By Archimandrite Chrysostomos K. Papathanasiou
Christianity is the revelation of the true God to humanity. It is not an ideological construction or a human philosophy.
We did not discover God, but He revealed Himself to us when His infinite love willed it.
Since its appearance in the historical scene, Christianity is the light of humanity. This is based on the assurance of Christ that He is the Light of the world. " I am the light of the world: they that follow me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life" (Jn. 8:12).
Again before His holy Passion He said: "I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in Me should remain in darkness" (Jn. 12:46).
The other strong basis which enlightens humanity is His Resurrection. Besides, the whole edifice of the Church rests on the Resurrection of Christ, which was preached throughout the known universe by the Apostles and then by all the Fathers of the Church.
First of all, we place the Gospels, and by extension the entire New Testament which consists of the divine teachings, as the light of humanity.
The birth of Christian civilization, the civilization of the soul, can be found within the Sacred Gospels, in the words of Christ.
In particular, the Sermon on the Mount and the Parables of the Lord are lamps of the light of Christianity.
Then the writings of the Apostle to the Nations, Paul, came and imitated the divine sermon of Christ.
Paul interprets and brings nearer to us the divine teachings. The same is done by the Apostles Peter, John and James and the other disciples and apostles.
Later the works of the Cappadocian Fathers are a wonderful continuation of the teachings of the faith.
But to understand that Christianity is the light of the world we must know that when Christianity first appeared in history, humanity was in a tragic situation.
Society was in serious decline. The enslavement of people to idols dominated. Even the twelve gods themselves were enslaved to their passions. Mankind had reached the point of being subhuman and brutish.
When the light of the Gospel came it illuminated many sides of human life. Christianity became the true agent of progress and ascent from the standpoint of the spirituality of people and society in general.
In the light of Christ the human personality finds value and becomes respected. In Christianity man is a person, not an individual.
He is formed "in the image of God" and "according to His likeness". His life has meaning. There is purpose to his life. We possess graces and divine gifts within us which become a momentum towards our theosis.
In particular, the coupling of men and women, namely marriage, was blessed and sanctified and became a sacred institution and a sacred Mystery of the Church.
Then the creation of a family became a great blessing and the children became gifts of God. Women were raised from being considered a "thing" for exploitation and servitude, to perform a function of equal honor with men.
Infanticide was combated against, and the child was no longer held in contempt, but they were given a position from the moment Christ received the children and blessed them, saying: "Let the children come to Me and do not prevent them" (Matt. 19:14).
Other people are no longer enemies. They are our neighbors. A servant is not a slave of oppressive servitude, but a fellow man. The same for the refugee and the stranger.
Christianity highlights and respects each person. Regardless of their social position, they have value in their body and an immortal soul. Their evaluation is not bound up with their position in the state, but each person, as a person, is worthy of honor and respect.
The great new commandment of Christ is that of love. It is the new light which Christianity brought to the world.
The divine command to "love one another" is the essential feature of a Christian. This is how Christianity differs from all other ideologies and the varying philosophies and political systems.
The Lord Himself said: "By this will all know that you are My disciples: if you have love for one another" (Jn. 13:35).
This most important and the greatest virtue of love, which the divine Paul sang about, is that which casts the light of salvation into society, which illumines souls and warms the hearts of people.
Without Christian love, society would be a jungle of wild beasts. This virtue, as the divine Chrysostom says, "fills the humble heart with inexpressible joy, educating the body and warming the spirit, while it whitens the soul and gives us boldness before God" (PG 60, 775).
From this basic concept of love started all the beneficial and philanthropic works of Christianity in society through the ages.
Hospitals, orphanages, nursing homes, leper hospitals, the building of hospices for the poor, kitchens, welfare and many other institutions have been offered as a ministry to others.
As we know, there is much talk about human rights and civil rights. However we would emphasize that the light of the Gospel and Christianity have highlighted the value of these rights.
Christianity blessed physical and spiritual freedom, preaching the equality of people, fighting slavery, discrimination, economic greed and the exploitation of the rich, usury, and immorality in any form.
It is worth recalling the Magna Carta of 1215, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the UN in 1948, the European Pact for Safeguarding Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in 1950, which entered into force in 1953, known as the European Convention of Rome and other relevant Declarations of United Europe.
In recent years we have the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007. The late compilation of these texts is extremely good and very useful, but we cannot forget the contribution of the Christian spirit and ethos in creating these texts.
The light of the Gospel illuminated human rights, the sociology of the Gospel elevated the culture of people, and the teachings of the Gospel gave inspiration to people.
This is because the Christian vision for humans is more rich and deep than those that could have been made by man himself merely by his own logic.
Already in the first century the heavenly Paul declared: "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28).
The light of Christianity created true civilization. With the Gospel people became domesticated, and they came to know letters and have a general education.
Conscious Christians offered much to humanity under the influence of divine Christian teaching. The achievements are many.
The Church Fathers are the pioneers and founders of a remarkable civilization. Their thorough knowledge of classical learning left a very important coupling of Hellenism and Christianity. Byzantine monasteries cultivated literature and the arts.
Many ancient classical manuscripts would have been forever lost if there were no Christians to preserve them, whether by Homer, Aristotle, Plato, Thucydides or Aristophanes.
The same is true for the period of the Turkish occupation, when scholarly clergy and teachers of the Nation passed on Education and Culture.
In world literature the light of Christianity illuminated many aspects of the psychic/inner world of man and we have wonderful creations.
The same is true in music, theater, painting, architecture, woodwork, sculpture and art in general.
The light of Christianity provided new creations, new approaches to the mystery of man, body and soul, and the world.
A beneficial and positive contribution of Christianity was in science. Leading researchers, inventors and scientists of various disciplines acknowledge the help of divine providence, and the moral assistance they received from the study of the Bible and the power gained from prayer to God.
If at various times there appeared reactions and fanaticism, this phenomenon was not due to the Gospel principles, nor to the ethos and the truth of Christianity.
This was a corruption, a decay and a spoilage of the spirit behind Christian teaching. It was particularly in the West, and in particular in the Middle Ages, that we have such deflections which healthy Christianity rejected.
Remember that even in the circle of the twelve disciples of Jesus there appeared one who betrayed Him.
Maximum also was the beneficial effects of Christianity to law and legislation.
The same importantly became the contribution and the inspiration, from the ethos of the Gospel, in the application of medical science.
Christianity remains the foundation and the root of authentic human civilization and culture and is the light of actual progress in society.
Christianity is not darkness and obscurantism. It is the light of high and regenerative civilization.
Especially Orthodoxy, which is the authentic face of Christianity, is the masterpiece that illuminates and fills the history of civilization with grace.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.