The Santa Story…

appoopa

This is how the Malayalam speaking people of Kerala, a small state in southern India addresses “Santa Claus” in the most loveable way. Appoopa means old man; a dear old man Santa, the Christmas father. He is our childhood hero, who is imagined as an old man in a red robe and a white long beard, with his most famous red hat, travelling on a sleigh, pulled by a reindeer. b0b126bbfaebcd8f7f86f942ebd04252Christmas time is here and its time to remember our childhood hero. Children singing the Christmas rhyme, “Dreams of Santa,Dreams of snow….. ” hang stockings on their front doors with the hope that Santa would place gifts in it, just before bedtime, believing the age old story of “Santa Claus”.       

Who is this Old Man? Is he just a popular legendary character that most of us are aware of? 

St-NickSt. Nicholas of Myra is a little known name, even for the most faithful devotees. But all around the world, he is a well admired figure in another name “Santa Claus!” writes the author of the book, “Eventual Annals of Nazaranis” 1 . A portion of the mortal remains of this fourth century Saint entombed at Kale, Turkey was shifted to Bari, Italy in the eleventh century. But a very few now know that a small portion of the Holy Relics of Santa Claus is kept in Kerala for more than a century. Until 1999, nobody knew about it. 

St. Nicholos was born around 280 CE at Patara in the present day Turkey. He was the only son of pious parents Theophanes and Nonna, who had vowed to dedicate him to the Lord. As the fruit of the prayer of his childless parents, the infant Nicholos from the very day of his birth revealed to people the light of his future glory as a wonderworker. His mother, Nonna, after giving birth was immediately healed from illness. The newborn infant, while still in the baptismal font, stood on his feet three hours, without support from anyone, thereby honoring the Most Holy Trinity. Saint Nicholas from his infancy began a life of fasting, and on Wednesdays and Fridays he would not accept milk from his mother until after his parents had finished their evening prayers.  He lost both his parents in his younger days and became a priest at the age of nineteen. 

From his childhood St. Nicholas thrived on the study of Divine Scripture; by day he would not leave church, and by night he prayed and read books, making himself a worthy dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. Bishop Nicholas of Patara rejoiced at the spiritual success and deep piety of his nephew. He ordained him a reader, and then elevated Nicholas to the priesthood, making him his assistant and entrusting him to instruct the flock. 

In serving the Lord the youth was fervent of spirit, and in his proficiency with questions of faith he was like an Elder, who aroused the wonder and deep respect of believers. Constantly at work and vivacious, in unceasing prayer, the priest Nicholas displayed great kind-heartedness towards the flock, and towards the afflicted who came to him for help, and he distributed all his inheritance to the poor. 

The Bishop of Patara decided to go on pilgrimage to the holy places at Jerusalem, and entrusted the guidance of his flock to Saint Nicholas, who fulfilled this obedience carefully and with love. When the bishop returned, Nicholas asked his blessing for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Along the way the Saint predicted a storm would arise and threaten the ship. Saint Nicholas saw the devil get on the ship, intending to sink it and kill all the passengers. At the entreaty of the despairing pilgrims, he calmed the waves of the sea by his prayers. Through his prayer a certain sailor of the ship, who had fallen from the mast and was mortally injured, was also restored to health. 

When he reached the ancient city of Jerusalem and came to Golgotha, Saint Nicholas gave thanks to the Savior. He went to all the holy places, worshiping at each one. One night on Mount Sion, the closed doors of the church opened by themselves for the great pilgrim. Going round the holy places connected with the earthly service of the Son of God, Saint Nicholas decided to withdraw into the desert, but he was stopped by a divine voice urging him to return to his native country. He returned to Lycia, and yearning for a life of quietude, the Saint entered into the brotherhood of a monastery named Holy Sion, which had been founded by his uncle. But the Lord again indicated another path for him, “Nicholas, this is not the vineyard where you shall bear fruit for Me. Return to the world, and glorify My Name there.” So he left Patara and went to Myra in Lycia. 

Upon the death of Archbishop John, Nicholas was chosen as Bishop of Myra after one of the bishops of the Council said that a new archbishop should be revealed by God, not chosen by men. One of the elder bishops had a vision of a radiant Man, Who told him that the one who came to the church that night and was first to enter should be made archbishop. He would be named Nicholas. The bishop went to the church at night to await Nicholas. The saint, always the first to arrive at church, was stopped by the bishop. “What is your name, child?” he asked. God’s chosen one replied, “My name is Nicholas, Master, and I am your servant.” 

After his consecration as archbishop, Saint Nicholas remained a great ascetic, appearing to his flock as an image of gentleness, kindness and love for people. This was particularly precious for the Lycian Church during the persecution of Christians under the emperor Diocletian (284-305). Bishop Nicholas, locked up in prison together with other Christians for refusing to worship idols, sustained them and exhorted them to endure the fetters, punishment and torture. The Lord preserved him unharmed. Upon the accession of Saint Constantine (May 21) as emperor, Saint Nicholas was restored to his flock, which joyfully received their guide and intercessor. 

Despite his great gentleness of spirit and purity of heart, Saint Nicholas was a zealous and ardent warrior of the Church of Christ. Fighting evil spirits, the saint made the rounds of the pagan temples and shrines in the city of Myra and its surroundings, shattering the idols and turning the temples to dust. 

In the year 325 Saint Nicholas was a participant in the First Ecumenical Council. This Council proclaimed the Nicean Symbol of Faith, and he stood up against the heretic Arius with the likes of Saints Sylvester the Bishop of Rome (January 2), Alexander of Alexandria (May 29), Spyridon of Trimythontos (December 12) and other Fathers of the Council.

Nicholas_the_WonderworkerSaint Nicholas, fired with zeal for the Lord, assailed the heretic Arius with his words, and also struck him upon the face. For this reason, he was deprived of the emblems of his episcopal rank and placed under guard. But several of the holy Fathers had the same vision, seeing the Lord Himself and the Mother of God returning to him the Gospel and omophorion. The Fathers of the Council agreed that the audacity of the Saint was pleasing to God, and restored the Saint to the office of bishop. 

Having returned to his own diocese, the Saint brought it peace and blessings, sowing the word of Truth, uprooting heresy, nourishing his flock with sound doctrine, and also providing food for their bodies. 

Miracles: 

10a-st-nick-dowry-goldEven during his life the saint worked many miracles. There was a certain formerly rich inhabitant of Patara, whom Saint Nicholas saved from great sin. The man had three grown daughters, and in desperation he planned to sell their bodies so they would have money for food. The saint, learning of the man’s poverty and of his wicked intention, secretly visited him one night and threw a sack of gold through the window. With the money the man arranged an honorable marriage for his daughter. Saint Nicholas also provided gold for the other daughters, thereby saving the family from falling into spiritual destruction.

In bestowing charity, Saint Nicholas always strove to do this secretly and to conceal his good deeds. One of the greatest was the deliverance from death of three men unjustly condemned by the Governor, who had been bribed. The saint boldly went up to the executioner and took his sword, already suspended over the heads of the condemned. The Governor, denounced by Saint Nicholas for his wrong doing, repented and begged for forgiveness. 

Witnessing this remarkable event were three military officers, who were sent to Phrygia by the emperor Constantine to put down a rebellion. They did not suspect that soon they would also be compelled to seek the intercession of Saint Nicholas. Evil men slandered them before the emperor, and the officers were sentenced to death. Appearing to Saint Constantine in a dream, Saint Nicholas called on him to overturn the unjust sentence of the military officers. 

He worked many other miracles, and struggled many long years at his labor. Through the prayers of the saint, the city of Myra was rescued from a terrible famine. He appeared to a certain Italian merchant and left him three gold pieces as a pledge of payment. He requested him to sail to Myra and deliver grain there. More than once, the saint saved those drowning in the sea, and provided release from captivity and imprisonment. 

Having reached old age, Saint Nicholas peacefully fell asleep in the Lord. His venerable relics were preserved incorrupt in the local cathedral church and flowed with curative myrrh, from which many received healing. During the crusades, a portion of his relics were stolen. After several shifting, it finally reached Bari, Italy on May 9, 1087 CE. It was officially placed there in 1089 CE by Pope Urban 2. Later, a basilica was built around it and that was consecrated in 1197 CE. In 1960’s, Roman Catholic Church removed his feast from the list of major saints.

Saint Nicholas In the Byzantine 2 Tradition: 

25-tubBishop Nicholas of Myra is known as “St. Nicholas the wonderworker” in the Byzantine tradition. The revitalizing of the three assassinated children stood as the prime among his miracles.

The name of the great saint of God, the hierarch and wonderworker Nicholas, a speedy helper and suppliant for all hastening to him, is famed in every corner of the earth, in many lands and among many peoples.

In Russia there are a multitude of cathedrals, monasteries and churches consecrated in his name. There is, perhaps, not a single city without a church dedicated to him. The first Russian Christian prince Askold (+ 882) was baptized in 866 by Patriarch Photius (February 6) with the name Nicholas. Over the grave of Askold, Saint Olga (July 11) built the first temple of Saint Nicholas in the Russian Church at Kiev. Primary cathedrals were dedicated to Saint Nicholas at Izborsk, Ostrov, Mozhaisk, and Zaraisk. At Novgorod the Great, one of the main churches of the city, the Nikolo-Dvorischensk church, later became a cathedral. 

Famed and venerable churches and monasteries dedicated to Saint Nicholas are found at Kiev, Smolensk, Pskov, Toropetsa, Galich, Archangelsk, Great Ustiug, Tobolsk. Moscow had dozens of churches named for the saint, and also three monasteries in the Moscow diocese: the Nikolo-Greek (Staryi) in the Chinese-quarter, the Nikolo-Perervinsk and the Nikolo-Ugreshsk. One of the chief towers of the Kremlin was named the Nikolsk. 

Many of the churches devoted to the saint were those established at market squares by Russian merchants, sea-farers and those who traveled by land, venerating the wonderworker Nicholas as a protector of all those journeying on dry land and sea. They sometimes received the name among the people of “Nicholas soaked.” 

Many village churches in Russia were dedicated to the wonderworker Nicholas, venerated by peasants as a merciful intercessor before the Lord for all the people in their work. And in the Russian land Saint Nicholas did not cease his intercession. Ancient Kiev preserves the memory about the miraculous rescue of a drowning infant by the saint. The great wonderworker, hearing the grief-filled prayers of the parents for the loss of their only child, took the infant from the waters, revived him and placed him in the choir-loft of the church of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) before his wonderworking icon. In the morning the infant was found safe by his thrilled parents, praising Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker. 

Many wonderworking icons of Saint Nicholas appeared in Russia and came also from other lands. There is the ancient Byzantine embordered image of the saint, brought to Moscow from Novgorod, and the large icon painted in the thirteenth century by a Novgorod master. 

Two depictions of the wonderworker are especially numerous in the Russian Church: Saint Nicholas of Zaraisk, portrayed in full-length, with his right hand raised in blessing and with a Gospel (this image was brought to Ryazan in 1225 by the future wife of Prince Theodore, the Byzantine Princess Eupraxia, who perished in 1237 with her husband and infant son during the incursion of Batu); and Saint Nicholas of Mozhaisk, also in full stature, with a sword in his right hand and a city in his left. This recalls the miraculous rescue of the city of Mozhaisk from an invasion of enemies, through the prayers of the saint. It is impossible to list all the grace-filled icons of Saint Nicholas, or to enumerate all his miracles.  

The Dutch and the Saint’s introduction to India: 

How did Saint Nicholas become Santa Claus? 

The Dutch continued to celebrate the feast day of Saint Nocholas on December 6. His legendary habit of secret giving especially to the children, made his feast as a day for gifting. 

It was a common practice for children to put out their shoes the night before. In the morning, they would discover the gifts that St. Nicholas had left there for them. Dutch immigrants brought St. Nicholas, known to them as ‘Sint Nikolaas’ or by his nickname Sinterklaas, and the gift giving ways to America in the eighteenth century. Thereafter St. Nicholas went through many transformations in America. Eventually Sinterklaas became Santa Claus. Instead of giving gifts on December 6, he became a part of Christmas. 

During those centuries, the red pastoral mantle of Bishop Nicholas turned to the loose robe of Santa Claus. Several European traditions contributed to his current legends such as residence in north-pole, travel on sleigh that was pulled by the reindeer named Rudolph, passage through smokestacks etc. The European invaders probably the Dutch introduced the concept of Santa Claus to India. He was accustomed to the Nazranis just as a legendary character not with any Christian or saintly background, because they were ignorant about Saint Nicholas at all. 

Saint Nicholas in the Oriental Orthodox Churches: 

St. Nicholas is venerated among the Oriental Orthodox Churches also but not as admired as in the Byzantine tradition, because many are ignorant about the Saint.

In Syriac tradition he is known as Mar Nikolavos or as Mar Sokha, the Episcopes of Myra. Even though the Malankara Nazranis had West Syriac relations from the seventeenth century onwards, St. Nicholas was unfamiliar to them even at the end of the twentieth century. 

But St. Nicholas was mentioned in several Church almanacs of the Nazranis from the eighteenth century onwards. The almanac written in 1795 CE on the south wall of old Chathannoor church, mentions Dhanu 6 according to Malayalam Era as the feast of Mar Nikolovas. Interestingly, the same date is marked as the feast of Mar Sokha, the Episcopes of Myra in the almanac published in 1872 CE by Fr. Edavazhikkal Philipose Cor-episcopa. It is repeated in the almanac published by Fr. Karuchira Geevarghese Remban (later Catholicos Baselius Geevarghese 1) in 1906 and 1907 CE. Since the feast of St. Nicholas was not mandatory according to the West Syriac tradition and there is no church here dedicated to him, the Nazranis were oblivious of Mar Nikolavos. 

In between, the holy relics of St. Nicholas reached Kerala in 1895 CE through St. Gregorios of Parumala, the first canonized Indian Saint. He was on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem as the guest of Geevarghese Mar Gregorios, the West Syriac metropolitan of Jerusalem that year. He was accommodated at St. Mary’s monastery of the Syriac Orthodox Church. In his travelogue ‘Oorslem Yaathra’ (The Journey of Jerusalem) published in 1895…StMarkEnt

(At St. Mark’s) on the south wall within the railings, the holy relics of abundant Saints and very tiny fraction of the cross are kept. Upon my request, father (Bishop of Jerusalem) had given me a few of them…. 

On his return, St. Gregorios of Parumala handed over six of them to Fr. Konat Mathen Malpan (later Cor-episcopa) along with the gospels copied by him in Syriac. This offering was a mark of respect to his guru (teacher) Metropolitan Konat Geevarghese Mar Yoolios who departed in 1884 CE. Even though St. Gregorios did not mention any Saint in particular in his travelogue, Fr. Mathen Malpan, the paternal grandnephew of Mar Yoolios, specifically mentioned all six he received including the relics of Mar Sokha, the Episcopes of Myra in his chronicles of the period 1895-1903 CE (Konat Mal. MS No. 54) 

IMG_20181207_002444 (2)Konat family was functioning as the teachers of Syriac language and theology for several centuries. Fr. Abraham Malpan 1, a well-known scholar, shifted from Mammalassery to Pampakuda in Ernakulam District, Kerala. He built St. John of Ephesus Church there in 1824 CE and continued teaching the clerics. The holy relics offered by St. Gregorios were deposited in different plaques stating the content. In 1903 CE, they were placed in the cross tower in front of the Church, built along with Church. 

Since then nobody bothered to link Mar Sokha with St. Nicholas until 1999 CE. No Churches were built in his name. His feast was never celebrated. In 1999, Dr. Kurian Thomas came across the almanacs mentioned above and a further research disclosed that both St. Nicholos and Mar Sokha, the Episcopes of Myra is the same person according to the Syriac tradition. The biography of St. Gregorios of Parumala revealed his offering to the Konat family in 1895.

Further search confirmed the links through the chronicles of Fr. Mathen Malpan. Through an article in the Christmas edition of Malayala Manorama, a vernacular daily, the present author announced this discovery in 1999. 

IMG_20181207_002300 (2)Still the content of the casket is a mystery. Nobody knows what is there sealed in the casket. It could be a piece of bone, teeth or nail; nobody knows. Fr. Dr. Johns Abraham Konat, the grandson of Fr. Mathen Malpan and the present custodian of the relics have no intention to examine it. It will remain a mystery like the gifts Christmas Appoopa (father) puts in the children’s stockings. 

st nicolas cross tower

 

 

 

 

The first cross tower in India  in the name of Saint Nicholas along with other Saints, other than the Pampakuda (Kerala) cross tower was consecrated on 30th November, 2018 at St. Thomas Orthodox Church, Madurai, Tamilnadu by H.G. Dr. Yuhanon Mar Diascoros.

 

This article reveals that Santa Claus is not just an imaginary hero, as we all have dreamt ninos-con-san-nicolas-20386off. St.Nicholos (Santa Claus) is a real life hero, who has been a refuge and intercessor to many. And now, after knowing these facts about our Christmas Appoopa, we have the real reason to explain to our little kids of the wonders of this wonder worker, and inspire them to seek for the intercession of this great Saint and wonderworker. May his intercession be a strong refuge to all.

 

*****References*********

1. Eventual Annals of Nazranis by Meledath Kurian Thomas

2. Spiritual Fragrance Publishing of Russian Orthodox Church

I WILL GET UP AND GO TO MY FATHER….LUKE 15:18

 the-prodigal-son“I will get up and go to my father” are the words of the Prodigal son; this is the experience of the resurrected life. The impact of repentance begins with man’s return to himself by means of the Holy Spirit, to discover he is in a state of hunger. He realizes the ego, the ‘I’, has knocked him down to the ground due to the void situation in himself. He realizes he has absolutely fallen to the ground, and has come to be under the judgment of eternal death. But the Holy Spirit uncovers his vision so that he sees in his Savior Jesus Christ, the risen from the dead “the, mystery of the resurrection”. Christ grants the dead ‘resurrection, so they live in the experience of His resurrected life’. Repentance is not a passive work. It is the means by which man discovers his drawbacks and even his absolute devastation; it is a positive job in which the Christian believer accepts his Christ as the mystery of his resurrection and his life, so that he lives all his estranged days experiencing the new life. He goes on from strength to strength, enjoying one glory after the next, and one grace in addition to the other. He is eager to reach the full measure of Christ (Eph.4: 13). Repentance is the practical blessing of the permanent resurrection.

“The Renewal that we experience in this life, and our transfer from the physical earthly life to the heavenly and spiritual one, is made in us by means of the impact of the Holy Spirit” St. Basil the Great.

“In this age, there is no eighth day, nor there is a true Sabbath” quoted by St. Isaac the Syrian in his Ascetical Homily no. 29, concerning the Lord’s Day and the Sabbath.issac the syrian

The eighth day as we all know is the day of the Lord or the day of Resurrection or the age to come. This is the reason the Holy Liturgy is celebrated every Sunday, the first day of the week, as the Resurrection day.

St. Isaac the Syrian says “Just as those who are worthy receive in this world the mysteries of the Lord’s Day in a similitude, but not that day itself as long as they are in their bodily nature,”

The similitude of the Lord’s Day here on Earth is the state of extreme joy. Means that a person gets to experience the unexplainable joy of knowing the mysteries of the Lord’s Day that we will enjoy in the age to come. This similitude is possible here on earth only for people who are living a life of struggle for righteousness and prayer which is explained further down in the article. These people St. Isaac the Syrian calls as people who are worthy, for e.g. people who have toiled to the extent of being called a Saint.

Further “so ascetic strugglers receive the mysteries of the Sabbath in a similitude, but not the true Sabbath itself which is repose from every sorrow and perfect rest from every troublesome passion.”

Similarly St. Isaac talks of an ascetic struggler (still refers to people who are living a life of struggle for righteousness and prayer;) here on Earth who experiences the similitude of the Sabbath, which becomes the true Sabbath when a human is actually in the grave. Here the similitude involves a personal experience of freedom from tribulations of passions and from the toil against them.

Again “For God has given us to taste a mystery, but He has not ordained that we should here lead our lives in true reality.”

All these experiences of similitude that a person experiences is only for a brief period of time, because God has given this to us to taste a mystery, and as long as we are in the bodily nature, we are not in the true reality. Our life of toil and tribulations of passions continue on Earth till we repose in the grave, which is the repose from tribulation of passions and from toil against them.

How does one make oneself worthy or become an ascetic struggler?st.john the baptist

St. Isaac quotes “Six days are accomplished in the husbandry of life by means of keeping the commandments; seventh is spent entirely in the grave; and eighth is the departure from it.” St. John the Baptist is the best example for an ascetic struggler.

To explain further:

a) Six days are accomplished in the husbandry of life by means of keeping the commandments;

When God told Adam “‘in the sweat of thy face, shalt thou eat thy bread.’ Until when? ‘Until thou return to the earth out of which thou wast taken.’ ‘And the earth shall bring forth unto thee thorns and thistles.’”

Evil does not lie in human nature. Man is not born from sin. He is born from the creative act of God, from whom he receives his nature. Sin is against nature.

St. Gregory of Nyssa says, Existence, excludes evil. To exist is truly possible only in the good. There is no such thing as “sinful existence”. In his commentary on Psalms, “Scripture, through these words, teaches us to exist in Him Who Is, is truly to exist. If anyone has fallen off from Him, Who Is, he is no longer in existence.”

This quote by St. Gregory explains that without God there is no existence for man, only with God can we exist in good, for God is good.

Then how does evil have its origin?

Evil has its origin in the misuse we make of our good gifts.

Misuse or perverse use means a use that runs contrary to the Creator’s purpose. That is when we do not obey or follow His commandments.

Therefore Sin and the passions are always only alien bodies which can and will be excluded. To the extent that evil is not eternal, it exists merely as a parasite and it will disappear along with whatever has provoked it. We get this confirmation in the Gospel itself:
“There was a time when evil did not exist, and the time will come when it will exist no more. But virtue always remains. For the seeds of virtue are imperishable even though evil exists. The rich man convinces us of this. He was in hell because of his malice/ passions, yet he took pity on his brothers. But having compassion is an excellent seed of virtue.”

Sin came by “eating”, by an act of being drawn to the “Tree of the knowledge of good and evil” through external persuasion and actual tasting of the fruit of that tree.

But what is this tree and what is this “eating”?

Sin of Eve was not simply in choosing evil with the knowledge that it was evil, but in choosing something which seemed good, but was not good for her. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil could not have been evil, for it was created by God, and everything God created was necessarily good. But it was not good for Eve, for it had been forbidden. She could have seen that it was not good for her, if she had adhered to the word of God without actually tasting it.

Adam_Eve-279x300But the enemy persuaded her that it was good for her, and she adhered to the word of falsehood (serpent or Devil). If the fruit had appeared naturally as pure evil, she would not have tasted it. Only because it had the appearance of Good, capable of making men “like Gods”, which she must have rightly judged to be a good thing, she had the wrong discernment of what was good for her at that time. So while the tree and fruit are not evil in themselves but good, they became evil to her, in so far as falsehood was the basis on which she approached it.

The “knowledge of good and evil” is thus being drawn towards something which one wrongly or falsely judged to be good for oneself, on the basis of false belief and desire for gratification rather for the sake of good itself. Evil is a latent (hidden) possibility in the misuse of the good. It was this misuse of the good that constituted the first sin.

So the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, good in itself, and good for man and woman also if one refrains from eating its fruit, thus can be misused by eating it against the commandment.

Sin is the act of will, not bodily drives or surge of passions. St. Gregory leaves us in no doubt what the source of evil is—the freedom of Man.

St. Gregory sees man as born to a death bound life. It is from Adam and Eve, whose bodies and souls were condemned to die, that our bodies and souls are derived. They are thus born mortal, subject to death.

But here one has to make a very delicate clarification. It is not sin that we inherit from Adam by nature, but the consequence of sin, namely mortality and corruptibility. At this point Gregory and the Eastern tradition in general, would find the Augustinian notion of “Original sin” unacceptable (This is greatly used by Roman Catholic Church/ Western Christianity).

In fact there is no such terms as “Original sin” in the earlier Eastern patristic writings, either in the Greek or in the Syriac. The idea of “natural sin”, advanced by some, was vigorously refuted by the great teacher of Syrians,saint_severus St. Severus of Antioch, who has been much misunderstood and more mis-interpreted in the West. St. Severus wrote in Greek, but is preserved for us mainly in syriac translations, found the idea of “natural sin” absolutely unacceptable to an Orthodox Christian. St. Severus was preaching in the Cathedral of Antioch against a contemporary heretic (Romanos of Cilicia) who had suggested on the authority of St. Paul that real sin was ‘bodily sin’ which is also ‘natural sin’. The heretic seems to have made the distinction between “natural sin” and “voluntary sin”.

St. Severus argues quoting St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory Nazianzen and St. Cyril of Alexandria, that if bodily sin is natural sin, and is the only real sin, the voluntary sin must be unreal. St. Severus calls the distinction unscholarly. Sin is sin because it is voluntary. Otherwise God would not condemn us for it. “It is a disease of the will, and disease is not natural”.

All sin is against nature. This is a fundamental principle in Eastern patristic thought, and St. Gregory has philosophically made clear why this is so. Human nature has become enslaved to sin and through sin to evil, but sin is an alien master that now rules man, not something that belongs to his nature. The source of sin is in Man’s changeability (ability to change) which is also an arena of his freedom and self-creation.

How does this occur to us in our daily living?

Our thoughts are very complex structures. Thoughts understood in positive and negative sense have distinct origins.

The thoughts that come from the senses, memory and temperament are thoughts that are prompted by the angels and the demons. If the human being gives consent to the demons— for everything depends on consent (freedom of man/ act of will)—evil grows roots in us (our hearts), and it becomes a habit and then a passion of the soul. The soul truly suffers then from a disease. The consequence being disinterest in God and self-ruination (Refer to Orthodox Study Journal-youth issue 3: Aug-Sep 2018 for examples of Orthodox Christian living.)

The one thing that is truly good is God. When our passionate and self-directed will finally fixes itself upon God as the one good to be chosen above all others, then we begin to see God and also become God-like. Here the love of God becomes the true expression of human freedom. In this act of love is also true act of knowledge, for in love of God one gets to know the reality that lies behind all reality, the One that is alone good and true and reliable.

