Dear fellow Christian,
In today’s perilous times, (2 Tim.3: 1) the enemies of Orthodox Christianity are not only numerous but within the very walls of the church; the weeds of neo-idolatry, syncretism, secularism, and pan-heresy are blooming and de-Christianizing the confused members of the Orthodox church of Christ. Today more than ever we need to abide by Saint Paul’s deception-proof recipe found in the second letter to the Thessalonians, Stand fast and hold on to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. (2:15) The Lord gives the same instruction to the bishop of Thyateira and accordingly to all the sincere members of his body, Hold on what you have until I come back (Rev. 2:25). The true gospel of Christ, the fullness of Christianity and its ability to heal today’s heavily burdened man remain in the bosom of Traditional Orthodoxy, the ark of salvation.
Orthodoxy came to this hemisphere over one hundred years ago and the leadership of the church in its vast majority instructed the priests to alter their traditional attire, in order to facilitate the establishment of the Church with Chapelle Sixtine ticket. It was thought that these “progressive” measures would help make us more acceptable to the financially powerful Catholic and Protestant denominations. Unfortunately, we have been overly influenced by the superficial theology of these secular forms of Christianity and now we find ourselves in the position of the bishops of Sardis and Laodicea; we have a name that we live but we are dead or at best, lukewarm. Christ is calling us to WAKE UP!!!
My dear family in Christ, it would seem that this century long American Orthodox experiment has missed its mark. We have no saintly fathers or elders to speak of with the exception of several Russian Orthodox Saints who practiced the very traditional form of Orthodoxy. In the same period in the small country of Greece, alone we can name and boast about many dozens of sanctified, miraculous, truly charismatic, and saintly fathers. Today more than ever we need to bring to the surface the bright example of these saintly contemporary fathers and their God-Inspired Traditional Orthodox teachings to help us understand that holiness is attainable; purification, illumination and theosis are attainable even in these dark ages of materialism, atheism and secularism.
It has been the desire of the sister societies of Saint Nikodemos Publications (Bethlehem, PA) and Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite Publications Society (Northampton, PA) to make available to the English speaking Orthodox brothers and sisters the lives, struggles, and teachings of these contemporary spiritual “supersonics” (Tape A-15). By the grace of the Holy Triune God and the intercessions of our patron Saint Nikodemos of Holy Mountain, the support of a great number of our brothers and sisters in the US and Canada, our societies have been able to publish and circulate over 20 books and 180 audio/CD/mp3 recordings. They deal mainly with the lives and teachings of these illumined contemporary fathers. We would like to thank our editors, typists, proofreaders, cassette/CD/MP3 duplicators and everyone who will make the effort to share this catalog and its content with another soul for the redemption of which Christ gave his Blood.
Saint Nikodemos Publications
Saint Nikodemos the Haghiorite is an offspring of the island of Naxos in the Cyclades Islands. While young, he studied Greek letters in Smyrne under Ierotheos the Teacher. He came to the Holy Mountain in 1775 and was tonsured a Monk in the Sacred Dionysiou Monastery being renamed Nikodemos from Nicholas. In 1809 on July 14th he reposed, at 60 years of age.
Saint Nikodemos is a Saint unknown to most people even today, despite the fact that our Church from 1955 has officially proclaimed him a Saint and celebrates his memory.
Many visitors to the Holy Mountain don’t know that in Karyes, the Cell, of the Skourtaion, houses the relics of his Holy Skull, and due to this ignorance they are deprived of the blessing of this treasure.
The works of Saint Nikodemos need to be revealed need to be projected, need to be read. Our Church and our people are deprived of many things because they have not yet come to know the full work of Saint Nikodemos.
Saint Nikodemos has left a multitude of writings of incalculable spiritual Orthodox value which in summary are the following: The Philokalia, Evergetinos, Concerning Constant Divine Communion, Alphabetalphabetos, Handbook of Spiritual Council, All the Writings of Symeon the New Theologian, Confessional Handbook, Invisible Warfare, New Martyrology, Spiritual Exercises, Neon Eklogion, The extant Writings of St. Gregory Palamas, The Sacred Rudder, The Epitaphion Engomia, New Theotokarion, Christoetheia, Euchologion, The Catholic Epistles, Epistles of the Apostle Paul, Commentaries on the Psalms, Garden of Graces, Barsanouphios, Commentary of holy Haghiorite men, New Synaxaristes, Confession of his own Faith, Eortodromion, New Ladder, and a multitude of troparions, oikos asmatic canons and engomia to many Saints.
The Holy Skull of Saint Nikodemos is kept by Father Ananias, over 90 years old in our opinion. Furthermore it is Father Ananias’ efforts to erect a church in Saint Nikodemos’ name.
Saint Nikodemos the Haghiorite, does not only have an eminent place in the literature of the Greek Church, as a Father and Teacher who has written a multitude of writings, but by rights enters in as one of the greatest factors, in the area of the very stormy history of Orthodoxy. He lived at a very critical time of our Church’s history, and the Venerable Nikodemos was called to play a primary role in the spiritual and religious life, clearing up the thickening clouds of Aristotelian scholasticism appearing from the West, and influencing a great number of his contemporary Greek Orthodox Scholars, who adopted this prevalent western spirit.
Saint Nikodemos the Haghiorite’s work presents a very multifaceted radiance of the Spirit. Other than its voluminous side, the great role played by his work during that age of full illiteracy concerning pure Orthodox though, and the consequence which his very spiritual writings had on the subsequent course of the Church, has not been duly appreciated. However, Saint Nikodemos was fully conscious of the mission, which Divine Providence had for him. This is ascertained by his struggles against the Westerners and towards those “Orthodox”, who perverted the Orthodox teaching.
Saint Nikodemos’ work judged from the above mentioned viewpoint, in the time period of the final quarter of the eighteenth century creates the obligation for those occupied with it, to confess that the Venerable Father contributed, as no one else, during the post Byzantine years, in refuting the threatening wind, of western humanism, and in preserving the spiritual treasures of Orthodoxy.
At an age during which not only Orthodox spirituality was virtually unknown, but also those multifarious false beliefs, which were coming in “in sheep’s clothing” in the courtyard of Orthodoxy," it would not be the least bit difficult for the rationalist spirit of “humanism” to infiltrate and satisfy those waning souls and have them accept the false spirit over the genuine one. The Venerable Nikodemos alone arose, to obstruct the foreign teaching and to reveal the sacred heritage of Orthodoxy to the Orthodox Church.
When the great personality of Saint Nikodemos draws more attention from the students of Church history and ends up an object of special research, then it will become apparent what work of huge importance proceeded from the holy mountain, through the most wise Saint Nikodemos the Haghiorite, and what consequences this work had for the later course of the religious life of the believers. Here we will limit ourselves to point out, that, had the Church not become familiar with the writings of Nikodemos, one after the other, which are very voluminous and completely faultless regarding truth and Orthodoxy, she would have undergone a period of uncertainty and would be ignorant of all that the divine pen of the Venerable Father wrote and organized with so much precision and fullness.
His great contribution is not only concerning the dogmas of the Church and the Sacred Canons, which he codified, simplified, and interpreted, but also the definition of the relationships between them and the points wherein they coincide in his Rudder. Also concerning the spirituality of Orthodoxy, which he wrote down in the “Spiritual Exercises”, the “Unseen Warfare”, and the “Eortodromion”, and in General in all his writings, upon which he also placed the seal of holiness.
The very fact that one Ecclesiastical writer of tens of volumes of many pages manages to preserve the spirituality of Orthodoxy in a refined analysis, means that he “has the Spirit of God”. Spirituality in the Orthodox understanding comprises the reflection of what proceeds from the heart, which is a product of a constant living of Christianity, of life in Christ.
It is difficult for one to truly apprise what sort of influence the work of Saint Nikodemos had on the course of the Church in an age, during which everything was characterized by lethargy and Orthodoxy comprised an unobstructed vineyard and easy pray for the “new demons” setting out from the West.
Our Holy Church honors her servant Nikodemos, because she did not present someone similar to him in the post Byzantine times. The Church also knows what a theologian means for that time, with the multi-faceted Grace of Nikodemos, with the rare talent of the Canonologist, the skill of the Academician, the elevation of the Hymnographer, the penetration of the Critic, the fullness of the Haghiologist, the mystagogicalness of the Liturgiologist, the experience of the Ascetical author, very rare charismas, all of which were wonderfully combined in one personality.
We could name Saint Nikodemos, a plaster cast of all the Christian virtues, a vessel of the unblemished and infinite cluster of gifts, an astonishing icon of Orthodox dogma, and a Teacher of universal authority!
Because we don’t know many people in Orthodoxy doing “noetic pray” and authoring at the same time, preparing a “Handbook of Spiritual Counsel”, while they are using the two-pointed mattock with the prayer rope in the left hand and the pen in the right hand, as the Venerable Nikodemos lived and also fought unto his last minute.
*Editors Note- This original Greek text written by lay-teacher Dimitrios Panagopoulos was published more than twenty-five years ago. Since then a number of this Saint’s works have been published in many languages and Saint Nikodemos is becoming a teacher of universal authority. His books occupy a central position in the shelves of the traditional Orthodox world wide.
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN
By the present letter may it be known that Constantine Zalalas is a layman of the parish of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in our God-kept Metropolis of Pittsburgh. He is known to us as a faithful Orthodox Christian and teacher of our Holy Orthodox Faith in his local parish in cooperation with his local priest. He has not only taught, but also supervised in the Sunday school programs of his parish. He is known for his piety and faithfulness to our Holy Orthodox Tradition.
Constantine Zalalas has our episcopal blessing and permission to speak and preach publicly in our Metropolis and elsewhere in the communities of our Holy Orthodox Church in such cases as he receives the invitation and permission of the local hierarch and the local proistamenos of the community.
We commend his work.
Given in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on this 9th day of March, 2004.
By the grace of our Triune God, we have made it once again to the month of October, the month when most of us get busy. We prepare for winter and our farmers prepare the fields to plant. As our farmers go out to their fields to plant their wheat, in the same manner it is necessary for the word of God to come forth and be planted. According to the Gospel of St. Luke: A sower went out to sow his seed. (Mat.13:3) The word of God comes forth not to till or cultivate, but only to sow. The preparation of the field is the responsibility of man. Now if we come to hear the word of God, how we hear it and perceive it, and how it affects out personal life, is something totally dependent on us. However, the Sower comes and sows constantly. This is the exodus of God, which is an exodus of God’s love towards His creation. God wanted to walk with His people. He did so through His incarnation, and He continues to come to sow the word of His Divine Truth. However, as I told you, how we hear the word of God depends on us. During this series of homilies we will come to hear the word of God. We have an entire year in front of us, and we will come to hear the word of God.
Now, the word of God at times falls on trampled and hard ground, unbroken and untilled; for this reason it leaves the ground of the heart indifferent; someone comes in and hears but he is not moved at all. The word of God also falls on fickle hearts, those that become easily enthused. They feel inner joy for the word of God, but when they step out the door, they forget everything. Other seeds fall on hearts that promise a lot, who map out a beautiful spiritual life; but one thousand and one concerns of this life come and choke the seedlings of God, and in the end these hearts remain fruitless! We pray that no one belong to the above categories. No, my beloved, the word of God must fall on good and fertile soil so that it can bear fruit—the fruit of holiness. However, these hearts must accept the word of God with fear and humility, and in doing so they will produce thirty-fold, sixty-fold and a hundred-fold! I hope and pray once again that there is not a single heart from the first three fruitless categories, but that all hearts prove to be of good earth. My prayer is that the word of God that falls on our hearts produces great fruit.
