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Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo
Debre Meheret St. Michael Cathedral
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 The Five Pillars of Faith

We have five main doctrines that every Christian should believe to be partakers of salvation, which are called Pillars of faith. These are:

  1. Mystery of Trinity
  2. Mystery of Incarnation
  3. Mystery of Baptism
  4. Mystery of Communion
  5. Mystery of Resurrection

These five pillars of faith are called mysteries, because we can only understand the essence of God in them, and accept them to be true according to the Scripture. But we can not completely know the essence of God. That is why the apostle Paul said, "“And without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness” (1Timothy 3:16).

1. Mystery of Trinity

                The word “Trinity” indicates the three persons of the one and the only God, namely the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father the Son and the Holy Spirit are one in nature, essence, divinity, will, but three in name and in person. The Father has begotten the Son, the Son is begotten from the Father, and the Holly Spirit proceeds only from the Father. The Father can’t be called the Son, or the Holy Spirit, the Son can’t be called the Father or the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit can’t be called the Father or the Son. Even though the Son is begotten from the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, there was no time when the Father was without the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Son without the Father and the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Spirit without the Father and the Son.  They are equal in precedence and are one in Godhead. Thus we do not say three Gods, but three persons, one God.

                In the old testament, we see that there is more than one person of the one and only God. This is evident in the following passages:

Ø       “Let Us make man in Our own image, according to Our likeness” Genesis 1:26

Ø       And the Lord said “... Come let Us go down and there confuse their language ...” Genesis 11:6-7

In the above passages we know that there is more than one person because of the reference “... let Us ...”, but we also know that there is only one Lord and God, because it says “the Lord said ...”.

                The three persons was first revealed in the scripture when the Holy Trinity appeared to Abraham as three guests. “So he lifted his eyes and behold three men were standing by him; and when he saw Them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground and said, “My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant”. (Genesis 18:1-3). Even though he saw three persons, he said “My Lord” and not “My Lords” because the three persons he saw are one in Godhead and Lordship. Moses also wrote on Genesis 18:1, “The Lord appeared to him ...” insted of “the Lords ...” because the Lord God is one, but revealed to Abraham in His three persons. It is to the Trinity that the Angels sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” when worshiping God, but testify to His oneness by saying “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His Glory” (Isaiah 6:3).

                The three persons of God is also revealed in the new testament, when John baptized Jesus Christ. “When He had been baptized Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying ; This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus Christ, the incarnate God the Son, the Holy Sprit descending like a dove, and God the Father speaking from heaven testifying about Jesus Christ is a clear evidence to the three persons of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

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2. Mystery of Incarnation

Incarnation is the embodiment of God the Son to become perfectly human without changing, altering or lessening His divinity or Godhead. Christ is God the Son incarnate Who was born of the Virgin Mary for our salvation.  He is one nature of two natures – divine and human. His divine and human nature were completely united at conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary, but without mingling, yet without separation. Therefore we say that He is perfectly human and perfectly God. There was never a time when His divinity was separated from His humanity once the complete union took place at conception. This is a great mystery that words cannot explain, and is beyond the grasp of our wits. That is why the apostle Paul wrote “And without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in spirit, seen by the angels, preached among the gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in Glory.” (1Timothy 3:16).

God has often spoken about His incarnation through different prophets. The prophet Isaiah said, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” about Jesus Christ.  The prophet Ezekiel also wrote “Then He brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary which faces toward the east, but it was shut.   And the Lord said to me, "This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the Lord God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut”, clearly indicating the birth of our Lord from the Virgin Mary. This revelation of Ezekiel is also a clear testimony of the perpetual virginity of our holy mother saint Mary. The prophet Isaiah wrote “behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14) about the birth of Christ from the Virgin Mary.

John the apostle wrote in his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1 – 14). This is a clear indication of the incarnation of Christ, the Son of God, who is one in essence with God the Father, and the Holy Spirit. John said “the Word was with God”, indicating the separate person of the Son, but said “the Word was God” because the Son is one in essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It is this incarnate Son of God Elizabeth called “... My Lord” and the baby in her womb leaped for (Luke 1:41-42).

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3. Mystery of Baptism

                Baptism is the sacrament by which we are reborn of the Holy Spirit to become children of God, a grace of childhood that was lost when Adam and Eve transgressed God’s commandment (John 3:5, Rom 8:14). It is a great mystery for we receive the invisible gift of the spirit of childhood through visible sacramental rite. Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but can not tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  indicating the invisible grace we receive through baptism.  (John 3:8).

                Through baptism we become one with Christ, and are united in his death and resurrection. The apostle Paul explains this by saying, “Do you know that as many of us were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3).               