St. Gregory quotes, “For when God made you, He at once endowed your nature. He imprinted an imitation of the perfections of His own nature, just as one would impress upon the outline of an emblem. But the wickedness that has been poured all over your divine engraving has made your perfection useless and hidden it with a vicious coating. You must then wash away by a life of virtue, the dirt that has come to cling to your heart like plaster and then your divine beauty will once again shine forth.
Once he has scrapped off the rust like dirt that has accumulated on his form because of evil degeneration, then will he become good once more and shine forth in the likeness of his archetype (God). For surely what resembles the good is in itself good. Thus if such a man will look at himself he will see within himself the object of desire, and thus he will become blessed, for in gazing upon his own purity he will see the archetype (God) within the image.”

This is the true knowledge of God, the blessed vision, or the beatific vision as in Mathew 5:8, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God’.

It is not all a mystical experience but something which happens when a man becomes truly human, untainted by evil, in full control of oneself, grown in goodness and holiness.

To love good freely and not by compulsion—that is the greatest gift of God and this gift is given to man.

Now getting back to beginning of this point (a), referring Gen 3:19.

The thorns and thistles in the verse are the sin/evil/passions, which are, quoting St. Isaac the Syrian “mysteries (signifying) the husbandry of this life as long as man lives.

For more than 5000 years, the Lord left Adam to toil in this husbandry, because the path of the saints had not been revealed as the Apostle says in Hebrew 9:8.”

How then did the Lord help us?

St. Isaac the Syrian gives us a beautiful explanation.The-Agony-in-the-garden-of-Gethsemane3
“In His goodness, the Lord sojourned among us in these latter days (i.e. days during Christ and after resurrection, through the Holy Spirit) and commanded human free will to exchange sweat for sweat (first sweat is mentioned in Gen 3:19, the second sweat in Luke 22:44, which says…)
But from the time of that night when the Lord sweated, He changed the sweat that brought forth thorns and thistles into a sweat in prayer and the husbandry of righteousness.
In this manner He manifested His loving kindness towards us, because of our prolonged and wearisome hardship upon the earth.
If therefore we cease to sweat in the labor of prayer, we shall necessarily reap thorns, for cessation of prayer means a tilling of the earth corporeality which by nature bring forth thorns.
Passions are thus thorns indeed and they spring up from the seed that lies in our body. In as much we bear the image of Adam, we necessarily bear his passions also. The earth cannot discontinue to bring forth shoots. This is the nature of earth (reference Gen 1:12), which after the fall brought forth thorns also.
Similarly as it is said in divine testimony, ‘The earth from which thou wast taken’; the earth of our body (i.e. we humans who are rational) is the offspring of this earth bring forth passions.

b) ‘the seventh is spent entirely in the grave;’

“Our Sabbath is the day of the grave; it is here that our nature truly keeps the Sabbath. For he who said (i.e. through the Scriptures we know) ‘God rested on the seventh day’, signified our nature’s rest from this course of life, since grave is also of bodily nature and belongs to this world… The true Sabbath, the Sabbath that is not a similitude, is the tomb, which reveals and manifests perfect repose from tribulations of passions and for toil against them. The whole man, both in body and soul there keeps the Sabbath” quotes St. Isaac the Syrian.
“If by way of a mystery the Lord (Christ) was for us in every respect an example (role model) in all diverse works of His dispensation (an arrangement or favor), and even until the ninth hour (until giving up His spirit on the cross) of Great Friday, He did not rest from labour and wearisome toil (which is the mystery of husbandry of our entire life), but reposed only in the tomb on the Sabbath.”

So is the case with us, we are not exempted from this labour and wearisome toil till we are in our bodily nature. This toil/sweat is the opportunity to live the life of virtue for our perfection, till we are on earth. By practicing this life of virtue we remain in the mode of constantly remembering God and seeking the Divine help to grow in the good. The stillness and peace that we acquire by remembrance of God and virtue that we develop here on earth is what our soul gets to experience in the grave. Which leads to acquiring Christ and living in Christ, in the darkness of our grave, our light is Christ, “Your word (Christ) is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” Psalm 119: 105. That is what we sing at the start of the Holy Qurbana:

“By thy light we see the light, Jesus full of light,
Thou, true light, dost give the light,
To thy creatures all”……
…. “Lord, grant good remembrance to
All the faithful dead”

St. Isaac the Syrian quotes “Necessity, therefore, obliges us daily to uproot thorns from the earth of our nature so long as it exists, and because of our prolonged toil at this husbandry the thorns will diminish; but you will be unable to cleanse yourself from them entirely. If therefore, it is the case that during this brief spell of sluggishness or because of a little negligence the thorns multiply, cover over the face of the earth, choke your seed and obliterate your toil, then it is clearly necessary to purify your soil (your heart) each day. Cessation from this causes a multitude of thorns to spring up, of which may we cleansed (through the sacrament of confession) by the grace of the consubstantial, only-begotten Son of God, to Whom together with the unoriginate Father and the life-creating Spirit be glory unto ages. Amen”

descent-into-hell

Christ in Hades holding Cross (Instrument of His death)

The moral progress of the soul, either for better or for worse, ends at the very moment of the separation of the body and soul; at that very moment the definite destiny of the soul in the everlasting life is decided. It will be judged on the Judgement day not according to its deeds one by one, but according to the entire total results of its deeds and thoughts. The Orthodox Church believes that at this moment the soul of the dead person begins to realize/experience the consequences of its deeds and thoughts on earth – that is, to enjoy the life in Paradise or to undergo the life in Hades. There is no way of repentance, no way of escape, no reincarnation and no help from the outside world (apart from the prayers offered by the Church). Its place is decided forever by its Creator and judge.
Example given below is one of songs during prayers for departed during The Holy Qurbana:

“May the departed one receive
Who confessed the Trinity
What was promised to the thief
Paradise with Thee O, Lord”

The Orthodox Church does not believe in purgatory (a place of purging), that is the intermediate state after death in which the souls of the saved (those who have not received temporal punishment for their sins) are purified of all taint preparatory to entering into Heaven, where every soul is perfect and fit to see God. Also, the Orthodox Church does not believe in indulgences as remissions from purgatorial punishment (indulgences, the doctrine and system of the Roman Catholic church, remit temporal punishment. But if the sinner did not suffer in this life by means of penance, or did not acquire a sufficient indulgence, then he would have to suffer in Purgatory, so that God’s justice might be satisfied).

Both purgatory and indulgences are inter-correlated theories, unwitnessed in the Bible or in the Ancient Church, and when they were enforced and applied, they brought about wrong practices at the expense of the prevailing Truths of the Church. If Almighty God in His merciful loving-kindness changes the dreadful situation of the sinner, it is unknown to the Church of Christ. The Church lived for fifteen hundred years without such a theory.

Does the soul “sleep” after death?

From the Scripture passages it is clear that after the separation of soul from body after death, the soul is conscious and consequently, feels, understands, and in general exercises all the energies of the soul (Revelation 6:9-10, 7:15; 1 Peter 3: 19; Hebrews 12:23; Luke 16:27-28). The word “sleep/rest”, by which death is characterized, does not refer to the soul, but to the body. In Matthew 27:52, we read that many Saints who had fallen asleep, were raised.

St. Abba Dorotheus of Gaza from 6th Century says that the soul “remembers everything at its exit from this body more clearly and distinctly once freed from the earthliness of the body,” and St. John Cassian’s teaching that the soul “becomes yet more alive” after death; and similar statements could be found in many Church Father’s writings.

resructionThose who predeceased (all people who died before death of Christ on cross) Christ’s crucifixion descended to Hades, where they patiently waited the coming of their Messiah. But when Christ on Holy Saturday descends to Hades and break open and smashes its gates they are freed from this underworld, and mingle freely with Christ and His angels. This event, known as the Harrowing of Hades, was taught from the very beginning of the Church. St. Melito of Sardis (died ca 180) in Homily on the Passion; Tertullian in A Treatise on the Soul, 55, Hippolytus in Treatise on Christ and Anti-Christ , Origen in Against Celsus, 2:43, and, later, St. Ambrose (died 397) all wrote of the Harrowing of Hell. “Harrow” comes from the Old English word used to describe the ploughing of a field with a cultivator which is dragged roughly over the ground, churning it up. In the icon, Christ is shown with the instrument of His death plunged deep into Hades. Beneath Christ’s feet – which still carry the marks of His crucifixion – lay the gates of Hades, smashed wide open. Often they are shown laying in the shape of the Cross.

Observing the icon of ‘The Resurrection of Christ’ we can understand the following: Christ’s robe is flowing upward, this symbolizes his radical descent into Hades to save those who have died in the flesh. The golden bars by his feet are the gates of Hades, which he has broken and torn apart. There are keys floating in the abyss below, which symbolizes that he has entered and conquered both death and Hades. The two figures whom Christ has grasped and is pulling from tombs are Adam and Eve, symbolizing that his victory redeems all mankind, even back to the beginning. It also foreshadows the general resurrection of the body before the Final Judgment. Within the dark underworld are scattered broken chains and locks; and at the very bottom is the personified Hades, prostrate and bound. Hades is not destroyed – it is still there – but its power to bind people is gone. There are no chains, no locked doors. If only we raise our hands in supplication and longing for Jesus Christ, He is there to lift us from the grave. One of the key things to remember is that icons are not meant to be “photo recordings” of what happened. These are symbolic tools that assists us in comprehension of the gospel truth through our sense of sight.

The doctrine of the descent of Christ into Hades occupies an essential place in the works of Cyril of Alexandria. In his ‘Paschal Homilies’, he repeatedly mentions that as a consequence of the descent of Christ into Hades, the devil was left all alone, while hell was devastated: ‘For having destroyed hell and opened the impassable gates for the departed spirits, He left the devil there abandoned and lonely. The so-called ‘preaching in hell’, which is the faith of the Church, is a revelation of Christ to those who in their earthly life could not see or know Christ. There are no grounds for limiting this event… to the Old Testament saints alone, as Roman Catholic theology does. Rather, the power of this preaching should be extended to all time for those who during their life on earth did not and could not know Christ but meet Him in the afterlife.

Now coming back to the subject of Sabbath, The word of Christ formally condemns the Jewish way of application to God, of the Sabbath rest, understood as idleness. In God there is no idleness; but His activity (reaching out to Human race on earth and in Hades for their salvation) which, as St. Clement of Alexandria says, is identical with “His love”, is exercised without ceasing. And this is of great importance: the idleness, of the Sabbath appears henceforth as a literal and inferior notion. To understand the Sabbath a bit more let us understand the miracle our Lord did:

“And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity. And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.” (Luke 13:12-13)

“The Lord worked this wonderful miracle, not at the request of, or in response to the faith of, the woman, but on His own initiative and in His own power. Is this not a clear rebuttal to all those who seek maliciously to belittle the divine greatness of Christ’s miracles, intimating that these miracles only come about through auto-suggestion on the part of those to whom they happen? Where is there a trace of “magical” auto-suggestion in this twisted woman? Her infirmity prevented her from even seeing Christ’s face. She did not ask Christ for mercy, nor did she express faith in Him by any sign. Not only this; the woman was not even near Christ. She did not go up to Him, but He called her to Him.” (Homilies of Blessed Nicolai Velomirivitch, Volume 2, Page 279)

“But our Lord, to show that His coming into this world was to be the loosing of human infirmities, healed this woman. Hence it follows, “And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said to her, Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” A word most suitable to God, full of heavenly majesty; for by His royal assent He dispels the disease. He also laid His hands upon her, for it follows, “He laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.” We should here answer, that the Divine power had put on the sacred flesh. For it was the flesh of God Himself, and of no other, as if the Son of Man existed apart from the Son of God, as some have falsely thought.” (St Cyril of Jerusalem)

“And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.” (Luke 13:14)

healing woman with infirmity“But the ungrateful ruler of the synagogue, when he saw the woman, who before was creeping on the ground, now by Christ’s single touch made upright, and relating the mighty works of God, sullies his zeal for the glory of the Lord with envy, and condemns the miracle, that he might appear to be jealous for the Sabbath.” (St Cyril of Jerusalem)

“The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?” (Luke 13:15-16)

“Lastly, God rested from the works of the world not from holy works, for His working is constant and everlasting; as the Son says, My Father works until now, and I work; that after the likeness of God our worldly, not our religious, works should cease. Accordingly our Lord pointedly answered him, as it follows, You hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath-day loose his ox or his ass?” (St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan)

“Now the ruler of the synagogue is convicted a hypocrite, in that he leads his cattle to watering on the Sabbath-day, but this woman, not more by birth than by faith the daughter of Abraham, he thought unworthy to be loosed from the chain of her infirmity. Therefore He adds, And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham whom Satan has bound lo, these eighteen years, to be loosed from this bond on the sabbath-day? The ruler preferred that this woman should like the beasts rather look upon the earth than receive her natural stature, provided that Christ was not magnified. But they had nothing to answer; they themselves unanswerably condemned themselves. Hence it follows, And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed. But the people, reaping great good from His miracles, rejoiced at the signs which they saw, as it follows, And all the people rejoiced. For the glory of His works vanquished every scruple in them who sought Him not with corrupt hearts.” (St Cyril of Jerusalem)

Christians must judge things spiritually. It is obvious to a Christian soul that the “rest” prescribed for the Sabbath does not preclude good works, and in fact requires them! “Rest” is not freedom for labor – it is freedom from all things earthly. The Sabbath day for the Jews was Saturday. Since Jesus Christ rose from the dead on Sunday, this day has superseded the Jewish Sabbath day. Let us keep our Sabbath day by resting from earthly cares, and worldly excuses for our sins and secular concerns. The true keeping of the Christian “Sabbath” is not limited to a single day, but is the entire living of the Christian life.

The woman’s back was twisted, and she was bent over, inclined towards the earth. This is not the way man was created. Twistedness denotes our inclination towards sins and depravity, and the woman’s posture indicates our common inclination towards earthly thoughts. Like the woman, we are often UNABLE to incline ourselves towards heavenly things, because of our sinful habits and inclinations, and our weak will.

“For every sinner who thinks earthly things, not seeking those that are in heaven, is unable to look up. For while pursuing his baser desires, he declines from the uprightness of his state; or his heart is bent crooked, and he ever looks upon that which he unceasingly thinks about. The Lord called her and made her upright, for He enlightened her and succored her. He sometimes calls but does not make upright, for when we are enlightened by grace, we oft-times see what should be done, but because of sin do not practice it. For habitual sin binds down the mind, so that it cannot rise to uprightness. It makes attempts and fails, because when it has long stood by its own will, when the will is lacking, it falls.” (St Gregory the Theologian)

In Greek, the length of the woman’s infirmity reads “ten and eight years”. The Holy Fathers have understood this to mystically point to the real cause of the woman’s infirmity. The “ten” refers to the Ten Commandments, and by extension, all of God’s law. The woman was a sinner. The “eight” refers to her being weak in the hope of the “eighth day”. She was bent over with earthly thoughts. Those who sin are weak in thinking about spiritual things.

“For when a man is feeble in keeping the commandments of the divine law, which are ten in number, and is weak in his hope of the eighth age, the age to come, it can be said that he has been bent over for ten and eight years. Is not that man indeed bent over who is attached to the earth, and who always sins in disregard of the commandments, and who does not look for the age to come?” (Blessed Theophylact)

Coming back to quote from where we started:

“Our Sabbath is the day of the grave; it is here that our nature truly keeps the Sabbath. For he who said ‘God rested on the seventh day’, signified our nature’s rest from this course of life, since grave is also of bodily nature and belongs to this world… The true Sabbath, the Sabbath that is not a similitude, is the tomb, which reveals and manifests perfect repose from tribulations of passions and for toil against them. The whole man, both in body and soul there keeps the Sabbath” quotes St. Isaac the Syrian.

We can conclude that the true Sabbath is the day of the grave, when both body and soul keeps Sabbath. From the above study of Christ’s miracle we know what we need to do to observe our Sabbath. In the grave body and its nature is fully at rest, but our soul is still active in the presence of God through His Love for us.

second comingc) ‘Eighth day is the departure from it (grave)’ (or the resurrection of our bodies at the second coming of our Lord, at the judgement)

for which St. Isaac the Syrian say’s in this homily, “The Lord’s Day, is a mystery of the knowledge of the truth, that is not received by flesh and blood (e.g. we humans), and it transcends conceptions (that which cannot be conceived by us) The Lord’s day, however, is too great a thing for us to speak of.”

But we still can know a lot from Scripture and from the tradition of our church. Here is an icon of ‘The second coming of the Lord’ and we can understand the following: This second advent will be a cataclysmic event: Christ will appear to all in the heavens, which “shall pass away with great violence, and the elements shall be melted with heat, and the earth and the works which are in it, shall be burnt up.

All men, both the just and the wicked, shall appear before Christ, who will separate the sheep from the goats, saying to the one: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, and inherit the Kingdom which hath been prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” (this is shown to the left side of the icon, where the Angel is also holding a balancing measure/weighing scale) and to the other “Depart from me, ye cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Mat 25: 31-46. And while those in Paradise will go from joy to joy and glory to glory, certain of finding mercy at the Judgment, it is perhaps not impossible, that due to God’s Love, that some in Hades will also find mercy from Christ and be brought into everlasting bliss at the end.

It is at the Last Day that all shall be consummated; all the time before this Last Day will have been merely a waiting. For only here will the damned inherit their full punishment, and experience everlasting destruction, having been cast into outer darkness with the demons, from which fate may God preserve us all. And only here will the righteous be admitted to the fullness of their reward, and enter into the marriage feast of the Lamb, being ineffably united with Christ forever, and taking boundless delight in His Presence, in the new heaven and the new earth, where God shall be all in all.

Therefore, let us understand our fallen nature and say along with the prodigal son, “I will get up and go to my Father”.

                  ———————————————————————————————————–

Main Sources: Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian; Cosmic Man- H.G. Dr. Paulose Mar Gregorios; Despondency- Archimandrite Gabriel Bunge

 

Maintaining an Undefiled Conscience in the World of Distraction–Part 4

The article continues from….Maintaining an Undefiled Conscience in the World of Distraction —–Part 3

Conclusion:

Each of us should examine our life to measure whether our values, desires and actions are in conformity to the world or in conformity to Christ. Through a regular discipline of self-examination or preparation for the Holy Mystery of Confession and reception of the Eucharist, we can come to understand the subtle and blatant influences (temptations) we are subjected to in our so called secular, politically and religiously correct and relativistic society.

We can then conform our heart, mind and deeds to Christ and measure our values and actions against Christ. In the words of St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians we have to attain “the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.” (Eph 4:13–14). To clearly understand this verse from the Scripture an attempt has been made in the article by mentioning and explaining the various subjects/distractions in the world like paganism, heresies, secularism and the like. In this context the virtue of discernment has to be practiced to maintain an undefilDISCERMENTeconscience in this world of distraction.

St. John Cassian from 5th Century writes:

“Discrimination [discernment] is no small virtue, but one of the most important gifts of the Holy Spirit … [it is] … nothing worldly or insignificant. It is the greatest gift of God’s grace … the ability to discriminate between spirits that enter into him and to assess them accurately.” St. John quotes St. Antony of the Desert who considers discernment the “mother of all virtues and their guardian,” and describes what is entailed in discernment: “scrutinizing all the thoughts and actions of a man, [distinguishing and setting] aside everything that is base and not pleasing to God, [and thus keeping] him free from delusion.”

Jesus told His disciples:

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Mt 10:16).

St. Peter of Damaskos of 8th Century tells us:

“For without discrimination nothing that comes to pass is good, even if we in our ignorance think that it is. But when through discrimination we learn how it lies in our power to attain what we wish, then what we do begins to conform to God’s will.”

St. John of the Ladder of 7th Century points out:

“Among beginners, discernment is real self-knowledge … it is the spiritual capacity to distinguish unfailingly between what is truly good and what in nature is opposed to the good.”

It can be seen therefore that the practice of discernment is an active process. It does not occur automatically, but must be done in the light of Christ which can only illumine us when prayer and His presence are cultivated.

In order to see God’s Will in all we encounter, we must have put Christ at the center of our hearts. The prayers of the Church, the Holy Traditionimages9 passed on to us, the Divinely-inspired Sacred Scriptures as understood by the Holy Spirit guided Church must be the measure of all attitudes we have, all decisions we make and all deeds we do.

This is exactly to follow the teachings of Christ: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness.” (Mt 6:21–23). The illumined eye leads to an illumined heart that discerns the treasure that is of God from the treasure of this world.

To withstand the pressures of the world, St. Paul told the Ephesians (6:11–12) what to do: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against … this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness …”

The psalmist (90:1–4) outlines for us what this entails: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, who abides in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.’ For He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence; He will cover you with his pinions, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and buckler.” To abide in God’s fortress, to have Him as our shield, we must have a continual sense of His presence.

We should always be aware of the reality, that humanity is placed between two HUMAN PLACEbasic relationships.

  1. To the source and ground of its being.
  2. To the created world in which humanity is placed.

This is the true Christian way of understanding reality.

 

The message of Genesis in terms of man’s relationship to the source and ground of its being (God) is that all is created by God and for God; but the account of creation goes further than this: it tells us who that God is and, by extension, what man is, for man is made in His image as in Genesis 1:26. Its fundamental message is that man was made by God to worship Him, to make good use of the Image of God in man.

Connection, relationship, unity – this is an emphatically Christian way of seeing the world. Ecology is the study of connections, relationships, how an ecosystem is a unified whole. Ecological distress results when connections are broken, relationships are severed; unity is dissolved – as when an ecosystem breaks down. Spiritual distress results when a man sees no connection between his actions and their consequences; when he lives without concern for other living things, especially human beings; when he believes salvation is private and individualized, involving spirit but ignoring matter; then that man leads a life of self-absorption that inflames the passions and damages the world. However, Greek Church Father, St. Gregory Palamas from 14th Century writes, “we are responsible for the world.”

Life for the Christian is a process of forming connections, healing relationships, and restoring unity. By simple virtue of his faith, the Christian is ecological. Like his Lord, he cares about the condition of the cosmos. But that is precisely the challenge, isn’t it? To care. Sometimes, understanding helps us care. So, let’s take a look at what might be one of God’s intentions for creation and for man’s special role as steward.

From the Genesis story we learn of creation’s “very goodness,” and of man’s responsibility to maintain it accordingly. “Then the Lord God took man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it.” Genesis 2:15. The nuance of the “tend and keep” mandate is revealed in the original Hebrew: Adam is to ‘abad’ and ‘shamar’ the land in which he is placed. Abad, often translated as “to tend” or “to dress,” implies not mere improvement, but completion, as when seeds are carefully cultivated from planting to harvest. To abad the garden is to serve the garden so that the garden may fruitfully serve man.

To shamar or “keep” the garden is to be vigilant against anything that might desecrate that which is being tended or dressed. Loving watchfulness and parental protection are implied here. For a poignant description of how ancient Israel understood the shamar principle, we may turn to another biblical text to use the word:

“The Lord bless you and shamar you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24

So, the creation mandate of Genesis 2:15 and Aaron’s blessing in Numbers 6:24 form a striking vision of stewardship: man is to keep the land as God keeps man. That is to say, man is to bestow upon the natural world – especially his share of it – the same good measure he receives from God – blessing, favor, grace, peace. To abad and shamar the land is to undertake its dominion lovingly, thoughtfully, sacrificially. It is to honor God Who imbued creation with this reciprocity: if man is good to the land, the land will be good to man.

Now, notice a connection. As long as man is good to the land, the land will remain productive and life-giving.  Life-giving for whom?  For all who partake of its bounty. An act of goodness toward the land, then, is an act of goodness toward every man, woman, and child who live by the land’s nourishment. Want to love your neighbor? Preserve the forests that clean the air he breathes; protect the land that grows the food she eats; purify the sources that provide the water she drinks. “God is emptied,” wrote St. Maximus the Confessor, “and descends without change to the last extremities of nature.” Love for God is love for nature; love for nature is love for neighbor.

If God is love, then God is also freedom, because love is something that can only be freely given; it cannot be forced. Love, as the Church understands it, is not an instinct; it is not implanted in us by nature. We love because we choose to. Man being made for fellowship with God and his fellow human beings is summed up in biblical language as ‘in the image and likeness of God’… The image indicates freedom and reason, while the likeness indicates assimilation to God. In short: we become like God by making the right use of our freedom and reason. This is why the Church believes so strongly in free will. Without it, we are no more accountable for our actions than animals, and can never come into union with God.

If the likeness of God is something that man had to obtain through correct use of God’s image, then it means that man had to develop. He was made perfect in the sense that he was flawless and sinless, but he had yet to attain full union with God. The likeness of God was something that man was given the potential of achieving through God’s grace and providence and man’s free will together. (Things fell to pieces when man made wrong use of his freedom).

All of humanity is responsible for the state of nature – God’s creation. Resource spiritual rebirthdepletion, and environmental pollution, amid rising world population, raise with special urgency the question of concerted efforts by all nations to preserve the variety of life, the diligent use of natural resources, and the prevention of environmental disasters provoked by human activities. Ancestral sin resulted in a distortion of primordial nature. Scripture testifies to this: “the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but by the will of him who subjected it” (Rom. 8:20). Pollution and destruction of nature is a direct consequence of human sin, its visible embodiment. Various manifestations of the sinful attitude toward nature are characteristic of modern consumer society, which emphasizes the main purpose of making a profit.  The only possibility to restore the health of nature is spiritual rebirth of the individual and society, in a true Christian, ascetic, human relation to one’s own needs, curbing the passions, in consistent self-restraint.

The Church, confessing biblical teaching about the relationship between man and the created world, is ready to contribute to the understanding of philosophical bases of environmental research and environmental performance. The Church testifies to the unity of the God-created world, and offers a complete picture of human existence. 

The Church has always responded with prayer and labor for events that required interaction between man and nature, in situations in which the elements of nature could become hostile to humanity. The Church prays daily for “seasonable weather, abundance of the fruits of the earth,” and performs special prayers for people laboring on the soil, to be delivered from natural disasters and malicious animals. In terms of environmental crisis and disasters, people are in desperate need of prayer support.

