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Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky
Orthodox dogmatic theology

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God is Spirit.

God is a Spirit(John 4:24) (the words of the Savior in the conversation with the Samaritan

woman). “The Lord is a Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty(2 Cor.

3:17). God is foreign to every kind of bodily nature or materiality. At the same time the spirituality

of God is higher, more perfect, than the spirituality which belongs to the created spiritual beings

and the soul of man, which manifest in themselves only an “image” of the spiritual nature of

God. God is a Spirit Who is most high, most pure, most perfect. It is true that in Sacred Scripture

we find many, many places where something bodily is symbolically ascribed to God, however,

concerning the spiritual nature of God, the Scripture speaks beginning with the very first words

of the book of Genesis, and to the Prophet Moses, God revealed Himself as He That Is, as the

pure, spiritual, most high Existence. Therefore, by bodily symbols the Scripture teaches us to understand

the spiritual attributes and actions of God.

Let us quote here the words of St. Gregory the Theologian. He says: “According to the

Scriptures God sleeps, He awakens, He grows angry, He walks, and He has the Cherubim as His

throne, but when did He ever have infirmity? Moreover, have you ever heard that God is a body?

Something is presented here, which does not exist in reality. In accordance with our own understanding,

we have given names to the characteristics of God, which are derived from ourselves.

When God, for reasons known to Him alone, ceases His care, as it were, and takes no more concern

for us, this means that He is “sleeping” . because our sleep is a similar lack of activity and

care. When, on the contrary, He suddenly begins to do good, this means He “awakens.” He chastises,

and for this, we have made it out that He is “angry” because chastisement among us is with

anger. He acts sometimes here, sometimes there-and so, in our way of thinking, He walks, because

walking is a going from one place to another. He reposes and as it were dwells in the holy

powers-and we have called this a “sitting,” and a “sitting on a throne,” which is likewise characteristic

of us, for the Divinity does not repose in any place as well as in the Saints. A swift

movement we callflying.” If there is a beholding, we speak of a “face”; if there is a giving and a

receiving, we speak of a “handLikewise, every other power and every other action of God are

depicted among us by something taken from bodily things” (Homily 31, Fifth Theological Oration,

“On the Holy Spirit,” ch. 22; Eerdmans Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Series Two, vol.

VII, pp. 324-325.).

In connection with the accounts of the God’s actions, in the second and third Chapters of the

book of Genesis, Chrysostom instructs us: “Let us not pass over without attention, beloved, what

is said by the Divine Scripture, and let us not look only at the words; but let us think that such

simple words are used for the sake of our infirmity, and that everything is done in a most fitting

way for our salvation. After all, tell me, if we wish to accept the words in a literal sense and do

not understand what is communicated in a way befitting God, would not much then turn out to be

strange? Let us look at the very beginning of the present reading. It says: “And they heard the

voice of God walking in paradise in the cool of the day, and they were afraid(Gen. 3:8). What

do you say: God walks? Do you then ascribe feet to Him? In addition, are we not to understand

by this anything higher? No, God does not walk . let us not think thus! How, in fact, could He

Who is everywhere and fills all things, Whose throne is heaven and the earth the footstool of His

feet . how could He walk in paradise? What rational person would say this? However, what

then does it mean: “They heard the voice of God walking in Paradise in the cool of the day?” He

wished to arouse in them such a feeling (of God's closeness) that it might make them upset-which

in fact is what happened. They felt this and strove to conceal themselves from God Who was ap-proaching them. Sin had occurred, and a transgression and shame fell upon them. The unhypocritical

judge, that is the conscience, having been aroused, called out with a loud voice, reproached

them, and showed and, as it were, exhibited before their eyes the weight of the transgression.

The Master created man in the beginning and placed in him the conscience as a

never-silent accuser which cannot be seduced or deceived.”

Concerning the image of the creation of woman, Chrysostom teaches: “It is said, `And He

took one of his ribs' (Gen. 2:21). Do not understand these words in a human way, but understand

that the crude utterances used are adapted to human weakness. After all, if Scripture had not used

these words, how could we understand such unutterable mysteries? Let us not look only at the

words, but let us receive everything in a fitting manner, as referring to God. This expression

`took' and all similar expressions are used for the sake of our weakness.” In a similar way Chrysostom

expresses himself regarding the words: “God formed man of the dust of the earth and

breathed into him” (Gen. 2:7) (Works of St. John Chrysostom, Vol. IV, Part One) (It should not be

thought that Father Michael is here stating that St. Chrysostom was in general opposed to “literal interpretations” of

Scripture; when the literal sense was required, St. Chrysostom was quiteliteral” in his interpretation. His point, and

Father Michael's is that all interpretations of Scripture should be as “befitting God” and this sometimes requires a

literalinterpretation, and sometimes a metaphorical. In this same Commentary on the book of Genesis, for example,

St. Chrysostom writes: “When you hear that `God planted Paradise in Eden in the East' understand the word

`planted befittingly of God: that is, that He commanded; but concerning the words that follow, believe precisely that

Paradise was created and in that very place where the Scripture has assigned it” (Homilies on Genesis, XIII, 3). He

also forbade an allegorical interpretation of the “rivers” and “waters” of Paradise, insisting that “the rivers are actually

rivers and the waters are precisely waters” (XIII, 4). Thus, when St. Chrysostom states that the wordtake” in

Genesis must be understood in a God-befitting way (L e., it must not be understood literally, because God has no

hands”), he does not mean to deny that Eve was actually created from one of Adam's ribs, even though precisely

how this was done remains a mystery to us (Homilies on Genesis, XV, 2-3).)

St. John Damascene devotes one chapter to this theme in his Exact Exposition of the Orthodox

Faith. This chapter is called “On the things that are affirmed of God as if He had a body,”

and here he writes: “Since we find that in the Divine Scripture much is said symbolically about

God as if He had a body. We must know that it is impossible for us who are men clothed in this

crude flesh to think or speak about the Divine, lofty and immaterial actions of the Godhead,

unless we use similarity, images and symbols that correspond to our nature.” Furthermore, the

expressions concerning the eyes, ears, hands, and other similar expressions of God, he concludes,

“To say it simply, everything that is affirmed of God as if He had a body contains a certain hidden

meaning” (Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Part One, Chapter 11; The Fathers of the

Church translation, pp. 191-193).

We today have become quite accustomed to the idea of God as pure Spirit. However, the

philosophy of Pantheism (“God is all”), that is very widespread in our times, seeks to contradict

this truth. Therefore, even now in the Rite of Orthodoxy sung on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the

first Sunday of Lent, we hear “To those who say that God is not Spirit but flesh-Anathema (The

Rite of Orthodoxy is celebrated after the Liturgy on the first Sunday of Lent in cathedral churches wherever a bishop

presides. At this, service anathemas are proclaimed against the heretics of ancient and modern times who have tried

to overturn the dogmatic foundations of Orthodoxy. In many Orthodox jurisdictions today, however, under the influence

of “ecumenicalideas, this service has been abolished and replaced by a “pan-Orthodox” or “ecumenicalservice.).

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