The Holy Standards was given to me by my godfather after I was received into ROCOR. It’s a compilation of the sacred creeds, confessions, and catechisms that make up the foundation of the Orthodox Church. Specifically, it contains the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, The Athanasian Creed, The Confession of Chalcedon, The Confession of Disitheus, The Shorter and Longer Catechisms of St. Philaret of Moscow, The Catechism of St. Peter Mogila, and The Synodikon of Orthodoxy. It was an essential read that allowed me to start my faith on the right foot.
The Church cannot fall into error
…when any man speaks from himself he is liable to err, and to deceive, and be deceived; but the catholic Church, as never having spoken, or speaking from herself, but from the Spirit of God—who being her teacher, she is ever unfailingly rich—it is impossible for her to in any way err, or to at all deceive, or be deceived; but like the Divine Scriptures, is infallible, and has perpetual authority.
…it is impossible for the catholic Church to err, or at all be deceived, or ever to choose falsehood instead of truth. For the All-holy Spirit continually operating through the holy Fathers and Leaders faithfully ministering, delivers the Church from error of every kind.
Suffering is not “evil”
For those which God is pleased to inflict us for our sins, as pestilence, war, sickness, and such like, they are said to be evil with regard to us, because they afflict us with pain and sorrow, to which we are averse: But, with regard, to God, they are not evil, but rather good, as being the instruments of his correction, whereby he converts us to righteousness…
…God, in his wisdom and justice, predetermines only those things which are entirely out of our power, with regard to their being or not being; and in those good things which are in our power to be done, he foreknows, but so that his will hinders not ours, which no way controls the nature of free-will.
We believe that all things that exist, whether visible or invisible, to be governed by the providence of God. Although God foreknows evils, and permits them, yet in that they are evil He is neither their contriver nor their author. But when such evils are come about, they may be overruled by the Supreme Goodness for something beneficial, not indeed as being their author, but as engrafting thereon something for the better.
We consider suffering to be evil, because it causes physical discomfort and impedes our worldly goals, but from God’s perspective, if that suffering causes us to strengthen our faith in Him, and work harder for our salvation, leading to eternal glory, how can it be considered evil? To those who desire to commit evil, anything that disturbs that pursuit will be seen by themselves as evil, because it has the potential to bring upon good, but to those who desire to commit good, and know that all good comes from God, suffering has the effect of amplifying one’s faith in God.
What is divine providence?
Divine providence is the constant energy of the almighty power, wisdom and goodness of God, by which he preserves the being and faculties of his creatures, directs them to good ends, and assists all that is good; but the evil that springs by departure from good he either cuts off, or corrects it, and turns it to good results.
To a Christian, there is no such thing as coincidence, for every coincidental event that has occurred in your life was permitted and allowed by God, because He knew the event alone—if it was negative—could not condemn you for eternity independent of the choices you make with your free will. On the other hand, we must not strain to look for coincidences to validate personal decisions that stem from our will. All events are sent to us by God for a reason that we must be careful to discern, and if we are unable to discern (with the help of a spiritual elder), its meaning should be ignored until that discernment arrives.
The darkness of heresy
…it is well said by one of the Fathers, that it is not easy to find a heretic that has understanding. For when these forsake the Church, they are forsaken by the Holy Spirit, and there remains in them neither understanding nor light, but only darkness and blindness. For if such had not happened to them, they would not have opposed things that are most plain; among which is the truly great mystery of Episcopacy, which is taught by Scripture, written of, and witness to, both by all Ecclesiastical history and the writings of holy men, and always held and acknowledged by the catholic Church.
…plain and unlearned men [should] not read the books of heretics, nor listen to their doctrines, nor entertain any conversation with them, lest they be corrupted, by becoming familiar with them: As the Psalmist and Prophet warns us, Blessed is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners (Psalm 1:1). And elsewhere the Scripture enjoins us, A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject (Titus 3:10).
Man is justified by faith and works
We believe a man is not justified through faith simply alone, but faith which works through love, that is to say, through faith and works.
The faith that works in love is not faith + works + love = 3 things that are needed for salvation, but a single thing, faith, that works (in love). Thus we are justified by faith that works, i.e. faith and works, not faith plus works, for we show a single thing, faith, by our works (James 2:18).
Is not faith alone enough for a Christian, without love and good works?
No; for faith without love and good works is inactive and dead, and so can not lead to eternal life. He that loveth not his brother, abideth in death. (1 John 3:14) What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (James 2:14-16)
May not a man, on the other hand, be saved by love and good works, without faith?
It is impossible that a man who has not faith in God should really love him; besides, man, being ruined by sin, can not do really good works, unless he receive through faith in Jesus Christ spiritual strength, or grace from God.
The Protestant notion of “faith alone” is fatally incorrect. What it amounts to in reality is “emotion alone,” of having good feelings towards Lord Jesus Christ, particularly during a loud Sunday worship. I argue that positive emotional feelings about God alongside an intellectual belief that Lord Jesus Christ is the God-man, without an ensuring outpouring of works, is not faith.
