St Theophan the Recluse from The Path to Salvation

Chapter Five.

The Special Actions of Divine Grace

in Arousing Sinners from the Slumber of Sin.

For those living a grace-filled life, it is encouraging to know these actions so that when they see the many troubles and cares that God takes over sinners, they glorify the unspeakable divine grace and are inspired by the trustworthy help from above in every good deed. For those seeking divine love and mercy, it is especially necessary to know them, because the characteristics of arousal by grace are more clearly expressed here than elsewhere. We must

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2016-11-25 01? 15 Sida 100 av 379 be well aware of and familiar with these characteristics so we may determine whether the arousal we are experiencing comes from grace. If someone is already in the process, we may determine whether he is acting through the arousal by or through self-made enthusiasm.

The true Christian life is one of grace. The self-made life, no matter how beautiful it is in appearance or how close it is to the form of Christian life, will never be Christian. The origin of the Christian life is in arousal by grace. A person who has heeded this arousal is not then deprived of guidance by grace and communion with it at all times, as it persists through proper attention to it. That is why it is necessary to determine correctly for oneself whether an arousal by grace is taking place or has taken place. In satisfying this requirement, the following may be said: Judge yourself by the characteristics of arousal by grace which are revealed in special situations. While these characteristics are the same in both special and ordinary situations, they are revealed more clearly, definitively and distinctively only in the former.

As already indicated, during this arousal of grace, the destruction of the entire established order of self-pleasing sinful life is carried out instantaneously in the presence of the consciousness. In its place is revealed another superior divine way, the only true and satisfying one. One may briefly depict this way as follows: God, in the Holy Trinity that is worshipped, Who has created the world and takes trouble over it, saves us, the fallen, in the Lord Jesus Christ, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, under the direction and guidance of the Holy Church, and through one’s life here of trials and bearing the cross, which leads to eternal, unending bliss in the future life. He combines persons,

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2016-11-25 01? 15 Sida 101 av 379 events, places, and the causes themselves through which everything is set in motion.

This divine way in its entirety is vividly impressed on the spirit of the sinner through the action of grace. By presenting the striking contrast of the sinner’s own attitudes and everything that he previously lived and enjoyed to this divine way, he is then obliged to be in complete agreement and concordance with it. This overwhelms him. Each aspect of the divine way issues an accusation and reproach to the sinner concerning his previous folly and carelessness, which makes an even greater impression, because at the same time the spirit sees the miserable insignificance of its former sinful way of life. Under such action, the heart is loosed from its former bonds and becomes free, and that is why it freely selects the new way of life. This is how arousal by grace operates. It destroys everything in the consciousness and emotion that is old and bad, and vividly presents only the new and good. It leaves the person in this situation overwhelmed, free to choose the new life or to turn back to the previous one.

It is worth noting that the arousal by grace is always accompanied by this feeling of being overwhelmed and a sort of fear. This may be because it is sudden, as if by surprise. It seizes the sinner at the crossroads of life like a criminal and presents him before the inescapable divine judgment. Or it may be because it is a new way of life, revealed to the consciousness in a completely new way that is a striking contrast to the old one. It is not just new, but also perfect in all parts, bringing happiness; whereas in the previous, miserable way of life, there was only heaviness of heart and going around in circles for the spirit.

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2016-11-25 01? 15 Sida 102 av 379 All the same, the starting point of all the good actions of arousal by grace is a clear consciousness of a new divine way. Proceeding from this understanding, we bring to mind all past experiences of this action of grace. The consciousness of the new way of being and life comes about in two ways: a) sometimes this very way, in its entirety or in part, is introduced visibly and through the senses through the act itself to the sinner it is being bestowed upon; b) at other times, the spirit of the person is led into it and perceives it internally.

I. Introduction of the Divine Way through Visible Means and Through the Senses.

The merciful Lord reveals to the consciousness of one who has turned to Him the divine world in which the spirit is meant to live by various means. Frequently, He Himself is revealed visibly, taking on some sort of form and appearing to a human being who is awake or asleep. Thus did He appear to the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus, to Constantine the Great, to the Great Martyr Eustathius Placidas (September 20), to Neanias who was on his way to torture Christians (this is the Great Martyr Procopius, July 8), to Patermuthius in his sleep (July 9), and to many others.

Sometimes He has the kindness to send various persons from the other world, also in wakefulness or in a dream, in their own form or some other form. Thus, the Mother of God has appeared many times, either alone or with the Pre-eternal Child, or with an entourage of saints consisting of one, two or many. The Great Martyr Catherine, for example,

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2016-11-25 01? 15 Sida 103 av 379 was converted by the appearance to her in her sleep of the Mother of God with the Pre-eternal Child, who gave her a betrothal ring (November 24). Angels have appeared many times, either singly or in assembly. For example, an army of Holy Angels appeared to St. Andrew the Fool-for-Christ, in opposition to a horde of dark forces (October 2). Saints have appeared many times; for example, Bishop Mitrophan appeared to a Lutheran doctor, a sick girl, and others.

Sometimes the other world, and especially its orders and principalities, is portrayed to the ignorant mind in some sort of striking form, as seen in the example of St. Andrew already cited, and in many others. In these cases, persons turning to God saw either blessed communities of the righteous, as appeared to the Indian king and his brother after the king had given Apostle Thomas money to build a palace, which he gave to the poor (October 6); 0rthe horrible tortures of sinners, as appeared to Hesychius the Horebite (October 3); or the carrying out of the judgment at death, as happened to Peter the Tax Collector, who threw a piece of bread in the face of a beggar (September 22); or pondering on death and one’s fate afterward was impressed, as was the case with Ioasaph, the prince (November 19), St. Clement (November 25), and a debauched youth, whose father vowed to visit the room where he lay dying every night after his death.

Sometimes one is allowed to experience tangibly some invisible force among the visible forces and phenomena. It is an actual force, but strikingly different from the latter, and coming from the other world. Generally speaking, in this category are included all miracles, whose role in conversions is impossible to calculate. Even the Saviour

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2016-11-25 01? 15 Sida 104 av 379 said unbelievers could not be convinced without signs (cf. Jn. 4:48). The greater number of these were manifested after Christ the Saviour, in the early times of Christianity through the Apostles, and later, the holy martyrs. The striking presence of the invisible divine power on earth often converted entire villages and towns, but was never entirely incorporeal. Indeed, the blood of the martyrs lies at the foundation of the Church. There were also those instances where the divine power itself was manifested, without a human agent, as during the conversion of St. Mary of Egypt, or through the medium of holy things, icons, relics, etc. Thus the Jews in Beirut were converted through the miraculous manifestation at the icon of the Lord’s Crucifixion.

In all such manifestations, the mind, confused by various objects and seductions of the world and hopelessly caught in the visible, sensible, external order, is confronted with the striking, unexpected and sudden appearance to it of higher beings and powers from the invisible realm. It suddenly bursts from its bonds and is pressed into the other way of being and life and, overcome, becomes established in it. This also happens during the excitation of electricity in a body by the electricity of another body. The latter forces it from the bonds of matter, and after attracting it toward the surface, keeps it to itself.

2. The Spirit Is Led into the Divine Way and Perceives it Internally.

The spirit, as we have seen, is closed up and bound by

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2016-11-25 01? 15 Sida 105 av 379 many layers. But by its nature, it is the perceiver of the divine way. Its aptitude for this is ready to appear immediately, and indeed manifests its power as soon as the obstacles holding it back are removed. Thus, for arousal of the slumbering spirit within man and the leading of it to contemplation of the divine way, divine grace either 1) directly acts upon it, and, in carrying out its power, gives the opportunity to break the bonds that hold it, or 2) indirectly acts on it, shaking the layers and meshes off of it and thereby giving it the freedom to assume its rightful position.

Divine Grace Acting Directly on the Spirit of Man.

The divine grace that is everywhere-present and fills all things directly inspires the spirit of man, impressing thoughts and feelings upon it that turn it away from all finite things and toward another better, albeit invisible and mysterious world. The general characteristic of such arousals is dissatisfaction with oneself and everything pertaining to oneself, and anguish over something. The person is not satisfied by anything around him; not by his accomplishments or possessions, even if he has incalculable wealth; and he walks around as if heart-broken. Because he finds no consolation in visible things, he turns to the invisible, and receives it with a readiness to acquire it for himself sincerely and to give himself over to it.

Many who have asked the question, “What does all this end with and where does it lead?” have left everything and changed not only their feelings and behavior, but also their

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2016-11-25 01? 15 Sida 106 av 379 way of life. There have been instances where such dissatisfaction was expressed primarily in the intellectual aspect, as with Justin Martyr, who primarily sought the light of knowledge of the Divine Essence. Sometimes the dissatisfaction is expressed in the appetitive aspect, as with Blessed Augustine, who primarily sought peace for his troubled heart. Sometimes, perhaps most often, the dissatisfaction is expressed in the incensive aspect, in the conscience, as with the robbers Moses and David of Hermopolis. There have been numerous cases where the inner abode of the spirit was suddenly illumined, and an inclination was instilled that turned the spirit onto another path. Thou … canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth, the Saviour said about this (Jn. 3:8).

Often the spirit is awakened by a past memory. Mary, the niece of Abraham the Recluse, was converted in this way; so was a disciple of St. John the Apostle, who was perishing in dissolution, and also St. Theophilus the Penitant, the church steward. From somewhere something enters within and the voice of the conscience distinctly utters: “Remember from where you have fallen,” which totally overwhelms the person who has forgotten. One may attribute all conversions after youthful falls to this. There is no doubt that even these changes are prepared by divine economy in a roundabout way through various events which dispose one to accept the action of grace. That is why here, too, the spontaneity of the conversion is only relative. On the other hand, it is also necessary to know that every arousal by grace is revealed in inclinations similar to these and in awakenings of our spirit. Grace, though it be through a visible medium, is nonetheless always invisible and directly touches the spirit and draws it from the bonds

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2016-11-25 01? 15 Sida 107 av 379 that torment it into the divine light, into the realm of divine life.

Divine Grace Acting Indirectly on the Spirit of Man.

All means pertaining to this category are directed toward breaking spiritual bonds. Give the spirit freedom, and it will of its own accord start running toward that from which it comes, toward God. Spiritual bonds, as we saw, are interconnected, being composed of: 1) self-indulgence, 2) the world, 3) the devil. The destructive actions of grace when it awakens the spirit are directed against these.

1) Self-indulgence. The bonds with the closest grip on the spirit are those of the comprehensive, dominating self-indulgence in our physical-mental aspect. These bonds are the point of contact for other bonds that come from the world and devil. That is why destroying them is so important, although doing so is very difficult and complicated. Because the nonbeliever lives entirely in the physical and mental, the bonds from this aspect expand and become variously and intricately interwoven to the full extent of the physical-mental life.

To understand how these bonds are broken, it is necessary to understand that that with which this life is affiliated, that which nourishes it, and that in which it chiefly expresses itself, constitutes a firm support for it. As the support becomes secure, this life becomes established and does not fear destruction or even contemplate it. For example, when someone gives himself up to art, worldliness, or even

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2016-11-25 01? 15 Sida 108 av 379 learning, and lives in it, he becomes dependent upon it and abides in it with all his strength, thoughts, and hopes. Because the entire self-indulgent life subsequently proceeds from this and binds the spirit, the support of self-indulgence naturally becomes a firm and strong foundation for the bonds that are imposed on the spirit, like a point to which these bonds are attached. Therefore, to reverse this and free the spirit from the bonds of self-indulgence, the divine arousing grace usually destroys the supports on which self-indulgent selfishness rests. After it has shaken the supports in the foundation, grace weakens the bonds and gives the tormented, weary spirit an opportunity to lift its head.

Our self-indulgence has many supports. It is indeed part of our nature; that is, in the body and soul, in our external life and our entire way of life in general. Such indulgence of the flesh comes in various forms. For example, there is sensuality, luxury, lustfulness, love of merrymaking, fondness for pleasure, trouble and care over everyday things, love of honor, love of power, perceptible success in one’s affairs, and prosperity. There is a desire to be outwardly attractive, have valuable connections, and be sophisticated in external relations. There is a fondness for the arts, learning, and ventures. All this in the various forms constitutes a firm support for our selfishness, which, with certainty in its reliability and solidity, calmly rests upon it and, being amply nourished, grows from day to day, in one way chiefly in one person, in another way in someone else.

By directing its power toward destruction of this support on which the sinner’s selfishness has established itself and rests, divine, salvific grace carries out the following to

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2016-11-25 01? 15 Sida 109 av 379 awaken the sinner from his slumber: He who is enslaved by pleasing the flesh shall fall ill, and, by weakening the flesh, shall give the spirit freedom and power to come to its senses and become sober. He who is preoccupied with his own attractiveness and strength shall be deprived of this attractiveness and kept in a state of utter exhaustion. He who finds refuge in his own power and strength shall be subject to slavery and humiliation. He who relies greatly on wealth shall have it taken from him. He who shows off great learnedness shall be put to shame. He who relies on solid personal connections shall have them cut off. He who counts on the permanence of the order established around him shall have it destroyed by the death of people he knows or the loss of essential material possessions. Is there anyway to sober up those kept in the bonds of indifference through outward happiness other than by sorrows and grief? Isn’t our life filled with misfortunes so that it may assist with the divine intention of keeping us sober?

Each destruction of the supports of indifferent self-indulgence constitutes a turning point in life, which, because it is always unexpected, operates in an overwhelming and salvific manner. The sense that one’s life is in danger operates strongest of all in this respect. This sense weakens all bonds and kills selfishness at the very root; the person does not know where to run. The sense of total abandonment is of the same character and special circumstance. Both senses leave a person alone with himself. From himself, the most miserable of creatures, he immediately turns to God.

2) The second bonds of the spirit are imposed from the world and lie closer to the surface than the first. The world,

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2016-11-25 01? 15 Sida 110 av 379 with its concepts, principles and rules, in general with its entire system made into immutable law, lays a heavy, authoritarian hand on each of its offspring. As a result, no one dares even to think of rebelling against it or renouncing its power. Everyone venerates it and adheres to its rules with such timidity. A violation of these rules is considered as a criminal act. The world is not a person, but its spirit in some way stands firm on the earth, influences us, and holds us as if with bonds. It is evident that its power is psychological and imaginative, not real or physical. Consequently, one has only to dispel this imaginative power of the world, and the opportunity for abstaining from its charms becomes more likely for us. That is how salvific divine economy operates in us.

It is with this purpose that it continually maintains two other sacred, divine worlds in the presence of the world and ourselves. Through them, divine economy constantly reiterates the emptiness of worldly life by calling it to our attention and allowing us to perceive it more keenly. The two divine worlds are visible nature and the divine Church. Experience shows how frequently the mind, obscured by worldly ways, becomes sober through contemplation of divine creation or by entering the Church. For example, a man standing at a window and looking at a tree in the winter came to his senses. Another man, after a disturbing conversation, and having sensed the sweetness of peace of mind in a church, abandoned his former ways and dedicated himself to the service of God.

