QUESTIONS

ANSWERS
Archbishop Lazar Puhalo

You Asked:



You Asked:

15 January, 2009:

QUESTION: The controvery 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. (Added 15 March 2008)

     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 anthing 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, keept he 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:  (Added 15 March 2008)

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:  (Added August, 2007)

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?


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?


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:

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.

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.

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