By ST. NEKTARIOS OF PENTAPOLIS
Concerning the Sacred Catechism
1. What is a Catechism; and what is a Sacred Catechism?
A Catechism is teaching about divine things. Sacred Catechism is the teaching of the Church of Christ, through which those Christians who have been already catechized and those who are to be catechized are taught the dogmatic and moral truths of Christianity.
2. What are the sources of the Christian teaching?
They are the Sacred Scriptures of the Old and the New Testaments and the Sacred Tradition.
3. Who wrote the Sacred Scriptures?
The Sacred Scriptures were written by the holy Prophets and the holy Apostles by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
4. Who handed down the Sacred Tradition to the Church? And how is It viewed?
The Sacred Tradition was handed down by the holy Apostles and is viewed as the unwritten instalment of the New Testament.
5. What do we mean when we say the Old Testament?
We mean the sacred books of the Hebrew religion.
6. What do we mean when we say the New Testament?
We mean the sacred books which were written by the holy Apostles.
Concerning the Holy Scriptures
1. What do the books of the Old Testament contain?
They contain the accounts concerning the creation of the world and the formation of the human being by God, the fall of the human being, the promise of salvation to the human being, the divine revelation, the divine law, the prophesies about Christ the Saviour, the worship of the Jewish religion, in which liturgical acts prefigure the worship of the evangelical grace.
2. What does the New Testament contain?
It contains the coming of the Saviour as predicted, the fulfilment of the prophesies, the cessation of the symbols of the Old Testament, the work of the redemption, the crucifixion, the burial and the resurrection of the Saviour, His glorious ascension, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon His holy Disciples and Apostles, the works and the teaching of the Christ the Saviour, the sending of the holy Apostles to minister the divine message of the Gospel to the whole world and to declare God’s great mercy whereby He was pleased to send His only-begotten Son to save humanity.
3. How many are the books of the Old Testament?
The books of the Old Testament are twenty two.
4. How are they called?
They are called “canonical” because they constitute the “Hebrew Canon.”
5. Are there other books apart from these canonical ones?
Yes, indeed! There are books which the Roman Catholics call “deutero-canonical” (δευτεροκανονικά), the Protestants call “apocrypha” and the Fathers of the Church call “anaginoskomena” (ἀναγινωσκόμενα=profitable for reading).
6. Which are the canonical books of the Old Testament?
They are the following: 1) Genesis, 2) Exodus), 3) Leviticus, 4) Numbers and 5) Deuteronomy (which constitute the Pentateuch), 6) Joshua, 7) Judges with Ruth as an Appendix, 8) 1st and 2nd Kings, 9) 3rd and 4th Kings, 10) 1st and 2nd Books of the Paraleipomena of the Kings of Judah, 11) Ezra or Priest and 1st and 2nd Orations of Nehemiah, 12) Esther, 13) Job, 14) The Psalter of David, 15) The Proverbs of Solomon, (16) Ecclesiastes, 17) The Song of Songs, 18) Isaiah, 19) Jeremiah and the Lamentations of Jeremiah, 20) Ezekiel, 21) Daniel and 22) the Twelve Prophets, i.e. the books of the twelve so-called lesser Prophets: Hosea, Amos, Micah, Joel, Obadiah, Jonas, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zachariah, and Malachi.
7. Which are the deutero-canonical Books or Anaginoskomena?
These are: 1) The book of Tobit, 2) Judith, 3) The Priest (Ecclesiasticus), 4) Maccabees I, II, III and the Remainder Additions, 5) Baruch, 6) Epistle of Jeremiah, 7) Wisdom of Solomon, 8) Wisdom of Sirach.
8. How are the books of the Old Testament divided?
The books of the Old Testament are divided into: A) Historical, B) Didactic and C) Prophetical.
