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.

 

Eternal life only to the ‘Elect’?

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:

Thank you for the question, what follows below is a short version of the answer, while the longer, detailed answer is recommended for a clear and right understanding of the question, in the link given at the end of this…

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’. This is life. The other possibility is to say ‘no’. This is alienation or death. 

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. 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, through His grace.

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...Regardless of their faith/religion.  

Human nature is acting towards the original purpose of ‘God creating Man’, with its own being only when it practices virtue. St. Issac the Syrian (7th Century) defines Virtue as follows “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.

All good action has its original cause in God’s goodness and is therefore the result of grace. But only when man acts by his own, in freedom to perform the good, does he become truly man, acting in conformity with good, in freedom. 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 grace which makes human effort possible. 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 returned 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 are capable to do in practice do good.

All this is possible 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.

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, it was again 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 first two of the three factors mentioned above are available to all mankind in the world regardless of faith/religion, which are 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.

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 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.

God “will have mercy on whom He will have mercy” (Rom 9:18).  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. 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(Non-Orthodox/Non-Christians) 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…

Detailed Article on the question, Please click the link: https://orthodoxchristianlife.com/2017/11/29/what-will-become-of-him-heterodox-non-christians-is-there-salvation-for-all/

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

What is the significance of Veil/Curtain in an Orthodox Church?

Question 1:

I recently came across a blog post which questioned the relevance of the veil after the New testament. It mentioned how it was initially created to separate man from the Holy of Holies, but Christ through his crucifixion had destroyed this distance between man and God and hence the veil was no longer needed. That man did not need anyone to come between him and God now and he could reach him directly. But we still keep the old covenant and create a distance between us and God. We don’t allow ourselves to freely walk towards Him and partake in the new blessing He has left us with. Why do we still hold on to the veil? I need something concrete with respect to the New Testament specifically.

Answer 1:

“Then behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:52)

The real God of Israel was revealed the moment Jesus yielded up His spirit on the cross. While those who had their way, accomplishing their task to punish our Lord Jesus for the audacity of defying their rejection of His messiahship, hurling at Him the false accusation that He had claimed to destroy and rebuild the temple in three days, the temple veil was torn in two. The holy of holies was exposed, because the chosen people were incapable of recognizing Jesus Christ as the long-awaited Messiah; therefore, at the moment of His death on the cross, the heavenly Father sent a sign that the greatest of all mysteries, the presence of His only-begotten Son fulfilled His mission on earth even if those who had been nurtured to realize and respond to Him lost their moment in history for which they had been prepared from the time of Abraham. The splitting of the temple veil is a sign of that reality.

Those who demanded from Pilate that He be crucified as a false Messiah were made to realize they were tragically wrong. Jesus was shown to be the genuine Messiah in the holiest site of all Jerusalem. To comprehend the meaning of that revelation requires the understanding of what a veil signifies.

  1. The first and most obvious meaning is separation. The chasm dividing God from humanity—nothing greater can be conceived. Only the high priest was entitled to pass beyond the veil shutting off the outside world from the holy of holies, the sacred cube of space containing the Ark of the Covenant.
    800px-Tabernacle_Schematic

    Old Testament Tabernacle / Temple / Church

    And only that chosen person was permitted once a year on the holiest of days, only if he understood his purpose of being there, only if he wore a rope tied to his leg and bells on his vestments that would ring while he was moving about performing his assigned tasks. If the bells stopped ringing, those outside could pull him out without entering the sacred space themselves.

  2. The veil closing off the sanctuary from the nave has meaning. When closed, it is a reminder of the holiness of the temple of Jerusalem, and when opened is the evidence that Christ is the Source of all holiness, being Himself the Son of God. The curtain is shut other than the time of sacraments/prayers so that it will be opened to only the friends, sisters and brothers of Christ Jesus.

The architecture of an Orthodox church is expressed as heaven on earth. It is a model of the spiritual world—of the Heavenly Kingdom—which the Lord opened to us through the holy prophet Moses on Mt. Sinai. Then God commanded to build the Old Testament Tabernacle according to the precise pattern given by Him to Moses, down to the smallest detail.

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New Testament Church

New Testament Orthodox churches have the same arrangement as that of the Old Testament, but with the difference that our Lord Jesus Christ became Incarnate and completed the work of the salvation of mankind. It is namely from this monumental event that there are changes to New Testament temples in relation to that of the Old Testament.