Visible nature and the temple of God have not only often brought sense and sobriety to indifferent and sinful Christians, but have converted even pagans to true worship

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2016-11-25 01? 15 Sida 111 av 379 of God and devotion to Him. The word Hosanna fell on the heart of one woman and made her a Christian. The conversion of our forbears was decisively confirmed by the action of the Church on them. The contemplation of the beauties of the visible creation of God converted the Great Martyr Barbara from the flesh. Their power and influence come from the fact that they vividly and perceptibly offer the best, most blissful way of life for a spirit that is wearied, exhausted, fatigued and tortured by the vanity of the world. By suddenly infusing the spirit with the joy of such a life, they convince a person that by giving himself over to the dominion of this world, he only distresses and torments himself, that complete happiness is to be found in the other world, and that if cooperation with this world is so tormenting now, what is to be expected afterward?

The call to the divine world and the tearing away from the world of vanity is engendered by this process. Sometimes the process is in the form of a strong rupture, and sometimes it is gradual. But finally, nature and the Church completely wrench the human spirit from the bonds of the world. In this capacity, they dispel, dissipate, and oust the charms of the world of vanity with its many illusions. It is for this reason that the Lord places them in such relation with us, so they may act upon us all more often and unceasingly, presenting the contrast of one life with the other in the most striking fashion.

The second way of extrication from worldly bonds consists in having life presented through the grace of the Divine AllProvidencer to someone in a way completely contrary to that to which he is accustomed. All conversions by means of martyrdom, of which there are innumerable examples, are

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2016-11-25 01? 15 Sida 112 av 379 particularly relevant to this. Sometimes the feat of martyrdom of a single person has converted entire villages and towns. The presence of a moral power from another world unlike our own is evident here. Sometimes defeat seemed certain, but wasn’t; the one undergoing martyrdom remained invincible, of good cheer, oblivious to everything going on around him.

A sudden understanding of this contrary presentation of life strikes the mind and dispels within it the fascination of the present ways of one’s life. An example of this is the conversion of the robber by the Emperor Maurice, who, instead of punishing him, treated him kindly as if he were a man worthy of such treatment. Another is the conversion of a profligate woman, who was asked by another woman to pray for and return to life her only son who had died. Another profligate woman repented after sighting monks who were humbly occupied with prayer and godly thought, while she had been giving herself up to luxury and debauchery in the very same house.

All conversions by examples of life belong in this category. The power of action of these lies in the fact that one encounters satisfied, peaceful persons who do not have the pleasures or soothing items abundantly possessed by others who find neither satisfaction nor peace. From this comes disillusionment and a change of life.

The third way of withdrawing from the world is by disgracing it in front of its children. Julian [the Apostate] exalted himself above all; he fiercely rose up against the Christians and threatened to suppress them with all his might. But then he fell unexpectedly. This not only

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2016-11-25 01? 15 Sida 113 av 379 confirmed the believers, but many nonbelievers also converted to the true God. An entire village rose up against St. Macarius [the Great] because of false witness; it beat him, tortured him, inflicted punishment on him, and the world triumphed. But then the truth was revealed, disgraced everyone, and returned them to the reverence and fear of God. All instances of bringing people to their senses through the falls and unexpected death of the mighty and great of the world are in this category. The disgrace of the world diminishes it in front of its adherents, exposing its powerlessness. On the one hand, this turns them away from it; on the other hand, it gives them the courage to resist it.

Fourthly, it often happens that in the end, the world itself prods and drives one away from it seemingly of its own accord, because it does not satisfy expectations or it disappoints them. We seek happiness; but in the world there is only glory, honor, power, wealth, pleasure, none of which satisfies the seeker. The discriminating person soon notices the deception and comes to his senses. We see that many of the godly saints, after examining the vanity and confusion of the world, withdrew from it and resolutely devoted themselves to God. The Prodigal Son in the parable said, I perish with hunger (Lk. 15:17).

3) The third bonds of the spirit come from satan and his demons. They are invisible and coincide for the most part with the bonds of self-indulgence and the world, which satan strengthens with his influence, and through which he holds the mind in darkness. But there is something that comes directly from satan, a vague faintheartedness and fear which can confuse the soul of the sinner at any time, and especially when he thinks about the good. This is like

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2016-11-25 01? 15 Sida 114 av 379 when a master threatens his servant who has done something against his will or plans. From satan come various kinds of spiritual flattery. For example, some people have excessive, unfounded hope in divine mercy; this hope is not sober, but becomes more and more embedded in a love of sin. At the opposite end are people who have despair with doubt and disbelief. Such people are self-assured, and possess a self-righteousness that deadens any feeling of repentance.

Yes, there is very much that comes directly from satan, although it is difficult to pinpoint. But everything sinful must be attributed to him as the source, because he is the king of the sinful world. One of his cunning ruses is to conceal himself. That is, he gives sinners the assurance that he is not there, the consequence of which he acts willfully and with ferocity within the sinful soul. He composes and suggests sinful urges toward nature, disposing sinners to grumble about God, Who forbids what is ostensibly natural and Who decrees that their strength is not sufficient to endure it.

Divine grace, which brings a person to his senses, frequently snatches sinners from the jaws of the hell of satanic disgrace. It has exposed satan to shame and subjected him to derision, revealing his powerlessness and folly, and unmasking his guile. Thus was he shamed in the person of Simon the Magus, St. Cyprian of Antioch and many others. All such instances were j accompanied by the conversion and enlightenment of many who were blind. In the days of the Lord on earth, demons, the source of disbelief and doubt, became prophets of faith. And the holy martyrs, through the power of All-Mighty God, often forced

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2016-11-25 01? 15 Sida 115 av 379 both the father and children of lies to speak the truth through statues.

This discovery of the crafty one’s intrigues leads a sinner to 1 the certainty that he is in malicious, hostile hands, that he is being duped into harming himself that he is being deceitfully j led down some gloomy path toward destruction, and that the demons want to rejoice in this. This inevitably engenders a sense j of fear for one’s own well-being, caution, suspicion, an aversion to the sly one and his inventions, the vices and passions, and to I one’s entire former life. From here it is a close transition to the Source of truth, good, and bliss: that is, to God.

3. The Word of God Replaces All Methods Shown.

These, then, are the ways and means by which divine grace acts on the human spirit, extricates it from its unnatural bonds, and brings it face to face with another, better life in which there is joy and peace. It is obvious, however, that all these ways and means are in and of themselves incomplete, as if something were being held back. For example, if the thirst for something better has been engendered, where is this something better and how may it be attained? Or if someone has been struck by the fear of death and judgment, what should he do to rid himself of misfortune?

It is the same with all other instances, too. They are not obvious. An additional method for realization must be applied to everything. That method is preaching the Word. Indeed, the Word of God in its various forms supplements

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2016-11-25 01? 15 Sida 116 av 379 all the methods shown, clarifying them and indicating their ultimate goal. Without this Word, the methods still leave a person in a somewhat uncertain condition, and therefore do not accomplish everything they are supposed to. The Apostle Paul was enlightened by a heavenly phenomenon. But the Lord did not accomplish everything in him here, and said, “Go to Ananias and he will tell you what to do.” Justin Martyr, the Great Martyr Barbara, and loasaph the Prince saw falsehood, but in order to know the truth, they needed special guides and interpreters. That is why the following is set out by the Lord Providencer as law: God commandeth all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:17). This word from the Apostles is proclaimed now throughout all ends of earth through their successors.

Here it is essential to proclaim the story of the universal, divine way of salvation, to tell of well-known persons and places to which one who has been aroused should turn for interpretation, so he will not waste that arousal or stray off course from it, wasting time and energy fruitlessly. Catechistic teaching must be heard unceasingly, and indeed, is heard, in Church. True believers will become established more firmly through it, whereas the fallen and the aroused will have an immediate, true guidebook. How vitally important is the duty of priests to proclaim God’s salvific ways at any time, without an overreliance on presupposed general knowledge!

The Word of God, however, not only enhances all the methods shown; it can also replace them. It arouses more fully and distinctly. Through its affinity with the spirit, which also comes from God, it passes inwardly, to the division of

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2016-11-25 01? 15 Sida 117 av 379 soul and spirit. It enlivens the latter, and inseminates it so that acts of the spiritual life may come to fruition (that is why the Word is also called seed). The arousing force of it is the more significant in that it acts at once on the entire person, on his entire being: his body, soul, and spirit. Sound, or the audible component of the Word, strikes the hearing, and a thought occupies the soul. The invisible energy concealed inside this thought touches the soul, which, if it is attentive, after the Word has safely passed the rough barriers of body and soul, becomes aroused, and, by exerting effort, it bursts the bonds that hold it.

The Word of God arouses through the methods shown; that is, either by a very vivid demonstration of the divine way to the consciousness, or by conveyance of the spirit into the consciousness through destruction of the obstacles that impede it. For example, an elderly servant said in simplicity to his ailing master, “No matter how much you struggle, papa, death will still come,” and by this he aroused him to repentance. Another person read the following beneath a depiction of the crucified Lord: “Here is what I have done for you; what have you done for me?” and he awoke from his slumber. St. Pelagia heard about death, judgment, and the bitter lot of sinners, and left her sinful life. Prince Vladimir, Equal-to-the-Apostles, was converted by a description of the entire divine way, beginning from the creation of the world to the end of all things, the dread judgment, and the eternal fate of the righteous and the evil.

What is more, the preaching of the holy Apostles, those who followed them and all preachers of the Gospel in general has consisted of a simple presentation of the truth, without any philosophizing. St. Paul the Apostle says of himself that

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2016-11-25 01? 15 Sida 118 av 379 his speech and preaching were not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in the simple telling of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who was crucified on the Cross (cf. I Corinthians 2:2-4). One could say that this is the most natural method of action through the Word: to depict the truth as it is, not cluttering it with intellectual concepts and especially speculation about probabilities.

Truth is akin to the spirit. When it is uttered simply and sincerely, truth finds the spirit. When it is surrounded by images and is figurative and embellished, it remains in the imagination. When it is encumbered with concepts and arguments, it is detained in the intellect or soul, not reaching the spirit, which is left empty. One could say that all unfruitful preaching is on account of the intellectualizing that fills it. Just explain the truth in a simple way; say what it is, and the spirit will be overcome. A Jew was reading the Gospel and was converted, because he saw the truth in a simple Gospel story. In general, the majority of free-thinkers were converted through a clear consciousness of divine things, by the instruction of the Word of God, living or written. The truth dispels the gloom of vain thoughts, refreshes the soul, enlightens the spirit. One could with great benefit make more often, in general conversation, a brief examination of how everything began, how it will end, and why.

On the other hand, the spirit’s barriers are often overcome by the power of the Word, and it is given freedom. Thus, St. Anthony the Great heard about the insignificance of earthly joys and left everything. A certain youth heard the parable of the Prodigal Son and he himself repented. Many married saints have turned their spouses toward a blameless, pure

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2016-11-25 01? 15 Sida 119 av 379 life through a depiction of worldly vanity.

In general, the presentation of the divine way, on the one hand, is a revelation of various wonders, and on the other hand, fills the spirit with the fullness of the understanding of salvation, or with a clear and persuasive knowledge of the path of salvation, against which the stubbornness of the heart resists only rarely. If very many people do not act with the proper urgency, but instead remain in slumber and unconcern, it is because they do not know the truths of salvation, or know them incompletely. The fullness of knowledge is triumphant, for then there is no place for the cunning heart to hide.

By virtue of its comprehensive general suitability for awakening sinners, the Word of God goes throughout the world and reaches our ears in various forms. It is heard unceasingly in churches at every divine service, and outside churches in every religious ceremony. It is heard in the sermons of the Fathers and in every enlightening book. It is heard in wholesome discussions and in popular, edifying sayings. It is in schools, pictures, and every visible object that represents spiritual truths. Judging by this, we are surrounded by the Word of God and filled with it from all sides. From everywhere the trumpet sounds come to us for the destruction of the strongholds of sin, as for the walls of Jericho. The Word of God has already shown and continually shows its triumphant power over the human heart. It is necessary only to take care that the paths by which the Word of God is disseminated are maintained without interruption, so that true preaching does not cease, divine worship is fulfilled according to rite and in an edifying manner, iconography is uplifting and pious, and the

http://www.holytrinitymission.org/books/english/salvation_theofan.htm

2016-11-25 01? 15 Sida 120 av 379 singing is sober, simple, and reverent. The fulfillment of this is the responsibility of those who serve at the altars. That is why they are the most necessary and powerful weapons for the conversion of sinners in the hands of divine Providence. It is necessary for them to acknowledge this and speak out not just in churches, but also in homes, using every opportunity both to describe the divine world, and to expose the seduction of our soul by the illusions of the mind and body.

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MUST WE OBEY WHEN OUR SPIRITUAL FATHER DOES NOT UPHOLD THE ORTHODOX WAY OF LIFE?

        What does our ecclesiastical past teach us on the matter of obedience to our spiritual Father when dealing with a matter of Faith, whether of a dogmatic nature or related to the holy Canons? Do we owe our spiritual Father indiscriminate obedience when he opposes the Tradition of the Church or do we not?  Do we carry the stigma of “disobedience” before God, or are we ‘covered’, by remaining obedient to Christ in accordance with the infallible Tradition of the Church? It is these questions that we shall attempt to answer in this article.

0. Introduction
1. Our Spiritual Father must be the best possible choice in every sense
2. Since the Spiritual Father is “in type and in place of Christ”, he cannot accept heresies
3. Indifference or silence on matters of heresy on the part of the Spiritual Father is forbidden
4. What the Holy Bible says about praiseworthy disobedience
5. According to the holy Canons, the Monk must move away from obedience to a heretical Hegumen
6. Saint John the Chrysostom recommends disobedience to cacodox ecclesiastical leaders
7. The “Ladder” clarifies that the Monk who is humble may gainsay the Leaders in matters of Faith
8. The exemplar model example of Saint Gregory of Decapolis
9. The teaching of Saint Symeon the New Theologian
10. Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov in favour of cautious obedience

 

0. Introduction

       As regards issues of Faith, the matter of obedience to one’s Spiritual Father (a particularly delicate subject, unknown to many) is contained in the more general subject of obedience to one’s Bishop; for the relationship between the Spiritual Father – Confessor and the faithful Christian is impossible to be considered independently of that of the faithful Christian with the Ecclesiastical Community’s Bishop; a Spiritual Father does not guide the faithful Christians by means of a personal law that relies on his Priesthood but by means of a written warrant by the local Bishop, as determined by in the way that the holy Canons define; and more evidently per the 50th (46) Canon of the Holy Local Synod of Carthage[1]. Thus, whatever has already been mentioned in previous articles on the subject of the Bishop and the interference of the laity in matters of Faith, mostly applies here as well.
       In other words if the faithful Christians, based on the example of the Saints who lived through the course of ecclesiastical history as well as the example set by the holy Canons, have the right to defy heretising Bishops and to sever communion with them (by abandoning also their congregations), as it has been ordained chiefly by the 31st Apostolic and the First-Second Synod’s 15th Holy Canons, how much more so do they have the right to distance themselves from unrepentant Spiritual Fathers who persist in developing their heterodox phronema (mindset).