This year, the grace of God offers us the great opportunity to sow His word from the book of the Revelation. It is the last book of both the New Testament and of the entire Holy Scriptures. This book forms the conclusion of the Holy Scriptures and it corresponds considerably to the first book, the book of Genesis. These two books form the axis of the fall and salvation. Now, if the book of Genesis refers to the history of man’s fall, the book of the Revelation refers to the history of man’s restoration and salvation. In the book of Genesis, we have the description of the creation of the world and of man. It is the beautiful twilight of the visible created world. Unfortunately, the man and woman fell into sin at the instigation of the devil, and since then, in addition to sin, both death and corruption were introduced into the world. To all appearances, God’s beautiful plan—to have nature draw near to God, to unite with Him and be deified and sanctified—was negated. However, that which God creates cannot be nullified or negated. In order to renew the visible created world, God’s economy brought forth the incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ.
The entire world did not accept Jesus Christ and it crucified Him. Still, the plan of salvation was not negated. By His death on the cross, Christ crushed the devil; and by His Resurrection, death and corruption were defeated. So, the Church, the Body of Christ, continues to travel through history facing much tribulation, turmoil and martyrdom from the God-opposed, God-fighting powers that continuously crucify the flesh of Christ. In the end, the Church will be victorious, triumphant, because Christ defeated the devil, the world and death! The Church sanctifies nature and leads it to the Kingdom of God. So if the book of Genesis gives us an account of the creation of man and his fall, the book of the Revelation describes apocalyptically the journey of the Church, of the faithful through the history of creation, and more specifically, the rebirth, re-creation, and the eternal glory of man and the visible creation. The book of the Revelation, which we are introducing today, contains the entire mystery of the Divine dispensation, of Divine economia, in the form of a summary—from the Incarnation of the Word of God up to the Second Coming of Christ, the Judgment Day and the appearance of the Kingdom of God.
To give you a bird’s eye view I tell you this; in one scene alone in the book of the Revelation, the Mystery of Incarnation is made manifest. In chapter twelve we read about the woman who holds a male child. Before she gave birth, the beast was waiting for the pregnant woman to give birth so he could grab the newly born child and devour it! However, when the child was born, the woman was led into the desert, and the beast ran behind the woman spewing water from his mouth like a river to sweep her away with the flood. However he does not reach the child because the child ascends into heaven. My friends, this is the entire history of the Incarnation. The devil, according to one of our Church Fathers, was searching out the virgins even from the Old Testament to see which one would give birth to the Messiah. However, according to St. Ignatius of Antioch, the male child escaped the attention of the prince of this world. The devil was not informed about the Son of God’s birth from the Virgin. The devil had no clue. The devil is not omnipresent. Nor does he know everything. However, he kept a close watch. We see this very clearly in the book of the Revelation, And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth! (Rev.12: 4)
Now the woman swept away in the torrent signifies the Theotokos, or the Church. The person of the woman here has two aspects, two applications—the Theotokos, or the Church. Certainly the Church, because the Church is the body of Christ, which body Christ received from the Theotokos, the Panagia. Consequently, the Theotokos and the Church are the same thing, with two views or aspects. So here, we have two sides of the same coin. The Church is persecuted, the disciples and the Theotokos are persecuted, but the child was snatched up to heaven. In other words, we have the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and the Ascension of Christ. The devil can no longer do anything to the child. He cannot go to Heaven; so then, he pursues the woman in the desert. He turns against the Church, day in and day out, and we can see in this scene alone the cross section of the mystery of God’s holy economy. Scenes like this permeate the book of the Revelation. So the book of the Revelation refers to the establishment and the expansion of the Church of Christ; the Kingdom of God on earth, which is the Church; the unfolding of the battle between the Church (or the woman) and the beast, or the God-opposing powers. We will see what these God-opposing powers are. In the end, the plagues take place against the beast, against the unbelieving world. The Church is triumphant. Christ comes, judges the world, the devil is bound, and the Kingdom of God glows! This is the general diagram of the book of the Revelation. The central theme of the book is the Second Coming of Christ as Judge and King! The book begins and ends with this same theme. The Church—the bride—and the Spirit who remains in the Church will say, Come Lord Jesus! And the response is, Yes, I am coming soon!
This describes the state of expectation, characteristic of both the book and the Church. The Church is expecting Christ; it awaits Him as Judge and as King to put away all evil—to expel the devil so sin will cease to exist, so corruption and decay will cease to exist, so death will cease to exist. The central idea of the book is Jesus Christ, the Second Coming of Christ, Christ coming back as Judge and King. We will also notice, as we progress, the repeated usage of a seven-fold system. This will be more obvious during the analysis of the book. Again, the central theme is the battle between the Kingdom of God and the God-opposing power, with the resulting triumph of the Church of Christ. The purpose of the book of the Revelation is both the preparation of the faithful to face the tribulation that awaits them, and the consolation and strengthening of the faithful that they might fight the good fight up to the end. All these things that I am referring to in a few words are recorded in the book of the Revelation with visions, images, and descriptions that make up its symbolic language. To be sure, the book of the Revelation is primarily a prophetic book. However, prophecy does not only reveal future events, but the present as well! Thus, we have here prophecy in its broad sense. Our Lord Himself instructs John, Now write what you see, what is and what is to take place hereafter. (1:19)
According to our Tradition, St. John was exiled to the island of Patmos, the cave of the Revelation. The cave is still there today. John used to pray there incessantly. According to tradition, on a certain Sunday—as he will tell us in the beginning of the book—he was in the spirit and he saw these revelations and visions which he recorded following the command of Christ, Now write what you see, what is and what is to take place hereafter. (1:11) From this we see that the book of the Revelation is prophetic. We mentioned that prophecy in its broad sense is not limited to the future, but may contain or include the future, the present, and even the past. We will explain. When a prophecy pertains to the future, it comes to reveal something that will take place in the future and which is unknown to every created being. The future is not known to any man or angel, or even to the devil! In reality, the future is known to God and to no one else! Therefore, prophecy is a privilege of the true God only, and if you will, it is a privilege of our true Orthodox Faith. The prophecy can also pertain to the present—to whatever thing or event escapes the attention of the people at that time. For example, when St. John the Baptist is called a prophet, what do you think; did he prophesy the future? No! St. John prophesied the present! He did not prophesy the future, nor did he prophesy the past. St. John the Baptist prophesied the present only, and the nucleus of his prophecy was, “Here is the Messiah! Here is the lamb of God!” The leaders of the people asked him, “Who are you? Are you the Messiah?” No, I am not the Messiah! I am the voice of the one calling and crying out in the wilderness! I am here to witness for the Messiah. The One who has been before me time-wise, is now in front of me! The One who is more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie! (John 1:23) John is prophesying about Christ, but Christ is already present! John the Baptist is a great prophet, but he is only prophesying the present. We must add that it is more difficult to prophesy the present than to prophesy the future.
Finally, a prophecy also pertains to the past if it prophesies those things that human eye has not seen. When Moses, for instance, records in the book of Genesis the creation of man and the world, how does he know these things? He is writing prophetically! Therefore, he is a prophet referring to the past. To add another dimension to the meaning of prophecy which we set forth above, prophecy has the element of teaching. It comes to advise—to move people towards straight paths and repentance, to bring consolation and encouragement to those who are fighting the hard fight of the spiritual life, and so on. Many times the prophets come to strengthen and help people and move them towards repentance, and to elevate those who listen to them. So prophecy does not limit itself to what happened and what will happen, but also comes to teach God’s people how they must walk. For this reason—I underline this—please make a mental note of this; we must not look at the book of the Revelation in the narrow sense of prophecy, as a book that will reveal the future to us! Not so, my friends! The book of the Revelation will take us back into the past and the present as well. Our Lord said, What is now—those things that exist now—not necessarily the symbolic images that John was seeing in the vision. No, when John writes about Babylon the great prostitute (the great harlot), meaning Rome, Rome is not limited to that period of two thousand years ago. “What is now” is also valid for today, so we must not limit our interpretation to the historical facts only. Thus, “what is now” is for today and for tomorrow—it refers to the present.
We need to understand that the book of the Revelation transcends the past, present, and future. It comes to comfort, to uplift, to restore, to warn, to call out, to point out the Antichrist, and this is at all times, at all seasons, but especially at times when spiritual awareness is very low. The book of the Revelation is a very graphic book, with much inexpressible grace and freshness despite some of these horrific images. This book has a freshness about it—a certain tenderness. It is a true masterpiece of the Holy Spirit, and it becomes truly delightful for the person who can catch on and see some of its wonders. It is written in the common dialect of the Hellenistic times. The scope of its literature is so interesting that foreign scholars claim that the book of the Revelation employs its own grammar, and this makes it very graceful. It is not extremely rich in its vocabulary. In this, it is similar to St. John’s Gospel, which, although it has the poorest vocabulary of the four Gospels, flies in the stratosphere of theology. It is the most theological of all the Gospels. St. John mimics the kenosis (emptying) of God the Word, Who takes on the poverty of human existence. The very Word of God became poor, and through these lowly and poor words that St. John uses, the wealth of theology is made manifest—the wealth of the Kingdom of God. This wealth is so abundant that it runs over and beyond the meaning of the words themselves. It is something so fantastic, so amazing, that only the person who familiarizes himself with this book of the Revelation can discover all these elements and wonders in a way that they never exhaust themselves. Again, it is a true masterpiece. It has unity, symmetry, great rhythm, it has powerful wording despite the poverty of the words. It has wealth—wealth of color and tone. It has a great variety of topics, a certain flexibility, and a vivacity. Its charm magnetizes the person who reads and studies it.
There is no other book in the history of humanity that has as many commentaries, writings, and references as this book. A great number of books have been written, are being written, and will be written about the book of the Revelation. It is a great treasure, a book of great depth that awakens people’s consciences! It amazes people with its wonderful imagery and scenery. The main scene is Heaven and Earth. Its place of reference is the entire Universe. Its time frame is not limited to the Earth’s history, but moves beyond to the universal history and eternity. This is why we would be making an interpretive mistake if we would wish to interpret the book of the Revelation based on a certain topography, a certain geography such as the United States, or Greece, or Constantinople. Many of you who have studied apocalyptic literature will know exactly what I am talking about. The tendency is to want to interpret events of this book in the narrow space of New York or Iraq or Constantinople or in the limited space of the country of Greece. The book of the Revelation is not just for the Greeks, or the Americans. It is a universal book, as we mentioned—its stage is Heaven and Earth. Its period is the history of the universe and eternity.