9. Which are the Historical Books?
The Historical Books are a) the Pentateuch, of Moses, in which we find the story of the creation of the world, of the formation of the human being, of the generation of Seth, of the Patriarchs, of Moses, of the Exodus of the Jewish people from the land of Egypt, and of the tradition of the divine law; b) the books of Joshua, of the Judges, of Ruth, of the Kings of the Paraleipomena, in which we find the story of the Israelite people from the death of Moses to the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (588). These books are also called books of the ancient Prophets; and c) the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, in which we find the story of the Israelites during the Babylonian captivity; to these we may also add the books of the Maccabees, of Tobit, Judith and The Priest.
10. Which are the Didactic Books and what sort of teachings do they contain?
The Didactic Books are the poetic books: Job, the Psalms, the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs. In them we find moral and religious truths and hymns and praises to God. To these we may add the Wisdom of Solomon and the Wisdom of Sirach.
11. Which are the Prophetical Books and what do they contain?
Prophetical are the books of the Prophets, of the twelve lesser and of the four major ones. In them we find various predictions, about Christ’s person, about His teaching, about His works and about the future salvation of the Nations. These books are called the books of the younger or later Prophets.
12. Which are the Books of the New Testament?
These are twenty seven. 1st The four Sacred Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; 2nd The Acts of the Apostles, 3rd The fourteen Epistles of Paul (1 to the Romans, 2 to the Corinthians, 1 to the Galatians, 1 to the Ephesians, 1 to the Philippians, 1 to the Colossians, 2 to the Thessalonians, 2 to Timothy, 1 to Titus, 1 to Philemon, and 1 to the Hebrews. 4th The Seven Catholic Epistles (1 of James, 2 of Peter, 3 of John, and 1 of Judas), and 5th and final the Sacred Apocalypse of John the Theologian.
13. What is the subject-matter of the Holy Scripture? The Old and the New?
The very subject and underlying content of Holy Scripture is our Redeemer Jesus Christ, the Saviour of humanity fore-announced from the creation of the world, predicted by the Prophets, whose redemptive work was prefigured through Symbols, Types and Sacrifices.
14. Where do we find the first promise in the Old Testament?
We find it in the following words of God to the snake: “And I will place an enmity between you and between the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He will look for your head and you will look for His heel” (Gen. 3:15). Through this promise Christ’s victory over the devil was prefigured. This is also the promise which Adam and his posterity treasured, and which was renewed in the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through a new promise: “And in your seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 22:18).
15. Through which types and sacrifices and symbols was the mystery of the evangelical grace prefigured in the Old Testament?
This was through the Paschal Lamb which was a type and a symbol of the spotless lamb, Jesus Christ; through the brazen snake in the desert which depicted the redeemer who was fixed upon the cross and who heals the bites of the spiritual snake of those who look to Him with faith; through the circumcision of the foreskin, which signified the baptismal purification from sin through Jesus Christ; through the sacrifices of the Old Testament, the sprinklings and purifications with blood; the unburnt bush, the jar with the manna, the rod of Aaron which sprouted, which prefigured the divine birth of Christ from the Virgin; and there are several other such examples in the Old Testament.
16. By what means are the holiness and the divinity of the Holy Scriptures, of the Old and of the New Testaments, proven?
A) These are proven from their content, i.e. from the holiness of their dogmas and teachings, through which true wisdom shines forth, which is higher, and finer, satisfying humanity’s spiritual requirements and the longings of humanity’s heart; B) from the amazing power of their teaching and especially from their power to mould; C) from the exact fulfilment of the prophesies, the outcome of which is found in the New Testament; and D) from the attested fact of the Revelation of God who was seen on the earth, and the execution of unthinkable miracles, and the blessing and grace which were transmitted to those who believed.
17. Why is Holy Scripture called Old and New Testament?
Holy Scripture, namely, the sacred books, are called Old and New Testament, because they contain the testaments, which God granted to human beings. Indeed, the Old Testament contains the three testaments, which God granted to humanity, namely: a) the “primitive testament” (ἡ πρωτόγονος διαθήκη), which was in paradise and which was applied when He said, “You shall eat from every tree that is in paradise, but you will not eat from the tree of knowledge, because on the day when you eat from it, you will die by death.”
