Life After Death ,A Homily by St John of Shanghai and San Fransisco

Life After Death

A Homily by St John of Shanghai and San Fransisco

With comments by Fr. John Mack

Recently there have been many questions raised about what happens to the soul when a person dies. The following sermon by St. John of San Francisco outlines the Orthodox teaching. I have appended to the sermon by way of endnotes additional comments and extensive Patristic support for this comments. It is important for us as we approach this all-important subject to lay aside all preconceptions and to be willing to accept what the Fathers of the Church teach. Your opinion and my opinion are just that: OPINIONS; what is presented here is TRUTH! —Fr. John Mack

The Homily

Limitless and without consolation would have been our sorrow for close ones who are dying, if the Lord had not given us eternal life. Our life would be pointless if it ended with death. What benefit would there then be from virtue and good deed? Then they would be correct who say: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” But man was created for immortality, and by His resurrection Christ opened the gates of the Heavenly Kingdom, of eternal blessedness for those who have believed in Him and have lived righteously. Our earthly life is a preparation for the future life, and this preparation ends with our death. “It is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb 9:27). Then a man leaves all his earthly cares; the body disintegrates, in order to rise anew at the General Resurrection. Often this spiritual vision begins in the dying even before death, and while still seeing those around them and even speaking with them, they see what others do not see [1].

But when it leaves the body, the soul finds itself among other spirits, good and bad. Usually it inclines toward those which are more akin to it in spirit, and if while in the body it was under the influence of certain ones, it will remain in dependence upon them when it leaves the body, however unpleasant they may turn out to be upon encountering them [2].

For the course of two days the soul enjoys relative freedom and can visit places on earth which were dear to it, but on the third day it moves into other spheres [3]. At this time (the third day), it passes through legions of evil spirits which obstruct its path and accuse it of various sins, to which they themselves had tempted it. According to various revelations there are twenty such obstacles, the so-called “toll-houses,” at each of which one or another form of sin is tested; after passing through one the soul comes upon the next one, and only after successfully passing through all of them can the soul continue its path without being immediately cast into gehenna. How terrible these demons and their toll-houses are may be seen in the fact that Mother of God Herself, when informed by the Archangel Gabriel of Her approaching death, answering Her prayer, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself appeared from heaven to receive the soul of His Most Pure Mother and conduct it to heaven. Terrible indeed is the third day for the soul of the departed, and for this reason it especially needs prayers then for itself [4].

Then, having successfully passed through the toll-houses and bowed down before God, the soul for the course of 37 more days visits the heavenly habitations and the abysses of hell, not knowing yet where it will remain, and only on the fortieth day is its place appointed until the resurrection of the dead [5]. Some souls find themselves (after the forty days) in a condition of foretasting eternal joy and blessedness, and others in fear of the eternal torments which will come in full after the Last Judgment. Until then changes are possible in the condition of souls, especially through offering for them the Bloodless Sacrifice (commemoration at the Liturgy), and likewise by other prayers [6].

How important commemoration at the Liturgy is may be seen in the following occurrence: Before the uncovering of the relics of St. Theodosius of Chernigov (1896), the priest-monk (the renowned Starets Alexis of Goloseyevsky Hermitage, of the Kiev-Caves Lavra, who died in 1916) who was conducting the re-vesting of the relics, becoming weary while sitting by the relics, dozed off and saw before him the Saint, who told him: “I thank you for laboring with me. I beg you also, when you will serve the Liturgy, to commemorate my parents” — and he gave their names (Priest Nikita and Maria). “How can you, O Saint, ask my prayers, when you yourself stand at the heavenly Throne and grant to people God’s mercy?” the priest-monk asked. “Yes, that is true,” replied St. Theodosius, “but the offering at the Liturgy is more powerful than my prayer.”

Therefore, panikhidas (i.e., Trisagion Prayers for the Dead) and prayer at home for the dead are beneficial to them, as are good deeds done in their memory, such as alms or contributions to the church. But especially beneficial for them is commemoration at the Divine Liturgy. There have been many appearances of the dead and other occurrences which confirm how beneficial is the commemoration of the dead. Many who died in repentance, but who were unable to manifest this while they were alive, have been freed from tortures and have obtained repose. In the Church prayers are ever offered for the repose of the dead, and on the day of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, in the kneeling prayers at vespers, there is even a special petition “for those in hell.”

Every one of us who desires to manifest his love for the dead and give them real help, can do this best of all through prayer for them, and particularly by commemorating them at the Liturgy, when the particles which are cut out for the living and the dead are let fall into the Blood of the Lord with the words: “Wash away, O Lord, the sins of those here commemorated by Thy Precious Blood and by the prayers of Thy saints.” We can do nothing better or greater for the dead than to pray for them, offering commemoration for them at the Liturgy. Of this they are always in need, and especially during those forty days when the soul of the deceased is proceeding on its path to the eternal habitations. The body feels nothing then: it does not see its close ones who have assembled, does not smell the fragrance of the flowers, does not hear the funeral orations. But the soul senses the prayers offered for it and is grateful to those who make them and is spiritually close to them.

O relatives and close ones of the dead! Do for them what is needful for them and within your power. Use your money not for outward adornment of the coffin and grave, but in order to help those in need, in memory of your close ones who have died, for churches, where prayers for them are offered. Show mercy to the dead, take care of their souls [7]. Before us all stands the same path, and how we shall then wish that we would be remembered in prayer! Let us therefore be ourselves merciful to the dead. As soon as someone has reposed, immediately call or inform a priest, so he can read the Prayers appointed to be read over all Orthodox Christians after death. Try, if it be possible, to have the funeral in Church and to have the Psalter read over the deceased until the funeral. Most definitely arrange at once for the serving of the forty-day memorial, that is, daily commemoration at the Liturgy for the course of forty days. (NOTE: If the funeral is in a church where there are no daily services, the relatives should take care to order the forty-day memorial wherever there are daily services.) It is likewise good to send contributions for commemoration to monasteries, as well as to Jerusalem, where there is constant prayer at the holy places. Let us take care for those who have departed into the other world before us, in order to do for them all that we can, remembering that “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”


1. But his soul continues to live. Not for an instant does it cease to exist. Our external, biological and earthly life ends with death, but the soul continues to live on. The soul is our very existence, the center of all our energies and our thoughts. The soul moves and gives life to the body. After its separation from the body it continues to live, to exist, to have awareness. St. Theophan the Recluse, in a message to a dying woman, writes: “You will not die. Your body will die, but you will over to a different world, being alive, remembering yourself and recognizing the whole world that surrounds you.” St. Dorotheos (6th century) summarizes the teaching of the early Fathers in this way: “For as the Fathers tell us, the souls of the dead remember everything that happened here — thoughts, words, desires — and nothing can be forgotten. But, as it says in the Psalm, ‘In that day all their thoughts shall perish’ (Psalm 145:5). The thoughts he speaks of are those of this world, about houses and possessions, parents and children, and business transactions. All these things are destroyed immediately when the soul passes out of the body. But what he did against virtue or against his evil passions, he remembers and none of this is lost. In fact, the soul loses nothing that it did in the world but remembers everything at its exit from this body.” St. John Cassian (5th century) likewise teaches: “Souls after the separation from this body are not idle, do not remain without consciousness; this is proved by the Gospel parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:22-28). The souls of the dead do not lose their consciousness, they do not even lose their dispositions — that is, hope and fear, joy and grief, and something of that which they expect for themselves at the Universal Judgment they begin already to foretaste.”

