Spiritual Talks(Meleti)

Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, Elder of the Canadian Orthodox Monastery of All Saints of North America

Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, Elder of the Canadian Orthodox Monastery of All Saints of North America

Joy of Canada icon, a gift to the Canadian Orthodox Monastery of All Saints of North America

Joy of Canada icon, written by Slavko Protic as a gift for the Monastery of All Saints of North America

MELETI WITH YOUNG PEOPLE IN THESSALONIKI, GREECE,
WITH QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

MELETI: Nr. 6
Spiritual Talks of Archbishop Lazar Puhalo
(The following Meleti were given in Thessaloniki, Greece ).

 

QUESTION:

Last time you had a discussion and mentioned that because of your different kind of clothing you are distinguished from other people. People come and ask you what you are and then you have an opportunity to discuss the faith with them. But we as lay people do not have something that distinguishes us from other people. So we do not have an opportunity where people come and ask us about our lives or about our faith. What should our approach to other people be? Should we try to talk to them by ourselves, and if we try to confess the faith and give an oral witness what should our first words be toward them?

REPLY:

There are seldom any situations in which you should initiate such a conversation. Some Protestants do this, and it usually has a negative result. It is difficult to initiate such a converesation without being offensive to people. Usually, you are only making ordinary conversation with people, and it is only when you meet someone who is interested in spiritual matters that you are able to talk to them about the faith. When someone else initiates a conversation about religious matter, you certainly have an opportunity to respond. Most often, the conversation will be initiated by a Protestant, and that give one a good opportunity to witness for Orthodoxy. I remember an incident with a fourteen year old boy in one of our parishes. He attended a school near the parish. When it came time for lunch in the big lunch hall at school, he always stood up and said a short prayer and made the sign of the cross on himself. A few people would ridicule him because of this but many of the young people also respected him because of it. Some Protestants, seeing that he was a believer, would come and try to convert him. They would tell him,”You should not make the sign of the cross because we do not do that.” Then he began to explain to them why they should make the sign of the cross. He asked one young girl who came to him to try to convert him, “Are you ashamed of the cross of Jesus? If you are not ashamed to the cross why do you not make the sign of the cross?” She was unable to answer so she went to her home and asked her parents about it. Because of that one thing the parents began to investigate a little bit, looking for an answer to Andrei’s question. In this way, they discovered that, in ancient times, all Christians used the sign of the cross. Eventually the whole family became Orthodox. It happens that the Holy Spirit often provides the opportunities for us to witness by giving us an opening toward those people who are able to hear what we have to say.

It is difficult to initiate a conversation about the faith without appearing to be self-righteous or arrogant, but because it is also necessary to witness for the faith we need to have classes periodically where we teach people how to do this. Above all, we must learn to approach discussions about the faith in an Orthodox manner, rather than imitating the highly condescending and obnoxious Protestant manner. One of the first steps is to gain complete control of anger, because in any discussion if you become angry then it becomes an argument and you are going to lose it. Do not allow a discussion to degenerate into an argument, or even a debate. The Holy Spirit brings us the spirit of peace. In the Holy Scripture we read: “Be ye angry and sin not,” but here it is talking about an internal spiritual struggle. When we are witnessing for Christ we are witnessing to a spirit of peace, so we have to acquire a spirit of peace. If you have a spirit of peace and an inner joy that comes from the Holy Spirit, then people who are open to the things of the Spirit will ask you how you arrived at the spirit of peace. Also when somebody tries to get you to do something wrong or something negative, when you refuse to do it you can tell people why you have refused without being angry or self-righteous. Remember that your concept of what is wrong or negative may differ substantially from theirs, and a condemnatory tone will not only come across as self-righteousness, it will also turn the listener away from considering your point of view.

We do not want any kind of self-righteousness. In order to truly witness for Christ one has to be natural and open, and not take on an attitude or the appearance of religiosity. In Slavic we call such an attitude svyatosha. This applies to a person who tries to take on the appearance of “holiness.” But we do not need to have a long face, a sleepy, closed eyed countenance or a sorrowful look as an effort to demonstrate that we believe in God or in an effort to make us look like a spiritual elder or holy person.

One thing that I would like to say is that when I lecture at universities many times the students ask questions and I explain the Orthodox perspective on the problems. The students are very often amazed at the Orthodox answers. Sometimes they say ,”Oh but it sounds very liberal!” by which they mean “enlightened.” Many people have turned away from our Lord Jesus Christ because the teaching they have received is heavy and dark, sometimes very dry and often filled with superstition. Students are amazed when they hear that we are comfortable with the principles of evolution and find it easy to understand in a spiritual way the whole process of evolution, or how comfortable Orthodoxy is with modern science. They are also surprised when we explain to them the true meaning of marriage and the correct teaching about redemption. When you know and understand the Orthodox perspective on these things then you have a great deal more to say to other people your own age.

QUESTION:

Sometimes in our family, but also in our Church life, we face problems with other people, with their behaviour and their understanding of life. We see that people in our family or in the Church sometimes behave in a way that is contrary to the principles of a Christian life. Sometimes one wonders, at what point should this behaviour be no longer acceptable and at what point should one react against this behaviour. Sometimes we attempt to think, “This is just the times we live in; that is how things are in our times,” but probably we should also reach a point where we should react against such a situation.

REPLY:

We had a few cases where we had to do something like that ourselves. In North America we have unique problems. People who come from the old country want a political organization within the Church and we tell them, “Sorry, we cannot allow such behaviour. It has nothing to do with the life and meaning of the Church or the parish community. If you wish to persist in politics in the church, you must go away to some other parish. So we have to face that problem ourselves, even when it is not directly related to ordinary questions of moral behaviour or human decency.

John Kalomiros: But you speak about political organisations…

ARCHBISHOP LAZAR:Right, in this case a Romanian club, a men’s club. The behaviour of such institutions is completely contrary to the aspirations and goal of the Church. At that point we tell them to go and be happy in some other church

John Kalomiros: I think that he means about moral behaviour.

ARCHBISHOP LAZAR:Yes, I understand that the question is specifically about moral behaviour, but it is also about the possibility of having to react and even to exclude some person from the community. There are times when, for the sake and safety of the whole community, a person might have to be excluded, and I do not want to divide the question between theoretical morals and general behaviour. All human behaviour is a question of morality even if it does not apparently touch the matter of theoretical morals.

I have seen cases where, within the parish community, someone is angry with somebody else and they try to split the parish and make people take their side. Such a matter may not fall clearly into the realm of theoretical morality, but it is immoral nonetheless. Too often people think of morality only in terms of sex, murder and theft, and if you accuse the culprit of immorality because of selfish, self-centred of divisive actions in a parish, he would likely be shocked at the thought and not be able to grasp the immorality of his actions. In such cases, we would usually have the priest and one or two of the parishioners sit down and talk to these people and discuss the problem with them. Personally, I favour having a teenager included so that he or she can express how much it hurts the young people to have such a poor example set for them. If the problem absolutely cannot be corrected then we have to ask the originators of the problem to withdraw from the life of the parish until they repent. In such a case it is not possible for the priest to continue to give them Holy Communion.

You can also have a situation in the parish where somebody intentionally enters the church in a completely shameless way. I am using the word shameless in a serious manner, not just lightly. In cases where it is a woman, the women will talk to her about it, and if it is a man, some of the men will talk to him about it. If it becomes clear that this is something intentional and ongoing, then they also have to be asked to withdraw from the community, and in some extreme cases, they may have to be forced out. The point I am making is that you cannot endure intentional offences indefinitely. When people are obviously trying to harm the parish or cause grief and disorientation to others, then by allowing them to stay in the parish you only help them to destroy themselves and harm the whole community. So long as they get their own way, they lose even more control of themselves. Apostle Paul separated such people from the community until they repented. I want to make it absolutely clear, however, that I am not advocating a narrow moralism, an uncompassionate criticalness or oppression. In general, we should bear with people with much patience. If it is a “quiet” problem and not something that is openly displayed or flaunted, then we should struggle with patience, love and prayer to try to heal the situation. We have to be careful that we do not judge self-righteous judgment and yet when people are intentionally doing something which is completely contrary to the life in Christ, especially when they are doing something quite openly, then some kind of action should be taken. Otherwise these people are simply destroying their own souls and perhaps they are harming other people’s souls. I think, though, that there has to be quite a serious problem before we completely exclude people from the community even when the priest must deny them Holy Communion.

If a problem of some serious canonical nature does arise, it is usually best for the priest to consult the bishop about it. Let me tell you, however, that it is a great sin to judge hypocritically.

There does comes a point when patience and tenderness can actually harm a person rather than helping them. It is the same when we never discipline children but allow them to get away with everything, then one day we tell them not to play in a busy street but they do not take it seriously. If you discipline the child for playing in the street no one will accuse you of not loving the child. On the other hand if you allow your child to play in the middle of a large and busy street, people will accuse you of not loving the child, and they will be correct. We will be more loving if we discipline the child than if we allow them to play in the middle of the busy street. Sometimes we have to look at situations in the parish in exactly the same way.

If a canonical question arises, the priest should consult the bishop. Among other things it saves the priest from being accused of prejudice against someone, and this is usually the most peaceful and clear way to resolve questions of that nature.

I did not give you as direct an answer as you might have wanted, but that is because there are no die cut or “rubber stamp” answers to any such matters. Each case must be examined in its own context and circumstances and no two situations can be judged alike. Remember that there are cases when “justice” is not righteous and “righteousness” is not just.

 

 

15 NOVEMBER, 1998

Although the whole community is here tonight, I am going to continue to address myself to the teenagers.

This is my last evening in Thessaloniki and I am torn between two emotions. I am anxious to be home in my monastery, but I also do not want to leave this beloved community. By now I have a whole month of work waiting for me at home, but I am glad that we have one last evening together before we go so that David, Symeon and I can have fellowship together with you one more time.

I am going to talk a little bit this evening about a popular subject: about sin. I recall a story that Queen Elizabeth sometimes likes to tell, about someone who asked the Archbishop of Canterbury, “What do you think about sin?” and he said, “Well, I am against it.”

The reason I want to say something about it is because in our times there is some confusion about what the word actually means. I remember that when I was young I thought: “Sin means something that whoever is speaking does not agree with.” It was just a matter of adjusting the idea of morals and sin to whatever you liked or did not like. Greek speaking people always understand that “amartia” means to miss the mark or to fall short of the goal. In English we are stuck with a word that has only a legal connotation but does not really express any fullness or accuracy of meaning. For this reason, it is sometimes more difficult to explain to English speaking people that even many things that seem to be good or seem to be positive or very moral, are actually sinful.

It happens that the goal for which we are created is to be united together with God in pure love. This means that, at the creation, the goal set by God for all of humanity was not only to be united with Him in both truth and pure love, but to be united together among themselves in pure love and truth. Everything that separates us from God is sin. It does not matter whether what we do seems to be very moral, positive or good: if it separates us from God then it is sin. As my friend David Goa often says, it is easier to lose your soul through your virtues than through your vices.

Perhaps we will have some questions about this afterwards, but I want to say something that I may have said here before: morality is sometimes a heresy. Sometimes moral behaviour can also be sin. At first these things sound a bit shocking, because in the West, even among many Orthodox people, our whole faith, our whole religion, has been reduced to a legal moral code. Among Protestants, but also among people such as the Zoë Brotherhood and other Augustinians, we see that they introduce a kind of moral fascism. These people teach us that our whole spiritual life is to follow a moral law or a moral code, and so we have faith replaced by law, theoretical morality as a substitute for a life in Christ. This has formed a great tragedy for many people because they come to believe that being together with Jesus Christ depends primarily on correct behaviour. The fact is, we know that many pagans, many people who do not believe can be highly moral and practise outstandingly correct behaviour. In some pagans societies young people have a greater respect for their parents and for older people than they do in our own society, and in some pagan societies, crime is almost completely unknown.