A church building is an expression of the covenantal experience of ‘God being with us’. The Holy Eucharist is also celebrating the same nuance. The book of revelation rhetorically affirms the same expression that the dwelling place of God is within men [Rev 21:3]. It is true that God is with men in Christ through the Holy Spirit. We know that God does not dwell in house made with hands. It was conviction of Solomon [1 Kings 8:27] and we see St. Stephen [Acts 7:48] repeating the same as well. But Solomon realizes the presence of God in the temple and dedicated it as the center for worship. At the same time New Testament teaches that the human kind is the temple of the living God [Eph 2:21-22, 1Pt 2:4-5, 2Cor 6:16]. Through this architecture, the Church wishes to convey to us the immanence of Christ and the fact that each of us is the dwelling place of God. The Church building is not mere gathering place. Its architecture proclaims the unity of all things in God. The emphasis is laid on celebrating the Eucharist in the context of worship as a corporate act. According to the holy prophet Moses it includes the courtyard, the sanctuary, and the Holy of Holies. In the New Testament church it is the Portico or Narthex [a place for the Catechumens], Haikala or Nave [main hall], Kesthrumo [part inside the rails] and Altar/Sanctuary or Madbaho.

The Narthex symbolizes this world [Rev 11:2] and Nave is the place of church understood as the assembly and people of God. Any believing Orthodox Christian can be in these parts. The nave correspond to the Old Testament sanctuary. Earlier no one but priests could be found there, but today, because the Lord with His most-pure blood cleansed us all and united us in His Mystery of Baptism, the nave—the New Testament sanctuary—is open to all Orthodox Christians. Kesthrumo is the place between Altar and Haikala where deacons are to stand. So according to Syriac Church Father Mar Yuhanon of Dara [+825 AD] the main three section inside the church building Nave, Kesthrumo and Madbaho allegorically symbolize three special gifts of the Holy Spirit: perfection, illumination and purity.

The Holy of Holies of the Mosaic Temple corresponds to the altar in the New Testament Church. It symbolizes the Heavenly Kingdom. It is not without reason that it is elevated in relation to the nave and narthex. The very word “altus” in translation from Latin means “high.” The center of the altar is the altar table. It is this throne on which God Himself sits invisibly in the church. In Syriac, the term Madbaho denotes the places for sacrifice. Usually Madbaho is situated in the eastern side of the church. East is of Biblical importance as it is mentioned to be location of the Garden of Eden [Gen 2:8]. Considering all such interpretations, the Holy place is a symbol of heaven or paradise. In heaven Jesus the Son of Man continuing His priestly mediation in the midst of saints and angels along with the heavenly glory of light. Likewise in Madbaho the Holy Mysteries of our Lord are offered by the priest who is the sacramental presence of Christ, together with deacons and candle light. Madbaho is a shadow of Paradise with the fruit of the tree of life.

Thronos symbolically and mystically represents the heavenly throne and the table of the kingdom of God [Isa 6:1]. In the context of Holy Qurbana as the sacrifice Thronos is called Altar. It is called the Table of life where we find the Bread of life. So Thronos is the seat of Christ, the word of God, the Lamb and the King of the everlasting life [Rev 4:5; Rev 7:9-11]. According to Syriac Church Father, Moses Bar Kepa [+903] Thronos is Christ Himself and it is source from where the grace is flowing. St. John Chrysostom says that Thronos indicates the holy Tomb of our Lord. The bread and wine offered upon it are transformed in to the Mystical Body of glorified Christ. It recalls the worldly death of Jesus on the Cross and the burial of his earthly body in the tomb which resulted in the triumphant resurrection of His glorified body.

The Veil of the Madbaho, as we perceive in the Jerusalem temple, separates the Holy place and the Holy of Holies. Generally the Veil which closes the Madbaho stands as the sky which hides the heaven above. Hence during Holy Qurbana, the Veil is opened when Christ is reveled to us from His birth in Bethlehem, Baptism at Jordan, Ministry and up to His death on Cross. After this, The Madbaho is closed by the Veil now, which denotes the absence of sunlight was the very characteristic mark of the creator’s suffering and the death in Golgotha, the place of His sacrifice. Hence Veiling during this time depicts the meaning of His suffering and death in the absence of the temporal light made for creation. After this the Veil is opened, symbolizing the resurrection of Christ and the appearance of the Lord to His Apostles. After this Veil is pulled to close the Madbaho, this time it represents disappearance of the Lord thereafter on the ascension. After this the removal of Veil shows the opening of heaven and the second coming of Christ [Mat 24: 30-31, Dan 7:13, 1 Cor15:52, 1Thess 4:16].  The Veil closes the Madbaho again after the Holy Qurbana, indicating us to the present situation of sky which hides the heaven above…

