Basic Concepts, by Seraphim Slobodskoy

1. The world.

All that we see: heaven, the sun, the moon, stars, clouds, the earth on which we live, the air we breathe, the earth on which we live, including the grass, trees, mountains, rivers, seas, fish, birds, beasts, animals, and finally people — God created all of this. Yes indeed, the world is the creation of God! When we see God’s world then we understand how beautifully and wisely it was made.

Here we are in a meadow. Overhead, the blue sky with white clouds is stretched out like a tent, and on the earth there is thick, green grass, sprinkled with flowers. In the grass we can hear the sounds of various insects, butterflies fluttering around the flowers, and bees and gnats of different kinds flying through the air. The whole earth is like a huge, beautiful carpet. But there is no carpet woven by the hand of man that can be compared with the beauty of God’s meadow.

Let us take a walk in the woods. There we can see a multitude of different kinds of trees, the mighty oak, the lordly pine, the spotted birch, the fragrant linden, the maple, the tall fir tree and the thick chestnut tree. There are little clearings with bushes and all kinds of herbs. Everywhere we hear the voices of birds, the buzzing and chirping of insects. Hundreds of different kinds of animals live in the forest. And how many different kinds of berries, mushrooms, and flowers there are! The forest is like a great world unto itself.

And here is the river. It quietly flows, sparkling in the sun, among the forests, fields, and meadows. How much fun it is to go for a swim! All around it is hot, but in the water it is cool and pleasant. How many different kinds of fish, frogs, waterbugs, and other living creatures there are! It has its own life, its own little world.

How magnificent the ocean is, with its huge and rich underwater world of living creatures.

How beautiful the mountains are with their lofty peaks covered with eternal snow and ice, high above the clouds.

The world is marvelous in its beauty, and all that is in it is full of life.

It is impossible to count all the plants and animals that populate the earth, from the very smallest, which are invisible to our eyes, to the very largest. They live everywhere — on the land, in the water, in the air, in the soil, and even deep beneath the earth. It is God Who gave all this life to the world.

The world of God is rich and varied! At the same time, in all this vast variety there reigns a marvelous and definite order established by God, or, as we often say, the “laws of nature,” All the plants and animals are distributed throughout the world in keeping with this order. What each one is supposed to eat, that is what it eats. And there is a definite and logical purpose given to everything. Everything in the world is born, grows, and dies — one thing is replaced by another. God gave a special time and place and purpose to everything.

Man alone lives everywhere on the earth and has dominion over everything. God granted him reason and an immortal soul. He gave man a special and great purpose: to know God, to be like Him, that is, to become constantly better and inherit eternal life.

In their external appearance people are different, but they all have the same reasonable and immortal soul. Through this soul people are lifted above the animal world and become like God.

Now let us look into the deep, dark night, from earth up to heaven. How many stars we see scattered there. There is an infinite number of them! Many of the stars are just like our star, the sun. There are some that are many times larger than ours, but they are so far away from the earth that they seem to us to be tiny, twinkling pinpoints of light. They are all in motion in an orderly and harmonious manner, according to definite paths and laws. Our earth amid the heavenly vastness seems like a tiny speck of light.

The world of God is vast, uncontainable! We can neither account for nor measure it all, for only ‘God, Who created everything, knows the measure and weight and number of all things.

God created the entire world for the life and benefit of people, for each of us. God’s love for us is infinite!

If we love God and live according to His law, then much that is unintelligible in the world will become understandable and clear to us. Let us love God’s world and live in friendship, love, and joy with everyone. Then this joy will never end, and no one will take it away from us, for God Himself will be with us.

In order to remember that we belong to God, to be closer to Him and to love Him, that is, to fulfill our purpose on earth and to inherit eternal life, we must know more about God, know His holy will, that is, GOD’S LAW.

Questions: Who created the world and gave it life? Who made definite order in the world (or as we often say, established the laws of nature), and what does this consist of? What purpose did God give to man? For whom did God create the world? Why is it necessary for us to know God’s Law?

2. About God.

God created the whole world out of nothing, by His Word alone. God can do all that He wishes. God is the highest existence. There is no one nor anything equal to Him anywhere, neither on earth nor in Heaven. We, mankind, cannot fully comprehend Him by our reason. We would know nothing about Him unless He Himself had not revealed it to us. What we know about God has all been revealed to us by God Himself.

When God created the first people, Adam and Eve, He appeared to them in Paradise, revealing Himself to them, revealed how He created the world, and how people must believe in the One True God and fulfill His will. This teaching of God was first passed on orally from generation to generation, but later, at the inspiration of God, it was written down by Moses and by the other prophets in the sacred books.