If the essence of our faith is simply morality or moral behaviour then we are worse off than these pagans. Somewhere in history, people began to think that the only way to define sin was as behaviour that was not consistent with one or another moral code. They forgot that the essence of our Orthodox Christian life is a life in Jesus Christ, a life permeated by the grace of the Holy Spirit. I will assert that no deed has any real moral value unless it proceeds from the heart motivated by love. People began to leave the element of love out of the concept of morality — oh, they did not leave the word out but they did omit the reality — and then even their morality separated them from God, because it was motivated only by fear of law and not by love, and it manifested only a condescending self-righteousness, not a healing co-suffering love. When morality began to replace real struggle to acquire an active life in Christ, it became a heresy. When we struggle to have an active life in Christ we begin to rise above all these questions about morality and begin to do by a new nature those things which are truly (not theoretically) moral. The real question, then, is not: “Does such behaviour follow a moral code; is such behaviour good or is it bad?” Rather the question is:”Does such behaviour somehow separate me from God?”

In English we make a distinction between ethics and morals, because ethics is something that is required in business and (in theory at least) in politics, and is enforced by law. Some hyper religious people think that the government should enforce their concept and doctrine of morality by law also, but in that case, it would cease to be truly moral and would become only a law of social behaviour with no real moral value. It certainly would not serve for the salvation of the person or the transformation of society. In fact, such legislated social ethics may be useful for society, though it is worthless for the salvation of the soul, but it may also be a disastrous repression which will only engender rejection of basic moral precepts and rebellion against them. Many times a person who has perfectly “moral” behaviour becomes very self-righteous and full of judgment about other people, never grasping that such an attitude separates them from God and so it is a sin.

We have to be very careful about how we understand the nature of sin because otherwise we can accuse other people and justify ourselves when really we are the ones who are found in sin, for the act of passing moral judgement and condemning other people is already a sin itself. We realize that we have a paradox and tension about how we must use discretion without judging and condemning people, and we will need to discuss this, but for the moment I simply want to establish that the true meaning of “amartia” or “sin” is any action that separates us from God, no matter how virtuous it may appear. Every action that separates us from God makes us fall short or miss the mark of the destiny for which God created us. This means that a lack of love is a very great sin, but in almost every moral code we do not see the necessity for genuine unselfish love, only for correct behaviour as defined by one or another group of authorities, and usually manipulated or “adjusted” by a power elite. Yet genuine unselfish love is the only thing that can defeat the power of Satan; genuine selfless love is the only thing that can unite us with God.

Our real struggle, then, is to make sure that all of our behaviour, our actions, our choices are motivated by genuine love. Only such a life — a life which is motivated by the struggle to acquire a genuine unselfish, co-suffering love — can be a life in Christ. Therefore only such a life can be truly moral. When we say that we are going to repent, what does it mean? We say “metania” which means to change our direction or to re-think, to think in a different way. This is exactly what the English word “repent” means, to think in a different way and to change our perspective on life.

Often when somebody comes into the church for confession, the confession is short, quick and without any depth of meaning. Many people think that repentance means to think about some specific violation that you committed and apologize for it. They begin to think about sin as just breaking the law, like a traffic violation, and then the priest gives you an “epitimia,” like writing a traffic ticket for going too fast. We pay the fine or apologize for the deed and this supposedly propitiates God’s anger. This is a totally false perception, however, because repentance, or “metania,” means to change your whole way of looking at things, to reverse your perspective. When we focus on individual events or deeds that we do in life, this is not repentance. It is good that we apologize because we did something wrong, but repentance means to try to change ourselves in such a way that we do not do those things any more because of the growing love within us. When we desire to change our way of thinking and our perspective, what we really try to do is to turn our lives away from selfishness and toward unselfish love. If we obey God only because we fear Him then we are not repenting because we committed a sin, we are repenting because we cannot get away with it. This is perhaps useful in the beginning, as a training technique, but not for mature Christians.

We repent because our hearts feel heavy that we sinned against the love of God. Saint Abba Isaac the Syrian (and I think also Saint Ephraim) tells us that “no sin is so great as the sin against love. “Perhaps the greatest fire in hell for those people who are separated from God is the realization that they sinned against such great, all encompassing and pure love. There is one line from a poem by a poet that I admire very much. She says,”O Lord, if I love Thee because of the fear of hell, may I burn in hell; O Lord, if I love Thee only for the hope of Heaven, may I be deprived of Heaven; but O Lord, if I love Thee for Thyself, let me not be deprived of Thy glory.” That always has a great meaning for me because I realize when we start toward our life in Christ, we may repent out of fear, we may repent because we are afraid that we will not be in the Heavenly Kingdom, but when we become mature Christians we should repent because we love Jesus Christ for Himself, not from fear of loss or hope of gain. Our Lord says the same thing. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.

It is easy to try not to offend somebody who can do you some great hurt. It is easy to have the pretence of love for someone who can give you a great reward. But when your love truly responds to the love of Jesus Christ, then you love Jesus Christ because of Himself. Then you repent because you hurt somebody that you love very much, and you repent because you might be otherwise separated from that person you love so much. This is the point to which mature Christians must come. Saint Abba Anthony the Great in one of the ikons says on the scroll in his hand: “I used to fear God but now I love Him.” Because we fear the unknown when we do not know God it is easier to be completely afraid of Him. But we know God through Jesus Christ, and the more that we know our Lord Jesus Christ the more we begin to love Him. Then we begin to truly love God with our heart and fear passes away and it is replaced by love. The greatest sin of all is to not love. Nothing so completely separates us from God as to be empty of love.

We can display perfectly moral behaviour for many reasons. We can display this kind of morality simply because we have a hardness of heart, but it is a completely false morality. We can display completely moral behaviour because we are selfish. We find people who keep their virginity for their whole life only because they are too selfish to share themselves with anyone else. We find people who display a perfect and moral behaviour because they have political ambitions and want to make their political career easier. We find people who display perfectly moral behaviour only because they are filled with fear and insecurity. When we learn to behave ourselves in a way that we consider to be completely moral because we truly love our Lord Jesus Christ and we love our neighbours and we do not want to hurt or cause pain to somebody, then we become truly moral people. Perfect holiness consists, as Saint Antony Khrapovitsky says, in perfect love, not in correct behaviour.

When I first saw the teaching about the “telonia” (“aerial toll-houses”) what I found extremely disturbing about it was that there was no “telonia” that asked about love. There was nothing that asked about the quality of love, about unselfish love for our neighbours. There was nothing that asked about the purity of our love for Jesus Christ. Salvation and entry into the Heavenly Kingdom depend upon unselfish love and the moral manifestations of that love, not upon obedience of some moral laws or codes, some theoretical morality. So I understood that there was something terribly wrong with this idea and that it had to be a false teaching. This is the great misunderstanding and moral fascism that so many people and so many of the brotherhoods have tried to impose upon us, and think that in this way they will force people into salvation. In truth, a soul that has been illumined by the grace of the Holy Spirit is a soul that has perceived that the mystery of redemption is the mystery of co-suffering love, and the only way to bring ourselves close to our Lord Jesus Christ is to struggle to acquire such love ourselves.

Now I am going to ask if anybody has questions about what we have discussed so far.

QUESTION:

Often, someone who belongs to the Church and lives the faith becomes acquainted with and develops a relationship with a person who is outside of the Church, and although that person may have respect for the faith, he or she has not been taught the basics of Christian life. In this case the question arises that when these two people truly love each other and are seriously thinking of getting married to each other, they face the problem of sexual relationships between them even before marriage. This is especially the case when one of them does not really understand the reasons why they should not enter into sexual relationships before the Church crowns the marriage. So can you comment on this difficult situation?

REPLY:

If I do not give you a much longer reply than you expect, and cover more aspects of the question than might seem necessary, I will not truly have answered your question. Far too often, questions like this are answered with some unsatifying moralism or the notion that incorrect behaviour irritates God. Such “answeres” are not anweres at all, they are merely solgans. So I ask you to bear with me while we discuss this question from a greater perspective.

True morality is not the same as “moralism,” and it is not just a set of rules. We cannot say that something “is moral because it pleases God, and immoral because it makes Him angry.” This is not the meaning of morality, and it is also false. Morality is practical, not abstract. The Law of God is given to us in order to protect us and save us from destruction, not in order to assuage some fetishes or peeves that God might have. Let me give you a generalized rule about things that are moral and things that are immoral. If you will examine the Orthodox teaching about this, in general you will find that those things which we consider moral involve unselfishness and a turning away from self centred motivations. Things that we consider to me immoral generally have a selfish nature to them, involving self gratification and self centred attitudes. Some kinds of behaviour may be considered immoral if they undermine or contradict the revelation and prophecy about redemption or undermine our relationship with God and neighbour.

In this context, let us say something about sexual morality in general. Unfortunately we seldom learn anything from history even though we study it. We certainly have enough experience in human history to tell us that our sexuality must be exercised with discipline and self-control. Sex and death are very closely related to each other. I will explain that a little better later but first I want to say something about having self control and discipline in sexual matters.

Often this question is dealt with in an unconvincing dry moralistic way and with a sense of heavy handed legalism and repression about it. With all the terrible sexually transmitted diseases now, people understand the danger and they also understand that having random sex can kill you and in a very unpleasant and tragic way, but this is not the only reason that we need to have self-discipline and control in sexual matters.

Sex is a powerful force. It can destroy individuals and it can destroy whole cultures and societies, so when we talk about discipline and self-control in sexual matters we are really talking about something practical. We are talking about how to preserve ourselves so that we can have some real feelings and real love in life. You are all aware that sometimes men do violent things to women in relation to sex and that there are some people who sexually abuse children and then murder them. Hurting someone badly and exercising power over them is an expression of sexual passions. For people who have developed such passions, killing somebody is the ultimate sexual thrill. Many of you will never encounter one of the sorrowful realities of our era, but I am going to mention it in order to demonstrate a point. Sex has been elevated almost to a religion in the past thirty years. This reminds us of some of the terrible idolatries of the ancient world, and also of the sad, cruel and empty lives of the late Romans. In every era in which sexual gratification has become a dominate theme in life, this has been accompanied by an almost neurotic self-centredness, new manifestations of cruelty and a frenzied, but hopeless, quest for happiness. As we near the end of this century, we see people so saturated by this passion that they begin with “sex games” that include roll-playing such as bondage and the infliction of pain. This is because the normal use of sex, and the ideas of self-control and moderation have been abandoned. The most fundamental concepts of true morality unselfish love and the care and compassion for others have been lost. People who become extremely sexual in their lives also become cruel and this is why we have these terrible sex crimes. [1]

At the same time, sexual repression can create the same results. Many violent sex criminals have been psychiatrically deranged by deeply repressed sexuality. Discipline and self-control must not be mistaken for repression. Undisciplined sexuality can lead to a kind of passion or desire that is like a pit that has no bottom and can never be filled. Self-control and self-discipline are necessary against such a very powerful force, but repression is just as dangerous and can lead to as much sexual violence than lack of discipline.

