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1. Christ – the centre of our faith

1. Christ – the centre of our faith

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Published by Philip Kariatlis
This is an ongoing series dedicated to reflecting upon the Orthodox approach to the mystery of Christ
This is an ongoing series dedicated to reflecting upon the Orthodox approach to the mystery of Christ

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Published by: Philip Kariatlis on Jul 21, 2010
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05/12/2014

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(Published in The Greek Australian VEMA, February 2005)JESUS CHRIST – THE CENTRE OF OUR FAITH:An Historical Investigation
Introductory Remarks
At the heart of the good news of the New Testament is the person of Jesus Christ.This means that fundamentally the Christian faith is neither a philosophical system,nor a set of doctrines or a conglomeration of rules, rituals and customs but is a wayof life centred on the person of Jesus Christ. Essentially the first confession of faithmade by the early Christians was that Jesus
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, which literally means Saviour was theChrist. For this reason we say that the message of the New Testament is effectivelyChristocentric (centred on Christ). It is imperative therefore for every person whoclaims to be a Christian to become familiar with Jesus' identity and work by askingwho this historical Jesus was. According to the Synoptic gospels, it was precisely thissame question that was posed to his disciples on their way to Caesarea Philippi:
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of CaesareaPhilippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do peoplesay that I am?
(Mk 8:27)The numerous answers given to this question in Biblical literature and all subsequenttheological writings throughout the ages suggest that this Christological question wasnot always unanimously proclaimed. Already in the New Testament the disciples pointto the wide span of opinion:
And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; andstill others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do yousay that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah
[
Christos
](Mk 8:28-29).Indeed from the first days of the Christian community there have been many answersgiven to this question - a clear reflection of the difficulty of encapsulating the mysteryof the person of Jesus. The various titles used by the early Christians to express their faith included:
 prophet, teacher, shepherd, Messiah, Son of David, Son of Man, Sonof God, Lord, second Adam, bridegroom, light of the World, the Alpha and theOmega, the High Priest, the Suffering Servant, Saviour, Logos.
Therefore alreadyfrom the Biblical texts one can detect a rich variety of titles indicating the profounddepth of the question at hand. Indeed an entire discipline within theology is committedto the systematic study of the person and work of Jesus Christ and is known as
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Regarding the name of Jesus, both the gospels of Matthew and Luke record that an angel of the Lordappeared to Joseph and said to him: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife,for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt 1:20-21). Compare also Lk 1:31.
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Christology.
The Meaning of the name 'Christ' 
The English word 'Christ' which translates the Greek word 'Christos' and the Hebrewterm, 'Messiah' means the 'anointed One' of God. The answer given by Peter in thesynoptic gospels and by Martha in the Johannine gospel, that Jesus is the 'Christ' hasformed the foundational confession of faith concerning Jesus. The term 'Christ' issignificant as it already underscores the intimate relationship (or communion)between Jesus and God, His Father and the Holy Spirit. The fact that Christ is the'anointed One' implies first and foremost that Jesus cannot be thought of apart fromHis Father and the Holy Spirit since it is God the Father who wills that Jesus beanointed by the Holy Spirit who thereby anoints Christ making Him be what He is.Secondly as a corollary to the first point, being the 'anointed One' of God indicatesthat the Father and the Holy Spirit actively participate in the ministry of Christ.Therefore any individualistic understanding of Christ is incompatible with the personand work of Jesus. Christ is a relational being drawing His identity from His relationwith the Father and the Holy Spirit. This minor yet important point highlights thatJesus bestowed upon all human persons and the world at large this gift of divinecommunion enjoyed by Him by virtue of becoming human Himself. In other wordsChrist's abiding presence in the Church today, as proclaimed and testified by thebook of Acts for example, ensures that the entire cosmos is also incorporated into thefilial relationship between Christ and His Father. Therefore all human persons whoare in Christ acquire their particular personhood in the same communal relationshipinherent in the life of the Trinity.
 Aspects of Jesus' Historical Life
Historically what is certain about the person of Jesus is that He appeared on earth inconjunction with John the Baptist
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, gathered disciples around Himself forming asymbolic group, 'the Twelve' and began his brief preaching ministry proclaiming thecoming of the kingdom of God, for which He was executed. Very little is known aboutthe life of Jesus prior to His baptism by John the Baptism. Born shortly before thedeath of King Herod the Great (4BC)
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 in Bethlehem, He was known as a Galileanfrom Nazareth. For this reason the every day language of Jesus would have been
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John the Baptist was clearly a historical figure whose life is mentioned by the Jewish historian,Josephus in his
Jewish Antiquities
(ca 93-93AD). The two main themes in John's message is one of profound repentance (those whom he baptised 'with water' (Mt 3:11) were the one's whose repentanceled them to be converted). His second theme pointed to "one mightier than I" (Mk 1:7) who would comeafter him baptising "with the Holy Spirit and fire" (Mt 3:11) and who John would not even be worthy toloosen the strap of his sandal.
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The reason that modern scholarship has posited such a date for the birth of Jesus is that we know thatJesus was born sometime during the reign of Augustus Caesur who was Emperor between 27-4BC,during the first reign of Quirinius as Governor over Syria and during the latter years of Herod I's reignover Palestine.
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Aramaic, which had long been the preferred popular language after the Babylonianexile. Yet that he could argue with the Pharisees on issues of biblical interpretationpoints to the fact that Jesus would have had a knowledge of Hebrew as well. Somescholars have even argued that Jesus could have had some knowledge of Greeksince it was the language of the Gentiles with whom he also interacted. Therefore wewould claim that Jesus was literate, spoke Aramaic and was familiar with Hebrew andKoine Greek, the Greek language of the time.Furthermore, the Scriptures claim that he was from the lineage of David (cf Rom 1:3)
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,Israel's greatest king and the prototype of the royal Messiah.
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The virginal birth of Jesus is affirmed only by the gospel according Matthew:
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. Whenhis mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they livedtogether, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to exposeher to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But justwhen he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared tohim in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid totake Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from theHoly Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfilwhat had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, thevirgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name himEmmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awokefrom sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; hetook her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until shehad borne a son; and he named him Jesus
(Mt 1:18-25).In regards to the virginity of the mother of Jesus, the Orthodox Christian traditionclaims that she was a virgin before, during and after the birth of her son and for thisreason is called 'ever-virgin' (
aeiparthenos
).
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Many argue that this could not be thecase as the New Testament affirms that Jesus had other brothers (cf Mt 13:55). Inanswer to this apparent difficulty, the Patristic tradition has offered two differentanswers: firstly some Fathers of the Church rightly stressed that in the Scriptures the
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Jesus' Davidic lineage is affirmed also in the Synoptics, Acts 2:25-31, Rev 3:7; 5:5 and 22:16.
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Even though Jesus was born in time from a mother yet without a father, the Scriptures name Josephas the immediate predecessor of Jesus. According to Jewish tradition marriage laws Joseph could actas Jesus' father even though he was not His begetter. This therefore granted legal paternity to Josephwhich meant that all hereditary rights were conferred on to Jesus even though He was not Joseph'sbiological son.
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The virginal conception of Jesus fulfils the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 where we are told in the Septuagintthat a virgin will bear a son and name him Emmanuel which means that God is with us.
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