Finally, the very Son of God, Jesus Christ, appeared on earth and revealed all that mankind needs to know about God. He revealed to mankind a great mystery: God is One but a Trinity in Three Persons. The first Person is God the Father; the second Person is God the Son, the third Person is God the Holy Spirit. These are not three gods but one God in three Persons, the Trinity in one essence and indivisible.

All three Persons have the same divine dignity; there is not a senior one among them nor a junior; as God the Father is true God, so also God the Son is true God, and likewise, the Holy Spirit is true God.

They are different only in that God the Father is not begotten and does not proceed from anyone; God the Son is begotten of God the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeds from God the Father.

Jesus Christ through the revelation of the mystery of the All-holy Trinity taught us not only to worship God truly, but also to love God as all three Persons of the Most-holy Trinity — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All eternally abide with one another in unceasing love and make up one Being. God is all-perfect love.

The great mystery, which God revealed to us concerning Himself, is the mystery of the Holy Trinity, which our weak mind cannot contain or understand.

St. Cyril, the teacher of the Slavs, tried to explain the mystery of the Most-holy Trinity. He said, “Do you see in the heavens the brilliant sphere of the sun and how from it light is begotten and warmth proceeds? God the Father is like the sphere of the sun, without beginning or end. From Him is eternally begotten God the Son, like light from the sun; just as there comes warmth together with light from the sun, the Holy Spirit proceeds. Each one is distinguished separately: the sphere of the sun and the light and the warmth — these are not three suns, but one sun in the heavens. So also, in the Holy Trinity: there are three Persons but God is one and indivisible.” Blessed Augustine says: “You see the Trinity if you see love.” This means that we can understand the mystery of the Holy Trinity more readily with the heart, that is by love, than with our feeble mind.

The teaching of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was written down by His disciples in a sacred book, which is called the Gospel. The original word for Gospel is the Greek word Evangelion, which means glad tidings or good news.

The sacred books, gathered together into one book, are called the Bible. This is from Greek word which means “book.”

Questions: Can we completely comprehend with our mind what God is and by ourselves learn about Him? Where do we learn about God and how He is the Creator of the world? Who revealed the teaching about God, that He is One but a Trinity in Persons? How are the Persons of the Holy Trinity called? How are They distinguished from One Another? What is the Gospel and what is the Bible?

3. The Attributes of God.

God revealed to us concerning Himself that He is a bodiless and invisible spirit (John 4:24).

What does it mean that God has neither a body, nor bones, as we have, and does not have in Himself anything that makes up our visible world, and therefore we cannot see Him?

In order to explain this, let us take an example from our earthly world. We do not see the air, but we see its actions and results; the movement of the air has great power which can move huge ships and complex machines. We feel and we know that we cannot live without the air that we breathe. So also we do not see God, but we see His activity and its results, His wisdom and power are everywhere in the world, and we feel them in ourselves.

The invisible God, out of love for us, at various times appeared to righteous people in a visible form — in images, or, reflections of Himself, that is to say, in such a form that they could behold Him. Otherwise they would have perished from directly beholding His majesty and glory.

God said to Moses, There shall no man see Me, and live (Ex. 33:20). If the sun blinds us with its brilliance, and we cannot look upon this creation of God lest we be blinded, then how much more so, on God Who created it. For God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5), and He dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim. 6:16).

God is Eternal (Ps. 89:3, Ex. 40:28).

All that we see in the world began at one time or another. It was born, and at some time it will also come to an end, it will die, it will be destroyed. All that is in the world is temporal; everything has its beginning and its end.

Once there was no Heaven, there was no earth, no time, but there was God, because He has no beginning. Having no beginning, He has no end. God always was and always shall be. God is outside time. God always is.

Therefore, He is called eternal.

God is unchanging (James 1:17, Mal. 3:6).

There is nothing in the world constant or unchanging; everything constantly changes, grows, ages and disintegrates. One thing is replaced by another.

Only God is constant; there is no change in Him. He does not grow, does not age. He in no way, and on no account and at no time ever changes. Just as He always was, so He is now, and so He shall remain forever. God is always the same.

Therefore He is called unchanging.

God is omnipotent (Gen. 17:1, Luke 1:37).

If a man wants to make something, he needs material; without material he cannot make anything. With paint and canvas man can paint a beautiful picture; from metal he can make a complex and useful machine. But he can never make, for instance, the earth on which we live, or the sun which gives light and warmth, and many other things.

Only for God is everything possible; there is nothing that He cannot do. He wished to create the world and He created it out of nothing by His word alone. God can do all that He wishes. Therefore He is called omnipotent.

