Creation

This perspective should, in part, be apparent to human observers from the character of the world itself, which, though damaged by the fall, still retains the ability to “declare the glory of God” (Psalm 18(19)). But the whole story can only be known to those who have actually heard God speak, through vision and divine word, or through his prophets or apostles. We are privileged to have been admitted into the very counsel of God, knowing, as Jesus says, that He “no longer calls us servants but friends” (John 15:15). Very few philosophers imagined, by simply looking at the results of God’s creative act, that its Maker worked the deed with the bare majesty of His Word, not straining or fighting any battle with other cosmic beings. Even fewer realized that what is created was made from nothing (ex nihilō). This is only hinted at in the Hebrew account of Genesis, and in other places in the Old Testament which speak of God’s sovereign control over creation; some Hebrew scholars have even argued that “creation from nothing” is not required by the wording of the biblical text. The Greek version of Genesis, however, baldly states that “God made the heavens and the earth,” and the teaching that God created without raw material or help is also clarified by the inspired and “admirable” Solomonia,1 the mother of the seven Maccabean martyrs. Reminding them of the sheer creative power of God, she encourages all her sons, and then her youngest, to look forward to the resurrecting power of that same Creator:

I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you breath and life, nor I who arranged in order the elements within each of you. Therefore, the Creator of the world, who formed man in the beginning and devised the origin of all things, will give both breath and life back to you again in His mercy, since you now disregard yourselves for the sake of His laws…. My son, have mercy on me. I carried you for nine months in my womb and nursed you for three years. I reared you and brought you up to this point in your life and have taken care of you. I beseech you, my child, to look at heaven and earth and see everything in them and know that God made them out of nothing; so also He made the race of man in this way. (2 Macc 7:22–24, 26–28)

Perceiving the same truth, many ancient (and contemporary) Jewish scholars have held to this doctrine, as we see in Philo’s work concerning the Old Testament commandments,2 and in the book known as 2 Baruch (21:4, 48:8). But the wonder of the creating God is finally and unequivocally taught in the New Testament by the Apostle Paul (Rom 4:17), whose teaching is surely in harmony with the Apostles’ and Jesus’ own understanding of Genesis, of what God did “in the beginning” (Matt 19:8).

When Jesus shows us with clarity what the Father is like (John 1:18, 14:8), it becomes impossible to think God needed either material or support in his creating activity; nor could we ever think that this God made the creation, including human beings, because He lacked anything, or required to be served. As our Creed reminds us, the Triune God is Himself the Creator: we praise the “Father, the Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible,” the “Son… through whom all things were made,” and the “Spirit, the Lord and giver of Life.” Everything in creation comes from the bounty and goodness of our Maker, and is his special gift to us, the crown of his work. And so, while we are singing and praying, the priest prays this on our behalf:

Holy God, You dwell among Your saints. You are praised by the Seraphim with the thrice holy hymn and glorified by the Cherubim and worshiped by all the Heavenly powers. You have brought all things out of nothing into being. You have created man and woman in Your image and likeness and adorned them with all the gifts of Your grace.

Human beings may be said to be “creative,” but in comparison to the utter power of God, our “making” of things, which requires the raw material and wisdom supplied by God, is mere child’s play.

At the Anaphora, then, we enter into the role for which we were always intended—we stand in amazed thanksgiving at the goodness of God, and “lift Him up with our praises,” as did the Theotokos when she took over the role of the cherubim who stand around his throne. Throughout the Old Testament, we hear of the two golden cherubim who were placed on either side of the ark of the covenant, conceived of as a throne where God condescends to “sit” and visit with his people. In prayer (the Psalms) and in vision (Isaiah, Ezekiel, the Apocalypse), we are also given a glimpse of the heavenly court, gathered around “the Lord of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim” (e.g., 2 Sam 6:2)—actual cherubim, not simply representations of such beings. Besides the furniture of the tabernacle/Temple, and the revelations of the heavenly throne-room, Christians also keep, from the Nativity canon, another wondrous scene in mind: "I behold a strange but very glorious mystery: heaven –the cave; the throne of the Cherubim –the Virgin.” Human-fashioned cherubim may have adorned the physical ark, and strange celestial creatures may stand around the heavenly throne, exalting the Lord; it is the Virgin-Mother, however, who is the true carrier of the Lamb who sits “in the midst of the throne” (Rev 7:17). Along with her, in the Divine Liturgy, we “mystically represent the cherubim,” surrounding the Lord with our praises, and giving him glory.

This sober joy into which we enter is a foretaste of what we shall experience at the resurrection, when our worship, along with the angels, is uninterrupted. Moreover, our present worship in the Liturgy is not meant to be an isolated moment, but an enhancement that overflows into our whole lives, which are meant to be conducted in praise and thanksgiving. Yet in the Anaphora, as we stand together to offer holy things, we are given a time to put away other concerns, so that our thanks can come to the fore. At this point in the Liturgy, we have already brought to him our gifts of bread and wine, and now the priest will ask him to show their inner nature, their ability to become the Body and Blood of Christ, and so to feed us in both body and in spirit.3 As Alexander Schmemann reminds us, we have a higher calling than homo sapiens (“thinking Humanity”) or homo faber (“making Humanity”). Above all, God has made us to be homo adorans, “worshipping Humanity;” thanksgiving is our first and primal response to the generosity of God.4


Footnotes

  1. The name is given by Holy Tradition, not in the Scriptures.

  2. De Specialibus Legibus (On the Special Laws) 4.187.

  3. Especially in the Liturgy of St. Basil, we hear the words, “show these things to be….,” rather than “change these things.”

  4. Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 22.