According to the Church Tradition the first to order the closing of the altar by a curtain was the Holy Hierarch Basil the Great in the second half of the fourth century. But even earlier there were well-known partitions between the altar and nave was already a part of the church, for example in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

The modern appearance of the iconostasis, which we see in Eastern Orthodox Churches was basically developed in Church art by the beginning of the fifteenth century. As you see in the below picture, the curtain still remains in the middle…

philipiconostasis

Iconostasis

The visual separation of the altar from the nave by the Veil should motivate us to strive in that direction—to the heavenly, and this aspiration is the core of the life of every Orthodox Christian. We believe that the merciful Lord will once open to us the door to Paradise and lead us in, as a loving Father His children…

It all speaks to us about that in our Orthodox services and in the structure of the churches there is nothing superfluous, but everything is coherent, harmonious and intended to guide Orthodox Christians into the Heavenly realm.

Mostly the color of the curtain is Red. Red has come to signify victory and resurrection, as it symbolizes the Blood of Christ that was willingly shed for us. It also brings to mind the blood of the countless martyrs for Christ throughout the ages. That is why the main color used to adorn most of the Madbaho is red (along with green, white), and why many churches (especially on Mount Athos) are also painted red.

A bit more about what happens inside the Madbaho, when the Veil is closed…

… but into the second tent only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood which he offers for himself and for the errors of the people (Hebrews 9:7).

In the Old testament Church, Priests entered the other rooms daily to perform their duties, but only one person, the high priest, could enter the Holy of Holies and that only once each year, on the Day of Atonement. After offering special sacrifices, the high priest collected some of the blood from the animal victims in a bowl and carried it behind the curtain, into the Holy of Holies. Using a branch of hyssop, he sprinkled the blood about the chamber. The purpose of the ritual was to symbolize the people’s repentance for the sins of the previous year and to entreat God’s forgiveness.

The Apostle tells us that this ritual was a prophecy of the incarnation, death and resurrection of our Lord.

The Old Testament high priest, because he was a mere man, had to offer the expiatory sacrifice for his own sins, and he had to offer the sacrifice year after year because he continued to sin. He could bring only the blood of animal sacrifices, and he offered these sacrifices in an earthly Temple.

Our Lord’s offering was superior to the old sacrifice in every respect. He is the eternal Word of God become man; although He took to Himself everything which is human, even the consequences of sin, He is sinless Himself. By His crucifixion and resurrection, He offers the supreme and perfect sacrifice, His pure and unstained Self. His sacrifice is complete — thoroughly purging the sins of mankind – because He does not need to offer it first for His own sin. He presents this offering, not on a mundane altar, but in heaven itself, before the Throne of the Father, which He Himself shares, together with the Holy Spirit.

“But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11-12).

Also, unlike the Jewish high priest, Christ does not complete the atonement alone.

As He enters the heavenly Temple our Lord bears with Him His humanity, which He shares with us. Thus we enter the Holy of Holies with Him, borne into the glory and peace of the Kingdom by His purity and love. Our Lord’s great sacrifice brings us remission of sins and, moreover, sanctification by the power of the Holy Spirit and entrance into the Kingdom.

The words of the prayer link our offering of the Gifts (bread and wine) with Christ’s entering “the Presence behind the Veil” (Hebrews 6:19), “by a new and living way which He consecrated for us through the Veil, that is, His flesh” (Hebrews 10:20). [This is where the New Testament speaks of the Veil, and we will know how the Orthodox Church has implemented this verse with a detail study of what happens during the Holy Qurbana]

St. Athanasius of Alexandria says, [The Lord Jesus entered heavens for our sake, though He is the Lord of heavens, and its founder. It is written that He was glorified for our sake. He Himself said, “And for their sakes, I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth” (John 17:19) This does not mean that He becomes sanctified, but He sanctifies us in Him. We understand the phrase “glorify Himself,” not that He needs to be glorified, for He is above all, but that He is Righteous and we are glorified in Him, and can enter the doors of heaven which He has opened for us. Therefore, it was written, “Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors!” And the King of glory shall come in” (Ps. 24:7). The doors were never closed in front of Him, for He is the Lord and Creator of all, but this was written for us, whom the doors of Paradise were closed in front of us” [Against Arians, Discourse 1:41].

