A book that answers many Orthodox theological questions in a plain-worded manner is Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Michael Pomazansky. While technically an introductory textbook (for students at Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary in Jordanville, New York), it explains dogmas in a way that laymen can understand. Below are a handful of edifying passages.
Why God created the world
…the Orthodox Confession and the Longer Catechism express it thus: The world was created by God “so that other beings, glorifying Him, might be participants of His goodness.” … Blessed Theodoret writes: “The Lord God has no need of anyone to praise Him; but by His goodness alone He granted existence to angels, archangels, and the whole creation.” And further: “God has need for nothing; but He, being an abyss of goodness, deigned to give existence to things which did not exist.” And St John Damascene says (as we have just seen): “The good and transcendentally good God was not content to contemplate Himself, but by a superabundance of goodness saw fit that there should be some things to benefit by and participate in His goodness.”
St. Gregory the Theologian: “Since for the goodness of God it was not sufficient to be occupied only with the contemplation of Himself, but it was needful that good should extend further and further, so that the number of those who have received Grace might be as many as possible (Because this is characteristic of the highest Goodness)—therefore, God devised first of all the angelic heavenly powers: and the thought became deed, which was fulfilled by the Word, and perfected by the Spirit… And inasmuch as the first creatures were pleasing to Him, He devised another world, material and visible, the orderly composition of heaven and earth, and that which is between them.”
Where is the image of God within us?
…the image of God may be seen only in the soul, not in the body. According to His Nature, God is most pure Spirit, not clothed in any kind of body and not a partaker of any kind of materiality. Therefore the image of God can refer only to the immaterial soul—many Fathers of the Church have considered it necessary to give this warning.
Man bears the image of God in the higher qualities of the soul, especially in the soul’s immortality, in its freedom of will, in its reason, and in its capability for pure love without thought of gain.
Is there a distinction between the “image” and the “likeness” of God? The majority of the Holy Fathers and teachers of the Church reply that there is. They see the image of God in the very nature of the soul, and the likeness in the moral perfecting of man in virtue and sanctity, in the acquirement of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, we receive the image of God from God together with existence, but the likeness we must acquire ourselves, having received the possibility of doing this from God.
To become “in the likeness” depends upon our will; it is acquired in accordance with our own activity. Therefore, concerning the “counsel” of God it is said: “Let us make man in our image, after Our likeness” (Gen. 1:26), but with regard to the very act of creation it is said: “God created man in His own image” (Gen. 1:27). About this St. Gregory of Nyssa reasons: By God’s “counsel,” we were given the potential to be “in His likeness.”
What is Christian life?
The fullness of actual life in the Church on earth is manifested in three aspects: (a) confession of faith; (b) moral life; and (c) the Divine services. Therefore, each Christian is called (a) to believe; (b) to live and act according to faith; and (c) to glorify God and pray.
What is the Orthodox Church?
The Orthodox Church of Christ is the Body of Christ, a spiritual organism whose Head is Christ. It has a single spirit, a single common faith, a single and common catholic consciousness, guided by the Holy Spirit; and its reasoning are based on the concrete, definite foundations of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Apostolic Tradition. This catholic consciousness is always with the Church, but, in a more definite fashion, this consciousness is expressed in the Ecumenical Councils of the Church.
The role of the body
The body must serve as the companion, organ, and even fellow laborer of the soul. It depends on the soul itself whether to lower itself to such an extent that it becomes the slave of the body, or, being guided by an enlightened spirit, to make the body its obedient executor and fellow laborer. Depending upon the soul, the body can be a vessel of sinful impurity and foulness, or it can become a temple of God, participating with the soul in the glorification of God.
The importance of obedience
Free obedience is the path to moral advancement. Where there is voluntary obedience there is (a) the cutting off of the way to self-esteem; (b) respect and trust for that which is above us; (c) continence. Obedience acts beneficially upon the mind, humbling its pride; upon the feelings, limiting self-love; and upon the will, directing the freedom of man towards the good. The Grace of God cooperates and strengthens one on this path.
How God uses suffering to save our souls
Sufferings are given to man as a means of chastisement, enlightenment, and correction. According to St. Basil the Great, sufferings and death itself “cut off the growth of sin.”
[God] covered [man’s] nakedness with clothing, moderated his self-esteem and pride, his fleshly desires and passions, by means of healing measures—labor and diseases—giving to them an educational significance. We ourselves can see the educational effect of labor, and the cleansing effect of disease on the soul. God subjected man to physical death so as not to hand him over to final spiritual death—that is, so that the sinful principle in him might not develop to the extreme, so that he might not become like Satan.
However, this natural bridle of suffering and death does not uproot the very source of evil. It only restraints the development of evil. It was most necessary for mankind to have a supernatural power and help which might perform an inward reversal within him and give to man the possibility to turn away from a gradually deepening descent and towards victory over sin and a gradual ascent to God.
Orthodox Dogmatic Theology is dry and difficult at times, but if you want to gain a theological understanding of the Orthodox faith, and how it compares to other confessions, it’s a great starting point.
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