Through this testament the human being who would observe the commandment would be rendered immortal; but he would also become mortal, if he would trespass the commandment of God. Sirach says: “In addition, He gave them knowledge, and the law of life for an inheritance. He granted an everlasting Testament to them and indicated his judgments to them” (Wisdom of Sirach 17:11f); b) the “patriarchal testament” (ἡ πατριαρχικὴ διαθήκη), which God granted to Abraham, when He appeared to him and said to him: “I am your God, be well-pleasing before me and be blameless and I will establish my testament between myself and yourself … and your seed after you in their generations, as an everlasting testament so that I will be your God and of your seed after you” (Gen. 17:1-21; cf. 15:18); and c) the testament at the time of Moses the Prophet (ἡ ἐπὶ τοῦ Μωϋσέως), in which God granted the law to the sons of Israel, when He said to Moses: “Write for yourself these words, because on these words I grant to you and to Israel a testament” (Ex. 34:27; cf. 19:5 and 23:22).
[Note: Apart from these Testaments the Old Testament mentions some others, which God granted to human beings, i.e. to Noah and to Abraham and to Jacob (Gen. 6:18, 9:9-16)]. In the New Testament Holy Scripture presents the New Testament of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was endorsed through His own blood (Matt. 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20), and through which everyone who believes in Him has eternal life. “He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who disbelieves will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). This Testament is superior of all the other testaments, because it is a testament of grace and salvation. St. Paul says: “But now Christ has obtained a ministry, which is as different as He is mediator of a greater Testament, which has been ratified by greater promises; because if that former testament was blameless there would be no need to find a place for another…etc” (Heb. 8:6-7).
A. Concerning the definition and the purpose of the Church
1. What is the meaning of Church?
A) Church is a divine religious system established by our Lord Jesus Christ and inaugurated through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Holy Pentecost in the totality of its truths, institutions, sacraments and commandments (Matt. 16:17); b) Church is also the system of the believers which has been built upon the foundation of the Apostles and the Prophets, Jesus Christ being its cornerstone (Eph. 2:20); c) Furthermore, church is called by convention the temple of God, in which the worship and the sacraments of the New Testament are implemented and the system of the believers is gathered for the worship of the God who is in Trinity (John 4:19-27).
2. What is the purpose of the Church?
The purpose of the Church is the salvation of the race of humanity and the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth, i.e. the communication of God with human beings and the restoration of love, peace and freedom, in which (kingdom) the king is the God who appeared and which purifies the old man from sin and renews him according to the image of the One who created him by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
4. How does the Church fulfill this task?
The Church fulfills this task by attracting man to the faith of Christ through the preaching of the divine word, regenerating him through the sacraments and leading him to Christian perfection through the moral precepts of the Gospel [Note: The Church also embraces in her bosom those who have fallen into sins and do not live according to her laws, considering them as sick members. “The entire Church of God does not consist only of perfect members, because it also includes those who live in indolence and embrace the loose life and choose to be slaves to pleasures” (Theodoret on Psalm 1)].
5. Who defines the purpose of the Church?
The purpose of the Church is defined by the Apostle Paul, who says, that this purpose is the “equipping of the Saints, the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith through the fuller knowledge of the Son of God; and therefore He gave to the Church some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists and others to be pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11-13 and Rom. 8:3-4).
B. Historical growth of the Church of God
1. How many historical periods does the Church recognize?
There are three such periods: A) the period from Adam to Moses, B) the period from Moses to the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ and C) the period from the Saviour Jesus Christ to the completion of the present age.
2. How was the Church governed during these periods?
During the first period the Church was governed by the divine theophanies and through oral traditions. During the second period, this was done through the written law and the teachings of the prophets, and during the last period, through the Sacred Gospel of the written and unwritten installment, i.e. of the Sacred Tradition.