The Church maintains that a person changes the world in accordance with his inner world, therefore, the transformation of nature should begin with addressing the spiritual crisis of humanity. A real alternative to consumerism is the Christian way of life. Orthodox Christianity teaches people to cultivate moderation and restraint in the necessities of life, responsibility for their actions, avoiding excesses, including the wasteful use of food, respect for the needs of others, and understanding the importance of spiritual values ​​for each person. The Church has as its Divine mission the healing of the total person, and not only in a temporal sense. Healing ultimately leads to theosis, the sanctification of the entire person.

Clergy and laity are called to active efforts to protect the environment. This activity should first be directed to evidence that only restraint, respect for others, and responsibility for each person, based on consciously obeying commandments of God, will enable humanity to overcome environmental problems. Along with this The Church is a hospital for the healing of our infirmities and diseases. The model for the synergy of spiritual and physical healing is traced back to Christ Who is the physician of our souls and bodies, the Holy Evangelist Luke, and the physician saints of the Church, and also to mention two great Church Fathers: St. Basil of Caesarea (370–379) who was trained in medicine and was reported to have worked with the monks in ministering to the ill and infirm and St. John Chrysostom, patriarch of Constantinople (390), who used the wealth of the Church to open hospitals and other philanthropic institutions. This perspective provides the rationale for employing psychological science in understanding and healing the spiritual ‘cancer’ of secularism in the 21st century. However, the spiritual fathers did not make use of the developed terms and concepts uncovered in modern, medical-psychological scientific definitions of healing in their writings.

The need is increasingly urgent for the Christian to recover the Gospel’s cosmic vision in his heart and hand; he cannot be an integrated Christian without it. Christianity is a Faith rich in symbols. The liturgy in an Orthodox Church is not merely text but an action, to be precise ‘corporate action’. This is to say, in Orthodox Christian viewpoint of liturgical worship is the corporate worshipping action of the entire creation, i.e. in the liturgical worship the whole creation is a part. Actions, gestures and symbols too are parts of the liturgy. The symbols signify the presence of elements of eco-spirituality in the worship. The symbols and rituals used in liturgy guide us from the conceptual level to the level of personal experience. Symbols imbibe a divine reality which is beyond comprehension of the senses. During this mysterious process, the symbol and the reality merge into an inseparable single whole. The transformation of bread and wine offered through the celebration of the Holy Eucharist illustrates this mysterious identification.

The community or we as Christians that perform this act of love has three dimensions.

Firstly the liturgy (Holy Eucharist) is not a form of words but an action of the whole body of Christ that is the whole Church (where each local church is the whole church in its local manifestation) in heaven and earth— in all time and space. The commemoration of the departed and of the saints of the Church is not an optional matter in the Eucharist. It is they with us and us with them that lift up the offering, and we have to be aware of each other in the body of Christ.

Secondly the Eucharist is fundamentally a response of love and gratitude, not a means of getting something free called the grace of God. It is the response of the Creation to its Creator. It is an expression of gratitude on the part of the creation both for having brought it into being from non-being and for redeeming it in Christ, when it had moved away from being to non-being again by its own willful choice. The Eucharist is offered on behalf of all mankind, and not just Christians. Even those who are not united to Christ by faith and baptism are linked to Him by the fact of the Incarnation. It is human nature that Christ assumed and not Christian nature. The whole humanity is now linked to the Incarnate Christ, whether they recognize it or not. True, there are fundamental distinctions to be made between the relationship of Christians to Christ through faith and baptism and of all mankind to Christ. But both relationships exist, and we as Christians and human beings share in both. Our fundamental solidarity with all mankind has to find expression in the liturgy, particularly in the prayers of intercession and in the offertory prayer.

Thirdly the whole Church, the whole Mankind and the whole Creation—the three realms in which we as created Christian human beings participate, have all three to be lifted up to God in the Eucharist, along with Christ’s self-offering on the Cross. This third aspect has become doubly important in our time when the environment crisis has begun to explode. It is the fruit of the earth, wheat and wine that we offer up to God. With the elements, the whole of material and organic creation is lifted up to God. Man, Christian humanity in Christ, thus becomes the spokesman, the utterance—giver, the high priest of Creation as a whole (The Church in Christ offers the Eucharist as the mouth-piece and High Priest of the Creation).

The Eucharist is the response of the creation to her Lord. Mankind and the Church are units within the creation where the Creation has developed greater consciousness and deeper awareness. When we offer ourselves (the whole mankind and the whole creation), God again gives Himself to us in that continuing act of love called the Communion. His Body and Blood, God’s own body becomes united with us and through us with the whole mankind and creation.

HTOC_Mural

And so, it is above all at the Divine Liturgy that we truly fulfill our calling as ‘sacramental beings’. The Church calls for the grace of the Holy Spirit not only for humanity, but also for the whole world around us. The Holy Spirit cleanses, sanctifies, removes barriers and makes the love-offering possible. The Divine Eucharist sanctifies the created cosmos.

Clearly, this sacramental vision does not confuse the Creator with His creation – that distinction (between the Uncreated God and the Created world) is firmly in place. St Paul, in the first chapter of Romans, speaks for our Tradition when he cautions those who would “worship and serve the creature more than the Creator.” We are not idolaters, but neither are we dualists. No fundamental antagonism exists between spirit and matter, for both were assumed and both are saved by our Incarnate Lord. The Christian worships a God Who is utterly transcendent and presently immanent, and Who has filled His creation with astonishing lessons about Himself – if we just cared enough to look for them.

St. Paul writes in the same chapter, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” Rom 1:20….We therefore conclude the article by the Word of God considering St. Paul’s caution directed towards each one of us through his letter to the Romans.

The same verse is quoted by St. Basil in his homily 6, an extract which we have taken as the prime subject to this article ….. As quoted below

“You will finally discover that the world was not conceived by chance and without reason, but for an useful end and for the great advantage of all beings, since it is really the school where reasonable souls exercise themselves, the training ground where they learn to know God; since by the sight of visible and sensible things the mind is led, as by a hand, to the contemplation of invisible things.  “For,” as the Apostle says, “the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” 

ROMANSRomans Chapter 1:18-32 speaks about the wickedness of the Nations and God’s wrath on the Unrighteous.

St. Paul addresses Judaism by proclaiming the universality of salvation for both the Greeks as well as the Jews. He does not start by exposing the evils and failings of the Jews. On the contrary, he openly and clearly speaks about the wickedness of the Gentiles. This serves as a lead into his criticism of the Jews as well. In this manner, he could condemn and answer all their claims and excuses without being accused of bias. He had been blamed as they accused him saying: “…that you teach all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs”, (Acts 21:21). This is what drove the Apostle to start by revealing the evils of the Gentiles and their responsibilities. His intention was not to despise or degrade them, but to open the door and attract converted Jews to accept the Gentiles with them as equals and members in the One Body. Therefore he proclaims that the Gentiles were prisoners to natural (physical) law (refer (Romans 2: 14-15)), and the Jews prisoners to the Law of Moses. Consequently, they all were in need of Divine intervention: they all needed to become righteous through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who is the Savior of all mankind. This could neither be achieved through natural law nor through the Law of Moses.

In his discourse about the wickedness of the Gentiles who embraced natural law, the Apostle underlines the following: 

First: While God had entrusted the Jews with the Law of Moses, He did not neglect the Gentiles or leave them with no one to witness for Him. He had revealed Himself to them through the visible nature. St Paul explains: “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse”, (v 20).

God has not left Himself without a witness, for ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork’, (Ps 19:1). He declares His eternal power and divinity through His sublime acts of creation which He has established by His word. He did so not to display His power but to reveal the depths of His love towards us. Indeed, God’s sublime and invisible love is experienced by us through His amazing care for He has offered all this creation to cater for our well-being.

While St. Paul blames mankind for ‘suppressing the truth in unrighteousness’ images 12(v18), and for going to great lengths to invent various wicked means to suppress ‘the truth’, he indicates they do not proclaim it. God, however, proclaims His ‘love’ to us in various ways through His blessed creation which is formed by His own hands. Mankind struggles to the point of death in order to suppress the truth, whereas God is sacrificed to proclaim His eternal love! 

Augustine interprets this apostolic statement as an indication that God offers us this world as a gift for our own benefit but not for the indulgence of our desires. Through His creation, we need to see His invisible deeds, and grasp the spiritual and heavenly matters through things which are material and temporal.  

St. Ambrose comments on the words ‘his eternal power’ as follows: [Since the Lord Jesus Christ is God’s eternal power, then the Lord is Eternal].

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. (Rom 1:18). The truth that the unrighteous suppress are the truth about God’s character (v 19-20), which they distort by idolatry (v 23).

images2In the Part 1 to 3 of this article we have looked at the various ways (like paganism, heresy, secularism etc) by which the truth about God’s character in today’s world is suppressed and how important it is that we learn to discern what is good. However, those who repent and turn to Him hear His divine voice saying: “Come, my people, enter your closets and shut your door; hide yourself for a very short while, until the anger of the Lord is past. For behold, the Lord is bringing wrath from His holy place upon the inhabitants of the earth, and the earth will uncover its blood and will not cover it’s slain,” (Is 26:20, 21). What are the chambers that are entered and which lead to the secret life with the Lord Jesus Christ? Where is this place where we can hide from His wrath and become the object of the Father’s pleasure? Concerning the words of Isaiah: “…the Lord cometh out of his place to punish…” they indicate that God wishes to remain in His place and proclaim His love and mercy but the insistence of the earth’s inhabitants to sin obligates Him to inflict punishment!

Let us look at the example of Noah. In Genesis Chapter 6:9 we read “….Noah was a righteous man, who was perfect in his generation and well-pleasing to God.” Noah’s righteous living was well-pleasing to God. Why was he well pleasing to God? Further in Chapter 6:22 we read “Thus Noah did according to all the Lord God commanded him, so he did”. Thus we see Noah was perfect through the grace of the Holy Spirit, he obeyed everything God told him to do.

What happened to the unrighteous during his time?

noahFrom Genesis Chapter 6:11-13 we understand the earth was corrupt before God and filled with unrighteousness(v.11) because of man’s willful refusal to become righteous through the grace of the Holy Spirit. (v. 12 “…..corrupted their way on the earth”). The unrighteousness was their own fault (“…through them” (v.13)), for they had every                                                                                                     opportunity to come to repentance.

In Genesis 7:1 “The Lord said to Noah “Enter the ark, you and all your family because I have seen you righteous before Me in this generation.” The Lord God made Noah righteous through faith, by which he pleased God (Hebrew 11:6, 7). Through the grace of the Holy Spirit he obeyed everything God commanded him to do. So he and his family entered the ark, which typified salvation.

From Genesis 7:2-15 we see Noah’s faith saved also the animals. The whole creation will be saved through the children of God (Rom 8:18-22).

Then in 7:16 “Then the Lord God shut him in the ark.” And in 7:23 “He blotted out all living things…” By connecting to what was said earlier in this article in Isaiah 26:20, 21 “Come, my people, enter your closets and shut your door; hide yourself for a very short while, until the anger of the Lord is past. For behold, the Lord is bringing wrath from His holy place upon the inhabitants of the earth” we note here that after the righteous Noah shut himself inside the door, The Lord God brought his wrath in the form of rain on all the livings things and destroyed all the unrighteous. Therefore we get to learn from the example of Noah, how important the virtue of discernment is….It was Noah’s discernment that helped him to be righteous and well pleasing to God. He chose to stay away from the unrighteous. Noah’s righteousness and well-pleasing life became the object of father’s pleasure and Noah entered the chamber to lead a secret life with Christ.

In another example from Exodus Chapter 12:22, 23“Then you shall take a bunch of passoverhyssop, dip it in the blood in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood in the basin. But none of you shall go out from the door of his house until morning. For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians; and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass by the door and not allow the destroyer to come to your houses to strike you. ” In v.27, This is the Paschal sacrifice of the Lord…, which saves us even today through the Holy Qurbana (Eucharist). In the Eucharist, his body and blood saves us from death. We are marked by the blood of Christ through the Holy Eucharist; the same way the Israelites were saved through the blood marked on the lintel and doorposts. Here also as in the example of Noah after the command of the Lord to shut the door of the house we see in (v. 29) At midnight the Lord struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt…(v.30) there was a great cry in all the land of Egypt. The wrath of the Lord arose a great cry throughout Egypt. Similar comparison is made here to that of Isaiah Chapter 26:20… hide yourself for a very short while. In case of Noah the short while was for 40 days and 40 nights and in case of Israelites it was until morning.

These examples from the Bible serve as an eye opener to each one of us, to practice the virtue of discernment by keeping ourselves shut inside the doors of righteousness and not allowing ourselves to fall into the distractions as mentioned under various subjects in this article and guarding ourselves from the wrath of God during these end times.

But you when you pray, enter into your closet. And when you have shut the door, pray to your Father in secret, and your Father who sees you in secret shall reward you openly” (Matthew 6:6)

quoteOur Lord Jesus is telling us to find our innermost secret room where we may learn how to pray. Our first problem is to find such a closet where we can be all alone with God. Even if it were soundproof room, clear of all material distractions other than perhaps a simple table and chair, we no sooner sit down and compose ourselves, then a dozen memories invade our minds; and we realize that our inner closet is filled with more clutter than a busy street market. Recall our Lord Jesus Himself, who made the whole barren wilderness a closet, only to be attacked by Satan. However, nothing is hopeless. With God all things are possible, even inner serenity. Besides, we have the instructions of the spiritual ascetics to help and guide us. The monks and nuns almost always begin with the above scriptural verse about the inner closet.

Personal prayer must be in secret. In the spiritual tradition of the Church, Christ’s words “go into your room” have been interpreted both, literally, and also to mean that the praying person must enter within himself, a unification of the mind and the heart, within the soul. It can be the totally silent inner attitude of the soul before God, the fulfillment of the words of the psalmist: ‘’Commune with your hearts… and be silent (Ps.4:4). Be still, and know that I am God (Ps 46:10).’’ Christ also says, “Kingdom of heaven is within you” Luke 17:21

Finally what happens when we have the remembrance of God (prayer) always in our lost coinheart (closed room)? In Luke 15: 8-10, we see the woman (who is Christ himself – portrayed as women because Church is Bride of Christ) searching for the lost silver coin with the burning candle (which is Christ’s sacrifice for Human race), cleaning the dirt (influence of the world/devil) away from floor, so that the silver coin is found… So from God’s side there is always this effort of reaching out to us by cleaning off the dirt, but we need to become like a silver coin… And to become a sliver coin, there is a process, and this process goes like this…

Scraps of silver goes into a casting furnace which is heated up to 2100 deg Fahrenheit, where due to high temperature the scraps of silver get transformed into a molten state… coin1then the molten metal is casted into a continuous bar, then this continuous bar is cut into small bars. These small bars then go into rollers, which apply up to 9 tons of pressure to make the bars into a flat shape, then it goes under various rollers to give it the right thickness needed for the coin. After this, this flat metal sheet goes into the cutting machine, where it is cut into the exact shape of the coin. Next stop for the cut blanks are the rimming machines, where the rims of the blanks get softened. Then the blanks go to a tub filled with water, cleaning solutions and steel beads. The beads act as a polishing agent, smoothening the blanks. After the water is drained out, blanks are collected and then dried. Now the metal blanks becomes brittle and may break with a strike, so the blanks go through annealing furnace at various stages, where through fire it is hardened to the required hardness. Then the coins are made one at a time at the coin press, there are two dyes per coin, one for each side, positioned above and below the blank, they strike simultaneously, not once but twice to create a high quality impression.   

And the above process to become a silver coin is the true Orthodox Christian Life, going through the tribulations and hardships of this world to be melted down, to be pressed down to a flat sheet, to be cut into shapes… The pressure of the rollers will be on us when we fix our eyes on Christ and use discernment and vigil to cut ourselves from the world. But there is also the annealing process throughout whenever the blanks become weak, so is the church through its sacraments and word of God giving us the needed strength. And finally there is the coin press which presses into the coin the image, here the image is that of Christ, the original image in which man was created, where there is possibility for each man to become like Christ, truly human and divine, hence two dyes for two sides of the coin…

When we become like the silver coin, shining in the image and likeness of God, with a pure heart, we see God. This is what great prophet Moses experienced in Exodus 33: 20 “But He said, “You cannot see My face; for no man can see My face and live.” Moreover, the Lord said, “Here is a place by Me: you shall stand on the rock, so it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen.”   

This is what happens when we live our life in Christ based on the True Faith, our hearts in prayer, in that stillness we encounter God. This is the fulfillment of promise, Matt 5:8, ‘Blessed are the pure at heart, for they shall see God’. And to make our Hearts clean we need to practice discernment, and become like a Silver coin, this is the key the Orthodox way of life…

Second: The Gentiles could not be saved in spite of what had been revealed to them through both the tangible nature and the recorded law. On the contrary, they adopted a resistant attitude which was evident in the following manner:

(a) Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things, (v 21- 23).

According to St. John Chrysostom, this accusation is a far more serious one than the previous one. The matter did not end with their rejection of God who had revealed His love and power through all His wonderful creation; for when they got to know Him, they neither glorified nor thanked Him. Moreover, they substituted the worship of the living God by the worship of idols. God speaks through Jeremiah and says: “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water,” (Jer 2:13). The reason for their corruption is their dependence on their on human wisdom and their rejection of God’s assistance. Therefore, “professing themselves to be wise, they became fools…” According to St. John Chrysostom, they became like mariners navigating in unknown waters. Consequently, their boat ran into hard rocks and got destroyed. This was the result of their attempt to reach up and attain the heavens after having turned off the light within them; and of depending on the darkness of their own thoughts. 

Augustine considers that the reason for their fall was their ingratitude and insensitivity. He remarks that: [Due to their insensitivity, they became stupid. God withdraws from the ungrateful that which He grants freely (i.e. wisdom)]. He also notes that: [They learned how they should live, but they praised themselves for the insight that God had granted them. Having fallen into the sin of pride, they lost their vision and relapsed into the worship of idols, statues, and devils. They worshipped things created and abhorred the Creator].

Augustine indicates that those who had claimed to be wise and had fallen into the corrupt worship were the Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians. These had glorified themselves under the claim of wisdom.

(b) Because they had abandoned God who reveals Himself in nature, God abandoned them as well. This is what the Apostle conveys in his words: ‘Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves’ (v 24). They abandoned Him by their own free will, for God acknowledges man’s free will and honors it. Therefore He granted them their heart’s desire and relinquished them. In this manner, they indulged in their evil lusts as men and women committed atrocities that were unacceptable even by the law of nature, (v 26, 27).  

St. John Cassian considers that when a person becomes proud- even though he could be physically pure- God abandons him. As a result, he engages in physical lust that he perceives to be wrong. In this manner, he is enabled to realize the hidden pride which he could not formerly perceive.

That is why we see many youths submitting to physical lusts in spite of their regular observance of spiritual means of salvation, such as Bible study, prayers, confession, and communion…however, the main weakness and reason for sinning is the pride which governs their hearts. Pride strips a person of God’s grace which grants sanctification. Consequently, a person surrenders under the weight of the lusts and corruption of the flesh.

St. Befnotious explains that we ourselves cause this corruption and that is why God allows this kind of sinfulness. It is due to our own pride or our negligence, and he goes on to say: ‘We need to know that everything that happens occurs either by God’s will or by His permission. Everything that is good occurs by His will and protection. Everything that is contrary to that occurs by His permission ,and when God no longer protects as He abandons us due to our sins, or due to the hardness of our hearts, or due to our submission to Satan and submitting to shameful physical lusts which we allow to dominate us. The Apostle instructs us about that and confirms it in his words: ‘…for this cause God gave them up unto vile affections’ (v 25); and ‘even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting’, (v 28).

God speaks through His prophet David saying: ‘But my people did not hear My voice; and Israel would pay no attention to Me. And I sent them away because of the desires in their hearts; They shall walk in their ways of living’ (Ps 81:12 -13).

Fr. Hanna states: [‘The fairness of God’s wisdom is evident as He grants good talents to the humble, and these are withheld from the proud who are rejected and of whom the Apostle says that: ‘God gave them over to a debased mind…’ (v 28)].

This is how man, in his wickedness, chooses corruption. Therefore corruption inhabits him, and not God ‘ who is blessed forever. Amen’, (v 25). It is evident that what man practices just backlashes on him and is not inflicted by God. St. John Chrysostom accordingly says: ‘ [Just as a philosopher is unaffected by humiliating remarks of ignorant people; so- and to a greater extent- God’s unsurpassed and unquestionable glory is untouched by the arrogance of men]. 

St. John Chrysostom stops here for a moment to ask us to imitate God who tolerates the wicked and is unaffected by their evil. His nature is too sublime to be affected by them. Similarly, as we imitate Him, we are enabled to tolerate the evil of the wicked. He states: [It is appropriate for us not to attempt to flee from humiliation. Conversely, we need to tolerate the wicked, for such long suffering is an honor in itself. Why? Because it is in your power to tolerate whereas correcting others is another person’s task. Do you hear the echo of the pounding hammer as it falls on a diamond? You might say that this is the nature of diamonds. Correct. And it is within you to practice what the diamond intrinsically possesses. Have you not heard how the three youths were unharmed? And how Daniel remained safely inside the lion’s den? What happened to these can possibly happen to us for we are surrounded by lions. Lust and anger are ready to tear up those who fall victim to them. Therefore be like Daniel and remain steadfast. Do not allow reactions to tear, with their fingernails, your soul. You might think: This is the effect of grace. True, but grace springs from training the will. When we are ready to train ourselves following the model of these men, grace will flow within us. Consequently, savage beasts will humbly crawl before us in spite of their hunger. If beasts have retreated before slaves, shall they not retreat before the members of the Body of the Lord Jesus Christ (i.e. before us)?!].

(c) Some might find an excuse for their wickedness by claiming that it is the fruit of the weakness of human nature and of humans in the uncontrolled pursuit of pleasures. That is why the Apostle indicates that it is man’s wickedness that drives him to practice matters that are contrary to nature. People damage their original human nature, and this transforms their lives into torture. According to St Paul: ‘For this reason God gave them up unto vile passions: for even their women ex-changed the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one another; men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due’, (v 26, 27).

Homosexual behavior, men with men, is a vile rejection of God’s order of creation. These passions are against nature and therefore spiritually devastating. Error in above verse means ‘delusion’.  St. John Chrysostom states: St Paul speaks on behalf of the world and states that mankind could enjoy the pleasures of their nature with confidence and heartfelt joy while avoiding shameful acts. However, they do not have the determination to do so…for they humiliate Nature herself…they bring shame to Nature and trample human laws at the same time.

St. John Chrysostom finds that man has turned his life into an internal fight and unbearable torture. He explains that while God has granted men and women to be naturally inclined to marry and become one flesh, and to live in harmony as they share love and intimacy; both sexes have humiliated themselves and each has entered into an inner war. The women have sought each other and the men have acted in the same manner. As a result, human life has been transformed into heated disputes and unending inner wrangling. These conflicts do not solely arise between a man and his wife, but they also occur between same sex individuals- whether they are men or women. Consequently, they have deserved to receive ‘in themselves the penalty of their error’, (v 27). Many holy fathers have underlined that sin carries corruption within it, and ultimately pours it out on the doer. Consequently, that person bears the penalty, not only outwardly in the form of a judgment issued against him, but also inwardly as he commits that sin itself.

(d) First, St Paul presents a horrendous picture of mankind’s submission to wickedness. He reveals how men do not seek the pleasures they have been naturally granted. They have corrupted nature rather than uplifting it. Instead of progressing in the spirit to elevate his animal instincts, and so sanctify his body and instincts to the Lord; man has become an evil and destroyer of nature. He commits what beasts do not do through abnormal physical relationships which occur either between two or more women or between two or more men. Next, St Paul presents a bitter list of trespasses committed by fallen mankind. St John Chrysostom notes that the Apostle uses the following expressions in his list: ‘filled’, ‘with all’, ‘burned in their lust’. It is as though these evils are no longer temporary matters in a man’s life, but they flood his inner being and charge him fully so that he performs ‘all unrighteousness’ and not just one or two evils!

(e) The amazing thing is that sin and corruption destroy man’s inner peace and joy, yet they drive the doer to pride and arrogance. That is why the list describes them in this manner: [backbiters, haters of God, violent, boasters…v 30]. St John Chrysostom comments that [ pride coupled with sin is a great falling…a person who does a good act but is guilty of pride loses his reward, so how much greater would the sin be of someone who adds to his evil deeds the sin of pride? Indeed such a person would be unable to practice repentance].

(f) When we contemplate this list of sins and evils, we feel that humanity has subjugated itself willingly to rebellion and resistance to God who is the source of life and its sanctity. Every sin engages a person so that it delivers him into other sins, and this continues so that he becomes the laughing stock of all sins and evils. We could summarize here the order of this list in the following manner:  

* A person begins to indulge in physical pleasure so he/she surrenders to adultery (v. 29).

* As that person encloses himself within his physical pleasure, he seeks his own satisfaction though outwardly seeming to be generous and lavish. Yet he is ruled by greed and that drives him also to devious ways in order to satisfy such lusts, (v. 29).

* Greed leads to envy, separation, and slyness. These could lead to murder, (v. 29).

* This envy and slyness drive a person to conceit and haughtiness, (v.30).

* The lust for greatness leads a person to inventions and departure from truthfulness, (v.30).

* The rejection of truth drives a person to infringe on nature and to disobey his parents, (v.30).

* By violating even the simplest codes of nature, man loses his discernment (v.31), and breaks all covenants-natural or written. This ultimately leads to the loss of his natural tendency to love and to be tender (v.31). Consequently, man is guilty of a fall to which the Lord has alluded: “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold”, (Matt 24:12). Finally, men become worse than savage beasts who come together as gangs. Whereas beasts are controlled by their instincts, men are driven by their hatred towards their brothers. 

(g) This descent and fall of mankind into the lowest natural state has produced hardened hearts. Men have not only befriended wickedness, they have become supportive of those who fall like them. The Apostle states: “Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them”, (v.32).

In general, note that this Epistle speaks about the Gentiles. He therefore proclaims the role of natural law which is the Law of God (Jeremiah 31:33,”I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts”.) Therefore the Apostle states: ‘For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law …’ (2:14). 

In this chapter, St Paul speaks about nations who have broken the Law of nature and describes them as those who ‘do those things which are not fitting’ (:28). Examples of their deeds include women who ‘exchanged the natural use for what is against nature…’ (1: 26). 

Similarly the example of paganism in the article (Part-1) can be related to Romans 1:21-23…. Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.

