This is one of the best analysis of the fall of Adam I have read . Fr Nikita Grigoriev has the gift through few words give the reader a compound picture of an episode in the history of man.
From Chapter Five
The Temptation and Fall of the Proto-human
by Nikita Grigoriev .
”The first fallen angel, Satan, watched man with enormous interest as the favorite creature of God, and because of hatred for God he plotted to destroy man. To this end, Satan decided to attempt to undermine man’s faith in God and love for God, and by setting man against God he could gain control over him. Having studied man and knowing well and understanding God’s commandment to man, Satan posed a well thought-out and terribly cunning question to Eve: “Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” (Gen. 3:1).
At this point man (woman) made the first mistake, by entering into conversation with Satan, who is full of nothing but lies and cunning. This cunning was revealed here primarily because Satan did not directly address Adam, but decided to affect him through his wife. Secondly, feigning innocent ignorance, Satan simultaneously blasphemed against God by suggesting to Eve that God had sharply and severely restricted them. And thirdly, he attempted to kindle self-love in man: suggesting sympathy for their very restricted and humiliated state, he thereby predisposed man toward arbitrary self rule.
Eve answered that God had said not to eat or touch only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the Garden of Paradise lest they die.
Then Satan immediately uttered a total lie: “Ye shall not surely die” (Gen. 3:4). And here then Satan revealed his entire hellish teaching, offering it to man in its complete format; a teaching which had been thoroughly thought-out and prepared especially for man; a teaching which is the same once and for all times for all people. This teaching is lethal poison for the spiritual life of man. “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:4,5)
That is all, yet this temptation contains literally all the evil which can afflict man and
to which man is extremely susceptible, to which he succumbed then and continues to succumb until this day and will continue to succumb until the last day. It is essential to fully comprehend what is involved here.
It is completely natural that according to his heart, man wished to know good and evil and to be like God, since man was created for this purpose. Deification is the ultimate goal of man and the entire purpose of his existence. This is the indescribable lofty and joyous lot to which every human heart strives naturally and rightly whether consciously or unconsciously.
But the problem lies in how to achieve this desired goal of deification. There is only one path to this lofty goal and that is through Grace. This path lies only through true and correct faith in God and through complete, boundless love for God. Such faith and love, naturally, manifest themselves in a person’s life in acts of faith and love, the main objective of which is to prepare the human soul and body for the receiving of the Holy Spirit of God, Who proceeds from the Father and is sent down through the Son to the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ. Then, man’s deification is granted to man by God through Grace, that is freely, through the love and mercy of God and not because of merit.”
Faith and Delusion
Copyright 2011 Father Nikita Grigoriev
Buy the book at amazon.com or abe books
THE FATHERS AND THE FIRE
Fr. Lawrence Farley
In my last two blog articles, I examined the biblical, patristic, and conciliar evidence for the traditional view of the Church that the punishments of Gehenna were eternal, and also examined the question of how belief in the eternity of those punishments could be consistent with the love of God. I advanced the view that Scripture, the Fathers, the pronouncements of councils, and the general consensus of the Church since those councils all agreed that the punishment of Gehenna was eternal. I also suggested that those in Gehenna were destroyed by their choices so that the faculty of free will as we experience it in this age ceased to exist in them. In this final blog article I will examine some of the Father’s teaching to see how they viewed the pain of hell being consistent with God’s love. Like the previous two posts, it must be somewhat cursory and limited, since this is a blog, not a book. We approach the issue through the question, “How does God relate to those condemned to hell?”
Let us begin by reviewing the Scriptures, and especially the teaching of Christ with which the Fathers interacted. The Lord paints a consistent picture of divine rejection of the unrighteous. Those who are unrepentant evildoers at the last judgment will hear Christ say, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you evildoers” (Matthew 7:23). Those unprepared by repentance, portrayed in one of His parables as foolish virgins, will on that day pound at the door, saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us!”, only to hear Him reply, “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.” (Matthew 25:11-2). The lost will be cast out into outer darkness (Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 25:30), cast into Gehenna (Mark 9:45). At the last judgement they will hear Christ say, “Depart from Me” (Matthew 25:41). Taken together, these are unmistakable and vivid pictures of rejection, and perhaps at the basis of St. Paul’s assertion that the disobedient will “pay the penalty of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). This last phrase, rendered here “away from the presence of the Lord”, is the Greek apo prosopou tou kuriou. The preposition apo must here be rendered “away from” and not simply “from” (as coming from a source)—thus the Arndt-Gingrich Lexicon, which takes the preposition in this verse “to indicate distance from a point: away from”. The New Testament picture of Gehenna is consistently one of divine rejection.
In understanding these words, we must first understand the situation in which they were spoken. Christ wanted to portray the penalty for disobedience and unrighteousness in all its horror, to warn His hearers not to disobey and reject Him and His word. In a sense, the Lord was speaking with the vehemence of prophecy, not in the measured tones of later theologians and apologists. Like His counsel to the one tempted to sin to gouge out his eye rather than use it to sin (Mark 9:47), He speaks with holy hyperbole, warning us in urgent tones to flee from the wrath to come. His descriptions of the unquenchable fire, of the undying worm, and of the unexpectedly locked door make us tremble, as they were intended to do. Questions about justice and divine love did not arise, and would only have served to blunt the power of the prophetic warning. We must be clear however: Christ was not issuing empty threats, or bluffing. And He was not simply threatening, but also promising. He did not say, “Be careful to be righteous lest you go into eternal punishment”, but rather, “the unrighteous will go into eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46). The Gospel is clear that the one who disobeyed the Son would not see life, but the wrath of God would remain upon him (John 3:36), and it is sadly certain that some have disobeyed the Son. These texts therefore cannot be read as merely admonitory and cautionary warnings of a terrible possibility. The Lord said such terrible possibilities were going to occur—such as in the case of Judas, the perished son of perdition, for whom it would have been better not to have been born (John 17:12, Matthew 26:24).
The Fathers, while not contradicting this, took care to provide nuance. Their concerns were different than those of their Lord, for their intended audience were not Jews of first century Palestine. The Fathers had to deal with pastoral and apologetic issues, those arising from the challenges of dualism and paganism. Dualism (such as in Manichaeism for example), posited evil somehow parallel with and contending with the good, so that the existence of good and evil in the world witnessed to two rival powers. The Fathers had to show how the existence of evil did not mean that there was another evil deity in the world somehow equal to God, but that God Himself was not the creator of evil, and that nothing He did was evil. Paganism, on the other hand, pictured the gods as all too human in their capacity for rage, revenge, and vindictiveness. The challenge for the Fathers here therefore was to show how God’s punishment of the wicked did not mean that He was vengeful and vindictive like the pagan gods denounced by the Church, but that He was loving, fair, and good.
The Fathers did not deny the Lord’s teaching that the unrighteous were punished. But they zeroed in and began to analyze the precise causes of the punishment, and in what it consisted. And their basic answer was that God’s sentence upon the unrighteous was not based in any sense of personal peeve and arbitrary anger (as with the pagan gods), but was simply the outworking of the choices made by the unrighteous themselves. God Himself loved all that He made, and desired the destruction of none. We look at a few examples.
St. Irenaeus writes, “To as many as continue in their love towards God, He grants communion with Him. But communion with God is life and light, and the enjoyment of all the benefits which He has in store. But on as many as, according to their own choice depart from God, He inflicts that separation from Himself which they have chosen of their own accord. But separation from God is death, and separation from light is darkness… Those therefore who cast away by apostasy these things being in fact destitute of all good, experience every kind of punishment. God however does not punish them immediately of Himself, but that punishment falls on them because they are destitute of all that is good” (Against Heresies, 5,27,2). For Irenaeus, the separation from God is not a matter of arbitrary divine decree, but the fatal choice of the unrighteous themselves. They abide in darkness and death with all its misery as the inevitable result of refusing communion with light and life.
The words ascribed to St. Anthony in the Philokalia make the same point: “God is good, dispassionate, and unchanging…God neither rejoices nor grows angry, for to rejoice and to be offended are passions…It is not that He grows angry with us in an arbitrary way, but it is our own sins that prevent God from shining within us and expose us to demons who torture us…Thus to say that God turns away from the wicked is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind” (Text 150). The author’s point is that God does will the sinner’s destruction because He has been offended. Rather, as Irenaeus said about God granting communion with all to love Him, the author insists that God’s love shines on all His creation. The lost cannot see that light because of their sins which have made them blind.
The point is made forcefully by St. Isaac the Syrian as well. In his Homily 84, he says, “Those who are suffering in hell are suffering in being scourged by love…It is totally false to think that the sinners in Gehenna are deprived of God’s love…Love’s power acts in two ways: it torments sinners, while at the same time it delights those who have lived in accord with it. This is torment of Gehenna: bitter regret.” Isaac’s concern is to exonerate God from all accusations of vengefulness and unfairness. God wills the salvation of all, and pours out His love upon all. God’s love, and goodness, and righteousness are rejected by the sinner, whose sins make him experience it as torment.
St. John Maximovitch
And finally, we look at the modern witness of St. John Maximovitch. In a sermon published by Orthodox Word in 1966, St. John spoke of the final punishment of the unrighteous: “The end of the world signifies not the annihilation of the world, but it transformation…Fire is a purifying element; it burns sins. Woe to a man if sin has become a part of his nature: then the fire will burn the man himself…the very state of a man’s soul casts him to one side or the other…When the body has died, some may think that sin is dead too. No! There was an inclination to sin in the soul, and if the soul has not repented of the sin and has not freed itself from it, it will come to the Last Judgment also with same desire for sin. It will never satisfy that desire and in that soul there will be the suffering of hatred. It will accuse everyone and everything in its tortured condition, it will hate everyone and everything. A fiery Gehenna—such is the inner fire.” Bishop John here reproduces the teaching of the earlier Fathers, saying that God’s wrath is not directed against sinners but their sins, and it is only as the sinner clings to his sin and judgment falls upon him. The torment of Gehenna is an inner fire, kindled from the sinner’s hatred of everyone and everything.
I believe that this view is consistent with that stated in our previous blog. The fire which is within the sinner and which arises from unsatisfied desire and hatred—this is the fire of Gehenna. It is unquenchable because of the impaired state of the lost. His capacity for joy has been eroded and burned to nothing. Only impotent lust and rage remains, the flickering of a phantom, which accuses everyone and everything.
In the patristic citations cited above we have seen the Father’s concern to demonstrate that God’s judgment upon the condemned does not arise from any arbitrary passion of peevishness. Obviously no Father was a carbon copy of another, for each had his own special nuances and refinements. But enough common ground existed among them so that one can speak of a patristic consensus. God is good and only good, and never does evil. If a man is separated from God at the end, it is only because he has himself chosen that separation. The sunshine of God’s love and goodness and righteousness will beam upon all in the age to come and fill the cosmos. Those who will dwell in the outer darkness only remain there because they have preferred darkness to light and made themselves blind to that which will fill the world in the age to come.