When young people begin to have sexual relations at a very early age, first of all sex can easily become an addiction. The other thing is that you can also become dry and mechanical in sexual relations after a few years, and in such a case your desires can never be fulfilled. I have seen many people in their forties and fifties who had become addicted to sex at a very young age and because they built up these desires that can never actually be fulfilled, no matter how many times they experience sexual relations they remained unfulfilled and eventually, they become bitter and malicious. Even among young people, however, excessive sex can make them cold and uncaring and distort their personalities.

Another aspect of why we need to have self-control and discipline in sexual matters, and the more direct answer to your question of why we should avoid living together without the blessing of the Church, concerns the true meaning of marriage. I have heard many times that when someone is explaining to people why you should not have sexual relations before their marriage is crowned, they present it as if the crowning of a marriage is simply a licence to have sexual relations. They suggest that before the crowns are set on your heads sex is a sin but afterwards it is no longer a sin. Our perverted Augustinians, on the other hand, teach that even after the crowning your sexual relations are still a sin (although only a “venial” one).

In the first place God created male and female so that He could give us a revelation about salvation and redemption. The Old Testament covenant between God and Israel was not a legal agreement but a spousal relationship, a marital relationship; the New Testament new covenant is exactly the same. Marriage is a revelation about the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Church, it [marriage] is a growing bond of love that has a definite commit­ment to it. This is why we often tell young people that nobody really “falls in love.” After a couple is married for about five years they begin to discover the actual meaning of love.

In the beginning you like somebody very much and you have a strong sexual attraction to the person. People often think that this is love, but it is not. It is a natural physical attraction and when you like somebody and consider them a friend then there is a basis for a relationship, but this is only the beginning. When you begin to live a genuine married life together, you commence to grow in such a way that you begin to discover what love really is. It happens that after about five years of marriage the passions begin to cool, and this is partly because one is getting a bit older and settling into the routine of life. It is at this time that many marriages break up and fall apart. This is because they are based on the passions and not genuine love.

When a married couple comes to the fifth year or a little after and the passions are not so demanding, they begin then to discover the true meaning of love. For one thing, after about five years you have learned most of the things that are wrong with the other person, and you have learned that you love them without thinking about all the things that are wrong. In the same way, Jesus Christ loves us even though He knows all the things that are wrong with us. After this initial period of marriage, you continue to grow in a deeper and more profound and more spiritual love for one another, and this is the same way that we grow in our love relation with Jesus Christ. Our faith and our love are always a growth situation; they never come to us all at once. The commitment that we make in marriage is of a different order than the relationship between two people who just make a private decision to live together withou marriage. When we violate the proper order about marriage it is not simply something that is not moral, it is also a corruption of the faith and of God = s revelation; and as such, it distorts and twists the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. So there is also something very practical about this. What is this revelation?

God has given you the privilege of being a living revelation, and you yourselves can become holy prophets through marriage, in that the woman reveals the nature of the Church and the husband reveals the relationship of Jesus Christ with the Church, you begin to understand the mystery of human gender and the true mystery of love. When you enter into a marriage properly by having it crowned with the grace of the Holy Spirit, you become a form of revelation yourself. A truly Christian marriage is a form of the Gospel, and the spouses become holy prophets not only to their own children and to each other but to the world around them. In a marriage crowned by the Holy Spirit, husband and wife reveal the nature of the relationship between Jesus Christ and His Church. We are, therefore, not just dealing with a type moral question and moral problem; we are dealing with the very revelation of redemption itself. All these things have to be said when you are explaining to some couple why they should not violate the proper order of marriage and have sexual relations before their crowning or live together without the intention of making the spiritual commitment of having their marriage crowned in Church by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

In the case of one partner who either is not a believer or who does not understand the need for a proper marriage, the one who believes and the one who cares is going to be responsible for maintaining the relationship in proper order.

[1] I am not discounting the real psychiatric illnesses that cause these actions which are not “developed” in a person. I am very suspicious of the “nurture and environment only” schools of psychology which allow sex criminals out of prison on “day leave” or “monitored parole.” Most violent sex criminals have deep-seated and genuine psychiatric problems which makes it difficult to accept “nurture and environment” schools of “rehabilitation.” Most, if not all, of these people should be permanently incarcerated.

QUESTION:

Is it necessary to go into great detail when we try to explain this to people.

REPLY:

We have to approach the matter from these practical and coherently spiritual points of view and not simply talk about “bad-good, naughty-nice.” All of human existence is a divine mystery and everything we are called upon to do by our Lord Jesus Christ, by God, is a revelation and part of the mystery of redemption. No question is simply resolved by questions of morality or rules of proper behaviour. One of the great tragedies for most people in this world is that life has no genuine meaning for them. Sometimes even the idea of morality destroys meaning, and it is true that often “morality” itself is a heresy because it becomes a substitute for a life in Christ, and because it destroys people = s understanding of the true meaning of life and reduces it from being a sacred mystery to being a set of rules and laws.

QUESTION:

How does one avoid the horns of the following dilemma? Jesus Christ is God, the Son incarnate, and God cannot sin. On the other hand, Hebrews 4:15 notes that Christ was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” It is unthinkable that God Himself can be tempted to sin, but it is also distressing to think that all the New Testament’s passages speaking of Christ’s temptations do not mean what they say. Also, it does not make sense to me to think that Christ was not tempted, only His human nature was. It seems that the observation of St Cyril of Alexandria that only a person, not a nature, can be born, applies here as well: can be tempted to sin. Please help me with my dilemma.

REPLY:

Thank your for your question. The solution lies partly in a correct understanding of the word “temptation.” We usually take the word for granted as only meaning to be lured into sin in the hope of pleasure. This understanding deprives the word “tempt” of much of its meaning. The meaning of the word is similar to “tempering” steel or iron. If you make an axe or knife blade on a forge, you must tempt the blade in order to make it stronger. Untempered blades are not strong and are subject to chipping and becoming dull quickly.

In the English versions of the Scripture there are a number of words translated as “temptation.” The Hebrew / nasha / , which occurs at, for example, Genesis 22:1, Numbers 14:22, etc., indicates a /trying and proving/. It can be negative (as in the saying, “he tries my patience”) or not negative (as in, “he went through a trying experience and was proved strong and patient”). At Malachi 3:15, we encounter the word / bakhan / , which has the connotation of / testing / in a negative way. In the New Testament, when Apostle James says that God cannot be tempted by sin, he uses the word / apeirastos / , which has more the connotation of either becoming exasperated and responding in a sinful way or of being lured into a sinful passion.

In Hebrews 4:15, the specific instance you ask about, the Apostle uses the word / peirazo / which is similar to the Hebrew / nasha / , and indicates being tried and proved. Here, the meaning is that Christ co-suffered with our struggle in this life. It means that He willingly felt the pain, sorrow and suffering that we feel in our passage through this life. Temptation does not have to do only with “sin.” It has to do with all the things in life that cause us sorrow and struggle. It is important to remember that our redemption is accomplished by the co-suffering love of God with man, not by some juridical action. Had Christ not endured our sufferings, He could not have actually co-suffered with us. Let us recall that “passion” does not mean “sin.” It means “suffering.” Human passions include those blameless passions of hunger, loneliness, etc. We speak of the “twelve passion Gospels” and the passions of Christ, even Passion Week (Holy Week) for the week of Christ’s most intense sufferings for us. In all but one of the instances in the book of Hebrews where the word “temptation” is used in the English versions, / peirazo / is the word that occurs in the Greek. It is particularly important to understand this at Hebrews 11:37, where the word is being used about the martyrs and their martyrdom. Remember that Christ is the universal martyr, being willingly martyred because of His co-suffering love for us. In some instances / peirazo / can appear to have a strongly negative connotation, but actually, it must be understood in the context of enduring trials and tribulations, enduring the struggle and sufferings of human life, and being proved.

would God lead us into temptation, and if so, why? After all, Apostle James (1:13) says that “no one should say `God is tempting me,'” and “…nor does He tempt anyone.” How does this accord with the words of the Lord’s Prayer, where we ask God not to lead us into temptation? But again, James says, /”consider it a joy when you fall into temptation”/ (1:2). Why? “Because you know that tempting leads to perseverance” (1:3). This takes us back to our first paragraph about the knife and axe blades. Untempered steel is worthless. Such a blade will not be useful for splitting firewood or cutting. Untempted faith will be just as weak and brittle. James uses the word / peirasmos / here, which is also the word translated as “temptation” in the Lord’s Prayer. I cannot take the space to discuss the Lord’s Prayer here. A discussion of this prayer if found elsewhere on our website. We must observe, however, that in the context of Hebrews 4:15 as in 11:37, temptation and “being tempted” are related to martyrdom, to trying and proving. What Paul says at 4:15 is that Christ endured our struggles and suffering in this life but He conquered all of them for us. Nevertheless, He felt our pain, suffering and sorrow voluntarily, being martyred for our sakes. His martyrdom refers to our whole person: He, being God, had no necessity of enduring any of our humiliation and struggle, nor our death. He became fully human and accepted this voluntarily. We also are under no compulsion to be martyred for His sake, yet the holy martyrs accepted this voluntarily, from love for Christ, rather than renounce Him. They could do this because of faith, a faith which was tempered and proved.

QUESTION:

I recently read in a book about religion and science that all elementary particles are made up of three “quarks.” The author suggested that this was an analogy of the Holy Trinity, and that the truth of the Holy Trinity was revealed in this scientific fact. I wondered if you had heard of this fact.

REPLY:

So far as I know, Augustine of Hippo was the originator of the heresy of making analogies between God and nature. This heresy was condemned by the Orthodox Church when John Italos tried to introduce it in Constantinople in about A.D. 1050.

It is a rather treacherous thing to make such analogies in any case. In the first place, it is simply not true that all elementary particles are made up of three quarks. Quarks are elementary particles. Electrons, being elementary particles, are not made up of quarks at all. In fact, baryons (a category of hadrons) are made up of three quarks. Mesons (another category of hadrons) are made up of only two quarks. Protons and neutrons, which are not elementary particles (more likely, energy clouds), are made up of three quarks. Whenever we begin to make such analogies, we risk completely destroying our argument about the dialogue between science and theology. One may see something that appears to resonate with some doctrine of the faith, lock onto it and assert that it somehow is an analogy of the divine in some way. The created cannot be an analogy of the uncreated. In this case, you see, the entire assertion collapses because it is simply not true. One must realise also that the description of particles are metaphorical, not concrete. For example, a Delta particle is made up of something quite unusual. It is made up of three “up” quarks with identical degrees of “spin.” This is something that is not really possible. The solution to this puzzle is to assign some different degrees of freedom to the quarks in order to explain how they can co-habit in the same “particle.” These three degrees of freedom were whimsically named “colour.” Consequently, when one hears of a red, blue and green quark, the colours themselves mean absolutely nothing. They are metaphors for some state which is as yet not well known. It is always a serious error to read metaphor as if it were a concrete statement. Above all, it is very treacherous ground to walk upon when one desires to make analogies between the divine and the created.

 

QUESTION:

The controversy over Metropolitan Antony’s Revision of the Cathechism. What are some of the points in St Philaret’s revision of the Old Russian Cathechism that Metropolitan Antony objected to?

ANSWER:

There was a considerable amount of scholasticism still in the new revision of the catechism made by St. Philaret. For example, the doctrine of Predestination appears in the discussion of the first part of the Symbol of Faith, as I recall, in Q.47-42. Salvation my the supererogatory merits of Christ is an idea that is also found in St. Philaret’s revision of the catechism. The teaching about redemption follows the pattern of the Latins, rather than arising from a careful study of the holy fathers. The were the main issues that Metropolitan Antony had with St. Philaret’s revision of the catechism. There is also the point that Vladika Antony wanted to make the catechism more applicable to daily life so that it would have some genuine value in the daily moral struggle of the faithful, whereas catechisms by their very nature are dry and lifeless.