“The difficulties which educated men of our time experience in both public and private worship point to a deep intellectual and spiritual crisis in the total development of man. The issue goes deeper than the question of language and forms. The reality of God  is no longer obvious or sure to many. The self-evident God which many cultures too easily assumed as a projection of highest values has begun to disappear and even among the baptized, thinkers have started either to deny God altogether  alleging that he is dead, or to interpret the meaning of Gospel purely and entirely in “secular terms without any reference to the transcendent, The difficulty of worship in our time is thus the difficulty of apprehending God-which has never been easy or normal. When both faith and worship become unduly or mainly intellectual and conceptual, as happened in our time of unprecedented advancement in scientific thinking and technological practice, then new intellectual problems crop up in both faith and worship”- Dr. Paulose Mar Gregorios, from his book Worship in a secular Age.  ” When both faith and worship become unduly or mainly intellectual and conceptual, as happened in our time of unprecedented advancement in scientific thinking and technological practice, then new intellectual problems crop up in both faith and worship”… These sentences by Paulose Mar Gregorios Thirumeni highlights the example of going against natural law thus giving rise to secularism, pluralism and the like.

Therefore a Christian is required to obey the Law of Nature. Moreover, not only is he required to fulfill the Law of Moses; but he also needs to progress in order to fulfill the golden rulesublime gospel commandment. Mathew 7:12 “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the law and the Prophets”. This is the “Golden Rule”(also refer Luke 6:31). The “Golden Rule” fulfills the demands of the Law and the Prophets and is the practical application of the commandment of love one’s neighbor as oneself. St. Cyril the great remarks on this statement (“The Golden Rule”) saying “It was probable these sanctified apostles would think they did not have the ability in carrying out these commandments from mere thoughts to a practical life. Christ knew their thoughts, and He relied on the instinct of loving of one-self as a judgment among people together. He thus commanded each one to do to others what he would like them to do to him. For if we would like others to deal with us mercifully and compassionately ,then we too, have to deal with them the same way. Jeremiah prophesied previously that a time will come when believers will no longer be in need of written commandments, because this doctrine will be engraved on the hearts; for it has been said (Jer.31:33) “I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts.”

Thus God has charged His whole creation with His glory. He has endowed each human being with the privilege to tend and keep it. The Christian, who grows in theosis, in ceaseless motion toward the very likeness of God, will increasingly become a healing instrument of the Holy Spirit.

 

What will become of him (Heterodox / Non-Christians)? Is there Salvation for all?

Question:

Hi! This has been a nagging question for me and my friends. Is eternal life promised only to those who have received and known Christ? If yes, then does orthodox faith imply that God denies this gift of eternal life to mortal men just because they are born and brought up in a family that is not Christian? Let me illustrate.
I (Almost any Christian) am (would be) a Christian owing to being born in a Christian family and nurtured in right faith. So, I’m sure now that any attempt to radicalize me to other religions will not work. But, if I were born in a non-Christian family and suppose that I would have become so staunch in my own religion, that I would quash any missionary attempt to convert me to Christian. In such a case, if I die without accepting Christ, Who accepts every good person irrespective of their nature (here, my religion), will not I be given a second chance?

Answer:

Before we begin to answer the question, it’s important to note two things. The term Heterodox means all those people who do not confirm with the faith of The Holy Orthodox Church

          1.    The answer for this question is extracted from the book ‘Cosmic Man – The PMG - CopyDivine Presence’ by Late H.G Dr. Paulose Mar Gregorios (1922 – 1996), Bishop of the Indian (Malankara) Orthodox Church, who is also called by many as ‘Gregory of India’. For more details about the author refer to http://paulosmargregorios.in/ or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paulos_Gregorios

           2.     This book is a result of Late H.G Dr. Paulose Mar Gregorios’ research studies on the works of St. Gregory of Nyssa, one among the Cappadocian Fathers, and the theme of this blog also revolves around the works of Cappadocian Fathers. Hence it is important also to know a bit more about core teachings of St. Gregory of Nyssa.

Holy Scripture is a way opened by God for the mind to direct itself to the God who created it. Scripture opens up our mind to see the design of God and thus leads us to God’s mind and purpose. But the meaning of Scripture itself is not always self-evident. According to St. Gregory of Nyssa, certain passages in Scripture are like peacock’s feathers. The side that is first visible may be dull grey, but if you turn it around its beauty and glory are manifested. Such turning around can be done only for one who is grounded in the faith of the Church. Otherwise he stands in danger of misinterpreting the Scripture. Every passage of the Scripture has to be interpreted in consonance with the faith of the church.

St. Gregory speaks of the faith of the church as of divine origin, and as the light that guides to the truth, in our understanding of Scripture as well as in our sifting of outside knowledge. This does not mean however, that local custom can be used to contradict Scripture. The teaching of the church has to ‘agree with divine words’ (Scripture). Holy Scripture is God-inspired, but this does not mean that every individual by his own free will can understand the meaning of Scripture. The true intention or skopos of the Scripture is evident only to one who lives in the faith of the church – especially the teaching about the Holy Trinity and the teaching about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. This means that there is no one given method for interpreting every passage of the Scripture. For one who lives in the faith of the church, the skopos of Scripture becomes clear and he would know which method to use to interpret a particular passage, so that its meaning does not contradict the faith of the Church.

St. Gregory of Nyssa lived in 4th Century, which was an age much like ours – an age of st.Gregory-of-Nyssa - Copyprosperity and affluence when philosophy becomes devalued and science-technology gains upper hand. St. Gregory had the unusual ability to create a philosophical system which neither was antagonistic to science nor failed to make use of it. He integrated science and philosophy on the foundation of the Christian tradition. This principle of integrating science and philosophy on the basis of the Nicean tradition of Christianity, using Trinity-Incarnation as central category is what stands out in St. Gregory’s works. St. Maximus the Confessor (580-662 AD) had praised St. Gregory of Nyssa as the ‘Ecumenical Teacher’ and owed much of his framework to him. The second Council of Nicea (called Seventh Ecumenical- 787 AD) referred to St. Gregory as ‘named by everyone as the Father of Fathers’. Cardinal Danielou gives a balanced evaluation as below:

“The work of St. Gregory… combines the toughness of research with loyalty to the faith. His work is in touch with the thought of his time, but it is not enslaved by it. It conveys at the same time the meaning of being and the meaning of history. It brings together confidence in the capacity of the mind to apprehend reality, and the sense of inescapable mystery that surrounds everything that the mind so apprehends. These are the things that truly respond to the questions we are asking today”

That sums up our own interest in St. Gregory’s thought. Surveying the whole intellectual field of 4th Century Byzantine culture it manages to escape being dated, and speaks with fresh relevance to the issues of our time.

To answer this question we need to understand

Sin, Original Sin and Nature:

Human nature cannot be sinful, for nature is what is created by God, and it was not created evil or sinful. What is the constitutive of our nature is that it was created in the Image of God, who is the perfection of all goodness. But precisely because freedom is part of the image, the created nature has to be ‘worked out’ through human freedom. There are two possibilities open to man – one, to say ‘yes’ to the existence given to him by affirming that it comes from God and by working out in freedom its true nature as good. This is life. The other possibility is to say ‘no’ to that existence by refuting to acknowledge that it comes from God, thinking it’s one’s own and by refusing to work it out as a manifestation of God’s own glory. This is alienation or death.

What is the origin of sin in humanity? Sin came by ‘eating’, by an act of being drawn to the ‘Tree of the knowledge of good or evil’ through external persuasion and actual sin - Copytasting of the fruit of that tree. But what is this ‘tree’, and what is this ‘eating’? According to St. Gregory of Nyssa, sin of Eve was not simply in choosing evil with the knowledge that it was evil, but in choosing something which seemed good, but was not good for her. The tree of knowledge of good and evil could not have been evil, for it was created by God, and everything God created was necessarily good. But it was not good for eve, for it had been forbidden. She could have, if she had adhered to the word of God, seen without actually tasting it, that it was not good for her. But the enemy persuaded her that it was good for her, and she adhered to the word of falsehood. If it had appeared as pure evil, she would not have tasted it. Only because it had an appearance of Good, capable of making men “like Gods”, which she must have rightly judged to be a good thing, she had a wrong discernment of what was good for her at that time. So while the tree and the fruit are not evil in themselves but good, they become evil to her, in so far as falsehood was the basis on which she approached it.

The ‘knowledge of good and evil’, as St. Gregory of Nyssa exegetes it, is thus being drawn towards something which one wrongly or falsely judges to be good for oneself, on the basis of false belief and desire for gratification rather than for the sake of the good itself. Evil is a latent possibility in the misuse of the good. It was this misuse of the good that constituted the first sin. So the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, good in itself, and good for man and woman also if one refrains from eating its fruit, thus can be misused by eating it against the commandment. St. Gregory says:
“Since he foresaw this possibility, the Serpent points to this evil fruit of sin, not as having evil as its nature, or manifestly appearing as evil [for then men would not have been deluded into choosing manifest evil], but decking the phenomenon she saw with the glamour and conjuring up in her taste the potential pleasure of sense-experience, he [the serpent] appeared convincing to the woman, for as the Scripture says: “And the woman saw that the Tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and ripe for knowledge, and she took the fruit thereof and ate.’ But this food has become the mother of death to human beings”
Sin is an act of will, not the bodily drives or the surge of the passions. St. Gregory leaves us no doubt what the source of evil is – the freedom of man…

St. Severus of Antioch (465 – 538 AD) says “Sin is a sin because it is voluntary. Otherwisesaint_severus - Copy God would not condemn us for it. ‘It is a disease of the will, and the disease is not natural.’ ”

All sin is against nature. This is the fundamental principle in Eastern patristic thought. Human nature has become enslaved to sin and through sin to evil, but sin is an alien master that now rules man, not something that belongs to his nature. The source of sin is man’s changeability which is also the arena of his freedom and self-creation. Human nature is not sinful in itself, but ever under pressure to change, either for the better or for the worse. The need is to reverse the direction of change; not to become changeless, which is impossible for any created nature, but to be redeemed from slipping down the path of evil, to be set up again on the upward climb to infinite good.

Evil in human nature is “nothing”, for it is not created by God, but is merely the movement of the created nature by its own free choice. It leads the doer of evil to nothingness. Evil is “nothing”, only when the relation to the source of all good and of all being is restored through grace, repentance, and the separation from evil. Evil destroys human nature and reduces it to nothing when man persists in evil, remains separated from God and disregards sin as something unimportant and passing away.

Human nature is not evil, for it is God’s creation. Human nature is still free to choose between good and evil, and that is the basis on which the call to repentance can be addressed to man. But the call is not merely in respect of each individuals act, but for a continuing life separated from evil and re-united to God.

Despite the fall, man retains a measure of freedom. He is fallen and he is now a slave to the passions and to evil. But he is not totally impotent slave, for if he were, he could not be held morally responsible for his actions.

This being the background the following questions may now come forth to our mind. What are the options available to man? Does he choose and effect his decisions entirely his own? What about the grace of God? What is the relation between the Grace of God and the effort of man?

The Life of Virtue and the Effort of Man:

Here is how we should understand the effort of Man through other religions to lead a life of Virtue and how God’s providence is available to the whole mankind through the teachings of St. Gregory of Nyssa.

The idea that the man’s resemblance to God was primarily seen in a life of virtue, and this concept is at least as old as Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics never fundamentally departed from this notion, so much so that this was one of those few areas on which there was basic agreement between the three major schools of Greek Philosophy. St. Gregory of Nyssa simply acknowledges this basic Platonic-Aristotelian-Stoic definition of virtue, as mentioned in below quote:

“Who does not know that the virtue is the right direction of the faculty of choice? And flesh is the instrument of choice, pressing forward by the effort of the understanding, being transformed into that towards which the motive force leads it. The faculty of choice is thus nothing else than the mind and the disposition towards something”

In understanding grace from God, for St. Gregory of Nyssa, human initiative is essential, for without it there is no freedom; without freedom there is no moral good; and without moral good there is no Image of God. He sees the dominance of evil in the majority of men; but he has to take into account the opposite fact also – there are a few rare human beings who are good in a large measure, in the history of mankind. If one looks at man phenomenologically, one finds that man is capable of both good and evil. But all good that man does is purely because of grace. God alone is good. God is the source of all good. Man’s goodness is not self-derived, but given by God. But it is there, even after the fall. Man is not all evil, though no man is all good. Human nature cannot be defined as wholly evil. It is still capable of good and evil; the capacity for good as the original gift of God is still there, though obscured.

The effort of man to do good in no way denies the grace of God. The very capacity to make an effort towards the good is a gift of grace. Everything that happens for the salvation of man and for the good of human race comes from God. St. Gregory leaves us no doubt on this matter:

“Whatever has come to be from God for the good and salvation of Man, it has all happened because of (God’s) grace and goodness, since we do not have in ourselves the originating cause of Good; on contrary, since we have come to be in all kinds of evil, -evil itself having no natural existence of its own, what it is, that it does [through us]. Neither is it likely that the good (nature) would activate something besides its own nature”

“To choose what is good belongs to the good volition of the man who desires it: but to realize the choice of the good volition belongs to God. For this, a man has need of God’s help” St. Isaac the Syrian.

It is for this reason that St. Gregory regards the true action of the human nature to be Journey+To+Virtue - Copyvirtue. Human nature is acting in its own conformity with its own being only when it practices virtue. All good action has its original cause in God’s goodness and is therefore the result of grace. But only when man acts in freedom to perform the good, does he become truly man, acting in conformity with good, in freedom.

Virtue, or acting that which is good, is acting in accordance with human nature, the essential character of which is neither to sin, nor passively to be molded by a sovereign grace, rather to be good by free choice. In this sense, virtue is the true nature of man, and the basis of man’s participation in God’s goodness.

St. Isaac the Syrian (7th Century) defines Virtue as follows “The fear of the God is theIsaac_of_Syria - Copy beginning of Virtue, and it is said to be offspring of faith. It is sown in the heart when a man withdraws his mind from the attractions of the world to collect its thoughts, wandering about from distractions, into reflection upon the restitution to come. No one can draw close to God except for the man who has separated himself from the world. But I call separation not the departure of the body, but departure from the world’s affairs. The Virtue: that in his mind a man should be unoccupied with the world. As long as the senses have dealings with external things, the heart cannot have rest from imaginations about them.”

Virtue is thus the true character of the new man, who puts on Christ, and this means to put on love, holiness and righteousness. It is the new garment, the garment of immortality that makes us human again, free agents of the good, akin to God. It is this same virtue, or growth in the practice of the good, that becomes the knowledge of God.

St. Gregory makes this point clear
“Now the divine nature, as it is in itself, according to its essence, transcends every act of comprehensive knowledge, and it cannot be approached or attained by our speculation. Men have never discovered a faculty to comprehend the incomprehensible, nor have we been able to devise an intellectual technique for grasping the inconceivable. For this reason Apostle calls God’s ways unsearchable [Rom 11:33], teaching us by this that the way that leads to the knowledge of the divine nature is inaccessible to our reason; and hence none of those who have lived before us has given us the slightest hint of comprehension suggesting that we might know that which in itself is above knowledge”
“Such then is He whose essence is above every nature, invisible, incomprehensible. Yet He can be seen and apprehended in another way, and the ways of His apprehension are numerous. For we can see Him, Who has made all things in wisdom [Ps 103: 24], by the process of inference through the wisdom that is reflected in the universe. It is just as the human works of art, where the mind can in a sense see the author of the ordered structure that is before it inasmuch as he has left his artistry in his work. But notice that what we see here is not the substance of the craftsman, but merely the artistic skill that he has impressed in his work. So too, when we consider the order of creation, we form an image not of substance but of the wisdom of Him who has done all things wisely… For being by nature invisible, He becomes visible only in His operations, and only when He is contemplated in the things that are external to Him”
“Lord does not say that it is blessed to know something about God, but rather to possess God in oneself: Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God [Matt. 5:8], By this I do not think He means that the man who purifies the eye of his soul will enjoy an immediate vision of God; rather I think this marvelous saying teaches us the same lesson that the Word [Christ] expressed more clearly to others when He said: The Kingdom of God is within you [Luke 17:21]. And this teaches us that the man who purifies his heart of every creature and of every passionate impulse will see the image of divine nature in his own beauty. So too in this short sentence the Word, I think is giving us the following advice: All you mortals who have within yourselves desire to behold the supreme Good, when you are told that the majesty of God is exulted above the heavens, that the divine glory is inexpressible, its beauty indescribable, its nature inaccessible, do not despair at never being able to behold what you desire. For you do have within your grasp the degree of the knowledge of God which you can attain. For, when God made you, He at once endowed your nature with this perfection: upon the structure of your nature He imprinted an imitation of the perfections of His own nature, just as one would impress upon the outline of the emblem. But the wickedness that has been poured all over this divine engraving has made your perfection useless and hidden it with a vicious coating. You must then wash away, by a life of virtue, the dirt that has come to cling to your heart like plaster, and then your divine beauty will once again shine forth.”
“Once he has scrapped off the rust-like dirt that has accumulated on his form because of the evil degeneration, then will he become good once more and shine forth in the likeness of his archetype [God]. For surely what resembles Good is in itself Good. Thus if such a man will look at himself he will see within himself the object of his desire, and thus he will become blessed, for in gazing upon his own purity he will see the archetype within the image.”
“It is just like men who look at the sun in the mirror. Even though they do not look up directly at the heavens, they do see the sun in the mirror’s reflection just as much as those who look directly at the sun. So it is, says our Lord, with you. Even though you are not strong enough to see the light itself, yet you will find within yourselves what you are seeking if you would but return to the grace of that image which was established within you from the beginning. For the Godhead is all purity, freedom from passion and separation from all evil. If these qualities are in you then God is surely within you, when your mind is untainted by any evil, free of passion, purified of all stain, then you will be blessed because your eye is clear. Then because you have been purified you will perceive things that are invisible to the unpurified. The dark cloud of matter will be removed from the eye of your soul, and then you will see clearly that blessed vision within the pure brilliance of your heart. And what is this vision? It is purity, holiness, simplicity, and other such brilliant reflections of the nature of God, for it is in these that God is seen”

Here is the true knowledge of God, the blessed vision, or beatific vision. It is not all a ‘mystical experience’, but something which happens when man becomes truly human, untainted by evil, in full control of oneself, grown in goodness and holiness. In this way knowledge of God, itself becomes an act of love, inseparably linked with holiness and true inner liberty. As St. Gregory of Nyssa says in his writings On the soul and the Resurrection “Knowledge becomes Love.” Regarding the grace, St. Gregory rejects the idea of sovereign, compelling and dictatorial grace as conceived by Augustine. According to St. Gregory of Nyssa, greater than the compelling grace, is the grace that allows man to be free source of good. To love the good freely and not by compulsion- that is the greatest gift of God, and this gift is given to man. The one thing that is truly Good is God, and when our passionate and self-directed will finally fixes itself upon God as the one good to be chosen above all others, then we begin to see God and also become God. Here the love of God becomes the true expression of human freedom.

It is the grace which makes human effort possible. The grace of Christ in the incarnation now acts as a special means of grace, drawing human beings to the love of the good. The sacraments of our church also confer grace. But in no case can grace become compulsive, for then it can no longer effect the truly moral good, for “virtue compelled is not virtue”.

Without Christ, human nature, the ‘sheep gone astray’ could not have by itself returnedHagia_Sophia_Christ - Copy to the Shepherd. So without that grace humanity could not have produced any virtue. This is to say that the “Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” is freely available to non-Christians, since they do in practice do good. St. Gregory of Nyssa would not make the mistake of saying that without the grace of God as mediated in Jesus Christ no man is capable of doing any good. He clearly cites Moses and Elijah as people who used their freedom in the right way, rather than mere recipients of a special grace not received by others.

The understanding of grace in the Orthodox Church is in accordance to St. Gregory of Nyssa and not as what Augustine has defined, hence a bit more detailing on this point may help us. Augustine is not a recognized saint in the Orthodox Church… The difference though rather subtle, is exceedingly important today for us in dealing with the realities of secular societies and in our understanding of extent of God’s grace present in other religions. The argument of the Pelagian monks of Hadrumetum [North Africa] is summarized for us by Augustine in para 6 of de correptioneet gratia:

“They say, if God gives the grace to do good, then clearly my not doing good is due to God’s not giving grace. So you should not admonish me, but pray that effective grace be given to me. There is no use admonishing me, because, if the gift is not there what can I do?”

In the above reply, Augustine evades the question by saying that the one who is unwilling to be admonished, should for the reason of his unwillingness be admonished. Augustine goes on to make out a case why such a person should be admonished; but he does not say what meaning admonition could have if the will of God is sovereign, and if the grace of God is capable of producing its own effects without any admonition.

St. Gregory takes a different line. For him grace is primarily manifested in the great acts of God and in the sacraments. Grace par excellence connotes not the help God gives for performing individual good deeds, but rather God’s great intervention in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ to redeem man from sin and death. Grace is the mighty act of God, not some petty help given to each man from time to time. It is manifested in the conversion of Paul, who before grace was a persecutor, but after grace becomes Apostle. The message of gospel is the annunciation that the grace of God has appeared in Jesus Christ.

It is only because the grace of God has appeared in Jesus Christ and renewed the whole of human nature in one single act of redemption, that human beings now have the possibility of practicing “virtue” and living in the good.

St. Gregory emphasizes the grace of God in creation, the grace of God in the Redemption through Jesus Christ, and the grace of God in the mysteries of Baptism, Eucharist, Chrismation, Priesthood, etc (Sacraments of the church). The good acts of man are proper response to the grace of God, who has created man to be a free agent of the good, and when man lost that capacity, restored it to him in Jesus Christ. There are three factors that makes it possible for man to do good, they are (1) the grace of creation, (2) grace of redemption (Christ died for the redemption of whole mankind) and (3) the sacramental grace, but good has to be a free act of man and not something compelled by a sovereign grace. It should be noted here that two of the factors are available to all mankind in the world which is the grace of creation and the grace of redemption. Only the third factor, the sacramental grace, is the one which is additionally available to the members of the True Church.

Man’s velle, willing is an essential element in the act of virtue. God does not do historical acts of virtue except through the human agency. Therefore human agent is an essential element in history. What man does in his freedom, contributes greatly to the glory of God.

“…One must clean the royal house from every impurity and adorn it with every beauty, then the king may enter into it. In a similar way one must first cleanse the earth of the heart and uproot the weeds of sin and the passionate deeds and soften it with sorrows and the narrow way of life, sow in it the seed of virtue, water it with lamentation and tears, and only then does the fruit of dispassion and eternal life grow. For the Holy Spirit does not dwell in a man until he has been cleansed from passions of the soul and body.” St. Paisius Velichkovsky, (1722-84)

“Everything that breathes, breathes by air and cannot live without air; similarly all reasonable free creatures live by the Holy Spirit, as though by air, and cannot live without Him. Every soul is quickened by the Holy Spirit.” Recognize that the Holy Spirit stands in the same relation to your soul as air stands in relation to your body.” St. John of Kronstadt (1829-1909)

Authentic Eastern Christian [Orthodox] thinking does not think of grace as a special entity with a hypostasis of its own. Grace is the action of Holy Spirit, and though this isHoly Spirit “unmerited”, it is not a thing itself. It is clear that according to St. Gregory of Nyssa, all human acts of good are God’s acts not only in the sense that God has given man the capacity to do good, but also because the Spirit, i.e. God Himself, is in person to help him to do good. But what God gives is only possibility and help. The agent is man. Otherwise it would not be a free act. In the western Christian [Roman Catholic and Protestant] doctrine of grace, God becomes the agent, and our own wills only cooperate. While according to Orthodox Christian understanding, God is before the act of good as the One who gave man the possibility of doing good, and in the act of doing good as helper, but never assumes the role of agent, for that would be to deny the freedom of man. Man can perform acts of good which seem to be beyond the normal capacity of human nature. But man is still the agent.

The gift of Eternal life is indeed a gift of the Spirit. St. Gregory of Nyssa says that it is the Spirit of God who gives this gift, but we acquire the worthiness or capacity to have and enjoy this grace, through faith which is manifested in the tireless capacity to strive for the good.

This special power of the Spirit to generate and enhance the capacity for good actions is what the ancient tradition of the Church regards as grace. It is an act of God, but God’s agency does not overwhelm the agency of man. The receiving of the Spirit is not an arbitrary and capricious matter, however. The Holy Spirit acts more effectively in those who have made themselves holy – negatively separating from sin and positively by practicing acts of virtue. The Holy Spirits special capacity is to do good through the will and agency of man without destroying man’s freedom. Grace as help for good deeds, is the consequence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and that indwelling does not take place until one has become a worthy abode for the Holy Spirit through the separation from evil and the practice of virtue. The Holy Spirit comes and dwells in those who fights the other loves(love for the worldly materialistic things/passions) that distract the man from the love of the good, and who take up their cross with joy and hope. But then neither does St. Gregory of Nyssa want anyone to boast or even be conscious of his own virtues: “ The lover of grace from on high endures every labor for the sake of those things which attract the Spirit and, having obtained a share in the grace from that source, he produces fruit and enjoys the harvest which the grace of the Spirit cultivates in his own humility and active zeal. It is necessary to endure the toils of prayer and fasting and the other works with much pleasure, love and hope, and to believe that activities are flowers of labor and the fruits of the Spirit. If anyone imputes those things to himself and gives himself the entire credit for them, in place of the undefiled fruits there grows up in such a person false pretension and pride, and these passions, like blight glowing in the souls of those easily satisfied, destroy and nullify the labors”

The spirit, giver of grace, does not bestow his gifts in such a way as to abrogate or overwhelm the freedom of man. But the Spirit’s presence in Man and His willingness to work through and in man together constitute one of the great mysteries of our present-day existence, particularly since the Incarnation and Pentecost. The one great consequence of God’ becoming man is the fact that the Spirit is now present in the community of Faith and Holiness. The Spirit Dwells in man and inspires his knowledge and his action, and transforms his very being- but all this neither as a servant, nor as an arbitrary dictator, but as One who works in a mysterious way as God’s Presence in the whole of creation, but particularly in Man.