Fr. Lawrence Farley
Glory to God for All Things
THE MORALITY OF GEHENNA
Fr. Lawrence Farley
In a previous article I attempted to examine the Scriptural, patristic, and canonical evidence for a belief in Universalism, the belief that eventually all will be saved (including, according to many universalists, Satan and the demons). I concluded that the evidence all went the other way, and I reaffirmed the traditional teaching that the punishments of Gehenna will be eternal. I acknowledged in passing the legitimacy and even the necessity of trying to explain how a belief in the eternity of Gehenna can be combined with a belief in the love of God. I will attempt to do that now. But I stress that my aim is limited to trying to understand how a belief in Gehenna can be moral—making it palatable is beyond my power or intention. My goal in discussing hell is the same as C.S. Lewis’ goal when he discussed it, for, as he said (in his chapter on Hell in his The Problem of Pain), “I am not going to try to prove the doctrine [of hell] tolerable. Let us make no mistake; it is not tolerable. But I think the doctrine can be shown to be moral”.
Orthodox writers can collect a number of voices who agree with Lewis that hell is not tolerable, and Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) has gathered a few of them in his essay “Dare We Hope for the Salvation of All?” in the anthology The Inner Kingdom. There we learn of St. Silouan of Mount Athos gently rebuking a hermit who delighted in the damnation of atheists. Silouan responded that one in paradise looking down on the suffering of another in hell-fire should pray for the salvation of that one, for “love could not bear this”. Whether St. Silouan meant that one should pray for those in Hades awaiting the final judgment or that one should pray for those damned after the final judgment is not entirely certain, but his main point stands: a tender heart would grieve over the salvation of the damned and should not delight in it. (Tertullian apparently and famously thought otherwise, but a tender heart should also consider his historical context. It’s easier to feel compassion for one’s persecutors if one hasn’t suffered under them.)
We begin by examining the arguments of those impugning the traditional doctrine of Gehenna as eternal.
One objection to this doctrine revolves around the incommensurability between the sin and its punishment. One feels it would be monstrously unfair of God to punish a few years of sin and rebellion with an eternity of suffering. If “an eye for an eye” is the classic expression of justice, how could an eternal hell be just?
This objection assumes that time and eternity are both linear, and that seventy years in this life and age equal an approximate number of years in the next life and the age to come. But there is no reason to think that eternity is as linear as time, or that it is like time as we experience it, continued after the Last Judgment. Rather, time and eternity are related to one another as the foundation is to the house built upon it. If the foundation is laid wrongly and askew, the house will be even more askew, and the higher the house is built, the more askew it will become. We see this even in the drawing of lines. Say I draw a line as a base and then draw another line, intending to draw the second line at a 90 degree angle from the first, but instead drawing it at an 80 degree angle. Obviously the further the second line extends, the further it will go from its intended 90 degree place. At few feet from the base, it will be a certain distance “off”, but at a few miles from the base it will be even further off. Increasing the amount of distance from the base will do nothing to correct it.
This forms a kind of analogy between the relation between time and eternity. During this life, within time, a person makes decisions which effect his heart and his life and even his ability to make future decisions. (We see this last in the case of drug addiction: an addict is not free to choose not to use the drug, because his previous choice to use the drug has resulted in impaired ability to freely choose.) If in this life one chooses darkness over light and continues along that path so that darkness becomes second-nature, then this darkness and rebellion becomes the foundation upon which eternity must be built. One thereby sets oneself up for darkness and misery in the age to come.
Thus hell is not a matter of God choosing to torture a sinner for an eternity because the sinner sinned for seventy years. Eternity will last forever no matter what (that is what “eternity” means)—the only question is: on what foundation will one’s experience of eternity be built? If for seventy years the sinner has laid a foundation of rebellion and destroyed his ability to repent and be nourished by joy, then the eternity built upon it will be one of misery—not because God chooses the amount of punishment deserved, but because of the nature of time as foundational to eternity.
Another objection to the traditional doctrine of hell is the assertion that it somehow makes God into implacable tyrant. Surely, says the objector, faced with the pain and suffering of hell, anyone would repent! This being so, how could a loving God not forgive the now-penitent sinner and rescue him from his punishment? The objector paints a picture of God petulantly saying, “No, sorry, you had your chance, now it is too late!” (We do find this portrayal of hell in some primitive versions of it. See, for example, the Qur’an: “The dwellers of hell will say to its keepers: ‘Implore your Lord to relieve our torment for one day!’…But vain shall be the cries of the unbelievers”, Surah 40:49-50.)
Smuggled unnoticed into this picture of the penitent person in hell crying for mercy is the unexamined assumption that the people in hell remain more or less as we knew them in this life. (This was also assumed in the example brought to St. Silouan by his hermit friend.) We think of people we have known who were not really religious, but who were not openly evil either. We remember their good points, their virtues, perhaps their sense of humour. We remember their smiles as well as their frowns, and above all the times that they were good, and the times they admitted that they were wrong. It is this person, intact, as remembered, that we imagine enduring the pains of hell, and it is this which tears at our heart. Certainly love could not bear that. But I would suggest alternative picture of the lost.
We see this alternative described by C.S. Lewis in his chapter on Hell already mentioned, and portrayed dramatically in his book The Great Divorce. There those in hell were literally shadows of their former selves. All that identified them as the persons that others knew or even as human had been burned away by the sin lurking and growing inside them. Or, to vary the metaphor, the cancer of sin and self-will had eaten away all their humanity, including their free will. All that was left was sin—the hideous lust, the unrelenting rage, the suicidal self-pity. If we could look down from paradise into the place of punishment (as in St. Silouan’s scenario) we would not see a human being, much less the human being we knew (such as the atheist imagined by St. Silouan’s hermit friend). All the created humanity of the person with its potential for love, knowledge, self-transcendence, joy, and especially repentance, had long since eroded away to nothing.
In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis offers us as an example of this horrible transmutation in an old lady, soaked in self-pity, perpetually grumbling and whining. Her damnation consisted of the fact that she was no longer simply a grumbler, but only a grumble. As Lewis’ guide and theologian puts it:
“The whole difficult of understanding Hell is that the thing to be understood is so nearly Nothing. But ye’ll have had experiences…It begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticising it. And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, embrace it. Ye can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticise the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine.”
The besetting sin or the interior spiritual cancer may not be grumbling or self-pity. It may be lust or anger or pride or a thousand other sins which smother the soul and erode its capacity for joy and repentance. But the final result is the same. Sin ultimately destroys the human soul, as fire destroys wood and reduces it to ashes. Looking at the pile of ash after a conflagration, one would never guess that it had once been a beautiful wooden statue. It is the same with the damned: to quote Lewis again (from his The Problem of Pain), “What is cast into hell is not a man: it is ‘remains’.”
This view of the damned may help us in dealing with several objections. It may help us to see how “love could bear this”, because what would be borne and witnessed from paradise would not the torment of a human being, but the inevitable end of a process of self-destruction. The sting to the tender heart comes from the thought that “the torments of hell are going on now, and people are suffering”. But in one sense the people we knew or anything recognizable as a human being no longer exist.
Hell and heaven therefore are in no sense parallel to each other, as the objection presupposes. They are not two different compartments of reality, with heaven on the top-floor penthouse and hell in the basement. The saved in the final Kingdom of God will not stop and reflect on the disturbing thought, “Somewhere people are suffering in hell”, as we may now stop in our peaceful and affluent neighbourhoods and think, “Somewhere in the world wars are going on and people are dying”. To quote Lewis again, “The thing to be understood is so nearly Nothing”. The “remains” of human beings that constitute hell, the pile of ash—the lust, and rage, and self-pity, the psychic flickerings of rebellion and determined withdrawal into self that are all that remain out of what was once a person—these scarcely constitute reality. The Biblical picture of the end is one in which “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). In that new heavens and new earth, righteousness will dwell (2 Peter 3:13). This is the vision which St. Paul described as God being “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28), and this vision is true. Hell forms no part of this world, or of this reality. The entire cosmos will be lit up with the light of God. The lost will not dwell in this world; they will inhabit no corner of the cosmos. They are to be banished from it altogether, cast into “the outer darkness” (Matthew 22:13) beyond the rim of reality “where being fades away into nonentity” (Lewis, in The Problem of Pain).
Another objection centers upon the supposed immorality of mere retribution. The objector asks, “What is the point of punishment?” Some punishment can be therapeutic, leading to the reform of the person punished. Some punishment can be a deterrent, warning others not to sin as the person being punished has sinned. But hell, the objector points out, fulfills neither of these two functions. According to the traditional understanding of an eternal Gehenna, hell’s pains will not produce repentance in the damned, so they cannot be therapeutic. And there will be no one left not already saved to profit by the example of their suffering, so hell cannot function as a deterrent either. Surely then the only point of their suffering is simple revenge—which everyone admits is unworthy of a loving God.
The objection requires us to look carefully at what is involved in damnation and what are the causes of hell’s sufferings. Once again the objection presupposes a psychologically intact person in hell, a human being as we experience human beings, persons capable of repentance. It presupposes a picture of God standing outside the prisoner’s cell, ordering external punishments, and that those punishments are the cause of the suffering. But what if the suffering is not solely (or even principally) the result of external divine orders, but the result of the self-chosen constitution of the damned themselves? If joy and life come only through self-denial, self-transcendence, and communion with God, what would be the result for someone who has destroyed all capacity for these things? God cannot give joy to someone lacking the capacity to receive it, any more than the sun and rain could nourish a flower which has plucked itself up by its own roots. The damned have chosen not to be open to the light, and so must ever be in darkness. If the damned refuse to eat the only food the cosmos provides (which is self-transcendent communion with God) they must go forever hungry. As is often said, the doors of hell are thus locked from the inside. The damned are locked within themselves, smothered by their own adamant choice, their capacity for self-transcendence eroded to nothing, and therefore are doomed to eternal hunger and misery. Like men who have torn off their ears in a fury of self-mutilation, they have become deaf to the sound of joy and incapable of receiving it. Their suffering does not find its ultimate root in divine retribution, but in their own eternally-fixed rebellion.
Yet another objection comes with an assertion that human will ultimately will choose light and joy by virtue of it having been created by God. Defenders of the Church’s traditional understanding of hell as eternal have always had recourse to the dignity and freedom of the human will. Briefly put, people are free to choose or reject God, and God will not violate their freedom by forcing them to choose Him. They have the freedom to reject Him, thereby destroying their own capacity for love, joy, and self-transcendence if they insist upon doing so.
For some objectors, like Dr. David Bentley Hart, recourse to the sovereignty of the human will is futile. In his essay God, Creation, and Evil, he asserts that “there could scarcely be a poorer argument”. He explains thus:
“Free will is a power inherently purposive, teleological, primordially oriented toward the good, and shaped by that transcendental appetite to the degree that a soul can recognize the good for what it is. No one can freely will the evil as evil; one can take the evil for the good, but that does not alter the prior transcendental orientation that wakens all desire. To see the good truly is to desire it insatiably”.
In a later note, he elaborates by saying that one cannot choose or not choose God the way you would a cup of coffee. One desires and chooses anything, he says, because one has an original intellectual appetite for God. He reminds his readers of what St. Maximus the Confessor teaches—that the natural will can will only God.
Here the philosopher smacks up against the exegete. Philosophical arguments about what the human will is or is not capable of are interesting, but must take an epistemological backseat to the teaching of Scripture—and the Fathers would agree. And, as we have seen, the Scriptures are fairly clear that Gehenna’s suffering is eternal. But we must still interact with Hart’s assertions about the human will. I would respond that Dr. Hart simply underestimates the power of evil.