If the Bishop, on whose behalf the Spiritual Father enacts the Mystery of guidance of the faithful Christians to God, namely the Sacrament of Repentance and Confession, is not infallible “ex officio”, how much more so does this hold for the Spiritual Father, who partakes of the grace of Priesthood to a smaller degree than the Bishop does, and is therefore most certainly not infallible.

1. Our Spiritual Father must be the best possible choice in every sense

       Very often, we find the Heads of our Church reminding us of the duty of obedience to the Bishops, to the Presbyters and to their given orders; and yet the Flock is mostly unaware of the sort of people the Clerics, who steer the way, are meant to be.
       Saint Nicodemus the Haghiorite, in his spiritually most edifying work Spiritual Practices, writes the following when referring to Basil the Great: “Examine the diligence that you have placed in trying to find a good spiritual father; for what other greater need do you have than finding a good guide for such a journey that you need to embark upon, full of dangers, like the one to heaven is? […] Now my beloved child consider in what terrible danger you will find yourself in if not only do you not search for such a spiritually worthy man to guide you correctly to your salvation and to heal you well from your passions and sins, but you end up even avoiding such a man […] So does Basil the Great (Rules in summary 229)[2] also speak and he says: ‘In the same way that people do not reveal the body’s ailments to everyone or to random people they meet but only to those who are experienced in therapy, similarly the confession of sins ought to take place in front of those who can heal them, as it is written: ‘you who are strong are to carry the illnesses of the weak’ [Rom. 15,1];  in other words, you are to carry them with your diligence'”[3].
       In relation to the above, father John Romanides provides the following interpretation: “Of course, the spiritual father ought to already be in the state of illumination, so that he can also induct others in this state of illumination and to lead them to the Baptism by water [namely the absolution of sins] and to the Baptism by Spirit, which is the visitation of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the one being baptised and the enlightenment of man’s heart”[4].
       Consequently, if the Elder – Spiritual Father – Confessor needs to lead the best possible life and to be able to give the best possible teaching, how much more so does he need to possess the minimum requirements, the “ABC”, namely keeping the purity of Orthodoxy?

2. Since the Spiritual Father is “in type and in place of Christ”, he cannot accept heresies

         The degree of the significance in averting and fighting off heresy can be deduced from the fact that the entire dogmatic teaching of the Church has not been fashioned after philosophical contemplation but after its confrontation with heresies, which have always threatened the path of Orthodoxy, the only one that can cure human nature from sin: “The Fathers would change terminology from time to time and they would adapt their terminology in order to find the right terms to use, depending on the needs of the time. They did not do this in order to be able to comprehend the teaching of the Church in a better way but in order to combat the heresies that would crop up. For the comprehension of the Church’s teaching comes from illumination and theosis and not from philosophical or philological fermentation or from philosophical contemplation on the teaching itself. The purpose of dogma, which is formulated by the Fathers, is not to comprehend it, but the dogma-led union of man with God”[5].
       Thus we see that the Cleric’s acceptance of heresy destroys the therapeutic nature of his Pastoral Theology. “In the same way that in medicine it is not possible to allow a ‘quack’ to treat patients, it is equally impossible to allow a heretic to treat the souls of men. For since he is a heretic he does not know and thus cannot provide treatment”[6]. Of course, the same also holds for a Cleric who is unable or does not care to discern Orthodoxy from heresy, viz. spiritual “medicine from quackery”, for it is simply a matter of time and of scheming by the evil spirits before both himself and his spiritual children all fall into a fallacy. Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov says: “Through the acceptance of false teachings (i.e. of fallacious concepts about God), and through the distortion of the dogmatic and ethical teaching that God Himself revealed to us, the corruption of the spirit is achieved because of the impact and interference of these false teachings. This way, man ends up as a son of the devil”[7].
       Consequently, if the relation between the Spiritual Father – Confessor and the faithful Christian aims at providing a real image of the relation between Christ and the faithful Christian, as the “Ladder” of Saint John of Sinai accordingly mentions (“Do not consider it below your station to confess your sins in the presence of your helper [i.e. of your Elder], with humility and contrition as if you were doing so in front of God Himself”)[8], then the disruption of the relation between the Spiritual Father and Christ due to the Spiritual Father’s heresy forces the faithful Christian either to seek another Spiritual Father of sound Orthodox judgment or – in case the faithful Christian believes there is still some hope for his Spiritual Father to return to sound dogma –  to avoid at the very least abiding by the fallacious positions and counsel of his Spiritual Father. According to Saint Gregory of Nyssa, whoever “heretises”without a doubt the one who has been cut off from the salvific Faith is headless, like Goliath was, who became cut off through his own sword which he sharpened against the truth, divorcing himself thus from the true Head”[9]. How will such a Spiritual Father manage to teach salvation to others? (viz. develops a heretical mindset) becomes cut off from the mystical Head of the Church, Christ: ”

       Let us not forget that according to Devout John’s “Ladder”, the transmission of Orthodoxy is an Elder’s foremost goal. In his exhortations directed at Pastors, we find the Saint saying the following: “Above all, you should leave the integral faith and the pious dogmas as a legacy to your children, so that not only your children but your grandchildren too will you manage to guide towards the Lord by walking the path of Orthodoxy”[10].
       Thus, if the heretising Spiritual Father chases away the faithful Christian who keeps an Orthodox mindset, then the blame is placed on the misbelieving ill-minded Elder and Spiritual Father, for our Church teaches that our obedience to our Elders must have Christ in mind.

3. Indifference or silence on matters of heresy on the part of the Spiritual Father is forbidden

        Therefore, based on both the aforementioned evidence and on ecclesiastical experience, it becomes obvious that the danger from heresy does not only lie in wait for the establishment of complete and official acceptance of the heretical dogmas by a Spiritual Father (or indeed by a Bishop), but also lies in wait for the creation of an environment festering with (a) indifference to the problems of heresy (which is a sinful transgression, being a delinquency) and/or  (b) attempts at dissuasion of any opposition to the heresy (e.g. the well-known and totally unacceptable statements “do not talk about matters of Faith”, or “do not talk about Antichrists but about Christ” and so on, which amount to positions well-known in ecclesiastical history often upheld by the lukewarm – unconcerned or blameworthy leaders of every era). As a parenthesis, we mention that it is also a commandment of the Fathers to prepare our spiritual children for the arrival of the Antichrist[11].
       Without a question, the Old Testament reproaches the shepherds of old Israel who would remain unconcerned for their flock’s protection. The Old Testament tells us characteristically, through the mouth of Prophet Ezekiel:
       “As I live, saith the Lord God, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock. Therefore, O ye shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I shall visit the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock…”[12]
       In the New Testament we see Christ criticising the “Angels”, namely the Archbishops of Pergamus and of Thyateira, even more harshly for even though they would nurture their flock in an overall admirable manner, they would nonetheless allow the heretical Nicolaitanes and false prophets (viz. “Jezebel”) to harm their flock: “Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.”[13]. On the other hand, He praises the blameworthy (on some issues) “Angel” of Ephesus because he would recognise the false prophets and hate the works of the heretical Nicolaitanes: “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate”[14].
       In practice, the Holy Fathers would either reprove or find ways to bypass the Emperors’ practice of banning conversations on matters of Faith; a practice that aimed at the preservation of political peace and unity in the Empire between Orthodox and heretics. During the course of one of his discussions on the Christological issue with the heretical Monothelete Patriarch of Constantinople Pyrrhus, we find Saint Maximus the Confessor overturning this silencing on matters of Faith that had been enforced from without and replying to Pyrrhus with the following words: “What then? Just because God called us to become aware of His truth because of our hearts’ intention that He foreknew, should these [erroneous things] that have been communicated to some people as regards this, either in writing or by word, not be examined in great detail for the love of all those people who, as it happens, come across them without paying careful attention or even if they do pay attention are more prone to error? PYRRHUS: If the examination aims at this, then it is needful to do so. For to look after the safety of those who are more innocent-minded constitutes imitation of the divine love for man”[15]. This stance of Saint Maximus can only be interpreted as an opposition to the politics of imposed silencing on Christological discussions that had been successfully established through the decree “Typos” (AD 648) dictated by the Monothelete Emperor Constance II[16].

Consequently, it is impermissible to keep silent on matters of Faith when souls are in danger from heresy.

            Let us mention a few straightforward yet relevant examples:

 

• (a) In our days we note a revival of Origenism, a hidden neo-Origenism, in the form of academic exoneration of the heretical theologian Origen for his delusions (3rd century AD). According to this teaching, Origen had supposedly not been a true heretic, for, had that been the case, the Church would have condemned him while he had still been alive and not after his death. Supposedly, his condemnation during the Holy Fifth Œcumenical Synod (AD 553) largely occurred in an attempt to exercise “ecclesiastical diplomacy” in order to appease the spirits of the powerful anti-Origenist theologians and to restore peace in the Church; particularly in the Holy Lands, where, the theological and more general dispute between Origenists and Orthodox had taken a very nasty turn since the time of Saint Sava’s death (AD 532). To this neo-Origenist teaching, which has infected many theological academic writings, chiefly however the oral teaching of academic theologians, one must not forget to add the presentment of the Origenist delusion for the restoration of all as a “theologumen” (i.e. as an issue that is still theologically unclear). The Holy Fathers clearly warned us not to accept this delusion on the restoration of all (namely, that the hell of the demons and of the unrepentant sinners will eventually come to an end), for this will completely cast us into sin, since hell supposedly is not eternal and consequently supposedly we do not need to be afraid of it. On the contrary, Saint John of the Ladder characteristically says: “Let us all take heed, and especially those of us who have experienced falls, that our heart does not become affected with the illness of the impious Origen. For this detestable illness, by supposedly advertising God’s mercy, becomes welcome to those who are lustful”[17]. This is a characteristic example of how a latent heresy in the ecclesiastical body can destroy souls.

• (b)   The well-known book “The imitation of Christ”, work of the Latin Monk Thomas à Kempis, is still being projected as soul-edifying reading material for many faithful Christians in Greece; a work that has managed to become an international best seller and whose circulation at some point reached second place to the Holy Bible.

       However, here is how Saint Ignatius Branchianinov judges the spirituality of this book: “And a typical example of an ascetic book written by an author who at the time of writing had been found in the state of delusion known as ‘aponoia’ [lack of an Orthodox mindset and utter shamelessness], can be taken to be “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas à Kempis. It smacks of a subtle sensualism and haughtiness which stimulate a form of hedonism in people full of passions who are blinded by them, which [hedonism] they mistake to be a ‘foretaste of the divine grace’. Woe, the miserable souls! Woe, the blinded ones! […]. We see Francis of Assisi, Ignatius Loyola and many other ascetics of the Latins driven to a terrible demonic delusion analogous to the one that Malpas had fallen into; and yet the Latins place these among their saints”[18].

       If such a writing of Latin spirituality has already reached such a dangerous point of widespread public acceptance and propagation in an Orthodox country, thanks to the ignorance or indifference of the Spiritual fathers, how much more will Orthodox countries continue to be imbued with such a heretical spirituality if we do not speak openly against the dangers of the Western heretical, rationalist and emotionalist spirituality?

 

4. What the Holy Bible says about praiseworthy disobedience

       Apostle Paul’s explicit remark on Galatians (Gal. 1, 8.9) (made in fact by using accentuation twice: “as we said before, so say I now again”), not to accept any innovation in preaching the gospel, even if that proceeds from an angel in heaven or from the Apostles themselves, openly abolishes every notion of “Primacy” in the hands of individuals over the Tradition inside the Church (since not even the Apostles can change their Gospel a posteriori, since it is “from above”), and furthermore it alone provides us with sufficient guidance in what happens when we are found obligated to show obedience to the Faith of the Church: we must turn away whoever alters the ancient evangelic kerygma (“let him be anathema”).
       As regards another verse, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as those who must give account” (Heb. 13, 17), one may also pay attention to another point worthy of note: the reasoning behind the obedience shown to those “that have the rule”, namely to the leaders, is that “they watch for your souls”; obedience is not without its preconditions. If, based on our ecclesiastical experience, we come to the realisation that these rulers neglect their duty, that they do not care for the salvation of the souls that have been entrusted unto them and that they ignore the spiritual dangers and above all the danger of heresy, then the duty of obedience to them is abrogated.
       As it has been mentioned accordingly “First of all, the Holy Bible distinguishes between good and evil shepherds; between true and genuine shepherds, teachers and prophets on one hand and false shepherds, false teachers and false prophets on the other […]; obedience is not indiscriminate but discriminate”[19].

5. According to the holy Canons, the Monk must depart from obedience to a heretical Hegumen

       In the section of the “Rudder” (that momentous and reputable collection of the holy Canons by Saint Nicodemus the Haghiorite) where the Saint clarifies the number of reasons for which a Monk may leave his Monastery, we find mentioned among them the situation where the Hegumen happens to be a heretic. By referring to Basil the Great, the Saint adds: “Now, Basil the Great (Great Rules 36) forgives one’s departure from his monastery for only one reason, namely when [the Hegumen] has suffered spiritual ruin; something that, according to [Saint Basil], must first be revealed  to those who have the power to correct it; and if they do not correct it, then [the Monk] must divorce himself from their company, no longer as if departing from brothers, but as if from strangers”; and he then continues with the remaining interesting and soul-edifying admonitions[20].
       In this case, it is also evident that if the Elder – Spiritual Father happens to be a heretic (or if he happens to be pro-heretical, depending also on the degree of his acceptance of the heresy), not only do we owe him no obedience, but it is imperative that we distance ourselves from him.

6. Saint John Chrysostom urges disobedience to the cacodox ecclesiastical leaders

            Saint John Chrysostom, who is considered by our Church as “a God-inspired instrument and an inexhaustible ocean of dogmas”[21], when interpreting the apostolic commandment on obedience and submission to the Leaders, to the Hegumens (lit. the word means leaders, “them that have the rule”), “obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves”, makes the following clarifications: “Perchance someone may tell us that [apart from anarchy and indiscipline] there is a third evil, namely when the ruler [of the Church] is evil. I too know it; and this evil is not small, but much worse even than anarchy is: for it is better not to be guided by anyone, instead of being guided by someone evil. For the former [subordinate] many a time was he saved and many a time was he found to be in danger; but the latter will most certainly stay in danger, being led to an abyss. So how come he says ‘Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves’? After having mentioned further up those ‘whose faith [you must] follow, considering the outcome of their life’ he then says ‘obey them that have the rule over you and submit yourselves’. So what happens then, you ask, when he is cunning and we do not obey him? In what way do you mean “cunning”? If he is such in the faith, avoid him and leave him; not only if he happens to be a man but even if he happens to be an angel descending from heaven [Gal. 1, 8]. If he is so because of the life he leads, then do not be concerned […].Yet do not pay attention to his life, but to his words; for no one could ever be harmed from his ethos. Why? Because it is plain for all to see; and even if he happens to be cunning a thousand times over, he will never teach cunning things. But when he happens to be [cunning] in the faith, neither is this obvious to all nor will the cunning one stop teaching. For even the words ‘Do not judge in order not to be judged’ are meant for one’s life and not for the faith”[22].