Man’s freedom, however, has to be used even for providing the set-up in which the Spirit has to work. When man separates himself from evil, attaches himself to God. Lives a life of holiness and service, and dedicates himself unremittingly to prayer and virtue, then the Spirit abides in Man and Man becomes the Presence of God in creation- which is what it means to be Image of God.

As St. Gregory says
“The husbandmen of Christ and truth who through faith and toils of virtue, have received goods from the grace of the Spirit beyond their nature, harvest with unspeakable pleasure, and without effort they attain a guileless and unshakable love, unmovable faith, unfailing peace, true goodness and the rest of the things through which the soul becomes stronger than itself and more powerful than evil of the enemy, and furnishes itself as a pure dwelling place for the Holy and adorable Spirit. From the Spirit, it receives the eternal peace of Christ and, through it, unites with and cleaves to the Lord”.

The Spirit thus unites human person to Christ, but only when Man has separated from evil and cleansed himself, through baptism and the Eucharist on the one hand, and through the intense self-discipline of the love of God on the other. But the will of man is a necessary precondition for the perfection of man. For a person, who is not part of the church, but lives intense self-discipline of the love of God as mentioned above receives the grace of God, by the activities of the Holy Spirit. Grace of God is available to all humans through the grace of creation and the grace of redemption, may they be part of any religion and it is up to God to decide on his/her salvation.

Now we will see few references from Bible, with regard to this…
“For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth [struggleth], but of God that showeth mercy” (Rom. 9:15-16).
One more way of looking at the status of heterodox (people who does not belong to Orthodox Church, may they be Christians or from other religions) believers is to compare them to New Testament “God-fearers” like Cornelius (Acts 10:2) or the Roman centurion (who, by the way, had greater faith than anyone in Israel; Matt. 8:10).

As we discussed earlier, Man’s effort in his own freedom to work towards good, develops virtue and this has its own value, wherever it is to be found. Before meeting the Apostle Peter, Cornelius neither believed aright concerning God, nor taught others the truth. But God, beholding his diligence in that which he knew, and foreseeing also how willingly he would embrace the truth, brought him to know Christ in a wondrous manner.

john_chrysostomos_4x6 - CopySaint John Chrysostom, commenting on [Acts 10:2], has written, “. . .if He did not overlook the Magi, nor the Ethiopian, nor the thief, nor the harlot, much more them that work towards righteousness, and are willing, shall He in anywise not overlook.” The righteousness of Cornelius was not overlooked by God; it prepared him to receive the Gospel and so to be joined to the Church, wherein was the fulfillment and reward of that righteousness.

A related example from the Old Testament may help, as well. Rahab, who was not visibly in the covenant community (Israel), nonetheless feared God (Joshua 2:8-21; cf. Saint Matt. 21:31); she is listed in the “Hall of Faith” (Hebrews 11:31) for her righteous act of hiding the three spies. Does anyone doubt her eternal destiny?
Hence what should one say of those outside the Church, who do not belong to her?
St. Paul provides us with an idea: “For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? Do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth” (1 Cor. 5:12-13).

God “will have mercy on whom He will have mercy” (Rom 9:18).

Also wherever the Gospel has not been preached or have not reached, people will be judged according to the clarification cited by the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to Romans; that is, he/she will be judged on the basis of the law of his conscience: “…when the gentiles (all those who do not have a written, moral code) instinctively uphold the stipulations of the law, to them –albeit having no written law- the law shall be their own self. They prove that they have the enforcement of the law written in their hearts”. (Romans 2: 14-15)

God has placed inside every single person, without exception, wherever they may be found on this earth, that unbiased tribunal – the inherent ethical law – based on which they will be judged. If they lived faithful to that innate moral code, they shall enter Paradise; if they don’t, they will not qualify to enter.

A man who will be judged according to the inherent ethical law, will be held accountable to God, only for –let’s say for example-the actual act of adultery that he had committed. But a Christian will be judged much more severely: even for his one, single, lustful glance, for example. He will be judged “in his words, in his acts and in his thoughts”. The benefits may be more for a Christian, but the criteria will be more austere and his path will be far more difficult to walk. Everything is fair. God is meticulously just. As Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (Mt. Athos) had said, “God doesn’t have even two identical scales; He weighs every single person on separate, personal scales”. Depending on where the person is born, what kind of environment he was brought up in, the kinds of parents, the school, the country, the religion, the peculiarities of every single person. God makes no mistakes.

In the Orthodox Church we have the path of salvation indicated to us and we are given the means by which a person maybe morally purified and have a direct promise of salvation. The grace of the Spirit, coming to us in the preaching of the Word, in the water of baptism and in the heavenly food of the Eucharist has to be perfected through a life of virtue. For this life of virtue, as well as for the bearing of the cross which is the inescapable outcome of the life of virtue, we need the grace of the Spirit in our bodies and the souls energizing us and strengthening us beyond our normal capacity to greater degrees of good.

st peter - CopyIn the Church is given that of which Apostle Peter writes to Christians (and only Christians): “According as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:3-8).

The Holy Orthodox Church is the repository of the divinely revealed Truth in all its fullness and fidelity to apostolic Tradition. Hence, he who leaves the Church, who intentionally and consciously falls away from it, joins the ranks of its opponents and becomes a renegade as regards apostolic Tradition. The Church dreadfully anathematized such renegades, in accordance with the words of the Savior Himself (Matt. 18:17) and of the Apostle Paul (Gal. 1:8-9), threatening them with eternal damnation and calling them to return to the Orthodox fold. It is self-evident, however, that sincere Christians who are Roman Catholics, or Lutherans, or members, of other non-Orthodox confessions, or people living in virtue but belonging to other religions cannot be told that they shall not for sure inherit eternal life. They have been born and raised and are living according to the creed which they have inherited, just as do the majority of us who are Orthodox; in their lives there has not been a moment of personal and conscious renunciation of Orthodoxy. The Lord, “Who will have all men to be saved” (I Tim. 2:4) and “Who enlightens every man born into the world” (Jn. 1.43), undoubtedly is leading them also towards salvation In His own way.

For St. Gregory of Nyssa the redemption of Christ restores unto man the possibility of being and doing good. As he separates from evil and cleaves to God in Christ by the Spirit, the Spirit indwells him and empowers him. It is this empowering that enables him to be transformed into the Image of God. But the empowering is not a thing called grace, but the presence of God and the power of God. But the presence and the empowering of the Spirit takes place without annulling the agency of the human will. It is still man’s act, but with God’s power.

With reference to the question asked, it is particularly instructive to recall the answer once given to an inquirer by the St. Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894). The blessed one replied more or less thus:

“You ask, will the heterodox (all who do not belong to Orthodox Church) be saved… Why do you worry about them?
They have a Savior Who desires the salvation of every human being.
He will take care of them. You and I should not be burdened with such a
concern. Study yourself and your own sins…

I will tell you one thing, however: should you, being Orthodox and
possessing the Truth in its fullness, betray Orthodoxy, and enter a
different faith, you will lose your soul forever.”

Orthodoxy is the only sure path for salvation. It may not be the only path for salvation, but it is the only safe road…

What should be of chief concern is OUR OWN salvation. The question “What about him?” that St. Peter asked, regarding St. John the Evangelist (John 21:21) – in other words, “What will become of him?” – was a “show of compassion”; it was an external display of his caring for John. We, however, take this expression and use it simply informatively i.e.: “What will become with the heterodox or the non-Christians?” without concerning ourselves with our own salvation! Therefore, the proper thing to do is to attend to the salvation of our own soul, and at the same time show an interest in the salvation of other people who have entered the Orthodox Church (of their own free will), and not merely wonder in our minds what will become of them.

St. Peter spoke these words as he paid a lot of attention to John. He did not want to be separated from him. Therefore the Lord wished to show him that His love for St. John was much greater than his. Therefore He said, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?” St. Peter had always been fiery and rash in these matters, so the Lord wished to restrain him and teach him not to go beyond his limits by uttering these words. Hence we should also understand that God loves every human being that is born into this world more than anyone.

Finally, let us keep in mind the words of St. John Chrysostom “The Lord teaches us not to mourn, or be upset, or curious. We should not ask questions that seem to be outside the scope of matters directly affecting us.”

Maintaining an Undefiled Conscience in the World of Distraction —–Part 2

Continuing from Maintaining an Undefiled Conscience in the World of Distraction —–Part 1….

Heresies

We are living in an age enslaved in many kinds of deification of modern rationality, its twin product science and technology and in the midst of false teachings or doctrines. 

Before we start with our discussion on heresies let us remember and keep in mind the song we sing at every Holy Qurbana (Eucharist) of the St. James Liturgy . The song is sung before the lesson from the epistle of St. Paul, as:
Paul_4x6

Paul the Blessed Saint, the Lord’s Apostle said
If one comes to preach to you
A doctrine other than I preached to you
Be he man or angel bright,
Cursed be he in Church’s sight;
Doctrines all diverse arise;
Sprouting up with many lies;
Blest is he who first and last
Trusts God’s Truth and holds it fast.
(Galatians 1:5-9)

Every conceivable opinion, even the most absurd, even those hitherto rejected by the universal consent of all civilized people -now has its platform and its own “teacher.” A few of these teachers come with demonstration or promise of “spiritual power” and false miracles, as do some occultists and ” charismatics”; but most of the contemporary teachers offer no more than a weak concoction of undigested ideas which they received “out of the air,” as it were, or from some modern self-appointed “wise man” (or woman) who knows more than all the ancients merely by living in our “enlightened” modern times.. As a result, philosophy has a thousand schools and “Christianity” a thousand sects.

Where is the truth to be found in all this, the truth that needs to be found in our most misguided times?

St. Gregory of Palamas says:
“And not many days after,” it says, “the younger son gather all together, and took his journey into a far country” (Luke 15:13). Why did [the Prodigal Son] not set off at once instead of a few days after? The evil prompter, the devil, does not simultaneously suggest to us that we should do what we like and that we should sin. Instead he cunningly beguiles us little by little, whispering, “Even if you live independently without going to God’s Church or listening to the Church teacher, you will still be able to see for yourself what your duty is and not depart from what is good.” When he separates someone from the divine services and obedience to the holy teachers, he also distances him from God’s vigilance and surrenders him to evil deeds. God is everywhere present. Only one thing is far away from His goodness: evil. Being in the power of evil through sin we set off on a journey far away from God. As David says to God, “The evil shall not stand in thy sight” (Ps. 5:5).
A part of the quote says …The evil prompter, the devil, does not simultaneously suggest to us that we should do what we like and that we should sin. Instead he cunningly beguiles us little by little, whispering, “Even if you live independently without going to God’s Church or listening to the Church teacher, you will still be able to see for yourself what your duty is and not depart from what is good.” This is the spiders’ web the devil weaves around us that separates many of us from the divine services and obedience to the Holy teachers, as a result, falling apart from God’s vigilance and therefore surrendering to the evil of heresy.

The first Heresy in Christian church can be traced back to the apostolic times itself and is written in the Scripture. This is well documented in St. Irenaeus of Lyons’ work from 2nd Century – ‘Against Heresies’. Given below is an extract taken from this book…

“Simon the Samaritan was that magician of whom Luke, the disciple and follower of the apostles, says, “But there was a certain man, Simon by name, who beforetime used magical arts in that city, and led astray the people of Samaria, declaring that he himself was some great one, to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This is the power of God, which is called great. And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had driven them mad by his sorceries.” Acts 8: 9-11.
This Simon, then who feigned faith, supposing that the apostles themselves performed their cures by the art of magic, and not by the power of God; and with respect to their filling with the Holy Ghost, through the imposition of hands, those that believed in God through Him who was preached by them, namely, Christ Jesus–suspecting that even this was done through a kind of greater knowledge of magic, and offering money to the apostles, thought he, too, might receive this power of bestowing the Holy Spirit on whomsoever he would lay his hands,–was addressed in these words by Peter: “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God; for I see that you are poisoned by bitterness, and bound by iniquity.” Acts 8: 20 – 23
He, then, not putting faith in God a whit the more, set himself eagerly to contend against the apostles, in order that he himself might seem to be a wonderful being, and applied himself with still greater zeal to the study of the whole magic art, that he might the better bewilder and overpower multitudes of men. Such was his procedure in the reign of Claudius Caesar, by whom also he is said to have been honored with a statue, on account of his magical power. This man, then, was glorified by many as if he were a god; and he taught that it was himself who appeared among the Jews as the Son, but descended in Samaria as the Father while he came to other nations in the character of the Holy Spirit. He represented himself, in a word, as being the loftiest of all powers, that is, the Being who is the Father over all, and he allowed himself to be called by whatsoever title men were pleased to address him.
Now this Simon of Samaria, from whom all sorts of heresies derive their origin, formed his sect.”

What is a heresy?

“The Greek word hairesis (literally choice or thing chosen) was applied to the doctrines of philosophical schools. But already in I Cor. 11.19 and Gal. 5.20 Paul uses the term in a negative sense to mean a divisive faction. In the work of St. Ignatius of Antioch (35-107), that is, even before the days of the conciliar definitions of Christian faith, it denotes theological error. Tertullian (160-225) identifies the root of heresy as the willful choice of philosophical opinion over revealed Christian truth”.
The ecclesial meaning of the term signified the sin of a person who, having been baptized and calling him or herself a Christian, denied a defined doctrine of faith even after having been formally instructed. These notions have two aspects: formal and material/concrete. In the first aspect, heresy is the persistent adherence to erroneous teaching. The second aspect, material, heresy means adherence to error, and acting upon this error, without such culpability. The definition of heresy is dependent, therefore, on acknowledged doctrine of the Church. Heresy is the dislocation of some complete and self-supporting doctrine by the introduction of a denial of some essential part therein.

To put it in simple words Heresies are the false ideas of those that disagree with the faith of the Church.

Heresies are always tend to be found at the opposite poles and end up forming their own sects. Once a separate sect is formed, they concentrate on increasing their followership, as did Simon of Samaria who formed his own sect by the name Simonians. It is not unusual for one heresy to arise in reaction to another. One heresy claims that Christ is not God, another that He is not man. One heresy condemns the veneration of the Virgin Mary as Mother of God, another makes her the Immaculate Conception. One claims that man is saved by grace alone, another that he is saved only by works, all with different doctrines ‘that was not from the beginning’, ultimately forming their own sects and each began to mass up the followership. Such extremes are not easily embraced by Orthodoxy. True Orthodoxy tends to be the middle-way between the two extremes.

It is very necessary in this context to understand the Apostolic Fathers.

Who Are the Apostolic Fathers?

By the end of the first century, all the Holy Books of the New Testament were written. But at that time, still were not all compiled into one Holy Book as it is today. However, all the churches in the world during that time accepted these Holy Books as the Pillar of Faith and the Christian life that was inspired by God through the Apostles who were the means used by the Holy Spirit. “For no prophetic message ever came just from the human will, but people were under control of the Holy Spirit as they spoke the message that came from God.” (II Peter 1:21)
From the beginning the Christian Church was more conservative in acceptance of any book as prophetic even than the Jewish Church itself. For example earlier, there were some writings found in certain manuscripts but the Church did not accept them as prophetic books, for example, very early manuscripts contained, in addition to the Holy Books of the New Testament, two books, which belonged to St. Clement, the Roman.
The era of the Apostolic Fathers began in the middle of the first century and these Fathers followed the Apostles of our Lord immediately. The teachings of the Apostolic Fathers are truly considered as a direct reflection of the Apostles preaching. The Apostolic Fathers were either directly connected to the Apostles themselves or they received their teachings from the Apostles through the disciples lives.
In reality, the term “Apostolic Fathers” was not known in the primitive church, however, it is expressed first by scholars in the seventh century and it refers to the church’ fathers who were direct disciples for the Apostles, or saw them, or received teachings and instructions from the Apostles themselves.
The writers in this era included St. Clement the Roman, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp the Martyr, The Bishop Papias of Hierapolic, Higyspoc, Hermas author of the Didache and the author of the Barnabas Letter. Although these writings are very rare, they have a great importance. The scholars examined and studied these writings extensively regarding Theology, Liturgy, and Church Rituals. The Apostolic Writings focused on patronage in Christianity and their style, which is very similar to the style of writing of the New Testament, especially the style of the Epistles.

Remember your instructors, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the end of their life… Be not led away with various and strange doctrines. (Hebrews 13:7, 9)

“One should not seek among others the truth that can be easily gotten from the Church. For in her, as in a rich treasury, the apostles have placed all that pertains to truth, so that everyone can drink this beverage of life. She is the door of life.”- St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, III.4
”We have learned the plan of our salvation from no one else other than from those through whom the gospel has come down to us. For they did at one time proclaim the gospel in public. And, at a later period, by the will of God, they handed the gospel down to us in the Scriptures-to be the `ground and pillar of our faith.'”- St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies

St. Irenaeus of Lyons wrote a number of books, but the most important that survives is the five-volumes On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis, normally referred to as Adversus Haereses (in English, Against Heresies). Irenaeus cites from most of the New Testament canon, as well as works from the Apostolic Fathers.
St. Ireneaus The holy and glorious, right-victorious Hieromartyr St. Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130-202) was bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, which is now Lyons, France. His writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology. He was a disciple of St. Polycarp of Smyrna, who himself was a disciple of the Apostle St. John the Theologian. 

To support this topic on heresies let us look at the following example regarding The True Church and the Apostolic Succession from the writings of St. Irenaeus of Lyons, quotes taken mostly from the book Against Heresies written by St. Irenaeus. These are the common questions that can arise in one’s mind due to the influence of other doctrines (heresies) that is easily available around us. In the following example/case ‘Response’ is given to a protestant believer’s questions/doubts.

In short let us understand what the main doubts of a protestant believer are and what St. Irenaeus says in respect to this

A good protestant always assumes that the criteria for determining if a church is truly apostolic is to look at the doctrine of that particular church. (The answer to this is response to question #2 (How did Irenaeus propose to distinguish a truly apostolic church from their heretical counterparts?) elaborated further in the article)

The church is the custodian of the truth, but only those churches that have continuity to the teachings of the apostles qualify as being the true church. It thus turns out that the Protestant assumption was only half correct, for Irenaeus does teach that to determine if a church was within the apostolic tradition one had to look to see if the church’s theology was in line with the rule of faith that the apostles had passed down in the sacred writings. Thus, Irenaeus used Biblical exposition to show that the teaching of the Gnostic churches were incompatible with the apostles’ doctrine revealed in Scripture.
But that is only one side of the coin. Equally important in determining whether a church is legitimacy apostolic is whether the church is under a bishop that is the recipients of a chain of ordination going back to the apostles. This is because it was to be assumed that the apostles and their successors would only have appointed leaders who agreed with their teaching and also because apostolic authority was transmitted by the laying on of hands in a transfer of real divine power and authority.

Although Irenaeus did not have time “to enumerate the successions of all the churches”, he took the church at Rome as one example and traced the succession of ordinations back to Peter and Paul. This, he maintains, provides “a full demonstration that it is one and the same life-giving faith which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles to the present, and is handed on in truth.”

The doctrine of apostolic succession provided a hedge around the interpretation of Scripture, according to Irenaeus. Any church which taught private innovations different to the public tradition of the other apostolic sees, was a church teaching heresy.

Question #1: Is it correct that Irenaeus taught that a bishop derived his importance from belonging to an apostolic church?

Response:  If a protestant believer reads St. Irenaeus’ writings, he will always start out assuming that Irenaeus looked to see if the church’s theology was in line with the rule of faith the apostles had passed down in Scripture. However, the believer will soon recognize that just as important for Irenaeus was the bishop being part of a chain of succession going back to the apostles.
In the passages below Irenaeus makes it clear that he considers the Church to be the custodian of the truth.
The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith… (AH 1.10; (ANF) Vol. 1 p. 330; italics added)
Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrine different from these (for no one is greater than the Master… (AH 1.12; ANF Vol. 1 p. 331; italics added)
The early Church was apostolic because her bishops were able to trace their lineage back to the original apostles. Irenaeus holds up two men as exemplars of apostolic succession: Clement of Rome and Polycarp of Smyrna. Irenaeus writes of Clement:

St. Clement of romeClement received the lot of the episcopate; he had seen the apostles and met with them and still had the apostolic preaching in his ears and the tradition before his eyes. He was not alone, for many were then still alive who had been taught by the apostles. (AH 3.3)
Note that Irenaeus does not make any reference to Clement receiving the keys to the Papacy (the government of the Roman Catholic Church; pontificate). The stress here is on his deep personal knowledge of the apostles and their teachings. In the case of his predecessor Polycarp of Smyrna, Irenaeus also stressed the personal knowledge of the apostles and their teachings.

st-polycarpAnd there is Polycarp, who not only was taught by the apostles and conversed with many who had seen the Lord, but also was established by apostles in Asia in the church at Smyrna… He always taught the doctrine he had learned from the apostles, which he delivered to the church, and it alone is true. (AH 3.4; italics added)
Irenaeus did not understand apostolic succession in terms of institutional authority but authority rooted in the apostolic Gospel. Only if he taught the true Gospel could a bishop be in apostolic succession. A bishop who altered the Gospel had abandoned the true faith and broken the chain of succession.
For Irenaeus evidential support for apostolic succession came in the form of succession lists.
Thus, the tradition of the apostles, manifest in the whole world, is present in every church to be perceived by all who wish to see the truth. We can enumerate those who were appointed by the apostles as bishops in the churches as their successors even to our time… (AH 3.3.1; italics added)

He enumerates in detail the apostolic succession for the Church of Rome as follows:
To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus. Alexander followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telephorus, who was gloriously martyred; then Hyginus; after him, Pius; then after him, Anicetus. Soter having succeeded Anicetus, Eleutherius does now in the twelfth place from the apostles, hold the inheritance of the episcopate. In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth. (AH 3.3.4; ANF Vol. I p. 416; italics added)

Unlike the Gnostics who invoked a secret spiritual genealogy, the Christian church in Irenaeus’ time were able to trace their lineage back to the apostles. That this was a widely accepted practice can be seen in Eusebius’ Church History which contains succession lists for various dioceses. Protestantism’s inability to provide a similar listing is something Irenaeus would view with suspicion. The closest thing that Protestantism has to such a listing is the far-fetched claim made by the Landmark Baptists who claim a secret lineage back to John the Baptist.

Central to Irenaeus’ apologia is an apostolic church that was also at the same time a catholic (universal) church.
Having received this preaching and this faith, as I have said, the Church, although scattered in the whole world, carefully preserves it, as if living in one house. She believes these things [everywhere] alike, as if she had but one heart and one soul, and preaches them harmoniously, teaches them, and hands them down, as if she had but one mouth. (AH 1.10.2; cf. ANF Vol. 1 p. 331; italics added)

Irenaeus stresses the importance of these handed down traditions in the following words…
….if the apostles had not left us the scriptures, would it not be best to follow the sequence of the tradition which they transmitted to those whom they entrusted the churches? (AH 3.4.1; italics added)

It was not enough for a bishop to claim apostolic succession, he also needed to be in communion with the church catholic (universal). In contrast, Gnosticism was comprised of teachings that varied according to schools and geographic locations. In other words, the unity of the church catholic (universal) stood in sharp contrast to Gnosticism’s denominationalism, a case similar to today’s Protestantism.

It must be recognized that Irenaeus was one of the earliest biblical theologians. Irenaeus did not simply invoke his episcopal authority like a hammer. Instead, he exercised his episcopal authority through the exposition of Scripture. His high view of Scripture can be seen in his carefully reasoned exegesis of Scripture. He writes:
…and all Scripture, which has been given to us by God, shall be found by us perfectly consistent; and the parables shall harmonize with those passages which are perfectly plain; and those statements the meaning of which is clear, shall serve to explain the parables; and through the many diversified utterances [of Scripture] there shall be heard one harmonious melody in us praising in hymns that God who created all things. (AH 2.28.3; ANF Vol. 1 p. 400)
Irenaeus cited numerous scriptural references from Old and New Testaments to refute the Gnostics (cf. AH 2.2.5; AH 3.18.3). He sounds much like an Evangelical when he wrote: “as Scripture tells us.” (AH 2.2.5; ANF Vol. 1, p. 362) In one particular passage in Against the Heretics, Irenaeus invoked the authority of Scripture repeatedly: “We have shown from the scriptures…”; “The scriptures would not give this testimony to him if…”; “.the divine scriptures testify to him…”; and “The scriptures predicted all this of him.” (AH 3.19.2)
Does this make Irenaeus a second century proto-Protestant?

No. Irenaeus did not oppose Scripture against church and tradition. He urged his readers:
It behooves us, therefore, to avoid their (Gnostics) doctrines, and to take careful heed lest we suffer any injury from them; but to flee to the Church, and be brought up in her bosom, and be nourished with the Lord’s Scriptures. (AH 5.20.2, ANF p. 548)
Irenaeus described the church’s teaching authority in warm maternal terms and assumed the two to be mutually compatible. This stands in contrast to later Protestant views which often saw the church in antagonistic tension with Scripture. Unlike the Protestant principle of ‘sola scriptura’ which makes Scripture the supreme norm for doing theology, Irenaeus saw the traditioning process as an interlocking matrix of which Scripture was one integral component.

The answer to the protestant believer’s Question #1 is that

while the bishop derived his importance or authority from the traditioning process, Irenaeus also emphasized that apostolic succession is corroborated by the catholicity (universality) of the Faith. The authority of the bishop is not autonomous(independent) but contingent(dependent) on the faithful transmission of the Faith received from the apostles.

Because apostolicity is correlated with catholicity (universality), Eucharistic communion provides an essential confirmation of the bishop’s teaching and his pastoral authority.

Question #2: If the answer to question #1 is affirmative, then how did Irenaeus propose to distinguish a truly apostolic church from their heretical counterparts?