QUESTION: THE LETTER THAT FELL FROM HEAVEN.

I have come across a so called “letter that fell from heaven,” in Greek. A lot of people take it seriously. Can you tell me anything about it?

REPLY:

There have been a number of this sort of thing over the centuries. I have ascertained from you that you are speaking about the one that warns that if people continue to break the Sabbath, God will send wild beasts to eat their children, and other miscellaneous unpleasantries. True, like the “aerial toll houses,” a lot of people claim to take it seriously, but to nothing at all to change their way of life, kept the Sabbath any better, or follow a more diligent spiritual life. Every year, we receive around 100 enquiries about “the letter that fell from heaven.” Indeed, there was just a discussion of it raised a one of my Meleti (spiritual talks). In the past, some Romanians, Greeks and Serbs have even asked us to translate and publish “this extremely important letter that God sent from heaven.” It has appeared in every language in Eastern Europe, and is published, sponsored and distributed from Mount Athos. Some of you may have encountered it, others may not have encountered it yet, but sooner or later you will. Before telling you exactly where this document originated, let me give you the usual (though not consistent) story of its origin (i.e., the one that is about the Sabbath, there are a host of others).

“A pious priest saw a stone fall from heaven. Realising that it must have some great significance, he took it to the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Elias. Patriarch Elias place the stone on the Holy Table and during Vespers it popped open. Inside was a letter from God. The letter warned that if people did not keep the Sabbath, bad things would happen. `Earthquakes, famine, fire, locusts, ravens, mice, hailstorms and numerous ward. I have sent all this to you because you have not kept the Sabbath holy. Since you will not hearken to the words of my voice, I will send you much pain and trouble, and allow wild animals to devour your children. I swear to you by My right hand, by My divine power and greatness, that I will completely wipe you out if you not keep the Sabbath….’ “This warning is sent to all so that they might hear the threats of the Lord God and begin to keep the Sabbath, and all the other things that are commanded, and so escape from the horrible wrath of God..”

And this comes from the people who give us the Gnostic myth of the Aerial Toll Houses as if it was a dogma of the faith. Now, let us see exactly where this “document” actually did come from. During the Middle Ages, and particularly following the Black Plague, self-flagellation became popular among monks and nuns in Western Europe. Indeed, flagellation was the source of many of the “spiritual ecstasies” claimed by Western saints. This is reasonable since flagellation is a form of masturbation. It very quickly becomes a form of sexual addiction. There are many contemporary accounts of the ecstasies aroused by flagellation, especially among nuns. Often, monks would flagellate themselves into a trance and, wounded and bleeding, begin to proclaim revelations they thought they had received from God. A chronicler in Strasbourg left us the message above, which was delivered by a mendicant monk, dripping with the blood of his flagellation, in 1349. It is this message that somehow found its way to Mount Athos and was re-labelled as “The Letter that fell from heaven.”

QUESTION:

Vladika, you have spoken and written many times about the last words of the Lord’s Prayer. You have argued that we need to restore the original wording in English to “deliver us from the evil-one,” rather than the Protestant translation, “deliver us from evil.” Can you give us a significant patristic text one the actual meaning of the last word of the prayer.

REPLY:

FIFTH HOMILY ON THE LORD’S PRAYER

by St. Gregory of Nyssa

Part VII (on Lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil-one.)

With the following what is it that Christ wishes to add to all that He has said? I regard it imperative that we likewise not leave this unexamined for, knowing to Whom it is that we pray, we ought to present our entreaty with our soul and not [only] with our lips. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (Gr. poneros, gen. ponerou).”

My Brethren, what is the force of these words? It seems to me that the Lord names the evil one in many varying and differing ways according to his evil operations [lit. energies]. Thus, He calls him the “devil” (diabolos–false accuser), “Beelzebub,” Mammon,” “prince of this world,” “man killer,” “evil one,” “father of lies,” and other similar names. Perhaps, then, another name for him is also “temptation” (Gr. peirasmos). And our understanding of it is confirmed by the composition of the words because, while saying “Lead us not into temptation,” He adds, “but deliver us from the evil one.” For, by both names, [“temptation” and “evil one”] it is he, the same one [the devil], who is indicated. So, if a man has not entered into [given in to] temptation, he is external to {distant from] the evil one. And one who has gone into [given in to] temptation has necessarily put himself into [the will of] the evil one. Therefore, “temptation” and “evil one” mean one and the same thing.

And what does this teaching in the Prayer command that we do? To withdraw ourselves from the things that are regarded as important by this world. For, as He said elsewhere to His disciples, “The whole world abideth in the evil one.” Therefore, he who wishes to be far from the evil one, must necessarily distance himself from the world. For temptation has no way to touch the soul except by casting its evil hook baited with worldly preoccupations for the greedy. We can make this clearer with other examples of the meaning: Often the sea poses dangers because of tempests, but not to those who dwell far away from it. Fire is destructive, but only of what falls into it. War is terrible, but only for those who take part in battle. He who hates the tribulations of war prays that he not be caught up in it. He who fears fire prays that he not fall into it. He who trembles at the sight of the sea prays that he never have need to travel by sea. In like manner, he who fears the evil one’s attack prays not to find himself in it. But because we said previously that the Lord says the world abides in the evil one, and opportunities for temptation are hidden in worldly cares, he who prays that he be delivered [w/the sense of preserved, saved or protected] from the evil one also entreats that he be kept far from temptations. For no one swallows the hook unless he gluttonously gulps down the bait. Let us arise, too, and say unto God, ”Lead us not into temptation,” that is, into life’s tribulations, “but deliver us from the evil one” who holds the power of this world. May we be delivered from him by the grace of Christ, for to Him belongs the power and the glory, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Translated from the Greek by Dr. George S. Gabriel

 

QUESTION:

I see that the teaching of the “aerial toll houses” is still being circulated in some circles. While the teaching is disturbing in itself, you once said that it contains many heresies. Can you enumerate some of these for us?

REPLY:

The Toll House myth is an ongoing question, and it will be so long as those who blindly believe in it do not look at the actual, well enunciated doctrines of the faith that it contradicts. They follow it blindly a collection of disconnected and unconvincing “proof texts,” and never once take into consideration the manner in which their interpretations of them form clearly heretical teachings, heresies already long ago condemned by the holy fathers and the Councils of the Orthodox Church. The matter is only made worse by the way in which the Gnostic Order of MANS/Christ the Saviour Brotherhood has hi-jacked the life and works of the late Fr. Seraphim Rose. Fr. Seraphim was true ascetic and spiritual struggler who diligently sought to lead a God-pleasing life. One must honour that and have reverence for it. His theology, however, was so often unsober, based on theosophical presuppositions and ill-informed. This is why at one point, he drifted into Gnosticism and at another into neo-Nestorianism and Monophysitism without ever being aware of it. The Order of MANS/Christ the Saviour Brotherhood was attracted to this errors because they are a Gnostic order. They are using their own version of Fr. Seraphim’s noble life in order to do what Gnostics have done since time immemorial in their war against the Orthodox faith: they use Fr. Seraphim as a front to insinuate their “secret knowledge” and arcane doctrines into the Orthodox Church. This is why they have infiltrated more than one jurisdiction, in order to find the weakest link so that they can forge their “gnosis” into the chain. They are more successful at this in those places where the remnants of Bogomilism and Paulicianism are the most strong.

Another unfortunate tendency that facilitates both Scholasticism and Gnosticism is the habit of naming practically every 19th and 20th century saint a “father of the Church.” In fact, many of the most venerable saints of those two centuries had very poor theology because they were educated in a heavily scholastic seminary system. The fact that many of their teachings do not accord with the consensus of the holy fathers seems not to be evident to many. One is not a “father of the Church” unless his teachings are in accord with the ancient fathers. Thus, one finds the teaching of soul/body dualism in many 19th century writings, even though such a teaching was condemned by every one of the holy fathers who ever wrote against Gnosticm. One finds a teaching that souls can be judged and sent to hell or be in “heaven” before the general resurrection and the reunion of body and soul, although such a teaching was condemned by many of the holy fathers (the Orthodox Christian teaching on this subject was beautifully summarised by St. Mark of Ephesus in his replies to the Cardinals and refutations of purgatory at the False Council of Florence). These condemned Gnostic heresies are all taught quite clearly in the myth of the aerial tollhouses. Indeed, if one excised these heresies from the toll house doctrine, nothing would be left of it. When we find that the holy fathers tell us that the conscience is our ONLY judge, and that the particular or “partial” judgment consists solely in the soul becoming aware of its destiny (since the intellect remains with the soul after death) and nothing else, we see that the myth or doctrine of the aerial toll houses is a very grave heresy indeed. While its followers seek to justify it on the basis of some disconnected ascetical proof texts, the sound doctrine of the Church and the doctrines of the holy fathers completely refute it.

If you wish to study the heresies not merely implicit, but fundamentally present, in the heresy (let us call it by its proper name) of the aerial toll houses, we have published examinations of them in both THE TOLL HOUSE MYTH and THE SOUL, THE BODY AND DEATH, as well as in Rev. Dr. George Papademetiou’s ON THE NATURE OF MAN. These may all be ordered from the Synaxis Press website.

Question:

You mentioned in an earlier article that the Shroud of Turin in fake. I wondered if you had seen the report in the book PHYSICS AND CHRISTIANITY the information that there is no human DNA on the Shroud of Turin. So you are correct that the Shroud is fake.

Reply:

This is true. There is no human DNA in the image of the Shroud. So far as I know, there is no animal DNA of any kind, although if real blood occurred on the fake Shroud, it would likely have been chicken blood. It seems that not even that is there. The so-called Shroud of Turin is simply a mediaeval fake.

QUESTION:

The question about Augustine of Hippo has arisen recently. I have read in several places that Augustine has never been considered a Saint or Church father of the Orthodox Church, and yet I hear some people in the Orthodox Church referring to him as Saint Augustine. So I’m curious to know – is he actually considered a Saint of the Orthodox Church or not?

Reply:

For sixteen hundred years the Orthodox Church has never considered Augustine to be either a Saint or father of the Church. Suddenly, in the 20th century an extremist Greek brotherhood decided to place him on the Church calendar, thinking that the Church had made a mistake over all those centuries, and that they needed to correct the Orthodox Church. Adding Augustine to the Orthodox Church calendar in order to try to correct the holy fathers in the Church certainly appealed to Ecumenists and to some converts who could not leave their Latin and Protestant “baggage” behind. However, many of us have preferred to trust the judgment of the Orthodox Church and the consensus of the holy fathers who did not cite Augustine as a father or saint of the Church. While those who favour Augustine can certainly find a few proof-texts in the writings of one or two of the fathers to try to list Augustine as a Saint of the Church or even a holy father, we are unconvinced. One or two of the fathers, seeing Augustine listed as being in attendance at the First Ecumenical Council, may have referred to him as a saint, because all the fathers of the First Ecumenical Council are listed that way. However, while Augustine was listed because he had been invited, he was not present at the council, having died before it convened. Nicodemos the Agiorite may have been the one most responsible for Augustine being called a saint, but then Nicodemos was also responsible for introducing Roman Catholic spirituality into the Orthodox Church with his translation of the Latin text called, in Greek, “Unseen Warfare,” and many of his writing a laced with Roman Catholic concepts that do not belong in the Orthodox Church. We cannot accept the notion that the Orthodox Church and the consensus of the fathers who intentionally omitted Augustine were in error for sixteen centuries and needed to be corrected in our rather “un-sober” 19th -20th centuries, the Protestant-style proof-texting of some notwithstanding.