3. Did the Church suffer persecutions?
Yes, the Church was persecuted immediately after its establishment and suffered many persecutions, but no one was able to shake her, because she was founded upon the unbroken rock, which is Christ Himself, “and no gates of hell will prevail over her” (Matt. 16:18).
4. How many persecutions did the Church suffer during the third period?
The Church numbers many persecutions, which are double, external and internal. The external persecutions are ten, the first of which was at the time of Nero (AD 64), and the last one at the time of Diocletian (AD 302). The internal persecutions were multiple at various times, and of them the Evangelist John says, “They came out from us, but they were not of us” (John 2:19). These persecutors of the Church are called antichrists in Holy Scripture, as fighting against the work of Christ.
[These persecutions were as follows: the 1st under Nero (AD 64), the 2nd under Dometian (AD 95), the 3rd under Trajan (AD 111), the 4th under Adrian (AD 126), the 5th under the Antonines (AD 162), the 6th under Severus (AD 202), the 7th under Maximin (AD 235), the 8th under Decius (AD 250), the 9th under Valerian (AD 258) and the 10th under Diocletian (AD 302).]
5. What were the main heresies?
The most important heresies were the following:
(1) The heresy of Simon the Magician.
(2) The heresy of the Ebionites, or Judaizing Christians, who kept the Sabbath, circumcision and other Jewish ordinances, and denied the Godhead of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(3) The heresy of the Gnostics, who held the view that knowledge is greater than faith, and consider Jesus as one of the ages which were emanated from God.
(4) The heresy of the Montanists, who followed the Phrygian Montanus, a former Priest of the goddess Cybil in Phrygia, who declared himself to be “the Paraclete who is going to complete the work of Christ” (since AD 150).
(5) The heresy of the Manichaeans, who followed Manichaeus, a magician who had been exiled from Persia in the 4th century AD, and was a mixture of Gnostic heretical notions and Persian mythologies and accepted the existence of two matching principles, that of light and that of darkness, and held about our Saviour Jesus Christ that he was one of the luminary beings.
(6) The heresy of the Monarchians, or Sabellians from Sabellius a presbyter in Ptolemais (AD 250-260), which taught that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are three different names of the one and the same person of God, that the term “Father” is the name which is attributed to this one person, viewed in his incomprehensible majesty and absolute dominion; that the term “Son” is the name attributed to the same person, when revealing himself as incarnated and dwelling amongst human beings; and that the term “Spirit” is the name which is attributed to this person, when he is perceived as acting directly on the particular beings in the works of creation, providence or grace.
(7) The heresy of the Arians from Arius a presbyter of Alexandria. They held the doctrine (about AD 318) that the second person of the Holy Trinity is inferior to the first person and that the second is a creation of the first.
(8) The heresy of the Macedonians or Pneumatomachians (Spirit-fighters) from Macedonius Bishop of Constantinople (AD 341-360), which held that the Holy Spirit is a creature and a minister of the Father and of the Son.
(9) The heresy of the Pelagians from Pelagius the presbyter. The Pelagians denied the transmission of original sin to the human species (AD 413).
(10) The heresy of the Nestorians from Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople (428-431), which made a sharp distinction between the two natures in Christ and denied their full union by promoting their mere conjunction.
(11) The heresy of the Monophysites, or Eutychians from Eutyches, and Archimandrite in Constantinople, which in opposition to that of the Nestorians taught that in Jesus Christ there is only one nature (AD 451).
(12) The heresy of Monotheletism which was derived from that of Monophysitism and accepted only one will in Christ.
(13) The heresy of the Iconomachs (Icon fighters) or Iconoclasts (Icon breakers). The emperor Leo III (AD 726-878), who was called Iconomach, was the heretical leader of this heresy.
6. Which are the most notable Churches in modern times, which deviated from the Orthodox spirit of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church?