7. The “Ladder” clarifies that the Monk who is humble may gainsay the Leaders in matters of Faith

       In Saint John of Sinai’s work “Ladder”, this paramount spiritual writing that has been characterised as “a masterpiece of Eastern asceticism” in which “obedience has a fundamental place in virtuousness”[23], it is clarified that exceptions to the rule are allowed. Devout John characteristically mentions the following about the virtue of humility: “You do not find hatred, any form of contradiction or any trace of indiscipline associated with the one who is connected with [this virtue], lest we are dealing with issues of Faith”[24].

8. The exemplar model of Saint Gregory of Decapolis

Saint Gregory of Decapolis, whose memory we celebrate on November 20, and who shone with his life during the second half of the 8th century in Decapolis of Isauria, had been distinguished for his almsgiving, his unassuming stance, his obedience, his humility and his meekness as early as his teenage years and continued to be equally distinguished for these virtues later on when he became a monk. The Saint’s biographer narrates that while the Saint’s mother did not dissuade him from becoming a monk, she convinced him nonetheless to enter the brotherhood of another Monastery where his flesh brother also resided, in order for them to struggle spiritually together, and for one to be consoled by the other’s presence. The biographer continues the narration by telling us how Saint Gregory dealt with the fact that the Monastery’s Hegumen proved to be a heretic: “In order to consent to his mother’s will, Gregory went to that Monastery whose Abbot happened to be a heretic, the wretched soul; and when the Saint realised this, he could not stand it, being the fervent zealot of piety that he was, and instead checked him in the presence of the entire brotherhood; and [the hegumen], becoming greatly angered, beat up the Saint badly, who departed from the monastery with his wounds still fresh on his body; and went to another Monastery in this bloodied state, whose Hegumen happened to be a relative of his mother named Symeon, who also happened to be the Archimandrite of all the Monasteries of Decapolis”[25].

9. The teaching of Saint Symeon the New Theologian

      Sublime Saint Symeon the New Theologian, for whom we cannot say here as much as we should, has left us with some wonderful teachings and God-inspired experiences of his divine Eros, but also with a teaching that reproves the state of his era’s clergy. It is believed that Saint Symeon commenced an important spiritual revolution. Father John Romanides characteristically writes: “… there came a time in the Church when people would be ordained as clerics that in the ancient Church would not have been suitable to advance beyond laity […] In other words, they did not have the spiritual presuppositions to join the Holy Orders. Saint Symeon the New Theologian revolted against this irregular situation and he proved so successful that the Church named him New Theologian. From his time until the time of Saint Gregory Palamas, a great conflict took place in the Church as regards the matter of qualifications needed for the election of bishops. Because of this Hesychast controversy, as it became known, which was resolved by the adoption of Saint Symeon the New Theologian’s theology, it was eventually ordained that the bishops of the Church should be chosen from the ranks of the monks who followed the Hesychast tradition, illumination and theosis”[26].
       So Saint Symeon, who is a Saintly spiritual giant of such epic proportions that he was the third person in our Church to have been assigned the title of a Theologian, having made such an important contribution to its ascetic teaching, has also left us with a teaching of particular and characteristic importance to our topic: “Plead God with prayers and tears for Him to send you a guide who is dispassionate and holy. At the same time, also study the divine Scriptures by yourself and particularly the practical writings of the Holy Fathers; so that by cross-examining the teachings and works of your teacher and Leader with these [writings] you may become able to see and to comprehend [his teachings]. And those teachings that are in agreement with the Scriptures, you should adopt and hold them dear in your mind, while the adulterated and foreign ones you should learn to perceive them as such and to turn them away, in order not to be deceived. For know this: many deceivers and false teachers have come forth in these days”[27].
       Another teaching, analogous to the one mentioned above, has been saved in the Life (i.e. in the biography) of Saint Symeon by his disciple Saint Nicetas Stethatos. Close to the time of his death, Saint Symeon advised his disciples to obey the successor Hegumen Arsenius in all things with one possible exception: “Do not take amiss his words and actions, but even in case these happen to be in opposition to the Fathers’ consensus, you should bow your heads unto him for the time being. Afterwards, those of you that may have surpassed the others in years, life experience and words, let them notify him in private of the reason for the impediment to apply his words, in accordance with the “Rules” of Basil the Great27a.  For the sake of God, you should endure him when he happens to be sore or bitter, without contradicting or repugning him; for the one who contradicts or repugns him repugns God’s authority, as Paul says (Rom. 13, 2). Truly, in matters where no transgression of God’s commandments or of the apostolic Canons and ordinances has taken place, you ought to obey him in all things and to submit yourselves unto him as if he were the Lord Himself. However, in all things where the Gospel of Christ and the laws of the Church are in danger of being overturned, not only to him should you not submit when he admonishes and commands you, but not even to an angel who just came down from heaven and who evangelises you things different from what the eyewitnesses of the Logos had been evangelised”[28].

10. Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov in favour of cautious obedience

       This celebrated Saint and theologian of the Russian Church of the 19th century, about whom we have already mentioned, dedicates an entire chapter in his valuable book “An offering to Contemporary Monasticism” on the subject of “Obedience to an Elder”. Among the many other references he quotes from the Fathers that are found cited in the topic of indiscriminate obedience to unpurified Spiritual Fathers, he makes important clarifications and additions: “Obedience makes the subordinate one with the one he obeys. The Holy Bible says: ‘and the flocks conceived before the rods’ (Gen. 30, 39) […]. One may say: the subordinate’s faith can replace the elder’s inadequacy. Wrong! Faith in truth saves. Faith in lies and in diabolical deceit harms! This is said by the Apostle. For those who willingly perish, he says: ‘…they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.’ (2 Thess. 2, 10-12) […] In our times, we observe a general degeneration of Christianity. […] And it is a great blessing for us and great joy that we were given the possibility of being fed with the crumbs that fall from the Spiritual table of the Fathers. The crumbs themselves do not constitute the most adequate nourishment. But they can (although not without leaving us with feelings of privation and hunger) save us from spiritual death”[29].
       Let us also keep well in our hands these “crumbs” that fall from the patristic teachings, like from the ones presented above, in order to save ourselves from theological chaos as well as from the relativism of and subjection to heresy, by staying firmly disobedient to every type of pro-heretical pseudo-obedience. The homily of Saint Ephraim of Syria on the Second Coming of Christ is formidable: “Woe unto those who pollute the holy Faith with heresies or who subject themselves to heretics”[30]. Whether these happen to be lay, or much more so if these happen to be clerics[i].

 

• [1]Saint Nicodemus the Haghiorite, Rudder, edition Vas. Rigopoulos, Thessalonica 2003, p. 488.

• [2] Saint Basil the Great, Rules in  summary 229, PG 31, 1236A

• [3] Saint Nicodemus the Haghiorite, Spiritual Exercises, Exercise III 4, edition V. Rigopoulos, Thessalonica 19917, p. 320 (and notes). The excerpt taken from Basil the Great is a translation.

• [4] Protopresbyter and University Professor John Romanides, Patristic Theology, redaction by Haghiorite Monk Damascene, edition Parakatatheke (Deposit), Thessalonica 2004, p. 176ff.

• [5] Ibid. p. 70ff

• [6] Ibid. p.203ff

• [7] Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov, An offer to contemporary monasticism, tome III, edition Holy Metropolis of Nicopolis, Preveza 1995, p.203.

• [8] Saint John of Sinai, Ladder, Homily IV, On obedience 58, edition Holy Monastery of Paraclete, Horopos Attica, 19946, p.95

• [9] Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Homily against Eunomius 12, PG 45, 912.

• [10] Saint John of Sinai, On the Shepherd 97, edition Holy Monastery of Paraclete, Horopos Attica, 19946, p.402 (PG 88, 1201A).

• [11] Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechesis for Illuminated 15, 18 PG 33, 896A

• [12] Ezekiel 34, 8-10 (KJV)

• [13] Rev. 2, 12-23

• [14] Rev. 2, 6

• [15] Saint Maximum the Confessor, Discourse to Pyrrhus, PG 91, 333C.D (translation).

• [16] Cf. J. Phidas, Ecclesiastical History, Tome I, Athens 19942, p.747

• [17] Saint John of Sinai, Ladder, Homily V, On repentance 29, op. cit. p.133, PG 88, .

• [18] Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov, op. cit. tome I, edition Holy Metropolis of Nicopolis, Preveza 1993, p.136ff.

• [19] Protopresbyter Theodore Zisis, Bad obedience and holy disobedience, Φίλη Ορθοδοξία (Orthodoxy My Friend) 11, edition “Bryennios”, Thessalonica 2006, pp.21.23

• [20] Saint Nicodemus the Haghiorite, Rudder, op. cit., p.341, footnote (1)

• [21] Great Vespers, November 13, Kekragarion I

• [22] Saint John Chrysostom, Homily on the Epistle to Hebrews 34, 1. PG 63, 231

• [23] Introduction to Saint John of Sinai’s Ladder, op. cit, p.5

• [24] Ibid., Homily 25, On humility 9, p.268

• [25] Matthew Langis, bishop of Oinoe, The Great Synaxarist of the Orthodox Church, tome XI, Athens 19915, p.537ff

• [26] Protopresbyter John Romanides, op. cit. p.104ff

• [27] Saint Symeon the New Theologian, Practical and Theological Chapters 32, by P. Christou in ΕΠΕ (Library of Greek Fathers) Philokalia of the Neptic and Ascetic Fathers 3, Patristic Editions Gregory Palamas, Thessalonica, p.242 (translation)

• [27α]  Saint Basil the Great, The Great Rules 27, PG 31, 988A.B

• [28] Saint Nicetas Stethatos, Life of Symeon 66, by P. Christou in ΕΠΕ Philokalia of the Neptic and Ascetic Fathers 19, Patristic Editions Gregory Palamas, Thessalonica, pp.146.147

• [29] Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov, op. cit., tome I, pp.141.143.146ff

• [30] Saint Ephraim of Syria, Homily on the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in Devout Ephraim of Syria – Works, tome IV, edition “The Garden of Panaghia”, Thessalonica 1992, p.26

  

[i] For a broader analysis on the subject of obedience and disobedience in matters of Faith, see also the very informative first part of the book Bad obedience and holy disobedience by Professor and Protopresbyter Theodore Zisis, Orthodoxy My Friend 11, edition “Bryennios”, Thessalonica 2006.

 

Fr Theodoros Zisis on St Gregory Palamas.

Religion / Patristic Theology

Fr. Theodoros Zisis

The Shareable and non-Shareable God according to St Gregory Palamas – 1

5 November 2016

The endeavours and teaching of Saint Gregory Palamas were directed at ensuring that people could enjoy the possibility of participating in God, at demonstrating that God is not merely completely transcendental and beyond involvement but is also here with us in the world and welcomes our involvement with Him. Gregory correctly saw, in Varlaam’s views, the renewal of the theological heresies of the 4th century, those of Evnomios, Areios, and Makedonios, who, by accepting the Son and Holy Spirit as creations, deprived people of the chance of glorification [deification]. Because how could They glorify people if They Themselves were also creations and in need of deification, as Gregory the Theologian so succinctly and provocatively says about the Holy Spirit: “unless the Holy Spirit is deified first and thus deified with those of equal value”.

The same dangerous consequences for people’s salvation were present also in the views of Varlaam, who claimed that people communicated with God by created means, with the intellect and understanding alone, while on the part of God there was nothing that He could give to people as a gift in order to glorify them. Divine grace, for Varlaam, was not uncreated but created. Western scholars play down the significance of the theological efforts of Saint Gregory and the dangers of Varlaam’s heresy when all they see is mere differences within monastic circles regarding the best way of praying, and the observation and vision of the light.

These were simply the starting-points. The clashes arose later on a purely dogmatic, theological level and, as the Orthodox Church viewed the unanimous decisions of the Ecumenical Synods concerning the ancient heretics, it saw likewise in the resolutions of the Synods which justified Gregory Palamas, the authentic expression of its faith in God and in the glorification of humankind. In the third Synodal tome, which was published against  the supporters of Varlaam and Akyndinos, the old and new heresies regarding the created or uncreated nature of divine grace are clearly linked.

The Tome states: “It has been shown that those who say that only the Son and Holy Spirit are uncreated energies of God and does not glorify the common natural energy of the three hypostases, which Akindynos denied, dares to reintroduce into the Church of God the heresy of Markellos, Foteinos and Sofronios, which once died and was banished”. Palamas himself makes a direct connection between the heresy of Varlaam and the ancient, anti-Trinitarian heresies of Areios and Makedonios.

He observes, however, that by claiming that the Son and the Holy Spirit are created, they trisected and divided the Triune Divinity into created and uncreated, as did Varlaam and his supporters, who claimed that the light of the age to come, which will shine abundantly upon the righteous, every energy and force of the Triune God, are created things: “they also impiously divide the Triune Divinity into created and uncreated”. He declared at the synod, in the presence of the emperor and his opponents that he was not battling over words and names. but over dogmas and realities.

The dogma affected was, on the one hand, the simplicity and indivisibility of God and, on the other, the very essence of God, which appeared without physical energy and action, while, as the VIth  Ecumenical Synod  [Constantinople, 680], had declared, on the basis of the teaching of Saint Maximos the Confessor and to oppose Monoenergetism that “it is impossible and against the laws of nature for there to be nature and energy without nature”. The realities that he was fighting for were overcoming the resistance to the concept that people could participate in God, so that they could be glorified.

In the second Synodal tome, against the Varlaamite  Prokhoros Kydonis, the synod noted that with what he said, he claimed that “people could certainly not participate in God”, and that, since the energies of God are, in themselves, created, “it is clear that our glorifications, as the result of created things, are created and subordinate to those of the divine”. Saint Gregory’s incomparable formulation regarding the dangers to which Varlaam’s heretical views exposed people’s salvation is enough to place him among the great Fathers of the Church. Because he shows that the danger was not for things of no great importance, but salvation itself- something that, unfortunately, Western scholars are unwilling to accept, because, like their Churches, they are supporters of  the views of Varlaam.