Augustine was directly responsible for some of the most grievous heresies in Western Christianity; thus it would seem that the Holy Spirit knew what He was doing by inspiring the Church to leave Augustine out of the Church calendar for all of those sixteen hundred years. Augustine was a neo-Platonist. He interpreted Scripture from an erroneous translation, and introduced both neo-Platonist and Gnostic concepts and doctrines into his writings and these passed directly into Western Christian teachings. It was largely the teachings of Augustine which made the Great Schism inevitable. This only adds to our reticents to believe that the Orthodox Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, was in error for over 1600 years by not considering Augustine to be a saint or holy father.

We find the Protestant-style proof-texts (and very scant proof texts at that) or attempts to correct the Holy Church completely unconvincing. Anyone interested in pursuing the matter further may obtain the book Augustine and the Orthodox Church from Synaxis Press (see www.synaxispress.com)

QUESTION:

Every year at Pascha, a discussion of the Shroud of Turin comes up and there are always debates about it. I would like to ask what your view is about the Shroud of Turin?

REPLY:

I have written a great deal about it in the past, and I don’t want to repeat everything. So let me just give you four points to remember. Number one: nowhere in the tradition of the Orthodox Church does such a shroud exist. Number two: the image on the shroud in no way matches the description given of Christ at the Third Ecumenical Council with the words “It has come down to us from those who knew Christ personally”.

Third and perhaps most direct of all, unless the Scripture is in serious error, the face of Christ could not possibly have appeared on such a shroud, because Scripture tells us that the face of Christ was covered by a completely separate cloth and that this cloth was found in the Tomb completely separate from the winding sheet in which Christ’s Body had been wound when it was placed in the Tomb. His face never touched the winding sheet, nor did the winding sheet cover His face or come in contact with it. Consequently, it is impossible that His face would have appeared on an authentic “shroud.”

Fourth, Christ was buried in a winding sheet, not a flat cloth shroud. The binding around the winding sheet, as the winding itself, would have left only a very distorted image. I think one should accept that the way the winding sheet is presented in proper Orthodox icons is correct.

It would be better to trust the tradition of the Church, rather than the fantasies of those whose weak faith needs such props.

QUESTION:

Vladika Lazar – I’m confused by an Orthodox book I recently read. I think it was originally published in Greece and then translated into English. According to this book, all cases of clinical depression are demonic possessions. That means that we should not seek the help of a psychiatrist for clinical depression, but just have some spiritual father serve exorcisms or prayers for us. I would like to hear what you have to say about it.

REPLY:

People who write such things are quite dangerous, and their guilt is even greater if they are people in positions of authority. When someone commits suicide because such a teaching has convinced them not to seek medical intervention, then the person who wrote the book could be guilty of, at the very least, negligent homicide. It would be helpful if such a victim’s family would sue the perpetrator of this mythology for causing the wrongful death. In deed, I would like to encourage the families of all victims of such false notions to sue any clergy who perpetrate them. I recall that a few years ago, a psychologist in British Columbia convinced a young woman known to us that her schizophrenia was demonic possession and that, if she really believed in God, she should not take medication, but only pray. The young woman stopped her medication, and within two weeks, committed suicide. It is unfortunate that her parents did not sue the psychologist in order to stop him from causing more harm. Clergy who give such advice should also be subject to legal penalties.

I will not discuss other forms of illness, but since you asked specifically about clinical depression let us look at that for a moment. While prayer is obviously very helpful, if clinical depression is not treated medically there are negative results. Because of the effect of glucocorticoids on the hippocampi region of the brain, untreated depression causes these brain structures to atrophy. This atrophy of the hippocampi is not reversible. Stress related atrophy in these organs is usually reversible, atrophy related to untreated clinical depression is not. That fact alone indicates that a clergyman who teaches that all depressions are demonic is guilty of gross negligence.

Clinical depressions are caused by chemical or structural functions in the brain. Among the most prevalent is the excessively fast uptake of the neuro-transmitter serotonin. This condition can be treated medically with considerable success. One can say the same of a host of psychiatric disorders. Many can be treated with medications which offer a re-balance. Parkinsons Disease, for example, is a mental disorder because it is caused by problems with a brain chemical (dopamine). Because its effects are primarily physical (except for a susceptibility to minor paranoia) it is seldom thought of as a mental disorder. Bi-polar (manic-depression) disorder is caused by a problem in the lithium balance. If such conditions were demonic possessions, medications would offer no benefits at all, nor would they be traceable to chemical imbalances, heredity or viral infections (as is sometimes the case).

Prayer certainly helps everyone, but clinical depressions require medical intervention. Convincing a person that their condition is demonic may not only lead them to not take medication, but can make their condition much worse and incline them to suicide. Should the family of such a victim care to, they could also make a solid case for a “wrongful death” lawsuit. I can only wish that more families would take this action in order to prevent other such disasters.

Vladika Lazar.

QUESTION:

We recently read a book that advocates ‘self-actualization’ and ‘self-transformation’ and ’empowerment’ by the use of a mixture of Taoism, Buddhism and snippets of Orthodox Christianity. The book is offered as if it was an Orthodox text. Can you comment.

REPLY:

The Temptations on the Mount incident is a revelation about Antichrist. In all three temptation, Christ is tempted by Satan with different kinds of worldly power. He rejects them all, though Antichrist will actively seek them all. Christ did not demonstrate power, but lawful authority. He had, as Scripture mentions, authority over unclean spirits, the elements of nature, etc. Those who rejected Him did so in part because they understood only worldly power, and not spiritual authority. Lawful authority can come from God, power is always from the devil. We do not seek any sort of power, but rather we seek humble repentance and the healing energy of Divine Grace. When Paul says that if he must boast, he will boast in the things of his infirmity. Why? Because his boast is not in any strength or power of his own, but rather in the Holy Spirit and in Christ Jesus.

Moreover, the Church does indeed have its own path to inner peace and transformation, and this involves coming into accord with one’s own conscience. We have a process for dealing with inner human suffering, and that is prayer, and most especially the Jesus Prayer focused on our passions, especially the ones we suffer from the most. Without the healing of the passions through divine grace and the acquisition of a clear conscience, there can be no actual peace within and most certainly no inner transformation. The kingdom of heaven is not within you because you have been “self-actualised,” but because you have come before Christ in humble repentance, received His forgiveness and been reconciled with God and your conscience through divine grace. To seek self-actualisation is to drink once more of the venom of Eden and to recapitulate the very cause of the fall of mankind. To seek spiritual advancement in any other way than through humble repentance and prayer for the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit, is to become a toy for the demons and to dance with the devil. Such is clearly the teaching of the Orthodox Church.

In Christ, Vladika Lazar.

QUESTION:

After our Lord was crucified and resurrected, He appeared to numerous persons as explained in the Gospels. Why is it that virtually no one recognized Him when they first encountered Him? Many of the people whom He appeared to had been His followers and disciples yet none of them recognized Him. This leads me to believe that He must have had a radical physical change to His facial appearance. What could have been the reason for this apparent change? I hope you might be able to shed some light on this perplexing question for me. God Bless

REPLY:

Actually, we do not know how many people did not recognise Him. Luke and Cleopas who were on the way to Emmaus evidently did not, and it may have been that Christ purposely prevented them from doing so in order to have the recognise Him “in the breaking of the bread,” as we also do in the Divine Liturgy. It does seem that when Christ appeared in the Upper Room to the gathered disciples, they recognised Him but were confused by it: was this a ghost or the real flesh an blood Jesus? He did finally invite Thomas to “touch and see.” The apostles recognised Him on the shore of the Sea of Galilee; not at first because the distance was perhaps too far, but certainly afterward. One might suspect that Mary of Magdala and the other women would not have recognised him in the dark garden because his appearance was totally unexpected,and they may not have looked directly into His face at first. We have no testimony from the other hundreds who saw Him. One might suspect that the surprise and shock (and fear) at first kept a few from recognising Him. On the other hand, there must have been something tranfigured about His countenance after the Resurrection, to there could have been sufficient change so that, coupled with the fear and shock of seeing Him alive again, He was not immediately recognised. Certainly, His body was the same, although one would surmise that the marks of the torture were no longer there, even though the wounds of the nails and spear were.

I hope that this will help.

In Christ, Vladika Lazar.

QUESTION:

I see that the teaching of the “aerial toll houses” is still being circulated in some circles. While the teaching is disturbing in itself, you once said that it contains many heresies. Can you enumerate some of these for us?

REPLY:

The Toll House myth is an ongoing question, and it will be so long as those who blindly believe in it do not look at the actual, well enunciated doctrines of the faith that it contradicts. They follow it blindly a collection of disconnected and unconvincing “proof texts,” and never once take into consideration the manner in which their interpretations of them form clearly heretical teachings, heresies already long ago condemned by the holy fathers and the Councils of the Orthodox Church. The matter is only made worse by the way in which the Gnostic Order of MANS/Christ the Saviour Brotherhood has hi-jacked the life and works of the late Fr. Seraphim Rose. Fr. Seraphim was true ascetic and spiritual struggler who diligently sought to lead a God-pleasing life. One must honour that and have reverence for it. His theology, however, was so often unsober, based on theosophical presuppositions and ill-informed. This is why at one point, he drifted into Gnosticism and at another into neo-Nestorianism and Monophysitism without ever being aware of it. The Order of MANS/Christ the Saviour Brotherhood was attracted to this errors because they are a Gnostic order. They are using their own version of Fr. Seraphim’s noble life in order to do what Gnostics have done since time immemorial in their war against the Orthodox faith: they use Fr. Seraphim as a front to insinuate their “secret knowledge” and arcane doctrines into the Orthodox Church. This is why they have infiltrated more than one jurisdiction, in order to find the weakest link so that they can forge their “gnosis” into the chain. They are more successful at this in those places where the remnants of Bogomilism and Paulicianism are the most strong.

Another unfortunate tendency that facilitates both Scholasticism and Gnosticism is the habit of naming practically every 19th and 20th century saint a “father of the Church.” In fact, many of the most venerable saints of those two centuries had very poor theology because they were educated in a heavily scholastic seminary system. The fact that many of their teachings do not accord with the consensus of the holy fathers seems not to be evident to many. One is not a “father of the Church” unless his teachings are in accord with the ancient fathers. Thus, one finds the teaching of soul/body dualism in many 19th century writings, even though such a teaching was condemned by every one of the holy fathers who ever wrote against Gnosticm. One finds a teaching that souls can be judged and sent to hell or be in “heaven” before the general resurrection and the reunion of body and soul, although such a teaching was condemned by many of the holy fathers (the Orthodox Christian teaching on this subject was beautifully summarised by St. Mark of Ephesus in his replies to the Cardinals and refutations of purgatory at the False Council of Florence). These condemned Gnostic heresies are all taught quite clearly in the myth of the aerial tollhouses. Indeed, if one excised these heresies from the toll house doctrine, nothing would be left of it. When we find that the holy fathers tell us that the conscience is our ONLY judge, and that the particular or “partial” judgment consists solely in the soul becoming aware of its destiny (since the intellect remains with the soul after death) and nothing else, we see that the myth or doctrine of the aerial toll houses is a very grave heresy indeed. While its followers seek to justify it on the basis of some disconnected ascetical proof texts, the sound doctrine of the Church and the doctrines of the holy fathers completely refute it.