Response:  For Irenaeus two foremost criteria were: apostolic succession and doctrinal agreement with the church catholic (universal). A corollary of apostolic succession is antiquity. This is evident in Irenaeus’ insistence that weight be given to the earliest ꟷ “most ancient” ꟷChristian churches.
If some question of minor importance should arise, would it not be best to turn to the most ancient churches, those in which the apostles lived, to receive from them the exact teaching on the question involved? And then, if the apostles had not left us the scriptures, would it not be best to follow the sequence of the tradition which they transmitted to those whom they entrusted the churches? (AH 3.4.1; italics added)

By means of the criterion of antiquity, Irenaeus finds the Gnostics falling short. This can be seen in the phrase: “much later” used to describe the Gnostic teachings.
All the others who are called Gnostics originated from Menander the disciple of Simon, as we have shown, and each of them appeared as the father and mystagogue of the opinion he adopted. All these arose in their apostasy much later, in the middle of the times of the church. (AH 3.4.3; italics added)

In the above quote ‘Simon’ refers to Simon of Samaria who was a magician mentioned in Acts 8: 20 . And in contrast to the unity and universality of the apostolic preaching, Gnosticism was divided among the various schools of thought which resulted in doctrinal diversity ꟷ another marker of deviant theology.
All these are much later than the bishops to whom the apostles entrusted the churches, and we have set this forth with all due diligence in the third book. All the aforementioned heretics, since they are blind to the truth, have to go to one side or the other off the road and therefore the traces of their doctrine are scattered without agreement or logic (AH 5.20.1; ANF p. 547).

Apostolicity did not reside in any one particular church body but pervaded the entirety of the church catholic (universal). Using the second century Church of Rome which was known for its doctrinal conservatism, he notes that the churches in other areas would be in agreement with it (AH 3.2).

Iranaeous sums his case for the apostolicity of Rome thus:
In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in that Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth. (AH 3.3; ANF Vol. 1 p. 416)

Thus, emphasis is on: (1) apostolic succession ꟷa chain of ordination going back to the apostles, (2) apostolic teaching ꟷa body of teachings going back to the apostles, and (3) catholicity ꟷbeing in agreement with the universal church.
Irenaeus’ commendation of the Church of Rome would give rise to the respect accorded to other patriarchates: (Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem), Catholicate (India, Armenia) and Pope (Coptic) by later Ecumenical Councils.

Question #3: One of the reasons that Irenaeus taught apostolic succession is because he believed that the apostles “certainly wished those whom they were leaving as their successors, handing over to them their own teaching position, to be perfect and irreproachable, since their sound conduct would be a great benefit [to the Church], and failure on their part the greatest calamity.” If Irenaeus was correct, might it be possible that the purity of this chain of succession could expire after a time, as the link to the first apostles becomes more and more distant?

Response: Irenaeus did not envision a diminishing chain of succession. It would be like a banker entertaining the thought that one day his vault will be broken into and all his depositors’ money will be lost. Irenaeus understood tradition as a sacred deposit.
Since these proofs are so strong, one need not look among others for the truth that it is easy to receive from the church, for like a rich man in a barn the apostles deposited everything belonging to the truth in it (the church) so that whoever might take the drink of life from it. (Rev. 22:17; AH 3.4.1)

If anything, Irenaeus, like the good banker, would have been horrified at the thought of the Depositor coming back to claim His deposit and finding it gone.
That he expected the Christian Faith to be preserved against heresy and innovation can be seen in the passage below.
Having received this preaching and this faith, as I have said, the Church, although scattered in the whole world, carefully preserves it, as if living in one house. She believes these things [everywhere] alike, as if she had but one heart and one soul, and preaches them harmoniously, teaches them, and hands them down, as if she had but one mouth. (AH 1.10.2; cf. ANF Vol. 1 p. 331)

Here Irenaeus fully expects that the Church will “carefully preserve” the apostolic faith. One empirical test of this claim is the fact that the early Church was able to maintain doctrinal uniformity as it spread throughout the vast Roman Empire. One could expect that as the church became dispersed across vast distances, regional differences in doctrines would emerge.
The way of church members surrounds the whole world, contains the firm tradition from the apostles, lets us view one and these same faith with all, for all believe in one and the same God and in the “economy” of the Son of God and know the same gift of the Spirit and care for the same commandments and preserve the same organization in the church and await the same coming of the Lord. (AH 5.20.1; italics added)
In Irenaeus’ phrase “firm tradition” we get the sense that the Christian faith is stable and resistant to innovation and heretical distortion. One can innovate only by “deserting the preaching of the Church.” (AH 5.20.2; ANF p. 548)

Orthodoxy has multiple safeguards to ensure the preservation of the Faith. The most important is the fact that Tradition consists of an interlocking and mutually reinforcing matrix. One important component is the episcopacy. Elevation to the episcopacy entails not just the conferring of ecclesiastical authority but also the obligation to keep the apostolic faith intact and to guard it against change.
Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrine different from these (for no one is greater than the Master… (AH 1.12; ANF Vol. 1 p. 331; italics added)

This is a complete proof that the life-giving faith is one and the same, preserved and transmitted in truth in the church from the apostles up till now. (AH 3.3.2; italics added)

Next, there is the inscripturated word of God. Irenaeus writes:
For we have known the “economy” for our salvation only through those whom the Gospel came to us; and what they then first preached they later, by God’s will, transmitted to us in the scriptures so that would be foundation and pillar of our faith. (I Timothy 3:15) (AH 3.3.1; italics added)

In addition to the episcopal office and inscripturated Tradition is the regula fide in the form of creed. In Against the Heretics 1.10 Irenaeus writes:
The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit.. (AH 1.10; ANF Vol. 1 p. 330)
By the fourth century, the regula fide would be standardized in the Nicene Creed as a result of the decisions made by the first and second Ecumenical Councils. The Orthodox church’s fierce resistance to the Church of Rome’s unilateral insertion of the Filioque clause points to its taking seriously the task of preserving the apostolic deposit.

Another component is the Eucharist. For Irenaeus there is a close link between Christian doctrine and Christian worship.
But our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion. (AH 4.18.5; ANF Vol. 1, p. 486)
The above quote anticipates the theological principle: lex orans, lex credendi (the rule of prayer is the rule of faith). Worship in the early church was liturgical. The liturgy was part of the received apostolic tradition “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took the bread;”(I Corinthians 11:23). Here the words ‘received‘ and ‘delivered‘ refer to the transmission of Holy Tradition. These words were the part of the Eucharist celebrations in the first century as it is today. It was not the result of creative expression but served to conserve the Christian faith. An examination of the ancient liturgies used by the Orthodox churches ꟷLiturgy of St. James, Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Liturgy of St. Basil ꟷshows how much the faith of the early church lives on the Orthodox churches today. The ancient liturgies have pretty much disappeared from the Roman Catholic Church with the shift to the Novus Ordo Mass in the 1960s.
All these, however, are insufficient apart from divine grace. That is why preservation of the apostolic teaching depends on: (1) the promise of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13), (2) Christ’s guarantee of the church against the powers of Hell (Matthew 16:18), and (3) Christ’s charge to teach the nations and the promise of his presence with the church until the Second Coming (Matthew 28:19-20). The Great Commission probably has the most bearing on the protestant believer’s Question #3. The traditioning process is implied in the Great Commission ꟷ “teaching them to observe everything I commanded you” ꟷand is guaranteed by Christ’s promise to be with the Church “always even unto the end of the age.”

Question #4: Is Irenaeus’ doctrine of apostolic succession a Biblical doctrine? If so, where can we find it implied or inferred in scripture?

Response: That Irenaeus’ doctrine of apostolic succession is rooted in Scripture can be seen in the ample citations below.
Irenaeus in the Prologue to Book 3 explains how the Lord Jesus himself laid the foundation for apostolic succession:
The Lord of all gave his apostles the power of the Gospel, and by them we have known the truth, that is, the teaching of the Son of God. To them the Lord said, “He who hears you hears me, and he who despises you despises me and Him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16) (Italics added)
Another biblical support for apostolic succession can be found in II Timothy 2:2 in which Paul describes to Timothy how the traditioning process is key to the ordination to the ministry:
And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (II Tim 2:2)
Biblical support for apostolic succession can be inferred from Titus 1:5 in which Paul gave Titus instructions on the ordination of men to the priesthood:
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city, as I commanded you. (Titus 1:5)
The top-down approach described here is sharply different from the ordination practices of congregationalism.
Apostolic succession can also be found in Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to preserve the apostolic teaching against heretical innovations (I Timothy 6:3, 20; II Timothy 2:14, 24; Titus 1:9, 2:1). In these verses Paul stresses the need to preserve the Faith against heresy; the very same point reiterated by Irenaeus.

Question #5: If Irenaeus is correct in his doctrine of apostolic succession, which churches today satisfy the criteria for a `true church’?

Response: If Irenaeus were to examine the churches today he would be looking for the “most ancient” churches and at the “sequence of the tradition” from the apostles for those churches.
…would it not be best to turn to the most ancient churches, those in which the apostles lived, to receive from them the exact teaching on the question involved? And then, if the apostles had not left us the scriptures, would it not be best to follow the sequence of the tradition which they transmitted to those whom they entrusted the churches? (AH 4.1; italics added)
The application of these two criteria rules out all of Protestantism. That being the case, there remains two present day options: the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.
Irenaeus had some knowledge of these two branches. In Against the Heretics 3.3 Irenaeus showcased the Church of Rome. Irenaeus’ predecessor, Polycarp, was bishop of the church in Smyrna, which would be closely linked to the Patriarchate of Constantinople belonging to the Orthodox Church. Constantinople was the capital of the Roman Empire during that time, one should not confuse Church of Rome with Roman Catholic Church which is based out of Vatican and not Constantinople.
One would think in light of Irenaeus’ high praise for the Church of Rome in AH 4.1 that he would automatically point us to the present day Roman Catholic Church. But it should be kept in mind that he lived in the second century and that much has happened over the next two millennia, most notably the Schism of 1054 A.D.

Would Irenaeus identify himself with present day Roman Catholicism?
No, for three reasons: (1) Roman Catholicism has adopted a strongly forensic approach to the doctrine of salvation ꟷsomething not found in his teachings, (2) it has superimposed Aristotelian categories on to the doctrine of the Eucharist ꟷsomething not found in his teaching, and (3) it has promoted the supremacy of the Roman papacy ꟷsomething not found in his teachings. Furthermore, Irenaeus would likely have regarded Rome’s later independence from the other patriarchates ((Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem), Catholicate (India, Armenia) and Pope (Coptic)) contrary to the catholicity of the second century church.
In Orthodoxy’s favor is the fact that it has retained Irenaeus’ understanding of salvation in terms of recapitulation, i.e., Christ through the Incarnation recapitulated the entirety of human existence (cf. AH 3.20.2; cf. ANF Vol. 1 p. 450). Also, where the Roman Catholic Church has introduced the medieval emphasis on penal substitution as the basis for our salvation, Orthodoxy, like Irenaeus, has retained the emphasis on salvation as union with Christ and theosis (AH 3.4.2; AH 3.20.2).
St. Irenaeus’ Against the Heresies provides historical evidence to support Orthodoxy’s claim that the way it does theology has deep historic roots. A close reading of St. Irenaeus will give pause to any thoughtful Protestant who base their theological method on sola scriptura. Irenaeus of Lyons stands as a valuable benchmark for determining what doctrines and practices are congruent with the historic Christian Faith.

An example of  a great heresy that we will need to look at is Arianism. This was the debate within the Church in the fourth century over the divinity of Jesus Christ. It was great because this heresy, from its beginning, changed the minds of people and urged them to understand divinity in a rational way. Since it is very difficult to rationalize the union of the Infinite with the finite, there is an apparent contradiction between the two terms ꟷthe final form into which the confusion of heresies settled down was a declaration by the Arians that our Lord was of as much of the Divine Essence as it was possible for a creature to be, but He was none the less a creature. It is very interesting how the Arian system keeps its strength after so many centuries, after so many controversies. Arius was the father of many heresies, which have grown up after him. From his roots many heresy take the saps, like the branches from the root of tree. These branches develop own systems, but checking the genesis of them we will see the old root. We will discuss more on this topic on a later date in another article about heresies.

The article continues as….Maintaining an Undefiled Conscience in the World of Distraction —–Part 3

Maintaining an Undefiled Conscience in the World of Distraction–Part 1

St. Basil’s Hexameron – Homily 1 — 6th point–

  1. Such being the different senses of the word beginning, see if we have not all the meanings here.  You may know the epoch when the formation of this world began, it, ascending into the past, you endeavor to discover the first day.  You will thus find what was the first movement of time; then that the creation of the heavens and of the earth were like the foundation and the groundwork, and afterwards that an intelligent reason, as the word beginning indicates, presided in the order of visible things. You will finally discover that the world was not conceived by chance and without reason, but for an useful end and for the great advantage of all beings, since it is really the school where reasonable souls exercise themselves, the training ground where they learn to know God; since by the sight of visible and sensible things the mind is led, as by a hand, to the contemplation of invisible things.  “For,” as the Apostle says, “the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” Rom. 1: 20.  Perhaps these words “In the beginning God created” signify the rapid and imperceptible moment of creation.  The beginning, in effect, is indivisible and instantaneous.  The beginning of the road is not yet the road, and that of the house is not yet the house; so the beginning of time is not yet time and not even the least particle of it.  If some objector tell us that the beginning is a time, he ought then, as he knows well, to submit it to the division of time—a beginning, a middle and an end.  Now it is ridiculous to imagine a beginning of a beginning. Further, if we divide the beginning into two, we make two instead of one, or rather make several, we really make an infinity, for all that which is divided is divisible to the infinite. On the inconceivability either of an absolute minimum of space or of its infinite divisibility.  Thus then, if it is said, “In the beginning God created,” it is to teach us that at the will of God the world arose in less than an instant, and it is to convey this meaning more clearly that other interpreters have said:  “God made summarily” that is to say all at once and in a moment. But enough concerning the beginning, if only to put a few points out of many.

Introduction:

Orthodoxy is the way of life in Christ through True Worship, where each member of the Church is set out on a journey towards deification by partaking in the Holy Sacraments, built firmly on the Holy Scripture and, preserved and handed over by the Holy Tradition. It is not a theory. In other words it is the life in the faith of the church – especially the teaching about the Incarnation of God [i.e. Jesus Christ as one and only Incarnation of God]; and the teaching about the Holy Trinity [ God- The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit worshipped as one Undivided Trinity in Unity]. Orthodox Christianity offers a fullness of truth and beauty in its quest for holiness.

Orthodoxy is established upon a sound and inviolable foundation: fidelity to the teaching of the fathers of the ecumenical councils, the age-old experience of the spiritual and grace-filled life in Christ. The Martyrs, Confessors, Wonderworkers, Holy monastics and other Saints by their God pleasing lives and righteous deaths are witness to the truth and the salvific nature of the Orthodox faith…

This is what we understand about the Orthodox faith today.

Mankind was created by God and was originally in direct communion with Him. Having forgotten God, man still longs for Him in his soul. That having been forgotten, it is still God’s will to be known by man. Therefore it is sensible, even predictable, that in every human community, society and culture throughout history, evidence can be found of man’s longing to know God, and God’s will to be known by man.

From times immemorial all through the human history man’s ignorance to know God have resulted in many religions in the world. One of the tasks of the early Church (till 5th century) was defining, and defending, orthodox theology against the battering waves of heresies. These heresies often appeared in disputes over the nature of the Trinity, or how Jesus could be both God and Man. Would the early Church identify with present day Roman Catholicism and Protestantism? This is the challenge that we face today in our quest for “The Truth”. Church Councils were called to put into words the common faith that could stand for all ages. From this time, the Church has been called “Orthodox,” which means “right belief” or “right praise.” The Nicene Creed originated at the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, and is the central Orthodox statement of faith. Built on the foundation of Christ and His Apostles, nothing has been added or can be added to our faith. We now live in an age where lives and acts (secularism and the other ‘isms’) are contrary to this Christian heritage of Orthodox faith. As a result, many have separated themselves from this tradition, hence our perception and understanding of Christ and His Church has become clouded.

We read in Genesis 11: 1-9 the incident at the tower of Babel.

tower of babel

“Come let Us(The Holy Trinity as shown in the icon)  go down there and confuse their language”……. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the languages of all the earth; and from there the Lord God scattered them abroad over the face of all earth.”

“Now the whole earth was one language and one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and dwelt there. Then they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them in fire”. They had brick for stone and asphalt for mortar. They also said “Come, let us build ourselves  city and a tower, whose top will reach to heaven; and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered broad over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the sons of men built. Then the Lord said, “Indeed, the people are one race and one language, and they have begun to do what they said. Now they will not fail to accomplish what they have undertaken. Come let Us go down there and confuse their language, so they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city and the tower. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the languages of all the earth; and from there the Lord God scattered them abroad over the face of all earth.”

Here we learn how human race was scattered over the face of the earth because in our pride we wished to build a tall tower reaching unto heaven. The people of Babel wanted to be like God but without God or apart from Him.

Similarly according to Isaiah 14: 12-15 we read `How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, who rose up in the morning! He who sends forth all the nations is crushed to the earth. For you said in your mind “I will ascend into heaven; I will place my throne above the stars of heaven; I will sit on the lofty mountain, on the lofty mountain towards the north. I will ascend above the clouds; I will be like the Most High”. But now you shall descent to hades to the foundations of the earth.’

The `I will’ in the above verses show how Satan pursued his own will which made him go away from the “Most High God”, his pride was the reason for his fall. The pride of Adam and Eve was defeated by God when they were thrown out of the Garden of Eden.

The question to ponder here from the above paragraphs is, Are we really that different than the ancient people of Babel trying to make a name for ourselves? Let us look into history. The discussion that follows points out to certain facts that paved a way to move away from The Truth.

We take an extract from the homily 1 point 6 of St. Basil‘s hexameron which justifies the discussion below.

“You will finally discover that the world was not conceived by chance and without reason, but for an useful end and for the great advantage of all beings, since it is really the school where reasonable souls exercise themselves, the training ground where they learn to know God; since by the sight of visible and sensible things the mind is led, as by a hand, to the contemplation of invisible things.”

Taking this small extract from the homily, let us examine ourselves, in the midst of the world of distraction (the different subjects of discussion below), to make a choice whether we as reasonable souls are using this world as the training ground in doing God’s will or our own fallen will or the will of the devil. As it say’s in Luke Chapter 21: 34-36 “ But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly… Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man”

Historic paganism and neo-paganism

Early apologist, scholar and Christian synergist, St. Justin Martyr of Alexandria and Rome, made the point to the Roman government, that Christians were inherently good citizens.  Why? Because Christians believed in the Logos (Gospel of John) that is also understood as “reason.” Therefore, St. Justin explained, Christians believe in reason and therefore are reasonable people.  “Whatever things were rightly said among all men,” wrote St. Justin in his second apology “is the property of us Christians.”

St. Justin went further to say that since the demons also knew that salvation would come to humanity through Jesus Christ, they made up legends and myths of the Olympian gods that were similar to historic events, using the same (or very similar) images and symbols.  In essence, St. Justin confirmed the legends and myths were truth to a point. However, they were distorted, he said, to create confusion among mankind. 

Now looking into Historic paganism and neo-paganism, the term “historic paganism” will be used to denote the ancient, polytheistic, nature worship and fertility cults of pre- and early-Christian eras; while “neo-paganism” will be used to describe contemporary efforts to revive historic paganism in the facts described below.

Orthodox Christianity fears no slander, criticism or challenge of any sort; every variety has already been dealt with at some point. Orthodoxy zealously embraces the mystical revelation of God in Trinity, through His Son, the incarnate Sojourner among men, who appeared on earth at a specific time and place in history. At the Annunciation to the Theotokos by Gabriel, the chronological history of fallen humanity intersects with divine Kairos [interruption] i.e. God became Man to save us from our fallen state; Orthodoxy is submission to, and preservation of, this salvific opportunity as it occurred in history. The historical context of the Incarnation was not coincidence but providence. This being the case, Orthodoxy is not stumbled by such facts as that of paganism predating Christianity.  Fallen man, having forgotten God, contrived nature worship prior to God’s revelation to Moses or the salvific incarnation of Jesus Christ. Paganism’s pre-Christian existence does not prove that it is the source of Christianity but only that man’s longing for the divine predates Judeo-Christian revelations. The seemingly logical progression that pagans predate Christians, and pagan gods are myths, therefore the Christian God is a myth as well, does not hold. And yet, today, it is a popular idea to which many subscribed.

Another popular belief is that because Christian theology, worship, and mysteries share common terminology and symbolism with paganism (elementals, chant, altars, liturgy, etc.) that they must share a common origin. But again, this only demonstrates that there are metaphors and symbols that are universal to human psychology; which suggests a common origin for all men (i.e. Adam and Eve) but not for all religions. We could perhaps designate this as the law of psychological identity. Some of the sensible images or symbols, created by man to reflect spiritual truths, are indeed common to many peoples and races because their basis is the same human nature or experience. This basis of psychological identity explains many rites, words, and ideas common to Christianity and paganism.

Depending on studies done by various scholars the problems of historical, conceptual, and genetic relationships between the mysteries of the Christians and those of the pagans are breathtaking in their complexity. But Orthodox Christianity is at ease with the seemingly universal signs, symbols, rituals and even prophecies that predate the life of Jesus Christ. Mankind was created by God and was originally in direct communion with Him. Having forgotten God, man still longs for Him in his soul. That having been forgotten, it is still God’s will to be known by man. Therefore it is sensible, even predictable, that in every human community, society and culture throughout history, evidence can be found of man’s longing to know God, and God’s will to be known by man. Orthodoxy has no need to claim originality in its rites and rituals. Quite the opposite, it glories in the infinite fulfillment that Christ offers mystically to that which is already familiar; in other words, sanctification, deification, and theosis. God becoming man, that man might become god.

Lastly, regardless of the projected confidence of neo-pagans, it is a simple fact that all conjecture regarding historic paganism is made in a near void of critical data. We have extant but a few literary works dealing with the [pagan] mysteries, many scattered references, verses of poetry, fragments of hymns and prayers, mutilated inscriptions, damaged papyri, cult emblems, bas-reliefs, frescoes, painted vases, ruined chapels and temples. These are the varied and imperfect material out of which we have to attempt reconstruction. Our difficulties are much heightened by the insecurity of chronological sequence, and the uncertainty as to the particular usages or beliefs of a cult at a particular period of the long history of the [pagan] mystery religions from the sixth century B.C. to the fifth century A.D. “And the only mystery ritual which has survived in its entirety is the one belonging to the Mithraic cult.” Not coincidentally, the cult of Mithras is the only source cited consistently by those subordinating Christianity to paganism.

In contrast, consider the sheer volume of Judeo-Christian documents and literature produced from approximately 1500 B.C. to 800 A.D.: Old Testament, New Testament, Apostolic literature, the catacomb experience, Christian Byzantium, and the Holy Ecumenical councils! In light of this tremendous outpouring of Judeo-Christian literature that encapsulates the dark age of paganism (600 B.C. to 500 A.D.), one might be compelled to argue that every enduring aspect of paganism, other than its rightful claim to the Mother-Goddess of agrarian fertility worship, and the Greek philosophical terminology of the time, is in fact a borrowing from Judeo-Christianity practices.[1]

As part of the Church’s tradition, it is believed that during Christ’s flight into Egypt, statues to the native gods crumbled and fell at His presence; this led to the conversion of some of the inhabitants.

Flight of ChristGiven below are some selective acts of saints who destroyed religious images[2]

The Apostle Paul (+67 A.D.)

As recounted in the Book of Acts 19: 11-20, the miracles of the Apostle Paul led many pagan sorcerers in Ephesus to convert to Christ, whereupon they publicly burned their spell-books. Scripture concludes this episode with the words: So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.

The Apostle John (c. +97 A.D.)

Some accounts of the Life of John the Evangelist state that his exile to Patmos was a result of the Apostle causing pagan idols to fall through his prayers. In the Anglo-Saxon homilies from the 10th/11th centuries, there is an explicit mention of the Apostle John turning the idols to dust by the power of God.

Empress Helena (+ 329 A.D.)

brosen_icon_constantine_helenaThe pious Christian mother of Constantine the Great, Empress Helena is best remembered in the Orthodox Church for finding the Holy Cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. On the site of the finding she erected the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Less well-known perhaps, but no less significant, is that a temple to the goddess Aphrodite (Venus) needed to be flattened for the church to be built. St. Helena probably also ordered the destruction of a temple to Zeus (Jupiter) in order to build a church dedicated to St. Cyrus and St. John.. The finding of the true Cross is commemorated on September 14, and is one of the Great Feasts of the Church.

Nicholas the Wonder-Worker of Myra (+ 345 A.D.)

st-nicholas-destroying-the-idolsOne of the most celebrated Saints of the Orthodox Church worldwide, the wonderful feats of this miracle-working bishop abound. Among these acts is the destruction of all the temple of Diana and other pagan shrines in his city of Myra, after he was reinstated as bishop there during Constantine’s reign. Much of the demolition was carried out by his own hand, though he also had to struggle in prayer to overcome the demons that inhabited the temples. That this act of Nicholas is celebrated is evidenced in later church frescoes showing the event.

 

Martyr Mark, Bishop of Arethusa, in Syria (suffered 360 A.D.)

Under Constantine the Great St. Mark, with the help of his deacon Cyril, had torn down a pagan temple and built a church in its place. When Julian the Apostate became emperor, idol-worship again grew, and the pagans wished to take revenge upon the now elderly bishop. Beaten, slashed with knives, his ears sliced off with linen, and with his hair pulled out, St. Mark steadfastly refused to offer up any money in order to rebuild the pagan temple he had demolished. Even after the pagans kept lowering the price, St. Mark refused to pay a single coin. Exhausted, and seeing that people were converted to Christ through his endurance, the torturers let St. Mark go! St. Gregory the Theologian writes highly of St. Mark, and uses his example in his writings against Julian the Apostate.

Spyridon the Wonderworker of Tremithus, in Cyprus (+ 348 A.D.)

st spiridonA shepherd who gave all his wealth to the poor, St. Spyridon was made bishop of Tremithus after the death of his wife, under the reign of Constantine the Great. The life of the saint speaks of the amazing simplicity and the gift of wonder-working granted to him by God. Through a word of the saint the dead were awakened, the elements of nature tamed, the idols smashed. At one point, a Council had been convened at Alexandria by the Patriarch to discuss what to do about the idols and pagan temples there. Through the prayers of the Fathers of the Council all the idols fell down except one, which was very much revered. It was revealed to the Patriarch in a vision that this idol had to be shattered by St. Spyridon of Tremithus. Invited by the Council, the saint set sail on a ship, and at the moment the ship touched shore and the saint stepped out on land, the idol in Alexandria with all its offerings turned to dust, which then was reported to the Patriarch and all the bishops.