It is true that the natural will can will only God, but no one apart from Christ has such a free and untainted natural will. To quote Dr. John Meyendorff: “For Maximus, when man follows his natural will, which presupposes life in God…he is truly free. But man also possess another potential, determined not by his nature, but by each human person, the freedom of choice, of revolt, of movement against nature, and therefore of self-destruction…this is the gnomic will, a function of the personal life, not of nature” (from his Byzantine Theology).
The sad truth is that the human person is quite capable of misusing the inherently purposive, teleological, primordially oriented toward the good power of the will and perverting it into something entirely different. Dr. Hart might reply that such a thing could not be described as “free will”. I would not quibble about the term. But the fact is that a human being can reach such a depth that he does indeed will evil as evil, deliberately choosing to cut his own nose to spite his own face. Hart may reply that such a “deliberate” choice is not a “free” choice, but this doesn’t change the fact human beings are nonetheless capable of such self-destruction. Though lamentable, it is clearly observable that to see the good is not necessarily to desire it insatiably. Some people become capable of perverse rejection of the light, simply because they want to. Why did you do that terrible thing? “Because.” No appeal to reason or to joy can penetrate such self-chosen perversity. All such appeals founder on the terrible fact of the swollen and insane will.
Here we come to impenetrable mystery of evil. If Hell is “so nearly Nothing”, then evil also partakes of perverse unreason. And to see evil in its essence, we must turn from debating about men and look for a moment at the devil. It is true that universalists assert the eventual salvation of the devil, or at least (like Origen) allow for its possibility. But as the devil now is, we see in him the very form of evil. At the risk of overdosing the reader on C.S. Lewis, I would refer to his portrayal of the devil-possessed figure of Weston, the “Un-man” in his Perelandra. In this figure, we see unmasked the inner nature of evil as “a union of malice with something nearly childish…Deep within when every veil had been pierced [there was] nothing but a black puerility, an aimless empty spitefulness”. In the devil we find an abyss of unreason, a perverse fixity and commitment to rebellion, even when it is known to be futile and self-defeating and leads to damnation. It is this evil, this disease, which swallows up and consumes the human will. If Christ possessed an unfallen natural will, and all men now possess a gnomic will, another term must be found for this damned will, which chooses puerile spitefulness in the face of joy. Such a will currently exists in the devil. How could one deny that it could not also come to exist in men in the next life?
This is especially so since after human beings leave this world through death, they will share with the devil one thing: a direct vision of God. At one time, our tradition asserts, the devil was an unfallen angel, and like all angels enjoyed the direct vision of God. Hart might insist that to see the good truly is to desire it insatiably, but the devil once saw the good truly and he did not desire it insatiably. Instead, he rejected it absolutely, with the result that his will was transformed into what it now is—not a gnomic will like ours, capable of deliberation and choice, but one fixed in hopeless rebellion and futile spite. It seems that there is something in the combination of the direct vision of God and definitive choice that fixes the human will into its final choice. Those oriented towards the light see God after this life, and the choice for God fixes them into a place of joy, bringing healing and true eternal freedom, restoring their natural wills. Those oriented towards the darkness see God and their rejection of Him fixes them into a place of eternal ruin, as their humanity and capacity for joy and repentance utterly break apart. Their gnomic wills become transformed to a will like the devil, their souls decaying and collapsing into ash and phantom nonentity. That is why Christ condemns them into a place prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41), because they have now become petrified ruins, devoid of hope, like the devil and his angels. It is not true that the will ultimately will choose the good because the will was created by God. The devil’s will was once also created by God, but the Scripture is clear that he will be “tormented day and night forever and ever”, as one who has forever rejected the good (Revelation 20:10).
Finally, we examine the objection that the eternity of hell involves the defeat of God’s will. God wills that all men be saved (1 Timothy 2:4), and God sent His Son to save the whole world (John 3:17). How could it be that God’s will suffer defeat, and that love could not finally win? Our reply brings us to the final mystery, as well as to the necessity of asking ourselves about the nature of God’s final victory.
Much of the pang and disquiet one feels about asserting that God’s will shall not be finally done comes from the fact that this flies in the face of our desire for a happy ending. By using the term “a happy ending” I do not mean to denigrate. For me scarcely anything is more important than a happy ending; the desire for one is built into our spiritual DNA, and is almost indistinguishable from the virtue of hope. Animals take things as they come; human beings hope for happy endings. A desire for a happy ending is part of what it means to be made in the image of God.
That is why the Scripture asserts emphatically that history will indeed culminate in one, in what Tolkien famously called “a eucatastrophe”. Julian of Norwich declared that at the end, “all manner of thing will be well”, echoing St. Paul’s declaration that at the end God would be all in all. We have suggested above that this will be so, in that all the cosmos will be filled with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. All that is, all that exists, will then be filled with light and joy. The lost have no place there, for they will have declined into mere phantoms, fading into nonentity, as creatures who no longer are. This fact may be mourned, but it cannot stand in the way of joy. Otherwise the lost would possess a kind of veto over the saved, and their misery possess a veto power over joy.
Here is the final and all but impenetrable mystery—that joy will triumph in spite of those who would wish otherwise, and the world will not eternally be held captive to wills that refuse it. God’s victory and our triumph and joy do not forever hang upon the devilish dog in the manger and the black puerility that would destroy it. Mere and sterile philosophizing might declare that the loss of the single soul means the overthrow of God’s will and the defeat of love’s sovereignty. It is not so. A glance at the final verses of the Apocalypse (Revelation 22:14-15) reveals that it is not so. In that apostolic and apocalyptic picture, outside the city are the dogs and murderers and idolaters and everyone who loves lying. They have chosen their own cramped and airless souls instead of joy, and have been pushed outside the city, into the outer darkness, beyond the rim of the world. Inside the city, God is all in all, and every manner of thing is well. Everyone in the world is blessed, for they have washed their robes and have the right to the tree of life. Love’s victory does not depend upon us, and cannot be thwarted by anyone, including the churlish impenitence of the lost.
The doctrine of hell is not tolerable. But it is consistent with morality and with a belief in the love and final victory of God. Its presence in the Scriptures does not indicate an inconsistency there, but simply that reality and the depths of the human response to God are more varied and complex than philosophers might first imagine.
Fr. Lawrence Farley
Glory to God for All Things
When they are in fashion, fads are never recognized as fads. Those under their influence and promoting them feel that they have come across An Important New Truth, or (if Orthodox) An Important But Neglected Part of Our Tradition. Recognizing them as fads or, (worse yet for Orthodox) as deviations from genuine Tradition, would only serve to dismiss them from serious consideration. Thus fads never ’fess up.
I suggest that the latest interest in Universalism, the belief that everyone will eventually be saved, is the latest fad (or, if preferred, that it is currently fashionable). Evidence of this may be found in the fact that the view is being promoted by a number of different people who have little contact with one another and with little else in common. Thus we find it promoted by a scholar such as David Bentley Hart in his essay God, Creation, and Evil, and also in more popular form (I am being polite), by Rob Bell in his best-seller Love Wins. (My review of the latter may be found here.)
Admittedly the conviction that everyone will eventually be saved (including Satan and the demons) has been expressed from time to time throughout Christian history (as has the unrelated conviction that Christ is not fully divine), but, like the latter Arian opinion, the majority of Christians have decided to pass on it. For people like the Orthodox who believe that God guides His Church and that therefore consensus matters, the solid fact of Christian consensus about the eternity of hell is surely significant.
Orthodox scholars rarely stand on their hind legs and boldly proclaim that everyone will be saved. Like Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, they simply ask “Dare We Hope for the Salvation of All?” (see his essay by that title in the anthology The Inner Kingdom), and then go on to answer, “Why yes, of course”. Metropolitan Kallistos thus begins by declaring the question open (much like he recently declared the question of whether or not women may be ordained priests as open in the latest revision of his The Orthodox Church), and then proceeds to examine the evidence. We will do the same here, and examine the Scriptures, the Fathers, and the teaching of the Fifth Ecumenical Council. Since this is a blog and not a book, the examination must of necessity be somewhat limited.
We begin with the Scriptures, and in particular with the Old Testament. Most discussions I have read about this topic tend to ignore the Old Testament as irrelevant to the subject at hand, but given the fact that the apostles would have consulted the Hebrew Scriptures for all subjects, this seems unwise. In the Old Testament we find the following consistent themes:
In all of these themes (the Scriptural citations for each could easily be multiplied) we see that although God loves everyone and judges with reluctance, He does nonetheless judge with severity those who persist in sin because He is implacably hates sin. This binary theme of God as the lover of righteousness and hater of sin runs throughout the Old Testament. God is the judge of all the earth, and His punishing judgment and severity falls upon those who rebel against righteousness. Some might suggest that these themes have little ultimately to do with the subject of hell, since the judgment threatened in the time of the Old Testament had to do with this life and not the next. Admittedly, the Old Testament texts do not deal much with the life of the age to come. But there is one text that does: Daniel 12:2, which declares that “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt”. The word rendered here “everlasting” is the Hebrew olam, which given its context of the age to come after the resurrection of the dead, means precisely “eternal” or everlasting in the traditional sense. There is therefore no reason to think that the judgments of God upon the sinner have no application to the life of eternity.
The theme of the age to come of course comes to the fore in the New Testament. And here, Christ speaks quite categorically: the punishments of Gehenna are eternal. He warns of the impenitent being bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness where men will weep and gnash their teeth (Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 25:30), and there is no suggestion that this punishment will be temporary. Indeed, He teaches that in Gehenna, the “unquenchable fire”, the “worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43, 48). If the Universalists are correct, then the worm will indeed die and the fire will indeed be quenched, but Christ here says the opposite. In His parable about Lazarus and the rich man, Christ explicitly says that there is a great gulf fixed between paradise and the place of punishment, so that none may cross over from the place to punishment into paradise (Luke 16:26). Granted that this is a parable and not a behind the scenes peak at eternity, it remains an odd thing to say if in fact everyone in the place of punishment will indeed eventually cross over into paradise. Also important to the discussion is the fact that Christ describes the two fates awaiting men after the final judgment either as “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”, and “eternal punishment”, or as “eternal life” (Matthew 25:41, 46). Note that the same word “eternal” (Greekaionion) is used in v. 46 to describe both the eternal life of the saved and the eternal punishment of the condemned. One can debate the meaning of the word aionion if one likes, but the word must have the same meaning in both halves of v. 46. It cannot mean, for example, “the unrighteous will go away into age-long punishment, but the righteous into eternal life”. If the life of the righteous is eternal, then so must be the punishment of the unrighteous. One may assert that St. Paul proclaims universalism, but no one has ever suggested that Christ did. All of His words about the fate of men in the age to come are emphatic that hell is eternal, and contain not a hint of universalism. One cannot bypass this fact when promoting universalism, as many seem to do, but must rather explain why it is that Christ is so uncompromising in His words about hell.
In his examination of the New Testament evidence mentioned above, Metropolitan Kallistos writes that “these and other ‘hell-fire’ texts need to be interpreted in the light of different passages from the New Testament which point rather in a ‘universalist’ direction”, by which he means “a series of Pauline texts”. This is not so much using Paul as a lens through which to view Christ’s teaching as it is misusing Paul as a means of discounting the teaching of Christ, for if Paul indeed taught universalism, then Christ was simply wrong. One cannot oppose Christ to His apostle like this and reject all of Christ’s teaching on hell simply because one prefers what one imagines is the teaching of Paul. Obviously one must interpret both Christ and His apostle so that their teachings are mutually compatible.
