Orthodox Study Journal~~Youth Issue 7/-May 2019

My biggest battle with death came when I was just a boy. My father faced a hopeless battle against cancer. Slowly, he was reduced from a giant of a man to someone who was frail and broken. His death left me empty, afraid and bitter!

The perfect description of how I felt came the day we buried my father. It was a Saturday. The trip to the cemetery was on the same route that people were going to use for a parade just a few minutes after we passed. I sat in the back of the car with my family. We were all dressed in black. We mourned, but none of the people lining the streets for the parade were aware of what was happening to us, happening to me.

Children didn’t understand why the crowd hushed as the hearse passed. They didn’t know that I lost someone I loved. They held balloons in their hands. They had smiles on their faces. I felt empty and alone. Their world was happy. My world was ending. Death does that to those left to mourn. Few people understand the pain, the loneliness, and the frustration you feel. They are smiling while you are crying. This is the testimony[1] of a young boy on death of his beloved father.

We find this mystery of death terrible, because it breaks the unity between the loved ones, because we lose a person we love. This is a great truth, experienced by those who lose persons dear to them, as in our example, the case of the young boy.

We shall see another example that is expressive; is the funeral oration of St. Gregory the theologian on the death of his sister, St. Gorgonia. St. Gregory says, “She longed for her dissolution, for indeed she had great boldness towards Him who called her”. There had developed in her love towards the loved one, “Who is, I will even say it, her lover”.

She had been made aware of the day of her falling asleep, and, as St. Gregory says, when the appointed day came, she prepared herself for death and departure, “and fulfilled the law towards such matters and took to her bed”.  When she understood that the hour of her soul’s departure from her body was coming, she lay down on the bed and waited for her death. She fell asleep after she had previously counseled her husband, children and friends and had spoken brilliantly about what happens in heaven, and made her last day a “day of solemn festival”. The day of her soul’s departure became for her a day of solemn festival. And St. Gregory the Theologian, speaking of her death, said that his sister “was set free, or it is better to say, taken to God, or flew away, or changed her abode, or anticipated by little the departure of her body”.

At the end of his funeral oration St. Gregory added a detail which, nevertheless, is expressive and indicative of the overcoming of death.

In the room where St. Gorgonia lay at the time when she was nearing her departure from this world, there “was solemn silence, as if her death were a religious ceremony. This description of the hour of death is most beautiful. It amounts to a religious ceremony. The saint was repeating a psalm. Her father came near in order to hear what she was saying. And he preserved the information that “under her breath she was repeating the last words of psalm”, the funeral service. Her manner of dying was, as St. Gregory the Theologian says, a testimony to the boldness with which she was departing.

It is in this that the saints who have boldness with God leave this world. They leave with the hope of resurrection, with the assurance that they will meet the beloved Bridegroom(Christ). The hour of death conceals a mystery. And that is why the suspense then is great. A mixture of feelings prevails. Repentance, prayer, fear, hope, expectation of a meeting. Therefore not only the one who is dying should pray, but all who are around him should accompany him with their prayers. This holy hour should be faced with holy awe and spiritual inspiration.

This makes us think of What am I? What is the meaning of life?

Orthodox Christian teaching on man in general differs from all metaphysical theories. The creation of man is discussed in the first books of the Holy Bible. We read: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:26-28).

Some basic truths are manifested in this passage. First, it can be seen that God who created man is a Person (three persons), not an ideal nor impersonal. He is not an assemblage of impersonal ideas.

Then it declares that man is created according to the image and likeness of God. If this passage is linked with another passage (which mentions that God formed the body from the dust of the ground and then breathed into him and thus the soul was created) it is clear that man was directly created by God in a positive way. This means that the soul did not previously live in an eternal and unborn world of ideas, but was created by God at that moment. It also means that the body is not the prison of the soul, but was formed by God at that moment, and man was formed in this way a unity of soul and body. That is to say, the body did not exist before the soul, and the soul did not exist before the body. Man is not simply a soul or simply a body. The soul is the soul of a human person and the body is the body of a human person, i.e., man is always bother, because he consists of both soul and body. Furthermore, this passage shows the Truth that man is created by God to be king, the ruler of all creation and hence have the responsibility to keep the creation from being destroyed and provide it the required nourishment. Therefore, understand that the body is not the prison of the soul, but was created together with the soul in a positive way by God. Both soul and body must have a common course towards God.

However, in studying the human body from a Christian point of view we can look at five phases.

The first phase refers to how the body functioned before man’s fall. Right after man’s creation, the body had the grace and energy of God. That is, the soul was in communion with God and this brightened, gave glory, to the body as well, and through the body this brilliance was extended to the whole of nature.