The problem as to whether God is shareable with us or unshareable was created by Varlaam and it is he who must be held to be the mover behind this conflict, the hesychast controversy as it is wrongly called. The picture which emerges from the sources as regards the responsibility for the appearance of this heterodox teaching is so clear that there is no justification for any reservations, far less for the impression to be given that the cause of the conflict was Saint Gregeory Palamas. As with the earlier tradition, when the heretics formulated their views first and then the Church came along with fathers and synods in order to confute them and express the Orthodox teaching, the same thing happened here.

Varlaam was affronted, as we have seen, in the matter of theologizing, because Saint Gregory’s view was that we should employ the demonstrable rather than syllogistic method of the philosophers, and he sought a way to humiliate Gregory. He believed that he had found many weak points and many innovations in hesychast spirituality. He pretended to be a disciple, and when he reckoned he had learned enough about Orthodox mysticism, he began to castigate the monks and the tradition they represented.

Equipped merely with philosophical propositions and completely inexperienced as regards the world opened up by another kind of illumination, the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, he attempted to interpret Orthodoxy with secular philosophy, even though this had been condemned in both the New Testament and in the Patristic literature of the Church. The same is true today of those who attempt to judge the world of Byzantium, even though they are uninitiated and incompetent, alien to its spirit and ill-informed- outside observers rather than participants in its inspired structure and constitution.

            What scandalized Varlaam was the claim of the monks that those who had cleansed themselves of the passions received shafts of illumination in their hearts, that is the presence of the divine light. It is well-known that, in the New Testament, the position is repeatedly stated that the pure in heart will see God, that Christ will make Himself known to those who observe the Lord’s commandments, and that He and the Father will reside and remain within them: “We shall come and make a dwelling-place in them”. Even the Holy Spirit resides within us and cries “Abba, Father”.

            Of course, the final perfection of this vision of God, which it is possible for people to have, will take place in the future. Now there is only partial vision, in a looking-glass and enigma. But those who are worthy, who observe the commandments and are cleansed of the passions, are able from now to taste the blessedness of the last days; they can be transported from now into the condition of the angels and live from now in the kingdom of heaven. In the realm of theology, there is ample evidence of the character, the sweetness and the mystical attraction of Orthodoxy, which accepts and teaches that the new age, the kingdom of heaven, has already started, from the day of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Hence there are always new illuminations and visions of God in the Church, Pentecost continues without cessation. Christ Himself said that among His disciples there were people who would see the kingdom of God coming in nascent form [εν δυνάμει= potential], even before they died. And this prophecy of the Lord was fulfilled at the Metamorphosis, at which the three disciples saw the brilliant light of His divinity, and at Pentecost with the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of tongues of fire. There are examples in the New Testament of visions of the divine light, visions of God, such as that of Paul on the road to Damascus and of the Protomartyr Stephen at the time of his martyrdom.

[To Be Continued]

The reading of “εν δυνάμει= potential” rather than “in power”, is reinforced by the Dismissal Hymn for the feast of the Transfiguration, which says that Christ showed the disciples His glory “insofar as they could bear it”. This clearly indicates that there was greater glory which they could not have borne at that time and so they were shown an incipient or nascent version which was appropriate to their strength. Of course, it goes without saying that the glory they saw was the very same glory of Christ, but not in its fullness. WJL.

Canon of Repentance.

Eirmos: When Israel walked on foot in the sea as on dry land, on seeing their pursuer Pharaoh drowned, they cried: Let us sing to God a song of victory. Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Troparia:

Now I, a burdened sinner, approach Thee, my Lord and God. But I dare not raise my eyes to Heaven. I only pray, saying: Give me, O Lord, the sense to weep bitterly over my deeds.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

O woe is me, a sinner! Wretched am I above all men. There is no penitence in me. Give me, O Lord, tears to weep bitterly over my deeds.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

Foolish, wretched man, you are wasting your time in idleness! Think of your life and turn to the Lord God, and weep bitterly over your deeds.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Theotokion: Most pure Mother of God, look upon me, a sinner, and deliver me from the snares of the devil, and guide me to the way of repentance, that I may weep bitterly over my deeds.

Song 3.

Eirmos: There is none holy as Thou, O Lord my God, “Who hast exalted the power of Thy faithful, O Good One, and strengthened us on the rock of Thy confession.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Troparia:

When the thrones are set at the dread judgment, then the deeds of all men will be exposed. Then alas for the sinners sent to torment! And knowing that, my soul, repent of your evil deeds.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

The righteous will rejoice, but the sinners will weep. Then no one will be able to help us, but our deeds will condemn us. Therefore, before the end dawns, repent of your evil deeds.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

Woe is me, a great sinner, who have defiled myself by my deeds and thoughts. Not a tear-drop do I have, because of my hard-heartedness. Now raise yourself from the earth, my soul, and repent of your evil deeds.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Theolokion: Lo, thy Son calls, O Lady, and teaches us what is good. But, sinful as I am, I always flee from the good. But do thou, O merciful one, have mercy on me, that I may repent of my evil deeds.

Lord, have mercy. (Thrice).

Sedalion, tone 6:I think of the awful day and weep over my evil deeds. How shall I answer the Immortal King? How shall I, a prodigal, dare to look at the Judge? O gracious Father, Only-Begotten Son, and Holy Spirit, have mercy on me.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Theotokion: Bound now with many chains of sins, and inhibited by cruel passions, I have recourse to thee, my salvation, and cry: Help me, O Virgin, Mother of God.

Song 4.

Eirmos: Christ is my power, my God and my Lord, the holy Church divinely sings, crying with a pure mind, keeping festival in the Lord.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Troparia:

Broad is the way here and conducive to indulging in pleasures, but how bitter it will be on the last day when the soul is separated from the body! Beware of pleasures, man, for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Why do you wrong the poor? Why do you withhold the wage of the hired servant? Why do you not love your brother? Why do you run after pride and lust? And so, stop these things, my soul, and repent for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

O thoughtless man! How long will you busy yourself like a bee, accumulating your fortune? For it will perish like dust and ashes soon. But seek rather the Kingdom of God.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Theolokion: O Lady, Mother of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Strengthen me in the virtues and keep me safe, lest sudden death take me by surprise. And bring me, O Virgin, to the Kingdom of God.

Song 5.

Eirmos: Illumine with Thy divine light, I pray, O Good One, the souls of those who with love rise early to pray to Thee, that they may know Thee, O Word of God, as the true God, Who recalls us from the darkness of sin.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Troparia:

Remember, wretched man, how you are enslaved to lies, calumnies, theft, infirmities, wild beasts and fears, on account of your sins. O my sinful soul, is that what you have desired?

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

My members tremble, for with all of them I have sinned: with my eyes in looking, with my ears in hearing, with my tongue in speaking evil, and by surrendering the whole of myself to hell. O my sinful soul, is that what you have desired?

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

Thou didst receive the prodigal and the robber who repented, O Saviour, and I alone have succumbed to sinful sloth and have become enslaved to evil deeds. O my sinful soul, is this what you have desired?

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Theotokion: Wonderful and speedy helper of all men, help me. Mother of God, unworthy as I am, for my sinful soul desires that.

Song 6.

Eirmos: Beholding the sea of life surging the flood of temptations, I run to calm haven, and cry to Thee: Raise up my life from corruption, O Most Merciful One.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Troparia:

I have lived my life wantonly on earth and have delivered my soul to darkness. But now I implore Thee, O merciful Lord, free me from this work of the enemy and give me the knowledge to do Thy will.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy m me.

Who does such things as I do? For just like a swine lying in the mud, so I serve sin. But do Thou, O Lord, pull me out of this vileness and give me the heart to do Thy commandments.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

Rise, wretched man, to God and, remembering your sins, fall down before your Creator, weeping and groaning, for He is merciful and will grant you to know His will.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Virgin Mother of God, protect me from evil visible and invisible, O immaculate one, and accept my prayers and convey them to thy Son, that He may grant me the sense to do His will.

Lord, have mercy. (Thrice).

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Kontakion: O my soul, why do you become rich in sins? Why do you do the will of the devil? On what do you set your hope? Stop these things and turn to God with tears, and cry: O Merciful Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Oekos: Think, my soul, of the bitter hour of death and the awful judgment of your God and Creator. For terrible Angels will seize you, my soul, and will lead you into the eternal fire. And so, before your death, repent and cry: O Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Song 7.

Eirmos: An Angel made the furnace throw de-w on the holy Children. But the command of God consumed the Chaldeans and prevailed upon the tyrant to cry: Blessed art Thou, O God of our fathers.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Troparia:

Do not hope, my soul, for corruptible wealth, and for what is unjustly collected. For you do riot know to whom you will leave it all. But cry: O Christ our God, have mercy on me, who am unworthy.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Do not trust, my soul, in your physical health, and in your quickly-passing beauty. For you see that the strong and the young die. But say: O Christ our God, have mercy on me, who am unworthy.

Glory to the Father, and to the Sore, and to the Holy Spirit:

Remember, my soul, eternal life and the Heavenly Kingdom prepared for the saints, and the outer darkness and the wrath of God for the evil, and cry: O Christ our God, have mercy on me, who am unworthy.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Theotokion: Fall down, my soul, before the Mother of God, and pray to her; for she is quick to help those who repent. She prays to Christ, her Son and our God, and has mercy on me who am unworthy.

Song 8.

Eirmos: Thou didst make flame sprinkle the Saints with dew, and didst burn the sacrifice of a righteous man with water. For Thou alone, O Christ, dost do all as Thou wiliest. Thee we exalt throughout all ages.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Troparia:

How can I not weep when I think of death? For I have seen my brother lying in his coffin, inglorious and hideous. What, then, do I expect? And what do I hope for? Only grant me, O Lord, repentance before my end. (2)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

I believe that Thou wilt come to judge the living and the dead, and all will stand in order, old and young, lords and princes, priests and virgins. Where shall I find myself? Therefore I cry: grant me, O Lord, repentance before my end.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Theotokion: Most pure Mother of God, accept my unworthy prayer and preserve me from sudden death; and grant me repentance before my end.

Song 9.

Eirmos: It is impossible for men to see God, upon Whom the orders of Angels dare not gaze. But through thee, O all-pure one, did the Word incarnate appear to men, and with the Heavenly Hosts we magnify Him, and thee we call blessed.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Troparia:

I now have recourse to you, holy Angels, Archangels, and all the Heavenly Hosts who stand at the throne of God: pray to your Creator that He may save my soul from eternal torment.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Now I turn to you with tears, holy patriarchs, kings and prophets, apostles and holy prelates, and all Christ’s elect: help me at the judgment, that He may save my soul from the power of the enemy.

Glory to the Father, awl to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

Now I lift my hands to you, holy martyrs, hermits, virgins, righteous and all the saints, who pray to the Lord for the whole world, that He may have mercy on me at the hour of my death.

Now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Theotokion: O Mother of God, help me who have strong hope in thee; implore thy Son that He may place me on His right hand, unworthy as I am, when He sits to judge the living and the dead. Amen.

Prayer after the Canon

Lord Christ our God, Who hast healed my passions through Thy Passion, and hast cured my wounds through Thy wounds, grant me who have sinned greatly against Thee tears of compunction. Transform my body with the fragrance of Thy life-giving Body, and sweeten my soul with Thy Holy Blood from the bitterness with which the foe has fed me. Lift up my downward looking mind to Thee, and take it out of the pit of perdition, for I have no repentance, I have no compunction, I have no consoling tears, which uplift children to their heritage. My mind has been darkened through earthly passions, I cannot look up to Thee in pain. I cannot warm myself with tears of love for Thee. But, O Lord Jesus Christ, Treasury of good gifts, give me thorough repentance and a diligent heart to seek Thee; grant me Thy grace, and renew in me the lineaments of Thy image. I have forsaken Thee – do not forsake me! Come out to seek me; lead me up to Thy pasturage and number me among the lambs of Thy chosen flock. Nourish me with them on the grass of Thy Holy Mysteries. by the prayers of Thy Most Pure Mother and all Thy saints. Amen.

Homily III on Repentance, by St John Chrysostom.

Homily III on Repentance, by

St. John Chrysostom

Homily III on Repentance, by St. John Chrysostom (amateur translation)

We have written, O beloved, of the medicines of

repentance, that we might hasten to the harbor of

salvation. We have been pierced by sin, let us be

healed by repentance. Through sin the devil

pierces, through repentance Christ heals. He,

through sin, is overpowered by the roots of sin,

while the Lord, foreseeing the sin, uprooted it

with the axe of repentance. “Behold” as is

written, therefore, “the axe is laid at every tree.

Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut

down, and cast into the fire.”

The devil sowed sin as weeds, Christ, with the sickle of repentance,

did cut the weeds of sin. Sin is an evil thing, but

repentance is a good thing. Let us therefore flee

from that to be feared, and hasten towards that to

be desired.

Through sin the devil leads to Gehenna,

through repentance Christ leads towards the Kingdom.

Have you sinned?

Be silent (hesychason), for it is not as dangerous to

sin, but to remain in sin is evil, for to have an

apology is to be delivered from unforgivable

torture.

For as Peter sinned through denial, and Paul

transgressed by persecuting Christ, and David

worked adultery and murder, they became worthy

of death. But though as men they sinned, they

repented as saints. Though they were ensnared

by the nets of sin, they shook off the outrage of

impiety in the blink of an eye, and hastened

towards repentance, that they might granted the

remission of their offenses. Come, therefore, let

us also hasten towards repentance. And though

the devil has burdened us with sin, the Lord

Jesus Christ, Who was born of the holy Virgin

Mary, through repentance lightens the burden of

sin by taking it upon Himself. “Behold,” as it is

written, “the lamb of God, Who takes away the

sin of the world.” For the devil placed sin within

men, while the Lord took away sin from men. He

gave sin, that men might be lost on behalf of sin.

The Lord took on sin, that He might free human

nature from impropriety. Before the coming of

Christ, the devil was terrible.

Before the Cross, sin was unbearable.

But the Cross has ever removed the thorns of sin.

The Lord Jesus

appears on earth, and the devil is cast down like

lightning from the earth. Behold, as it is written,

“Satan falls from heaven like lightning.”

The death of Christ overpowered the kingdom of

death. For death reigned from Adam until Moses,

and upon those who had not sinned had come

the likeness of Adam’s transgression, as a type

of things to come. However, after the death of the

Lord, death has become a plaything and a child.

Therefore, after the resurrection of Christ, we

who withstood the typhoon of death say: “O

death, where is your sting? O hades, where is

your victory?” Before the Cross, the counsel of

the evil one breathed forth death. After the Cross,

after the passion of Christ, behold priests and

women, young people and adolescents, as if

trampling upon grapes, trample upon snakes and

scorpions, and upon every power of the enemy.

