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Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Teaching Children about the Orthodox Faith

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)


Some children, influenced by what they are taught at school, have a flawed understanding of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Three common errors are listed below:
  • The Jews worship the God of the Old Testament, but Christians worship the God of the New Testament.
  • The God of the Old Testament is God the Father.
  • The Old Testament was ‘nasty’ but the New Testament is ‘nice’.
Explain to children that the Trinity exists before time began, and that all the appearances of God in the Old Testament were the unincarnate Word of God. Christ took flesh in Bethlehem as the man Jesus Christ, but was not separated from the Father and the Holy Spirit as we hear in the Akathist Hymn:
Wholly present with those below was the uncircumscribed Word, yet in no way absent from those above; for this was a divine condescension and not a mere change of place; and His birth was from a virgin chosen of God.[1]
The difference between the two Testaments can be illustrated by comparing the slaying of Uzzah for touching the Ark of the Covenant to prevent it from falling with Christ’s forbearance when being beaten by the soldiers before the Crucifixion. In both Testaments, Christ’s power is undiminished because He is God, but in the New Testament He came as a Lamb to the slaughter to destroy death by His death. St. Philaret of New York explains:
The main distinction of the New Testament law from that of the Old Testament consists in that the Old Testament law looked at the exterior actions of man, while the New Testament law looks at the heart of man, at his inner motives. Under the Old Testament law, man submitted himself to God as a slave to his master, but under the New Testament, he strives towards submitting to Him as a son to submits to a beloved father.[2]
The Holy Spirit is also active in the Old Testament, because He is inseparable from the Father and the Son, as Metropolitan Hierotheos observes:
The Holy Spirit is active in the Old Testament as well, differently from the way He acts in the New Testament, in the Church. For, as we said before, in the Old Testament, He pointed out to the prophets the transgression of the commandments and revealed the coming of Christ, while in the New Testament He makes men sons of God and members of the Body of Christ and guides them to deification. [3]
The Orthodox Church is the true heir of the Old Testament Church. Fr. Michael Pomazansky explains that:
In this heritage, some things have an eternal significance and value, but others have ceased to exist and are significant only as recollections of the past and for edification as prototypes. The Church makes use of her Old Testament heritage authoritatively, in accordance with her understanding of the world, which is complete and superior to that of ancient Israel’s.[4]
It is worth explaining to children that the righteous and the sinners that died in the Old Testament all had a second chance to believe on Christ through the preaching of St. John the Baptist in Hades. The kontakion for the Beheading of John the Baptist begins: ‘The glorious beheading of the Forerunner was a certain divine dispensation, that the coming of the Saviour might also be preached to those in Hades.’ [5]

There are many types of Christ in the Old Testament, but make sure that children understand the difference between a type and the actual appearance of the Person.

Types of the Word of God in the Old Testament


The Paschal Lamb

On seeing Christ, John the Baptist cried out ‘Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world’(John 1:29). Christ is called the Lamb of God because He is offered in sacrifice for us. Christ is our Passover. He is our ‘Paschal Lamb that has been sacrificed’(1 Corinthians 5:7). Christ was sacrificed, or rather, He gave Himself as a sacrifice so that our sins might be forgiven. Christ became man out of love for man and offered Himself up on the Cross to forgive the sins of the whole world.

Rock


St. Paul makes clear that the Rock of Horeb is a type of Christ: ‘They drank from that spiritual Rock that followed them and that Rock was Christ’ (1 Corinthians 10:4). Christ is ‘the stone which the builders rejected that has become the head of the corner’ (cf. 1 Peter 2:7); He is the ‘rock of stumbling’ prophesied by Esaias (Is. 8:14), and the ‘chief cornerstone’ of the Church (Ephesians 2:20).

Manna

The Jews, after their escape from Pharaoh, wandered in the wilderness for forty years and were fed by manna sent from heaven. This manna prefigured Christ who is the true Bread of Life. St. Gregory of Nyssa explains that this bread had a physical substance, even though it was created in a miraculous fashion. He also links together the miraculous nature of the bread which required no sowing, harvesting, grinding or mixing to make it, with the birth of Christ from the Virgin:
The bread which came down from heaven is not some incorporeal thing. For how could something incorporeal be nourishment to a body? Neither ploughing nor sowing produced the body of this bread, but earth which remained unchanged was found full of this divine food, of which the hungry partake. This miracle teaches in anticipation the mystery of the Virgin. [6]

Extract from Young Children and the Church written by the Fathers of Saint Edward Brotherhood


[1] A Prayerbook for Orthodox Christians (Brookline: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1987) p.224.

[2] http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/law_of_god.htm

[3] Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos, The Feasts of the Lord (Levadia, Birth of the Theotokos Monastery: 2003) p.316.

[4] Protopresbyter M. Pomazansky, The Old Testament in the New Testament Church (Jordanville: Holy Trinity Monastery,1977) p.5.

[5] The Great Horologion (Brookline: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1990) p. 591.


[6] A.J. Malherbe, E. Ferguson (trans.), Gregory of Nyssa – The Life of Moses (New York: Paulist Press, 1978) p. 88.

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