The second phase is what took place after man’s fall. As soon as man lost his communion with God, the mirror was shattered, and as a result great darkness fell upon all creation. Then Adam and Eve saw that they were naked and felt ashamed, so they tried to cover their nakedness. The body became untamed, because of sin, and all bodily passions appeared, and this means that death entered into man. The body suffered a great catastrophe, diseases appeared, and it became weak and needed more food and clothing to be protected from changes in the weather. The body that we know today is not the body received at creation. It is not the same body as that which was created by God; rather it is the body that accepted the consequences and the results of sin, that is, death.

The third phase of the body starts with Christ’s Incarnation. The Logos/Word of God assumed the human body, indeed, a mortal body, in order to bring it back to its former glory and raise it beyond where is was in the person of Adam. The Transfiguration of Christ, when His face shone like the sun and his tunic turned as white as light, shows the glorification of the human body. So, our God is not simply an idea, He is not just a Person, but the Theanthropos, both God and man. The human body acquired great glory in the Person of the Logos/Word. We also have the opportunity to live within the Body of Christ. We are reborn through the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Church, the Holy Baptism, the Holy Chrismation, and we give glory to the body through Holy Communion.

The fourth phase of the body begins with the soul’s exit from it. Despite the separation of the soul, man’s unity remains intact, the person, the hypostasis, remains. If someone manages with God’s Grace to balance the relationship between soul and body, then his/her body becomes a holy relic. In the Orthodox Church we have several holy relics, namely bodies, which remain incorruptible, give off fragrance, and make miracles. This means that these bodies, without undergoing any chemical process, without being in certain, suitable, climate conditions, are maintained incorruptible, an indication that God’s Grace is within them.

The fifth phase of the body will start with the Second Coming of Christ, when the bodies of all human beings will be resurrected.

Where am I going after I die is a curious question asked by  youth or any person whose interest in such questions is intensified due to the uncertainties he faces in everyday living or who have had such experiences of losing a loved one.

Death[2] is the greatest mystery, which has always occupied man’s spirit. It is the consequence and also the cause of sin. The sin from which death was born is Adam’s fall in the Paradise of delight (Genesis 2:17). After this sin, death did enter human nature—first spiritual death, which is man’s separation from God, and then bodily death, which is soul’s separation from the body at the appropriate time. On the day when Adam sinned he died spiritually, and more slowly he died physically as well. 

In the patristic teaching, death is not a punishment by God, but a fruit and result of Adam’s sin (Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-25; Romans 5:12-14). The term “death” is used to mean man’s withdrawal and separation from God, in Whom is the real life. Thus anyone who withdraws from life, from God, is deadened, he dies. As St. Gregory of Palamas emphasizes “the first to undergo this deadening was Satan, whom God rightly abandoned because of his disobedience”. The deadened devil transmitted the deadening of man as well because man listened to his advice, disobeyed God, and lost His Grace.

Death is not created by God, but is a free choice of man. Death becomes the result and cause of sin. It is the cause of sin— in the sense, that because of decay and mortality[3] which we inherit from our parents, the various passions develop, such as self indulgence, avarice, and love for glory and in general because of mortality we fall into many sins. According to St. John Chrysostom, the biological inheritance of decay that was introduced into human nature by the descendants of Adam is justifiable. “Having become corruptible, such too were the children that they produced”. St. Cyril of Alexandria says the same: After falling into this (death) they procreated children, the offspring from this, being from corruption were produced corruptible.” Indeed St. John Chrysostom observes that we even baptize babies “although they have no sins”, so that they may be added “sanctification, righteousness, adoption, inheritance, membership of the brotherhood of Christ, becoming dwelling-places of the spirit”. This also answers the question on “why do Orthodox Christian’s baptize babies?”

What then is the relationship between Baptism and Death? From the words of St. John Chrysostom on baptism, how is Death conquered?

Christ’s incarnation was in order that death and sin might be destroyed and the devil might be conquered. In fact Christ assumed a mortal and vulnerable body in order to conquer death. Through His Crucifixion and Resurrection He overcame death and gave man the possibility, after being united with Him, to overcome death himself in his personal life.

This aim is achieved through the sacraments of the Church. Through Baptism we become members of the risen Body of Christ, and through Holy Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ we receive the medicine of immortality. Not only is the soul united with God, but also the body receives a sense of this inner change and transformation of the soul. This is seen clearly in the relics of the saints of the Church. Through Baptism man is enabled, of his free choice, to fight sin; the sin which is inseparably linked with the perishability and mortality of his body.