God is omnipresent (Ps. 138:7-12).

God always, throughout all time, is present everywhere. There is no place in the world where He is not present. No one can hide from Him anywhere. God is everywhere. Therefore, He is called omnipresent.

God is omniscient (I John 3:20, Heb. 4:13).

Man can learn many things, know a great deal, but no man can know everything. Moreover, man cannot know the future, and cannot hear everything and see everything. Only God alone knows everything, what was, what is, and what will be. For God there is no difference between day and night. He sees and hears everything at all times. He knows each of us, and not only what we do and say, but also what we think and what we want. God always hears everything, sees everything, and knows everything.

Therefore, He is called omniscient (knowing all things).

God is all-good (Matt. 19:17).

People are not always good. It often happens that a person does not love someone else.

Only God loves all of us and loves us perfectly, not as man loves. He gives all that we need for life. All that we see in the heavens and on the earth was created by the Lord for the good and benefit of man.

This is how one bishop teaches about God’s love for us: “Who gave us life? The Lord! From Him we received a rational soul that can think and learn. From Him we received a heart that is able to love. Around us is the air, without which we cannot live.

“We are always supplied with water which is as necessary for us as the air. We live on the earth which supplies us all the food that is necessary for the maintenance and preservation of our life. We are supplied with light without which we could not do anything for ourselves. We have fire with which we can keep ourselves warm when it is cold and with which we can prepare the food we eat. All this is the gift of God. We have a father, mother, brothers, sisters, and friends. How much joy, help, and consolation they provide for us! But we would not have any of these were it not pleasing to the Lord to give them to us.”

God is always prepared to give us everything that is beneficial to us, everything good, and He takes more care for us than the best father does for his children.

Therefore God is called all-good, or Most-merciful.

We call God our Heavenly Father.

God is all-righteous (Ps. 7:12, Ps. 10:7).

Men often tell lies and are unjust. But God is perfectly just. He always preserves righteousness, and He judges people justly. He does not punish a righteous man without a reason, and He does not leave a man unpunished for any evil deed, unless the man himself corrects his life by repentance and good deeds. Therefore, God is called all-righteous and all-just.

God is all-sufficient (Acts 17:25).

Man is always in need of something, therefore he is often dissatisfied.

God alone has everything and is not in need of anything for Himself; on the contrary, He gives everything to all. Therefore, He is called all-sufficient.

God is all-blessed (1 Tim. 6:15).

God is not only all-sufficient, but He always has within Himself the very highest joy — complete blessedness, the very greatest happiness.

Therefore, God is called all-blessed. We can never find true joy in life, except in God alone.

We call God creator, or maker, because He created all things, visible and invisible.

We likewise call God almightymaster, and king, because He, by His almighty will, rules and reigns and directs all that was created by Him, holding them in His power and authority.

We call God Divine provider, because He provides for all things and takes care of all things.

Questions: What are the attributes of God? Why do we call God a spirit, eternal, unchanging, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, all-good, all-righteous, all-sufficient and all-blessed? Why do we call Him creator and maker? Why do we call Him almighty, master, king, and provider?

4. Prayer.

God loves His creation; He loves each of us. “And I will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:18).

Therefore we can always at any time turn to God, to our Heavenly Father, as if to our own father or mother. Our turning to God is prayer.

This means that prayer is conversation or speaking with God. It is as necessary for us as air and food. Everything we have is from God, we have nothing of our own. Life, abilities, health, food: all these things are given to us by God.

Therefore, in times of both joy and sadness, whenever we need anything, we must turn to God in prayer, for the Lord is extremely good and merciful to us. If we ask from a pure heart, with faith and fervor concerning our needs, He will unfailingly fulfill our wish, and grant all we need. We must completely rely on His holy will and patiently wait, for God alone knows what we need and when to give it to us, what is useful and what is harmful.

People who are slothful about praying to God do great harm to their souls; for as they depart from God, God departs from them.

Without prayer man ceases to love God, he forgets about Him, and he does not fulfill His purpose on earth, he sins.

Questions: What does it mean to pray to God? Is it necessary to pray to God? When does God answer our prayer? Is it good for people not to pray to God?

5. Sin.

Sin, or Evil, is a violation of God’s law. Transgression, or sin, is violating the will of God.

How did people begin to sin, and who was the first to violate the will of God?

Before the creation of the visible world and man, God created angels. Angels are bodiless spirits, invisible and immortal. All the angels were created good and God gave them complete freedom to love God or not, and to live with God or without God.

