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Home / PATRISTIC TEXTS, WORKS & TEACHINGS / TREASURY OF ORTHODOXY: Bishop Theophilos of Campania; LESSON 3 – ON THE FAITH OF ABRAHAM

TREASURY OF ORTHODOXY: Bishop Theophilos of Campania; LESSON 3 – ON THE FAITH OF ABRAHAM

Q. According to your thoughts and meditations Holy Elder, who was the first pious person to show genuine faith in God?

A. As you may recall, in spite of what had transpired, people had become immensely savage and barbarian turning to all forms of idolatry. It seems that within this spiritually historical context, that Abraham was the first, some 2,039 years[1] before Christ, to seriously approach and strive in a pious, sober and systematic manner to recognise and worship the One True God and Creator in the only way possible, in truth and righteousness.

For this reason, Abraham is often rightly called the First Father of Faith, and subsequently of all nations, since he served as a sound representative on humanity’s behalf to offer prayer and worship. It is thus surprising that he has been recognised and utilised as a great teacher by Phonecians, Egyptians or Greeks, since Abraham’s example of forsaking the idolatry of his own race and the man-made customs of his nation, estranged him from his parents and next of kin, in the search for truth, a higher level of existence and seeking to commune with the True God. He manifested this inner desire of his spiritual journey, by teaching others piety and modesty, while then taking the extreme step of burning all his father’s idols and devotive offerings.

It was at this point in his spiritual journey that God finally manifested Himself and spoke to Abraham, calling and commanding Abraham to leave his Mesopotamian homeland and to proceed to the land of Canaan where Abraham would receive what he sought. It was in this dialogue that God tells Abraham that he would become the Lord and Master of all the land that he surveyed, being Canaan, and that he would become the Father of many nations and races which would become as numerous as the stars of the heavens and the grains of sand of the sea. Hence informing us that both virtuous and evil offspring shall spring forth from Abraham, either, using their example of faith to do good, or to abuse it as a tool to wreak evil upon the earth.  This is symbolised by the stars which light the night sky, referring to those descendants who will live in virtue, shining in the darkness of the world’s errors. Whereas the reference to the grains of sand will refer to those who in spite of truth, will choose to willfully live in sin and drag everyone else around them to the depths of the sea.

This journey of faith which Abraham takes, reaches its full realisation within Scripture, when Abraham proclaims his faith and trust in God and His righteous justice. God responded by saying that: “Through you, all the nations of the earth shall be blessed”, in other words, that all peoples and nations who have faith in God like Abraham, shall seek out God’s blessing and will receive it freely. For this reason St Paul says “Scripture speaks of Abraham calling (evangelising) all righteous faithful amongst the nations to believe and trust in God”. In other words, you who believe and mimic Abraham’s example of faith shall find salvation.

In any case, Abraham, together with his co-worker in the faith, his wife Sarah, begot Isaac, while Isaac begot Jacob who in turn begets the 12 great Patriarchs, from whom come forth the Hebrew tribes. For as we know from the Old Testament, these tribes were blessed with the honour of being made a nation and to become God’s chosen people through the guidance of Moses, who helped lead them out of captivity from Egypt and to receive God’s Laws as epitomised in the 10 Commandments and the additional ordinances of the Law. Hence for many centuries, the Hebrews were the only ones to be blessed in worshiping the one true God and Creator of all, and it is for this reason that it is written that: “God is known within Judea”.

However, irrespective of the fact that the Hebrews had been blessed to worship the One God, hearing the divine ordinances daily, being taught by the Prophets or having the guidance of priests, they still fell away on numerous occasions, often turning to idolatry and engaging in many awful actions and sins. For these reasons, as Scripture cites, God was angered and so they were enslaved or persecuted by other nations; their existence stripped bare, husbands separated from wives, parents separated from children, all were sold into slavery. At such times they would finally recognise the severity and offence of their actions, even though they had been forewarned by their Prophets and Righteous men (Δἰκαιων), who they had ignored or persecuted. Yet it was to these very Prophets and Righteous men, that at the point of repentance that the Hebrews turned to, asking for their intercessions with God, only to fall into their vices not long afterwards, which in time also witnessed the destruction of the Holy City of Jerusalem itself and their re-enslavement.

As tragic as these turn of events may seem, taking place over many centuries, you may wonder as to what happened to the souls of so many people through these historical and spiritual events. Like every other people who dwelt on earth, those virtuous Hebrews together with their sinful brethren, after death, their souls went down to dwell in Hades (Sheol), since all of humanity was still bound by the consequences of ancestral sin (προπατορικἠν άμαρτίαν). That is, the consequences of death coming into the world as a result of Adam and Eve breaking the communion with God by partaking of the dangerous fruit. Each generation of humanity ever since, has followed that same disastrous path of turning away from God and not trusting in Him, but turning their attention to serving their own egotistical interests or that of the devil.

However, the souls of those who were Saints or those who were virtuous, existed within Hades without pain, suffering or the annoyances of the demons, whereas those who led unrepentant sinful lives received a foretaste of their accursed eternal state of existence, and as such remained unrepentant sinners. This of course, was the state of souls prior to the Incarnation of the Son and Word of God, administering His work of salvation, primarily His Crucifixion and His Rising from death to life, thus defeating the devil who held all souls captive in Hades. In this way our Lord imparted to all of humanity the true Faith, while bestowing upon us the rite of Holy Baptism which encapsulates this very mystery of passing from death into life; because it is the means by which each person can be set free from the bondage and consequences of the ancestral sin, and helps make us “worthy”, (if such a thing could ever be said) to become partakers of the Kingdom of Heaven.

With that said, we should note that we must not take the salvific work of Christ, or the gift of Baptism which is our initiation into the mystery of Heaven for granted, because it is not an automatic guarantee of our own salvation. Rather, we should see these things as the means which facilitate, should we desire, to attain that state of blessedness that can be given through mimicking Abraham’s faith, by being baptised into his faith, which had as its supreme exponent the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

Therefore, we have no excuses given these salvific opportunities afforded to us; for all those who are baptised into the grace of our Faith, but choose to sin and remain unrepentant after receiving the gift of baptism, shall remain under the murderous burden of sin; condemning themselves to the same death and eternal bondage to Hades, just like those tortured souls of the unrepentant prior to Christ’s Incarnational ministry. Whereas those who are baptised and strive for virtue shall find and dwell in eternal peace till the day of the Second Coming of Christ; when all things shall find their fulfillment and completion. For in that day, the fullness of the burden which the unrepentant sinners will carry for all eternity shall be realised and manifested, making their eternal existence a living hell, while the Righteous will finally experience the full blissful reality of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Dedicated to Tony and Eleni Stathopoulos and their son George, who are devoted lovers of God’s word. Kali Dynamis.

Translated by V. M.


[1] This calculation is probably based on the Byzantine perception of time which was calculated not according to Christ’s Incarnational ministry as we do today, but from the time of Creation: Κτἰσεως Κὀσμου.

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