And in fact St. Paul does indeed conform with his Lord, and teach that the punishment of hell is unending. Take for example 1 Corinthians 6:10 and Galatians 5:21, where Paul teaches that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God. There is no suggestion that actually they will inherit the Kingdom of God after all, but only after a lot of suffering. Or take for example Ephesians 5:6, where he writes that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. If by “wrath” Paul meant only “temporary anger which will eventually give place to acceptance and bliss”, his warning loses most of its force. Or take for another example 2 Thessalonians 1:9, where Paul describes the lost as “suffering the punishment of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord”. If the banishment from the Lord’s presence were only temporary, it would hardly be eternal destruction. As it is, it looks as if Paul is here echoing Christ’s teaching about the lost being bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness.
And then there is the Book of Revelation. This Book is clear to the point of being almost lurid that the pains of hell are unending: “if anyone worships the Beast and its image…he also shall drink the wine of God’s wrath poured unmixed into the cup of His anger and he shall be tormented with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever [Greek eis aionas aionon] and they have no rest day or night” (Revelation 14:11). The devil and his angels, far from being eventually redeemed because love wins, will be “thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur…and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” [Greek eis tous aionas ton aionon] (Revelation 20:10). If the words eis aionas aionon does not here mean “unending”, then words have no meaning. Indeed, if a man wanted to express the concept of unending punishment, how much more emphatic than this could he get? One may, if one likes, presume to be more loving and tender-hearted than the apostolic author of these words. One may lament the fate of the lost, while condemning those who believe that hell is eternal as heartless and insensitive members of a “hellfire club”, but of the author’s intent in writing those words there can be little doubt: the punishments of hell are unending and eternal. How such a view can be moral and consistent with belief in a loving God can and should be debated. But for Christians who believe the Scriptures, the truth of this teaching is sure. Our faith must be rooted in the Scriptures, not in our own views of whether or not we think something is consistent with love as we understand it. A belief in hell may or may not be consistent with love, but what is certain is that it is taught in the Scriptures, and this must be the deciding factor for us. The upshot of all this may be summed up by John, the beloved disciple and the apostle of love: “he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides upon him” (John 3:36).
Since this teaching about the eternity of hell is so unambiguous, Paul’s other words (which everyone acknowledges contain more ambiguity) must be interpreted in the light of them. In 1 Corinthians 15:28, for example, Paul teaches that at the end, all will be subject to God, so that He “will be all in all”. In its context, it is doubtful if this means more than simply all of God’s enemies including death (the main subject of the chapter) will be destroyed, and in the new heaven and new earth, righteousness will finally reign (compare 2 Peter 3:13). This is compatible with the lost no longer being found in the new heavens or the new earth, but in the darkness outside, excluded from the Kingdom (compare Matthew 13:41-43, 25:30).
In other passages Paul writes that just as Adam’s sin brought death to all men, so Christ’s work brought justification and life to all (Romans 5:18), and that “as in Adam all die so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Here Paul is speaking of the possibility of all men enjoying eternal life, not of the certainty of their eventual salvation. Paul teaches here that inChrist all have been made alive, and their redemption has been purchased—but whether one chooses to be and to remain “in Christ” depends upon their personal choice. According to Paul, life has indeed come to all, but that life is in God’s Son. No one will enjoy this life unless one is in the Son, “in Christ” (to use Paul’s term) and unless one remains in Him “stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel” (Colossians 1:23). Christ is truly the Saviour of all men (1 Timothy 4:10), but for men to be enjoy that salvation, they must believe, otherwise they will be condemned.
In perusing the New Testament teaching, John’s gospel in particular, along with his epistles, shines not only with a universal offer of salvation to all the world, but also with this fundamental binary approach—the choice between light or darkness, faith or unbelief, salvation or condemnation. For St. John the key to enjoying this salvation is acceptance of Jesus as Lord and God. John is emphatic that Jesus came to save the whole world, and equally emphatic that a man must believe in Jesus to be saved. Thus “he who has the Son has life”, while “he who has not the Son of God has not life” (1 John 5:12). Universalism destroys this fundamental apostolic binary. A view of history as one of eternal cyclic return—of all the cosmos falling and then eventually returning to saving unity—might have resonated for many in Origen’s day and inspired his own view of apokatastasis, but it is alien and incompatible with the Hebrew and binary approach to life and salvation found in John’s Gospel, and in the rest of the New Testament.
We turn now to a brief look at the Fathers. Here is not the place to enter into a detailed examination of what these ancient Christian writers wrote, and what they meant by it, and whether they would be happy to be thus hauled into court as witnesses for Christian universalism. In the case of Origen, we may doubt this last: he said that although all will be saved, this teaching ought to be kept secret, and shared only with the spiritually mature. Presumably this excluded promoting this teaching on blogs.
In the vast array of the Fathers, only a few are regularly cited: Gregory of Nyssa (along with his mentor Origen), and Isaac the Syrian. We note in passing that some have debated whether or not Gregory of Nyssa may be considered a universalist in the sense we are discussing. Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos argues in his book Life After Death that Gregory of Nyssa did not in fact contradict the view of the Fifth Ecumenical Council that the punishments of Gehenna were unending. Where such scholars disagree about patristics, I am happy to walk away quietly and leave the question open. But even if Gregory of Nyssa did actually teach that all will be saved, his was still simply a single individual opinion. It could be, as some suggest, that many other Fathers have written from a universalist perspective. Being a parish priest and not a patristic scholar, I have not read everything written by the Fathers, would be happy to hear their voices, especially set in context, finding out in which book or essay they wrote their universalist opinion. But that Gregory of Nyssa and Isaac the Syrian are the only ones constantly quoted by proponents like Ware and Hart does little to bolster the view that many of the Fathers thought like this. One always hears about Gregory and Isaac, and hardly ever about anyone else. It is difficult to not to conclude that Gregory (with his mentor Origen) and Isaac the Syrian and few others stood over against the vast consensus of practically everyone else.
At the risk of opening up a game of duelling patristic citations, in the east one might quote from St. John Chrysostom: “There are many men, who form good hopes not by abstaining from their sins, but by thinking that hell is not so terrible as it is said to be, but milder than what is threatened, and temporary, not eternal… But that it is not temporary, hear Paul now saying, concerning those who know not God, and who do not believe in the Gospel, that ‘they shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction.’ How then is that temporary which is everlasting?” (from his third homily on 2 Thessalonians).
Then in the west we may quote from St. Augustine of Hippo: “I am aware that I now have to engage in a debate with those compassionate Christians who refuse to believe that the punishment of hell will be everlasting…On this subject the most compassionate of all was Origen, who believed that the Devil himself and his angels will be rescued from their torments and brought into the company of the holy angels…But the Church has rejected Origen’s teaching…Is it not folly to assume that eternal punishment signifies a fire lasting a long time, while believing that eternal life is life without end? For Christ, in the very same passage, included both punishment and life in one and the same sentence when He said, ‘So those people will go into eternal punishment, while the righteous will go into eternal life’” (City of God Book 21, chapters 17, 23).
In this last citation we note that Augustine asserted that “the Church has rejected Origen’s teaching”. He appears to refer to an existing consensus, which rejected the apokatastasistaught by Origen. This consensus would later come to be expressed in the canons of future Ecumenical Councils. The views of the Fathers are important, but perhaps not as important as the traditions of these Councils, for an Orthodox thinker may disagree with St. Augustine or St. John Chrysostom, but he may not disagree with the conclusions of the Ecumenical Councils and still regard himself as genuinely Orthodox. This is not a matter of “rigorism” or being exclusionary, but simply a matter of recognizing the normative authority of the Ecumenical Councils for those claiming to be Orthodox.
When we look at the Fifth Ecumenical Council, we find associated with it a series of fifteen anathemas directed as heretical teachings of that day associated with the name of Origen. Though no one doubts Origen was condemned by the Council (his name was included along with Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius and other ancient heretics in Canon 11), considerable doubt attaches to whether the fifteen anathemas were the genuine work of the Council. Some suggest that they were the work of bishops meeting before the Fifth Ecumenical Council. Either way, the Council Fathers certainly knew of them and approved of them (as even Metropolitan Kallistos acknowledges), since they condemned Origen by name, lumping him in with other ancient heretics. These anathemas therefore may be allowed to stand as illustrative of why the Council Fathers anathematized Origen in Canon 11. (These anathemas were confirmed by the first canon of the “Quinisext Council” held in 692, which spoke with approval of how previous Council Fathers “anathematized and execrated…Origen”.)
Origen of course produced much good work in his day (St. Gregory the Theologian referred to him as “the whetstone of us all”), but much of his speculation was later deemed erroneous and heretical. The abiding point of the anathemas therefore has to do with Origenism as it was known in the sixth century with its erroneous teachings, and less to do with the historical figure of Origen himself. What was it that the Church was determined to anathematize? We gain some idea from looking at the fifteen anathemas themselves.
The first one anathematizes anyone who “asserts the fabulous [i.e. mythical] pre-existence of souls”. The fourteenth anathema rejects the teaching that “all reasonable beings will one day be united in one when hypostases as well as the numbers and the bodies shall have disappeared…and that in this pretended apokatastasis spirits only will continue to exist”. Clearly the doctrine of apokatastasis considered here appears in Origenistic dress. But would the Council Fathers have been much more accepting if the doctrine appeared without Origen’s teaching of the pre-existence of souls and their eternal return? St. Augustine would not have been much mollified, nor St. John Chrysostom. Nor would Justinian, who called the council: one of his nine anathemas against Origen reads, “If anyone says that the punishment of demons and of impious men is only temporary, and will one day have an end, and that aapokatastasis will take place of demons and of impious men, let him be anathema”. It is possible, I suppose, that although the Emperor seems to have rejected the notion ofapokatastasis in principle, the Council Fathers accepted it in principle, and only anathematized it because of its Origenistic framework, but this seems a bit of a stretch. If the Council Fathers had no problem with apokatastasis as such, one wonders why they mentioned it at all in their condemnation of Origen. At least they could have made clear that it was Origen’s use of the teaching that they found objectionable, and not the teaching itself. It all reminds me of the special pleading of John Henry Newman, who argued in his Tract 90 that the 39 Articles (then considered authoritative for Anglican clergy) did not condemn the doctrine of purgatory in principle, but only “the Romish doctrine concerning purgatory”, when clearly the framers of the 39 Articles would have little sympathy for any doctrine of purgatory at all.