In this sense man’s salvation is God’s operation but also man’s cooperation. St. Gorgonia’s life is the exemplary example of this.

More interesting facts and Orthopraxy on death, for the full issue (for free) click the ‘download’ button below….

[1] Online source

[2] Life After Death- Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos

[3] See further article 2 of this issue

Orthodox Study Journal~~Youth Issue 6/Feb-Mar 2019

A Far Country!!!

In the parable of the “Prodigal son” (Luke 15:11-32); the prodigal son went to a far country and there spent all that he had. A far country! This is the unique definition of our human condition today and from the time of our fall. A man who has never felt that he is exiled from God and from ‘real life’ will never understand what Christianity is about.

“After our falling away from God the perturbation occurred that was bound to happen throughout the entire human composition —

  • having been separated from God, the spirit lost its strength and submitted to the soul,
  • and the soul, having not been elevated by the spirit, obeyed the body.                    

In other words, man’s goal in this world is to strive towards eternity by obeying God’s commandments. “Man’s home” is the Kingdom of God. This is “The Reality”.

But man considers that he is perfectly “at home” in this world and its life. He has forgotten to desire God and His Kingdom; and strives towards the cares of life in this world. In this strife, he forgets to strive towards perfecting himself in virtue and only grows more passionate with the desire towards; and attachments and fancies of this world. Thus a man who has never been wounded/suffered/suffers in the desire for God and His Kingdom will not understand what repentance is.

Many understand repentance as an “objective” enumeration of sins and transgressions; as an act of “pleading guilty” to a legal indictment. Confession and absolution are seen as being of juridical nature.

In this definition of Repentance, confession and absolution “something” very essential is overlooked. This “something” is precisely the feeling of alienation from God, from the joy of communion with Him, the real life as created and given by God. Without this neither confession nor absolution has any real meaning or power.

It is easy indeed to confess that I have not fasted on prescribed days, or missed my prayers or become angry. It is quite a different thing to realize that I have defiled and lost my spiritual beauty (spiritual beauty as created by God before the fall), that I am far away from my real home (real home is the Kingdom of God), my real life (i.e. life in Christ), and that something precious and pure and beautiful has been hopelessly broken in the very texture of my existence (existence on earth after the fall). Yet this and only this, is repentance and therefore it is also a deep desire to return, to go back, and to recover that lost home.

To do this, God has even provided us with wonderful riches:

  1. First of all life and the possibility to enjoy it, to fill it with meaning, love and knowledge.
  2. In Baptism— the new life of Christ himself, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the peace and joy of the eternal Kingdom.
  3. The knowledge of God and in Him the knowledge of everything else and the power to be a son of God.

But all this we have lost and are losing all the time due to the deviation of our love from God.

Thus repentance is  not only feeling guilty/wrong for the particular “sins” and “transgressions” as we have mentioned earlier like becoming angry, or not keeping up our fasts etc, but for all that, which is done in the sin of all sins:  “deviation of our love from God,” preferring the “far country” to the beautiful home of the Father.

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 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”


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


Orthodox Study Journal~~Youth Issue 1/May 2018

Seeingdownload (3)

