to Him. I can remember being about 5 and disagreeing with comments my teacher had made about the Flood. I can remember at 10 knowing that I did not need to become a Christian because I already was one.
Yet I knew nothing about Christology, or Ecclesiology, or the Trinity, or Soteriology. Nevertheless my Orthodox journey had begun, if Orthodoxy is life in Christ - as I believe it is.
Here I am, an Orthodox priest with 15 years experience of being an active member of an Orthodox community. It seems to me that each day my journey continues to be 'just beginning'. I know more about 'propositional Christianity' but this is not my faith any more than it was when I was a child, it is the scaffolding, as I said.
And I know this because though I would want to say what Orthodoxy teaches in propositional terms, I would not want to narrowly define an Orthodox Christian by such propositions. Indeed in some sense the propositions stand in the way of an understanding of the Orthodox Christian experience if it is considered that there is only one absolute explication of the proposition, instead of each proposition coming into focus in a personal life lived.
If the propositions are a scaffolding for spiritual growth, then they are also boundaries which encompass a wide space for theological understanding, especially when theology is understood as insight through spiritual experience and not academic study. This is why many of these propositions have a negative value that says what we cannot say rather than what we can.
If we take the credal statement, 'And in One Lord, Jesus Christ, the Word of God...became man' then this constrains our reflection. for instance, we may not say that the Word of God did not become man, we may not say that Jesus Christ is only a man. But even if we fully understand in an intellectual sense that Christ is the Word of God truly become incarnate, then we have to continue asking all our life, 'what does this mean?' and the answer must be more than an intellectual one.
What I am trying to say is that the meaning of the proposition is not exhausted by simply stating it. Rather it becomes itself only a beginning for reflection, and its meaning only becomes increasingly known through prayer and spiritual experience, and that reflection is constrained by the negative exclusion of false understandings, which constraints are the fruits of the shared reflection of the Church.
So the propositions and constraints are important, but the aim is spiritual understanding and growth, and this personal experience of the Orthodox Faith is therefore liable to a variety of understandings within the constraints which the Church understands are required. It is hard to nail down an exact uniformity of understanding, but that does not mean that there is no uniformity within the constraints which the Church understands are necessary. It just means that the faith lived is not the same as propositions, and that the propositions cannot exhaust the substance of the Faith.
I'd be very happy for us to start a thread looking at the creed, and seeing what this teaches us about the substance of the Orthodox Faith, and how the creed relates to our lived faith. I'll open a thread now.