2. He who departs from this world experiences much consolation when he sees friendly people surrounding his dead body. Such a person discerns in his beloved friends’ tears of pain their love and sincere dedication. The greatest earthly joy is undoubtedly the realization that we die honored and appreciated by all who knew us. But just as at the hour of death the dead body is surrounded by relatives and friends, so also is the soul, which abandons the body and is directed towards its heavenly homeland, accompanied by the spiritual beings related to it. The virtuous soul is surrounded by bright angels of light, while the sinful soul is surrounded by dark and evil beings, that is, the demons. St. Basil the Great (4th century) explains it this way: “Let no one deceive you with empty words; for destruction will come suddenly upon you; it will come like a storm. A grim angel (i.e., a demon) will come to take and drag violently the soul that has been tied to sins; and your soul will turn toward here and will suffer silently, having already been excluded from the organ of mourning (the body). O how you will be troubled at the hour of death for yourself! How you will sigh!” St. Macarius of Egypt writes of this: “When you hear that there are rivers of dragons and mouths of lions (cf. Heb 11:33, Ps 22:21) and dark powers under the sky and burning fire (Jer 20:9) that crackles in the members of the body, you must know this: unless you receive the earnest of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5), at the hour when your soul is separated from the body, the evil demons hold fast to your soul and do not suffer you to rise up to heaven.” This same Father also teaches us: “When the soul abandons the body a certain great mystery is enacted. If the deceased has departed unrepentant, a host of demons and rejected angels and dark powers receive that soul and keep it with them. The completely opposite happens with those who have repented: for near the holy servants of God there are now angels and good spirits standing by, surrounding and protecting them, and when they depart from the body, the choir of angels receive their souls to themselves, to the pure aeon.” The champion of Orthodoxy against the Nestorian heresy, St. Cyril of Alexandria likewise teaches: “When the soul is separated from the body it sees the fearful, wild, merciless and fierce demons standing by. The soul of the righteous is taken by the holy angels, passed through the air and is raised up.” St. Gregory the Dialogist writes: “One must reflect deeply on how frightful the hour of death will be for us, what terror the soul will then experience, what remembrance of all the evils, what forgetfulness of past happiness, what fear, and what apprehension of the Judge. Then the evil spirits will seek out in the departing soul its deeds; then they will present before its view the sins towards which they had disposed it, so as to draw their accomplice to torment. But why do we speak only of the sinful soul, when they come even to the chosen among the dying and seek out their own in them, if they have succeeded with them? Among men there was only One Who before His suffering fearlessly said: ‘Hereafter I talk not much with you: For the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me (John 14:30).” This truth is confirmed by various liturgical services. For example, in Small Compline we ask the Mother of God to “be merciful to me not only in this miserable life, but also at the time of my death; take care of my miserable soul and banish far from it the dark and sinister faces of the evil demons.” In a prayer of the Midnight Service of Saturday (addressed to the Savior) we pray: “Master, be merciful to me and let not my soul see the dark and gloomy sight of the evil spirits, but let bright and joyous angels receive it.” Again, in another hymn to the Theotokos (from the Monday Matins service) we pray: “At the fearful hour of death free us from the horrible decision of the demons seeking to condemn us.” Similar prayers, addressed to the Lord and to the holy Angels, are found throughout the service for the Repose of the Dying.

3. Here, St. John is simply repeating a teaching common to the Church, St. Macarius of Alexandria (having received the teaching not from men but from an angel) explains: “When an offering (i.e., the Eucharist) is made in Church on the third day, the soul of the departed receives from its guardian angel relief from the sorrow it feels as a result of the separation from the body. In the course of two days the soul is permitted to roam the earth, wherever it wills, in the company of the angels that are with it. Therefore, the soul loving the body, sometimes wanders about the house in which its body has been laid out, and thus spends two days like a bird seeking its nest. But the virtuous soul goes about those places in which it was wont to do good deeds. On the third day, He Who Himself rose from the dead on the third day, commands the Christian soul, in imitation of His Resurrection, to ascend to the Heavens to worship the God of all.” St. John of Damascus vividly describes the state of the soul, parted from the body but still on earth, helpless to contact the loved ones whom it can see, in the Orthodox Funeral Service: “Woe is me! What manner of ordeal doth the soul endure when it is parted from the body! Alas! How many then are its tears, and there is none to show compassion! It raiseth its eyes to the angels; all unavailing is its prayer. It stretcheth out its hands to men, and findeth none to succor. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, meditating on the brevity of our life, let us beseech of Christ rest for him who hath departed hence, and for our souls great mercy.” St. Theophan, in writing to the brother of a dying woman, says: “Your sister will not die; the body dies, but the personality of the dying one remains. It only goes over to another order of life. It is not she whom they will put in the grave. She is in another place. She will be just as alive as you are now. In the first hours and days she will be around you. Only she will not say anything, and you won’t be able to see her; but she will be right here. Have this in mind.”