At the end of the day what ultimately matters is less the historical minutiae of the Council’s background (fascinating though it may be to scholars) than the abiding consensus of the Church through the centuries–a consensus reflected not only in the Church’s iconography regarding the Last Judgment, but also in her hymns. Consider, for example, the stich for the Vespers of the Sunday of the Last Judgment: “the whole vale of sorrow shall echo with the fearful sound of lamentation, as all the sinners, weeping in vain, are sent by Your just judgement to everlasting torment”. The Church later read the Council as condemning not only Origen’s teaching in particular, but also as condemning the concept of an ultimateapokatastasis in principle. One may lament this reading of the Council (as some do) and spend much effort trying to correct it and promote universalism as a live option (perhaps even rehabilitating Origen). But surely an age-long Orthodox consensus has a weight of its own? For centuries Orthodox Christians have believed that the doctrine of an ultimateapokatastasis was off the table, and this cannot be ignored. It is a narrow and legalistic reading of our tradition that that ascribes authority only to the pronouncements of the Ecumenical Councils, as if everything not explicitly condemned by them were live options. Liberal scholars, of course, are happy to dismiss centuries of tradition and belief as the ramblings of the ignorant and uneducated, but pious Orthodox will give this tradition its due weight. And when the Scriptures are so clear, and when the consensus of the Fathers so weighty, and when the occasions when the Ecumenical Councils which considered the question all point in the same direction, we may conclude that we have found the mind of the Church. We live in a day when much of Holy Tradition is being challenged in the Church, and many questions which were considered closed are now being considered open. It is not surprising, therefore, if the Church’s condemnation of the apokatastasis is among them.
It remains to consider the question: if a desire to rehabilitate a belief in the apokatastasis is indeed a fad, why does it arise in our culture now? A full response cannot be attempted at the end of an already over-long article. But I think that is not unrelated to our culture’s loss of its sense of sin. As mentioned over a century ago by C.S. Lewis, the modern West has lost its sense of sin. In ancient times, all men, be they Jew, pagan, or Christian, believed that they stood guilty before the divine judgment seat. That is not to say that there was no cause for theodicy, but at very least one felt shame for one’s own sins. Thus when Christ said in passing that men were evil [Greek poneros; Matthew 7:11], no one batted an eye, for everyone knew it was true. We no longer believe that, and so (in Lewis’ famous phrase) we have put God in the dock, with ourselves as His judges. In this frame of mind the very existence of hell is a stumbling block, and something which cries out for justification, if not revision. There is a place for considering and explaining how the existence of hell is consistent with God’s love. But we set ourselves up to err if we do not first feel the shame for our own sins, and proceed from there.
”Ecclesiastical unity, unity in faith, and unity in the Holy Eucharist are all three inseparable and interdependent for the total communion and life in Christ. Consequently, the Orthodox Church cannot accept “intercommunion,” which separates communion in the Holy Eucharist from unity in faith and ecclesiastical unity. More correctly, “intercommunion” is a danger which threatens to destroy the Church, break up the unity of faith and [communion in the Holy Eucharist among the Orthodox.”
“The heresy that most afflicted the Church in the 20th and now, the 21st century is what is rightly called the “heresy of heresies” – Ecumenism.
Ecumenism is generally defined and understood to be a movement whose aim is to bring unity to Christian Churches separated by doctrine and practice and to Christian communities and generally, to believers in Christ. The underlying idea is that there should be a single Christian Church. Clearly, this is based on the belief that the Church of Christ is no longer One but it has split up into many churches, separated by doctrine and practice.
The problem with this view, and this is what actually makes Ecumenism a heresy, is that it denies the very dogma, the very essence that the Church is defined by: Unity. The Ecumenist platform presupposes that there is not One Church of Christ now but several.
As has already been mentioned previously, the Church was defined from the very beginning primarily as One,”
Faith and Delusion
Father Nikita Grigoriev
Copyright 2011 Father Nikita Grigoriev.
By Priest Nikita Grigoriev
Rector, Saint John of Kronstadt Parish, Utica, NY
Instructor of Apologetics, Holy Trinity Seminary, Jordanville, NY 1986-2006
Some of the faithful are being confused by assertions that the ROCA must necessarily unite with the MP at this time or face dire consequences. These consequences include losing ROCA’s canonical foundation, creating a schism in the Church, becoming a sect, losing respect in the eyes of the world, partaking in the heresy of Donatism, etc. The positive reasons for immediate union are usually given as the claim that Communism has fallen in Russia, the MP has completely renounced “Sergianism” as well as Ecumenism and above all, that Russia, the long suffering Russian people and the MP need the ROCA now. In other words, the best way for ROCA to help the Russian people is to unite with the MP now. If they don’t do it now, ROCA will not get another chance, and will become a sect and earn the contempt of the world.
It is worthwhile at this time to sort out some of these assertions in the light of historical fact and to focus clearly on the real issues at hand.
Donatism has nothing to do with why the Russian Orthodox Church, whether abroad or in catacombs cannot join the organization that calls itself the ROC, MP. Donatism was a heresy that taught that the sacraments performed by a priest or bishop of low moral character, or who had fallen into grievous personal sin were not valid. This was, of course condemned by the Church because we’re all sinners and none of us would then be worthy to perform them, not to say that we shouldn’t strive with all our strength to attain to the high calling.
The fact that many of the MP hierarchy are apparently of questionable moral character is certainly not the actual reason why the Russian Church abroad cannot unite with them. This is a misleading teaching that seems to be generated to deflect the focus to a false issue that can then be handled through accusations of Donatism etc… Our differences with the MP had never been a matter of personal sins or moral character and people should take care not to allow them to be reduced to that.
The reason why we can’t “join the MP” is very simple. They are a schismatic group that separated from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1927 under Metropolitan Sergius and to this day remains in that schism. The fact that they have become very powerful, with the help and support of the atheistic government, is entirely irrelevant. They are, from their origin and to this day, a schismatic group that separated from the Church.
It is extremely important to understand what a schism is. A schism is not a division of the Church into two valid parts that are no longer in communion with each other. Perish that thought! That kind of teaching is the foundation of the heresy of ecumenism.
The Church is one. We believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. By its own self-definition, in the Nicean creed, the Church is first of all One.
The unity of the Church is likened to the indivisible unity of the Holy Trinity by Christ Himself in his prayer to His Father, just before His arrest in the garden of Gethsemane. The Church is a living, breathing organism, not just a social, political or even religious human organization. It cannot be contained, prohibited or even destroyed. It is eternal and immortal because it is a body that is imbued with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God Himself. It is the body of Christ and as such, it is indivisible, in as much as the body of Christ is indivisible. The living body of the Church is united and vivified by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, that organically unites all the members of the Church into one, indivisible body, united in the Spirit of Truth, in God Himself.
A schism occurs when a group of people leaves the Church and consequently, breaks communion with the Church. This occurs, as a result of a falsehood or a false doctrine, which is obstinately maintained by the schismatics in opposition to the Spirit of Truth, Who is the very essence of the Church. If the schismatics repent of the falsehood that separated them from the Spirit of Truth, The Holy Spirit of the Church, then they may be received back into the Church through a special rite of confession and absolution and by the reinstatement of The Holy Spirit in them by the Church. If they persist in their position that is in opposition to the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit of the Church, they remain outside of the Church. They certainly can never be considered as “another part” of the One Church that happens to be not in communion with the “other part” of the Church. No matter how big or how powerful they become in the eyes of the world, they will always remain outside the Church until they repent and are received back into the Church through the mystery of absolution.
The following is a brief synopsis of the actual historical events that led to the schism in the Russian Church in 1927, that resulted in Met. Sergius and his followers, who eventually became known as the Moscow Patriarchate, to be outside the Russian Church.
From his youth, Met.Sergius was an extremely ambitious man who was obsessed with power. When the February, 1917 revolution occurred in Russia, he was quoted as saying that he hopes that perhaps now something of the sort may also take place in the Church. He didn’t have to wait very long for his opportunity.
In the years of turmoil following the revolution, he tried to seize power in the Church in 1922 by heading a radical renovationist group calling itself the “living church”. This was a group that sympathized with the Bolshevik revolution and broke away from the Church under the leadership of Met. Sergius and so it was, of course, in schism with the Church. But it did not get much support from the faithful and soon petered out despite the great efforts on the part of the godless government to arrest or shoot all who opposed it. The “living church” bishops were trying to take advantage of the time when Patriarch Tikhon was under arrest to usurp power in the Church with the help of the godless regime. Patriarch Tikhon had staunchly opposed all attempts by the Bolsheviks to gain control of the Church and boldly spoke out against the godless atrocities and brazen lies of the Bolshevik government.
Because of the enormous authority that Patriarch Tikhon wielded not only in Russia but even with foreign governments, the Bolsheviks were forced to release him, still keeping him under very close observation and persecution. The release of Patriarch Tikhon served to quell the “living church” revolution and Met. Sergius then asked to be taken back into the Church, which he was, unfortunately in the same rank, after a clear public confession and a renunciation of the “living church”. But he kept his eyes open for another opportunity.
The new Bolshevik government had a stated agenda to destroy all faith in God. At first it began to physically exterminate many of the faithful, starting with the bishops and priests, and to demolish most of the churches. Soon they realized, just like the Roman Empire did in the first three centuries, that it was hopeless and that they were bound to lose. The Church, which comprised most of the country, was only becoming stronger and increasingly more resolute. Large crowds were following priests who had been arrested, encouraging them to stand fast and ripping off pieces of their cassocks to keep as relics from the martyrs on their way to certain death for Christ and His Church.
The Bolsheviks realized that they needed a new plan.
Comrade Tuchkov had been selected for the job of destroying the Church. On Dec. 13, 1926 Met. Sergius was arrested and brought for a chat with comrade Tuchkov. When Tuchkov met with Met. Sergius it was like a match made in hell. Met. Sergius saw a great career opportunity and Tuchkov saw a chance to create a schism in the Church: Exactly what they were both looking for.
Met. Sergius emerged from jail on March 30, 1927 and was then free to live in Moscow with privileges that he did not enjoy even before his arrest at a time when almost all the bishops were being arrested and retained in jail. He began to be suspected of having struck a deal with Tuchkov. It’s not clear which one of them was the actual author of that hideous document that entered history under the infamous name of “Declaration of Met. Sergius”. Most likely it was a joint effort, with comrade Tuchkov dictating and Met. Sergius obliging. The end result was that on July 29, 1927 Met. Sergius signed the infamous “Declaration of Met. Sergius”. This document not only created schism in the Church and precipitated the most vicious persecution of the Church in history, where millions upon millions of Christians were butchered for their Faith in the most horrendous ways imaginable (I personally heard some of the details from witnesses such as the new confessor Bishop Leonty of Chile, for instance), but most importantly it lay the foundation for the creation of nothing less than what may be rightfully called the Antichrist Orthodox Church.
Consider the third temptation that Satan presented to Christ in the desert. Satan took Christ atop a high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the earth in all their glory. And Satan said to Christ, “all this I will give to you if you bow down before me”. What did Satan want from Christ? Only one thing: that Christ recognize Satan’s authority and submit to it. What did Satan promise Christ in return? Permission to operate freely in the world, subject only to Satan’s approval, of course. What would have occurred if Christ had agreed to Satan’s proposal? There would have been many glorious churches built but they would all have been subject to Satan and would therefore be incapable of providing salvation. That church would have been founded and built not on the Spirit of Truth but on falsehood and belong to the father of lies, Satan.
When the Bolshevik government realized it cannot annihilate the Church they decided to make it theirs, to own it. In corporate business it’s a well known principle that if you can’t beat your competition, you buy it, so that it works for you. The God-fighting Satanic Bolsheviks demanded then that the Russian Church recognize their authority and totally submit to them, just as Satan had done with Christ in the desert. In exchange they also promised to grant the Church permission to operate, entirely subject to their approval and direction. What would have occurred if the Church had agreed to the satanic government’s proposal? Exactly what would have occurred with Christ in the desert: some churches would be permitted to operate on a limited basis but they would be headed by Satan, not by Christ, and would therefore be incapable of providing salvation.