In each Liturgy we unite ourselves with our Lord’s sacrifice and we enter heaven with Him. On the people’s behalf the priest prays over the gifts which are the bread and wine, kept on the Thronos, behind the closed curtain, in similarity to the Old Testament priest symbolizing the Passion and rising of the incarnate Christ.

But, once we are there, these symbolic gifts offered for sacrifice becomes reality (Body and Blood of Christ) by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

It was through the Spirit that Christ offered Himself (Hebrews 9:14); it is in and through the Spirit that we participate in that sacrifice in our Baptism (Romans 6:4-5).

And now, in the awesome solemnity of the Liturgy, we await the Holy Spirit, to fill our Gifts with the Savior’s power and glory.

Behind the curtain, the Old Testament priest used a sprig of hyssop to sprinkle the blood of a slaughtered creature. With the curtain of our Madbaho closed, we prepare to receive the Body and Blood of the living Christ.

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Saint John Chrysostom declares, “With this Blood not Moses but Christ sprinkled us, through the word which was spoken; ‘This is the Blood of the New Testament, for the remission of sins. Mat 26:28.’ This word, instead of hyssop, having been dipped in the blood, sprinkles all.

There in the Old Testament the body was cleansed outwardly, for the purifying was bodily; but here, since the purifying is spiritual, it enters the soul and cleanses it, for it is not being simply sprinkled over, but it gushes forth in our souls … And in their case indeed one sprinkled just the surface … But in the case of the soul it is not so, but the Blood is mixed with its very substance, making it vigorous and pure, and leading it to the very unapproachable beauty.”

Closing the curtain reminds us of the ultimate sacrifice of the King of glory. We do not perform a new sacrifice, like the Jewish high priest did year by year. Rather, each Sunday and each feast day, we renew our communion in the one great Sacrifice.

We come forward to receive the spotless Body and precious Blood of Him who is “the One who offers and who is offered, the One who receives and is received.”

As once Christ entered heaven, so now He enters us, transfusing us with the Kingdom. He does not seek to become one with us, but He makes us one with Him. He does not enter us in order to remain in the world: He comes to purge us of the sin which binds us to this age. He comes to cleanse, so that He may bear us up with Him, to dwell where He dwells, in eternal light with His Father and the Holy Spirit.

Saint John Chrysostom exhorts us, “Let us no longer continue on the earth; for even now it is possible for him that wishes it, not to be on the earth.”

Now another thing that we need to understand is that, there is no New Testament without the Old Testament. Christ did not ignore the Old Testament, in fact He taught at the synagogues and spoke to His disciples and others always quoting from the Old Testament. New Testament is only the fulfillment of what was promised in Old Testament. This means that New Testament can be understood in fullness only through study of Old Testament. Apostles also spoke using the Old Testament to prove to people how in Christ everything is fulfilled. Hence the Church also in its architecture, function and purpose does not radically change from how it was in the Old Testament and this is the very reason of Orthodox Churches, as established by Apostles are still having a similarity with the Old Testament Church. We could also experience this in our Holy Qurbana – Old Testament is read first in order to testify that the New Testament is true. Then the New Testament is read in order to indicate that it is new and that which was said in the Old has been fulfilled in it.

There are a lot of symbolic representations in the Orthodox Church. In an Orthodox church there is no thing or action which does not carry meaning of spiritual weight and for sure all of these are based on Holy Scriptures and Holy Tradition. According to Orthodox theology, symbols reveal the fact that something is hidden to us. However the devotee keeps a meaningful silence against the mystery that, at the end of time all will be exposed from the hideout. This is because we, as is, are incapable of knowing the reality in full measure. This is a fundamental method of Orthodox theology in order to interpret the concept of mystery. The symbols of the Church penetrate into our senses and reveal the presence of God.

Having doubts, post here….Ask your Questions on Orthodoxy….

Dormition : The Story (Children’s sermon)

Three starsA conversation between a church father and some children, Anna, Lucy.. … that will help you all understand the dormition story of blessed Mother Mary better….

Church father :In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen. As we celebrate the dormition of the Theotokos, so let’s understand what it is?…What does dormition mean?…Anna….