Saint Porphyry of Gaza, Bishop and Confessor (+ 420 A.D.)

porphyry-of-gazaAfter many years as a monk, St. Porphyry was elected Bishop of Gaza, a city where the Christian population numbered less than three-hundred, and idolatry was wide-spread. Discriminated against by the pagans, St. Porphyry went to Constantinople and gained the support of Emperor Arcadius and the Archbishop, St. John Chrysostom, to close down the idolatrous temples. Officials sent to close down the pagan shrines of Gaza were often bribed, and so after much laboring, St. Porphyry undertook the destruction of the temples personally with his flock of Christians. Many temples were destroyed, including those dedicated to Aphrodite, Hecate, the Sun, Apollo, Kore (Persephone), Tychaion, the shrine of a hero, and the Marneion, dedicated to Zeus. In their place, Christian churches were erected. The pagan idols were burnt, and the marble from their temples were used to pave the way to the new Christian churches, so that all Christians on their way to worship would trample upon the remains of idolatry. These acts, along with much preaching, prayer, and humiliations suffered by St. Porphyry, won the entire city of Gaza over to the Christian faith. The Life of St. Porphyry, recounting his struggles against the pagans, was written by the deacon Mark.

What to take from all these above facts from history? As with other miraculous deeds of the Saints, the destruction of the idols can be understood symbolically as the victory of right-believing Christians over all other idols, whether they be demons pretending to be gods or man-made constructs that lead our minds from the contemplation of God. This can be done without denying the historical fact of the Church’s Saints physically destroying non-Christian religious images. Of course, when considering other deeds of the Saints, we try to use their acts as an example for our own conduct. In the case of idol-smashing, most Christians today would shy away from literally following the Saints’ example, even though non-Christian idols abound. Perhaps this is wisest thing to do, though the courage of these idol-smashing Saints is certainly something worthy of imitation. In striving for this, we can pray to Christ that we may emulate the martyr’s strength.

The above information on Saints who destroyed religious images (or idols), gives a considerable list of Saints who in their lives courageously and physically confronted the practice of worshiping idols. Most of the examples come from the First Millennium A.D., which shouldn’t be surprising as this is when idol-worship was widespread in the world and at its most aggressive towards Christianity.

Looking back over so many centuries it can be difficult to imagine just what these heroic Saints did in publicly taking a stand against something so anti-Christian, yet so popular. Even in today’s times so close to ours we get to learn about a story from the life of Elder Gabriel (Urgebadze), a Georgian priest-monk considered locally to be a Saint, publicly denounced the idolatry of a people.

The article continues as…. Maintaining an Undefiled Conscience in the World of Distraction —–Part 2

[1] Alexander Schemann. Orthodox Christianity and Paganism.

[2] Source: iconreader.com

Is Science a Laborious Vanity? — Part 3–

The article continues from…Is Science a Laborious Vanity? — Part 2

Conclusion:

From the understanding about astronomy and astrology we have read through in the previous two parts, clearly explains the deceit of the King of the world—Satan, the great deceiver.

The greatest deceit, the great victory of Satan is not that he is leading a willing world to destruction, it is that he is, sadly, often able to deceive and lead astray the Christian person who is struggling to be transformed more and more into the image of Christ (see in particular Rom 12:2). Satan deceives the Christian by convincing him to take his attention off Christ and to doubt the power and promises of God.

christ's-temptation-in-the-wildernessHow do we resist this deceit? What should be the response of the Christian person to the wiles of the Devil? The Holy Scriptures are clear. The two Epistles of St. Peter the Apostle that are contained in the New Testament are wondrous builders of faith. In the introductory notes that we find at the beginning of the Second Epistle of Peter in the Orthodox Study Bible, there is a marvelous summary of the theme of Peter’s Epistles:

“Though the world disbelieves, deceives and mocks, Christians must maintain apostolic doctrine and an Orthodox Christian way of life. We are to grow continually in holiness and virtue and pursue an entrance into ‘the everlasting kingdom’ which is to come”.

The answer for the Christian is to continually seek God and His Kingdom; to fight the deceits of the Devil, despite the pain and suffering he can cause, with a faith founded upon the All-powerful and All-loving God.

Be reliant upon God and His holiness; be close to His Church, receive often the Sacraments that he freely offers to us. Resist evil and cling only to God.

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:7-8a).

Satan can only deceive he cannot pluck us out of the hand of God; he cannot send us unwillingly from the kingdom of God. If God no longer becomes the focus of our vision and life, it is not He who has moved, it is that we have taken our gaze from him!

There are three short Homilies by St John Chrysostom (the Golden-mouthed). They are entitled collectively as ‘Three Homilies Concerning the Power of Demons’. The first is referred to as being “Against Those Who Say That Demons Govern Human Affairs” and the second and third “On the Power of Man to Resist the Devil”.

St. John Chrysostom warns his listeners against this despairing because of the power of the devil.

“For he (i.e. Satan) is an enemy and a foe, and it is a great security to know clearly the tactics of your enemies … when he overcomes by deceitfulness, he does not get the better of all men … he does not overcome … by force, yet by deceitfulness” (Homily II-1).

Thankfully, Satan does not deceive all in the Church. The saints, many of whose icons are surrounding us, can be our examples of faith and Christian life because they can be our guides encouraging us to continue with our eyes fixed upon God – the one who brings salvation and life.

“The Devil is wicked; I grant this indeed, but he is wicked for himself not towards us if we are wary” (Homily III-1).

When we sin, we cannot blame Satan or another for our failing. Our sin is our own because we have committed it by the exercise of our own power and free will, or by our own lack of faith. Likewise, when one in the Church falls away from God, we cannot say that Satan’s power has taken him by force away from the presence of God. God forbid that we should allocate to Satan the power that he so desperately seeks. Our sin is our own and, likewise, our falling away is our own. We fall away because Satan has convinced us, through deceit that our place is not in the Kingdom of God.

St John Chrysostom is careful to show that Satan’s deceits are many, but his intention is one. He seeks only to make us leave the presence of our loving God and to prevent us from allowing God to guide us. Satan seeks this by either convincing us that God cannot do what he has promised, by tempting us with the pleasures of this world, or by deceiving us to think that he, Satan, has the power which he actually does not have. The power of Satan can only lead us from God if we allow him the opportunity to do so.

Some of the other great writers of the Church can be cited to give us strength against this deceit of the Devil. In these (St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 12 15) we are exhorted to see that ‘in the sacrifice of Christ, the devil has been defeated’. Satan is vanquished already and, only by deceit, can he lead astray those who are in Christ; tempting them through promise of treasure, power or letting them fall into utter despair.

We are instructed elsewhere (St. Ignatius’ Epistle to the Smyraeans III & IV) to be firm, guarding ourselves from those who seek to influence evil upon us. Not just to turn away but even to flee from them. We must understand that Satan has enticed men and women from the beginning. It is only then that he has him in his power. However Satan is ultimately bound by the power of God. His power over man is only through delusion (St. Irenaus’ Adversus Haereses). We are to keep our lives fully in God and not to fall into the temptation that the Devil puts in front of us.

In the Gospels, Christ uses the common things of life to teach the truths of God. These well-known things are weaved by him into a story that conveys God to the hearers. The spiritual writers of our Church followed the example of our Lord. In teaching their hearers many of these writers spoke of everyday things, things like grain, fields, birds, and every day events from life. Some even used widely known stories to describe the action of Satan, for example the Fables of Aesop.

In the fable called THE DOG AND HIS REFLECTION. It goes something like this:

“A dog was crossing a plank bridge over a stream with a piece of meat in his mouth, when he happened to see his own reflection in the water. He thought it was another dog with a piece of meat, so he let go of his own and flew at the other dog to get his piece, too. But, of course, all that happened was that he got neither, for one was only a reflection and the other was carried away by the stream”.

The moral of the story is:

“Envy not your neighbors lot; and
be content with what you’ve got.”

We can apply this fable to the Church and to ourselves who see ourselves as part of it. The deceit here is the reflection that the dog saw. What he thought was real was in fact only imaginary. When applying this story to that of the human person we can ask, why do we ‘bring ourselves, by own accord, into subjection to the enemy of this life?’ What is it that encourages us to push away eternal life to fall into sin? It is Satan the great deceiver who tempts us with the imaginary security of a life of wealth, comfort, pleasure and power – a life without God.

Satan can be seen in this story of our greedy dog; he is in the stream trying to convince the dog that even though he has all he needs, there is still more. Alas, this desire is based not on what God has given us, but on what we image we can and should have. Satan cannot offer the dog a real piece of meat; he can only reflect the image of the meat that already exists. Satan’s promises of peace without God are false. He tries to convince us to take his offer by copying the things of God. However, these copies are not real; they will disappear as easily as ripples do to a reflection in a stream. Satan does not take the meat from the mouth of the dog; he does not have to. He only need convince the dog to grab at more and by doing so lose what he has already been given. He plays on the greed and pride of the dog. Greed and the constant desire to be better than those around us is a common way of the world, it is not the way of a life in Christ. The temptations of the Devil often involve what we think we should have. The grace that God has given us is enough for our needs; we should use what we have been given with thankfulness and not worry about what we do not have.

Another fable concerning a reflection in a stream (in The Stag and the Hounds):

“A stag one autumn day came to a pond and stood admiring his reflection in the water.
‘Ah’ said he, ‘what glorious antlers! But my slender legs make me ashamed. How ugly they are! I’d rather have none at all’.

The stag was soon distracted from his vain musings by the noise of huntsmen and their hounds. Away he flew, leaving his pursuers a vast distance behind him. But coming upon a thicket, he became entangled by his antlers. He struggled to free himself as the baying of the hounds sounded nearer and nearer.

‘At last’ he thought, ‘If I am meant to die at the fangs of these beasts, let me face them calmly’.

But when he ceased to tremble, he found his antlers had come free.

Immediately he bounced back, delighting in his legs, which carried him far away from danger. As he ran, he thought to himself,

‘Happy creature that I am! I now realize that, that on which I prided myself was nearly the cause of my undoing, and that which I disliked was what saved me’.

Satan again lies within the flowing stream in this fable. Previously, we saw how Satan often deceives us into desiring what does not really exist. Here the deceit differs. Here the stag is convinced that what he has is inadequate. Previously it was pride and greed that was the downfall of the dog. Now we are reminded that vanity and extreme self-resourcefulness can be fatal. The stag knew what he wanted. However, his assessment of what was necessary or adequate for him was not right.

It is rather amazing to hear many in the Church say “I would really like to contribute more to the ministry and life of my Church, but I don’t have the necessary talents to do anything”. It’s not a matter of my antlers being just right or my legs being too thin and scrawny, but it is often a matter of “it would be too embarrassing for me to contribute anything in my Church youth group”. Perhaps it is “I would really like to say something at my youth group, but everyone would think I am stupid, or pushy”.

All of us have spiritual gifts from God; they were given to us by God at our Baptism. The Church cannot function properly, especially in times of need and challenge unless all of its members use the gifts God has given them. How can we expect the Church to stand fast against a world that rejects the Kingdom of God when the very members of that Church are not completely relying upon God?

Thankfully, it is not the combined self-reliance of all the members of our Church that makes us the ‘Body of Christ’ (I Cor 12:27). It is the power and grace of God that transforms the individual members of the Church into the functioning ‘Body of Christ’ in this world.

The stag allowed his own vanity and his self-judgment to cloud his opinion of himself. Satan often deceives the members of the Church into believing that even God’s promises will not be fulfilled in them because they in themselves do not ‘have what it takes’. It is not up to us, it is up to God!

“But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent?” As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ (Rom 10:14-17).

Satan cannot defeat the Church that is filled with the purpose and Spirit of God. He will, however attempt to deceive those who are part of it. The Church cannot be the vehicle of God’s salvation in this world if those who see themselves as belonging to that Church are not going to use what God has given them because of fear of ridicule, vanity, embarrassment or pride.

Perhaps our stag should read the verse above that mentions “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news”! In the end it is the scrawny feet that saved the stag from the fangs of the hounds. So too, it is the feet that carry the preaching and the teaching and those who are living out their faith in this world that will save us from the deception of the snapping Devil – however scrawny and ugly those feet might appear to be!

One of the greatest dangers for those within the Church is what is called ‘The New Age Movement’. What has the ‘New Age Movement’ got to do with the deception of Satan? It certainly has nothing to do with us who are members of the Church! Or does it?

Sadly, the ‘New Age Movement’ in its variety of forms, has influenced all aspects of life, and even many who see themselves as members of the Church of God are so easily influenced by this great deception of Satan.

Many see the “New Age Movement” as just a way of life; living in respect of all creatures, practicing non violence, being sensitive, respecting others right to believe in their particular religion. Nothing could be further from the truth. The “New Age Movement” is in fact one of the greatest attempts at deception by Satan upon Christians today!

The “New Age Movement” is not simply some broad descriptive title for a range of unrelated philosophies or teachings. It is a highly organized and motivated movement that, in its least organized form, seeks to distract Christians from concentrating upon the things of God. At its most dangerous, it seeks to destroy Christian faith and replace the historical and theological Christ with a ‘new’ and ‘more relevant’ Messiah figure.

“According to New Age sources, the New Age Movement is a worldwide network. It consists of tens of thousands of cooperating organizations. Their primary goal or the secret behind their ‘unity-in-diversity’ is the formation of a ‘New World Order”. The Movement usually operates on the basis of a well-formulated body of underlying esoteric or occult teachings”.

A far more subtle and potentially more dangerous satanic deception lies behind the more basic unorganized expression of the “New Age Movement”. It is not the expression of ‘New Age’ in the world that should concern us, as much as its influence within the Church of God.

Sadly we can find particular ‘New Age’ practices and beliefs even with many members of the Orthodox Churches. Seemingly simple activities such as reading one’s stars, experimenting with the occult, using ‘healing crystals’, practicing eastern forms of meditation and certain ‘holistic medicine’ practices etc are expressions of what the “New Age Movement” is encouraging. These things are destructive to one’s Orthodox Christian faith precisely because they seek to take away from the uniqueness and central importance of Christ and the ‘Kingdom of heaven’. Anything that can do this will also slowly but surely chip away at the prime place of importance that Christ and the Gospel has in our lives as Orthodox Christians.

Referring to quotes from a onetime Confessor Priest-Monk from Mount Athos:

“The activity of the Antichrist and the beast, regardless of how much power they are allowed to have from God, will never acquire any authority over the souls of God’s servants. As it was with Job ‘… but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it’ (I Cor 10:13b).

“Only the conscious denial of Christ deprives man of salvation. No hidden action or symbol of the evil one can harm or have an influence on the believer.

Truly, Satan is the great deceiver because he portrays himself as having power and influence that he does not really have. He is the greatest trickster because he casts an image that strikes fear and despair even into the hearts of those touched by the power of God.

Satan deceives because he seems to appear where he really cannot be and he tries to tempt all people, in venturing where they should not go.

stock-photo-ancient-orthodox-icon-73253788“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you. Be sober, be watchful; because your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you. To him be the dominion forever and ever” (1 Peter 5:6-11).

Amen.

Is Science a Laborious Vanity? — Part 2 —

The article continues from….Is Science a Laborious Vanity? — Part 1

starsMany atheists arrogantly proclaim that they are more than happy to believe in God if only someone would prove that God exists. Yet it is often these very same people who are so willing to place their lives into the practice of open evilness, of destruction or hatred.

With the scientific worldview, Science has indeed become the god of our age, worshipped both by scientists and by non-scientists, everywhere.

Science of astronomy and astrology.

St. Basil talks about astronomy. He says this “far-famed astronomy, a laborious vanity.” Let us look into the science of astronomy and astrology as examples, to understand further to “Is science a laborious vanity?”

St. Basil says, “These men who measure the distances of the stars and describe them, both those of the North, always shining brilliantly in our view, and those of the southern pole visible to the inhabitants of the South, but unknown to us; who divide the Northern zone and the circle of the Zodiac into an infinity of parts, who observe with exactitude the course of the stars, their fixed places, their declensions, their return and the time that each takes to make its revolution; these men, I say, have discovered all except one thingthe fact that God is the Creator of the universe, and the just Judge who rewards all the actions of life according to their merit.”

From the very beginning of time man has been fascinated by the stars and he has always tried to find some links between them and his own destiny (which according to modern science is known as astrology). His observation of the stars and their movements gave rise to the area of study, known today as astronomy. It is considered a pure science which is concerned with the measurements of distances, the evolution and destruction of stars, their movements, and so on. Modern astronomy seeks to find answers to the still unanswered questions regarding the origin of man and the final, possible end of his existence as a member of the human race.

The latest example in the field of astronomy is the discovery of “anthropic principle”. As per this discovery it is said that there really is an infinite, or a very big, ensemble of universes out there and we are in one. This ensemble would be the multiverse. In a multiverse, the laws of physics and the values of physical parameters like dark energy would be different in each universe, each the outcome of some random pull on the cosmic slot machine. The scientists say “We just happened to luck into a universe that is conducive to life.”  There is growing and grudging acceptance of the multiverse, especially because it is predicted by a theory that was developed to solve one of the most frustrating of fine-tuning problems of all—the flatness of our universe. The urge to understand our universe from first principles and not ascribe it to some divine force compels many scientists to seek scientific explanations for what seems to be an incredible stroke of luck.

In days of old, astronomy was synonymous with astrology. The etymological meaning of the word astrology is almost the same as that of astronomy; and there was no clear definition made between the two branches until the time of Galileo. All ancient advanced civilizations (China, Central America, Mesopotamia, India,) treasured some form of astronomy-astrology. The great astronomer, Kepler in the 17th century, the discoverer of the three great laws of planetary motions, believed in and proclaimed astrology as a true science. Kepler, to whom Newton is indebted for all his subsequent discoveries, was mathematician to Emperor Rudolph II of Hungary, and in his official capacity of Imperial astronomer is historically known to have predicted to General Wallenstein, from the position of the stars, the issue of the war. His friend, protector and instructor, the great astronomer Tycho de Brahe, believed in and expanded the astrological system. He was forced to admit the influence of the constellations on terrestrial life because of the constant verification of facts. Scientists today record the periodical events of meteors and comets, and prophesy, in consequence, earthquakes, meteoric showers, and the apparition of certain stars. They are not soothsayers but learned astronomers. Its influence and scope have been brought into connection with practically every known science which has survived from the past — botany, chemistry, geology, anatomy, medicine. Colors, metals, stones, plants, drugs, and animal life of all kinds were associated with the planets and placed under their tutelage. The Zodiac was (exoterically) considered as the prototype of the human body, the different parts of which all had their corresponding sections in the Zodiac itself.

Today, there are distinct boundaries between the modern science of astronomy and the pseudoscience known as astrology.  But in ancient times, these boundaries were not so clear.  Both fields of study used a common set of astronomical observations – but for different purposes.

Long before the invention of the telescope, ancient observations and predictions could only be of celestial objects visible to the naked eye.  This restricted astronomical and astrological studies to the stars, the Sun, the Moon and five planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.  (The Earth was not counted as a planet until much later).

The word zodiac comes from the Greek word “zoion” meaning animal.

There are two basic types of zodiacs. One is the zodiac defined by astronomy and the other is defined by astrology. Astrology assumes and attempts to interpret the influence of the heavenly bodies on human affairs. Astronomy is the science that deals with the material universe beyond the earth.

The practical purposes of ancient astronomy were celestial navigation and the development of calendars of seasonal dates and events (such as the flooding of rivers) for the planting of crops.  In contrast, the purpose of astrology was to interpret celestial phenomena as signs of divine communications.

Vedic (Hindu) astrology is considered to be more scientific and uses the sidereal zodiac that loosely matches modern real world sky charts. It is considered that this astrology at least knows where the stars and planets are located and places some value on modern astronomy charts.

Although astrology was not as popular in ancient Greece as it was in Egypt and Mesopotamia, belief in astrology continued through the Roman period and the Middle Ages.  Through most of its history, astrology was considered a scholarly tradition. It was accepted in political and academic contexts, and was connected with other studies, such as astronomy, alchemy, meteorology, and medicine.  At the end of the 17th century, new scientific concepts in astronomy and physics (such as heliocentrism and Newtonian mechanics) called astrology into question. Astrology thus lost its academic and theoretical standing, and common belief in astrology has since largely declined.

From the above text (as taken from different non-Christian articles) it is clear that though there is an important distinction in astrology and astronomy today; the practices of astrology and astronomy have common roots.

An example of Modern astrology:

“For the time will come when
they will not endure sound doctrine,
but according to their own desires,
because they have itching ears,
they will heap up for themselves teachers;
and they will turn their ears away from the truth,
and be turned aside to fables” (2 Tim 4:3-4).

Astrology was originally a religion. The Greeks learned it from the Chaldeans and Persians. Each planet was a god that had a divine personality and controlled the life and destiny of man. In spite of the fact that today’s astrologers generally deny that their “art” has anything to do with religion, modern astrology is nothing more than a disguised ancient pagan religion.

The average person today likes to think of himself as a product of the scientific age. He often flatters himself with the thought that he is superior to his ancestors, not standing in awe of the natural world, having no fear of the unknown, and being free from superstition. He is reluctant to believe anything that cannot be proven logically or scientifically and rejects what he often refers to as “myth” in religion: man’s creation from nothing, his fall, the promise and the coming of the Savior, salvation and life in the world to come. Twentieth-century man has been described as man “come of age”, too sophisticated and knowledgeable to accept these things as literally true and he takes this description of himself very seriously. He doubts that the Supreme Being, whoever He may be, could have any interest in or plan for man and the rest of creation. For the advocates of twentieth-century, man is entirely on his own and has to work out his own destiny and the meaning of his existence.

In rather glaring contradiction to all this theorizing and self-satisfaction of modern man and his exaggerated ideas about himself, stands one unquestionable fact: …man is as superstitious (today) as at any time in recent centuries. There are more “psychics” and “mediums”, more “seers of the future,” more “fortune tellers,” now than at any time in recent centuries. Hundreds of publications, usually available not only in newspaper and magazine stores, but even in the super-markets, carry the “predictions” of self-styled “clairvoyants,” tales of the supernatural, accounts of communication with the dead and experiences with demonology.

One of the areas in which this fact is most evident is the widespread interest in astrology. Practically all newspapers and magazines dedicate a considerable amount of space to the advice of charlatans who pretend to be experts in reading the stars. It is a million-dollar business, and hundreds of self-proclaimed astrologers, many of whom would not know one star from another, have become wealthy on the gullibility of the public. There are books and pamphlets in the bookstores, drug stores, five and dime shops, airport gift shops, and many other places, large books especially dedicated to the “virgos” and “scorpios”, and pocket-size books that treat the subject in a general way. All of this worthless “literature” is filled with platitudes that are about as serious and useful as the little bits of advice found in a Chinese fortune cookie. In fact, most of what they tell their readers could be said by anyone and applied to anyone. Imagine taking these “gems of wisdom” as revelations from observations of the movements and conjunctions of the stars: on a given day, to an Aries: “You will have new incentives given to you. Use them to your advantage;” to a Taurus: “You can profit from this day by showing your serene and happy personality;” to a Gemini: “Work out a suitable program, and plan what phase you will develop first.” And yet, millions of people apparently not only consult their horoscope daily, but base their day’s activities on what the stars supposedly tell them to do. They eagerly test all the events of a day and deceive themselves into believing that things turned out just the way the horoscope said. Many claim it is only an innocent pastime, and others see nothing in it contradictory to religion.

Evidently some Orthodox Christians do not know that the Church, in the Bible, the canons and in the writings of the Fathers, condemns the practice of Astrology.

Isaiah, for example, says (47:13-14), “Let now the astrologers, the star-gazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee. Behold, they shall be as stubble; the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame…”

Jeremiah writes: “Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain…”

In Daniel (2:27-28), we read: “Daniel said, the Secret which the kind hath demanded cannot the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, the soothsayers, show unto the king; but there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets.”

In his Epistle to the Galatians, St. Paul, finding that even some who had become Christians were holding to their former practices: “But now, after ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements (the Greek word means ‘rudiments of religion’, such as astrology) whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days and months and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain.” (4: 9-11)

It is interesting to read what some of the Fathers of the Church have had to say about the subject.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lecture IV, 18) says: “It is not according to the date of your birth that you sin, nor is it by the power of chance that you commit fornication, nor, as some idly say, does the confluence of the stars compel you to give yourself to wantonness. Why do you hesitate to confess your own evil deeds and ascribe the blame to the innocent stars? Pay no attention to astrologers; for concerning these divine Scriptures say: “Let now the astrologers, the star-gazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee. Behold, they shall be as stubble; the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame…”Isaiah 47:13-14

St. Gregory the Theologian (Oration XXXIX, v) speaks of “…the Chaldean astronomy and horoscopes, comparing our lives with the movements of the heavenly bodies, which cannot even know what they are themselves, or what they shall be.”

St. John Chrysostom (Homilies on First Corinthians, iv, 11) shows how the faith of the Christians of his time had been weakened by the revival of this pagan practice: “And in fact a deep night oppresses the whole world. This is what we have to dispel and dissolve. It is not only among the heretics and among the Greeks (pagans), but also in the multitudes on our side (the Christians) with regard to doctrines and to life. For many entirely disbelieve the resurrection; many fortify themselves with their horoscopes; many adhere to superstitious observances, and to omens, and auguries and presages. And some likewise employ amulets and charms.”

Christians should not practice astrology nor consult horoscopes because it puts faith in created things rather than in the Creator; it thus undermines faith in God and His redeeming economy (plan) for mankind; it denies freewill and attributes all that happens to fate; it relieves man of the responsibility for his sins; it weakens and finally replaces, however subtly, the faith of the Church, which is the doctrine of Christ, with a pagan philosophy or religion.

The purpose of the coming of the Savior was to reveal the truth to man and to destroy this very kind of futile faith that people had put in the course supposedly determined for them by the stars.

      bio-orthodoxyWhat we must always remember is that, whatever its many and undoubted achievements are, science is a fallible enterprise conducted by sinful men. Therefore, scientists individually and collectively are not immune from deception, and should apply to themselves the words of the wise Solomon: I am Thy slave and the son of Thy handmaid, a man who is weak and short-lived, with little understanding of judgment and laws; for even if one is perfect among the sons of men, yet without the wisdom that comes from Thee he will be regarded as nothing… For a perishable body weighs down the soul, and this earthly tent burdens the thoughtful mind. We can hardly guess at what is on earth, and what is at hand we find with labour; but who has traced out what is in the heavens, and who has learned Thy counsel, unless Thou give him wisdom, and send Thy Holy Spirit from on high? (Wisdom of Solomon 9:5-6, 15-17). 