One of the most radiant and powerful angels did not wish to love God, to depend on Him, and fulfill the will of God, but desired to become like God Himself, to live independently. This angel ceased to obey God and began to resist God in everything. Thus he became the enemy of God, and many other angels went with him.

For such a rebellion against God these angels were all deprived of the light and blessedness that had been given to them, and they became evil, dark spirits.

All these dark, evil spirits are now called demons or devils. The main devil who was once the most radiant of the angels is called Satan, the enemy of God.

The Devil inspires people not to obey God, but to sin. The Devil deceives. By cleverness and deceit he taught the first people created by God, Adam and Eve, to violate the will of God.

All people come from Adam and Eve, who first fell into sin, and therefore we are born with an inclination to sin. Being constantly committed from generation to generation, sin has taken power over all men and has submitted everyone to itself. All men — to a greater or lesser degree — are sinners.

It is sin that constantly separates man from God and leads to suffering, illness, and death — temporal and eternal. It is for this reason that mankind began to suffer and die. Men alone, by their own efforts, could not overcome the evil that had spread throughout the world, or destroy death. God in His compassion gave help to men, sending to earth His Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Questions: What is sin? Who was the first to violate the will of God? Who is the Devil, or Satan? Who are the angels, and when were they created? Who are the evil spirits, and how are they called? Who taught men to sin, and how? Why are all of us born sinners? From Whom does sin separate mankind, what does it lead to, and why do all men die? Can men by themselves, by their own efforts, conquer evil and destroy death? How did God help people overcome evil and eternal death?

6. The Sign of the Cross.

We call ourselves Christians because we believe in God as we were taught to believe by the Son of God Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ not only taught us to believe in God correctly, but He also saved us from the power of sin and eternal death.

The Son of God, Jesus Christ, out of love for us sinners came down from Heaven and, as a man, suffered instead of us for our sins: He was crucified, He died on the Cross, and on the third day He resurrected. As the sinless Son of God, by His Cross (that is, by suffering and death on the Cross for the sins of all men and of all the world), He conquered not only sin but also death itself — He arose from the dead, and He made the Cross the weapon of His victory over sin and death.

As the vanquisher of death, Who arose on the third day, He saved us also from eternal death. He will resurrect all of us, all the dead, when the last day of the world comes; He will resurrect us for joyful, eternal life with God.

The Cross is the weapon, or the sign, of Christ’s victory over sin and death.

One teacher gave the following example in order to explain to his students how Jesus Christ could conquer evil in the world by His Cross:

For many years the Swiss fought against their enemies, the Austrians. Finally the opposing armies met in a certain valley for a decisive battle. The Austrian soldiers, wearing their armor, were drawn up in battle array with their lances extended forward, and the Swiss, beating them with their maces (heavy clubs with weights on the end), tried without success to break the ranks of the enemy. Several times the Swiss threw themselves on the enemy with blind courage, but every time they were thrown back. They were not strong enough to break through the thick row of lances.

Then one of the Swiss soldiers, Arnold Winkleried, sacrificed himself, ran ahead, grabbed with both arms several of the spears pointed at him, and allowed them to pierce his chest. In this way an opening was made for the Swiss and they broke into the ranks of the Austrians and won a decisive and final victory over their enemies.

So the hero, Winkleried, sacrificed his own life and died, but he made it possible for his people to conquer the enemy.

In the same way, our Lord Jesus Christ received in His breast the terrible spears of sin and death which were invincible for us. He died on the Cross, but He also arose, as the vanquisher of sin and death, and thus opened for us the way to eternal victory over evil and death. That is, He opened the way to eternal life.

Now everything depends on us: if we wish to be delivered from the power of evil, sin and eternal death, then we must follow Christ, that is, believe in Christ, love Him, and fulfill His holy will, being obedient to Him in everything, live with Christ.

This is why, in order to express our faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour, we wear a Cross on our body, and during prayer we form the Cross over ourselves with our right hand, or make the sign of the Cross.

For the sign of the Cross we put the fingers of our right hand together as follows. We bring the tips of the first three fingers together (the thumb, index and middle ones), and bend the last two (the “ring” and little fingers) against the palm.

The first three fingers together express our faith in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, as the Trinity one in essence and indivisible, and the two fingers bent show how the Son of God, when He came down from Heaven, being God, became man; that is, they signify His two natures — divine and human.

In order to make the sign of the Cross, with our fingers in this position, we touch our forehead, for the blessing of our mind, our stomach, for the blessing of our internal feelings, then our right and left shoulders, for the blessing of our bodily strength.