Anna : It means about the Theotokos…

Church father :Well, What does the word dormition in general mean? It does not mean about the Theotokos specifically…

Child 1 : When someone dies and the soul goes off to heaven…

Church father :When any person dies, its a dormition. Dormition means falling asleep. Now we call the dormition of the Theotokos and we kind of shorten it like the dormition right? Its like you guys have a long name ? For e.g Anna George Park, but people just call you Anna, and everybody knows who you are..So when we say dormition, we say the dormition of the Theotokos. But the word dormition means to sleep. Now why would we say that when someone dies, they fall asleep ?…

Anna :Because they are not really dead, they are going to the next world…

Church father : That’s right…

Child 2 :For God, its just falling asleep…

Church father : That’s right, For God, its just falling asleep. To God everyone’s alive…isn’t it?? True… So we say that Christians sleep, because what’s gonna happen at the end of the world???

Yes go ahead..Lucy..

Lucy :Its going to be the last judgement, when God is going to decide who is going to hell or heaven…

Church father :Yes, that’s true, now we say that a Christian sleeps because when Jesus comes from the east, over the mount of olives, He is going to start the judgement and it is going to be real fast and then we will be with Him, and we will not be asleep, we will be alive, with our bodies and with our souls. Now let’s tell the story about the dormition of the Theotokos. Let’s start backwards, from the time, She was at cross of Christ.

Now…. what did Jesus say to somebody, so that she would go and live in his home?? Anna….

Anna :He said to John ” Behold, thy mother, go and take her to your home “.

Church father :That’s right… So He told John ” Behold, your mother ” and so John took care of her, he took care of the Theotokos and she lived in his home for a long time and she knew many of the apostles, all of them and she was a mother to them. She taught them many many things that her son had taught her, and so she lived, maybe 30 or 40 years after the resurrection and then she was living in Jerusalem or some area near to it, because she was buried in Gethsemane. Now she wanted the apostles to come and visit her before she died. She knew she was going to die.

Tell me the story, what happened??….anybody else wanna say…

Ok Anna go ahead….

Anna :All the apostles visited her, except for one apostle, I don’t remember his name….

Church father :Oh!!! its easy to remember his name..😃

Child 2 :Thomas

Church father :Thomas…Was Thomas ever late before..??

Children :Yes

Church father :Where was he late before?

Anna :At the resurrection..

Church father :Ya, remember that story, on the day of the resurrection, Thomas wasn’t there, and when all the apostles said that He appeared to them, he didn’t believe, until eight days later, when the Lord came again….

Child 3 :And Thomas said that he would only believe if he could put his finger on the wound where it was pierced…

Church father :Yeah, that’s right…so Thomas was late again..so they buried the Theotokos, first of all they kissed her and were ready for her to die and she died, then she was put in a tomb, the apostles sang many hymns, and then what happened to Thomas??..

I will tell you what happened. Thomas came

Child 1:Three days later…

Church father :Yes Thomas came but three days later, but what did Thomas want?

Child 2:He wanted to see the Theotokos…

Church father :He wanted to see the Theotokos because he loved her very much. So the apostles went into the tomb and opened up the tomb and Thomas went into the tomb and did he find the Theotokos?

Children :No…

Church father :No, so what happened to the Theotokos?

Child 3 :She went to heaven.

Church father :How?…her son right?…

Jesus came and resurrected her and she came to heaven. There are only two people that have ever died and resurrected and gone to heaven. Do you know those two people?

Children :Yes, Jesus and the Theotokos.

Church father :Yes,Jesus and the Theotokos. Now there are two other people who have not died and went into heaven. Do you know who those two people are?

Anna :Elijah

Church father :Elijah and..??

Child 1 :Lazarus

Church father :Lazarus died, because he was risen from the dead in the tomb and he was wrapped like a mummy and everything. Do you remember that story?…..

It’s Enoch, from a long time ago, in Genesis.

(Children respond we do not know much about Enoch…..)

Church father :You do not know much about Enoch, but you know Elijah right? How did he get to heaven.?

Children :In a fiery chariot…

Church father :Fiery chariot with fiery horses and everything. So, but the Theotokos was raised from the dead. She was the first person that Jesus Christ raised from the dead and brought to heaven. He was resurrected, He resurrected of his own power and went upto heaven and then when the Theotokos died 30 or 40 years later, He resurrected her and she went to heaven. Let us look at the following hymn….

