Topic 1 - The fall and the meaning of sin - there is only one sin
To start understanding Orthodoxy and Orthodox thought we must begin with Adam and Eve and the fall of man. To understand the fall, we must understand that to Adam and Eve, God was the provider - everything was from God and for God. Hence, the temptation to Eve was that she will be 'like God'; in other words, that she would be able to provide for herself. When man ate the apple, he decided to be his own god, his own provider, and be self-reliant on himself. Thus, man separated from God and death and destruction was introduced into the world. Therefore, the ancestoral sin, and sin in general, is not wanting or needing God. And so, in Orthodox thought, there is only one sin - not wanting or needing God. Everything else is incidental. The Orthodox church sees sin only in this way. Sin is not something 'bad' or 'evil' - but separation from God. Hence, the world might consider actions 'good', but in Christianity that action or thought might separate us from God.
Topic 2: The struggle between the old and the new man
After the fall of man, mankind was bound to their nature - man became their own provider and could not reunite with God.
To lift man from this confinement, Christ came down and united his nature with man's, giving man the ability to rise up as a new creation. In baptism we put to death the old man and rise putting on the new man. So throughout our lives there is an internal struggle between the old and new man, between our reliance on God and our reliance on ourselves. The beginning of winning this struggle, is to understand its existence. Repentance in the Orthodox understanding is not 'feeling sorry' for our sins, but the 'transformation of mind' - in other words, moving from our warped nature to the new creation. Hence, the beginning of the struggle is to understand that you can do nothing, you cannot rely on yourself. So man must empty himself out (Kenosis) to be able to filled with God. Once man is no longer relying on himself, can he truly appreciate God for who He is - the provider.
Topic 3: Centre of Orthodox understanding - the Body of Christ
With mankind's opportunity as the new creation, united with Christ, we reach a fundamental understanding of the Orthodox church. With the incarnation and sacrifice of Christ comes the creation of the Church and the Body of Christ. In the Orthodox church we do not believe in symbols as some of our brothers in other faiths do - for us we are the Body of Christ. When we meet in synaxis, we are Christ. The Body of Christ is central to all Orthodox teachings and rituals. Even though we are lowly and sinful in our individual state, we are made perfect within the Body. Hence, salvation only exists in the Body.Therefore, there can be no salvation outside the Church. That is why, the meaning of the Church, is not the parish or the building, but the Body of Christ. The Church is not a inanimate object, but rather a living organism - the Body of Christ.
Topic 4: The bond - the Love of Christ
Once we have understood that we, as the Church, are the Body of Christ, we must ask what binds us as one. What makes us one Body? As the Trinity is Love and bound in love, so are we, the Body, are also bound in love. But let us not be fooled in thinking that 'wordly love' is what binds us. When the Lord Christ was speaking to his disciples in the last supper, he set down a new commandment - that we should love one another. How is this a new commandment? Its newness is in the ability to achieve this commandment, through the love of Christ. Hence, it is not our love, but the Love of Christ which flows through us and binds us as one. Only by partaking in the Love of Christ, can we be bound to the Body of Christ.
Topic 5: Three relationships - Faith, hope and Love
St Paul tells us - "And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love". The Church fathers tell us that these 3 represent 3 different relationships with God. First is the relationship of faith. Man starts his relationship with God out of faith of heaven and hell - hence we want God out of fear of Hell, not our desire for Heaven. Because of the fear of hell, man cannot stick to the path, as fear never lasts. Second is the relationship of hope. Hope that we will recieve the reward, the hope of heaven. Last is the relationship of love. Man stays strong because of his love to God. The first is the relationship of a slave; the second of a servant; the last as a son. For "a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever."
Topic 6: The Kingdom of God
The aim of the Orthodox Christian is the Kingdom of God. But what is the Kingdom of God? The Kingdom of God is God himself - his presence, his light, his very being. We do not need to wait for death to be within the Kingdom. The Lord Christ tells us "the Kingdom of God is at hand", meaning it is here now, not that it is coming. As Christians we must experience the Kingdom of God now and not in some future event. Hence, Christianity is always about now, not about some distant future. Seek first the kingdom. As a Church and a member of the Body, that is are only priority - not one of, but only priority. Hence, with this understanding, Christianity is a relationship with God, rather than a 'test' to see if we can get to Heaven.
