Introduction to the Five Pillars of Mysteries

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The five pillars of mysteries are the core elements of faith in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church. They define the doctrine of the church. These are the basis of all the preaching, sacraments and services of the church. This article will briefly introduce you to these five pillars of mysteries. We shall also have separate articles for each mystery.

Definition of terms

Let’s start by defining some key terms that would help us better understand the five the mysteries. These terms are God, Faith, Religion, Dogma, Canon, and Church.

God is Pantocrater – The creator and ruler of the whole universe (Gen 1:1). He is the Lover of all mankind. God is the Heavenly Father and source of all moral authority. He is the Supreme being. He is the Almighty. He is the truth. He is omnipresent (present everywhere), omniscient (know all), omnipotent (can do everything), eternal and merciful. We believe on this God.

Faith is our firm conviction to God. It means believing on God. Accordingly, faithfulness meaning believing God in heart, confessing our faith in mouth and manifesting it in action (Romans 10:9). Apostle Paul describes faith as “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (Hebrew 11:1).”

Religion is a relatively different concept. It refers to an organized faith. It outlines the nature of our relationship with God. It describes how we worship God as an individual and as a congregation. It also shows the true way to eternal life based on the words of God as written in the holy scriptures. Implied within the term religion are the institutional arrangements and the services of various types at all levels.

Dogma refers to the anchors of faith. These are the five pillars of mysteries. Dogma articulates the basic principles at the heart of our faith. Dogmas are professed as essential by all the faithful. What is stated as Dogma is a set principles laid down as incontrovertibly true by the Holy Synod. Any deviation from the Dogmas of our religion is considered as a heresy.

Canon refers to the Ecclesiastical (church) laws/rules (1 Corr 14:40) that ‘govern’ the church. These are formulated by Holy Synod of the church. All churches are expected to obey canons. These legislations may be amended by Holy Synod when necessary. these include legislations related to liturgical services, priesthood, administration of the church etc.

Church/Ecclesia is interpreted in four ways. First, it refers to the congregation (1 corr 11:28) – the Unity of all Christians, including those in heaven, and the unity of Christians with Christ. Second, it refers to the the ‘system’ of worship (John 2:16) – the church building (place of worship) and the spiritual services within it. Third, the term refers to the spiritual life of individual Christians (1 Corr 3:16). Finally, the term can be used to describe the entire church as a religious institution (e.g. Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church, Coptic Orthodox Church etc.).

The Pillars of Mysteries

A pillar is a vertical structure that emerges from a basement and supports the superstructure of a building. Similarly, the Pillar of Mysteries are the most important contents of faith and the basic principles belief. They are called ‘pillars’ as they are the anchors of faith.

Why do we call them ‘Mysteries?

We call these pillars of faith ‘mysteries’ for the following two main reasons. Firstly, they are religious beliefs based on divine revelation (1 Cor. 2፡7-8). It is difficult or impossible for a human mind to understand or explain them entirely (1 Cor. 2፡9). They cannot be fully and exhaustively conceptualized or understood. For example, the mystery of baptism may sound like taking a bath for a non-believer. The status of being son or daughter of God with grace is physically incomprehensible. That’s why Jesus Christ taught Nicodemus saying “the wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

Secondly, we call them mysteries because they are for those who believe in God. As a human person reveal the details of a treasure to his/her heirs, God reveals the mysteries of faith for those who seek him with a pure heart. Hence, our apostolic church does not let a non-believer take part from the sacraments, which are manifestations of our faith in the five pillars of mysteries. One must first learn and profess the five pillars of mysteries before being a full-fledged member of God’s Kingdom on each: the Apostolic Orthodox Church. Our Lord Jesus Christ said “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” (Matthew 7:6)

What are the Five Pillars of Mysteries?

The five pillars of mysteries of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church are Mystery of Holy Trinity, Mystery of Incarnation, Mystery of Baptism, Mystery of Holy Eucharist, and Mystery of Resurrection of (from) the dead.

What’s the basis for Pillars of Mysteries?

The five pillars of mysteries are sourced from the Holy Bible- the teachings of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and his disciples. The centre of the pillars of mysteries is the Creed of Faith which summarises the declarations from the three Ecumenical councils recognized by the oriental church. The are the councils of Nicea, Ephesus, Constantinople.

The Orthodox Creed of Faith

We believe in one God, God the Father the Pantocrator who created heaven and earth, and all things seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-Begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not created, of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made; Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy spirit and the Virgin Mary and became Man.

And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried. And on the third day He rose from the dead, according to the scriptures, ascended to the heavens; He sits at the right hand of his Father, and He is coming again in His glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end.

Yes, we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Life-Giver, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And in one holy, catholic and apostolic church. We confess one baptism for the remission of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the coming age. Amen.

Why should we learn about the Pillars of Mysteries?

Learning the pillars of mysteries would help us better understand our faith and religion. Better understanding of the pillars of mysteries would also enable us to protect ourselves and other Christian colleagues from different types of heretic thoughts. Knowledge of Pillars of mysteries would also pave the way for attaining  righteousness and getting eternal life.

You may be a wealthy, educated, or powerful person in your earthly life. You may have boundless authority on earth. Have you ever thought how long you will live on earth? How much do you know about your profession or any other aspect of earthly life? We believe you know a lot and you are constantly learning to know more every single day. But what do you know about your destiny after death?

As a Christian, we know we await eternal life after death. The five pillars of mysteries are the starting point of our spiritual knowledge, revealed through scriptures, about our faith which makes us eligible candidates for eternal life. If we rely on God to fulfil our dreams on earth, how much should we rely on him to help us understand the mysteries of our apostolic orthodox Christian faith? “If in this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (1 Cor. 15፡19) Hence, we learn about the pillars of the mysteries so that we understand the basics of our Christian faith and look beyond this world to the Kingdom of God.

May God give us the wisdom to understand the mysteries! Amen.