In giving birth, thou didst preserve thy virginity

In thy dormition, thou didst not forsake the world, O Theotokos

Thou was translated unto life, since thou art the mother of life

And by thine intersessions, dost thou redeem our souls from dead.

What does this hymn mean.?

In giving birth, thou didst preserve thy virginity

Does a virgin have babies?

Children :No

Church father :What does it take to have babies?

Children :A husband

Church father :Yes, a husband. You got to have a husband. It was a miracle. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. The Theotokos was a virgin and the church teaches this, you will understand this later as you grow a little older that the Theotokos is always a virgin, before and during and after the childbirth. If you ever see an icon of her, and there are three stars on her, that means she is a virgin before, during and after childbirth and you will understand more about that when you grow older. So, In giving birth, thou didst preserve thy virginity, so she was always a virgin. Did the Theotokos have any other babies besides Jesus?…

No, not at all, right?

Children :Yes

Church father :In thy dormition, thou didst not forsake the world, O Theotokos

So we said what dormition means?

Dormition means she died right…but we do not say died, we say she fell asleep, because we know that all of us are going to wake up..aren’t we?

Child 2 :On the last judgement

Church father :Yes,

Now, Thou was translated unto life, since thou art the mother of life. Do we understand what that means ?, we already know…

Translated means brought up or moved.

What happened to the Theotokos after she died?

She went to heaven, she was translated to heaven…its a fancy word but you should learn these words because it is used within the church.

she went upto heaven and the hymn tells us why ?….since thou art the mother of life

Who is she the mother of?

Child 3:God

Church father :Jesus and He gave us life.

Now let’s talk a little bit about the gospel and we will go on…

Gospel from mathew…When the Theotokos found out that she was pregnant with Jesus, the angel also told her that somebody whom she knew and loved, also was pregnant.

Who is that?

Child 2:Elizebeth with John

Church father :John the baptist

Child 3 :John the baptist knew that Jesus was in Mother Mary ‘s womb.

Church father :Well, how do we know that?

So Mary comes with a womb, and Jesus was very tiny. A baby gets bigger and bigger in a mommy ‘s tummy.

She just found out that she was pregnant and John who was in his mother’s tummy, in Elizabeth’s womb leaped in her womb with joy . How can it happen?

Its a miracle. God can enlighten us.

And so what did Theotokos say about herself and what are reasons why we so often honour her?

She said ” All generations will call me blessed” and so we love the Theotokos because she is the mother of our Lord and she was the most OBEDIENT person other than Jesus who have ever lived.

Do you have any questions about the dormition?

Child 3:Why in the icon is Jesus holding the baby?

Church father :That’s a very good question

Lucy : That’s the Theotokos’ soul.

Church father :That’s right. That’s the Theotokos’ soul and her body because He took the Theotokos up

Let’s take a look at the icon

Orthodox Icon of the Dormition

Obviously this is the bier and a bier is just a bed to put the person on.

And she’s laying there dead on the bed.

Who are all these people with her?

Children :The apostles

Church father :Yes, the apostles.

Child 1 :What’s that four winged thing?

Church father : Just the cherubim angels, because angels are with us all the time.

Anna :This man here tried to cut of the Theotokos’ hand, but by then the angel came and cut off his hand.

Church father :He didn’t try to cut of her hand, he just tried to stop the bier or knock at her..Was he healed?

Anna : Yes

Church father :He repented and he was healed.

Now this is Christ and just look at the Theotokos, does she look like a baby there or does she look different?…

Children : She looks different

Church father :Right, she looks like a little adult. Because Theotokos was not a baby when she died, was she?

Children : No

Church father :So sometime within the three days after she died, we don’t know when, because nobody saw Jesus taking the Theotokos to heaven.

The icon shows two things happening once. The apostles were praying when the Theotokos died, they were having a funeral for her and then sometime later, when the apostles were not there and the Theotokos was in the grave, Jesus took the Theotokos’ body and soul to heaven.

So these were few things about the dormition of the Theotokos. You should pray to the Theotokos everyday. We pray to the Theotokos because we know that God hears the prayers of his righteous ones and his saints. Is there any person more righteous than the Theotokos?…

Children : Yes God.

Church father :Yes Jesus is more righteous than the Theotokos because He is God. But what about a human being more righteous than the Theotokos?…

The Theotokos is the most righteous…we pray to her because we believe from James that “The effective and fervent prayers of the righteous man availeth much”. So always remember to pray to her and ask her to help you in all things.