Accordingly, as Greeks, let us not try to limit it to our national dreams and aspirations! It is very poor to try to do that, and this is why all those who try to interpret in this narrow-minded manner have missed the mark! My friends, the claims of all those who wrote books and commentaries within these narrow boundaries were false, and they were obviously ashamed! In the Greek history of interpreters, I will mention Apostolos Makrakis who wanted to interpret the book of the Revelation always in the limited geographical area of the country of Greece with Constantinople as the center! It goes without saying that when we try to interpret according to the current of each century we will not be accurate! At the beginning of the century, Makrakis tried to interpret the book of the Revelation using Mohammedanism as the dark power or the spirit of the Antichrist! There is no question that the expansion of Mohammedanism is included in the entire spectrum of this book. Except we cannot say that the book of the Revelation will deal with this current exclusively. This is a mistake! —Not Communism, nor atheism, nor materialism—can take a central theme on the stage of this book. They are simply links of the chain. They are great factors, and they are included in this book because these systems take on universal dimensions. However, the book of the Revelation does not confine itself to these systems alone. So let us never say that the Beast is communism, or Mohammedanism! This is not so! These are forerunners of the Beast, there is no doubt about it, but they are not the actual apocalyptic Beast. We are delighted that you have filled up the space of the entire church here tonight. The introduction of the book aims to attract the interest of the audience and we hope that you will bring twice as many people here with you next time so that we can outgrow the space and do our next talk in a park somewhere. However, let us be careful. Do not expect to hear in this place—while interpreting this book— let us not expect to learn if and when World War III will take place, or when the Antichrist will come, and when the Second Coming of Christ will take place! Please do not expect these things!
We need to follow the straight line of our Church. This path, my friends, was mapped out by three God-inspired people, three God-inspired Holy Fathers: St. Andrew of Caesarea of the sixth century, who wrote a commentary; St. Arethas, Archbishop of Caesarea, of the ninth century (I have both in my hands, glory be to God!); and St. Ecumenios, Archbishop of Tryki of the sixth century. (I do not have this one.) I have two complete commentaries of the book of the Revelation, in which one can see the Orthodox line of our Church, how our Church interprets the book of the Revelation. It is not mere coincidence—and we will analyze this more as we go on—again, it is not by accident that our Church Fathers did not over occupy themselves with the book of the Revelation. Panayiotis Trembelas, for example, interpreted and published commentaries on all of the books of Holy Scriptures with the exception of the book of the Revelation. Trembelas was a great, great Greek scholar of the 20th century.
We will see this in our journey of subjects. I will tell you only this; my basic resources include the great commentary of Professor Bratsiotis –the only one of its kind in the neo-Hellenic theological literature—along with Sts. Andrew and Arethas. These serve as my guides. All the others have some hidden dangers. I am telling you all this because I would not want to go astray, neither would I want to mislead you. Therefore, I urge you not to let your imagination go wild over “what’s going to happen,” and “what new things we are about to learn.” No, vigilance is required! We will learn in our long journey through this Holy Book how we are to understand this Scripture. I will certainly try to tell you something at this point—this “something” will not exhaust itself but we will continue to learn as we journey through the analysis of this book. In spite of all the things that we just mentioned, we cannot say that we do not need to look out for the signs of the times! No, we need to watch for the signs because our Lord Himself instructed us about this. He spoke to us about the signs of the end of times. He said, As soon as the twigs of the fig tree get tender and its leaves come out you know that summer is near! (Mat.24: 32) He goes on to give a number of signs in the Gospel. He tells us then you will know that the end is near. Which end, Lord? Here, there is a double image, the end of Jerusalem, and the end of the world. The book of the Revelation is a very difficult book. The prophecy is unfathomable. It runs deep. St. Ignatius instructs St. Polycarp in a letter, as he was on his way to Rome to be martyred and become food for the lions, Study the times very carefully. Anticipate the One Who is above time, the timeless One—the invisible, but for us visible. So study, pay great attention to the times, and along the way keep expecting the One Who is above time; Jesus Christ, the pre-eternal Son and Word of God. Keep expecting Him. This exhortation of St. Ignatius is very important.
However, this should not throw us into the turmoil of curiosity and the consequences of a sickly imagination. We must mention that not all people have a healthy imagination. People also have a sick and wild imagination and can make a mountain out of a molehill! Some of you can go out, use this imagination, misquote what we said here, and begin to say that Fr. Athanasios announced that World War III will be in a couple of years, or it will take place at such and such a time! People will bring this to my attention. They will ask me and I will have no clue! Why all this? Because these wild imaginations have exaggerated some things that they thought they heard, and expressed them according to their imagination. St. Irenaeus said something excellent, “It is safer and less dangerous to await the fulfillment of a prophecy than to keep trying to guess and estimate and foretell what is about to take place.” St. Andrew of Caesarea also tells us something very important, “Time and experience will reveal to the vigilant.” Time will reveal these events. Now, you will ask, “Why should we bother and where is the value if things will happen in the future? It is important for me to know in advance what this book says so I will know how to stand.”
Specifically, let us talk about the presence of the Antichrist. When he comes, he will mesmerize the masses. He will be wise, thoughtful, a philanthropist, extremely civilized. He will be an amazing personality! He will enchant the entire world! This is what the Fathers say. People will boast about his governing abilities, about his wisdom. He will be a universal king. The unions that are taking place geographically one day will solidify to a great union, and then the Antichrist will come forth. It may sound strange, but it is true! This is the warning that we have from the word of God. In those days, Prophets Elijah and Enoch will appear. These two prophets did not taste death. They will serve as prophets of the present, not the future! They will call out that this is the Antichrist, and people will be amazed. “What? He is the greatest governor this world has ever known!” “No, he is the Antichrist!” They prophesy the present. Those who are vigilant, with a pure heart, who live a spiritual life, will recognize him instantly! The rest of the masses will seize the prophets and hang them in the center of Jerusalem from the tallest tree! Now, when will all these things happen? When they happen! When will we know? When they are happening!
We will recognize each event at the time of its outcome. Therefore, as you see, how we approach and how we study the book of the Revelation is very important. When we open the book of the Revelation, we feel that we are in front of some disorder, or in front of an abyss, with no beginning and no end—an abyss of visions, depictions and images. However, in reality, there is no abyss, nothing of this sort! There is rhythm and order based on a seven-fold system. This is true throughout the entire book, which is truly amazing. It is like looking up in the sky and trying to map out in an orderly fashion six to seven thousand stars, the ones that are visible! Is this possible for us? No, it is out of the question! It is chaotic! However, it is not chaotic to the astronomer! He has mapped these stars out. He studies and he knows how to look for them.
Accordingly, the book of the Revelation is not chaotic. We can easily find the beginning, the middle, and the end. However, this is the main point; we do not know how to interpret it. This is the problem! How do we interpret the book of the Revelation without wanting to go off on a tangent? I must tell you that four different theories or methods of interpretation have been posited presented. I will mention only a few. This presents a dilemma as to which theory to use and you will see this as we proceed with our interpretation. The first theory, which has been accepted by many Church Fathers, is called “cyclical” (kyklyki). In other words, when we read the Holy Scriptures, we ask of the things that are reported by the prophet, “Are these things meant for his time, for the journey of the Church through history, or for the end of time?” In this instance, we have the progressive or eschatological method. The cyclical states this: it takes a series of visions, a circle or combination of seven events and says these seven apply to the events of this time frame. The second combination of seven applies to the events of a subsequent period until we reach the end of time. The second theory is the chronological theory, which is not repetitive or cyclical, and does not refer to the seven-fold combination. It is a journey, wherein we can say; we are now at the first chapter, or if you will, at the third chapter where reference is made to the seven Churches of Asia Minor. With this method, we might say that the first three chapters refer to the time of St. John; the chapters beyond that until the last chapter refer to the time after St. John until the end of history. In other words, according to the chronological theory, we could say that every chapter corresponds to a piece of history.
Neither of these methods of interpretation is completely accurate. St. Andrew of Cesarean prefers the cyclical, but he uses all the methods of interpretation. In other words, we must use a selective method. In some areas we will use the cyclical, in some areas the chronological, and in some the eschatological. I hope I did not succeed in confusing all of you. However, you must understand that it is difficult to grasp all of this. Again, some Fathers use a combination of these methods and this combination is called the “spiral” method. To understand this, let us say that I am ready to climb a round mountain on an uphill winding road. After climbing a huge circle, I find myself a little higher, one more circle, and I am even higher and as I get up higher the mountain, the circles become smaller. Subsequently, here I have the combination of the circular and the straight-– I start at the base and I end up at the top. So, a prophecy can begin at the beginning—when the Apocalypse was written, when the book of the Revelation was first written—and this prophecy can actually continue until the end of times, until the Second Coming of Christ. Consequently, as we see here I have the cyclical interpretation, but I also have the straight line which progresses to the top. We call this combination the spiral interpretation.
Let us see how the Church Fathers use all these to interpret. Let us look at two or three examples. St. John says in his First Epistle, Children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come; therefore we know that it is the last hour. (2:18) It is the last hour. However, what does the last hour means? It means that the Second Coming of Christ is at hand—there is nothing beyond that. It is the last hour because you heard that the Antichrist is coming. Thus, the Antichrist is a sign of the last hour. Many other antichrists have come and this is how we know that this is the last hour. Now we seem to be all mixed up and all confused. How can we understand all this? It is really simple. We have the Antichrist, the main person, with a capital ‘A.’ All the others are small antichrist. They are all his forerunners. However, when is the last hour? The last hour begins from the moment St. John wrote the book of the Revelation! St. Paul records, but understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. (II Timothy, 3:1) Holy Apostle Paul, to what last days are you referring? St. John the Chrysostom interprets, “The last days begin at the very moment St. Paul writes his Epistle.”
Here is one more example, so we can understand even better. Christ said that Jerusalem would be destroyed; Stone will not be left upon stone. Then the powers of the Heaven will be shaken. The sun and the moon will lose their brightness. What do we have here? —One image that has two levels. The first level will take place a few years after this prophecy in 70 A.D.—the total destruction of Jerusalem. The second plane of this same image is the Second Coming of Christ and the end of times. That is the grand finale of this prophecy. The first phase was, so to speak, the semifinal; and this is the final. Consequently, at every moment in history we have the last hour—every moment. What we see here are circles that get wider and wider, and at the center of these widening circles we have the procession of the prophecy. At the first circumference of the circle, we have the interpretation of the prophecy. At a second wider circumference we have the interpretation again, and a third circumference. At the end, the great circumference of one huge circle will be touching upon the very, very end of times, the Second Coming of Christ. Therefore, this is how we will study the book of the Revelation, which means that this book is not something that was, or something that will be, but it always is. The book of the Revelation does not exhaust itself at a given time. It is a universal book that even enters the Kingdom of God itself.
St. Andrew of Caesarea says something very nice on this, “The prophets of the Old Testament were interpreted by many interpreters. However, many prophecies remain unfulfilled without reaching the end or the depth of the prophecy.” You may say, “But don’t the prophets of the Old Testament refer to Christ?” Yes, but they also refer to beyond Christ, to His Second Coming, and to the Kingdom of God. My friends, let’s never say that the prophecies of the Old Testament were all fulfilled! The coming of Christ does not exhaust the prophecies of the Old Testament. On this, St. Andrew of Caesarea once again says, “They will not be exhausted, not even in the Kingdom of God itself because it is in the Kingdom of God especially where we will be able to understand the full depth of these prophecies.”