Is Science a laborious vanity?

The article continues……https://orthodoxchristianlife.com/2017/05/19/is-science-a-laborious-vanity-part-3/

Is Science a Laborious Vanity? — Part 1 —

This Article has three parts. Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 which is posted as three different blog posts. 

St. Basil’s hexameron–Homily 1–points 3, 4 and partly 5.

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3. Do not then imagine, O man! that the visible world is without a beginning; and because the celestial bodies move in a circular course, and it is difficult for our senses to define the point where the circle begins, do not believe that bodies impelled by a circular movement are, from their nature, without a beginning. Without doubt the circle (I mean the plane figure described by a single line) is beyond our perception, and it is impossible for us to find out where it begins or where it ends; but we ought not on this account to believe it to be without a beginning. Although we are not sensible of it, it really begins at some point where the draughtsman has begun to draw it at a certain radius from the centre. Thus seeing that figures which move in a circle always return upon themselves, without for a single instant interrupting the regularity of their course, do not vainly imagine to yourselves that the world has neither beginning nor end. “For the fashion of this world passeth away” and “Heaven and earth shall pass away.” The dogmas of the end, and of the renewing of the world, are announced beforehand in these short words put at the head of the inspired history. “In the beginning God made.” That which was begun in time is condemned to come to an end in time. If there has been a beginning do not doubt of the end. Of what use then are geometry—the calculations of arithmetic—the study of solids and far-famed astronomy, this laborious vanity, if those who pursue them imagine that this visible world is co-eternal with the Creator of all things, with God Himself; if they attribute to this limited world, which has a material body, the same glory as to the incomprehensible and invisible nature; if they cannot conceive that a whole, of which the parts are subject to corruption and change, must of necessity end by itself submitting to the fate of its parts? But they have become “vain in their imaginations and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” Some have affirmed that heaven co-exists with God from all eternity; others that it is God Himself without beginning or end, and the cause of the particular arrangement of all things.

4. One day, doubtless, their terrible condemnation will be the greater for all this worldly wisdom, since, seeing so clearly into vain sciences, they have wilfully shut their eyes to the knowledge of the truth. These men who measure the distances of the stars and describe them, both those of the North, always shining brilliantly in our view, and those of the southern pole visible to the inhabitants of the South, but unknown to us; who divide the Northern zone and the circle of the Zodiac into an infinity of parts, who observe with exactitude the course of the stars, their fixed places, their declensions, their return and the time that each takes to make its revolution; these men, I say, have discovered all except one thing: the fact that God is the Creator of the universe, and the just Judge who rewards all the actions of life according to their merit. They have not known how to raise themselves to the idea of the consummation of all things, the consequence of the doctrine of judgment, and to see that the world must change if souls pass from this life to a new life. In reality, as the nature of the present life presents an affinity to this world, so in the future life our souls will enjoy a lot conformable to their new condition. But they are so far from applying these truths that they do but laugh when we announce to them the end of all things and the regeneration of the age. Since the beginning naturally precedes that which is derived from it, the writer, of necessity, when speaking to us of things which had their origin in time, puts at the head of his narrative these words—“In the beginning God created.”

5. It appears, indeed, that even before this world an order of things existed of which our mind can form an idea, but of which we can say nothing, because it is too lofty a subject for men who are but beginners and are still babes in knowledge. The birth of the world was preceded by a condition of things suitable for the exercise of supernatural powers, outstripping the limits of time, eternal and infinite. The Creator and Demiurge of the universe perfected His works in it, spiritual light for the happiness of all who love the Lord, intellectual and invisible natures, all the orderly arrangement of pure intelligences who are beyond the reach of our mind and of whom we cannot even discover the names. They fill the essence of this invisible world, as Paul teaches us. “For by him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible whether they be thrones or dominions or principalities or powers” or virtues or hosts of angels or the dignities of archangels. To this world at last it was necessary to add a new world, both a school and training place where the souls of men should be taught and a home for beings destined to be born and to die. Thus was created, of a nature analogous to that of this world and the animals and plants which live thereon, the succession of time, for ever pressing on and passing away and never stopping in its course. Is not this the nature of time, where the past is no more, the future does not exist, and the present escapes before being recognised? And such also is the nature of the creature which lives in time,—condemned to grow or to perish without rest and without certain stability. It is therefore fit that the bodies of animals and plants, obliged to follow a sort of current, and carried away by the motion which leads them to birth or to death, should live in the midst of surroundings whose nature is in accord with beings subject to change. Thus the writer who wisely tells us of the birth of the Universe does not fail to put these words at the head of the narrative. “In the beginning God created;” that is to say, in the beginning of time.

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The below is an extract from the above homily:
“….Of what use then are geometry—the calculations of arithmetic—the study of solids and far-famed astronomy, this laborious vanity, if those who pursue them imagine that this visible world is co-eternal with the Creator of all things, with God Himself; if they attribute to this limited world, which has a material body, the same glory as to the incomprehensible and invisible nature; if they cannot conceive that a whole, of which the parts are subject to corruption and change, must of necessity end by itself submitting to the fate of its parts? But they have become “vain in their imaginations and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” ……..
One day, doubtless, their terrible condemnation will be the greater for all this worldly wisdom, since, seeing so clearly into vain sciences, they have willfully shut their eyes to the knowledge of the truth. These men who measure the distances of the stars and describe them, both those of the North, always shining brilliantly in our view, and those of the southern pole visible to the inhabitants of the South, but unknown to us; who divide the Northern zone and the circle of the Zodiac into an infinity of parts, who observe with exactitude the course of the stars, their fixed places, their declensions, their return and the time that each takes to make its revolution; these men, I say, have discovered all except one thing: the fact that God is the Creator of the universe, and the just Judge who rewards all the actions of life according to their merit. ……”
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When did the word “scientist” enter our vocabulary? How did science take off as the driving force of modern culture and what of the natural philosophers of old?
The word science derives from the latin word scientia meaning “knowledge”. It is used from the middle ages onwards to cover anything concerned with knowledge often bordering on philosophy. Only in the nineteenth century did the word science come to have its more restricted and modern meaning of or pertaining to the natural or physical sciences such physics, chemistry, biology and so forth.
First was a phase from Plato and Aristotle up until the 17th century where the specificity of scientific knowledge was seen in its absolute certainty established by proof from evident axioms; next was a phase up to the mid-19th century in which the means to establish the certainty of scientific knowledge had been generalized to include inductive procedures as well. In the third phase, which lasted until the last decades of the 20th century, it was recognized that empirical knowledge was fallible, but it was still granted a special status due to its distinctive mode of production.
Now from the above observation, we see that most of the early phase philosophers upto 17th century believed the laws of nature as laws of God, external and inviolable, to which the world was subjected. This religious component was important because the influence of the Church though weakened, was still far-reaching. And men such as Newton and later Pascal and Mendel, to name but a few were devout Christians. The separation of matter and spirit allowed them to keep their faith both in science and God without the risk of compromise to either. From the seventeenth century onwards, with new inventions and discoveries in the field of science, scientists subscribe to a belief system of scientific naturalism, which holds the central dogma that “only nature, including humans and our creations, is real: that God does not exist; and that science alone can give us complete and reliable knowledge of reality.”
In the educational system everywhere, from a very young age itself, learning about science has become mandatory. Before we can reason out the reality about God and his creation, we are taught by science that it has no boundaries and that all human problems and all aspects of human endeavor, with due time, will be dealt with and solved by science alone. Thus, banishing Christianity completely from the minds of “educated” men, whether or not they still call themselves “Christian”. Our reasoning is blinded by this deception.
“Scientism is a matter of putting too high a value on natural science in comparison with other branches of learning or culture.” It has been defined as “the view that the characteristic inductive methods of the natural sciences are the only source of genuine factual knowledge and, in particular, that they alone can yield true knowledge about man and society”.
The worldview with respect to scientism is the scientific worldview.
So true to St. Basil’s words , the great and Holy father of the fourth century, which is so relevant today even in the twentieth century, when he says “these men, I say, have discovered all except one thing: the fact that God is the Creator of the universe.”
He says further “seeing so clearly into vain sciences, they have willfully shut their eyes to the knowledge of the truth”

“Who” is the deciever?


editedSatan-the Great Deceiver. He is the greatest concealer, the mightiest perverter of truth, the ultimate misleader, and the most convincing fraud and liar. Satan’s goal is two pronged. He wishes to convince us that God is neither all-powerful nor all loving, and that he, Satan, seems to be something he really is not.

This article also makes a feeble attempt at highlighting the work of Satan at work around and within us by using science as an example. It is an attempt to uncover Satan like we might uncover a serpent hiding beneath a rock or expose a camouflaged insect hiding in the foliage of a tree.

What do we know of Satan this great deceiver from the scriptures?

God created spiritual beings called angels. These beings, although having no physical aspect to their being, are nevertheless real and effectual in their work in both the spiritual realm of Heaven and this physical environment of our universe. These angels have different responsibilities and actions. In many places of the Scriptures we read of Cherubim, Seraphim, angels, archangels, Principalities, Powers, Thrones, and Dominions etc. Some of the archangels are named – Uriel, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. Just as the angels are real and significant in the Holy Scripture and in the story of God’s salvation, so too are the fallen angels, the demons and Lucifer/Satan himself.
In Jude verse 6 and 7 we read of his entry into our world:
“And the angels that did not keep their own position but left their proper dwelling have been kept by him (that is the Lord) in eternal chains in the nether gloom until the judgment of the great day; just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire”. Thus from this scriptural passage we infer that God has chained Satan and his demons. They are restricted by the power of God. God will judge The Prince of evil on the last day – The Day of Judgment.
Satan was once an Archangel – The bearer of the light before the throne of God (that can be a translation for the name Lucifer). This archangel was not content with his position in the order of the spiritual world. He desired the worship that was due only to God himself. Satan and all the angels that followed him were cast down from heaven. We read this in revelation 12:7. Satan was cast out, who “deceives the whole world”.
These are important truths that need to be impressed upon us.

Satan uses this deception upon those who claim allegiance to God. Below are the examples from the Scriptures.

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1. The righteous of God can be deceived, but deception involves the will of he who is being deceived. If the righteous man stands firm in faith, then Satan has no hold over him like the lesson we learn from the Old Testament Book of Job.
• Job was an upright man who turned away from evil.
• Without doubt God is the master here.
• Though Job is a righteous man, he can still be tempted by the deceits of Satan.
• Satan, through the evil world can inflict pain and suffering upon Job, but Job is ultimately in the hands of God.
These verses illustrate clearly what God has revealed to us in his Church.
2. Satan has no control except the power of deceit. He seeks to lead us away from God; he tempts us to lose our focus like the experience of Peter in Mathew 14:30.

• Walking on the water even in the front of our Lord, Satan seeks to have us sink into our own raging sea of doubt and fear.
• We sink, not because Satan defeats God who is with us, nor because of the pain and suffering of this evil world.
• We sink because we are led to believe that God is not with us at all or that God is not what he says he is.

This is deception, deception of the greatest of tricksters.

Therefore As In:
1 Peter 5:8,
“Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”. Satan is ‘like a roaring lion’ he only pretending to be something he is not. Satan is truly prowling around us with his demons. He seeks to influence and deceive us even here within this Holy Church.
In James 4:7
“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you”.
In Matthew 7:13-14
“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow, and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
There is a famous illustration. It is a comparison of two scenes. In one, we find a demon playing a musical instrument to accompany countless people entering into a wide gate by an equally wide and easy road. These people walk past all sorts of buildings housing all sorts of pleasures. Sadly, even though the gate is wide and the way easy, the eventual destination is hell itself.
In the other scene there is a high wall broken only by a very narrow and low gate and into this gate squeeze only a few people carrying their cross on their journey. The road that leads from this gate is very difficult, with rocks and obstacles along the way. The path leads up to a steep mountain. The eventual destination here is heaven and a crown of glory being presented by Christ.
How does Satan deceive us?
Satan plays out his deception according to the faith and life of those that he is tempting.
Life is a journey. Here we must decide which road to take as we learn from the Scriptures. Each road is entered through a gate. One gate is wide and easy; the other is difficult and requires great effort. Each gate leads to a road, one easy and comfortable, the other hard and steep. One leads to heaven to the very person of God and reward – salvation, the other to hell and the very teeth of the person of the devil.
This illustration can teach us much.
The many people who enter into the wide gate do so because the way is easy. There is music and there is song, laughter, entertainment, comfort and no lacking of physical things. The demon playing the musical instrument does so openly. He does not seek to disguise his presence or his identity.
These people belong to the world and therefore to Satan, because they have allowed themselves to be deceived. Yet this deception is no great miracle or magic. Satan does not have to play a great ruse. He merely has to offer the temptation of comfort and pleasure without God and the world will come and take it from his very hands.
Today we will find many Satanic Churches (so called) and organisations that sought to spread the influence of Satan. These organisations practice their evil work so openly. Satan does not have to hide from the world; it is already given over to him. The world has rejected God and embraced Satan as the great redeemer.
To some who are far from God or who do not know him at all, there are no wondrous tricks, miracles or great signs and wonders; there is no need for such things.

Have you ever thought about that image of Satan that we see in advertising and in the movies, the one where he is depicted as a troublesome comical figure in a goatee beard, a red suit with horns and a pointing long tail? In his hand he holds a trident with which he pokes people in an almost amusing way. This image is ridiculous, and even we, the Christians, might see it as a harmless parody. However, the truth is that it is a depiction of Satan. He is not shown in a disguise as someone he is not. He might seem humorous and even comical, but he is still openly Satan! Satan does not have to hide from the world; he is already master of it. His deceit is an easy one.

The most cunning deception of Satan lies not through the wide and easy gate, but through the narrow gate. In Matthew 16:24, the man who is carrying his cross in fulfillment of the command of our Lord, would use his physical eyes; he would see that it is impossible for him to enter this gate even without the cross he is carrying. Common sense, worldly sense would convince him that his intended lifestyle is not achievable.
Satan is at work in our minds and hearts as we contemplate this spiritual scene. He is saying to us that not only is the Christian commitment difficult it is unattainable! Satan’s attack upon us as Christians is to try and deceive us into giving up the Christian struggle. As in Matthew 19:26, as Christians we are encouraged to believe that the improbable walk up the steep path of our Christian journey is not by our own power, but by the presence and power of God. Satan deceives by telling us that we must rely upon ourselves, and therefore Christianity is futile.
All of us claim allegiance to the resurrected and ascended Son of God. The closer one is to God and the Kingdom of heaven, the stronger and more deceitful Satan must become. In many of the spiritual writings of the Church we find accounts of Holy men and women who have been confronted with the most horrifying visions of evil.
Is Science a laborious vanity?
The article continues……https://orthodoxchristianlife.com/2017/05/19/is-science-a-laborious-vanity-part-2/

God’s Creation Vs Science/Cosmology–Part 2

“The Creator and the creation—-Sayings of the Holy Fathers”

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The article 1-part 2 continues from God’s Creation Vs Science/Cosmology–Part 1

To start off, let us look into the foreword written by Fr. Seraphim rose in his book Genesis, Creation and Early Man, Part I, An Orthodox Patristic Commentary of Genesis.

Fr. George Calciu, in his public addresses to young people living under communism in Romania, said: “You have been told that you descend from the apes, that you are a beast which must be trained.” That can be a very powerful thing:

“Science proves we’re just animals, and therefore, let’s go out and blow up a church.”

The book of Genesis is a part of the Scriptures, and God gave us the Scriptures for our salvation. We’re supposed to know the meaning of the Scriptures through all the commentaries of the Holy Fathers. The Fathers talked about the book of Genesis in church; all their commentaries were actually sermons given in church, because the book of Genesis is read in church on all weekdays during Great Lent. The great Fathers who did this were St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil the Great, and St. Ambrose of Milan. Their sermons were taken down in shorthand by people who were in church listening to them, so that others could read them. Thus, the reading of these texts was considered a part of the everyday life of people who went to church. We have somewhat lost this idea nowadays. Therefore, the account of Genesis or the Apocalypse has become a very mysterious realm somehow. We are so scared of these subjects – but the Fathers were talking about them.

Modern science and philosophy have filled our minds with so many theories and supposed facts about the beginnings of the universe and man that we inevitably come to this book of Genesis with preconceived notions. Some want it to agree with their particular scientific theories; others look for it to disagree. Both of these look to it as having something scientific to say; but others look on it as sheer poetry, a product of religious imagination having nothing to do with science.

The Holy Fathers

In the Holy Fathers we find the “mind of the Church” – the living understanding of God’s revelation. They are our link between the ancient texts which contain God’s revelation and today’s reality. Without such a link it is every man for himself – and the result is a myriad of interpretations and sects.

Let us look now at what Fathers talked about The Creator and the creation.

st.chrysosthom

Saint John Chrysostom (ca. 347-407): “To say that existing things came to be from underlying matter, and not to confess that the Creator of all produced them from nonexistence, would be a mark of extreme derangement. Accordingly, this blessed prophet [Moses], when he was on the point of beginning the book [of Genesis], stopped the mouths of such ingrates, by beginning like this: ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth [Gen. 1:1].’ When you hear ‘He created,’ concern yourself no further, but with head bowed believe what is said.”[1]

 

st. maximus confessorSaint Maximos the Confessor (ca. 580-662): “God is the Creator from all eternity, and He creates when He wills, in His infinite goodness, through His coessential Logos and Spirit. Do not raise the objection: ‘Why did He create at a particular moment since He is good from all eternity?’ For I reply that the unsearchable wisdom of the infinite essence does not come within the compass of human knowledge. When the Creator willed, He gave being to and manifested that knowledge of created things which already existed in Him from all eternity. For in the case of almighty God it is ridiculous to doubt that He can give being to anything when He so wills.

“Try to learn why God created; for that is true knowledge. But do not try to learn how He created or why He did so comparatively recently; for that does not come within the compass of your intellect. Of divine realities some may be apprehended by men and others may not. Unbridled speculation, as one of the saints has said, can drive one headlong over the precipice.”

“Some say that the created order has existed with God from eternity; but that is impossible. For how can things that are limited in every way coexist from eternity with Him Who is altogether infinite? Or how are they really creations if they are coeternal with the Creator? God is only participated in. Creation both participates and communicates: it participates in being and in well-being, but communicated only well-being. But corporeal nature communicates this in one way and incorporeal nature in another.” [2]

 Saint Anastasios of Sinai(ca. died after 700) : “Indeed, if all creation arose for man [Gen. 1:26-30], and Paul raises Adam and Eve to Christ and the Church when he says, ‘This mystery is great; but I speak in regard to Christ and in regard to the Church [Eph. 5:32],’ then he is saying, undeniably, that all creation, having arisen for man and his mate, refers to Christ and His Church [cf. Rev. 19:6-8].” [3]

Regarding some of the earlier observers of the cosmos, such as the ancient Greeks, St.-Sophronios-of-JerusalemSaint Sophronios (ca.560- 638)  writes: “When God created the cosmos, He looked upon the waters that were the ancient Greeks. And on the first day of the ages, He showed to them the light of divine knowledge. ‘Having known God, they glorified Him not as God [Rom. 1:21].’ Paul is witness of this. He says that God at first gave wisdom and knowledge about the organization of the sky, stars, sun, moon, plants, animals, bodies, and forms, in order to build a foundation for knowing Him.”[4]

“Surely vain are all men by nature, who are ignorant of God, and could not out of the good things that are seen know Him Who is: neither by considering the works did they acknowledge the Technician; but deemed either fire, or wind, or the swift air, or the circle of the stars, or the violent water, or the lights of heaven, to be the gods which govern the world. With whose beauty if they being delighted took them to be gods; let them know how much better the Lord of them is: for the first Author of beauty hath created them. But if they were astonished at their power and virtue, let them understand by them, how much mightier He is Who made them. For by the greatness and beauty of the creatures proportionably the Maker of them is seen. But yet for this they are the less to be blamed: for they peradventure err, seeking God, and desirous to find Him. For being conversant in His works they search Him diligently, and believe their sight: because the things are beautiful that are seen. Howbeit neither are they to be pardoned. For if they were able to know so much, that they could aim at the world; how did they not sooner find out the Lord thereof?”

“Because that which is known of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it to them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived by the things which are made, both His eternal power and divinity, so that they are without excuse, because, having known God, they glorified Him not as God, nor were thankful, but were brought to nought in their reasonings, and their heart, void of understanding, was darkened; asserting to be wise, they became foolish [Rom. 1:19-22].”

st. john of damascusSaint John of Damascus (ca. 675-ca. 749) writes: “That there is a God, then, is no matter of doubt to those who receive the Holy Scriptures, the Old Testament, and the New….All things that exist, are either created or uncreated. If, then, things are created, it follows that they are also wholly mutable. For things, whose existence originated in change, must also be subject to change, whether it be that they perish or that they become other than what they are by an act of will. But if things are uncreated they must in all consistency be also wholly immutable. Things then that are mutable are also wholly created. But things that are created must be the work of some maker, and the maker cannot have been created. For if He had been created, He also must surely have been created by someone, and so on, till we arrive at something uncreated. The Creator, then, being uncreated, is also wholly immutable.”[5]

When addressing the perverse interpretations of Scripture by the heretics, st. iraneousSaint Irenaeos  (ca. 130-202) affirms that God created all things out of nothing, and not from preexistent matter. “These heretics…do not believe that God, according to His pleasure, in the exercise of His own will and power, formed all things (so that those things which now are should have an existence) out of what did not previously exist; and they have collected a multitude of vain discourses. They thus truly reveal their infidelity; they do not believe in that which really exists, and they have fallen away into the belief of that which has, in fact, no existence.[6]

“For, to attribute the substance of created things to the power and will of Him Who is God of all is worthy both of credit and acceptance. It is also agreeable [to reason]…regarding such a belief that ‘the things impossible with men are possible with God [Lk. 18:27].’ While men, indeed, cannot make anything out of nothing, but only out of matter already existing, yet God is in this point preeminently superior to men that He Himself called into being the substance of His creation, when previously it had no existence.[7]

“The Creator of the world is truly the Word of God: and this is our Lord, Who in the last times was made man, existing in this world, and Who in an invisible manner contains all things created, and is inherent in the entire creation, since the Word of God governs and arranges all things; and therefore He came to His own in a visible manner, and was made flesh, and hung upon the tree, that He might sum up all things in Himself [Eph. 1:10].”[8]

  Saint Bede (ca. 673-735): “As to the fact that God is asserted to have said either that light or that anything else be made, we must not believe that He did it in our fashion by the corporeal sound of the voice. Rather, it should be understood more profoundly that God said that creation be made, because He made everything by His Word (Logos), that is, by His only-begotten Son. The Evangelist John speaks more clearly about this when he says, ‘In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. This One was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him [Jn. 1:1-3].’ Therefore, what John says, namely that all things were made by the Word [Logos] of God, is the same as what Moses says, that ‘God said, “Let there be light”’; and that ‘He said, “Let there be a firmament made”’; and that He said let the rest of creation be made, and so forth [Gen. 1:3, 6, 14, ff.]. It is the same as what the psalm, with the addition of the Person of the Holy Spirit, says, ‘By the Word of the Lord were the heavens established, and all the might of them by the Spirit of His mouth [Ps. 32:6].’ But if it is asked, in what place light was made by the command of God, since the abyss still covered the whole breadth of the earth, it is very clear that that first light shone forth then in the upper parts of the same earth, which the daily light of the sun even now customarily illuminates.”[9]

Saint Gregory of Nyssa (ca. A.D. 335 – after 384):“Some will ask, ‘When and how did it come into being?’ Now as for the question, how any single thing came into existence, we must banish it altogether from our discussion. Even in the case of things which are quite within the grasp of our understanding and of which we have sensible perception, it would be impossible for the speculative reason to grasp the ‘how’ of the production of the phenomenon; so much so, that even inspired and saintly men have deemed such questions insoluble. For instance, the apostle says, ‘By faith we perceive with the mind the ages to have been put in order by a word of God, so that the things which are seen have not come into being out of things which appear [Heb. 11:3].’ He would not, I take it; have spoken like that, if he had thought that the question could be settled by any efforts of the reasoning powers. While the apostle affirms that it is an object of his faith that it was by the will of God that the world itself and all which is therein was framed (whatever this ‘world’ be that involves the idea of the whole visible and invisible creation), he has on the other hand left out of the investigation the ‘how’ of this framing. Nor do I think that this point can ever be reached by any inquirers. The question presents, on the face of it, many insuperable difficulties….Let us, following the example of the apostle, leave the question of the ‘how’ in each created thing, without meddling with it at all, but merely observing incidentally that the movement of God’s will becomes, at any moment that He pleases, a fact, and the intention becomes at once realized in nature; for Omnipotence does not leave the plans of its farseeing skill in the state of unsubstantial wishes: and the actualizing of a wish is substance.”[10]

The homily will continue in the next article……

[1] Saint John Chrysostom, “Homily 2,” ¶ 2, Homilies on Genesis 1-17, trans. by R. C. Hill, The Fathers of the Church [FC], Vol. 74 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1986), p. 32.

[2] Saint Maximos, “Fourth Century,” The Philokalia, Vol. 2, translated from the Greek and edited by G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (London, UK: Faber and Faber, 1981), pp, 100, 101, ¶¶ 3-6, 11.

[3] Saint Anastasios, Hexaemeron, “Preface,” § II.4, Orientalia Christiana Analecta 278, p. 11.

[4] Ibid., Hexaemeron, “Book 6,” § I.3, p. 173

[5] Saint John of Damascus, “Proof that there is a God,” An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Bk. I, Ch. III; FC, 37:170.

[6] Saint Irenaeos, Against Heresies, Bk. II, Ch. X, ¶ 2, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I.

[7] Ibid., Against Heresies, Bk. II, Ch. X, § 4, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I.

[8] Ibid., Against Heresies, Bk. V, Ch. XVIII, ¶ 3, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I.

[9] Saint Bede, On Genesis, Book One [1:3], 48:73.

[10] Saint Gregory of Nyssa, “Argument,” On the Soul and the Resurrection, NPNF, 2nd Ser., Vol. V (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).