4. There is absolutely no doubt that the teaching of the toll-houses is the teaching of the Orthodox Church. We find this teaching in Holy Scripture (cf. Eph 6:12), the writings of all the Church Fathers (both ancient and modern) and throughout the prayers of the Church. Space does not allow for the full outlining of source material, but, in light of some recent discussions concerning the toll-houses, I will quote extensively from various Fathers and prayers. St. Athanasius the Great, in his famous life of St. Antony, describes the following: “At the approach of the ninth hour, after beginning to pray before eating food, Antony was suddenly seized by the Spirit and raised up by angels into the heights. The aerial demons opposed his progress: the angels disputing with them, demanded that the reason of their opposition be set forth, because Antony had no sins at all. The demons strove to set forth the sins committed by him from his very birth; but the angels closed the mouths of the slanderers, telling them that they should not count the sins from his birth which had already been blotted out by the grace of Christ; but let them present — if they have any — the sins he committed after he entered monasticism and dedicated himself to God. In their accusation the demons uttered many brazen lies; but since their slanders were wanting in proof, a free path opened for Antony. Immediately he came to himself and saw that he was standing in the same place where he had stood for prayer. Forgetting about food, he spent the night in prayer with tears and groanings, reflecting on the multitude of man’s enemies, on the battle against such an army, on the difficultly of the path to heaven through the air, and on the words of the Apostle who said: ‘Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers of the air’ (Eph 6:12; Eph 2:2). The Apostle, knowing that the aerial powers are seeking only one thing, are concerned over it with all fervor, exert themselves and strive to deprive us of a free passage to heaven, exhorts: ‘Take up the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day (Eph 6:13), that the adversary may be put to shame, having no evil thing to say of us (Tit 2:8).” St. John Chrysostom, describing the hour of death, teaches: “Then we will need many prayers, many helpers, many good deeds, a great intercession from angels on the journey through the spaces of the air. If when traveling in a foreign land or a strange city we are in need of a guide, how much more necessary for us are guides and helpers to guide us past the invisible dignities and powers and world-rulers of this air, who are called persecutors and publicans and tax-collectors.” St. Isaiah the Recluse (6th century) teaches that Christians should “daily have death before our eyes and take care how to accomplish the departure from the body and how to pass by the powers of darkness who are to meet us in the air.” St. Hesychius, Presbyter of Jerusalem (5th century) teaches: The hour of death will find us, it will come, and it will be impossible to escape it. Oh, if only the prince of the world and the air who is then to meet us might find our iniquities as nothing and insignificant and might not be able to accuse us justly.” St. Ephraim the Syrian (4th century) thus describes the hour of death and the hour of judgment at the toll-houses: “When the fearful hour comes, when the divine takers-away command the soul to be translated from the body, when they draw us away by force and lead us away to the unavoidable judgment place — then, seeing them, the poor man comes all into a shaking as if from an earthquake, is all in trembling. The divine takers-away, taking the soul, ascend in the air where stand the chiefs, the authorities and world-rulers of the opposing powers. These are our accusers, the fearful publicans, registrars, tax-collectors; they meet it on the way, register, examine and count all the sins and debts of this man — the sins of youth and old age, voluntary and involuntary, committed in deed, word and thought. Great is the fear here, great the trembling of the poor soul, indescribable the want which it suffers then from the incalculable multitudes of its enemies surrounding it there in myriads, slandering it so as not to allow it to ascend to heaven, to dwell in the light of the living, to enter the land of life. But the holy angels, taking the soul, lead it away.” St Cyril of Alexandria explains this further: “As the soul ascends, it finds tax officials guarding the ascent, holding and preventing the souls from ascending. Each one of these custom stations presents its own particular sins of the souls. But, by the same token, the good angels do not abandon the soul to these evil stations. At the time of its accounting the angels offer in turn the soul’s good works. In fact, the holy angelic powers enumerate to the evil spirits the good acts of the soul that were done by word, deed, thought and imagination. If the soul is found to have lived piously and in a way pleasing to God, it is received by the holy angels and transferred to that ineffable joy of the blessed and eternal life. But, if it is found to have lived carelessly and prodigally, it hears the most harsh word: ‘Let the ungodly be taken away, that he not see the glory of the Lord’ (Isa 26:10). Then the holy angels with profound regret abandon the soul and it is received by those dark demons so that may fling it with much malevolence into the prisons of Hades.” An early Church catchiest, referring to custom officials who collected taxes, relays to us the common Church teaching: “I know of other tax collectors who after our departure from this present life inspect us and hold us to see if we have something that belongs to them.” The same catchiest goes on to say: “I wonder how much we must suffer at the hands of those evil angels, who inspect everything and who, when someone is found unrepentant, demand not only the payment of taxes simply, but also seize and hold us completely captive” (Origen). This view is upheld by our great Father, St. Basil. Speaking about the courageous athletes of the faith, he teaches that they too will be scrutinized by the “revenue officials,” that is, by the evil spirits. The same Father also says that the evil spirits observe the departure of the soul with so much more vigilant attention than do enemies over a besieged city or thieves over a treasury house. St. John Chrysostom likewise calls demons “revenue officials” who threaten us and who are “overbearing powers with a fearful countenance that horrifies the soul that looks upon them.” In another place St. John says that these evil spirits are called “persecutors and revenue officials and collectors of taxes in the Sacred Scripture.” According to St. John, even the souls of innocent infants must pass through these toll-houses, for the all-evil devil seeks to snatch their souls, too. However, the infants make the following confession (according to St. John): “We have passed by the evil spirits without suffering any harm. For the dark custom officials saw our spotless body and were put to shame; they saw the soul good and pure and were embarrassed; they say the tongue immaculate and pure and blameless and they were silenced; we passed by and humiliated them. This is why the holy angles of God who met and received us rejoiced, the righteous greeted us with joy and the saints with delight said, ‘Welcome, the lambs of Christ!'” Probably the clearest and most comprehensive account of the toll-houses is that given by an angel of the Lord to St. Macarius of Egypt: “From the earth to heaven there is a ladder and a each rung has a cohort of demons. These are called toll-houses and the evil spirits meet the soul and bring its handwritten accounts and show these to the angels, saying: on this day and such and such of the month this soul did that: either it stole or fornicated or committed adultery or engaged in sodomy or lied or encouraged someone to an evil deed. And everything else evil which it has done, they show to the angels. Then angels then show whatever good the soul has done, charity or prayer or liturgies or fasting or anything else. And the angels and the demons reckon up, and if they find the good greater than the evil, the angels seize the soul and take it up the next rung, while the demons gnash their teeth like wild dogs and make haste the snatch that pitiable soul from the hands of the Angels. The soul, meanwhile, cowers and terror encompasses it, and it makes as if to hide in the bosom of the Angels and there is a great discussion and must turmoil until that soul is delivered from the hands of the demons. And they come again to another rung and there find another toll-house, fiercer and more horrible. And in this too, there is much uproar and great and indescribable turbulence as to who shall take that wretched soul. And shouting out aloud, the demons examine the soul, causing terror and saying: ‘Where are you going? Aren’t you the one who fornicated and thoroughly polluted Holy Baptism? Aren’t you the one who polluted the angelic habit? Get back. Get down. Get yourself to dark Hell. Get yourself to the outer fire. Get going to that worm that never sleeps.’ Then if it be that that soul is condemned, the demons bear it off to below the earth, to a dark and distressing spot. And woe to that soul in which that person was born. And who shall tell, holy Father, the straits in which the condemned souls will find themselves in that place! But if the soul is found clean and sinless, it goes up the Heaven with such joy.” Descriptions of the aerial toll-houses may also be found in the following Saints’ lives: St. Eustratius the Great Martyr (4th century), St. Niphon of Constantia in Cyprus (4th century), St. Symeon the Fool for Christ (6th century), St. John the Merciful (7th century), St Symeon of the Wondrous Mountain (7th century), St. Macarius the Great (4th century), St. Columba (6th century), St. Adamnan (8th century), St. Boniface (8th century), St. Basil the New (10th century), the Soldier Taxiotes, St. John of the Ladder (6th century), etc. This very ancient teaching of the early Church Fathers and ascetic Saints is confirmed by the experience and teaching of saints more modern. St. Seraphim of Sarov relates: “Two nuns passed on. Both had been abbesses. The Lord revealed to me that their souls were having difficulty getting through the aerial toll-houses. Three days and nights, I, a lowly sinner, prayed and begged the Mother of God for their salvation. The goodness of the Lord, through the prayers of the Most Holy Mother of God, finally had mercy upon them. They passed the aerial toll-houses and received forgiveness of sins.” Likewise, St. Theophan the Recluse writes: “No matter how absurd the idea of the toll-houses may seem to our ‘wise men,’ they will not escape passing through them. What do these toll-gatherers seek in those who pass through? They seek whether people might have some of their goods. What kind of goods? Passions. Therefore, in the person whose heart is pure and a stranger to passion, they cannot find anything to wrangle over; on the contrary, the opposing quality will strike them like arrows of lightning. To this someone who has a little education expressed the following thought: The toll-houses are something frightful. But it is quite possible that the demons, instead of something frightful, might present something seductive. They might present something deceptive and seductive, according to the kinds of passions, to the soul as it passes through one after the other. When, during the course of life, the passions have been banished from the heart and the virtues opposed to them have been planted, then no matter what seductive thing you might present, the soul, having no kind of sympathy for it, passes by it, turning away from it with disgust. But when the heart has not been cleansed, the soul will rush to whatever passion the heart has most sympathy for; and the demons will take it like a friend, and then they know where to put it. Therefore, it is very doubtful that a soul, as long as there remain in it sympathies for the objects of any passion, will not be put to shame at the toll-houses. Being put to shame here means that the soul itself is thrown into hell.” In another place, St. Theophan (continuing his letter to the brother of the woman who was about to die) writes: “In the departed there soon begins the struggle of going through the toll-houses. Here she needs help! Stand then in thought, and you will hear her cry to you: Help! This is where you should direct all your attention and all your love for her. Immerse yourself in prayer for her in her new condition and her new, unexpected needs. Having begun thus, remain in unceasing crying out to God to help her, for the course of six weeks, and indeed for longer than that. In the account of Theodora, the bag from which the angels took in order to be separated from the tax-collectors was the prayers of her elder. Your prayers will do the same; do not forget to do this. This is love!” Significantly, all of this testimony is confirmed by the liturgical prayers of the Church. St. Ignatius Brianchinov cites over 20 examples of references to the Toll-houses in the Divine service books and this is not a complete list!

5. According to the revelation of the angel to St. Macarius, the Church’s special commemoration of the departed on the 9th day after death (apart from the general significance of the ranks of angels) occurs because up to then the soul is shown the beauties of Paradise, and only after this, for the remainder of the forty days, is sown the torments and horrors of hell, before being assigned on the fortieth day to the place where it will await the resurrection of the dead and the Last Judgment.