A) The Western Church, which innovated in many other things and especially concerning the dogma of the procession of the Most Holy Spirit, and b) the Church of the Protestants which emerged in the 16th century as a schism from the Western Church and is distinguished by various names: (1) The Lutherans from Martin Luther, a German monk in Eisleben of Prussia (1483-1546), who are also called Evangelicals. (2) The Calvinists from John Calvin from Noyon in France (1509-1561), who are also called Reformed. Both Lutherans and Calvinists accept Holy Scripture as the only source of Christianity and reject the sacred Apostolic tradition. Lutheranism spread in the Northern parts of Germany and in the Scandinavian states, whereas Calvinism was transmitted to certain eparchies in France, the Low Lands and Scotland. In Scotland it was modified in such a way that a particular Church was formed, that of the Scottish Presbyterians, who are also called Puritans. (3) The Anglicans or Episcopalians, i.e. the Protestants of the English Church who rejected completely the Tradition of the Church, but kept the Priesthood with its three-fold classification and the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and partly also the ancient liturgical order concerning the celebration of the Divine Eucharist.
7. What was the foundation of the Church during these three periods?
The Church had our Lord Jesus Christ Himself as her foundation during these three historical periods; and this why the pious men who were distinguished during the first and the second period of the Church were perfected through faith and hope in the future Saviour and Redeemer of the human species. The Apostle Paul says this in his 1st Epistle to the Corinthians: “I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact that all our fathers ate from the same spiritual food and all of them drank from the same spiritual drink; because they drank from a spiritual rock that was following up; and this rock was Christ” (I Cor. 10:1-4). Our Father Gregory the Theologian the Divine in his Oration on the Maccabees and while speaking about the martyrdom of Eleazar, of Solomone and of her seven children, says the following: “No one of those who were perfected before Christ’s appearance achieved this without the faith in Christ; because the Word appeared afterwards at particular times, and came to be known first to those who had purified their mind as it is clear from many who had been honoured before Him;” and further on, “Eleazar is here the first fruits of those who suffered before Christ, just as Stephanos is for those after Christ.”
C. On the Necessity of the Catechism
1. On what basis does the Church catechize those who come to join her?
A) On the words of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and of the His holy Apostles.
2. Which are these words?
These words of the Lord are the following: “Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19, Mark 6:15-16). These words indicate that Catechetical teaching concerning the Religion of Revelation had to precede Baptism.
3. Which are the (relevant) words of the Apostles?
The Apostle Paul says: “Faith is from hearing, and hearing is through the word of God” (Rom. 10:17); and elsewhere, “Let him who catechizes the word share all good things with him who catechizes” (Gal. 6:6).
B) On the example of the Apostles; inasmuch as the Apostles first catechized the nations and afterwards baptized them. In Jerusalem the Apostle Peter first catechized and then baptized the three thousand souls (Acts 2:14-41). Philip also first preached the Gospel of Christ to the Samaritans and then baptized them, and he did likewise with the eunuch of the queen of Candace (Acts 8:12, 35-38). In general, everywhere and always the Catechism of the Apostles preceded baptism.
4. Did the Church preserve faithfully and strictly the commandment of the Saviour and the example of the Apostles?
Yes indeed. The Church from her establishment until today has maintained faithfully and strictly the practice of first catechizing and then baptizing.
5. Does the Church catechize the infants that she baptizes?
Yes indeed. This is done in the person of the godparent, who confesses the faith on behalf of the baptized and offers a guarantee for his/her faith.