The sign of the Cross gives us great strength to repel and conquer evil and to do good, but we must remember to make the sign of the Cross correctly and without haste, otherwise it will not be the sign of the Cross, but just waving our hand around, which only gladdens the demons. By making the sign of the Cross carelessly we show a lack of reverence for God. This is a sin. This sin is called sacrilege.

We make the sign of the Cross, or “cross ourselves,” at the beginning of prayer, during prayer, at the end of prayer, and when we draw near to anything holy: when we enter the church, when we reverence the Cross or an icon. We should cross ourselves at every important moment in our life: in danger, in sorrow, in joy, and so on.

When we cross ourselves, mentally we say, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Thus we express our faith in the All-holy Trinity and our desire to live and labor for the glory of God.

The word “amen” means in truth, truly, let it be so, so be it.

Questions: What do we express when we make the sign of the Cross? How do we arrange our fingers in order to make the sign of the Cross, and what does this mean? When we make the sign of the Cross why do we touch our forehead, stomach and shoulders? Why is it important to make the sign of the Cross correctly and without haste? When should we make the sign of the Cross? What sin do we commit if we make the sign of the Cross carelessly?

7. Standing and Bows During Prayer.

In order to express to God our reverence before Him and our worship of Him, during prayer we stand, and do not sit; only the sick and elderly are allowed to pray sitting down. Standing while at prayer is an ancient and God-ordained tradition. In Old Testament times, the congregation of Israel stood in the Temple (Neh. 9:4,5; 8:7, 2 Chron. 20:5,13), the Saints stand in Heaven before the Throne of God (Is. 6:2, 1 Kings 22:19, Dan. 7:10, Rev. 7:11), and even Jesus Christ Himself said, “When ye stand praying” (Mark 9:25). Therefore Christians, according to apostolic teaching, stand through the Divine Services, where it is often proclaimed: “Let us stand aright.”

In recognizing our sinfulness and unworthiness before God, and as a sign of our humility, we make bows during our prayers. There are bows from the waist, when we bow from the waist, and to the ground, when we bow down on our knees and touch our head to the ground (a prostration).

Questions: Why should we stand and not sit during prayer? Why do we make bows during prayer? What kinds of bows are there?

8. Different Types of Prayer.

If we and those close to us are healthy and safe, if we have a place to live, clothes to wear, food to eat, then we ought to give praise and give thanks to God in our prayers.

Such prayers are called praise and thanksgiving.

If some kind of misfortune, sickness, or woe happens or if we need something, then we must ask for God’s help.

These prayers are called petitions.

If we do something wrong, sin, and we are guilty before God, then we must ask His forgiveness — repent.

These prayers are called penitential.

Since we are sinful before God (we constantly sin), we must always, before we ask God for anything, first repent and then ask God concerning our needs. This means that penitential prayer must always precede our petitions in prayer.

Questions: What must we offer to God when He sends us blessings? What are the prayers called when we praise and thank God? What do we offer God in prayer when some misfortune befalls us or we do something wrong?

9. When God Hears Our Prayer.

When we prepare to pray, we must first make peace with everyone to whom we have done evil, and even with those who have anything against us, and after that, with reverence and attention, stand for prayer. During prayer we must direct our mind so that it does not think about anything else, so that our heart wishes only one thing: to pray better and please God.

If we pray without making peace with our neighbors, if we pray hurriedly, if we talk or laugh during prayer, then our prayer will not be pleasing to God. God will not hear such a prayer, and He might even punish us.

For more diligent and intense prayer, and for a good pious life, fasting has been established.

The time of fasting, or lent, is the period when we must think more about God, about our sins before God, when we must pray more, repent, not get upset or hurt anyone, but rather, help everyone, read God’s law, and so on. And to make it easier to fulfill all this we must first of all eat less — not eat any meat, eggs, or milk, that is, animal and dairy products, but eat only “lenten” food, that is, from plants: bread, vegetables, fruit, and fish (if allowed). We fast because the rich foods from animal and dairy products call forth a desire not to pray, but to sleep, or to act foolishly. When we develop the habit of not giving in to our desires for more or rich foods it makes it easier to fight against sin.

The greatest and longest fast comes before Pascha. It is called “Great Lent.”

Questions: When can we hope that God will hear our prayer? What must we do to make our prayer reverent and fervent? Will God hear our prayer if we pray with haste and distraction? What has been established for diligent and intense prayer? What is fasting?

10. Where and How We Can Pray to God.

We can pray to God everywhere because God is everywhere: at home, in church, on every path. The Christian must pray every day, morning and evening, before and after eating, before and after every kind of work.

This kind of prayer is called prayer at home or private prayer.

On Sundays and holy days, and also on weekdays when we are free from work, we should go to church, where other Christians like us gather. There we all pray together.