You cannot be saved without baptism
We believe Holy Baptism, which was instituted by the Lord, and is conferred in the name of the Holy Trinity, to be of the highest necessity. For without it none is able to be saved, as the Lord say, ‘Whoever is not born of water and of the Spirit, shall in no way enter in the Kingdom of the Heavens’ (John 3:5).
…the effects of Baptism are, to speak concisely, firstly, the forgiveness of the ancestral transgression, and of any sins of any kind that the baptized may have committed. Secondly, it delivers him from the eternal punishment, to which he was liable, as well for original sin and for mortal sins he may have individually committed. Thirdly, it gives to the person immortality; for in justifying them from past sins, it makes them temples of God.
An atheist will be quick to point out the example of an African villager who doesn’t have access to a church and can’t get baptized, but the salvation of those people are God’s concern. You do not have this excuse, because you know of Christ, you are within driving distance of an Orthodox Church, and you are reading these words now from the Church itself about the importance of baptism. Upon your death, if you neglect to join God’s Church, you can’t use ignorance as an excuse.
Prayers help the dead
And such [among the faithful] as though involved in mortal sins, who have not departed in despair, but have, while still living in the body, repented, though without bringing forth any fruits of repentance—i.e. by pouring forth tears, by kneeling while watching in prayers, by afflicting themselves, by relieving the poor, and in fine by showing forth by their works their love towards God and their neighbor, and which the catholic Church has from the beginning rightly called satisfaction—of these and such like depart into Hades, and there endure the punishment due to the sins they have committed. But they are aware of their future release from there, and are delivered by the Supreme Goodness, though the prayers of the Priests, and the good works which the relatives of each do from their Departed; especially the unbloody Sacrifice availing in the highest degree; which each offers particularly for his relatives that have fallen asleep, and which the catholic and apostolic Church offers daily for all alike. For course, it is understood that we know not the time of their release. For that there is deliverance for such from their direful condition, and that before the common resurrection and judgment we know and believe; but when we know not.
What is an idol?
The material representation of any creature, or of any imaginary deity, which is worshipped instead of the true God.
What is faith?
According to the definition of St. Paul, Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1); that is, a trust in the unseen as though it were seen, in that which is hoped and waited for as if it were present.
What is the difference between knowledge and faith?
Knowledge has for its object things visible and comprehensible; faith, things which are invisible, and even incomprehensible. Knowledge is founded on experience, on examination of its object; but faith on belief of testimony to truth. Knowledge belongs properly to the intellect, although it may also act on the heart; faith belongs principally to the heart, although it is imparted through the intellect.
Why are not all men capable of receiving a revelation immediately from God?
Owning to their sinful impurity, and weakness both in soul and body.
What is it to believe in God?
To believe in God is to have a lively belief of his being, his attributes, and works; and to receive with all the heart his revealed Word respecting the salvation of men.
What is it to be poor in spirit?
It is to have a spiritual conviction that we have nothing of our own, nothing but what God bestows upon us, and that we can do nothing good without God’s help and grace, thus counting ourselves as nothing, and in all throwing ourselves upon the mercy of God; in brief, as St. Chrysostom explains it, spiritual poverty is humility.
How ought we to act, if it fall out that our parents or governors require of us any thing contrary to the faith or to the law of God?
In that case we should say to them, as the Apostles said to the rulers of the Jews: Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge yet; and we should be ready, for the sake of the faith and the law of God, to endure the consequences, whatever they may be. (Acts 4:19)
What is tradition?
By the name holy tradition is meant the doctrine of the faith, the law of God, the sacraments, and the ritual as handed down by the true believers and worshipers of God by word and example from one to another, and from generation to generation.
Is there any sure repository of holy tradition?
All true believers united by the holy tradition of the faith, collectively and successively, by the will of God, compose the Church; and she is the sure repository of holy tradition, or, as St. Paul expresses it, The Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15).
St. Irenaeus writes thus: ‘We ought not to seek among others the truth, which we may have for asking from the Church; for in her, as in a rich treasure-house, the Apostles have laid up in its fullness all that pertains to the truth, so that whosoever seeketh may receive from her the food of life. She is the door of life.’
Where is God?
If God is everywhere, how do men say that God is in heaven, or in the church?
God is everywhere; but in heaven he has a special presence manifested in everlasting glory to the blessed spirits; also in churches he has, through grace and sacraments, a special presence devoutly recognized and felt by believers, and manifested sometimes by extraordinary signs.
Our Savior Lord Jesus Christ
What tokens had God’s providence prepared, that men might know the Savior, when he was born to them?
Many exact predictions of various circumstances of his birth and life on earth. For instance, the Prophet Isaiah foretold that the Saviour should be born of a virgin. (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23) The Prophet Micah foretold that the Saviour should be born in Bethlehem; and this prophecy the Jews understood even before they heard of its fulfillment. (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:4-6) The Prophet Malachi, after the building of the Second Temple at Jerusalem, foretold that the coming of the Saviour was drawing nigh, that he should come to this temple, and that before him should be sent a forerunner like unto the Prophet Elijah, clearly pointing by this to John the Baptist. (Malachi 3:1, 4:5; Matthew 3:3, 11:14) The Prophet Zachariah foretold the triumphal entry of the Saviour into Jerusalem. (Zechariah 9:9; John 12:14-15) The Prophet Isaiah, with wonderful clearness, foretold the sufferings of the Saviour. (Isaiah 53) David, in the twenty-second Psalm, described the sufferings of the Saviour on the cross with as great exactness as if he had written at the foot of the cross itself. And Daniel, 490 years before, foretold the appearance of the Saviour, his death on the cross, and the subsequent destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem, and abolition of the Old Testament sacrifices. (Daniel 9)
How could Jesus Christ suffer and die when he was God?