This point is so crucial that it cannot be over emphasized: If a church receives its authority from Satan or through Satan’s servants, then that church is Satan’s church and not Christ’s. It may look like Christ’s Church, even try to act like Christ’s Church in order to deceive, but the real, living person of Jesus Christ has nothing to do with it. Such a church is totally the church of Antichrist and subject only to Satan.
Naturally the Russian Church could not possibly accept any such offer from the godless authority. Not only did the Russian Church flatly reject this proposal from the Bolsheviks but, in the person of Patriarch Tikhon, who had that authority, it anathematized the Bolshevik government and all those who collaborate with it in their attempt to destroy the Church of Christ. Anathematized means they were declared to be outside the Church and no longer members of it.
But Tuchkov found one bishop in the Russian Church who was quite ready, on his own, to accept just such a proposal. That was, of course, Met. Sergius Stragorodsky. What Met. Sergius agreed to and signed was the document that he produced during those days in collaboration with Tuchkov in 1927, and this is what became known as the “Declaration of Met. Sergius”.
In that declaration Met. Sergius claims that he not only recognizes the godless authority as legitimate and God given and totally submits to it, he joins it in essence and in spirit to the point of completely identifying with it. He then proceeds in the spirit of Satan, the father of lies, to declare that there is no, and never had been, any persecution of the Church by the Bolsheviks, and that the Bolshevik government is only exterminating the enemies of the state. To further demonstrate his oneness with the godless authority he then proceeded to fully collaborate with them in identifying and condemning to death all the bishops, clergy and faithful that had not submitted to him and to the godless government.
Now, if Met. Sergius had made such a declaration on his own behalf, it would have been bad enough, but it would have been useless to the God-fighting Bolsheviks, who were intent on destroying the whole Church. As such, it would have been of no further consequence.
But although he had no right and no authority to do so, Met. Sergius tried to make that declaration on behalf of the entire Russian Church. And this was the crux of it. The Bolsheviks thought that if they could have that declaration signed by the highest-ranking bishop in the Church, they could insist that it was binding for the entire Church. But they were mistaken on both counts. First, Met. Sergius was not the highest-ranking bishop in the Church. Met. Kyril, who had just been released, and Met. Peter, who was in jail at the time, were superior to him. And second, even the highest ranking bishop in the Church does not have the authority, on his own, to commit the Church to any new course, especially one that is completely unacceptable to the Church as a whole.
And so, Met. Peter of Krutitsk, who was the locum tenens of Patriarch Tikhon, and definitely the superior authority of Met. Sergius, distinctly forbade the latter to sign any such declaration on behalf of the Church. This fully legitimate order was sent to Met. Sergius in a letter, which he did not respond to. Then Met. Peter sent a second letter to Met. Sergius, which was delivered to him by hand courier. Met. Sergius also ignored that letter and did not respond to it. This was because he saw an opportunity to seize power in the Church and, with the help of the ruthless Bolshevik government, to extend and consolidate that power over the entire Russian Church.
When the Bolsheviks realized that Met. Peter was a superior of their Met. Sergius, they kept him in jail and eventually shot Met. Peter. Then they proceeded to vigorously support Met. Sergius by ruthlessly liquidating any and all who refused to sign the Declaration of Met. Sergius.
Some of the bishops did join Met. Sergius and signed his Declaration of oneness with the God-fighting government. They formed their own synod, that by no coincidence consisted of many of the old “living church” group, and declared themselves to be the supreme authority of the Russian Church.
But here’s the very crux of the whole thing. The Russian Church, as headed by its legitimate leader, Met. Peter of Krutitsk, Met Kyril of Khazan, Met Joseph of Petrograd and scores of other high ranking bishops rejected the Declaration of Met. Sergius and emphatically did not join itself to the God-fighting Bolshevik government. The Russian Church, represented by its leader Met. Peter, strictly forbade Met. Sergius to sign the declaration that joined him and his followers to the godless authority. When Met. Sergius ignored this directive from his legitimate Church authority and did join himself and his followers to the godless authority, the Church broke communion with him. Met. Sergius and his followers then fell under the anathema of Patriarch Tikhon that applied to all those who collaborate with the God-fighting Bolsheviks. They became an entity outside the Church and no longer part of the Church. In other words, they were then in schism from the Church.
The teaching that the infamous Declaration of Met. Sergius was a tragedy because it created a schism in the Russian Church is right. But who was the Church and who was in schism from The Church? Clearly, the group that was led by Met. Sergius were the ones that left the Church to unite themselves with the godless Bolshevik government, in direct disobedience to their superior, Met. Peter and many other bishops and in complete contradiction to all Church principles.
Two parts of the Church, not in communion with each other on a matter of principle, and yet both valid, but neither comprising the fullness of the Church is the very definition of the heresy of ecumenism. Such a view has never been considered in the Church to have any validity. Schismatics have always been considered by the Church to be worse even than heretics, because they rend the very body of Christ. They may only be received back into the Church after they repent of the cause of their schism and are absolved by the Church of the sin of schism.
Met. Sergius never did repent of his sin of schism and never was received back into the Church again, as he had been the previous time. Not only did he remain outside of the Church, in schism, but also he helped to precipitate a totally ruthless persecution of the Church in order to wipe out any possible competition and to consolidate his supreme position in this, his new Soviet church.
This total persecution, unprecedented in history in terms of scope and ferociousness, was carried out by the secret police of the Bolshevik government, the NKVD, with the help of Met. Sergius and his schismatic church. NKVD agents would arrive at the residence or jail cell of a bishop or priest, frequently pointed out to them by Met. Sergius himself or by one of his accomplices. They would thrust a copy of the Declaration of Met. Sergius at them to sign. When the faithful would refuse, the agents would often shoot them in the head right on their doorstep. Some of the bishops were dragged out into the street and impaled on a sharpened stake. Others were taken away and sliced slowly on a meat slicer.
All the while the Bolshevik government and Met. Sergius kept insisting that there is no persecution of the Church in Soviet Russia and that they are only exterminating the political enemies of the state and of the people.
Their blasphemy against the Spirit of Truth, The Holy Spirit of God could not have been more obvious. It would be worthwhile to recall that it was Christ who said that every sin a man commits may be forgiven him, but the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven neither in this life nor in the life to come. This is because when a man, through his own volition, becomes totally committed to falsehood, then truth becomes inaccessible to him, and repentance becomes impossible through his own determination to cling to falsehood.
This great persecution, carried out by the godless Communist government and aided by Met. Sergius and his followers, did succeed in killing or imprisoning most of the people of the Russian Church. A considerable portion of the Church went underground and became the ultra secret Catacomb Church. The other portion of the Church was forced to emigrate and organize itself into the Russian Church Abroad by the order of Patriarch Tikhon, which he issued on Nov. 7 / 20, 1920 as Ukase No. 362. The Catacomb Church and the Church abroad was all that remained of the Russian Church.
This remnant of the Russian Church was then physically separated into two parts, remaining completely in communion with each other in the Holy Spirit of God, as the One, indivisible Church of Christ and separated only physically by the godless regime but certainly not divided in Spirit.
The bishops that were forced to emigrate were unable to maintain contact with the Higher Church Administration in Russia and were required to form an independent synod with Met. Anthony Khrapovitsky, the senior bishop, as head of the Russian Church Abroad, in accordance with Ukase 362.
Patriarch Tikhon died on March 25 / April 7, 1925. The episcopate of the Russian Church Abroad issued encyclicals to all its parishes worldwide to continue commemorating Met. Peter and not to commemorate Met. Sergius. When Met. Peter was killed in prison, the Russian Church abroad commemorated Met. Kyril, the other locum tenens chosen by Patriarch Tikhon. Met. Sergius and his followers were never commemorated by the Russian Church neither in catacombs nor abroad because he was regarded as a schismatic who joined the enemies of the Church and collaborated with them in the persecution of the Church.
When it became known that Met. Kyril was also killed, The Russian Church abroad continued to commemorate “the Orthodox episcopate of the persecuted Russian Church”. This clearly did not mean Met. Sergius and his followers and successors, who had actually joined the persecutors and were even assisting in the persecution of the Church. It referred to the Orthodox episcopate of the persecuted Russian Church, the Catacomb Church. This was always completely clear in the Russian Church abroad and the fact of it was never in doubt until very recently, when an order was issued in the Church abroad to drop the word “persecuted” from the traditional phrase in litanies, etc… and to begin commemorating only “the Orthodox episcopate of the Russian Church” instead.
The Soviet government succeeded in slaughtering most of the visible Church that remained in Russia. But it was not satisfied with this. It also killed many of its own hierarchy, the followers of Met. Sergius that had joined them, who were no longer useful to them.
Met. Sergius and his followers joined the godless government that was persecuting the Church in an effort to save their own lives.
They claimed that by joining with the God-fighting government they could remain alive and out of prison, thereby saving the Church from being wiped out. This idea of saving the Church by actually joining with its persecutors, whose ultimate aim was the complete eradication of all faith in God, was not only absurd but completely foreign to Church teaching and practice during its entire history.
This is truly Satan’s idea as can be clearly seen from the words of Christ to apostle Peter when the latter begged Christ to not go to the Cross and Christ rebuked him sharply saying, “get thee behind me Satan”. Christ created the Church precisely by going to the Cross, not by joining with his enemies. This is why the sign of Christ and of His Church is the Holy and life-giving Cross and not a negotiating table. His apostles, with the exception of St. John, all died a martyr’s death for Christ and His Church. If there was ever a time when the Church would seem to be totally dependent on the apostles, it was in those first few years of its young life. But the Apostles certainly did not join the pagan Roman government or the God-fighting Pharisees saying that they could not afford to die or go to prison then because they need to remain free and thereby save the Church.
The Church always grows and is strengthened by its martyrs who confess their faith in Christ fearlessly before Satan and his world and triumphantly go to their death, only to live forever in Christ. The blood of the martyrs has always been called “the seed of the Church”. To this day the Divine Liturgy can only be performed on the relics of martyrs who died for Christ and His Church.
So Met. Sergius certainly did not save the Church by recognizing and submitting to the Bolshevik government, but very likely he did help save that satanic godless government from collapsing. This became even clearer during World War Two, under Stalin’s regime. Stalin unleashed such a reign of terror in Soviet Russia that he succeeded in liquidating practically all of the remaining communists that had actually committed the revolution in the first place. Ironically, communist Russia under Stalin had practically none of the communists left who were actually involved in the communist revolution. This also extended to many of their collaborators, among them the group under Met. Sergius, because the godless Soviet government had no particular interest in preserving even their own collaborators after they were of no further use to them. Such is the nature of the satanic beast. By the time WW2 broke out very little remained even of the schismatic group under Met. Sergius that the Soviet government called Church. The Soviet government had used them to help them annihilate the visible part of the Russian Church that remained in Russia, and were coming close to liquidating them as well.
They had considerable difficulty in dealing with the catacomb part of the Russian Church because the latter was not centralized, not organized and extremely difficult to infiltrate. The part of the Church that was outside the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad was easy to infiltrate, very difficult to influence (at that time) and impossible to control, because its bishops remained steadfast in their refusal to recognize the legitimacy and authority of the Soviet pseudo-church, as they called it.
Then something unexpected happened that fundamentally changed the attitude of the Soviet government towards the Church.