6. The Church’s teaching on the state of souls in heaven and hell before the Last Judgment is set forth in its clearest fashion by St. Mark of Ephesus in his dialogue with the Roman Catholics over the Roman doctrine of Purgatory (which the Orthodox reject as false). It is an extensive collection of writings, and much of it is beyond the focus of this limited study. The following should suffice, however, to illustrate the Orthodoxy of St. John Maximovitch’s words: “Those reposed in faith are without doubt helped by the Liturgies and prayers and almsgiving performed for them, and that this custom has been in force from antiquity, there is the testimony of many and various utterances of the Teachers, both Latin and Greek, spoken and written at various times and in various places. But that souls are delivered thanks to a certain purgatorial suffering and temporal fire which possesses such (a purgatorial) power and has the character of a help — this we do not find in either Scripture or in the prayers and hymns for the dead, or in the words of the Teachers. But we have received that even the souls which are held in hell and are already given over to eternal torments, whether in actual fact and experience or in hopeless expectation of such, although not in the sense of completely loosing them from torment or giving hope for final deliverance. And this is shown by the words of the great Macarius the Egyptian ascetic who, finding a skull in the desert, was instructed by it concerning this by the action of Divine Power. And Basil the Great, in the prayers read at Pentecost, writes literally the following: ‘Who also, on this all-perfect and saving feast, are graciously pleased to accept propitiatory prayers for those who are imprisoned in hell, granting us a great hope of improvement for those who are imprisoned from the defilements which have imprisoned them, and that Thou wilt send down Thy consolation’ (Third Kneeling Prayer at Vespers). But if souls have departed this life in faith and love, while nevertheless carrying with themselves certain faults, whether small ones over which they have not repented at all, or great ones for which — even though have repented over them — they did not undertake to show fruits of repentance: such souls, we believe, must be cleansed from this kind of sins, but not by means of some purgatorial fire or a definitive punishment in some place (for this, as we have said, has not at all been handed down to us). But some must be cleansed in the very departure from the body (as St. Gregory the Dialogist literally shows); while others must be cleansed after the departure from the body, before they come to worship God and are honored with the lot of the blessed, or — if their sins were more serious and bind them for a longer duration — they are kept in hell, but not in order to remain forever in fire and torment, but as it were in prison and confinement under guard. All such ones, we affirm, are helped by the prayers and Liturgies performed for them, with the cooperation of the Divine Goodness and Love for mankind. And so, we entreat God and believe to deliver the departed (from eternal torment), and not from any other torment or fire apart from those torments and that fire which have been proclaimed to be forever.” St. Mark further explains the state of the departed in this way: “We affirm that neither the righteous have as yet received the fullness of their lot and that blessed condition for which they have prepared themselves here through works, nor have sinners, after death, been led away into the eternal punishment in which they shall be tormented eternally. Rather, both the one and the other must necessarily take place after the Judgment of that last day and the resurrection of all. Now, however, both the one and the other are in places proper to them: the first, in absolute repose and free, are in heaven with the angels and before God Himself, and already as if in Paradise from which Adam fell and often visit us in those temples where they are venerated, and hear those who call on them and pray for them to God, having received from Him this surpassing gift, and through their relics perform miracles and take delight in the vision of God and the illumination sent from Him more perfectly and purely than before, when they were alive; while the second, in their turn, being confined to hell, remain in ‘the lowest pit, in darkness and in the shadow of death’ (Ps 87:7), as David says, and then Job: ‘to the land where the light is darkness’ (Job 10:21-22). And the first remain in every joy and rejoicing, already expecting and only not having in their hands the Kingdom and the unutterable good things promised them; and the second, on the contrary, remain in all confinement and inconsolable suffering, like condemned men awaiting the Judge’s sentence and foreseeing the torments. Neither have the first yet received the inheritance of the Kingdom and those good things ‘which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man’ (1 Cor 2:9); nor have the second part yet been given over to eternal torments nor to burning in the unquenchable fire. And this teaching we have as handed down from our Fathers in antiquity and we can easily present it from the Divine Scriptures themselves.” St. Gregory the Great, in answering the question, “Is there anything at all that can possibly benefit souls after death?” teaches: “The Holy Sacrifice of Christ, our saving Victim, brings great benefits to souls even after death, provided their sins (are such as) can be pardoned in the life to come. For this reason the souls of the dead sometimes beg to have Liturgies offered for them. The safer course, naturally, is to do for ourselves what we hope others will do for us after death. It is better to make one’s exit a free man than to seek liberty after one is in chains. We should, therefore, despise the world with all our hearts as though its glory were already spent, and offer our sacrifice of tears to God each day as we immolate His sacred Flesh and Blood. This Sacrifice alone has the power of saving the soul from eternal death, for it presents to us mystically the death of the Only-begotten Son.” Many incidents from the Lives of Orthodox saints and ascetics confirm this teaching.

7. The Apostolic Constitutions (1st/2nd century) teach that Memorials for the dead be served with “psalms and readings and prayers” on the third day after the death of our beloved one, on account of the Lord Jesus “who rose after three days.” They prescribe Memorials on the ninth day “as a reminder of the living and the dead,” as well as “on the fortieth day after death according to ancient practice.” This is how the people of Israel mourned for the great Moses. In addition to these we must have annual Memorials in remembrance of the deceased. This teaching is also given by St. Isidoros of Pelusium, St. Symeon the New Theologian and St. Gregory the Theologian. In addition to these Memorials, our holy Church has ordained that the Sabbath (Saturday) be a day of commemoration of the Holy Martyrs and of all the deceased. For the Sabbath, as the seventh day from the beginning of creation, is the day which saw bodily death, imposed upon man by the righteous God. This day is continued, in as much as the death of man is also continued at the same time, Sunday, however, is the “day of the Resurrection, the eighth day, which symbolizes the anticipated age of eternity, the resurrection of the dead and the endless kingdom of God.” Our Mother Church has also ordained common Memorials twice a year: on the Saturday before Meatfare Sunday and on the Saturday before the great feast of Holy Pentecost. St. John of Damascus adds: “the Apostles who speak for God and the spirit-bearing Fathers have decreed this with inspiration and in a manner pleasing to God.”

Elder Sophrony Sakharov on Sacred Tradition

Blessed Elder Sophrony Sakharov of Essex 1896-1993

Sacred Tradition, as the eternal and immutable dwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Church, lies at the very root of her being, and so encompasses her life that even the very Scriptures come to be but one of its forms. Thus, were the Church to be deprived of Tradition she would cease to be what she is, for the ministry of the Spirit of the New Testament is the ministry of the Spirit ‘written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God: not in tables of stones, but in the fleshly tables of the heart’. (cf. 1 Cor. 3:18-19).

Suppose that for some reason the Church were to be bereft of all her books, of the Old and new Testaments, the works of the holy Fathers, of all service books – what would happen? Sacred Tradition would restore the Scriptures, not word for word, perhaps – the verbal form might be different – but in essence the new Scriptures would be the expression of that same ‘faith which was once delivered unto the saints’ (Jude 3). They would be the expression of the one and only Holy Spirit continuously active in the Church, her foundation and her very substance.

The Scriptures are not more profound, not more important than Holy Tradition but, as said above, they are one of its forms — the most precious form, both because they are preserved and convenient to make use of. But removed from the stream of Sacred Tradition, the Scriptures cannot be rightly understood through any scientific research.

If the Apostle Paul had the ‘mind of Christ’, how much more does this apply to the whole body of the Church of which St. Paul is one member! And if the writings of St. Paul and the other Apostles are Holy Scripture, then new Scriptures of the Church, written supposedly after the loss of the old books, would in their turn become Holy Scripture for according to the Lord’s promise God, the Holy Trinity, will be in the Church even unto the end of the world.

Men are wrong when they set aside Sacred Tradition and go, as they think, to its source — to the Holy Scriptures. The Church has her origins, not in the Scriptures but in Sacred Tradition. The Church did not possess the New Testament during the first decades of her history. She lived then by Tradition only — the Tradition St. Paul calls upon the faithful to hold (cf. 2 Thess. 2:15).

It is a well-known fact that all heresiarchs have always based themselves on the Holy Scriptures, only their interpretations differing. The Apostle Peter spoke of this perversion of the meaning of the Scriptures when they are construed personally, by the individual reader (cf. 2 Pet. 3:16).

Individual members of the Church — not excluding her finest sons and teachers — do not achieve the whole fulness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and so their teachings and writings are marred by one or another imperfection — sometimes even error — whereas as a whole the Church’s schooling, possessed of the gifts and knowledge, remains true for all time. (St. Silouan the Athonite, Chap. 5: The Staretz’ Doctrinal Teaching)

Fr Andrew Orthodox England on the Tollhouses

On the Aerial Toll-Houses

Q:  I recently received a link from someone about the controversy in the USA within the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese (now close to bankruptcy), relating to the 21 monasteries close to Elder Ephraim. A discussion about the toll-houses then ensued. Personally I don’t have any clear idea about what the correct teaching is on toll-houses. To me the idea often presented sounds a bit legalistic and more like a Roman Catholic or Calvinist approach to salvation. I mean, if almost everyone goes to hell then what’s the point of even trying? Could you please comment on the whole toll-house “issue”?

A: The Church teaching on the twenty Aerial Toll-Houses concerns life after death, what happens to the soul after it leaves the body. After death the demons attempt to take the soul towards hell, while the angels attempt to take it towards heaven. After an examination of the soul, lasting the equivalent of forty earthly days, comes the Particular Judgement, when the soul is appointed a place of rest. This place of rest can ‘improve’, ‘floating’ upwards, depending on the prayers of the living for the soul, i. e. depending on how much that soul is loved on earth. In this place of rest it awaits the Last Judgement.

This teaching is found in virtually every Church Father and dates back as such to the fourth century, though there are references to it in the Apostle Paul (Ephesians 6, 1-13). The most detailed account of the twenty toll-houses occurs in the Life of St Gregory of Thrace, dating from the 10th century, which describes how at each toll-house the soul is tested for each type of sin. This is the teaching and that is that. It is all so simple really. However, in our sad human reality, this teaching has been distorted, pulled in different directions by impure souls. The first problems arose in the USA among converts to ROCOR 1970s. Today, they have come back, for exactly the same reasons, again in the USA, but now in the highly Americanized Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.