So, by now you may begin to understand that the book of the Revelation is a tremendously deep and unfathomable book, and we need to approach it with a great deal of respect. Now at the closing of this brief introduction, I will ask you not to get discouraged if we were somewhat difficult. An introduction is always difficult. The introduction was meant to shine some light on this subject, and I hope that I did not manage to get you all confused. However, I urge you to have a little patience. Keep listening, and we will see how beautifully this book will refresh us—how we will gain greater understanding through this analysis. This book has so many great things to offer, so as we come to the end of this introduction we must keep in mind a few basic precepts about how to stand while hearing this book of God. First, let us never forget that we have in our midst the living word of God, the word of God Himself, since this book is God-inspired, like all the other books of Holy Scriptures.
Second, this word of God is deep and difficult to interpret. To gain understanding, one needs to have humility, prayer, attention, tears and persistence. Let us use the example of St. John the Evangelist, where he says, I heard a voice, ‘No one can open this scroll,’ and I started to cry, because no one could learn about the contents of this book. (Rev. 5:1-4) The angel who was guiding him came and told him, Do not weep, the book was opened by the morning star, the Son of God, the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ. So don’t weep. Why did he open the book? —Because St. John was weeping!
A third point, and something we need to be careful of; every conclusion which we will draw from this book—whether ethical, moral, or spiritual—we should not use only to instruct others. Let us apply these points to ourselves first! When Christ will say, You are not cold or hot, you are lukewarm! This is why I will spit you out of my mouth! Let us not say that He will spit out or throw up the others! No, we need to analyze and criticize our souls, ourselves first. I must question, “Am I also lukewarm? Maybe I am!” and then I will discover, if I have any sincerity, that yes, I am lukewarm and Christ is talking directly to me!
My friends, this is how we will be able to gain some understanding from the book of the Revelation so its truth can be revealed to us, at least as much as is humanly possible! In this way, we can walk this golden and bright journey of our Church in the face of the blood-shedding and life-killing swords of the godless powers all throughout history.
Analysis of the terms: “Revelation”, “must”, and “soon”
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; and he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written therein; for the time is near. (RSV)
My friends, this book begins with a wonderful introductory outline where in which we can observe a number of essential elements. First, it is distinguished by its official tone that reminds one of the inscriptions of the books of the Old Testament. Its beginning can be compared with the grandeur of the beginning of the book of Isaiah, for instance: The vision of Isaiah, the son of Amoz which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. (Isaiah 1:1) Second, the character of the book is made known by the name Revelation and the holy writer calls to our attention that what we have in front of us is a prophetic book! Third, the validity and authenticity of this book is declared because the source of this book is God Himself, Jesus Christ, whether He speaks personally or through an angel. Fourth, the purpose of the writing of this book is pointed out where he says to show unto His servants what must soon take place;
So, we have a record of the purpose of the writing of the book of the Revelation. Again, the purpose is to show unto the servants of God those things which must take place soon! A fifth observation is the identification of the writer, who is none other than His servant, St. John the Evangelist. This is the disciple that Jesus loved, the writer of the Gospel according to John and of the three catholic epistles. A sixth point, is that the content of the book is revealed, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Therefore, St. John bears record of the Word of God; so the book of the Revelation is the word of God, the testimony of Jesus Christ and all the things that St. John saw. He will not add or subtract. At the end of the book John himself will note, anyone who adds anything to the words of this book, God will add to him the plagues described in this book! And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy God will take away from him his share in the Tree of Life, meaning he will not enter the Kingdom of God. St. John is very careful to record only what he saw and heard and nothing more!
The central theme of this book is the Second Coming of Christ, which includes the war of the godless powers against the Church, their great defeat, handed to them by Christ, and the glorious reign of Christ unto the ages of ages. A seventh point, is that the purpose of this book is made clear by the blessing which it bestows on those that read, those that hear, and those that keep the word of God. Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written therein; Finally, what is also recorded here is that the time of the fulfillment of the content of this book is short, …for the time is near. The time is at hand! So (delete) All these things that we see in the introductory outline of this book, comprise a great deal of information in just a few lines! Now by the grace of God, we will proceed to interpret the Holy Script, word-by-word and phrase-by-phrase! It has so much beauty, there is so much beauty that even if they would tell us to hurry along, how can we possibly hurry?! When the Script itself stops you, it holds you down fast; it stops you dead in your tracks. It demands your attention!
The Revelation of Jesus Christ! — Revelation or Apocalypse in Greek. With these words, this great book of the New Testament begins. However, what is the meaning of the word “revelation?” Initially it means that this book is prophetic. It is the only prophetic book of the New Testament even though the other books of the New Testament have prophetic elements as well. Whether they have a historical character, like the Gospels, or a letter character like the Epistles of Sts. Paul, Peter, John, James and so on, and even though they are full of prophetic references, these are not especially prophetic. They are historical, advisory, and so on. The book of the Revelation is especially prophetic, the only one of its kind in the New Testament, even though it is full of spiritual counsels as well.
According to St. Andrew of Caesarea, “Revelation is the declaration of hidden mysteries which take place by the illumination of the nous, whether by divine dreams or visions, or in a state wakefulness like St. John.” St. John was not asleep. He was quite awake! He was not dreaming. Daniel, in the Old Testament however, saw these things in his dreams, while he was asleep. He saw those great images, great visions, but he was asleep. St. John here is quite awake, he will say, I was on the island of Patmos… I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, (Kyriaki, on Sunday) I heard behind a loud voice… Then I turned around and I saw what I saw, someone like the Son of Man, the glorified Jesus! And He told me, I am the one walking among the lampstands… to the seven churches write these things that I am about to tell you. (Rev.1: 10-13) So, St. John is fully awake.
However, the word revelation also has a deeper meaning. Many times, we use this term, “revelation,” without managing to understand it fully! Generally speaking, revelation means that God is revealing Himself to man and this revelation is either direct or indirect, with its purpose being always to lead people to the knowledge of God. God is not unknown. He is known and unknown at the same time! He is known because God wants to be in communion with His creation. At the same time, He is unknown because He is the Unsearchable, the Untouchable, the Unfathomable, the Everlasting, the Timeless, the One above the sensual and created nature because the essence of God will always escape the knowledge of all created beings. This is why He is the Unknowable Known!
These are all expressions of what is called “apophatic theology;” this very statement for example: “I don’t know what God is, and the more I learn about Him, I become more certain that I don’t know God!” This is an apophatic stand towards the knowledge of God, however God loves to reveal Himself! He never keeps to Himself; He reveals Himself either directly or indirectly, and the revelation of God can be visualized in the natural divine revelation or the supernatural divine revelation. The natural divine revelation has three spheres through which God is revealed within His creation. First, He reveals Himself through creation itself; second, through man himself; and third through the human history and the history of the creation. God reveals Himself through creation according to the words of St. Paul Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, (Romans 1:20) Therefore, within creation we recognize God’s qualities in the cataphatic way, not apophatic as we mentioned before. Here the knowledge is in a cataphatic way, through the very creation. We have such a vast universe; and this universe is so vast that the corners of this universe have never been reached by any telescope . Even our own imagination cannot travel that far. Science today talks about two hundred billion suns in our own galaxy, in our own Milky Way galaxy! They are talking about one hundred billion galaxies! Andromeda is the closest galaxy to ours, the closest galaxy, and it is 1.5 million light years away! The diameter of the universe is 18 billion light years! Just contemplating these things makes us dizzy! Equally, we are not capable of imagining a finite universe, with limits, nor can we grasp this; and at the same time we cannot perceive a universe without boundaries.
Now, if we have such a vast and mind-boggling universe, then what can we say about our God? Then God must be eternal, everlasting, infinite. God is almighty, all-wise! So where do we see these qualities? In God’s creation! So, God is revealed through His creation. This is why, my friends, there has never been a godless nation in human history, precisely because God revealed Himself through His creatures! The phenomenon of atheism of our times is the sickened state of today’s man who is in desperate need of a psychiatrist! Every atheist should be the subject of psychiatric evaluation! The state of the atheist is not natural. God is revealed to man for the simple reason that man is the image of God. The nous, the ruling nous, the mind, reveals and discovers God not only because man can sense God with his nous, but the very presence of man’s mind reveals the eternal mastermind, the eternal nous. Speaking for myself, to have a mind and to be able to think, which is not my doing obviously, some people must be really foolish to think that they created their own minds. They must be a real imbeciles . Since I have a mind, we can easily conclude that the Person who created me has a mind as well. This is well stated in one of the Psalms. David says, He who created the eyes, can He not see? He who has made the ear, can He not hear? Does He not understand? So, we can see now that through the created beings, especially through man, the presence and existence of God is manifested.
Finally, we see the presence of God throughout history. God enters man’s history. He orchestrates the events without affecting the human will. God always has the final word. I will use an example so you can understand this very thing. Let’s think of a boat, a commercial ferryboat, or a cruise liner; in it, we have passengers and personnel. Passengers and personnel move around, they go about their business; one passenger goes to the cabin; another decides to go for a dip in the pool; the third one goes to the main deck for coffee; the fourth goes to the dining room; the mechanics stay in the engine room; the captain in the captain’s chair. Everyone moves about independently the way they ought to and according to their own will! Each person has the personal freedom to move and carry on as they wish inside the boat. Their will is not restricted per se in any way, shape or form. However, the entire ship is moving towards a certain point. This is the relationship of history, people and God. While people in general are free to choose their actions on their trip, through history, the reality is that the entire cruise liner of history is directed towards a certain purpose, a certain destination!
So in this sense, God intervenes through history. He interferes to lead, direct, to punish, to destroy, to rescue or to reward. As we mentioned a number of times, the entire Old Testament is a theology of history and a revelation of in the history of the nation of Israel. Even the Incarnation of the Son of God takes place within history, and still covers the entire human prehistory. When God tells Eve that one of her descendents will come to save her, we see that the Incarnation is not placed at a specific time in history, let’s say two thousand years ago, but that the entrance of God in history through His Incarnation covers the entire history of mankind — from prehistoric times and up to the until the last day. These things are inconceivable, truly inconceivable; and the person who can abide and live by these becomes full of divine awe—before God before His love and His Providence.
Therefore, the revelation of God exists in the personal history of man and not only in universal history . Would you like me to tell you my life history? I would not tell you anything other than how God entered my own personal life! Would you like me to listen to your life history? I could listen to everyone’s life history, to the history of people that listen to or read this very homily. How did all these people find their way here, listening to or reading the word of God? In answer, of course, the people will relate the history of God in their lives? So God enters not only our national history, He also enters the history of every individual, of every human being, whether believer or unbeliever, pious or impious, young or old. There is no such thing as luck! Luck does not exist. God governs everything! However, He never restricts the freedom of the individual. The supernatural divine revelation fulfills and perfects the natural divine revelation. Mount Sinai, the prophets, and above all the Incarnation of the Son of God itself make up the supernatural divine revelation. The supernatural divine revelation can be internal or external. The external or outward is already established by the appearance of God in our history, in the Person of Jesus Christ. It is already established and there is nothing more for us to expect, nothing other than what was revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ.