                We have to receive the sacrament of baptism to inherit the kingdom of God. This is indicated by Christ’s word to Nicodimus: “Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born again, he can not see the kingdom of God. Unless one is born of water and the spirit, he can not enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3-5). Therefore, males are baptized at 40th day after birth and females at the 80th day after birth in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, according to Christ’s commandment to His apostles (Math. 28:19).

                The water with which we are baptized is not merely water like the one John the Baptist was baptizing with, but divine. John the Baptist said, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and fire.” These words testify that Christ has given us the grace of baptism with the invisible fire of the Holy Spirit, through visible divine water (Math. 3:11). Therefore, we are baptized with water and the Holy Spirit to be rightfully called the children of God only once, for there is only one baptism (Eph. 4:5).

                Our Lord Jesus Christ has taught us how to walk in the path of salvation to inherit his everlasting kingdom not just by words but also by setting examples. That is why He was baptized by John the Baptist, who was sent by the Lord Himself  “to prepare the way of the Lord” (Math. 3:3). He was baptized to set an example for us, so that the prophecy may be fulfilled, and to reveal the three persons of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Mathew 3:16-17, Psalm 114:5).

                Baptism is the first sacrament given to all who enter the Church. It is the door to the beginning of eternal life. That is why the apostle Peter wrote that Baptism saves us (1Pet. 3:21). As our path in life in this world starts at birth from our mother’s womb, our path in salvation also starts with the second birth, which is baptism (John 3:3). That is why this sacrament is given freely to children, for salvation can be attained only through baptism. No one but Christ our Lord has chosen his birth mother. Since this is a rebirth, not into this world, but into an everlasting life, this sacrament should not be withheld from children. When the disciples rebuked the little children that were brought to Christ, He did not say, return them until they come of their own accord, but said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them” (Math 19:13). He also added, “For such is the kingdom of heaven” indicating that, it is not children who should be like adults, but adults who should be like children to inherit the kingdom of God.

                Christ spoke the words, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” for adults who come into the Christian faith from unbelieving (Mark 16:16). However, as we can see from Acts 16:15, if the family head believes, it is not only the head, but also the household who is baptized.   

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4. Mystery of Communion

        Communion is the act of receiving the Eucharist, the body of and blood of Jesus Christ, in liturgical worship. The belief that the body and wine, consecrated during liturgical worship, changes to be the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and that what we receive is the true body and blood of Jesus Christ is called the Mystery of Communion.   The Mystery of Communion is the sacrament through which Jesus Christ dwells in us: "He that eats My flesh, and drinks My blood, dwells in Me, and I in him." (John 6:56) 

        Jesus Christ instituted this Sacrament on the eve of His crucifixion, as we can see from the following passage from the gospel of Mathew: "And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is My body.  And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." (Mathew 26:26-28). Christ commanded the disciples to do the same (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24-25). 

        Before Jesus Christ instituted the Eucharist, He has taught that whoever eats of His flesh, and drinks of His blood will inherit the kingdom of God: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world ... Whoso eats My flesh, and drinks My blood, has eternal life" (John 6:51, 54). It is essential that we partake of this sacrament for salvation because He said, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you." (John 6:53) 

        This is the reason that the Eucharist is the central element of Orthodox Worship. The offering of sin in the Old Testament was animal sacrifice. But in the new testament, Christ gave us His own body and blood as a sacrifice to cleanses the body and the soul from sin. That is why John the Baptist testified, "Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world." (John 1:29) John referred to Him as "the Lamb of God", because He would be crucified on the cross for our salvation, and would give us His flesh and blood as a sacrifice of the new testament. Accordingly, just as Christ blessed the bread and wine, and said, "This is my body ... This is my flesh", the bread and wine offerings change into His body and His blood with the blessing and the prayer of the priest in our liturgical worship. Therefore we believe and confess that the bread and wine we receive is truly the body and blood of Jesus Christ, God the Son incarnate. 

        We have to receive the Eucharist with such faith, for it brings condemnation instead of salvation if we receive it without faith. The apostle Paul  attests when he says, "whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. 29 For he that eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body." (1 Corinthians 11:27-28) Therefore, we should receive the Eucharist with absolute faith that it is truly the body and blood of Jesus Christ, but also examine ourselves and fulfill the Sacrament of Confession so that we won't be "guilty of the body and blood of the Lord."          

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5. Mystery of Resurrection

        The Mystery of the Resurrection is the belief, according to the gospel, in the rising of the body from the dead and the union of body and soul to stand for judgment at the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. "... the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, 29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." (John 5:28-29). These are the words of Jesus Christ which he had spoken about the resurrection. The apostles also preached the resurrection of the dead accordingly: "they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead." (Acts 4:2)

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