As the German army began to advance into Russia, the Russians refused to fight for the Soviet government and, without firing a shot, began to give themselves up by entire divisions. The Germans were overwhelmed by the countless thousands of prisoners they had to deal with unexpectedly.
But if the Nazis were bewildered, Stalin was absolutely shocked and terrified. He clearly understood that his goose was definitely cooked, unless he came up with some amazing new idea to motivate the Russian soldiers to fight. And that’s exactly what he did. Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. And Stalin was definitely in a tight spot.
Stalin had been at one time a seminarian of sorts, and he remembered how near and dear was the Church to the Russian heart. So he went on nationally broadcast radio with a heartfelt appeal to all Russians to defend their Church and their fatherland. To make his appeal seem all the more convincing, he began to open churches that had not yet been completely destroyed. Stalin and his “communist” party even began to select suitable individuals to be made into bishops and priests under Met. Sergius. The Russian people were so desperate that even this pathetic ruse worked. The Russians began to fight and despite the phenomenal Soviet inefficiency and staggering loss of life and resources, they were eventually able to beat the Nazis back.
But a very important change had occurred.
The godless Soviet government realized that the Church could be very useful to them, as long as it was their Church and they controlled it completely. Stalin then even went as far as to make his Met. Sergius into a patriarch. A year later Met. Sergius died.
But the “Moscow Patriarchate” was born.
The Soviet government organization, that is still now called the MP, originated from a schismatic group of bishops that joined themselves to the godless Soviet government and were eventually made into a patriarchate by the Soviet government and subsequently greatly expanded by the Soviet government strictly for their own nefarious purposes.
Clearly the present day “Moscow Patriarchate” is not at all the Russian Church but rather a spiritual monster that was created by the God-fighting Soviet government by taking advantage of the ambitions and weaknesses of certain individuals in schism from the Church for their own monstrous Soviet purposes.
This fact had always been perfectly clear to the Russian Church in the catacombs in Russia and, until very recently, to the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in exile and in the Diaspora.
Soon the MP became an extremely useful tool for public control in domestic affairs and a potentially invaluable asset for Soviet influence in the international arena. The MP not only joined the ecumenical organization called the World Council of Churches, they presently became members of its ruling body. But to realize its potential for international influence the MP really needed to first acquire the ROCA. There was one rather large problem though.
The Russian Church, whether in the catacombs or abroad, never recognized the MP patriarch as a legitimate patriarch and, until very recently, the MP as a legitimate Church. Even though the other Local Orthodox Churches of the world, as they began to be increasingly more corrupt in the twentieth century, began to recognize and accept the MP as the legitimate Russian Church, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA) was still holding out and was confessing to the world the illegitimacy and the spiritual invalidity of the MP. This was, of course more than a little awkward for the MP. It was completely unacceptable.
Immediately following WW2 the iron curtain was erected and the cold war era began. The Russian Church Abroad expanded hugely due to the large numbers of Russian refugees from the Soviet Union. Most of these people knew next to nothing about the Church except that the MP was definitely not the Church but rather a department of the godless Soviet government. They integrated immediately, almost seamlessly with the ROCA, because of their common aversion for godless communism, and zealously set about buying or building new churches and establishing vibrant parishes.
The Soviet government continued to infiltrate the parishes of the Church Abroad and made many attempts to get them to accept and submit to their own “Moscow Patriarchate”. Practically all of these attempts resulted in nothing more than scandals and remained fruitless. The vast majority of these “second wave” immigrants remained very resistant to Soviet propaganda, having experienced the fruits of it first hand. The isolation of the Soviet Union and its MP during the cold war years helped to preserve the ROCA for two generations. Eventually, the Soviet Union was exhausted by its own absurdity and collapsed. Ironically, the MP stayed totally intact as the only remaining thoroughly Soviet institution.
As the iron curtain was lifted, a vast number of new immigrants, refered to as the “third wave”, began flooding into the ROCA parishes from the Soviet Union. Naturally, they knew nothing about the Church, having grown up as the third and fourth generation in the USSR where no Orthodox literature had ever been available and even MP church attendance had still been vigorously discouraged. But tragically, and this was of crucial importance, they were completely ignorant of the origin and true nature of the MP. Naturally, they assumed that the MP was the actual Russian Orthodox Church, as it was presented by the Soviet government, and that the ROCA was simply the extension of the MP abroad.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Most of them had no idea that the Russian Orthodox Church, whether Abroad or in Catacombs, was not in communion with the MP group. Most of them had never even heard of the Catacomb Church. Unfortunately very few of them, and by then, few even of the ROCA knew that the MP was not the Russian Orthodox Church but a department of the Soviet government that originated from a schismatic group of bishops that joined themselves to the godless Soviet government and were eventually made into a Patriarchate by the Soviet government and subsequently greatly expanded and groomed by the Soviet government for their own ends.
But nonetheless, due in part to the sheer numbers of these new immigrants in ROCA parishes, but mostly because of the spirit of worldliness and spiritual laxness in many, a new kind of thinking began to take root in many ROCA members and parishes. This was accompanied and supported by an enormous propaganda effort on the part of the MP. The result was that a new and erroneous concept of the Church began to appear in the ROCA. The spirit of worldliness began to prevail among many in the ROCA, regardless of their rank or position in the Church.
The Church began to be viewed much more as a worldly political organization rather than the mystical Body of Christ and the indivisible vessel of the Holy Spirit. Forgotten were the words of Christ to His followers when he said, “You are not of the world, as I am not of the world. I have chosen you out of the world. The world will hate you as it hated Me. But be brave, little flock, for I have vanquished the world”.
As the worldly spirit, the spirit of the Antichrist, began to creep into to hearts and minds of the members of ROCA including some of the clergy and hierarchs, they began to view the Church more and more as a corporation engaged in the business of building churches, ordaining priests and “servicing the religious needs of the people”, as the MP actually put it. This corporation could now enter into negotiations and consider mergers with other such corporations. As a worldly corporation, the church now derived its validity from its acceptance and endorsement by the world, not so much by unbroken Apostolic succession or adherence to traditional pure Orthodox Christian doctrine and practice. Any corporation aquires respect and validity in the eyes of the world, based mostly on how large it is and how long it’s been in business.
But the actual Church of Christ is not a worldly corporation. The Church is very special, unique, otherworldly, absolutely precious and very exclusive. It is exclusive because it is very different from the world and its members, albeit in the world, are not of the world. The Church is spiritually invincible, no matter how small the Church becomes by the time of the Antichrist. This invincibility was promised to it by Christ Himself when He said, “I will build My Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it”. And membership in the Church is extremely precious. It’s compared by Christ to the pearl of great price that the merchant found in the field and then sold everything he had so that he could buy that field. But that membership can be very fragile and can be lost very easily.
When Christ was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, apostle Peter followed Him into the property of Kaifa, the high priest, to see how it would turn out. One of the servants thought she recognized Peter as one of the followers of Christ and she said to him, “aren’t you one of them?” Apostle Peter swore that he wasn’t and that he doesn’t even know Christ. At that moment Peter lost his rank of Apostle and ceased even to belong to Christ (he wasn’t exactly a member of the Church yet because the Church only came into existence fifty-three days later). On two more occasions that night, when she questioned him, he denied being “one of them”.
After His Resurrection, Jesus needed to reinstate Peter three times, once for each of Peter’s denials that he was “one of them”.
Similarly, the Soviet government demanded from all the bishops and clergy of the Russian Church, “Are you with us or are you with them?” The bishops that signed the Declaration of Met. Sergius declared that they were with the godless government and not “with them”, not with the Church that was under arrest and was being crucified.
To this day they have not been reinstated into the Church to say nothing of their rank of bishop, successor of the apostles. Naturally, the Apostolic succession in the group of bishops that followed Met. Sergius into schism with the Russian Church was severed at the time of their schism from the Russian Church in 1927. The fact that many of them were also killed by the godless government that they had joined, does not make them martyrs for Christ. They had already denied Christ and His Church and joined with the godless government to save their lives and, ostensibly to “save the Church”. When they were of no more use to the godless government, they killed many of them, as they killed all their collaborators who had outlived their usefulness.
Now the MP is teaching that over eighty percent of those who they call the new martyrs belonged to the group that followed Met. Sergius and joined the godless government. They’re still denying the martyrdom of most of the real martyrs who were put to death (with their help) because the martyrs did not deny Christ and remained faithful to His Church. They are replacing them with their own martyrs, individuals who denied Christ and His Church to join the godless government only to become victims of that same government. This is all to further create the impression that they really are the Russian Church that emerged from the persecutions with their own host of martyrs.
This is a total falsehood. The MP is not the real Russian Orthodox Church. This is, as it always was, only propaganda and disinformation propagated by the godless Soviet government. They are an uncanonical, schismatic group founded on falsehoods and deception that usurped power in the Russian Church and consolidated and developed that power only by force and by brutal repression. The Russian Church Abroad was always well aware of this and so every effort to get the ROCA to “join the MP” remained unsuccessful. The phrase “join the MP” was dropped and in its place new language began to be introduced to help the deception become accepted.
“Reunite the Russian Orthodox Church” became the new slogan. This had definite advantages over the previous language. First of all, it finally granted the MP, a priori, that elusive status of a legitimate, canonical Church. Second, the MP became de facto the “other part of the Russian Church” separated from the Church Abroad only by “historical circumstances”. Those “historical circumstances” then turned out to be nothing more than the iron curtain, erected by the Soviet regime. When the iron curtain was removed and the Soviet regime was reorganized and renamed, clearly there were no more obstacles to the “reunification” of the Russian Church.
This new deception was not accepted by the majority of the Russian Church Abroad. Many voices rose up in protest demanding that the real reasons and causes of the schism with the MP be addressed. Some of these reasons were dismissed out of hand by the Church administrations as trivial and of no consequence. The issue of “Sergianism” and the MP’s vigorous participation in the World Council of Churches seemed to remain.
The MP then simply declared that Sergianism was irrelevant because it was all in the past and, as far as their participation in the WCC was concerned, well, they really were there only to witness Orthodoxy. This was perfectly clear and acceptable to some in the ROCA but completely unacceptable to many others. The ROCA by then was becoming increasingly polarized into three factions: ones who were in favor of immediate union with the MP, ones who were completely opposed to union, especially under current conditions, and a third group that just wasn’t sure. The pro union group (PU) began to claim that the MP had renounced Sergianism and were obviously not ecumenists but rather witnesses of Orthodoxy. The contra union group (CU) insisted on a clear renunciation of Sergianism by the MP and their complete withdrawal from the WCC.
These objections were not a problem for the Church administrations because they now had a completely new concept of the Church. They would negotiate the differences between the two Churches, make the necessary compromises, which are the essence of any negotiation, and arrive at a new, mutually acceptable truth. That was, at least, the plan. Both sides agreed to form negotiating committees and proceed as soon as possible. To make sure the negotiations proceeded smoothly and successfully, the ROCA team was carefully selected by the instigators of the union to consist mainly of pro union (PU) personnel, with the probable exception of one or two contra members who could be relied on not to create any awkward moments and derail the negotiations.
The rules, under which the negotiations were to proceed, were laid down from the outset by the MP. The past, and nothing in the past was to be discussed. “Sergianism” was off limits and the name of Met. Sergius was not to be mentioned.