I think you put your finger on the problem with your words: ‘To me the idea often presented sounds a bit legalistic and more like a Roman Catholic or Calvinist approach to salvation’. And that is exactly it: converts from strict Catholicism (Augustinianism) and strict Protestantism (Calvinism) do present the teaching as legalistic, frighteningly so. There is no surprise at all that the same problem has come up twice within forty years, each time in the USA. The USA was founded on intolerant, witch-hunting Calvinists who refused to live in Protestant England because it was not strict enough for them! Ever since the USA has been the land of extreme and  aggressive intolerance, of Creationism, fundamentalism, phariseeism and racism and also of virulent liberalism and intolerant atheism (political correctness), where you can be sacked for saying that you believe that the practice of homosexuality is a sin.

Of course, the teaching on the toll-houses can be presented by the contemporary scribes and pharisees (literalists and ritualists in modern English – and woe unto them) as a cause for despair. Why bother when we are all doomed anyway? (As the Calvinists say). This is because they see everything literally, without God’s Mercy. Such fundamentalists, always aggressive, create depression and despair because they have no love.

On the other hand, there are also today’s liberals and ecumenists, the modern saducees (like the very Protestant and very aggressive anti-monastic lay activists in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in the USA), who will tell you that this teaching does not exist! These are the sort of people who have painted a fresco (as there exists in one Greek ‘Orthodox’ monastery in England), where they show the Last Judgement without showing hell, only heaven. When I asked one of the monks why this was, I was told that it was because we shall probably all be saved! Here again, why bother? Origen triumphs in the Paris School.

The teaching on the toll-houses is clear and balanced. After death our souls will be tested and we shall find out whether we are closer to angels or closer to demons. But even this is not our last chance. If people on earth loved us and so still remember us and pray for us, we can been drawn far away from hell and brought to the gates of heaven by their prayers.

Unseen Warfare chap 19 by St Nicodemus of the holy mountain and St Theophan the recluse.

Cap 19.

How to struggle against bodily passions

In struggling against bodily passions, my brother, a different method should be used than in struggling against the others. If you want things to proceed in the right order, know that you should do one thing before you are tempted by these passions, another thing during temptation and yet another when it is over.

Before temptation, attention should be concentrated on the causes, which habitually give birth to temptation or which excite passion. The rule here is to use every means to avoid all occasions, which may upset the calm of your body, especially meeting people of the other sex. If you are forced to converse with such a person, let the conversation be short, and preserve not only modesty but a certain sternness of countenance; let your words be friendly, but reserved rather than forthcoming.

‘ Never trust thine enemy’ (Ecclesiasticus xii. 10) says the wise Sirach. So never trust your body; for as iron produces rust by itself, so the corrupted nature of the body produces evil stirrings of lust. “For like as iron rusteth, so is his wickedness’ (Ecclesiasticus xii. 10). I repeat again, do not trust yourself in this respect, even if you no longer feel and have not felt for some time this sting of your flesh. For this thrice-cursed wickedness sometimes achieves in one hour or one moment what it has not done for many years, and always makes its preparations for attack silently. Know that the more the flesh pretends to be your friend and gives no cause for suspicion, the greater the harm it inflicts later, and often strikes to death.

All must fear people of the other sex, communion with whom is regarded as good in ordinary life, either because they are relatives, or because they are pious and virtuous, or because they have done you a favour and you fee] under the obligation to express your gratitude as often AS possible. You should fear this because, without fear and attention to yourself, such communion is practically always mixed with the pernicious sensory lust which, gradually .”and insensibly, steals into the soul to its very depths and so obscures the mind that a man thus infected begins to disregard all the dangerous causes of sin, such as passionate glances, sweet words on both sides, seductive movements and postures of the body and the pressing of hands. Thus he finally succumbs to the sin itself and to other snares of the devil, from which at times he never manages to extricate himself completely.

So, my brother, flee this fire, for you are gunpowder, and never dare to think in your conceit that you are damp gunpowder, moistened with the water of a good and firm will. No, no! Better think that you are as dry as dry and will catch fire as soon as you are touched by that flame. Never rely on the firmness of your resolve and your readiness to die rather than to offend God by sin. For, although it can be assumed that this resolve makes your gunpowder damp, frequent communication and sitting together in private will gradually dry the moisture of your righteous will by bodily fire, and you will never notice how you are set aflame with bodily love to such an extent, that you will cease to be ashamed of men and to fear God,- and will disregard honour, life and all the tortures of hell in your longing to commit sin. So avoid in all possible ways:

(a) Communion with people, who can be a temptation to you, if you sincerely desire to escape the captivity of sin and paying its wages, which is death of the soul. The wise Solomon calls a man wise, who fears and avoids the causes of sin; and he calls foolish a man who, with great self-reliance, confidently neglects to avoid them, saying: ‘A wise man feareth, and departeth from evil: but the fool rageth, and is confident” (in his actions) (Prov. xiv. 16). Did not the Apostle point this out when he advised the CORINTHIANS: “Flee fornication” (I Cor. vi. 18).

(b) Flee idleness and laziness; stand on guard watchfully, in all things peering closely at your thoughts, and wisely arranging and conducting the activities, demanded by your position.

(c) Never disobey your spiritual teachers and fathers, but obey them willingly in everything, executing their orders quickly and readily, and especially those which can teach you humility and go against your own will and inclination.

(d) Never allow yourself boldly to judge your neighbour; judge and condemn, no. one, especially for the particular bodily sin of which we are speaking. If someone has manifestly fallen into it, rather have compassion and pity for him. Do not be indignant with him or laugh at him, but let his example be a lesson in humility to you; realising that you too are extremely weak and as easily, moved to sin as dust on the road, say to yourself: ‘He fell today, but tomorrow I shall fall.’ Know that, if you are quick to blame and despise others, God will mete out a painful punishment to you by letting you fall into the same sin for which you blame others. ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matt. vii. 1); you will be condemned to the same punishment, in order to learn from it the perniciousness of your pride and, thus humbled, to seek a cure from two evils: pride and fornication. Even if in His mercy God protects you from downfall and you keep the chastity of your thought inviolate, stop blaming others if you were blaming them, and instead of relying on yourself, be still more afraid and do not trust your own steadfastness.

(e) Pay attention to yourself and watch over yourself. If .you have gained some gift or another from God, or find yourself in a good spiritual state, do not in your vainglory accept vain illusions. about yourself, thinking that you are something and .imagining that your enemies would not dare to attack you that you abhor and despise them so much that you will immediately repulse them., if they dare to come near you. As soon as you think thus, you will fall as easily as an autumn leaf from a tree.

That is what you must do before the temptation of bodily passion assails you.

At a time of actual temptation, do as follows: hasten to discover the cause which provoked the attack and sweep it away immediately. This cause may be internal or external. External causes may be: undisciplined eyes, words sweet to the hearing, songs which delight your ears by their content or melody, fine garments made of soft materials, perfumes pleasing to the nose, free behaviour and conversations, physical touch and pressing of hands, dances and many other things. Remedies against these are: simple and humble attire, the will not to see, hear, smell, say or touch anything which may produce this shameful impulse, and especially avoidance of all intercourse with people of the other sex, as has been already said above. Inner causes are, on the one hand, ease and comfort of the body, when all bodily desires find full satisfaction; on the other—shameful thoughts, which either come of themselves brought by memories of things seen, heard and experienced, or which are excited by evil spirits.

As regards a life of physical ease and comfort, it should be hardened by fasts, vigils, sleeping rough, and especially by a great number of bowings and prostrations to exhaust the body, and by various other voluntary mortifications of the flesh, as advised and counseled by our wise and experienced holy fathers. The remedy against thoughts, no matter whence they come, is various spiritual exercises, compatible with your present state and dictated by it, such as: reading of holy and salutary books, especially of St. Ephrem the Syrian, St. John of the Ladder, the Philokalia and others of the same kind, devout meditations and prayer.

When shameful thoughts begin to assail you, pray thus: immediately raise your mind to our Lord, crucified for us, and call on Him from the bottom of your heart: ‘ My Lord Jesus! My sweetest Jesus! Hasten to help me and do not let my enemy ensnare me!’ At the same time embrace mentally (and also physically if there is one near you) the life-giving cross upon which your Lord was crucified, kiss often His wounds and say to Him with love: ‘Most beautiful wounds, most holy wounds, immaculate wounds! Wound my wretched and impure heart and do not let me offend and shame Thee by my uncleanness.” During the time when shameful thoughts of bodily lust multiply in you, your reflections must not be directed straight against them, though many advise this. Do not attempt to picture in your mind the uncleanness and shame of the sins of bodily lust, nor the remorse of conscience which follows upon them, nor the corruption of your nature and loss of your pure virginity, nor the besmirching of your honour, and other similar things. Do not attempt, I say, to think of these things, for such reflections are not always a reliable means of overcoming bodily temptations and may only give strength to the attacks and, at times, lead to your downfall. For, although your mind remonstrates with the lust and mentally upbraids it, yet the thought dwells on its objects, to which the heart feels such predilection. So it is not surprising that while the mind is lavishly pouring out severe condemnations of these things, the heart delights in them and consents to them—which means inner downfall. No, you must think of such subjects as would screen off these shameful things and completely distract your attention from them, things which, by their nature, would have a sobering effect on your heart. Such subjects are the life and passion of our Lord Jesus, Who took on flesh for our sakes, the inevitable hour of our death, the terrible day of judgment and the various aspects of torment in hell.