This kind of prayer is called public prayer or prayer in church.

Questions: Where can we pray to God? Why can we pray to God everywhere? What is prayer called when we pray at home? What is prayer called when we pray in church?

11. The Church Building.

The church (“temple”) is a special house consecrated to God — “the House of God” in which the Divine Services are conducted. In the church there abides the special grace or mercy of God, which is given to us through those who conduct the Divine Services, namely, the clergy (bishops, priests and deacons).

The external appearance of the church differs from other buildings in that there is a dome which symbolizes Heaven rising over the church. At the top of the dome is its peak, where the Cross stands, to the glory of the Head, Jesus Christ. Over the entrance to the church there is usually built a bell tower where the bells are hung. The ringing of the bells serves to summon the faithful to prayer — to the Divine Services, and to give notice of the most important parts of the service taking place in the church.

At the entrance to the church there is a porch (courtyard, or entrance way). The inside of the church is divided into three parts: 1) the narthex, 2) the church itself, or the nave, or middle part of the church, where the people stand, 3) the Altar, or Sanctuary, where the services are conducted by the clergy and where the most important part of the whole church is located — the Holy Table (altar table), on which the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist is celebrated.

The altar is separated from the central part of the church by the iconostasis, which consists of several rows of icons and has three doors. The central doors are called the Royal Doors, because through them the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the King of glory, passes invisibly in the Holy Gifts (in Holy Communion). Therefore, no one may pass through the Royal Doors except the clergy.

The reading and chanting of prayers that are served in the church by the clergy are called Divine Services.

The most important divine service is the Liturgy. It is conducted before noonday. During this service the entire earthly life of the Saviour is commemorated, and the Mystery of the Eucharist (Holy Communion), which Christ himself instituted at the Mystical Supper, is celebrated.

The Mystery of Holy Communion is the consecration of bread and wine by God’s Grace, when they become the true Body and true Blood of Christ. In appearance they remain bread and wine, but we receive the true Body and true Blood of the Saviour, under the appearance of bread and wine, in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, have eternal life and change ourselves.

Since the church is a very holy place, where God Himself is present invisibly by special mercy, we must enter it with prayer, and conduct ourselves quietly and reverently. During the Divine Services it is forbidden to talk, and even more so to laugh. It is forbidden to stand with your back to the Altar. Each person stands in his place and does not walk from one place to another. Only in case of sickness is it permitted to sit down and rest. It is wrong to leave the church before the end of the Divine Service.

We must approach Holy Communion calmly and without haste, with our arms crossed over our breast. After Communion we kiss the chalice without making the sign of the Cross, in order not to strike the chalice accidentally.

Questions: What is the church? What is its outside appearance like? How is the church divided inside? What is the iconostasis? Where are the Royal Doors? What is the Holy Table and what is celebrated on it? What is the most important Divine Service? What is commemorated at the Divine Liturgy? What is the Mystery of Holy Communion? Who instituted this Mystery? How should we conduct ourselves in church?

12. The Priest’s Blessing.

The clergy (that is, specially ordained people who celebrate the Divine Services) are our spiritual fathers. Bishops and priests sign us with the sign of the Cross. This is called a blessing.

When the priest blesses us, he forms the Greek letters IC XC, that is, Jesus Christ, with the fingers of his hand. This means that through the priest our Lord Jesus Christ Himself blesses us. Therefore, we must receive the blessing of the clergy with reverence.

When we hear in the church the words of blessing, “Peace unto all” and others, in reply to them we should bow without making the sign of the Cross. In order to receive a personal blessing from a bishop or a priest, we should place our hands in the form of a cross: the right hand on the left with the palms upward. When we have received the blessing we kiss the hand that blesses us — we kiss, as it were, the invisible hand of Christ the Saviour Himself.

Questions: Who signs us with the sign of the Cross? What is this called? What does the priest form with the fingers of his hand when he gives a blessing? What does this mean? How should we place our hands when we ask for a blessing? What should we do when we have received a blessing?

13. Icons.

In the church on the iconostasis, along the walls, and at home in the corners are the holy icons, before which we say our prayers.

An icon or image is what we call the representation of God Himself, the Mother of God, the angels, or the saints. This representation is consecrated with Holy Water and prayer. Through this blessing the Grace of the Holy Spirit is imparted to the icon, and we reverence the icon as being holy. There are icons, through which the Grace of God that abides in them is revealed even by miracles, for instance in the healing of the sick.

The Saviour Himself gave us His portrait. Moved to compassion, He wiped His sacred face with a towel and miraculously depicted His face on this towel for the sick prince Abgar. When the sick prince prayed before this icon of the Saviour, that had not been made with hands, he was healed of his illness.