the Unseen

The Maze Runner

A teenage boy wakes up in an ascending elevator with no recollection of his name, where he comes from, or where he is. When the elevator reaches the top, a door above him opens and he finds himself in a community of boys.
Once a month the elevator (or the box as they call it), comes to the surface with supplies as well as a new boy. They all live in the glade and call themselves Gladers. None of them can remember anything about their past or why they were sent there, but after a few days they will remember their names. A door opens in the giant wall every day and closes every night. The door leads to a maze that surrounds the glade. Runners go through looking for a way out. “If you’re trapped in the maze overnight, the Grievers get you and you die”. The maze changes every night. Alby was the first boy to arrive in the Glade. No one knows why they are there.
The teenage boy later remembers his name as ‘Thomas’. Alby takes Thomas around to show him more of the sites. The boys carve their names on the wall when they arrive. When one dies, they cross off the name. Thomas tries to fit in and he’s given the task to dig up the fertilizer out in the woods. While he’s still there, he’s attacked by Ben, one of the Runners who was stung by a Griever. A sting will apparently cause tremendous pain and make the victim prone to violence. There’s no cure for it, so the other teens force Ben into the maze at night just as the doors are closing. Everyone is concerned that there was a Griever attack during the day.
The next day, Alby goes into the maze to retrace Ben’s path and to find out what happens. It rains during the day. Now it’s getting late and Alby still hasn’t returned. All the boys gather around the entrance to the maze. Just as the doors are about to close, the lead Runner named Minho appears with a very injured Alby. Thomas rushes into the maze to help them, but the door closes behind him.
Minho and Thomas use vines to suspend Alby’s body and try to keep it safe from the Grievers. Alby was stung while inside the maze. One of the Grievers appears and chase after Thomas. The Grievers look like gigantic bedbugs with robot legs and scorpion tails. Thomas and the Griever run around a bit as the walls in the maze change. Finally Thomas is able to lure the Griever between two walls that are colliding and SQUISH! Dead Griever.
Their world begins to change, with the challenge becoming fiercer. The boys have disagreements and got divided into two factions. To further shake things up, Teresa becomes the first girl to arrive in the Glade with a note that says she will be “the last one ever,” which means the steady flow of supplies will also cease.
Eventually Thomas gets to become “the runner”. Along with another group of runners, Thomas and Minho recover a device from within the Griever’s body and they theorize that the Maze may have a hidden code that could set them all free.
Inside the Maze, Thomas and Minho get farther than anyone has ever gotten before. But that night, the Maze entrance remains open and the Gladers are attacked by the Grievers. Overcoming all the hurdles, Thomas finally regains his memory and realizes that the entire scenario has been an experiment.
Thomas and his group fight their way through the Maze and discover a laboratory at the end of it. Inside are dozens of dead scientists. In a recording, one of the scientists explains that the planet was devastated by a solar flare and by an incurable virus which was also called “The Flare.” The whole point of the Gladers experiment was to see how their brains resisted the virus, since they were basically immune to it.
Finally masked men with weapons then appear and whisk Thomas and the other survivors away into a waiting helicopter. From high above the Maze, they see that it was located in a vast desert wasteland as they fly towards the ruins of a city.
This is exactly what happens in our real and spiritual life. We all live in a glade, “the daily routine life” doing all sorts of stuff required for our daily survival, relying on our human wisdom unaware of the actual reality, “the spiritual reality”. We are given a door (Christ) to enter the maze of the spiritual reality. As we enter the maze, we are often tempted by grievers; Satan and his demons. This is called the Unseen Warfare. Our test in this world is to finally survive the grievers and find our way out in the truth; victorious only to say as in 2 Timothy 4:7 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”. Finally when we are dead and gone, our guardian angel, the angels of the Lord can be compared to the masked men in the above story who whisk us away to the mansions that Christ promised in John 14:2 “In my Father’s house are many mansions, If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you”.
As the teenager in the story wakes up inside an underground elevator with no memory of his own identity, is what every teenager or a young person feels, in the days of his youth. The biggest challenge that hangs on for every youth out there is to establish our own identity.
Who am I? Why am I here? I just know my name and do things everyday as everyone does. What is it that I should achieve in this life?
We enter the maze each day with these questions. We encounter different situations; the different people, their culture and values. Each situation puts us into a learning experience. We get to see something unhappy, unjust, and cruel either in our lives or in the lives of others. We are unhappy and unsatisfied at times due to many reasons even though we pretend to be happy. The injustice in the world is growing each day. We can imagine ourselves to be fighters inside this maze just as the teenager in the story who wants to fight out in the maze to find the right way out. As teenagers or youth we often see ourselves fighting between good and the bad.
Like the runners in the story, who get stung by the griever inside the maze, we often get stung by Satan and his demons, with thoughts that divert us from the way of Christ. These thoughts deceive us as Eve was deceived.
But how is it that we can get out of these everyday traps of our life so that we grow in God and discover the real purpose and find answers to the questions we ask in our everyday living?
Just like how Thomas and Minho recover a device from within the Griever’s body and they theorize that the Maze may have a hidden code that could set them all free, in the similar way we have the writings of the Church Fathers which will give us those hidden codes to set ourselves free in the maze; the real purpose in our life, the real freedom and the real joy of living. Church Fathers are the real heroes to follow who through their practical way of living (orthopraxis) have defeated Satan just like the way Thomas the teenage boy fought the Griever and crushed it. We should always remember Satan can only deceive us through thoughts but God has given us the power to overcome and defeat Satan and his army. And the Church is the hospital where we get healed through the sacraments…….Click the link(Issue 1 – May’18) below to continue reading message from the metropolitan(president, OCYM&MGOCSM-Chennai diocese, Vice president’s message and other articles……Click the link(Issue 1 – May’18) below to continue reading message from the metropolitan(president, OCYM&MGOCSM-Chennai diocese, Vice president’s message and other articles……

 download (4): Issue 1 – May’18