When I say we have no more expectations, we do not mean that we do not expect the Second Coming. Yes we do! But in the Person of Jesus Christ, the same Person; in other words we do not have anything outside or beyond the Person of Jesus Christ. The prophets foretold and preached the word of God and Moses saw the glory of God, but history has now seen the Person of the Incarnate Son of God. It will see it again but He will be the same Person. Consequently, we will not have any new revelation than what we already have and this is what we mean when we say that the outward or exterior revelation is already established. What remains is the inward, supernatural revelation that continues in the life of the faithful— all the faithful— to help them to understand and accept the outward revelation. In other words, God reveals Himself inside me so I can call Jesus Lord! St. Paul expresses this in these words; No one can say Jesus is Lord without being in the Holy Spirit. This means that the Spirit of God illumines me to confess Jesus as Lord, or God. No one comes to the Son if not allured by the Father. The opposite is true, which shows the equality of the Holy Trinity. I will never be able to come near Jesus Christ if the Father does not draw me near. How does the Father draw me? Well, this is an invisible mystical matter. The Father allures me and the Spirit of God illumines me to confess Jesus Christ God. Those who do not confess Jesus Christ to be God do not have the Spirit of God! It is more obvious than obvious. He, who confesses Jesus Christ to be the incarnate Son of God, has the Spirit of God.
If we do not have the Spirit of God— St. Paul is very clear on this matter—without the Spirit of God we can do nothing—we are neither near, nor should we have hope of salvation! not in the area or hope of salvation. So, we have this inner divine revelation in order to accept the outward historical revelation, to accept the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ! With this last form, of the inner revelation, my friends, we are called to study and understand the book of the Revelation. Let us not think that while we are leafing through the pages of this book, while analyzing this book, we will be able to understand anything in it in the absence of divine illumination! Let us not think this because understanding is not academic, or grammatical, or poetic, or philological! Understanding is spiritual. A philologist understands the Bible from the scope of literature, grammar, and composition. But these are nothing more than external elements and what we desperately need to understand is that this is the living word of God who will speak in our hearts! So, we are in desperate need of this internal revelation to understand the book of the Revelation.
St. John, and we need to pay attention to this, St. John accepted a direct inner revelation. St. John saw Christ face to face, directly. However, we must accept it through the messenger of Jesus Christ, John, through the Tradition of the Church and the two thousand years of church history, through the written word, through the book that we will read and if you will, through the hearing of the word of God, through the speaker. So, we must accept this revelation despite all these continuous coatings, through the messenger John, through two thousand years, through Tradition, the printed- word and the voice of the speaker. So, I must uncover and strip all these coatings to come to accept the revelation of God. These are coatings or coverings that are essential however, and if I disregard these then I am left with nothing! I will accept them and I will begin to uncover them. To give another example, let’s say I enter a room, a building. I walk through the hallway, I go to the door, I open it, I go through and I continue to walk until I reach my destination. So, here I must
move through these coverings until I personally find the final revelation, to find God Who will speak in my heart. Now how is this going to take place? The only way is through faith, through obedience and submission to the voice of the Church! All the things that we mentioned, St. John, the Tradition, the time of two thousand years, the print, the paper, the voice of the speaker with submission to the church and with humility my friends! Faith in essence is to conceive what is revealed through the spoken word, with the historical form penetrating the coverings that the historical form itself and the Word with His incarnation have placed over them. All these factors that we designated as coverings, we will call upon to reveal God to us.
This is why what is needed is a new revelation to help us understand the revelation of God and without this type of revelation the book of the Apocalypse remains sealed, a sealed book with seven seals! Why, you will ask? Because this is how God wants it! Doesn’t God have the right to do as He wishes? —To project something as He wants it? Is He not the Lord? This is how God wants and chooses things to be. He wants these coverings to be in place to restrict human haughtiness and arrogance! Man should not depend on himself and say, “I will find all this out by myself!” or “I am special enough and the Spirit of God talks to me directly! God speaks through me!” —As a lot of the heretics keep saying. No, you will find things out through the words of the speaker, through the printed word, through St. John the Evangelist who heard all this! This will bring you humility and will restrict your human haughtiness. Furthermore, man can only be saved through his fellow men! A man is saved through the Church and by the Church. Individual salvation does not exist. Let’s recognize this! Someone who would wish to be saved alone, without the help of the Church and the help of the brothers and sisters, let’s understand this, that particular someone will never be saved!
—The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him. — So this is revelation about Jesus Christ being enacted through Jesus Christ that God gives to Him, meaning Jesus Christ. Therefore, this revelation is about Jesus Christ and is presented by Jesus Christ. So, the source of this revelation, revelations rather, is God Himself! What is significant here is that the Script does not say “revelation of the Son of God” because the Son of God is of equal value with the Father. One Person of the Trinity cannot reveal things to another Person of the Holy Trinity; the Persons of the Trinity are one in essence. There are no secrets between the Persons of the Triune God. All three Persons are infinite, all knowing, and all wise—the three Persons of the Triune God! Jesus Christ refers to the human nature of Christ and the human nature of Christ is not infinite. However through the hypostatic or personal union with the Word of God, the human nature of Christ now can be considered omnipresent, present everywhere, not by its own merit but by the hypostatic union with God the Word. So, God gives this revelation to Jesus Christ Who will in turn give it to John, and St. John will pass it down to the Church. Now, how did Christ receive the revelation from God? And by God we mean the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit ? . We see it in 5: 6,7 in the very book of the Revelation that we are studying.
And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth; and he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. So I saw in the midst of the throne and the four living creatures, these living creatures which are the cherubim, I saw a slain lamb but standing up! Slain but standing! This is the very thing that Christ will tell St. John in a direct revelation, “I am the one who died and behold I live again” Behold I live! The Son of God cannot become dead! The divine nature obviously cannot die so the human body died because of the crucifixion and the burial in the tomb. What a beautiful image, the slain and standing lamb! The ancient Church had this as the most precious symbol, the most beloved symbol of the original Church. The standing slain lamb! To those that deeply study the book of Revelation, the dearest part is this point of the standing slain lamb.
However, one must progress, very much, to come to love these things. Then he came and took something out of the right hand of him who sat on the throne. He took a book, a scroll. He does not specify who was sitting out of great respect. God was sitting, as we will see in our interpretation. So, this is how Jesus Christ received the revelation from God the Father, or God generally, the Triune God, the One Who sits on the throne. Now who is going to open this scroll, this book? The angel will say in the fifth chapter: “Who is worthy to open the scroll, and to loose its seals? No one was found! No one was worthy to open this book and John was weeping, he was crying. The angel says do not weep, someone was found; the slain lamb can open the book. He will open the book. In other words, He will reveal. This is why the book is the revelation of Jesus Christ; meaning that it reveals and manifests Christ and consequently the revelation takes place through Jesus Christ. This is the meaning of the words the revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave unto Him.
—He gave unto Him to show His servants. — Whose servants? The servants of Jesus Christ; to show what? To show those things which will define the contents of the book. It also expresses the purpose or why this book was given. What will it show? Things that must shortly take place. Those things that must take place quickly; which MUST take place! This “must” my friends has great theological dimension in Holy Scripture. Please allow me to use the rest of our remaining time to see this “must” of the Holy Scriptures. We run into this “must” very often. Let’s see some verses: In Daniel 2: 28,29: …but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what must be in the last days. In Matthew 16:21 we read: From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. He must! Why? Look, when Christ resurrected He tells His disciples, Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory? (Luke 24:26)
This must my friends, is difficult, full of mysteries and inconceivable! We could simply ask, “Why was it necessary for these things to take place?” These things which are not at all pleasant, like the cross for example, or the persecution of the Church and the faithful until the Second Coming of Christ. The Church, my friends, needed to set out on a specialized type of journey through history which would be full of temptation and persecution from the world. However, we see that this “must”, this necessity of the Church, to undertake a journey full of tribulation and persecution comes to parallel the “must” of the journey of Christ. It could not happen any differently. Why? Because the Church is the very Body of Christ. So, when Christ says that, I must be killed, I must be crucified. then the Church must also say that, I must be killed, I must be crucified. Do not panic! Were you baptized? Were we baptized? Do we want to be Christians? Let’s finally understand this, Christ was crucified. We must also be crucified. Christ was persecuted. We will be persecuted as well! Most likely!
If they persecuted me they will also persecute you and here is the parallel verse. If they persecuted me, this is the must of Christ; they will also persecute you, this is the must of the Church. Christ says, I must go to Jerusalem to suffer many things, to be crucified. This is parallel to the verse of St. Paul, through many trials. In the Acts of the Apostles when they stoned him in Lystra and the disciples went to bury his body at night, they found him alive and well. He arose to tell the disciples that, through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God. The disciples could have asked him, “Holy Apostle Paul, why must we? Couldn’t you have avoided the stoning?” No, it was a must! There is great mystery and depth here. Therefore, the must of Christ is to go up to Jerusalem. St. Paul’s must is that, through many tribulations, we will enter the Kingdom of God, and these things that must take place quickly in the book of the Revelation, are all parallel. Why is this? Because as far as this must of Christ, the people would oppose the Person of Christ, they would have opposed His mission. In order to have it come to pass, the work of salvation needed to be accomplished by any means, so Christ made it to the Cross—and the organ of the negation of salvation, the Cross— became the way of salvation. This is why the Lord said, I must, and the Church must for the same reason. The world would not accept Her presence and it would go to war against Her. As we are speaking my friends, do you have any idea what the powers of darkness are orchestrating at the expense of the Church? They are frothing at the mouth. They are frothing at the mouth and they will continue to do so! So, the Church’s lot is to be in a state of war. The Church had to stand, to be established and to await Christ’s Second Coming. Doesn’t St. Paul say that the mystery of the Holy Eucharist will be offered continually and will continue to be offered until Christ comes back? Until He returns! So, the reaction of the world is irreconcilable! I am sure you know this term, “irreconcilable differences.” Most of the time, this term is used loosely, when one or both partners in a marriage become bored. But in this case, yes! The world has irreconcilable differences with the Church. So this must of the Church is unavoidable! That is all it is! In other words, this inability to avoid certain confrontations in the relations between the Church and the world is expressed by the term must; these things that must be.
So this must does not express the necessity of these events, or confrontations. Many people may argue and say that there is a certain forcefulness here, a certain coercion which may bind a person’s freedom of choice. This must does not express the necessity of these events, but the necessity of salvation which all these different events stem from. Salvation is an irrevocable action of the love of God. Let’s understand this, irrevocable! God loves and wants to save the world! So what if the enemies of the Church are frothing at the mouth? What if the devil rants and raves? So what? God wants to save the world and this is how this must comes into play The devil is irrevocable in his actions and unrepentant. The Church and salvation are also irrevocable. Therefore, confrontation is unavoidable. This is where the must comes in! The end result, the events of the past, present and future must take place. But you may say, “We don’t exactly understand these things!”