This I mention, that I might show the fall of sin,

and the power of repentance. Do not become

bitter at the thorns of sin within, nor that your

sloth has given birth to sin. Do not condemn

yourself that you have sinned, but punish

yourself that you have not repented. Because of

the infirmity of the body that the Lord knows, He

permitted the medical science among men, and

made herbs upon the earth for healing. In like

manner, beholding the unsteadiness of the soul

and the wounds of sin, as a defense for souls,

granted repentance, and granted the divine and spiritual books of the ways of repentance as

healing herbs, that each of us might straightaway

have the bandage of healing, fleeing from

passion, coming to one’s self through faith. But

let our repentance not remain as words alone in

us, for it is improper that repentance appear

through words, that the Church of our Lord

Jesus Christ not be formed in reality. Confess

your offenses, O man, redeem yourself from sin,

that you might receive the remission of sin. Be

redeemed, accept the free gift of remission of

offenses…

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord

Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and

save us ! Amen.

From full of grace and truth.

What Is Orthodoxy? by Archbishop Averky (Taushev)

What Is Orthodoxy?
by Archbishop Averky (Taushev)
On the first Sunday of the Great Fast our Church celebrates the triumph of Orthodoxy, the victory of true Christian teachings over all perversions and distortions thereof- heresies and false teachings. On the second Sunday of the Great Fast it is as though this triumph of Orthodoxy is repeated and deepened in connection with the celebration of the memory of one of the greatest pillars of Orthodoxy, the hierarch Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica, who by his grace-bearing eloquence and the example of his highly ascetic private life put to shame the teachers of falsehood who dared reject the every essence of Orthodoxy, the podvig of prayer and fasting, which enlightens the human mind with the light of grace and makes it a communicant of the divine glory.
   
 
Alas! How few people there are in our times, even among the educated, and at time even among contemporary “theologians” and those in the ranks of the clergy, who understand correctly what Orthodoxy is and wherein its essence lies. They approach this question in an utterly external, formal manner and resolve it too primitively, even naively, overlooking its depths completely and not at all seeing the fullness of its spiritual content.
   
 
The superficial opinion of the majority notwithstanding, Orthodoxy is not merely another of the many “Christian confessions” now in existence, or as it is expressed here in American “denominations.” Orthodoxy is the teaching of Christ in all its purity and fullness — the teaching of faith and piety which is life according to the Faith.
   
 
Orthodoxy is not only the sum total of dogmas accepted as true in a purely formal manner. It is not only theory, but practice; it is not only right Faith, but a life which agrees in everything with this Faith. The true Orthodox Christian is not only he who thinks in an Orthodox manner, but who feels according to Orthodoxy and lives Orthodoxy, who strives to embody the true Orthodox teaching of Christ in his life.

The words that I speak unto you are spirit and life” — thus the Lord Jesus Christ spoke to His disciples of His divine teaching (John 6:63). Consequently, the teaching of Christ is not only abstract theory merely, cut off from life, but spirit and life. Therefore, only he who thinks Orthodoxy, feels Orthodoxy and lives Orthodoxy can be considered Orthodox in actuality.
   
 
At the same time one must realize and remember that Orthodoxy is not only and always that which is officially called “Orthodox,” for in our false and evil times the appearance everywhere of pseudo-Orthodoxy which raises its head and is established in the world is an extremely grievous but, regrettably, an unquestionable fact. This false Orthodoxy strives fiercely to substitute itself for true Orthodoxy, as in his time Antichrist will strive to supplant and replace Christ with himself.
   
 
Orthodoxy is not merely some type of purely earthly organization which is headed by patriarchs, bishops and priests who hold the ministry in the Church which officially is called “Orthodox.” Orthodoxy is the mystical “Body of Christ,” the Head of which is Christ Himself. (See Ephesians 1:22-23 and Colossians 1:18, 24 et seq.), and its composition includes not only priests but all who truly believe in Christ, who have entered in a lawful way through Holy Baptism into the Church He founded, those living upon the earth and those who have died in the Faith and piety. 
   
 
The Orthodox Church is not any kind of “monopoly” or “business” of the clergy as think the ignorant and those alien to the spirit of the Church. It is not the patrimony of this or that hierarch or priest. It is the close knit spiritual union of all who truly believe in Christ, who strive in a holy manner to keep the commandments of Christ, with the sole aim of inheriting that eternal blessedness which Christ the Savior has prepared for us, and if they sin out of weakness, they sincerely repent and strive “to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance” (Luke 3:8).
   
 
The Church, it is true, may not be removed completely from the world, for people enter her who are still living on the earth, and therefore the “earthly” element in her composition and external organization is unavoidable, yet the less of this “earthly” element there is, the better it will be for her eternal goals. In any case this “earthly” element should not obscure or suppress the purely spiritual element – the matter of salvation of the soul unto eternal life – for the sake of which the Church was both founded and exists.
   
 
The first and fundamental criterion, which we may use as a guide to distinguish the True Church of Christ from the false churches (of which there are now so many!), is the fact that it has preserved the Truth intact, undistorted by human sophistries, for according to the Word of God, “the Church is the pillar and ground of truth” (I. Timothy 3:15), and therefore in her there can be no falsehood. (Ephesians 6:27). Any which in its name officially proclaims or confirms any falsehood is already not the Church. Not only the higher servants of the Church, but the ranks of believing laymen must shun every falsehood, remembering the admonition of the Apostle: “Wherefore, putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor” (Ephesians 4:25), or “Lie not to one another” (Colossians 3:9). Christians must always remember that according to the words of Christ the Savior, lying is from the devil, who “is a liar, and the father of lies” (John 8:44). And so, where there is falsehood there is not the True Orthodox Church of Christ! There is instead a false church which the holy visionary vividly and clearly depicted in his Apocalypse as “a great whore that sitteth upon many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication” (Revelation 17:1-2).
   
 
Even in the Old Testament from the prophets of God we see that unfaithfulness to the True God frequently was represented by the image of adultery (see, for example, Ezekiel 16:8-58, or 23:2-49). And it is terrifying for us not only to speak, but even to think that in our insane days we would have to observe not a few attempts to turn the very Church of Christ into a “brothel”, — and this not only in the above figurative sense, but also in the literal sense of this word, when it is so easy to justify oneself, fornication and every impurity are not even considered sins! We saw an example of this in the so-called “Living Churchmen” and “renovationists” in our unfortunate homeland after the Revolution, and now in the person of all the contemporary ” modernists” who strive to lighten the easy yoke of Christ (Matthew 11:30) for themselves and betray the entire ascetic structure of our Holy Church, legalizing every transgression and moral impurity. To speak here about Orthodoxy, of course, is in no way proper despite the fact that the dogmas of the Faith remain untouched and unharmed!
   
 
True Orthodoxy, on the other hand, is alien to every dead formalism. In it there is no blind adherence to the “letter of the law”, for it is “spirit and life”. Where, from an external and purely formal point of view, everything seems quite correct and strictly legal, this does not mean that it is so in reality. In Orthodoxy there can be no place for Jesuitical casuistry; the favorite dictum of worldly jurists cannot be applied: “One may not trample upon the law — one must go around it.”
   
 
Orthodoxy is the one and only Truth, the pure Truth, without any admixture or the lease shadow of falsehood, lie, evil, or fraud.
   
 
The most essential thing in Orthodoxy is the podvig (spiritual struggle) of prayer and fasting which the Church particularly extols during the second week of the Great Fast as the double-edged “wondrous sword” by which we strike the enemies of our salvation — the dark demonic power. It is through this podvig that our soul is illumined with grace-bearing divine light, as teaches St. Gregory Palamas, who is triumphantly honored by the Holy Church on the second Sunday of the Great Fast. Glorifying his sacred memory, the Church calls this wondrous hierarch “the preacher of grace,” “the beacon of the Light,” “the preacher of the divine light,” “an immovable pillar of the Church.”
   
 
Christ the Savior Himself stressed the great significance of the podvig of prayer and fasting when His disciples found themselves unable to cast out demons from an unfortunate boy who was possessed. He told them clearly, “This kind (of demon) goeth not out save by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21). Interpreting this passage in the gospel narrative, our great patristic theologian-ascetic, the hierarch St. Theophan the Recluse asks, “May we think that where there is no prayer and fasting, there is a demon already?” And he replies, “We may. Demons, when entering into a person do not always betray their entry, but hide themselves, secretly teaching their hosts every evil and to turn aside every good. That person may be convinced that he is doing everything himself, while he is only carrying out the will of his enemy. Only take up prayer and fasting and the enemy will immediately leave and will wait elsewhere for an opportunity to return; and he really will return if prayer and fasting are soon abandoned” (Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 245-246). 
   
 
From this a direct conclusion may be reached: where fasting and prayer are disregarded, neglected or completely set aside, there is no trace of Orthodoxy — there is the domain of demons who treat man as their own pathetic toy.
   
 
Behold, therefore, where all contemporary “modernism” leads, which demands “reform” in our Orthodox Church! All these liberal free thinkers and their lackies, who strive to belittle the significance of prayer and fasting, however much they shout and proclaim their alleged faithfulness to the dogmatic teaching of our Orthodox Church, cannot be considered really Orthodox, and have shown themselves to be apostates from Orthodoxy.
   
 
We will always remember that by itself totally formal Orthodoxy has no goal if it does not have “spirit and life” — and the “spirit and life” of Orthodoxy are first and foremost in the podvig of prayer and fasting; moreover, the genuine fasting of which the Church teaches is understood in this instance to be abstinence in every aspect, and not merely declining to taste non-lenten foods.
   
 
Without podvig there is altogether no true Christianity, that is to say, Orthodoxy. See what Christ, the First Ascetic, Himself clearly says: “Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34). The true Christian, the Orthodox Christian, is only he who strives to emulate Christ in the bearing of the cross and is prepared to crucify himself in the Name of Christ. The holy Apostles clearly taught this. Thus the Apostle Peter writes: “If when you do well and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is accepted with God. For even here unto were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow his steps” (I Peter 2:20-21). In precisely the same way the holy Apostle Paul says repeatedly in his epistles that all true Christians must be ascetics, and the ascetic labor of the Christian consists of crucifying himself for the sake of Christ: “They that are Christians have crucified the flesh together with the passions and lusts” (Galatians 5:24). A favorite expression of St. Paul is that we must be crucified with Christ that we might rise with Him. He puts forth this thought in a variety of his sayings in many of his epistles.
   
 
You see, therefore, that one who loves only to spend time enjoying himself and does not think of self-denial and self-sacrifice, but continually wallows in every possible fleshly pleasure and delight is completely un-Orthodox, un-Christian. Concerning this the great ascetic of Christian antiquity, the Venerable Isaac the Syrian, taught well: “The way of God is a daily cross. No one ascends to heaven living cooly (i.e. comfortably, carefree, pleased with himself, without struggle). And of the cool path, we know where it ends” (Works, p. 158). This is that “wide and broad way” which, in the words of the Lord Himself, “leadeth to destruction” (Matthew 7:13).
   
 
This then is what Orthodoxy, or True Christianity, is!

PARADISE AND HELL ACCORDING TO THE HOLY ORTHODOX CATHOLIC CHURCH

By Father John Romanides (Source: Empirical Dogmatics of the Orthodox Catholic Church. Author, Metropolitan of Nafpaktos HIEROTHEOS

Christ revealed to us that He will come at His Second Coming to judge the living and the dead. There is a well-known passage in Holy Scripture about the future Judgment, in which He will separate human beings, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and after an exchange of words, the righteous will go “into eternal life” and the sinners “into everlasting punishment” (St. Matthew 25:46). In the Creed (Symbol of faith) we confess, “And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead.”

Before the Second Judgment the bodies of human beings will be resurrected. The first and second resurrections were mentioned earlier. The first resurrection is experienced through Baptism and Holy Communion, and the second resurrection is after Christ’s Second Coming, so that the whole human being may live ‘eternal well-being’ or ‘eternal distress.’

The iconography of the Second Coming of Christ shows what Paradise is and what Hell is.

“Please go and find the icon of the Second Coming, and you will see that around Christ are those who are in Paradise. They are in a golden light; the light surrounding them is golden. This same golden light, as it gets further away from Christ, begins to change color, and gradually, the further away it goes, it turns from gold to red; and in the red light are the damned. The saved see Christ in a golden color, and the damned also see Christ from a distance, but they see the Light of Christ as red, because for the former it is the glory of God and for the latter it is the eternal fire, outer darkness and ‘the consuming fire.'”

From this point of view, therefore, we Orthodox Christians agree with the most liberal people in the world. No message can be more liberal than that of the Holy Fathers of the Church, who not only stress that, ‘Son, we’ll all go to the same place’, as an old lady told me, but also emphasize that God loves everyone equally: the damned and the saved, the glorified and the saints, Angels and devils, good and bad, prostitutes and chaste…God loves all human beings equally, He loves everyone without distinction. From God’s point of view, God saves everyone. He wants the salvation of all human beings, and he has preordained salvation for all.

How do we know this? Because even Hell is salvation (the human being is preserved) and Hell is a way of making perfect, but it is Hell and not Paradise. Because the one who is damned is incapable of progress, he is unable to accept progress towards perfection. Why? Because his conscience has been hardened, his heart has grown hard. He remains so egoistic and self-centered that his personality cannot develop from selfishness to unselfishness. Since he cannot develop anymore, he is perfected in his selfishness. Even Hell is evil for him. Although it is not punishment from God’s point of view, it is punishment from the human point of view.

In other words, the man has remained uncured. Why? Because his heart needed to be cured, his heart or his nous (soul) was sick, and they did not receive treatment. But where does this treatment begin, how does it take place and how a human being secure it? In the Orthodox Christian experience, treatment begins here in this world.”

In the Western (Roman Catholic and Protestant) tradition about Paradise and Hell, we see view that differ from the Orthodox Christian teaching.

“Augustine’s teachings about absolute predestination Hell and Paradise were based on those perceptions that he had, his legalistic views about the Fall of man and sin, combined with his neoplatonic perception of Paradise. He introduced into Christianity the idea that Hell is the subterranean regions underneath the earth, where people go to be punished. Paradise is outer space.

In those days they believed that things that were immutable were beyond the heavenly bodies, where there is no movement and no development, and that here on earth is the place of testing. So if we are good boys and girls we shall go to Paradise above the stars and the sky; and if we are bad we shall go under the earth to be punished in the subterranean regions.”

Paradise in the Western (Latin or Roman Catholic) tradition was connected with the soul’s happiness and the satisfaction of its desires.

“In the Orthodox Christian Tradition there is nothing like this. Why? Because man’s destiny is not happiness; it is not satisfaction of his desires. The Holy Fathers do not teach that God will become man’s possession or that man can use God–let alone his fellow human being–for his own happiness.

The capitalistic foundations that exist within the philosophy of medieval feudalism originate from Augustine, but mainly from the ancient Greeks. The teaching about the pursuit of happiness (eudemonism) started from the ancient Greeks, from Plato and Aristotle, with some opposition from the Stoics and the Epicureans. In the Christian tradition of the West, however, Aristotle and Plato prevailed. These elements do not exist in patristic theology.”