If you wish to study the heresies not merely implicit, but fundamentally present, in the heresy (let us call it by its proper name) of the aerial toll houses, we have published examinations of them in both THE TOLL HOUSE MYTH and THE SOUL, THE BODY AND DEATH, as well as in Rev. Dr. George Papademetiou’s ON THE NATURE OF MAN. These may all be ordered from the Synaxis Press website.

Does this denigrate those teachers and saints in the Church who accepted it without examining it carefully and calling it into question? Not at all. St. Gregory of Nyssa, after all, made the same mistake when he accepted without examination, the heresy of “apokatastasis” from Origen. A great wonderworker like St. Nekatarios of Pentapolis had poor theology, as did St. John the Wonderworker of San Francisco. One of the greatest of the 19th centuries saints and teachers, St. Theophan the Recluse translated many selections of the holy fathers from the corrupted texts published by the Latins in Venice . St. Ignaty Brianchaninov called down the extremely strong censure of St. Theophan for the errors in his work “Homily on Death.” Nevertheless, we have seen great miracles through the prayers of St. Nektarios and St. John of San Francisco. They were educated in the highly scholastic seminary system of their day, and St. John in the spiritually and theologically unsober era of 19th century and early 20th Russia, and we are in no way obliged to accept any of their teachings which are not consistent with those of the ancient fathers of the Church and the great pillars of Orthodoxy such as St. Mark of Ephesus. Being a saint and wonderworker does not necessarily make one a solid theologian or “father of the Church.”

QUESTION:

How does one avoid the horns of the following dilemma? Jesus Christ is God, the Son incarnate, and God cannot sin. On the other hand, Hebrews 4:15 notes that Christ was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” It is unthinkable that God Himself can be tempted to sin, but it is also distressing to think that all the New Testament’s passages speaking of Christ’s temptations do not mean what they say. Also, it does not make sense to me to think that Christ was not tempted, only His human nature was. It seems that the observation of St Cyril of Alexandria that only a person, not a nature, can be born, applies here as well: can be tempted to sin. Please help me with my dilemma.

REPLY:

Thank your for your question. The solution lies partly in a correct understanding of the word “temptation.” We usually take the word for granted as only meaning to be lured into sin in the hope of pleasure. This understanding deprives the word “tempt” of much of its meaning. The meaning of the word is similar to “tempering” steel or iron. If you make an axe or knife blade on a forge, you must tempt the blade in order to make it stronger. Untempered blades are not strong and are subject to chipping and becoming dull quickly.

In the English versions of the Scripture there are a number of words translated as “temptation.” The Hebrew / nasha / , which occurs at, for example, Genesis 22:1, Numbers 14:22, etc., indicates a /trying and proving/. It can be negative (as in the saying, “he tries my patience”) or not negative (as in, “he went through a trying experience and was proved strong and patient”). At Malachi 3:15, we encounter the word / bakhan / , which has the connotation of / testing / in a negative way. In the New Testament, when Apostle James says that God cannot be tempted by sin, he uses the word / apeirastos / , which has more the connotation of either becoming exasperated and responding in a sinful way or of being lured into a sinful passion.

In Hebrews 4:15, the specific instance you ask about, the Apostle uses the word / peirazo / which is similar to the Hebrew / nasha / , and indicates being tried and proved. Here, the meaning is that Christ co-suffered with our struggle in this life. It means that He willingly felt the pain, sorrow and suffering that we feel in our passage through this life. Temptation does not have to do only with “sin.” It has to do with all the things in life that cause us sorrow and struggle. It is important to remember that our redemption is accomplished by the co-suffering love of God with man, not by some juridical action. Had Christ not endured our sufferings, He could not have actually co-suffered with us. Let us recall that “passion” does not mean “sin.” It means “suffering.” Human passions include those blameless passions of hunger, loneliness, etc. We speak of the “twelve passion Gospels” and the passions of Christ, even Passion Week (Holy Week) for the week of Christ’s most intense sufferings for us. In all but one of the instances in the book of Hebrews where the word “temptation” is used in the English versions, / peirazo / is the word that occurs in the Greek. It is particularly important to understand this at Hebrews 11:37, where the word is being used about the martyrs and their martyrdom. Remember that Christ is the universal martyr, being willingly martyred because of His co-suffering love for us. In some instances / peirazo / can appear to have a strongly negative connotation, but actually, it must be understood in the context of enduring trials and tribulations, enduring the struggle and sufferings of human life, and being proved.

In the Lord’s Prayer, there also arises the question, would God lead us into temptation, and if so, why? After all, Apostle James (1:13) says that “no one should say `God is tempting me,'” and “…nor does He tempt anyone.” How does this accord with the words of the Lord’s Prayer, where we ask God not to lead us into temptation? But again, James says, /”consider it a joy when you fall into temptation”/ (1:2). Why? “Because you know that tempting leads to perseverance” (1:3). This takes us back to our first paragraph about the knife and axe blades. Untempered steel is worthless. Such a blade will not be useful for splitting firewood or cutting. Untempted faith will be just as weak and brittle. James uses the word / peirasmos / here, which is also the word translated as “temptation” in the Lord’s Prayer. I cannot take the space to discuss the Lord’s Prayer here. A discussion of this prayer if found elsewhere on our website. We must observe, however, that in the context of Hebrews 4:15 as in 11:37, temptation and “being tempted” are related to martyrdom, to trying and proving. What Paul says at 4:15 is that Christ endured our struggles and suffering in this life but He conquered all of them for us. Nevertheless, He felt our pain, suffering and sorrow voluntarily, being martyred for our sakes. His martyrdom refers to our whole person: He, being God, had no necessity of enduring any of our humiliation and struggle, nor our death. He became fully human and accepted this voluntarily. We also are under no compulsion to be martyred for His sake, yet the holy martyrs accepted this voluntarily, from love for Christ, rather than renounce Him. They could do this because of faith, a faith which was tempered and proved.

QUESTION:

I recently read in a book about religion and science that all elementary particles are made up of three “quarks.” The author suggested that this was an analogy of the Holy Trinity, and that the truth of the Holy Trinity was revealed in this scientific fact. I wondered if you had heard of this fact.

REPLY:

So far as I know, Augustine of Hippo was the originator of the heresy of making analogies between God and nature. This heresy was condemned by the Orthodox Church when John Italos tried to introduce it in Constantinople in about A.D. 1050.

It is a rather treacherous thing to make such analogies in any case. In the first place, it is simply not true that all elementary particles are made up of three quarks. Quarks are elementary particles. Electrons, being elementary particles, are not made up of quarks at all. In fact, baryons (a category of hadrons) are made up of three quarks. Mesons (another category of hadrons) are made up of only two quarks. Protons and neutrons, which are not elementary particles (more likely, energy clouds), are made up of three quarks. Whenever we begin to make such analogies, we risk completely destroying our argument about the dialogue between science and theology. One may see something that appears to resonate with some doctrine of the faith, lock onto it and assert that it somehow is an analogy of the divine in some way. The created cannot be an analogy of the uncreated. In this case, you see, the entire assertion collapses because it is simply not true. One must realise also that the description of particles are metaphorical, not concrete. For example, a Delta particle is made up of something quite unusual. It is made up of three “up” quarks with identical degrees of “spin.” This is something that is not really possible. The solution to this puzzle is to assign some different degrees of freedom to the quarks in order to explain how they can co-habit in the same “particle.” These three degrees of freedom were whimsically named “colour.” Consequently, when one hears of a red, blue and green quark, the colours themselves mean absolutely nothing. They are metaphors for some state which is as yet not well known. It is always a serious error to read metaphor as if it were a concrete statement. Above all, it is very treacherous ground to walk upon when one desires to make analogies between the divine and the created.

 

QUESTION:

I have been searching for references from the first 1000 years of church history where either the great Fathers or councils of either local or ecumenical authority refer to the church as “the Orthodox Church”. Catholic it is called, but I have yet to see it called the Orthodox Church. I have asked numerous Priests, even writing to Holy Cross Seminary but with zero results.

I know you must be busy but if you can assist me in my search I would be most grateful.

REPLY:

In the earliest history, you will find that the followers of Christ referred to themselves as “The Way,” not as a “Church.” In fact, the same word that was used for Church /(ekklesia)/ simply referred to any congregation, including the meeting of the citizens of a city for some common purpose. So / ekklesia / , “Church” really means a “gathering for a common purpose.”

The name Catholic did not apply actually to the Church in the way we commonly use it today. Most often we think of it as meaning “universal” in the sense of spreading out over the whole world. In Ancient times, the “Catholic Church” referred to the faith itself rather than to a centralised administration which certified the whole organisation. In fact, this term “catholic” helped to define those Christians who followed the apostolic tradition as opposed to the many Gnostic Christian sects that abounded in the first centuries. You will likely have noted that St. Ignatios the God-bearer mentions that “the whole fullness of the Catholic Church is there were one bishop is gathered with his flock for the Eucharist.” This means that the word Catholic in actual Christian usage meant something quite different than it came to mean by default in later centuries. There was no need to add the word “Orthodox” to this in the first centuries, because everything that was / not / orthodox was simply acknowledged to be “outside the catholicity of the Church.” The word “orthodox” referred to the / confession of faith / , not to the Church / per se / . This is why you do not find it used as a name or title of the Church in ancient times. One had an Orthodox confession of faith (as opposed to, for example, an Arian confession of faith) and therefore, one belonged to the Catholic Church.  Since Arians also claimed the concept of “Catholic,” It became necessary to define which confession was “orthodox,” that is, which one was consistent with the apostolic tradition. Thus, the use of Orthodox or Orthodox Catholic as a definition of the confession of faith itself, not of the Church itself.

It is more proper to understand the Greek word Catholic as “that which is gathered in one mind and spirit” rather than universal. Look at the Slavonic equivalent, for example “sobornaya.” It come from soberat’h (to gather together). It was not until the second schism (often called The Great Schism) that the word Orthodox began to be applied to the body of the Church itself in the way we use it today. You may find it interesting to note that at that time, Roman Catholic would have applied only to the Orthodox Church, because the Eastern Empire was all that was left of the Roman Empire. The Patriarchate of Jerusalem was called Roman Orthodox up until the occupation of Palestine by the British following the war. The British administration actually forced the Patriarchate to change the name to Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. Even today, in Syria, Orthodox Christians are referred to as Roman Orthodox (Rum Ortodox). The schismatic Western body centred in the old city of Rome was then referred to as  the Latin Church or Latin Catholic Church. They early on began to refer to themselves as Roman Catholic, because the were centred in Rome (although the capital of the Roman Empire was in Constantinople). Because there were then two major bodies which both claimed both the name Catholic and Roman, the term Orthodox began to be applied to the Orthodox Catholic Church (as opposed to the Roman or Latin Catholic Church).

The direct answer to your question is this: the term Orthodox referred to the confession of faith, not to the Church body. Thus, it was not deemed necessary to apply the name to the Church until there were two competing bodies claiming to be the Catholic Church. At that point, the one that still maintained orthodoxy of faith and an orthodox confession became known collectively as the Orthodox Church or The Orthodox Catholic (as opposed to the heterodox Catholic Church. This took place only after the 1400s. Thus you will find mentioned “orthodox faith” but not “Orthodox Church” in the most ancient writings about the history of the Church. I hope this will at least help to answer your question.