If, as often happens, shameful thoughts should persist in spite of this, and should attack you with special force and impetuosity, fear not, do not stop reflecting as we have said, and do not attempt a direct attack on them to expose their shameful nature, Refrain from this, but continue to direct your whole attention to reflections upon the sobering and awe-inspiring subjects indicated above, without bothering about the shameful thoughts, as though they were not your own. Know that no better means exists of driving them away than disregarding and neglecting them. As often as possible, interrupt your meditation by this or a similar prayer: ‘ Deliver me, my Creator and Saviour, from my enemies, to the glory of your passion and your infinite mercy.” Conclude your meditation by a similar prayer,

Take care not to cast the eye of your mind upon this bodily uncleanness, since merely visualising it is not without danger; and do not pause to converse with these temptations or about them, in order to find out whether consent to them had occurred in you or not. Although such analysis may appear good, in actual fact it is a trick of the devil, who strives by this means to weigh you down, to cast you into faintheartedness and despair, or to make you dwell on these thoughts as long as possible, in order thus to drive you to sinful action, of this kind, or some other.

Instead of all such investigations of the thoughts which trouble you, go, confess all in detail to your spiritual father, and thereupon remain undisturbed in your heart and thought, untroubled by any questions, but content with the ruling of your father. Only, you must reveal to him everything, which has troubled and is troubling your mind and feeling in this temptation, concealing nothing and not letting your tongue be tied by shame, but humbling yourself in self-abasement. For if, to gain victory, we need profound humility in all struggle with our enemies, how much more so at moments of warfare of the flesh? For in this case the very temptation is mostly either born of pride or is a reproof and punishment for it. Therefore St. John of the Ladder says that he who has fallen into fornication or some other sin of the flesh, had previously fallen into pride; and that his fall into sin was allowed, to humble him. ‘ Where a downfall has happened, there pride has dwelt before it; for pride comes before a fall.’ And again, ‘Punishment for the proud is to fall’ (Chapter 23). When shameful thoughts are at last subdued and temptation ceases, you must do the following: however much you are convinced that you are now free from attacks of the flesh, and however sure you are of yourself, take every care to keep your mind and attention away from things and people, who were the cause of this upsurging of temptation. Do not satisfy the impulse to see them, under the pretext that they are your relatives, or that they are devout and your benefactors. Admonish yourself with the thought that this too is a sinful blandishment of our corrupt nature and a net of our cunning enemy the devil, who assumes here the form of an Angel of light, in order to cast us into the darkness of which St. Paul speaks (II Cor. xi. 14).

copright St Vladimir seminary press .


Unseen Warfare Ch 17-18

Cap 17.

In what order should you fight your passions?

It would be very useful fur you, my brother, to know well the order in which YOU Should fight your passions, so as to do this work as it should be done, instead of simply haphazardly,, as some people do, without great success, and at times even with harm to themselves. The order in which it is necessary to fight your enemies and struggle with your bad desires and passions, is the following: enter with attention into the heart and examine carefully with what thoughts, dispositions and passionate attachments it is specially occupied, and which passion is most predominant and tyranically rules there. Then against this passion first of all take up arms and struggle to overcome it. On this one concentrate all your attention and care, except only at the times when some other.. passion happens to arise in you. In that case you should deal with this one without delay and drive it away, after which you must once more turn your weapons against your chief passion, which constantly manifests its presence and power. For as in every kind of warfare, so in our unseen battle, we must fight first what is actually attacking us at the present moment.

Cap 18.

How to fight sudden impulses of passions

If, my beloved, you are not yet accustomed to overcome sudden impulses and the excitement of passions, roused, for example, by insults or by other clashes, I advise you to do this: make it a rule every morning, while you still sit at home, to review in your mind all the occasions you may meet with in the course of the day, both favourable and unfavourable, and visualise the passionate impulses, lusts and irritations they may provoke; then prepare in yourself beforehand how to stifle them at the very inception, without allowing them to develop. If you do this, you will never be taken unawares by any movements of passions, but will always be ready to resist them, without being troubled with anger or enticed by lust. This review of what may happen should be practised especially when you have to go out and visit places where you are bound to meet people, who can either attract or irritate you. Being prepared, you will easily avoid the one and the other. If a wave of passion arises, it will roll over your head or will break against you as against a rock, instead of carrying you with it like a flimsy boat. Let the holy prophet David convince you of this as regards anger, when he says: ‘I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments” (Ps. cxix. 60).

But this preparation is not yet everything. Passion can still be excited, and excited suddenly. In such a case act as follows: as soon as you feel a passionate impulse, whether of lust or irritation, hasten to curb it by an effort of will, descend into your heart with the attention of your mind, and try in every possible way not to let the passion enter the heart. Watch to prevent the heart being irritated by what irritates, or attracted by what attracts. If, however, either the one or the other happens suddenly to be born in your heart, to begin .with try to prevent it from coming out; do not express it either by word look or gesture.

Further, compel your mind and heart to rise to God on high and, having produced in yourself a clear consciousness and feeling of God’s boundless love and of His impartial truth, try through this to thrust out the passionate movement and to replace it by its opposing good.. If it is a question of meeting someone, it may be difficult to do all this fully and successfully; still do not abandon your good intention and try to do what you can. Even if for the moment your effort is unsuccessful, you will achieve your end when the meeting, which rouses your passion, is over. But take great care not to show the passion roused within. This effort will prevent its developing. And, as soon as you are free from the inflow of evil impressions, hasten to enter your heart and strive to throw out the reptile which has found its way there.

But the best and most efficient protection against a sudden uprising of passions is getting rid of the causes which are always giving birth to such movements. These causes are twofold; like and dislike. If you, my beloved, are caught and made captive by a liking for some person, or by attachment to some thing, whether great or small, it is natural that if you meet them and see them insulted or harmed, or someone wishes to entice them away or steal them from you, you immediately become indignant, grieve, become agitated and rise up in arms against those who do it. Therefore if you wish to be free of such sudden disturbances, take care to overcome and uproot from your heart this wrong attraction or wrong attachment. And the further it has gone, the more care you should use to have an equable mind and acquire a sensible attitude to things and people. For the stronger your attraction or passionate attachment, the more tempestuous the sudden uprising of passion in all the cases I have indicated.

In the same way, if you feel dislike towards some person or aversion from some thing, it is equally natural for indignation or disgust to rise up suddenly in you if you meet them, and especially if you hear someone praise them. Therefore if you wish to preserve the peace of your heart in such cases, urge yourself to stifle these bad feelings on this occasion, and later to annihilate them altogether.

You will be helped in this by reasoning as follows (in relation to people)—that they too are God’s creatures, fashioned, as you are, in God’s image and likeness and by the all-powerful hand of the living God, that they are redeemed and regenerated by the priceless blood of Christ our Lord’ . that they too are your brothers and co-members, whom it is wrong for you to hate even in thought, as it is written: ‘Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart’ (Lev. xix. 17). Especially you must remember that, even supposing they are worthy of dislike and hostility, if you conceive friendship and love towards them, you will, in so doing, be likening yourself to God, Who loves all His creatures and despises none of them, as the wise Solomon says in praising the Lord: “Thou lovest all the things that are, and abhorrest nothing which thou hast made: for never wouldest thou have made any thing, if thou hadst hated it’ (Wisdom of Solomon xi. 24). With no regard for human sins He “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. v. 45)

Copyright St Vladimir’s seminary press

Cap 16. How a warrior of Christ should prepare for battle in the morning From Unseen Warfare by St Nicodemus the Hagiorite and St Theophan the Recluse.