Topic 7: The subjective element: Knowledge of God
This topic can be summarised in a simple sentence - Orthodoxy cannot be explained but must be experienced. There is a difference between knowing God and knowing of God. The Orthodox church is never concerned with the knowing of God, but knowing God. And only when we have experienced the true knowledge of God can we truly understand the rites and practices of the Church. Most of the questions asked by people, are asked because people do not know God.
Topic 8: What is truth?
When Pilate asks Christ "What is truth?" the Lord decides not to answer. So what is truth? Truth is fact, it is unchanging and never moving. To understand what is truth, we must understand the ultimate lie. The greatest lie is that this world is it. That we must depend on the world. The world is ever changing and ever moving, but man relies on the world as if it is truth. So what is the truth? Truth is that there is something else out there which is constant and never moving. What is the truth? God is truth, because God never changes. And it is Him which we should rely on. The church is only concerned with Truth, we live our lives for the revelation of that Truth, and for that Truth to be manifested throughout our lives. Hence as Christians, all the concerns us is the Truth.
Topic 9: Orthodox perspective of self-esteem
Self-esteem is term usually used to reflect a person's overall evaluation of themselves and their worth. Because mankind is no longer aware of itself and because they have distorted their very existence, low self-esteem has become a major issue. As Christians are aim is to truly know who we are and the purpose of our existence - hence, self-esteem is a non issue for a Christian, because we do not concern ourselves with the attitude of the world towards. For only God's opinion matters.
Topic 10: Put on the armour of God
Once we start to understand the struggle between the old and new man, we must put on our armour to be able to withstand the fight. Of course we do not mean physical but spiritually as stated in Ephesians 6. In our meeting we went through the meaning of the verses, especially we went through the commentaries of St John Chrysostom.
For a detailed summary of each piece of armour see the series - the battle
Topic 11: The Passion of Christ
The Lord in the ultimate manifestation of love, came down and united mankind with the true source of life. Throughout Church history the congregation has tried to understand and show the sufferings of Christ. However, as the Church we understand that the Passion of Christ is not something which we focus on as a historical event, nor do we see it as a form of guilt. Rather as the Church we echo St Paul in saying "I have been crucified with Christ, it's no longer I who live but Christ lives in me." The ultimate sacrifice changes our perspective and our lives, because through the Passion the Church was born.
Topic 12: Mystery of Water and the Spirit: Baptism
The mysteries of the Church or the sacraments are not 'symbols'. The mysteries of the Church are the ecclesial events when the Holy Spirit manifests Truth to the children of God and the world. The Mystery of Baptism is the manifestation of death and resurrection with Christ - the manifestation of our true existence and the existence of the Church. For without Baptism one cannot enter the Kingdom - for how can we partake of the Kingdom without our resurrection to the new man and the new creation. And that is why Baptism is the entrance into the church, because how can one enter the Body of Christ without putting to death the old man and rising as the new creation. However, let it be noted, that the purpose of Baptism is not to enter the Church (this is incidental) - it's purpose is to manifest Truth.
Topic 13 & 14: The meaning of Orthodoxy: Eucharistic life
The Liturgy is known as the Mystery of the Kingdom. The Mystery of the Liturgy is the manifestation of the Kingdom of God - the ultimate Truth. Not the symbol but the manifestation. The first step of the mystery is the assembly of the Church, because when we come together we are Christ. And what is the Kingdom of God - the presence of God. And what is the Body of Christ - the presence of God. So when we come together with the intention of Liturgy (Synix), we rise the Church above this world and manifest the Kingdom of God. So as the Church and as Christians we thrive and aim to the manifestation
of the Kingdom of God - hence all our aim is the Eucharist. To partake of the Eucharist is to partake of the Kingdom. Hence the meaning of an Orthodox Christian is the person who partakes in the manifestation of the Kingdom.
Hence, we cannot and will not be saved without the Eucharist, because the synix through Eucharist is what transforms us from old to new. The Eucharist and the Eucharistic life is the transformation of this world, from a world in which we are dependent, into a world which is an instrument to communicate with God.