QUESTION:

There is an incident in the Old Testament that bothers me and I actually get upset whenever it comes to mind. In judges, chapter 11, we read about Jephthah who vowed that if he won a certain battle, he would make a burnt offering to God of whatever he met first as he approached the door of his house. His only daughter came rushing out to meet him when he came home and, according to scripture, he offered her as a sacrifice. How could that be? God did not allow human sacrifices. Surely, Jephthah would have been stoned by other Jews if he had tried to offer his daughter as a sacrifice. This seems so horrible, yet from the Scripture, it almost seems as if God accepted a human burnt offering. Please answer this, as it is causing me a great deal of confusion.

REPLY:

Perhaps the first thing to do in order to understand this story better is to read Romans 12:1: “…offer yourselves as living sacrifices, holy and well-pleasing, to God; this is your ‘reasonable service”. There are some very definite and clear statements in the narrative about Jephthah’s daughter that let us know what actually happened. First of all, when the daughter heard of her father’s vow, and realized that it was her who must be offered, she asked to be allowed to lament for two months because she would never be married: not because she would be killed, but that she would never marry. Secondly, at Judges 11:39, we read, “And he did to her as he had vowed. AND SHE REMAINED A VIRGIN” It is quite clear then, that she was not literally offered as a burnt sacrifice, but was offered to the temple as a consecrated virgin (what we now call “nuns”) to serve in the House of God. We know from many references that virgins served in the temple. It is not at all possible that Jephthah offered his daughter as a slain sacrifice, because God had already absolutely forbidden such a thing and established the strictest punishment for anyone who should attempt to offer a human sacrifice (see, for example, Lev.18:21; 20:2-5; Deut.12:31; 18:10)-especially one of his sons or daughters (Deut.l8:10-12) -but to have offered her to the service of God in the temple was not an uncommon practice. However, in this case, since she was his only child, it was a great sacrifice, for it meant that his family line would die with him, since she would have to remain ever-virgin.

QUESTION:

I feel just terrible. I am confused and upset, and I need an answer.

Two years ago, I went through a very unpleasant divorce. Since I am a believing Orthodox Christian, I didn’t accept the breakup of my marriage easily, but it was one of those situations where real brutality was involved and the marriage was destroying me and my four year old daughter.  I have met a wonderful man, and we have been seeing each other for a year. We want to get married. He has been coming to church with me for several months and is now a catechumen. We want to get married soon after Pascha, and while we were discussing it with our priest, he asked if I had a “Church divorce” from my former marriage. I was very upset. I didn’t know anything about a “Church divorce”. I thought that was Roman Catholic. Now I have to make a petition to the bishop for a Church divorce. Is this right? And if so, why?

REPLY:

Christ told the Apostles, as the bishops of His Church, “Whatever you bind on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is loosed in heaven.” (Mt.18:18)

Since you were married in the Orthodox Church, your marriage was “bound on earth and in heaven.” If this bond is to be loosed, it must be loosed “on earth and in heaven” by those to whom Christ gave this authority.

If you will pause to contemplate this in a spiritual manner, you will see the clear logic of it. Nevertheless, it

is not the whole answer. When someone requests a canonical divorce, it is the duty of the priest to try his best to work with the couple to try to reconcile them and save their marriage. Divorce is a very serious matter.  Let us look at the meaning of marriage in simple form:

A Marriage:
1. Marriage is a type of Christ and the Church, in whichthe husband is like Christ and the wife is like the
Church.
2. Marriage is a union (binding) of two people together so they can work out their salvation as one.
3. Marriage makes a man and woman “one flesh”. This means that in the eyes of God, they are as one person instead of two.

A divorce:
l. Breaks this image of Christ and the Church;
2. Destroys this “salvation partnership”;
3. Rips apart the bond which was made by God’s Grace, which united the two people into “one flesh”.

Why is divorce permitted at all, and why does the Church permit a person to be married up to three times? The Orthodox Church does not approve of divorce and remarriage at all. However, the Church does understand human problems and the human condition. Sometimes, a marriage simply cannot work out. Sometimes, the children and either the husband or wife are being completely destroyed mentally, emotion ally, even physically, in a marriage. In many cases, nothing the bishop or priest can do or say will save a marriage.  When there is a civil divorce, the husband and wife are living apart. They still have their human passions and needs, and it is asking too much to insist that they live out the rest of their lives in perfect chastity.

Not everyone is strong enough or called to monasticism. Therefore, out of love and compassion and understanding, the Orthodox Church hears the words of Apostle Paul, “It is better for them to marry than to burn” and permits a sanctified re-marriage. However, the Divine Service for a re-marriage is nothing like the
crowning of the original marriage. It should be evident, however, that the Church cannot “re-marry” you unless it has dissolved the marriage which it previously bound you in.  If the Orthodox ‘Church did not insist that you obtain a canonical divorce before it allowed you to re-marry, this would mean that the Church did not even take marriage seriously.

QUESTION:

Why are so many Orthodox Christians still opposed to pews in church.

REPLY:

Pews make liturgical integrity impossible. They change the character of worship and further exclude the people from actual participation in worship. As examples, imagine the faithful being able to participate in the prostrations during the Prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian in the church filled with pews. I have been in churches that have pews and noticed that people no longer light candles in the forepart of the nave; that the priest can no longer cense the church properly and, in some cases, the pews make it impossible to make the “Great Entrance” with the Holy Gifts. Sometimes there is not even room to place a coffin properly in the church or to celebrate the Crowning of a marriage properly. These changes in the character of the Liturgics also diminish or distort the understanding of the Divine Liturgy and other liturgical services and can actually help degrade the understanding of the faith. Many Orthodox Christians understand all this instinctively, and refuse to have pews in their churches.

QUESTION:

How often should one receive Holy Communion.

REPLY:

If we search the canons which the Holy Spirit has given us through the Holy Church, and the teachings of our Holy and God-bearing fathers, then we will find that with one accord and as if with a single voice, they direct us to partake of the Holy Mystery not merely more frequently, but constantly.
The practice of infrequent Communion, whatever its precise origin, became concrete in some of the local churches as a result of Latin influence (primarily, of course, through the Uniate occupation of Western Russia and the Ukraine — prior to this century, Latins were deprived of frequent communion and were taught to commune only four times a year).

Many of the legalistic arguments of the Latins have been employed by some of our own people in trying to maintain the non-Orthodox practice of infrequent Communion. No one, however, has been able to justify it by Orthodox Christian means. “O, the power of custom and prejudice,” laments St John Chrysostom.

The canons of Gods Church answer our question in this manner:

The Holy Apostles have decreed that, “All those faithful who enter and listen to the Scripture, but do not remain for prayer and [partaking of] the Holy Mysteries must be excommunicated….” (c.9 of the Apostles).

According to the explication of the canon in the Rudder , this means that all who are not penitents and who thus remain for the prayers, not departing when the proclamation “Depart!” is heard, must without fail receive Holy Communion. Our Holy and God-bearing fathers gathered in the Holy Spirit at Antioch directed us:

“And those persons who enter the church and listen to the sacred Scriptures, but shun the participation in the Eucharist,…we decree that these people be outcasts from the Church until they confess and exhibit the fruits of repentance.” (c.2 of Antioch).

The explication of the canon explains that this refers precisely to people who excuse themselves for abstaining from Holy Communion “on account of humility or reverence.” Such humility would be feigned since it is contradictory to obedience and such reverence would be false since the greatest act of reverence to the Eucharist is partaking of it.

Again, our Holy and God-bearing father Timothy of Alexandria (ca 370) expresses the universal consensus of the Holy Church when he is asked:

“If anyone who is a believer be possessed of a demon, ought he to partake of the Holy Mysteries or not?”

and replies:

“If he does not repudiate the Mystery, nor otherwise in anyway blaspheme, let him commune, but not every day in the week; for it is sufficient for him on the Lords Day only.”

In other words, even a person possessed of a demon is to partake of the Holy Mystery every Sunday, while, it is quite clear, the rest of the faithful are to partake every day, where possible.

St John Chrysostom seems to synthesize the thoughts of the fathers and give expression to the concept of the Church conscience on partaking of the Holy Mysteries, in his Homily 3 on Ephesians . Here, he instructs both those who would take communion too lightly and without preparation and those who fail to take Communion at each Divine Liturgy:

“I observe how many partake of Christ’s Body lightly and just as it happens, and rather from custom and form than from consideration and understanding..”

The Saint makes this charge not against those who commune regularly, but against those who commune only on a few feast days. He continues:

“When, says one, the holy season of Lent sets in, whatever a man may be, he partakes of the Mysteries, or when the day of the Lord’s Theophany comes. And yet it is not the Theophany nor is it Lent that makes a fit time for approaching, but it is sincerity and purity of soul. With this, approach at all times; without it, never. ‘For as often, he [Paul] says, ‘as you do this, you proclaim the Lord’s death,’ that is, `you make remembrance of the salvation that has been wrought for you, and the benefits which I have bestowed.’ ….And do you, when you draw nigh to a sacrifice at which the very angels tremble, do you measure the matter by the revolution of season? Observe the vast inconsistency of the thing. At the other times, you do not come…; but at Pascha, no matter how flagrant an act you may have committed, you come. Oh, the power of custom and prejudice! In vain is the daily Sacrifice [offered), in vain do we stand before the altar! There is no one to partake. I am not saying these things to induce you to partake under any circumstances, but that you should render yourselves worthy to partake. Are you not worthy of the Sacrifice nor of the participation [in Communion]? If so, then neither are you [worthy] of the prayer. You hear the herald say,`Depart!’ As many as do not partake are in penitence. If you are one of those you ought not to partake;…Why then does he say depart you that are not qualified to pray, while you have the effrontery to stand still? You are not of the number of those who are qualified to partake and yet you are indifferent about it and regard the matter as nothing.”

And here is the point. It is not those who partake constantly of the Holy Mysteries who take them for granted, but it is those who do not partake who count it as insignificant, for, if they did not take the Holy Mystery merely for granted, then they would either prepare themselves to partake, or else depart weeping that they were unworthy to do so, when the deacon proclaims, “Depart!” Those who partake constantly, on the other hand, do not take the Eucharist for granted, but rather count it as the greatest necessity for their lives.

“Look, I entreat you,” Chrysostom continues: “A royal table is set before you, angels minister at the table, the King Himself is there, and do you stand gaping? Are your garments defiled and yet you take no account of it? Or are they clean? Then partake…. For everyone that does not partake of the Mysteries is standing here in shameless effrontery.  It is for this reason that they which are in sins are first of all sent out….You [who are not partaking] are no more allowed to be here than the catechumen is.

“One might go on to other points, and those more awful still; but in order not to burden your understanding, these will suffice. They who are not brought to their senses with these certainly will not be with more. That I may not then be the means of increasing your condemnation, I entreat you not to forbear coming to church, but to render yourselves worthy of being present and of approaching [for Communion].”

Finally, our Holy and God-bearing fathers of the Sixth Ecumenical Council, calling upon us to come forth for Holy Communion have taught us:

“The divine Apostle loudly proclaims that man created in the image of God is to be a body of Christ and a temple. Standing, therefore, far above all sensible creation and having attained to a heavenly dignity by virtue of the saving Passion, by eating and drinking Christ as a source of life, he readjusts both his eternal soul and his body and by partaking of the divine Grace he is continually sanctified ” (c.101 of 6;. cf 1Cor.l2:27; 2Cor.6:16).

QUESTION:

Must confession and Communion always be tied together?