As soon as you wake up in the morning, pray for a while, saying: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me. Then your first work should be to shut yourself in your own heart, as if taking up position in an arena. Having established yourself there, bring yourself to the consciousness and feeling that your enemy and the passionate urge against which you struggle at the moment are already there, on your left ready for immediate attack; therefore rouse against them a firm resolve to conquer or die, but never to submit. Realise also that on your right there stands, invisibly present, your Commander, our Lord Jesus Christ, with His Holy Mother and a host of holy Angels, with Archangel Michael at their head, ready to come to your aid; So take heart and be of good cheer.

Lo, the prince of the nether world, the devil, rises against you with his host of demons and begins to fan the flame of passionate attraction, trying to persuade you with various promises flattering to your self-indulgence, to cease struggling against that passion and to submit to it, assuring you that this submission would be better and less troublesome, but you must keep attention in yourself—and at the same time you should hear from the right the warning and inspiring voice of your guardian angel who, speaking for all those standing on your right, will assuredly say to you: ‘ You are now faced with a battle against your passion and your other enemies. Fear not and be not afraid; let not this fear drive you to run from your post on the battlefield. For our Lord Jesus Christ, the Commander, is near you, surrounded by the commanders and centurions of His incorporeal armies and all the hosts of holy Angels, ready to fight with you against your enemies and not let them overcome and conquer you, as is promised: “ The Lord shall fight for you” (Exodus xiv. 14).’ Therefore stand firm, compel yourself not to give ground and strive by all possible means to stand up to the trial which has assailed you, calling from the bottom of your heart: ‘ Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies’ (Ps. xxvii. 12). Appeal to your Lord, to the Holy Virgin, to all the Angels and saints. Help will come, and you will be victorious, for it is written: ‘ I write unto you, young men ‘ (emboldened and intrepid warriors), ‘because ye have overcome the wicked one’ (I John ii. 18). You may be weak and tied by bad habits, while your enemies are strong and numerous; but much more powerful help is ready for you from Him, Who has created and redeemed you/God your Protector is incomparably /stronger than all others in this battle. As it is written: ‘The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle’ (Ps. xxiv. 8). Moreover His desire to save you is greater than that of your enemy to destroy you. So fight and never weary of the labours of ~this warfare. For victory is won by these labours, by forcing yourself and mercilessly tearing yourself from vicious habits despite the pain; and thus a great treasure is gained, whereby the kingdom of heaven is purchased and the soul for ever united with God.

Thus every morning begin in God’s name your struggle with the enemies,, armed with distrust of yourself and a daring hope in God, with prayer and a merciless self-compelling to fitting labours and spiritual tasks, and above all, armed with prayer of the mind in the heart. ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me!’ Wielded in the heart like a two-edged sword, this terrible name strikes down both demons and passions, and drives them away. This is why John of the Ladder says: ‘ Flog the foes with the name of our Lord Jesus.’ We shall speak further of this prayer in a separate chapter. So, I repeat, with these weapons smite that enemy, that passion and that evil tendency which assails you, in the order indicated in the thirteenth chapter. Namely, first, oppose the passion, then hate it, and finally practise the particular virtue opposed to it, doing all this, if we can so say—in an atmosphere of prayer. If you do this, your activity will be pleasing to your God, Who,, together with the Church triumphant in the heavens, stands by invisibly and watches your struggles.

Such struggles are extremely hard and arduous; but grieve not,, nor drop your task, bearing in. mind that, on the one hand, it is our duty to work and to please our God, and on the other, as has been said already, to fight is unavoidable if we want to live; for once we stop fighting, we shall straightway be stricken to death. Do not let the enemy seduce you by the suggestion: ‘Let go just for an hour.” Very well, just for an hour. But what will become of you, if you relinquish your life in God, and abandon yourself to the world and its comforts, and to bodily enjoyments? You will be a renegade from God; which is terrible for a single moment, let alone for an hour. And is it likely to be but an hour? Is it not more probable that hour after hour will pass in this ungodly life, then day after day, and year after year? And beyond this, what? Even if the Lord takes pity on you and gives you time to come to yourself, to get free of this net of the devil and awake from your sinful sleep, you will still have to rejoin the same battle, from which you flee now to seek an easy life, with the only difference that then the fight will be incomparably harder, more acute, more painful and, in addition, less successful.

But if the Lord leaves you in the hands of your enemies and of your own will? What then? I shall not repeat it, I shall say only: remember; for who is there who does not know it? After a life spent in the wearisome bonds of evil passions, at times intoxicated by sensuality, but always deprived of true joys, the hour of death will suddenly come—a terribly painful state of the soul, which even the word of God could not describe, but merely said: then they will cry to the mountains: ‘Fall on us” (Rev. vi. 16). This cry, beginning at the hour of death, will go on ceaselessly for all time after death, till the end of the world, and will be heard at the moment when the last judgment comes—and always in vain. Then be not so unmindful as to cast yourself knowingly into the eternal torment of hell, for the sake of avoiding the momentary struggles and labours of spiritual training. If you are intelligent and, I would say, prudent, it is better for you to undertake now the temporary labours and hardships of spiritual struggle so as to overcome your foes, receive a crown and be united with God both here and beyond—in the kingdom of heaven.

Copyright St Vladimir Seminary Press


Sweden is a beautiful country .But when it comes to religion the people there seems to lack in knowledge .

Therefore I will share an article by the Reverend Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, His Eminence IEROTHEOS Vlachos , one of the most important theologians of our time ;

Basic Points of Difference between the Orthodox Church and Papism .

The bishops of Old Rome, beside small and non-essential differences, always held communion with the bishops of New Rome(Constantinople) and the bishops of the East until the years 1009-1014, when, for the first time, the Frankish bishops seized the throne of Old Rome. Until the year 1009 the Popes of Rome and the Patriarchs of Constantinople were unified in a common struggle against the Frankish princes and bishops, already even at that time heretics.

The Franks at the Synod of Frankfurt in 794 condemned the decrees of the Seventh Ecumenical Synod and the honorable veneration of the holy icons. Likewise in 809 the Franks introduced into the Symbol of the Faith the “Filioque” (Latin: “and the Son”); namely, the doctrine concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit both from the Father and from the Son. Now at that time the Orthodox Pope of Rome condemned this imposition. At the Synod of Constantinople presided over by Photios the Great, at which also representatives of the Orthodox Pope of Rome participated, they condemned as many as had condemned the decrees of the Seventh Ecumenical Synod and as many as had added the Filioque to the Symbol of Faith. However, the Frankish Pope Sergius IV, in the year 1009, in his enthronement encyclical for the first time added the Filioque to the Symbol of Faith. Then Pope Benedict VIII introduced the Creed with the Filioque into the worship service of the Church, at which time the Pope was stricken out from the diptychs of the Orthodox Church.

The basic distinction between the Orthodox Church and Papism is found in the doctrine concerning the uncreated nature and uncreated energy of God. Whereas we Orthodox believe that God possesses an uncreated nature and uncreated energy and that God comes into communion with the creation and with man by means of His uncreated energy, the Papists believe that in God the uncreated nature is identified with His uncreated energy (acrus purus) and that God holds communion with the creation and with man through His created energies, even asserting that in God there exist also created energies. So then the grace of God through which man is sanctified is seen as created energy. But given this, one cannot be sanctified.

From this basic doctrine proceeds the teaching concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and from the Son, the cleansing fire, the primacy of the Pope, etc.

Beside the fundamental difference between the Orthodox Church and Papism, in the theme of the nature and energy of God, there are other great differences which have given rise to topics of theological dispute, namely:

–the Filioque, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and from the Son with the result that the monarchy of the Father is diminished, the final equality of the Persons of the Holy Trinity is compromised, the Son is diminished in His own character in having been born, if there exists a oneness between Father and Son then the Holy Spirit is subordinated as not equal in power and of the same glory with the other Persons of the Holy Trinity, with the result that He is shown as the “unproductive (steiro) Person,”

–the utilization of unleavened bread in the Divine Eucharist which transgresses the manner with which Christ accomplished the Mystical Supper,

–the consecration of the “precious Gifts” which takes place not with the epiclesis, but rather with the proclamation of Christ’s words of institution, “Take, eat . . . drink of it, all of you . . .,”

–the view that the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross satisfied the Divine justice, which presents God the Father as a feudal lord and which overlooks the resurrection,

–the view about the “merits” of Christ which the Pope dispenses, along with the “superabundant” grace of the saints, – the alienation and segmentation placed between the mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation, and the Divine Eucharist,

–the doctrine concerning the inheritance of guilt from the ancestral sin,

–the liturgical innovations in all of the mysteries of the Church (Baptism, Chrismation, Ordination, Confession, Marriage, Anointing),

–the practice of not communing the laity in the “Blood” of Christ,

–the primacy of the Pope, according to which the Pope is “episcopus episcoporum (Latin: the bishop of bishops) and the origin of the priesthood and of ecclesiastical authority, that he is the infallible head and the principle leader of the Church, governing it in monarchical fashion as the vicar of Christ on the earth” (I. Karmires). With this concept the Pope views himself as the successor of the Apostle Peter, to whom the other Apostles submit themselves, even the Apostle Paul,

–the non-existence of concelebration in the praxis of worship services,

–the infallibility of the Pope,

–the dogma of the immaculate conception of the Theotokos and the development of the worship of Mary (mariolatria), according to which the All-Holy Virgin is elevated to Triune Deity and even becomes a concept leading to a Holy Quaternity (!),

–the views of analogia entis (analogy of being) and analogia fidei (analogy of faith) which hold sway in the West,

–the unceasing progress of the Church in the discovery of the recesses of revelatory truth,

–the concept concerning the single methodology for the knowledge of God and of creatures, which leads to a blending of theology and epistemology.

