Clergy Retreat, Arcadia, CA
ANNUAL LENTEN CLERGY RETREAT, March 22 & 23, 2011, Christ the Savior Serbian Orthodox Church, Arcadia, California, Guest Speaker VLADAN PERISHICH
It is well-observed that if it is possible at all to speak of God, it is only because God has spoken of Himself. That is the reason why it is of utmost importance to investigate what exactly God has said of Himself. To do this, we shall leave out a very important question - how we know that God has spoken at all - and concentrate only on the ways we believe God has spoken to man, or on the ways God has revealed Himself.
God has not revealed Himself all of the sudden, but in progressive stages. God's first revelation or manifestation is the created order of the world of nature. That is why "The heavens declare the glory of God" (Ps 19,1). This revelation is intended for all people regardless of race or religion. The very Old Testament testifies that many nations (different from Israel) knew and reverenced the true God. This was confirmed by the New Testament in which it was shown that God never abandoned the other nations (although He preferred Israel), and that He was always approachable for them, because He "left not Himself without testimony, doing good from heaven" (Acts, 14.17). If they could not know Him, than it would not be fair to blame them for not glorifying Him as God. But they could know Him at least through the rhythms of nature (e.g. regularity of rain and harvest) as the One who "gives rains and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness" (Ibidem).
God, however, has not revealed Himself only in the visible world. He revealed Himself through the moral conscience as well: "For when the Gentiles who have not the law, do by nature those things that are of the law, these, having not the law, are a law to themselves: who show the work of the Lord written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness to them" (Epistle to the Romans, 2.14-15). So, parallel to the "physical" there is also "moral" revelation. Moreover, inside the "moral" revelation there are two different types: 1) tablets given to Moses on Sinai, and 2) tablets written in human hearts. It seems that God first spoke to all men through cosmos and conscience, and only then to Moses and other prophets. So, the revelation to all humanity (written in human hearts) is older than that to Moses and Israel (written in stone and permanent). This first revelation is of a lesser degree than the one which followed but what is important is it was the revelation of the same God. The same God who revealed Himself through the regularity of the courses of the stars as through the natural hierophanies, revealed Himself also to Moses.
As was already explained by Jesus Christ, the new revelation does not destroy, but perfects the previous one. Just as Christ did not destroy the Old Testament Law, but fulfilled it, so the Old Testament Law did not destroy the cosmic religion, but fulfilled it. Of course, every next revelation is more perfect than the previous one. Also, in the cosmic religion God manifests Himself through permanent patterns of the natural cycles, while in the biblical religion He manifests Himself in the uniqueness of historical events. So, cosmic religion shows itself as the first phase in the history of salvation in which God has revealed Himself through creation and providence (i.e. maintenance of created beings). In the next phase of God's revelation He is known through the single intervention in human history. This is the biblical revelation in which each of these divine acts is but a progressive stage in the general divine plan of salvation. We know who God is through His unique acts in our history. But to recognize that the one concrete act is divine, God's revelation (or His inspiration) to an individual human mind is needed.
Apart from revealing Himself in cosmos and conscience, God first spoke through the Prophets of Israel. Afterwards, He spoke through Jesus Christ. And finally He spoke through the Church. The idea of God at the level of cosmic religion is known through creation, whereas the idea of God in biblical religion is known through the covenant (which is the most important way of God's acting in the Bible). The idea of covenant implies that God made a bond between Himself and His chosen people Israel. For God this commitment is unconditional, which means that whatever the sins of men might be, they could never untie this bond which God tied once forever. Men can withdraw from this bond, but God will not. This is why He is true God.
When today we say that something is "true", we imply that something in the world corresponds to our thought. This is the original ancient Greek concept of truth. The Hebrew concept of truth (emet) is different. It implies the solidity of something from which one receives support (e.g. the pillar on which a building rests, or the support that a child receives when resting in his mother's arms). So, in relation to God, truth-emet means that we can lean on Him with all our weight. That God is truth means that He is reliable, that we can rely on Him. Therefore, the means of access to truth is no longer reason (as in the Greek-European mind), but faith. Only by faith, i.e. believing in God, or trusting Him can we lean on Him (and not by reason, i.e. not by having the evidence of Him). That is why the symbol of the true God in the Bible is a rock (as the unshakable firmness of the Word of God). Man expresses the recognition of this reliability of the Word of God by saying amen, which is like saying: "He is reliable, and I can lean on Him, so I can believe in Him". God's faithfulness to what He promised to man is as firm as a rock, so that man unreservedly can believe His Word.
God revealed Himself in the most perfect way in Jesus Christ. Because this revelation is the expression of God's fullness, there can be no further revelation of God. The Old Testament revealed God making a covenant with Israel and drawing it away from idols. The New Testament revealed God in the flesh making a covenant with the New Israel made from all the nations. The Time of the Church revealed God making a covenant with every baptised individual who enters the Church. This is God's progressive revelation. Likewise, "The Old Covenant proclaimed the Father openly [but primarily as the all-transcendent Father] and the Son more obscurely [only hinting at the person of the Son, presumably through prophecies of the coming Redeemer]. The New [Testament] manifested the Son [directly in the person of Jesus] and suggested the deity of the Spirit [presumably by Jesus' promise of the other Comforter and vague references to the Spirit in Acts and Paul's letters]. Now [in The Age of the Church, the eschatological period of salvation history that began with Jesus' ascension to the Father and giving of the Spirit at Pentecost] the Spirit itself dwells among us and provides us with a clearer demonstration of itself [i.e. reveals itself to Christians directly]. For it was not safe to proclaim the Son clearly when the Divinity of the Father was not yet acknowledged; or to burden us further (if I can put it somewhat boldly) with the Holy Spirit when the Divinity of the Son had not yet been received" (Gregory of Nazianz, Oration 31.26). Therefore, according to Gregory the Theologian (as well as Origen, Epiphanius, etc.) there is a gradual revelation of the Trinity in the history of salvation.
In this gradual unveiling of the ineffable Trinity God moves His people from idols to the Law (in the Old Testament), from Law to the Gospel (in the New Testament), and finally from this perishable life to His future everlasting Kingdom. Each of these progressive phases is preparatory for the next one, because God economically reveals Himself according to the ability of His people to receive it, but at the same time He does not leave the increasing of this ability to chance, but by illuminating the human mind He educates mankind and so makes it able to receive His revelation more and more.