Having solved the problem of “Sergianism” in this way, the committees could now proceed to address the real issues of administration that needed to be resolved, or rather, that needed to be explained to the ROCA. The ROCA negotiating team got the gist of it right away but they had considerable difficulty explaining it to the rest of the Church, that couldn’t seem to understand that the MP renounced Sergianism. So much so, in fact, that the MP didn’t even want to talk about it.
The contra union (CU) people still weren’t buying it.
The ROCA team then returned to the negotiating table with much hand wringing and asked the MP if they could possibly state something a little stronger concerning the “S” word. Some of their more challenged brethren weren’t getting it still. The MP commission then demonstrated their great patience and condescension. They conceded that “The state must not interfere in the inner structure, administration or life of the Church”. That would be rather difficult in the case of the MP, considering the state still owns, literally owns the entire MP, body and soul, down to the last brick and kamilavka. The MP also assures us that, “The Church must support all good initiatives of the state, but must resist evil, immorality and harmful social phenomena…” That’s exactly what Met. Sergius did. He completely supported all good initiatives of the state, (as defined by the state, of course), and he vigorously resisted the evil and harmful social phenomena that consisted mainly of all those unrepentant enemies of the state, mostly the bishops and clergy that did not support him.
And finally, to completely assuage the doubts of the most apprehensive, the MP clearly stated that the Church should always firmly confess the Truth, and that, “when persecutions commence, to continue to openly witness the faith and be prepared to follow the path of confessors and martyrs for Christ”. Such beautiful words. Met. Sergius, the founder of the MP, could not have agreed more. He also clearly stated that there was absolutely no persecution of the Church in Russia. Of course if there had commenced persecutions for Christ and His Church, Met. Sergius would undoubtedly have been the first to follow that path of confessors and martyrs for Christ. As it turned out, though, according to Met. Sergius and his MP, there weren’t any persecutions of the Church then and only enemies of the state were being dealt with.
So did the MP renounce Sergianism?
They will not even discuss it or even permit to mention the name of Met. Sergius. Sergianism is buried in the past, they said, and quite irrelevant today.
In a manner of speaking they are right. Sergianism, as understood by most people today is a betrayal of the Church, usurpation of Church authority and a hypocritical subservience to a godless government. That did occur in the past, quite right. That is how the MP was born. But what was born was a spiritual monster, a baby Antichrist church.
Born of the denial of Christ, baptized in the spirit of Satan, this church grew and developed on a steady diet of lies and deceit and has matured into a ravenous spiritual predator with a world-wide appetite. ROCA is not dealing with simply the issues of “Sergianism” or “Ecumenism” in the MP anymore, those are only symptoms of the spiritual condition of the MP. Besides, the MP is right, it really is too late for that now. It was a little naïve of ROCA to think they could “negotiate” with the MP. ROCA is up against a bona fide Antichrist church. In the spirit of Antichrist, it lures its prey with illusions and deceit. It even tries to panic its prey into submission.
These are the three great illusions and deceptions of the MP:
First, the MP is trying to deceive everyone that they really are the Russian Orthodox Church.
Second, that the current MP Patriarch is a bona fide ROC Patriarch and the current MP administration is the bona fide Higher Church Administration of the ROC, continuous with that of Patriarch Tikhon.
And third, they are trying to panic ROCA into believing that ROCA’s canonical foundation is about to “expire” unless the ROCA immediately “reunites” with the MP, or actually, submits to the MP.
The third illusion depends on the second, and the second illusion depends on the first.
Having become aquainted with some well documented historical facts, as outlined above, which the MP understandably refuses to discuss, it’s all too clear that the MP is not the real Russian Orthodox Church and that the MP Patriarch is not the real ROC Patriarch. It is just as clear that the current MP church administration is certainly not the Higher Church Administration mentioned by Patriarch Tikhon in his Ukase No. 362. Where does this amazing notion of ROCA’s canonical foundation “expiring” come from then? Reverse logic confirmation of the MP as the legitimate HCA of the ROC.
Ukase No. 362 of Patriarch Tikhon, which provides the canonical basis for the ROCA, contains 10 paragraphs. Paragraphs 2, 5 and 10 have a direct bearing on this question:
Paragraph 2 essentially states that if a diocese is out of contact with the Higher Church Administration (HCA), or if the HCA, headed by Patriarch Tikhon, for any reason whatsoever ceases its activity, the diocesan bishops should form a temporary Higher Church government.
Paragraph 5 states that if the conditions in par. 2 become protracted or even permanent, the diocesan bishops must institute new episcopal Sees with the rights of semi-independent or independent bishops.
Paragraph 10 states that all measures taken in places in accordance with the present instruction, afterwards, in the event of the restoration of the central ecclesiastical authority, must be subject to the latter.
With regard to par. 2, the ROCA bishops were abroad and definitely out of contact with the HCA of Patriarch Tikhon. The HCA of Pat. Tikhon ceased its activity because Pat. Tikhon died and all the other members of his HCA were arrested or killed. So the ROCA bishops formed a Higher Church government.
With regard to par 5, the conditions above did become protracted and the ROCA bishops did institute new Sees with independent rights.
With regard to par. 10, the central ecclesiastical authority, refered to by Pat. Tikhon, has not been restored to date and consequently the condition refered to in par. 2 has become permanent as has the independent authority and canonical foundation of the ROCA in accordance with par. 5 of the Ukase.
The notion that ROCA’s canonical basis is about to expire is an indirect attempt to establish a priori the MP as the real ROC and its Patriarch as the legitimate ROC Patriarch, just like Patriarch Tikhon was. The underlying false assumption is that the MP Patriarch and his Synod are the same Higher Church Administration that Pat. Tikhon referred to in his Ukase No. 362 and that the Central Ecclesiastical Authority of the genuine Russian Orthodox Church has been somehow restored in the MP and therefore, the ROCA must now submit to this MP.
In reality there is nothing of the sort. This is only an attempt to cloud the issue and create a stampede of the ROCA into the hands of the MP.
Once again, everything depends on whether the MP is regarded as a forgery, created by demonic powers on the basis of deceit and rebellion against the ROC of Pat. Tikhon or as the genuine Russian Orthodox Church, rightful heir to the ROC of Pat. Tikhon. Some people believe the first and see joining in canonical communion with the MP as a betrayal of Christ. Other people believe the second and build their arguments on that belief. Bullion logic excludes the middle position, of the MP as the legitimate ROC but its Higher Church Authority as illegitimate. Either the MP is legitimate or its not. It can’t be both.
What does all this mean?
It means that there are two parallel realities, two worlds co-existing here. One is the Kingdom of Christ, the Prince of Truth. The other is the kingdom of the prince of this world, the father of lies.
Christ has built His Church, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Satan is busy building his own church of the Antichrist.
When the Apostles asked Christ about the end times, He started by saying, “Do not be deceived, for many shall come in My Name and shall deceive many”. That is exactly the aim of Satan, to deceive as many as possible by building a church that resembles the Church of Christ in every possible way. But Christ said that fortunate are they who received the love of Truth in their hearts and also that His sheep know the sound of His voice and they will not follow a stranger’s voice. This idea of deliberate and intense deception in the Church is very prevalent in the Holy Gospel in connection with the end times before the appearance of the Antichrist.
Why will so many be deceived? Very simply because of their love of this sinful world. Christ warned that a person cannot serve God and Mammon (the world) at the same time.
The world, in this context, does not mean mankind or the beauty of nature. Quite on the contrary, Apostle John wrote that, “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”.
When Christ warns us about love for the world, He means the fallen world that lies in sin. The corrupt, the ambitious, the greedy, the envious world of pride and lust for power that runs on lies, deceit and flattery belongs to Satan, the prince of this world. The church of the Antichrist uses all that material for its construction. It is being built on a foundation of pride, constructed of lies and deception, cemented by laziness, timidness, carelessness, indifference, love of comfort and convenience and energized by lust for power and hatred for the Church of Christ.
The ROCA has always been as a lighthouse on the shore of a dark and stormy ocean of the world. Its purpose has been, and still is, to be a beacon of light and hope in a world overwhelmed by spiritual darkness and despair. It served as a compass and a direction for a world lost in the fog of compromise.
Its mandate has been to keep inviolate and pure the Holy Orthodox Faith and Tradition, free from any compromise with the spirit of the world. It was faithful to this calling and served it well by remaining separate from the world. You cannot save a man drowning in quicksand by climbing in after him. You must remain on firm ground and extend your hand or a stick out to him. But to save him you must remain on solid ground yourself.
There is no question that the Russian people are in great spiritual need. This is exactly the reason why ROCA needs to exist and cannot afford to self-destruct now. ROCA has not carried the precious pearl of pure, genuine Orthodoxy all these years in very challenging conditions only to throw it away now, when the goal is almost in sight.
Orthodox Russia was built and developed into a great Orthodox empire on the principle that “God is in not in might but in truth”. The Soviet government tried to substitute might for truth, and so its might crumbled. Now it’s more desperate than ever to gain acceptance and respect in the eyes of other nations. They wish to “join the league of civilized nations” as they put it themselves.
That is why now, more than ever, they need to acquire the ROCA by hook or by crook, not only to silence “the witness that got away” but to reinforce the illusion of direct and legitimate historical continuity of the modern day “Russian Federation” with traditional pre-revolutionary Russia that ROCA represents to them. This new self-image and vision of the Soviet government has naturally been extended to its MP department. Once the MP acquires the ROCA, all questions of its legitimacy as the Russian Orthodox Church and the heir to Patriarch Tikhon will finally be put to rest. Unfortunately so will all hopes of a spiritual resurrection in Russia. The MP has never given the Russian people any spiritual nourishment and it never will. Not because it refuses to but because it can’t. The MP is not a spiritual entity but only a political one.
The Russian people are depending on the ROCA to be there when they will be ready for what ROCA has to offer. The Russian people have been under a deluge of lies and propaganda for decades. They are completely drenched. They are now only beginning to dry out. When they dry out, ROCA will need to bring back the little flame of the true Orthodox Church that it carried out at the time of the revolution. That little flame must not be allowed to go out by putting it out into the rain of lies that is the MP. It must be guarded carefully so it can start a proper fire when it’s time. That can only happen when the firewood is sufficiently dry and ready to catch fire. Otherwise, the still wet logs will not catch and the showers will extinguish the little flame.
The godless regime in Russia did not collapse after a few years, as was expected by many, and ROCA found itself dispersed, by the providence of God, throughout most of the world. And so now ROCA’s responsibility is not only to the people of Russia but to all those who seek the Kingdom of Heaven the world over, regardless of race or nationality. Christ has many other sheep in other yards as well, that He needs to bring into His flock.
And that is why now, more than ever, ROCA needs to continue to live and to remain absolutely steadfast in its witness of Holy Orthodoxy and absolutely resist the spirit of this world that is trying to take it over and make it join the church of the Antichrist.
Nothing written here is really new. It has all been written many times before, and undoubtedly will be written many times again.
Every one decides for themselves based on what is in their heart. Pray, like you’ve never prayed before, that God grant you the love of nothing but the Truth in your heart, at any cost. If you are fortunate to receive such a love of Truth, then be prepared to pay the price for it. The price is going to be very high, but it will be worth it many, many times over. You will be one of those fortunate few who will escape the delusions of the antichrist and live forever with Christ.