In our own Holy Tradition, the human being is eternally advancing to higher stages of perfection. For us history never stops  There is the history of the saints and there is also the eternal history of man. The fact that Christ was Resurrected with His Body and that Christ is fully human until now and for ever and ever means that Christ, His Body and His human nature, is part of history. Has His Body not acted continually until this day? There has been a succession of actions; the energies of the Body of Christ have not ceased. So the Body of Christ is an inseparable part of history, which is a guarantee that history is eternal. History will not come to a halt; although a number of theologians who believe in Plato say nowadays that history will cease. No, history will not come to a halt. Why will history not cease? Because the Body with which Christ was resurrected will exist for ever, and we shall be resurrected with bodies. We shall not be merely souls in paradise. We shall be complete human beings.

Then Westerners speak about Paradise and Hell from the standpoint of justice. This is sociological interpretation of eternal life…

“…Holy Scripture uses the words ‘light’ and ‘dark cloud’ to describe the state of the just, and the words ‘fire’ and ‘darkness’ to describe the state of sinners. We know, however, that the light is different from the dark cloud that covers the light. And fire is the opposite of darkness, because fire chases away darkness and illuminates the surroundings.

This shows that there are not created words to express uncreated reality absolutely. The Eternal Divine Light and the Eternal Life are uncreated. They are the energy of God that is experienced by human beings as illuminating or burning energy, depending on their spiritual state.

“All human beings will see the glory of God, and from this point of view they have the same end. Everyone will certainly see the glory of God, the difference being that, whereas the saved will see the glory of God as sweetest light without evening, the damned will see the same glory of God as consuming fire, as fire that will burn them. It is a true and predictable fact that we shall all see the glory of God. Seeing God, that is to say, His glory and His Light, is something that will happen whether we want it or not. The experience of this Light, however, will be different for the two categories.

The work of the Church and the priests is not to help us to see this glory, because that will happen in any case. The work of the Church centers on how each one will see God. Not on whether he will see God. In other words, the task of the Church is to preach to people that the true God exists, that God is revealed either as light or as consuming fire, and that at the Second Coming of Christ all of us will see God. And it must prepare its members so that they see God not as fire but as light.”

The Church does not send anyone to Paradise or to Hell, but it prepares the faithful for the vision of Christ in glory, which everyone will have. God loves the damned as much as the Saints. He wants all to be cured, but not all accept the cure that He offers.

Paradise and Hell do not exist from the point of view of God, but from the point of view of human beings. God will love everyone equally. He will send His grace to all, in the same way as He will send His grace to all, in the same way as He “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Saint Matthew 5:45). But everyone will not accept God’s grace in the same way. Some will see God as Light and other as fire. The same will happen as with Holy Communion. For those who prepare themselves appropriately, Holy Communion is “for eternal life”, but for those who have “not been purified, Holy Communion is for judgment and condemnation…”

“…When someone reaches the point of seeing the glory of God after having gone through purification of the heart and reaching illumination, this illuminated human being sees the glory of God as light. But when someone who has not reached this Light, he sees it as consuming fire. Instead of seeing God as Light, he sees God as consuming fire.”

“We know that if an Orthodox Christian who does not prepare himself correctly and reaches the point that his heart is hardened, he will see God as a consuming fire.”

“Contrary to Augustine’s ideas about Paradise and Hell, according to the other Fathers of the Church in both East and West, Hell and Paradise are the same thing. There is no difference at all. When someone sees God’s glory with unselfish love, he sees God as paradise, and this is paradise…”

“The uncreated glory, which Christ has by nature from the Father, is paradise for those who self-centered and selfish love has been cured and transformed into unselfish love. However, the same glory is uncreated eternal fire and hell for those who have chosen to remain uncured in their selfishness.”

Why is Mary Considered Ever-Virgin?

Why is Mary Considered Ever-Virgin?

A Protestant inquirer recently wrote the Orthodox Christian Information Center to ask why it is a dogma of the Orthodox Church that the Blessed Virgin Mary is ever-virgin. This page was compiled as a response.

Two dogmas concerning the Mother of God are bound up, in closest fashion, with the dogma of God the Words becoming man. They are: a) Her Ever-virginity, and b) Her name of Theotokos. They procede immediately from the dogma of the unity of the Hypostasis of the Lord from the moment of His Incarnation-the Divine Hypostasis.

The birth of the Lord Jesus Christ from a Virgin is testified to directly and deliberately by two Evangelists, Matthew and Luke. This dogma was entered into the Symbol of Faith of the First Ecumenical Council, where we read: Who for the sake of us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man. The Ever- virginity of the Mother of God is testified by Her own words, handed down in the Gospel, where she expressed awareness of the immeasurable majesty and height of Her chosenness: My soul doth magnify the Lord… For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed… For He that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is His Name (Luke 1:46-49).

The Most Holy Virgin preserved in her memory and in her heart both the announcement of the Archangel Gabriel and the inspired words of righteous Elizabeth when she was visited by Mary: And whence is this to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to Me? (Luke 1:43); both the prophecy of the righteous Symeon on meeting the Infant Jesus in the Temple, and the prophecy of the righteous Anna on the same day (Luke 2:25-38). In connection with the account of the shepherds of Bethlehem concerning the words of the angels to them, and of the singing of the angels, the Evangelist adds: But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19). The same Evangelist, having told of the conversation of the Divine Mother with the twelve-year-old Jesus after their visit to Jerusalem on the Feast of Pascha, ends his account with the words: But His mother kept all these sayings in her heart (Luke 2:51). The Evangelists speak also of the understanding of the majesty of her service in the world by the righteous Joseph, her espoused husband, whose actions were many times guided by an angel.

When the heretics and simple blasphemers refuse to acknowledge the Ever-virginity of the Mother of God on the grounds that the Evangelists mention the “brothers and sisters of Jesus,” they are refuted by the following facts from the Gospel:

a) In the Gospels there are named four “brothers” (James, Joses, Simon and Jude), and there are also mentioned the “sisters” of Jesus—no fewer than three, as is evident in the words: and His sisters, are they not ALL with us? (Matt. 13:56).

On the other hand, b) in the account of the journey to Jerusalem of the twelve-year-old boy Jesus, where there is mention of the “kinsfolk and acquaintances” (Luke 2:44) in the midst of whom they were seeking Jesus, and where it is likewise mentioned that Mary and Joseph every year journeyed from faraway Galilee to Jerusalem, no reason is given to think that there were present other younger children with Mary: it was thus that the first twelve years of the Lord’s earthly life proceeded.

c) When, about twenty years after the above-mentioned journey, Mary stood at the cross of the Lord, she was alone, and she was entrusted by her Divine Son to His disciple John; and from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home (John 19:27). Evidently, as the ancient Christians also understood it, the Evangelists speak either of “half’ brothers and sisters or of cousins.

*From Fr. Michael Pomazansky, trans. Fr. Seraphim Rose, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology (Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1994), pp. 187-189.

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The seedless birth of Christ can and could be denied only by those who deny the Gospel, whereas the Church of Christ from of old confesses Christ incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary.” But the birth of God from the Ever-Virgin was a stumbling stone for those who wished to call themselves Christians but did not wish to humble themselves in mind and be zealous for purity of life. The pure life of Mary was a reproach for those who were impure also in their thoughts. So as to show themselves Christians, they did not dare to deny that Christ was born of a Virgin, but they began to affirm that Mary remained a virgin only until she brought forth her first-born son, Jesus (Matt. 1:25).

“After the birth of Jesus,” said the false teacher Helvidius in the 4th century, and likewise many others before and after him, “Mary entered into conjugal life with Joseph and had from him children, who are called in the Gospels the brothers and sisters of Christ.” But the word “until” does not signify that Mary remained a virgin only until a certain time. The word “until” and words similar to it often signify eternity. In the Sacred Scripture it is said of Christ: In His days shall shine forth righteousness and an abundance of peace, until the moon be taken away (Ps. 71:7), but this does not mean that when there shall no longer be a moon at the end of the world, God’s righteousness shall no longer be; precisely then, rather, will it triumph. And what does it mean when it says: For He must reign, until He hath put all enemies under His feet? (I Cor. 15:25). Is the Lord then to reign only for the time until His enemies shall be under His feet?! And David, in the fourth Psalm of the Ascents says: As the eyes of the handmaid look unto the hands of her mistress, so do our eyes look unto the Lord our God, until He take pity on us (Ps. 122:2). Thus, the Prophet will have his eyes toward the Lord until he obtains mercy, but having obtained it he will direct them to the earth? (Blessed Jerome, “On the Ever-Virginity of Blessed Mary.”) The Saviour in the Gospel says to the Apostles (Matt. 28:20): Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Thus, after the end of the world the Lord will step away from His disciples, and then, when they shall judge the twelve tribes of Israel upon twelve thrones, they will not have the promised communion with the Lord? (Blessed Jerome, op. cit.)

It is likewise incorrect to think that the brothers and sisters of Christ were the children of His Most Holy Mother. The names of “brother” and “sister” have several distinct meanings. Signifying a certain kinship between people or their spiritual closeness, these words are used sometimes in a broader, and sometimes in a narrower sense. In any case, people are called brothers or sisters if they have a common father and mother, or only a common father or mother; or even if they have different fathers and mothers, if their parents later (having become widowed) have entered into marriage (stepbrothers); or if their parents are bound by close degrees of kinship.

In the Gospel it can nowhere be seen that those who are called there the brothers of Jesus were or were considered the children of His Mother. On the contrary, it was known that James and others were the sons of Joseph, the Betrothed of Mary, who was a widower with children from his first wife. (St. Epiphanius of Cyprus, Panarion, 78.) Likewise, the sister of His Mother, Mary the wife of Cleopas, who stood with Her at the Cross of the Lord (John 19:25), also had children, who in view of such close kinship with full right could also be called brothers of the Lord. That the so-called brothers and sisters of the Lord were not the children of His Mother is clearly evident from the fact that the Lord entrusted His Mother before His death to His beloved disciple John. Why should He do this if She had other children besides Him? They themselves would have taken care of Her. The sons of Joseph, the supposed father of Jesus, did not consider themselves obliged to take care of one they regarded as their stepmother, or at least did not have for Her such love as blood children have for parents, and such as the adopted John had for Her.

Thus, a careful study of Sacred Scripture reveals with complete clarity the insubstantiality of the objections against the Ever-Virginity of Mary and puts to shame those who teach differently.

*From St. John (Maxomovitch), The Orthodox Veneration of Mary, The Birthgiver of God (Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1994), pp. 31-33.

The following was sent to me by Deacon Fr. John Whiteford. It is part of an exchange he had with another Protestant inquirer:

In response to appeals to Matthew 1:25:

First of all we must remember that the Bible was not written in English. The word translated “TILL” in this verse is the same word translated “UNTIL” (or “unto” in the KJV) in Matthew 28:20: “…And behold I am with you always, even UNTIL the end of the age.”

Following your logic, we would have to assume that this teaches that after the end of the age Christ will no longer be with us. Also even in English, when we say “Joe did not repent TILL the day he died”—obviously he did not repent afterwards either.

The point of the verse you have cited is plain. It leaves no room for doubting that Christ was not the result of relations between the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph—it says nothing about what happened thereafter, one way or the other.

St. Jerome wrote a very detailed treatise on this subject that one can find in several readily available translations—it is titled “The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary“.

Not only was this view held universally in the Early Church, but the Early Reformers all believed it as well. John Wesley did too.

By the way, where in the NT does it say that the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph ever moved beyond betrothal? The Bible speaks of St. Joseph’s “espoused” wife—but never mentions anything beyond it.

You Baptists are likely not familiar with the rite of betrothal, but the Traditional understanding thereof is that a betrothal gives a couple all the responsibilities of marriage, but none of the privileges. Once betrothed, one can only break the betrothal with a divorce. Nevertheless, the couple were not permitted to have marital relations until after the marriage ceremony.

In response to the question of whether or not this doctrine only brings glory to the Virgin Mary, and not to God:

This doctrine is not taught for the sake of upholding the sanctity of the Virgin Mary, but because of the uniqueness and holiness of her Son. Consider the following verse:

“Then said the LORD unto me; This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the LORD, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut.” (Ezekiel 44:2).

This has always been interpreted by the Fathers of the Church to be a typological reference to the Virgin Mary and the Incarnation. When we consider that God took flesh from the Virgin’s womb, it is not difficult to imagine that this womb would remain virgin.

The bottom line is this has been the consistent and universal view of the Church from the time of the Apostles until today.

This does not mean that sex is dirty, though the Apostles taught that it was better to remain in virginity—though only those who can accept such a life are called to do so. Certainly some are called to this life, and it is blessed by God.

Why then did the Virgin need St. Joseph? That question is valid even if one believes she had other children later—why did she need St. Joseph to give birth to Christ. The answer is obvious: virgins do not as a rule give birth, and Christ would likely have grown up an orphan had he been born to a single mother.

You ask: “So then was Jesus born out of wedlock? Why then did they travel together to be taxed? Why does Luke write Luke 2:48 ‘And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.’?”

I could ask you the same questions: Why does she refer to Joseph as Christ’s Father? Obviously not because he really was his father. Why did they travel together to be taxed when they were clearly only at that time “espoused” or betrothed: “To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child (Luke 2:5). Do you think they were married on the way to Bethlehem, because they clearly were not when they set off in that direction? Furthermore there is no mention of such a marriage ever having taken place—and certainly it would be odd for them to have had such a ceremony with a women “great with child” or even thereafter with a women who had a nursing baby. As I stated, a betrothal gives one all the responsibilities of a marriage without the marital privileges thereof. It can only be broken by a divorce—so in a sense they were married when they were betrothed.

In the Orthodox Church we still have the rite of betrothal, but because it is so serious—and is considered a marriage even if never consummated—it is almost always done these days immediately prior to the wedding ceremony.

You said: “Mary had other children. James is called The Lord’s brother. The brothers and sisters who came for Jesus while he was teaching are not cousins as catholic footnotes try to make out, like there is no Greek word for brother.”

Do you really believe that the Virgin Mary had another sister from the same parents who was also named Mary (John 19:25)? Also, if these brothers were the children of St. Joseph’s brother Cleopas (as the second century Palestinian Christian history Hegessipus records), and if as St. Jerome contends Cleopas had reposed and St. Joseph had taken his brothers widow and children under his care (as was Jewish custom) then these children would of course be called brothers and sisters of our Lord.

Also, I will again point out that the Bible only refers to the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph as being “betrothed” or “espoused”. Unless they were subsequently married, they had all the responsibilities of marriage, but would have sinned to have had marital relations with one another. It is clear from the Gospels that they were still only betrothed when they left Nazareth and when the Virgin was “Great with child”. Do you suppose they could have gotten married at some point after that without being stoned to death first?