My friends, we get it and we don’t get it! It is truly a mystery. Now why does God allow this unpleasant sort of solution? You will say, “Isn’t God capable of finding an easier method?” This is a great temptation for many Christians, “Why isn’t God able to intervene?” However, if He intervenes, my brother, you will tell Him that He is controlling you! He is binding your freedom! Why does God choose this seemingly worse solution? —It is because God loves and He wants to show His love. He offers His Son to be crucified! He could have used another method to save the world but He wants to save the world with love; and salvation moved by love is a deep mystery. It constitutes a mere fold of the love of God. St. Isaac the Syrian reveals this for us. When I first read it, I was not all that impressed. I am afraid you may feel this way initially as well. Now, I am totally satisfied with it. Let’s look at his 81 st homily:
“In the final analysis of all these things, Our God and Lord, due to His strong love for His creation,” …and this is the key: strong, great love, burning love. The Greek word is pothos. He gave His Son to a death on the cross. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to suffer death for it. (John 3:16) Not because God could not save us in a different way, but this was the way that God found to show and teach us His immense love. Our mind cannot grasp this!
He touched us, He drew near to us through the death of His Son to show and tell us how much He loves us! He loves us exceedingly and if He had something, even more precious than this, He would have given it to us. All this was accomplished so our human race could find its way back to Him, to draw near Him. And because of His great love, He did not wish to bind our freedom. Even though He could do this, He chose to let us come to Him in the spirit of love. All these things my friends express the mystery behind those things that must take place.
With this solution the love of God is made obvious. At the same time, the freedom of the individual is preserved! God is truly wonderful! These two elements, freedom and love espoused and working together in the life of the faithful individual will give birth to holiness. This is the holiness we need to enter the Kingdom of God. Those things that must take place quickly. Quickly! How quickly? St. Andrew of Caesarea says, “Some of these prophecies are at hand, ready to happen, and if you will, they began to happen as soon as the book was written!” And those things that will be at the end of history and are prophesied will not take long because one thousand years for God are as one day, as yesterday. However, in the recording of the Revelation my friends, those things that will take place start out as a chain that extends to the close of history. This “quickly” means a quick start, not necessarily a fulfillment of these revelations, but a constant and continued revelation and the total fulfillment of this revelation will be the end.
The beginning and the end of these events therefore are seen under the spectrum of one and the same image. What is significant is that this pre-Christian must, which we have seen in Daniel and other prophets, is indefinite time wise, whereas the Christian must is definite and in urgent time, for instance,
God tells Abraham, two thousand years before Christ, that he will be a father of a great nation and revealed reveals the Messiah to Abraham. When we read about these things in the Old Testament we get the feeling that these events will take place in the very, very distant future. There is no definite timeframe it’s indefinite, however timeframe; it is indefinite. However, these prophecies which showed no urgency — no urgency at all, materialized in two thousand years! Christ came two thousand years after Abraham! Now remember, the post-Christian must tells us that these things will take place quickly, which gives us the feeling of urgency. Professor Bratsiotis says, “It’s like we can hear and sense the galloping of the upcoming events, like the galloping of horses which can be heard when the riders approach a town.” Now It is understood that these events are on their way quickly and yet, two thousand years have passed by! Now we can pose the question, “Might the end of history be near or at least the beginning of the end be near?” My friends, perhaps.
Revelation 1: 1-4
The beatitude of the readers, listeners, and keepers of the divine word — greeting to the seven churches.
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants what must soon take place; and he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John. The author of the book of the Revelation is the holy Apostle and Evangelist John, as we see his name recorded, which insures that this book is not fraudulent or forged, but a genuine work of St. John the Evangelist. This is not of small significance but rather of great significance, and we must pay great attention to it since the Church has accepted this as the work of John the Evangelist and honored it by including it in the canonical books of the New Testament, and rightly so.
It is a book of the Holy Bible, the Holy Scripture. We must add that the Church has been extremely cautious in this respect. Works of the Apostolic Fathers or successors to the Apostles such as Barnabas, for example, or those of other Apostolic Fathers were not placed in the canon of the New Testament. These writings are not material of the New Testament. The Church exercised extreme caution and allowed many years to pass before including some of the books in the canon of the New Testament or books of the first order which were written by the hand of eyewitnesses who saw, heard, and touched God the Word Who incarnated, as Origen says. So then, the author of the book of the Revelation is St. John. The Apostles commonly use the word “servant” as they write their epistles. However, here we have the simple recording of the name of John, simply John, without a title such as ‘the disciple of Christ’ or ‘the apostle of Christ’. The absence of these titles shows that John very well knew the receivers and the readers of his book. They were very close to him. It is also obvious that the book of the Revelation is given to the Church from God the Father, through Jesus Christ, through the angel, through John, to the Church.
So, what we have here is a living chain of paradosis, or teaching tradition. Paradosis in Greek means “tradition.” It literally means to pass down, to have one person deliver and another person receive. So God the Father gives to the Son Incarnate, not God the Word, but to Jesus Christ: to God Incarnate. Jesus Christ gives to the angel; the angel gives to John; and John passes it to the Church. So, what we have here is the wonder of the living Tradition, or paradosis. This is precisely why this livingTradition, along with Holy Scripture makes up the basis or the foundation of the Church. As we know, it is Holy Tradition that preserved the authenticity and validity of the Holy Scriptures. Holy Tradition told us which book is genuine or which is fraudulent . This must be understood by those who discard and disregard the Tradition of the Church, whether Protestant or Orthodox, who have been heavily influenced by the non-Orthodox. They disregard the Tradition of the Church. The key, and we will mention this repeatedly; the key to the Orthodox interpretation of the book of the Revelation is to be found in the treasure chest of Holy Tradition. If you do not take a hold of this key that Holy Tradition has given you, then you will never interpret and see the true meaning of Scripture. This is why the Protestants interpret Scripture every which way, with the result being the deterioration of their faith into thousands of pieces. They have no idea what they believe today, what they believed yesterday, and what they will believe tomorrow.
…And he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. So John saw visions; he saw images and symbols; he saw these things; he did not imagine them; nor did he nor did he produce them, or fantasize them . He actually saw them. These are real accounts of what he actually saw. Christ tells him, “Write the things that you see. Write what you hear,” and in one specific instance, He tells him, “Do not write these things, these are just for you- seal this information; but all the other things, do write them.” So, we can see very clearly that the holy Apostle, with much simplicity, will record the things that he will see. He will not add or subtract. What is true and characteristic of a genuine script is that it is simple, and not very articulate. It is usually the fraudulent writings that need to be articulate and very well edited because their purpose is to impress; to catch the attention, to impress the reader. However, in the authentic book that records true things, real things from God, there is no need to be articulate or to have any special fanfare, no need to impress. The truth is the truth. So, John writes simply what he saw — nothing more, nothing less. If he leaves something out he is guilty and he will answer to God. If he writes something more, then he is equally guilty —no more and no less.
It must be mentioned that John finishes this book with: I warn every one who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if any one adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if any one takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. In other words, this person will not enter the Kingdom of God. So, if the Evangelist himself writes this about anyone else who would attempt to alter this book, how much more must he be careful. Therefore, in reality St. John wrote exactly what he saw and what he heard. Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written therein; for the time is near. This introductory outline, which we spoke about in an earlier session, closes with this beatitude, this blessing, heaped upon those who study, hear, and apply the words of this book and generally the Word of God. This beatitude is the first of the seven specific beatitudes in the book of the Revelation.
To continue, “blessed is he who reads and they that hear” “he that reads,” is singular. “They that hear,” is plural. One reads and many hear. Where was this reading and hearing taking place? Where else but the Church? It was used in public worship, much like the Gospel, and the Epistles of the Apostles. This is how the book of the Revelation was utilized in the early Church. This is why it says “he that reads and they that hear.” Moreover, the purpose of the use of this book in public worship was to strngthen, to console the faithful, but also to inform them about the content of this book. St. Justin, in the middle of the second century, records for us a very beautiful picture about the reading of the Epistle and Gospel in public worship. He writes, in one of the first apologetic homilies, referring to “he that reads and those that hear.” “And on the day called the day of the sun (it was called Sunday by the idolaters and this name was preserved in the Latin languages until this day) all those that lived in the cities or in the country, would congregate and meet in one place, and one read memoirs of the Apostles, (these are the Gospels or the writings of the Prophets.) reader stops.” So here we can see that the Church was following the instruction of St. John, or Christ rather; we see it very clearly. So after the reader would stop, the proistamenos, the bishop, the one in charge, would begin to interpret, to preach and explain the material that was read so the entire congregation would be able to apply these teachings in their daily lives.
We do the same thing here. We keep reading the verses of the book of the Revelation repeatedly. The subject must be read; we read it; we read it in the original Greek; then we translate it into our everyday language, and then we must interpret it. This is the way we stay in tune with the Holy Script, for our ears to get used to it so that it becomes familiar to us, and not foreign. It is necessary to hear sermons that motivate towards the imitation of good things. But our Church, had to deal with a number of false interpretations circulated by the heretics, for example the one thousand year reign of Christ. This heresy (one that still goes on today) brought forth havoc in the Church, even in the days of St. John. St. John was still alive and this book was already being grossly misinterpreted. The first to interpret it falsely was Cerinthus, a child of Gnosticism. He was not even a Christian. He mixed philosophy and various religions together along with some Christianity, and he started talking about the one thousand years of the Kingdom of Christ. St. John the Apostle was quite concerned about these things. At some point, St. John was in Ephesus and he visited a public bathhouse where someone told him that Cerinthus was also inside. His response was, “Let’s leave quickly before the roof of the place collapses and kills all of us!” because of the presence of the heretic.
The Apostles, as long as they were alive, not only corrected these interpretations, but gave warning, spelling out these things to the Christians. St. Paul, for instance, says, After I leave I know that many will misinterpret my words. St. Peter actually comes to defend St. Paul when he writes in his Epistle; there are unstable and ignorant people that distort the words of St. Paul as they do other Scripture to their own destruction. Didn’t Hymenaeus and Philetus distort the teaching of St. Paul about the resurrection of the dead? Weren’t they teaching that the resurrection already took place? My friends, the authors of the Holy Scriptures are not at fault. People’s egotism is responsible here. Why? Because simply, my friend, if you want to interpret, that is fine, but you must have the key . The key, as I’ve stated earlier, is the Tradition of the Church. This is how the Church interprets. Now if you want to interpret the way you want, due to your lucipherian pride, then you are sure to fail. You will become a heretic, and heresy is nothing other than the logical interpretation of dogma. When I attempt to interpret things that cannot be interpreted with logic and intellectuality, when I try to interpret a deep mystery using my mere mind and my intellect, then I become a heretic. So, when I attempt to explain or interpret the teaching of the Church by logical methods and logical means, then I automatically find myself in the realm of heresy.
The holy writers are not to blame, only the pride, egotism, and selfishness of some people within the Church. However, the Church, —in the east especially, due to all these inconsistencies and situations , was forced to discontinue the use of the book of the Revelation in the area of worship. This did not take place in the west, only in the east. There were no heresies in the west in this area. So, the book is authentic and the Church has it included it in the canon of the New Testament. We pray that during a true Orthodox Synod, the Church may reconsider and re-admit this book of the Revelation in the area of worship, so it can be preached at the pulpit, much like the Epistles of St. Paul and the rest of the Apostles. Yes, we can pray for this. This of course does not hinder anyone from studying and preaching from the book of the Revelation, or from using verses from this book to help a speaker of the word of God to teach or support a certain subject. Blessed is he that reads and they that hear and keep those things; these three that St. John mentions here remind us of the words of the Lord. “Blessed are those that hear the word of God and keep it.”