REPLY:

No. There is no canonical or patristic justification for tying the two together. Some people believe that you can only have confession if you are preparing for Holy Communion. Sadly, this attitude tends to make confession a mechanical act, often void of any deep, heartfelt repentance. One should have confession regularly, whether or not he is going to receive Holy Communion. Confession is a medicine for the soul and mind, a cleansing and healing process which must be accompanied by contemplation and heartfelt repentance. We do not confess “as part of preparation for Holy Communion,” but to unburden our souls and spirits and seek prayerful help in resolving of spiritual problems. Many priests will confirm that such a confession made as a required act before comunion is often mechanical and meaningless. Frequently, such a mechanically required confession might consist in a rote, “I don’t really have any sins to confess” or “Just all my daily sins.”

Confession is not prescribed in preparation for Holy Communion by any canon of the Church, and I am not personally aware of any patristic injunction making it so. Requiring confession before every Holy Communion presupposes that you will be communing infrequently — perhaps no more than four times a year. It must be seen as a custom where it is locally required. Fasting, on the other hand, is clearly required before Holy Communion, and this is something deeply ingrained in the conscience and Tradition of the Church.

Ultimately, though, you will have to observe the requirements set by your own local bishops.

QUESTION:

Should Orthodox Christians tithe?

REPLY:

If you believe God’s word, then tithing is something that should be natural to you. Tithing is an acknowledgment of God’s love and care for you. It acknowledges the blessings and help you have received from Him by returning ten percent of the “firstfruits” of your income to His service so that others may be called to share in His blessings. It is also a confession of your faith in Him. It is more than this, however. Your parish cannot exist without the active support of all. Tithing is, therefore, an act of love and sharing with your brothers and sisters in the parish community.

Many times, people ask what they can do to evangelize the Orthodox faith and proclaim the Gospel. Tithing is one of the most important ways to do this. It helps maintain God’s house and make the Divine Services possible so that others can come to the truth. It also helps make your own spiritual life possible.

God has clearly instructed us to tithe ten percent of our gross income to His Church, and if you believe in Him and acknowledge His lordship, it is hard to see why you would willing disobey him.

QUESTION:

Is it really important to have our churches facing East?

REPLY:

Yes, it is important. Having the altar of the church to the East is part of the integrated revelation of the meaning of creation, the meaning and path of redemption, our relationship with God, the heavenly kingdom and the destiny of the faithful.

The altar of our churches, like the holy of holies in the Old Testament temple, is a “type” (a particular kind of revelation) of paradise. The altar faces East because Scripture describes paradise as being “in the East,” and also tells us that Jesus Christ will appear “from the East at His second coming.” We cannot enter into a complete theological discussion of this matter here, but let us take an all too brief look at some of the main points.

1. Man lost paradise and “closed its gates” against himself through an act of wilful disobedience. He thus separated himself from God.

2. God gave man the temple (beginning with the tabernacle in the wilderness) as a revelation about his condition of separation, and of the path back to paradise. That “holy of holies” was an image of Paradise. In the Orthodox Church temple, we call it the “altar.”

3. God made His presence real in the “holy of holies,” as He had done for man in paradise. In the Old Testament temple, this presence was connected with the ark of the covenant. In the New Testament temple (each Orthodox Church) His presence is manifested in the Holy Communion. All this is but a shadow of the fellowship with God which the faithful will enjoy when they return to paradise, to the heavenly kingdom.

All this and more is revealed to us in the structure of the Orthodox temple. This entire revelation and instruction is focused on the altar which is an image of that paradise which was “for the lost.” Moreover, Scripture tells us that “the sign of the Son of Man will flash forth from the East,” and we understand that Christ will be seen by all coming forth from the East in His second coming.

God has given us these clear revelations and teachings in the Orthodox temple because man cannot be sustained by only abstract ideas. Because of our nature, we need concrete, visible forms, types, images and actions which lead us into a form of participation. In the Orthodox temple and worship service, we participate in the life of the heavenly kingdom and assimilate it into our hearts. Why would we want to minimalize and be casual with such revelations from God? It matters very much that we have our temples facing East.

QUESTION:

Should we be using “inclusive language” in church?

REPLY:

The use of “inclusive language” is really a fetish and has been carried to such extremes that it has actually become ludicrous. Even to those who demanded it, it has become counterproductive to their cause because of the silly extravagances that they carried it to. We should simply use the regular gender terms and word endings common to whatever language we are speaking. For a further and more in depth discussion, see The Mystery and Meaning of Gender and Human Sexuality , (Synaxis Press, 2000).

There is no doubt that both the IV drug users and the sexually hyper-active element of the homosexual community “harvested the recompense of their error,” and that they would not have suffered so had they followed the principles of life revealed by God. Nevertheless, the suggestion that God created the pandemic in order to have His vengeance on them is slanderous and demonstrates a spirit utterly alien to that if/am Christ These two groups suffered the most rapidly in America and other Western countries because they presented an excellent ecology for the virus, not because God is a malicious mass-murderer. In other countries, the poor and uneducated presented the best ecology for the same epidemic The former would have avoided the illness had they followed the principles of life which the Gospel has set before us, the latter could only have avoided it if they had been more educated and more wealthy, and thus more aware of the dangers, and the women more able to avoid having to resort to prostitution for the sake if bare survival.

It is certainly notable in this regard that the American House of Representatives recently voted to severly curtail support for the arts, and eventually to faze it out, but at the same time, voted to continue the heavy subsidies which the American people pay to the tobacco industry. This, again, was the work of the ultra rightwing representatives from the ‘Bible belt’ of the United States.

QUESTION:

I have read some of your writing against Gnosticism. I think you are right that this old heresy is posing a new threat in the Church. Can you offer some simple guidelines that might help us recognize Gnostic teachings without reading all the books you reference in the bibliography of Tale of Elder Basil the New?

REPLY:

I would strongly recommend the Introduction of Hans von Balthasar’s The Scandal of The Incarnation: Irenaeus [of Lyons] Against the Heresies (Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1990). I am going to present some extracts from that Introduction here, with a few explanatory notes, for those who might not have access to the book.

St Irenaeus was perhaps the foremost ancient expert on the Gnostic threat and dedicated much of his writing to exposing it. It may come as a surprise to some, but he actually did refute the Gnostic “aerial toll house” teaching.

Much of the current threat from this ancient system of heresy comes from an organized attempt to infiltrate it into the Orthodox Church. There is a general lack of careful study of the theological history of the Church. The great 9th-10th century struggle with the Bogomil and Paulician Gnostic movements is actually unknown even to many seminary graduates. A substantial number of the clergy of all ranks are unaware of that great struggle, or have heard of it only in some passing references. Nevertheless, the New Age Movement is replete with profoundly Gnostic ideas and a group which has infiltrated every jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church has been steadily introducing new Gnostic ideas into the Orthodox Church while at the same time resurrecting and reinforcing residual Bogomil/Manichaean doctrines which have lingered in the Church in a shadowy manner since the time when this heresy dominated the Balkans. One can truthfully use the words of Tsar Peter of Bulgaria in his desperate letter to Ecumenical Patriarch Theophylact in the 900s: we are faced with “an ancient heresy newly reappeared.” Here are some tips extracted from the Introduction section of von Balthasar’s book.

Balthasar begins by pointing out that even the great persecutions by the Romans posed less of a threat to the Church than did Gnosticism. This very fact explains why I have been so adamant in my own opposition to the neo-Gnosticism of subversive entities within the Orthodox Church today. The fact that many of those who rather unwittingly support this neo-Gnosticism are unwilling to look at the way in which it contradicts the teachings of the holy fathers on several subjects, and the doctrines of the faith, is in itself a sin against the Orthodox Faith.

Gnosticism predates Christianity. Balthasar likens it to a “parasite” which took hold of Christianity and used it.

What made it so insidious was the fact that the Gnostics very often did not want to leave the Church. Instead, they claimed to be offering a superior and more authentic exposition of Holy Scripture, though this was only for the ‘superior souls’ (the spiritual, the pneumatic’); the common folk (`the psychic’) were left to get on with their crude practices. It is not hard to see how this kind of compartmentalizing of the Church’s members indeed of mankind as a whole, inevitably encouraged not only an excited craving for higher initiation, but also an almost unbounded arrogance in those who had moved from mere `faith’ to real, enlightened `knowledge’.(p;1)

Gnostics outwardly profess the teachings of the Church but deviously strive to subvert them to their “secret” or “higher” knowledge. Here then is your first clue that some group or teacher is Gnostic.

Clue 1: They introduce a “higher knowledge” that is accessible to “the more spiritual.” In our own era, this “higher gnosis” is expressed as “ascetic theology.” While our new Gnostics are careful not to put it into actual words, for them this higher “ascetic theology” overrides the “theological theology” of the Church. The elite “special knowledge” (in this case a special “ascetic theology”) is a lens through which the Gnostic reinterprets the doctrines of the Church and distorts them in order to subtly introduce their own concepts and understandings.

Balthasar points out:

Always in the background was the fundamental dogma of Gnosticism

the belief that the lower, material sphere, the `flesh’, the world of the `psychic’, was contemptible, something to be vanquished, while the higher spiritual world was all that was excellent, the only thing worth cultivating. (p.1)

Clue 2: The introduction of an “invisible world” which is separate from and/or opposed to the “visible world.”

Only those with an elitist “secret knowledge,” those illuminati of the “invisible world,” know its secrets. Among the delusions of this Gnostic elite, one finds fanciful, sometimes quite carnal descriptions of the Garden of Eden. They assert that Eden exists in an invisible realm, filled with fruit that does not rot or decay, and other sensual/mystical ideas. This notion of opposing visible (material) and invisible (spiritual) worlds is a form of “dualism.” Gnostics are essentially dualists whose fundamental concept arose from the ancient Persian religion of Zoroaster. All Gnostics are dualists.

Clue 3: Dualism. Gnostics create dualisms in every realm.

While those who infiltrate the Orthodox Church do not openly teach a dualistic idea of God (a good deity and a bad deity), they do elevate the authority of Satan and demons to the level of demi-gods which have authority to judge human souls, even to override God’s mercy, the indwelling Holy Spirit and Christ’s work on the cross. They can “drag souls down to hell” even before Christ has had an opportunity to judge them, and even before the Second Coming and the Last Judgment, even though this is a notion condemned by the holy fathers (See for example, St. Mark of Ephesus, Ten Discourses Against Purgatory).

Clue 4: Dangerous journey of the soul after death.

Balthasar observes of the Gnostics, “What mattered most was the knowledge that ensured spiritual power: the timetable for all the soul’s journeys in the hereafter, the ground plan and genealogy of all the cosmic spheres, the key to the riddles of nature, the knowledge of all the powers holding sway between earth and heaven…”


In the “aerial tollhouse” myth, the demigod demons have authority to judge and condemn souls and keep them from even approaching Christ for His judgment. They have the power to usurp Christ’s authority, even though scripture clearly says that “all power in heaven and earth has been given to Him”. The idea that the soul can be judged, rewarded or punished without the body is a doctrine refuted and condemned by a whole host of the holy fathers.


While the most complete astral plane/aerial toll house teaching was developed in Mesopotamia by the Mandaean Gnostics, the Bogomils, Paulicians and all varieties of Manichaeans taught a developed system of demonic judgement stations


aerial tollhouses. It was primarily through the Bogomils, who had a huge following even in Constantinople in the 8th – 9th centuries, that the aerial tollhouse heresy spread into the Orthodox world. (see for example, the Tale of Basil the New; Study of a Gnostic Document, Synaxis Press, 1999).


The bibliography and appendices in The Tale of Basil the New and The Soul, the Body and Death (Synaxis Press, 1995) will provide the patristic references necessary to follow up these matters. Balthasar deals only with St. Irenaeus of Lyons, but provides a powerful compendium against Gnosticism in his volume.

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