You said: “There’s no need to be that specific. Can’t it be understood from several Scripture passages (John 2:12; Matthew 12:46; Mark 3:31; Luke 8:19; especially Matthew 13:55,56 and Mark 6:3,4; etc.) that what’s referred to are Mary and Joseph’s offsprings?”

How do you deal with the Mary who is not Christ’s mother but who also just happens to be the Virgin Mary’s sister and who happens to have kids with the same names as Christ’s brothers? How do you deal with the very early testimony of Hegesippus who states plainly that the brethren of the Lord were the Children of St. Joseph’s brother Cleopas and his wife Mary?”

See: Matt 27:56, Mark 15:40, 16:1; Luke 24:10; John 19:25 The Matthew account has Mary the mother of James and Joseph. Mark has Mary the mother of James the Less and Joses. John has “his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas”. All accounts mention Mary Magdalene separately and Matthew mentions the mother of the sons of Zebedee (who could not also be married to Clopas). This suggests that Mary the wife of Clopas, who is Mary’s sister, is the mother of James and Joses, etc.

[Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History 3:11] “After the martyrdom of James and the conquest of Jerusalem which immediately followed, it is said that those of the apostles and the disciples of the Lord that were still living came together from all directions, with those that were related to the Lord according to the flesh (for the majority of them also were still alive), to take counsel as to who was worthy to succeed James. They all with once consent pronounced Symeon, the Son of Cleopas, of whom the Gospel also makes mention [note the Gospels only list Symeon as one of the Brother’s of the Lord], to be worthy of the episcopal throne of that parish. He was a cousin, as they say, of the Savior. For Hegesippus records that Cleopas was a brother of Joseph.” [note: Hegesippus was a 2nd Century Palestinian Jew. Eusebius preserves one of the few fragments left of his works, since he had access to the great library of Ceasarea and of Alexandria—the contents of which were mostly lost later.]

A few additional points on this subject:

1) The Apostle James, the Son of Alpheaus is not necessarily the same as James the less. They are not connected in the Gospels, though this connection is possible. James the less was the son of Cleopas, but as I have read up on this, it is possible that “Cleopas” is a variant helenized transliteration of the Aramaic name “Chalphi”.

2) Yesterday I quoted from Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History in which a fragment from St. Hegesippus was preserved. As I dug about last night, I found some more:

“Some of these heretics, forsooth, laid an information against Symeon the son of Clopas, as being of the family of David, and a Christian. And on these charges he suffered martrydom when he was 120 years old, in the reign of Trajan Caesar, when Atticus was Consular legate in Syria. And it so happened, says the same writer, that, while inquiry was then being made for those belonging to the royal tribe of the Jews, the accusers themselves were convicted of belonging to it. With show of reason it could be said that Symeon was one of those who actually saw and heard the Lord, on the ground of his great age, and also because the Scripture of the Gospels makes mention of Mary the [wife] of Clopas, who, as our narrative has shown already, was his father. The same historian mentions others also, of the family of one of the reputed brothers of the Savior, named Judas, as having survived until this same reign, after the testimony they bore for the faith of Christ in the time of Domitian, as already recorded. He writes as follows: They came, then, and took the presidency of every church, as witnesses for Christ, and as being of the kindred of the Lord. And after profound peace had been established in every church they remained down to the reign of Trajan Caesar: that is, until the time then he who was sprung from an uncle of the Lord, the aforementioned Symeon son of Clopas, was informed against by various heresies, and subjected to an accusation like the rest, and for the same cause, before the legate Atticus; and while suffering outrage during many days, he bore testimony for Christ: so that all, including the legate himself were astonished above measure that a man 120 years old should have been able to endure such torments. He was finally condemned to be crucified….” [St. Hegesippus [who reposed 170 ad], Fragments from his five books of commentaries on the acts of the Church, Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 8, p 762]

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Fr Lawrence Farley on the Nicene Constantinopolitan Creed .2

The Creed not only confesses that our God, the Father

of the Lord Jesus Christ, is the creator of heaven and

earth. It also adds the phrase that He is the creator “of

all things, visible and invisible.” In its original form, the

phrase was probably added to hammer yet another nail

into the Gnostic coffin. The Gnostics were the ones who

asserted that there were many divine powers in the

world (one Gnostic system counted forty), each one an

emanation leading back ultimately to the one high and

transcendent divinity. Over against such nonsense, this

phrase makes it clear that whatever invisible powers

there might be in the world (such as angels), they were not divine emanations or deities, but simply creations of the one God. As such, these powers had no divinity, and should not be adored. Only God should be adored; nothing created (such as the angels and archangels) should have such worship, however exalted they might be.

In our day, this phrase serves another purpose, one scarcely foreseen by the Fathers who first framed the Creed. That is, it serves as a reminder that the invisible world actually exists, and that it is just as real as the

visible world. Such an affirmation was hardly needed in

the fourth century, for no Christian questioned the existence of angels and demons. But in our modern materialistic world, many people do question the existence of angels, and even more question the existence of demons, so that now such a reminder is very helpful.

The Christian lives in a multi-layered world. In some sense, everyone in North America, whether religious or not, lives in a multi-layered world, confessing the existence of things they can see with their naked eyes (such as people, animals, and plants) and also things they cannot see with their naked eyes (such as germs and radio waves). The Christian simply confesses that the world is even more multi-layered than most people might think it is, and that it is populated not only by

living germs and bacteria, but also by living angels and

demons. That is, the Christian confesses that there is a spiritual dimension to life, co-existing with and undergirding the physical dimension. The supernatural invisible world of the spirit does not exist side by side

the physical visible world, like oil and water. Rather, the

two worlds intermesh; the physical world is shot through with the supernatural. The ancient Rabbis knew

this, and said that every single blade of grass had its own guardian angel.

We Christians therefore confess that angels exist in the

invisible world, and they exist with the same glorious and rich variety that characterize animals in the visible world. Thus we read not only about angels, but also about archangels, thrones, dominions, principalities and authorities (see Colossians 1:16). Systematizers like the so-called St. Dionysius the Areopagite writing from about the late fifth century (and sometimes called “Pseudo-Dionysius” to distinguish him from his first century namesake of Acts 17:34) arranged the Pauline list of angelic beings into three groups of three. We need not be as wedded to any system as Dionysius was, but certainly St. Paul’s list of different kinds of angels reveals that the unseen world is at least as diverse and varied as the seen world.

Where popular culture accepts the existence of angels (such as in some New Age literature), it views them as

essentially bestowers of warm fuzzies—they may not be

the cute and cuddly cherubs featured in some Valentine

cards, but at least they are comforting friends. As usual,

popular culture has it wrong. Angels are creatures of

power, and it is significant that in the Scriptural account

when they appear to us, the first thing they have to say to us is, “Fear not!” Evidently they can be quite terrifying. A good antidote to the popular portrayal of angels may be found in reading C.S. Lewis’ description of the heavenly powers in chapter 15 of his book That Hideous Strength. One of the invisible bodiless powers was described there as “fiery, sharp, bright and ruthless, ready to kill, ready to die, outspeeding light.” Those nearby experiencing the descent of the angel

were “blinded, scorched, deafened.” This is much more

in keeping with the Scriptural portrayal of angels. Not

surprisingly, our iconography clothes them in the robes

of Byzantine soldiers. And soldiers are not to be messed with; soldiers are armed.

If our popular culture doesn’t quite “get” angels, it doesn’t “get” demons at all. Indeed, admitting that one believes in the existence of demons is a quick way to expose oneself to mockery and to kill whatever credibility one managed to amass. It is true that people talk about “wrestling with one’s demons,” but this is

simply meant as a metaphor for dealing with one’s inner

psychoses and maladjustments. (One author said, “Well, after all, ‘devil’ is just ‘evil’ with a capital ‘d’.”) Few people today believe that demons and evil spirits actually exist. Even in C.S. Lewis’ day (and he died in 1963), talk about the devil conjured up in people’s minds a comic figure with horns, a forked tail, and red tights, and clearly no one believed in that. Therefore, they concluded, they could not believe in a devil. It seems to have dawned on very few of them that Scripture did not insist on his horns, his tail, or his tights.

Belief in an objective spirit called Satan and in evil spirits constitutes then a great gulf fixed between Christians who accept the teaching of the Scriptures and the Fathers, and those who simply give it lip-service. But there is no getting around it: the teaching

is found throughout the New Testament, and a Christian

worldview is not complete without it. Christ clearly

believed that Satan existed (see Mk.6:7, 13, Lk. 10:17-18, Jn. 12:3, 14:30), and He, if anyone, was in a position to know.

Thus the Creed gives us a salutary reminder that the invisible world really exists, and that it often impinges upon our visible one. And all that exists, including the

angels who kept their first blessed state, and the angels

who fell from it and became demons, came originally

from the hand of God. We live in God’s world, and for all

the danger in it, He has not abandoned it. We confess the dangerous and beautiful complexity of this multilayered world every time we say the Creed. __________________________________________ Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network.

Fr Lawrence Farley

Fr Lawrence Farley on the Nicene Constantinopolitan Creed .AD 381

I believe i one God , the Father almighty maker of Heaven and Earth

To us today, it sounds a little odd to begin a creed with anything so obvious as the fact that there exists but one God, and that this almighty Father is the creator of heaven and earth. Given that the rest of the creed is devoted to proclaiming the Church’s position on controversial things (such as the full divinity of Jesus), how could the fact that God the Father is the creator be remotely controversial?

Welcome to the wonderful and whacky world of Gnosticism. Gnosticism is the title given by scholars to a series of sects in the early Christian centuries proclaiming a rival version of Christianity. Each had its own founder, the earliest (if you don’t count the great grand-daddy of heretics, Simon Magus; see Acts 8:9f) being Marcion who taught at Rome in the second century and died 160 A.D. Each teacher put his own spin on the historic Christian Faith, and each competed for disciples (i.e. for money; they would usually charge fees for their lectures). Some of the more successful teachers were Valentinus and Basilides. The movement produced its own literature, including the now-famous Gospel of Judas, which was written in about the late second century. The Gnostics were a diverse bunch, but they did share certain things in common.

One thing they shared in common was a disdain for the plain meaning of the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (that is doubtless why some Gnostic groups produced their own gospels). Isolated sayings of Jesus were seized upon and subjected to wild and symbolic interpretations. Another thing they shared was a disdain for the historic and apostolic Church, which they regarded as too unspiritual and as fit only for beginners at best. The really spiritual people, the ones in the know (the word “gnostic” comes from the Greek word gnosis, knowledge) would, of course, shun that unspiritual bunch of plodders and join the Gnostics instead.

Another thing they all shared in common was a horror of the physical world. They thought that an earthly, physical, fleshly existence was radically incompatible with a truly spiritual life, and so obviously the one true God would never have done anything so crass and tasteless as creating matter. How then did matter come to exist? Through a series of emanations, or aeons. The one true God was too exalted to soil Himself with the physical creation. He emitted an inferior emanation, who in turn emitted an inferior emanation, etc., etc., etc. How many emanations were necessary before the last one was inferior enough and crass enough to create the heaven and the earth? By one count, forty. And oh yes: the Jewish God was considered the crass creator of heaven and earth, but He was so far down the line that He was in ignorance of the emanations above Him.

For people of that time, it was all so exciting. How deliciously esoteric! St. Irenaeus, in his massive multi-volume work known now as Against Heresies, unravels all this nonsense, patiently explaining to his Orthodox readers what the various Gnostic teachers taught in their varied systems. He takes, for example, the teaching of Valentinus (Against Heresies, Bk I, chapter 11). Valentinus posited a certain two-fold being, the Dyad, one part called Inexpressible and the other part called Silence. From this Dyad, a second dyad was produced, called Father and Truth. From these four another four were emitted, whom Valentinus calls Word, Life, Man, and Church. This is the Ogdoad, the Eight. From Word and Life, ten more were emitted, and from Man and Church, another twelve. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Each Gnostic teacher seemed to have his own spin, and produce names more or less at will. Indeed, Irenaeus lampoons them for clearly making it up as they go along. And he says in effect, Anybody could invent their own religion like this. I could do it. Let me try:

There is a certain Pre-source, a power existing before every other essence. But along with it there exists a power which I term a Gourd, and along with this Gourd there exists a power which again I term Utter-emptiness. This Gourd and Emptiness, produced a fruit, everywhere visible, eatable and delicious, which fruit-language calls a Cucumber. Along with this Cucumber exists a power of the same essence which again I call a Melon. These powers, the Gourd, Utter-emptiness, the Cucumber and the Melon brought forth the remaining multitude of the delirious melons of Valentinus! (the quote is from Against Heresies, Bk. I,chapter 11)

Ouch. Point taken. By playing their own game and showing the Gnostics up through a kind of reductio ad absurdum, Irenaeus reveals Gnosticism as the nonsense it is. It all sounds bizarre to us today, but at that time, the Gnostics gained a great following. For the Gnostics as a whole, the Father of our Lord Jesus was not the creator God of the Old Testament. This creator God was an inferior deity, and Jesus, sent by the Father, came essentially to undo His work. Their view that the physical created world of sex, blood, excrement, and death was all too wretched and unspiritual to be the work of a truly exalted God desperately needed contradicting. And so the Church set about to contradict it in the opening words of the Creed.

Against the assertions of the Gnostics, the Church proclaims that there is only one God—the creator God of the Old Testament. There were no emanations from Him, no lesser deities, no emitted gods. The one true God was the creator—and this God was also the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. As challenging as bits of the Old Testament record might be to explain, the Old Testament God was indeed the Father of Jesus. Devaluing the created world as if it were some kind of divine mistake or something unspiritual from which we needed to be freed was out of the question. The world, though fallen, was created good, and it remains good. Food is good, and all food could be eaten if offered with thanksgiving. Sex was good, and could be lawfully used in marriage. Wine was good, and not only gladdened the heart of man (Psalm 104:15) but became a source of grace and salvation in the Eucharist. The body was good, and in Christ could become the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

The Gnostics that St. Irenaeus knew have long since ceased being a threat to the faithful of the Church. But, sad to say, some of their spirit lingers in the world. Whenever one devalues or rejects the Old Testament as “subChristian” or as “less inspired” or as “contradictory” to the Gospel, we see the lingering influence of Gnosticism. It is as if Marcion stirs in his long sleep, for he was adamant that the Old Testament and its inferior deity had no place in the Church.

Confessing the opening words of the Creed commits us to the view that the God of the Old Testament is our God, the One who sent and worked through His Son to bring us a salvation that transcended all that He had done before. It also commits us to an implacable monotheism, and to the view that all the multitudes of other gods (such as we find so numerous in the Indian subcontinent) are not truly gods at all. As the Psalmist says: “All the gods of the peoples are idols; but the Lord made the heavens” (Ps. 96:5). We believe the Psalmist. We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.