Moreover, the great difference in practice, which points out the manner of theology, is found also in the difference between Scholasticism and Hesychastic theology. In the West Scholasticism was expounded as an endeavor to search out the meaning of all the mysteries of the faith by means of logic (Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas). However, in the Orthodox Church hesychasm prevails; namely, the purification of the heart and the illumination of the mind (nous), towards the acquisition of the knowledge of God. The dialogue between St. Gregory Palamas and Barlaam the scholastic and uniate is characteristic and shows the difference.

A consequence of all the foregoing is that we have in Papism a decline from Orthodox ecclesiology. Whereas in the Orthodox Church great significance is given to theosis which consists in communion with God, through the vision of the Uncreated Light, then those who behold the Light gather in an Ecumenical Synod and accurately define revelatory truth under conditions of confusion. But in Papism great significance is given to the edict of the Pope; indeed, the Pope even stands over these Ecumenical Synods. Consistent with Latin theology, “the authority of the Church exists only when it is established and put in good order by the will of the Pope. Under a contrary condition it is annihilated.” The Ecumenical Synods are seen as “councils of Christianity that are summoned under the authenticity, the authority, and the presidency of the Pope.” Whenever the Pope leaves the meeting hall of the Ecumenical Synod, it ceases to have power. Bishop Mare has written, “There would be no Roman Catholics more accurate as those exclaiming, “I believe also in one Pope” than who say “I believe also in one . . . Church.”

Furthermore, “the significance and role of the bishops within the Roman church is no more than a simple personification of the papal authority, to which also the bishops themselves submit just as also do the simple faithful.” Towards this papal ecclesiology it is essentially maintained that “the apostolic authority left off with the apostles and was not passed on to their successors, the bishops. Only the papal authority of Peter, under which all of the others are found, was passed on to the successors of Peter; namely, the popes.” Along with the foregoing it is maintained by the papal “church” that all the churches of the East are secessionist and have deficiencies. It receives us as sister churches into communion by dispensation (kat’ oikonomian), since she sees herself as the mother church and sees ourselves as daughter churches.

The Vatican is an earthly power (kratos) and each pope is the wielder of the power of the Vatican. It is a matter of a man-centered organization, a worldly, indeed an especially legalistic and worldly organization. The earthly power of the Vatican was instituted in the year 755 by Pepin the Short, the father of Charlemagne –even in our own time he was recognized by Mussolini, in 1929. The source of the proclamation of papal worldly power is significant, as Pope Pius XI maintained, “the one who stands in God’s stead on earth cannot be obedient to earthly power.” Christ was obedient to earthly power, the pope cannot be! The papal authority establishes a theocracy, since theocracy is defined as subsuming both worldly and ecclesiastical authority into one concept. Today we can see theocratic- worldly power in the Vatican and in Iran.

Pope Innocent IV (1198-1216) maintained the characteristic nature of these things in his enthronement speech, “He who has the bride has the bridegroom. However the bride herself (the church) has not been coupled with empty hands, but brings therein an incomparably rich dowry, the fullness of spiritual goods and the expanses of the world’s things, the largesse and abundance of both. . . . Your contributions of the worldly things has given me the diadem, the mitre over the priesthood, the diadem for kingdom and it has established me as His representative (antiprosopo), in the garment and on the knee of which it is written: the King of kings and Lord of lords.”

Consequently great theological differences exist, which have been condemned by the Synod of Photios the Great and at the Synod of Gregory Palamas, just as it appears in the “Synodikon of Orthodoxy.” In addition also the Fathers of the Church and the local synods down to the 19th century condemn all the deceits of papism. The issue is not mollified or improved by a certain typical excuse which the pope would give for an historical error, whenever his theological views were outside of the revelation and the eccesiology is moved into an enclosed course, since of course the pope presents himself as leader of the Christian world, as successor of the Apostle Peter and the Vicar-representative of Christ over the earth, as if Christ would give His authority to the pope and He cease ruling in blessing in the heavens.

Breaking my rules !

This is a blog about Orthodox theology and shall so be .

But occasionally things happens that I must say something about .

I don’t know the whole truth about the Swedish citizen who have been kidnapped by the dictator’s in China , but I know that it is a regim that not respect the human and Christian values . Therefore I write this protest against the dark rulers of China and give thanks to Anna Dahlberg at the Swedish news paper Expressen who bravely have written against the rulers of China . And my prayers go to the Swedish citizen and his dear ones.

May Jesus Christ and the Theotokos help him .

Micke Stensson.

St John Climacus on Repentance

Step 5

On painstaking and true repentance which constitute the life of the holy convicts; and about the prison.

Once John outran Peter; 1 and now obedience precedes repentance. For the one who came first is a symbol of obedience, and the other of repentance.

1. Repentance is the renewal of baptism. Repentance is a contract with God for a second life. A penitent is a buyer 2 of humility. Repentance is constant distrust of bodily comfort. Repentance is self-condemning reflection, and carefree self-care. Repentance is the daughter of hope and the renunciation of despair. A penitent is an undisgraced convict. Repentance is reconciliation with the Lord by the practice of good deeds contrary to the sins. Repentance is purification of conscience. Repentance is the voluntary endurance of all afflictions. A penitent is the inflicter of his own punishments. Repentance is a mighty persecution of the stomach, and a striking of the soul into vigorous awareness.

2. Gather together and come near, all you who have angered God; come and listen to what I expound to you; assemble and see what He has revealed to my soul for your edification. Let us give first place and first honour to the story of the dishonoured yet honoured workers. Let all of us who have suffered an unexpected and inglorious fall listen, watch and act. Rise and be seated, you who through your falls are lying prostrate. Attend, my brothers, attend to my word. Incline your ears, you who wish to be reconciled afresh with God by a true conversion.

3. Weak as I am, I heard that there was a certain powerful and strange way of life and humility for those living in a separate monastic establishment called ‘The Prison’ which was under the authority of the above-mentioned man, that light of lights. So when I was still staying there I asked the good man to allow me to visit it. And the great man, never wishing to grieve a soul in any way, agreed to my request.

4. And so, coming to this abode of penitents and to this true land of mourners, I actually saw (if it is not audacious to say so) what is most cases the eye of a careless person never saw, and what the ear of a slothful and easy-going person never heard, and what never entered the heart of a timid person 3 that is, I saw such deeds and words as can incline God to mercy; such activities and postures as speedily attract His love for men.

5. I saw some of those guilty yet guiltless men standing in the open air, all night till morning and never moving their feet, by force of nature pitifully dazed by sleep; yet they allowed themselves no rest, but reproached themselves, and drove away sleep with dishonours and insults.

6. Others lifted up their eyes to heaven, and with wailings and outcries, implored help from there.

7. Others stood in prayer with their hands tied behind their backs like criminals, their faces, darkened by sorrow, bent to the earth. They regarded themselves as unworthy to look up to heaven. Overwhelmed by the embarrassment of their thoughts and conscience they could not find anything to say or pray about to God, how or with what to begin their prayers. But as if filled with darkness and a blank despair, they offered to God nothing but a speechless soul and a voiceless mind.

8. Others sat on the ground in sackcloth and ashes, hiding their faces between their knees, and striking the earth with their foreheads.

9. Others were continually beating their breasts and recalling their past life and state of soul. Some of them watered the ground with their tears; others, incapable of tears, struck themselves. Some loudly lamented over their souls as over the dead, not having the strength to bear the anguish of their heart.