The Lord said this when a woman out of the crowd shouted out, “Blessed is the womb that held you and the breasts that gave you milk.” And He said, “Indeed*, blessed are those that hear the word of God and keep it or live by it.” These three verbs, “he that reads, those that hear, and keep the words,” these verbs - reads, hear, keep are stated in the present tense, which suggests that this is to go on continually and without ceasing. I must always read, I must always hear, and I must always keep the word of God. It does not say, “those that heard” but “those that hear.” This is nothing like saying “I heard some sermons or I went to a few classes; I had enough, why should I go again?” No, the word of God here is direct, “He that reads always; those that hear always; and those that keep the word of God always.”
[*Translators note: This verse is mistranslated by every English translation to date. The original Greek is menounye, meaning indeed; of course; definitely.]
Let’s consider this threefold combination, of the reading, the hearing, and the keeping of the word of God. About reading, in order to understand the word of God, we must be in God. Otherwise, we cannot understand the word of God. On this St. Diadochos Photikis said, “There’s nothing worse. There is no worse poverty than to be speaking about God while being outside and away from God.” This, my friends, can be seen very clearly in the case of people who do not live a spiritual life, but yet speak about spiritual matters. They make mistakes, and are often quite clueless. They try to answer questions , but according to their own thinking. They are not in God and they do not have a spiritual life. One who does not live a spiritual life cannot talk about matters of God. what It is not possible. And he can never understand the written word of God because the understanding of the word of God is not simply academic or philological. Someone can be a PhD. He can be a Doctor of Divinity, and have no understanding of the word of God. The understanding of the word of God has a different dimension. I am not saying that philology or some knowledge of literature or grammar is not helpful. All these elements do help but these elements are not enough. You cannot say “I have a degree in literature so I will have no problem understanding the Bible.” You will not understand anything. The Spirit of the Scriptures will be elusive to you; you will be left only with the letter. The existence of a liturgical atmosphere is also necessary, a prerequisite in order to study and understand the word of God. What does that mean? It means that the reading or the hearing of the word of God cannot be reduced to a living room subject, or become an academic matter.
There is a tendency;—and these tendencies always existed for some people— to discuss highly theological matters in a living room, with all the known accoutrements of a living room along with the socializing jokes and funnies. The discussions are simply academic. Again, the discussion can be highly theological, however it does not touch the Word, with a capital W, the Word of God. These discussions stay at the swaddling clothes, the ones that the Theotokos, the Virgin Mary dressed Him in after His birth. This is how far these people get. They cannot touch the Word of God: never. So, it is not enough just to talk about the Bible. I do not benefit when I do it outside of the liturgical environment and outside the blessing of the Church. This is why the word of God must be connected with the liturgical space. Simply put, the sermon must take place in the Church. We are not saying that it is forbidden to say it somewhere else, like the street or the mountain, that’s fine, but it must be connected with the liturgical place. After the Divine Liturgy, for instance, or after a Vespers service, the word of God during or after these services has a different effect in the hearts of the people.
What is also needed is internal and external quiet time for someone to understand the word of God. St. Gregory the Theologian says, “The Divine is experienced in a state of quiet.” You need quiet stillness to feel and understand God inside you. This stillness is mostly internal but also external. You need to have peace in your heart. We will not stop reading the word of God when we have turmoil; but we need to gain our peace, in order to delve into the deep things of God. In order to submerge, ourselves, we need to have inner peace and stillness. All our daily cares must come to a halt, must be put on hold. Also when we study the word of God we must feel that it is for us, and not for others. We must see our own shortcomings and not those of others. On this, St. Isaac the Syrian says, “The man of humble heart, when he studies the Holy Scriptures, never says, ‘this is for that person, this is good advice for other people.” No, the word of God is speaking to me. Sometimes as we speak the word of God, some of you may think, “is the speaker talking about me? Maybe he overheard something about my private life.” The speaker does not know anything. I assure you. The word of God is directed by God Himself. Sure, I have prepared myself but what has been prepared and is being expressed is under the direction of God Himself in its depth. So, His word can touch in a special way the different types of hearts. The word is One. However, He touches each person differently.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem says, “The water that falls on the plant is all the same; the same water for all flowers. But for one flower the water makes a red flower, for the other it becomes a white color, for the third a yellow flower, and so on, all caused by the same water.” In the same way, the word of God touches the heart of each sincere listener, and I underline this, the sincere listener - according to his needs. We do not single out the troubles of a listener and try to base our talk on them as some naïve listeners may think. Again, we need to have humility, which we lack. For example, we think, “I wish so-and-so were here to listen to this. It would be so helpful for them.” This shows pride, and it is a matter of pride when we think that others need to hear something. Instead, I must say, “This is only for me and I need to improve myself.” Finally, we need to begin our study, our reading, with prayer. St. Cyril says, “Do not try to come in touch with the mysteries of God and the word of God without prayer.” So, do not open Holy Scripture; do not start reading without prayer, asking God for His help. While praying say, “Lord, allow me to sense; let me feel the power of Your words, the power that exists in Your words.” You must consider prayer as the key for you to understand the deeper meaning of the Scriptures.
However, it is important to come to an understanding about the hearing of the word of God. Years ago many people were not able to read . Only a few people knew how to read. Today the opposite is true. Almost everyone can read. So in the past, the basic source of knowledge leading to the truths of God was the sense of hearing, the ear. People could not read. However, even today the hearing of the word is very basic for all people because the word is offered through a living tongue. And much like the word of God, it is alive; so when the word of God is heard through a living tongue, this makes it especially graceful.
The word of God in this case can be presented along with the personal experiences of the speaker. And this can be a source of courage to listeners as far as the application of the word of God goes. It is not the same if you hear it on the radio, or if you read it in a book. It is something very different. This is why we go to hear the word of God and we do not rely on reading only. Reading does not replace the spoken word. And the hearing of the spoken word does not replace reading. These two parallel things are equally important.
I must also tell you that the hearing of the word of God presupposes the presence of other people. The word of God is connected with the presence and vision of other people. In other words, it is connected with the Church. And this is very important, to have the word of God be heard in the Church, —very beneficial. — and of great value. On the other hand, if I sit by myself listening to a cassette, it is like eating canned food according to the holy one of Florina, Metropolitan Avgoustinos Kantiotes. The canned word of God does not have the same freshness as the live participation. It is useful. I will listen to the cassette, I will read my books. But I will also make it point to go and hear the live, the living word of God,to get together with the other faithful, my other brothers and sisters in Christ. This is so I can become a presence and show forth the Church, not only in its liturgical worship but also in the hearing of the word of God.
Finally, as far as the application of the word of God is concerned, the statement of the holy Evangelist, And keep those things which are written therein, expresses to us that the word of God must be applied. We must live it. But we need to live it in its entirety. Let us not pick and choose. Let’s not say that we will do this, but not that. For the time is near. Does this mean anything to us? I will tell you something from my personal life that pertains to this. This goes back in the early forties during the horrible German occupation, or siege rather. We were in school, three children at each desk and we were taking our final exams. The classroom was packed. It was full so it was certainly not a bad deal for the lazy students. My classmates did not study, and we were being examined on Ancient Greek, Modern Greek, and mathematics. My classmates decided not to study Ancient Greek, but I did, and I sat towards the back of the class. So, I started helping the three students in back of me, the three in front of me, and the two on either side. So, I was helping a dozen students. Instead of writing, I was trying to help all these kids fill in their tests, checking to see if they wrote things correctly, being that there was no supervision or teacher in the class.
Suddenly the teacher comes in and announces, “Boys, you must hand in your papers in five minutes.” I do not know how many of you have gone through something similar to this in your school years, but I cannot describe to you how I felt. I started perspiring, and getting red as a tomato from embarrassment. I felt paralyzed, and I screamed without thinking, “Not yet Mr. Teacher!” My paper was still blank. The other students were handing in their papers, and even though I was the only one that studied, I had written nothing. In the end, I was crawling into the office like a little puppy to beg the teacher to pass me. This is the feeling that a man gets when he realizes that his time is up. It is a terrible feeling. St. Isaac the Syrian says that if you did not live the right life, when you see that your time of death is at hand you will panic. Also, when someone truly allows this feeling to enter his inner being— the time is at hand— then whenever he reads this phrase in Scripture he cannot help but feel what I described from my school years. But this phrase, for the time is at hand, is of the same meaning as the earlier words of this chapter, those things which must take place quickly. As we remember, we analyzed this earlier, but what is characteristic is that this statement is repeated only a few verses later, which accentuates that the end is galloping. The end is around the corner. The end is the time of the prophecy, or the fulfillment of the words of the prophecy. So, blessed is he who reads and they that hear the words of the prophecy because the time will not be long.
There is also an ecclesiastical development that has impressed me a great deal. I do not know if this feeling of mine is totally accurate but I will share it with you. Up to the fifteenth century, the faithful that shed their blood for the faith were simply called saints or martyrs. After the fifteenth century, the martyrs are now called new. So, we have the ‘neo-martyrs.” Historically, we have some significant events that divide sections of history. And more specifically, in this case after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, close to 1500, we have this new phenomenon, this new term, calling the martyrs after the fall neomartyrs. And those that finished their lives peacefully also bear the term, new; so we have St. Nektarios, the newly manifested St., St. Nicodemos the New, or St. Constantine the New. This characteristic of a new martyr, or the newly manifested, gives the feeling of the placement of a boundary. In other words, let us say that we have the arrival of a new historical time, maybe five hundred years from now. How is the Church supposed to classify the martyrs and saints five hundred years from now? The ‘new-new martyrs’ or the ‘super-new martyrs?’ It doesn’t make sense. Do you know what this means? When the Church talks about new, it means that we have the old and now the new. And after the new, there will be no newer ones. Again, do we know what’s happening here? I am afraid that in the catholic conscience of the Church there is a smoldering feeling, the feeling that the end is near. This is why the Church uses the term new for her saints. We have nothing else to add to this term new. The Church always had her eyes on the end, but for a time she called her elite saints martyrs. In our days, and since the fifteenth century, she uses the term new, referring to them as neomartyrs.
After this introductory outline, what follows next is the preface of the entire book, which takes place between verses four and eight. These verses are, John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. This is the preface of the book of the Revelation. Up to this point, we had the introductory outline. In this preface, which is extremely important, and most theological, what is made obvious is the epistolary or letter character of the book. This book is written in the format of a letter. Moreover, if you will, the Gospel according to Luke is a letter. St. Luke writes, To the most excellent Theophilos, I sent you this information. The word “letter” is not mentioned but rather, I sent you this script so that you can learn the truth of our faith. So, it is presented in the form of an epistle or a letter. The same holds true for the book of the Revelation. It has the dimension of an epistle, and not only because of the letter written to the seven churches of Asia Minor, but this holds true for the entire book. The ancient form of the epistle is maintained, in other words, the author is announced.