When praying before an icon, we must remember that the icon is not God Himself or a saint of God, but only the depiction of God or His saint. Therefore, we must not pray to the icon, but to God or the saint who is depicted on it.

The holy icon is a sacred book. In a sacred book we reverently read the words of God, and on a holy icon we reverently behold the holy faces which, like the Word of God, lift up our mind to God and His saints, and inflame our heart with love for our Creator and Saviour.

Questions: What do we call the holy icons? Where are the holy icons placed at home and in the church? Why are they called holy icons? Who blessed the use of holy icons by His example? What do we remember when we pray before the holy icons? What icon of the Saviour is named the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands?

How God is Portrayed in the Holy Icons.

God is an invisible Spirit. However, He appeared to holy men in a visible image. Therefore, we depict God in the icons in the form in which He appeared.

We depict the Most-holy Trinity in the form of three angels sitting at a table. This is because the Lord once appeared to Abraham in the form of three angels. In order to represent more clearly the spirituality of the angels that appeared to Abraham, we represent them with wings.

God the Son is represented in the form in which he appeared when he came down from heaven for our salvation and became man: an infant in the arms of the Mother of God, teaching the people and working miracles, transfigured, suffering on the Cross, lying in the tomb, resurrecting and ascending.

God the Holy Spirit is represented in the form of a dove, as He revealed Himself at the time of the Baptism of the Saviour in the Jordan by John the Baptist; and in the form of tongues of fire, as He descended visibly on the holy Apostles on the fiftieth day after the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Questions: If God is an invisible Spirit, how can He be depicted in the holy icons in a visible form? How do we depict the All-holy Trinity in the holy icons, and why do we depict Him in this way? How do we depict God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in the holy icons, and why do we depict Them in this way?

Others Besides God Who Are Depicted in the Holy Icons.

Besides God we depict in the holy icons the Mother of God, the holy angels and holy people.

We should pray to them not as to God, but as being close to God, as having pleased Him by their holy life. Out of love for us they pray for us before God, and we should ask for their help and intercession because the Lord for their sake will more speedily hear our sinful prayers.

It is worthy of note that the first icons of the Mother of God painted by the disciple of the Lord, St. Luke, have been preserved down to our time. There is a tradition that when the Mother of God saw Her portrait, she said, “The Grace of My Son will dwell with this icon.” We pray to the Mother of God because She is closest of all to God, and at the same time, She is also close to us. Because of Her motherly love and Her prayers God forgives us many things and helps us in many ways. She is a great and compassionate intercessor for all of us!

Questions: Besides God, who is depicted in the holy icons? How should we pray to the Mother of God, the holy angels and holy people? Who painted the first icon of the Mother of God? Why do we pray to the Mother of God more than to the other saints?

The Holy Angels.

In the beginning when neither the world nor men existed yet, God created the holy angels.

Angels are bodiless spirits, therefore invisible and immortal. The Lord God granted to them loftier powers and abilities than to mankind. Their mind is more perfect than ours. They always fulfill the will of God. They are without sin, and now they are so filled with the Grace of God in doing good, that they do not desire in any way to sin.

Many times the angels have appeared in visible form, taking on a physical appearance, when God sent them to people to relate or to announce His will. The word “angel” means “messenger.”

Every Christian is granted by God at his Baptism a Guardian Angel who invisibly protects him during all his earthly life from misfortunes and dangers; he warns against sin, guards us at the terrible hour of death, and does not depart after death.

The angels are depicted in icons in the form of handsome youths, as a sign of their spiritual beauty. Their wings show that they speedily fulfill the will of God.

Questions: When were the holy angels created? What are angels? What powers and abilities did God grant them? Can the holy angels sin? When did angels appear visibly and what does the word “angel” mean? How do we call the holy angels that God gives us at Baptism? Why are the holy angels depicted in the form of youths and with wings?

About the Saints.

On the icons also we represent holy people or the saints of God. We call them by this name because when they lived on earth, they pleased God by their righteous life. And now, dwelling in Heaven with God, they pray for us to God and help us who live on earth.

The saints have different titles: prophets, apostles, martyrs, hierarchs, holy monks, unmercenaries, blessed ones, and the righteous.

The prophets are the saints of God who, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, foretold the future, primarily about the Saviour. They lived before the coming of the Saviour.

The apostles were the closest disciples of Jesus Christ, whom He sent during His earthly life to preach. After the coming of the Holy Spirit upon them, they preached the Christian faith in all lands. At first there were twelve of them, and later, seventy more.