He suffered and died, not in his Godhead, but in his manhood; and this not because he could not avoid it, but because it pleased him to suffer. He himself had said: ‘I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.’ (John 10:17-18)
Was it for us all, strictly speaking, that Jesus Christ suffered?
For his part, he offered himself as a sacrifice strictly for all, and obtained for all grace and salvation; but this benefits only those of us who, for their parts, of their own free will, have fellowship in his sufferings, being made comformable undo his death. (Philippians 3:10)
How can we have fellowship in the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ?
We have fellowship in the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ through a lively and hearty faith, through the Sacraments, in which is contained and sealed the virtue of his saving sufferings and death, and, lastly through the crucifixion of our flesh with its affections and lusts.
How does the death of Jesus Christ upon the cross deliver us from sin, the curse, and death?
That we may the more readily believe this mystery, the Word of God teaches us of it, so much as we may be able to receive, by the comparison of Jesus Christ with Adam. Adam is by nature the head of all mankind, which is one with him by natural descent from him. Jesus Christ, in whom the Godhead is united with manhood, graciously made himself the new almighty Head of men, whom he unites to himself through faith. Therefore as in Adam we had fallen under sin, the curse, and death, so we are delivered from sin, the curse, and death in Jesus Christ. His voluntary suffering and death on the cross for us, being of infinite value and merit, as the death of one sinless, God and man in one person, is both a perfect satisfaction to the justice of God, which had condemned us for sin to death, and a fund of infinite merit, which has obtained him the right, without prejudice to justice, to give us sinners pardon of our sins, and grace to have victory over sin and death.
What is a sacrament?
A Sacrament is a certain holy rite or ceremony, which, under a visible element, causes and conveys into the soul of the faithful the invisible grace of God; an institution our Lord, whereby every one of the faithful receives the divine grace.
The works of mercy
Which are the corporal works of mercy?
1. To feed the hungry.
2. To give drink to the thirsty.
3. To clothe the naked, or such as have not necessary and decent clothing.
4. To visit them that are in prison.
5. To visit the sick, minister to them, and forward their recovery, or aid them to a Christian preparation for death.
6. To show hospitality to strangers.
7. To bury them that have died in poverty.
Which are the spiritual works of mercy?
1. By exhortation to convert the sinner from the error of his way. (James 5:20)
2. To instruct the ignorant in truth and virtue.
3. To give our neighbor good and seasonable advice in difficulty, or in any danger of which he is unaware.
4. To pray for others to God.
5. To comfort the afflicted.
6. Not to return the evil which others may have done us.
7. To forgive injuries from our heart.
Who is our neighbor?
Are all men our neighbors?
Yes, all; because all are the creation of one God, and have come from one man: but our neighbors in faith are doubly neighbors to us, as being children of one heavenly Father by faith in Jesus Christ.
What is it to deny one’s self?
Basil the Great explains it thus: He denies himself who puts off the old man with his deeds, which is corrupt, according to the deceitful lusts; who renounces also all worldly affections, which can hinder his intention of godliness. Perfect self-denial consists in this, that he cease to have any affection even for life itself, and bear the judgment of death in himself, that he may not trust in himself.
The veneration of icons
What are we to think of the icons which the Church venerates and reverences?
There is a very great difference between icons and idols. An idol is a mere fiction and invention of men, as the Apostle testifies, An idol has no real existence (1 Corinthians 8:4). But an icon is a representation showing forth a real thing that has actual existence in the world, as the image of our Savior Christ, of the holy Virgin Mary, and of all other saints.
Besides, the heathens worshipped their idols as gods, thinking gold and silver to be true deities, and offered sacrifices unto them, as of old did Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3:1-18). Whereas we, in venerating the reverencing icons, do not adore the painting or the woods, but we honor the saints who are thereby represented, and venerate them with that kind of reverence which is called dulia, placing them, by means of the representation, before our eyes as if they were in our sight and we really beheld them; as, for instance, while we venerated a crucifix, we thereby set Christ himself before our mind hanging upon the Cross for our salvation; and unto him, with religious gratitude, do we bend our knee and bow down our heads.
The Holy Standards was dry, repetitive, and long, but I declare it to be the second most important book I’ve read after the Bible, because it took me to the root of the Orthodox faith and its dogmas, beliefs, and practices. If you stay in the Church for a long time, you will come to learn it all in bits and pieces regardless, but why not get it all in one go, directly from the creedal and confessional sources? Even if you’ve been in the Church for a while, it will serve as a useful checkup on your faith.
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