6. Who were the first catechists in the Church after the Apostles?
The first catechists after the Apostles were the bishops, as it appears from a letter of St. Ambrose (Epist. 33 book 5), who also delegated the task of catechizing to presbyters and deacons who were attested and were full of faith and wisdom. Such catechists were, Chrysostom in Antioch (cf. his 21 Catechetical Orations) and Cyril in Jerusalem (cf. his 18 Catechisms), while they were presbyters, and there was also Theocharis (Deogratias) who catechized the Christians in the Church of Carthage while being a deacon (Augustine). Catechizing was also entrusted to Readers. Cyprian promoted the Reader Optatus to the office of Catechist following the example of Origen who was a Catechist in Alexandria while being a Reader. Furthermore, there were women too whop had been appointed catechists to teach only women.
7. Where was the task of catechization performed?
The task of catechization was carried out in the sacred temples; but later on in the great cities it was carried out in catechetical schools which had been founded for this purpose. The Catechetical School of Alexandria was most conspicuous. Similar Schools existed in Rome, in Jerusalem, in Antioch, in Caesarea of Palestine, and elsewhere.
8. Who were the most distinguished catechists of the Alexandrian School?
Pantainos, Clement the Alexandrian, Origen, Heraklas, Dionysios, Athenodoros, Malchion, Didymos, Athanasios the Great and even the notorious Arius, before his seduction.
9. What does the Church seek to achieve by catechizing?
By catechizing the Church seeks to teach the faith of Christ and to render those who accept it firm and unshakable in the faith and well-established in their religious convictions; because through catechization the Christian is taught to believe in full awareness and information of heart, to be ready to offer a defence of his faith to anyone who asks about it according to the commandment of the Apostle Peter: “Always be prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the hope which is in you” (I Pet. 3:15; cf. Tit. 2:8), and to be able to discern his true and divine faith from human religious constructions.
10. Why does the Church ask those catechized to believe in Christ the Saviour?
The Church asks for their faith, because only through faith in Christ is a human being saved. The faith in Christ is the only response that justifies a human being, and the only door that brings him into eternal life. Through faith in the Saviour a human being confesses the salvation which takes place through Christ the Saviour, the divine grace and the divine mercy, through which one was called to salvation, and accepts with all his heart to bear the yoke of Christ and to keep His commandments.
11. What does the Church teach about the justifying faith?
The Church teaches about the justifying faith, that it is a work of both, the divine grace, which calls and operates, and of the will of the human being who listens carefully and cooperates.
D. Concerning the Divine Grace and the moral freedom of the human being
1. What is called Divine Grace?
Divine grace is the help and the assistance, which God grants freely because of Christ’s value to those who listen to His word, in order to strengthen their mind, will and heart that they may accept the Christian faith, and which continues to follow the believer afterwards so that he may accomplish good works.
2. Who are mistaken about this orthodox teaching of the Church?
These are the Calvinists and those Protestants, who teach that the justifying grace is only the work of God. Such a view is erroneous A) because it removes human freedom, and excludes human synergy, based on full awareness, consciousness and freedom, from the work of salvation. The divine Chrysostom says: “grace, even though it is (free) grace, it saves those who want it;” also Gregory the Theologian says: “it is necessary that what is up to us and what is from God should be preserved;” Justin says, “that God who created man alone does not save without man;” and the parable of the sower of the Gospel is a most suitable example: the sower sowed and the good earth received, and God blessed and there was growth and yielding of fruit 30, 60 and 100. The Protestant view is also wrong B) because salvation is attributed entirely to God’s predestination; C) because it renders unaccountable the unbelievers attributing their unbelief to God who did not include them in His saving predestination and D) because through absolute predestination the necessity of good works in salvation is removed.
3. What does the Church hold concerning human freedom, human responsibility and God’s predestination?
The Church holds and teaches a) that man is saved willingly, because no one believes unwillingly, or loves, or is perfected through virtue; b) that man alone is responsible for his lack of faith, because he willingly turned a deaf ear to the voice that called him to salvation, due to evil and sin that took hold of his heart, and c) that God predestines those he foreknows as all-wise and all-knowledgeable, but not absolutely (Rom. 8:29-31), which means that God’s predestination has its reason in foreknowledge and predestination based on foreknowledge excludes absolute predestination.