Two of the apostles, Peter and Paul, are called leaders of the apostles, because they labored in preaching the faith of Christ more than the others. Four of the apostles, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John the Theologian, who wrote the Gospels, are called Evangelists.

Saints who spread the Christian faith in various places like the apostles, are called Equal-to-the-Apostles, as for example, Mary Magdalene, the first woman-martyr Thecla, the pious monarchs Constantine and Helen, the pious Russian prince Vladimir, Saint Nina, the Enlightener of Georgia, and others.

The martyrs are those Christians who accepted terrible tortures and even death for their faith in Jesus Christ. If they died in peace, that is, not as an immediate result of their sufferings for Christ, then we call them confessors.

The first to suffer for the Holy Faith after especially terrible sufferings for faith in Christ were Archdeacon Stephen and St. Thecla, and therefore they are called the first martyrs.

Those who died for the Holy Faith after especially cruel tortures, such as not all the martyrs were subjected to, are called great martyrs, as for example, holy Great Martyr George, and the holy Great Martyrs Barbara and Catherine.

Those who died for the Holy Faith after especially cruel tortures, such as not all the martyrs were subjected to, are called great martyrs, as for example, holy Great Martyr George, and the holy Great Martyrs Barbara and Catherine.

The confessors on whose faces the persecutors branded or tattooed blasphemous words are called branded.

Hierarchs are bishops and prelates who pleased God by a righteous life, such as St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, St. Alexis, Metropolitan of Moscow, and others.

Hierarchs and priests who suffered persecution for Christ are called hieromartyrs.

The hierarchs Basil the GreatGregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom are called ecumenical teachers, teachers of the entire Christian Church.

Holy monks and nuns are righteous people who abandoned the life of the world in society and pleased God by preserving their virginity (not entering into marriage), by fasting and prayer, and dwelling in the wilderness or in monasteries. Some examples are Sergius of RadonezhSeraphim of SarovSt. Anastasia, and others.

Holy monks that endured suffering for Christ are called Monk Martyrs.

Unmercenaries are saints who served their neighbors with the unmercenary healing of illnesses; that is, without payment they healed illnesses, both physical and spiritual. They include Cosmas and Damian, the Great Martyr and Healer Panteleimon, and others.

The Righteous led a righteous life that was pleasing to God, living as we do in the world, with a family, as for example, Joachim and Anna and others.

The first righteous people on the earth were the patriarchs of the human race, who are called forefathers. They include AdamNoah and Abraham.

Questions: Who are depicted in the holy icons, apart from God and the Mother of God and the holy angels? What names do they have? Whom do we call prophets, apostles, martyrs, hierarchs, holy monks, unmercenaries and righteous?

About Haloes on the Icons.

Around the heads of the Saviour, the Mother of God and the holy saints of God, in the icons and pictures of them there is depicted a radiance or a circle of light which is called a halo.

In the halo of the Saviour there are three letters: Ο ΩH, which translated from Greek into English mean “Being,” or “He Who Is,” for God alone always exists.

Over the head of the Mother of God are placed the letters: ΜΡ ΘΥ. These are the first and last letters of the Greek words which mean “Mary, Mother of God.”

A halo is the depiction of the shining of light and glory of God which transfigure a man who is united with God.

This invisible shining of the light of God in the saints sometimes becomes visible for people around them.

Thus, for example, the holy Prophet Moses had to hide his face with a veil so that people would not be blinded by the light that proceeded from his face.

Also the face of St. Seraphim of Sarov shone like the sun during his talk with Nicholas Motovilov about the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. Motovilov himself wrote that it was not possible for him to look at the face of St. Seraphim.

Thus the Lord glorified His holy saints, who shine with the light of His glory even here on earth.

Questions: What do we call the circle of light which is depicted around the head of the Saviour, the Mother of God and the saints? What does the halo signify?

14. Why we call ourselves Orthodox Christians.

We call ourselves Orthodox Christians because we believe in our Lord Jesus Christ exactly as is written in the “Creed” and belong to the OneHolyCatholic and Apostolic Church that was founded by the Saviour Himself on earth and which is directed by the Holy Spirit in preserving correctly, gloriously, and without change the teaching of Jesus Christ. That is, we belong to the Orthodox Christian Church.

All the other Christians who confess a faith in Christ which is not the same as the Orthodox Church, do not belong to her and are called the non-Orthodox or heterodox. This includes Catholics (the Roman Catholic Church) and Protestants (Lutherans, Baptists, and sectarians).

Questions: What do we call ourselves and why? What are other Christians called, who do not belong to the Holy Orthodox Church?