John is the author; the receivers are the seven churches of Asia Minor; and we have the greeting, Grace and peace to you from God the Father and so on; and then we have the doxology, To Him belongs the power and the glory unto the ages of ages, amen. So, the book of the Revelation is a letter. And we pray that some day God allows it to be read as an apostolic reading in the Church. So, John to the seven churches in the province of Asia. John, the sender of the letter writes to the seven churches, the receivers of this letter. Here again the name of the author, John, is placed at the beginning of the sentence, and this will be done again in verse nine. The name bears no titles, no last name, which shows that the intended readers of this letter know John quite well. Which are the seven churches mentioned in the book of the Revelation? Which are the seven churches that our Lord asks that a special letter be sent to each one of them? These are historical Churches, real churches, not noetic or symbolic . So, we have Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamon, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. These are all cities of Asia Minor, old ancient cities, lively cities with strong Christian populations. They became episcopates, which shows a strong Church presence. And to these seven churches now Christ speaks through the book of the Revelation with a special message for each one of these churches.
Someone may ask, “Why is Christ addressing only these seven churches?” Christ tells John, and to the angel of the Church of Ephesus write or the angel of Smyrna. Why these churches and not to the church of Jerusalem? Or Corinth? Or Rome? Or Alexandria? These last ones were bigger and most important churches. Only Ephesus could compare with the grandeur and the title of Rome, or Jerusalem or Antioch, the great church of Antioch. Only Ephesus could come close to these last great churches, because the other six cities in these seven churches were minor. They were very small cities of Asia Minor. So why are the epistles directed to and addressing these particular seven churches, and not the other bigger and more seasoned churches? It is simply because the number seven is allegorical or schematic. And it expresses variety along with fullness. In other words, it represents a complete picture of the entire Church from back then up until the end of the age, and the fullness of the Church is represented by these seven representative types of these churches. In other words, these seven churches are seven different folds, seven different realities of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
So, we have here two intertwined circumstances. One is that each epistle is sent to each specific historical church. We need to stress this point of a specific historical church, which refers to a specific circumstance for each Church. For example, when He says, you are neither cold nor hot, you are lukewarm, you have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen, this is a specific flaw or weakness of the church A or B. Therefore these epistles, at the first level, have a historical character. They are exactly that. They aim to cure the flaws of those individual churches, two thousand years ago. However, at on the second plane, these elements aim to serve as a warning for the entire Church all through the ages. So we have here two intertwined dimensions: the historical one which is limited to the topographies of the seven city churches, and then we have the other dimension which refers to the entire history of the Church or the Church through the ages. So, when we read what Christ says for the church of the Ephesians, or to that of the Philadelphians, this means that all these points are elements that are brought up and exist in the catholic Church of Christ.
These cities where the seven churches were located were Greek cities. The entire Asia Minor was Greek and these are historical churches, and historical epistles, with an historical base. I will repeat this again and again, when the time comes, but I will mention it now. When Christ says, I will remove your lamp stand. every church is represented by a lamp stand or a candle stand, one candle; so I will remove your lamp stand means I will move you around. He took all these seven churches and moved them. And, none of these historical churches exist today in Asia Minor! Not one. Not Ephesus, not Smyrna, not a single one. The lamp stands were removed permanently in 1922, during the infamous Asia Minor destruction and expulsion of the Greek populace. St. Andrew of Caesarea says, “with the number seven, what is meant is the fullness of the Church. As the seven days of the week are a symbol of the creation of the world, or our life, the number seven or the seven churches shows the fullness of the Church.” Therefore, I will ask you to please pay close attention to this point because whatever we analyze in these seven great epistles of these churches is not limited to those seven historical churches, but will always refer to the entire Church which will exist always to the end of time.
Grace and peace to you is the Christian greeting of strong vivid liturgical character. This greeting of St. John is a shortened version of the greeting of St. Paul in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians 13:14 The grace of the Lord Jesus and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit. Here again we see the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. Our God is Triune, so, The grace of the Lord Jesus and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you, amen. John does not borrow this type of greeting from St. Paul or vice versa. It seems that it always existed in the Church and it had a liturgical dimension. So, the Apostles John, Paul, Peter, and Jude used this greeting which was common in the Church. This form exists until today in our Divine Liturgy, and in at the beginning of the prayers of the holy anaphora, when a priest comes out to bless the worshippers. Since the grace of God is a favorable consequence springing from the sacrificial death of Christ and ‘peace from God the Father,” from the One Who is, was, and is coming—all this turns this greeting into a liturgical confession of faith, or a symbol of faith.
In the case of the Ethiopian eunuch, Philip the deacon said to him, ‘If you confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God nothing will keep you from being baptized’, and the eunuch said, I believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God. This is nothing more but a confession of faith. Later, due to a number of heresies in the Church, the Creed of Faith becomes more detailed. The familiar Creed of Nicea, is used to this day, I believe in one God the Father Almighty, and so on. From this greeting (of John) we see that we have a most archaic element of confession of faith; a confession of faith in a liturgical space. We affirm our faith; we confess our faith in the liturgical space, in church, in order to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. Before Holy Communion, we must confess our true faith. So, this greeting of St. John the Evangelist is of vivid, liturgical character.
Revelation 1: 4-6.
The one who is and who was…Grace and peace from the Holy Triune God.
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is coming, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ. What we have here is a wonderful reference to the Holy Triune God. In the Greek text, the words Who is and Who was and Who is coming is very ungrammatical. Just to give you an idea, the Greek does not say Who is, but the existing and the existed. This is very strange grammar and quite unusual for the Greek language of that time. The purpose of this is to get the reader’s attention. Again this is an intentional solecism [an act that breaks formal rules] and does not appear simply because it is written by an illiterate person since the following sentences are quite correct, from the seven spirits, John uses the genitive correctly and from Jesus Christ. So again, the reason for this solecism is to get the reader’s attention. Saint Andrew of Caesarea writes on this verse, Grace to you and peace from the three persons of the Holy Trinity and he explains, The one Who is refers to the Father. Actually let’s backtrack to the word from God. The Protestant translators write from Him,Grace and peace to you from Him. The Greek actually says from God.” So, to understand this verse better, let’s pretend that there is a colon after God, so the words Who is and Who was and Who is coming is the explanation of the word God. Who is God, Who was God and Who is coming is also God.
So let us look and use the x-ray vision of the Church Fathers to understand this verse even more. When God said, I AM WHO I AM . (Exodus 3:14) to Moses; the Greek says, Ego eimi oh ohn, I AM WHO I AM , the same words we find in the book of Revelation. This is a great and memorable verse in the Old Testament when Moses asks God for His name. And we have parallel verses in the sixth chapter of Genesis, in the sixth chapter of Isaiah, Lord, what is your name? What should I tell the people of Israel? Do you want me to go to Egypt? And the Israelites will certainly ask me, ‘who is this God who is sending you to free us?’ I am Who is, the Existing One , we assume that God the Father is speaking to Moses. Then here in the book of Revelation the One who is refers to the Father. The One Who was reminds us of some key verses of Saint John in his Gospel who says, In the beginning was the Word. —in the beginning of creation that is. So, this Who was refers to the Son. And the One Who is coming refers to the Paraklete or the Holy Spirit Who came and stays in the Church and sanctifies the children of God through Holy Baptism.
However, we would also add that when we read Who is , Who was and Who is coming , all these three include the totality of time. They include the present, Who is, Who is now and always exists, always existed. It includes the past, the present and the future, Who is, now, Who was, the past, and Who is coming, and that is the future. This shows that God not only moves through time but He also transcends time. God is beyond, outside of past, present and future. For God there is no time. God created time. And this is what John wishes to show from this phrase, that God is over and above time. Furthermore, the name used by John, the One Who is, Who was and Who is coming, is very colorful in theology. When he says the One who is coming, this expresses God inside human history, because God does not move about. Long before Christ, Aristotle was correct when he said, God is the first mover of all and yet immobile. He moves it all. God is the beginning of any and all movement - the beginning of all movement while God Himself does not need to move. He’s stationary, or immobile. Since God is everywhere, He fills everything. His presence covers every single point in the universe. It is not possible for Him to move. Movement suggests the occupation of a new area of space which was not occupied previously. I moved from point A to point B. I traveled from my house to get to my job. I walk. I come. I go. But as we all understand, God is omnipresent. He is everywhere; so He does not need to come and go. This come and go refers to the incarnate Son of God, the God-man.
Therefore, the One Who is coming, refers to the Divine Logos Who assumes the human nature, God the Word Who becomes man. This is just like the phrase in the Gospel of John when Christ tells the disciples I am going and I will come back. This come and go of God in history always refers to the human nature of God. What’s characteristic here as well is that in the Greek, the original text says the One Who is coming, o erhomenos meaning the One Who is always coming. This is just like the One who is,o ων the One Who always exists, Who was, Who always was,and is therefore, the One Who is always coming. Thus,the pre-eternal God who is always present, always coming has never left history. He never took a break from history. He is always coming and yet this always coming has some special cases as well. We see this in a letter to the Hebrews when we read, “In a short while, in a little bit, the One Who is coming will get here. He will not be long." (paraphrase of Hebrews 10:37) The One Who is always coming, will come. What does this mean? It means that God is always inside our history. He sees the entire world. The entire universe is in God’s hands. But when it says, “He will get here,” these are the special appearances of God the Word, Jesus Christ.
So, we saw so far that the expression, Who is, Who was and Who is coming refers to the Triune God. However, this same expression can also be applied to God the Father only. There is so much wealth in these lines and St. Andrew of Caesarea says once again on this, that the entire phrase, the One Who is, and Who was and Who is coming , can also refer to the Father Who is the beginning, the middle and the end of everything. Another name of God is the Alpha and the Omega, which means, anything that has a beginning or an end is in God. So, everything that has a beginning exists in God and everything that has an end exists in God. Everything begins in God and finishes in God. Therefore, in reality, if this entire phrase refers to the Father, then peace from God means the One Triune God with the differentiation of the Three Persons. We see immediately after the reference to the Father - the One Who is, Who was and Who is coming , reference is made to the seven spirits, in other words, the Holy Spirit and the Lord Jesus Christ, as we will see. From the seven spirits who are before His throne, what still echoes is the greeting, Grace to you and peace from God the Father and from the seven spirits who are before His throne. (These underlined sentences actually are the beginning of the next paragraph, as the spirits are being discussed and explained.)
This greeting refers to the third Person of the Holy Trinity who precedes the second Person. What is notable here is that the first and the third Persons are mentioned first, and the second Person is mentioned afterwards, last. The Holy Evangelist gives priority to the two Persons and leaves the incarnate Person last since this Person will serve as the center of this entire book. So, here the Holy Spirit is called the seven spirits before the throne of God. The throne of God obviously refers to God the Father while the number seven reveals the fullness and the perfection of the Holy Spirit. This is beautifully expressed in the Prophet Isaiah in his sevenfold declaration of the attributes or the gifts or the energies of the One Holy Spirit. Prophet Isaiah in his eleventh chapter writes, Spirit of wisdom, spirit of understanding, spirit of council, spirit of might, spirit of knowledge, spirit of piety, and spirit of fear of God. All of this is borrowed by the hymnographer in the composition of the prayers of the day of the Pentecost to honor the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit, the undivided Holy Spirit divides the gifts. But the Spirit remains one and indivisible.
So, the Holy Spirit is expressed with the term the seven spirits but again as we can see, it is one Holy Spirit. At this point, I will refer to the method of interpretation used by our Church Fathers. They let the Holy Scripture interpret Holy Scripture. The words, seven spirits - are they mentioned elsewhere in the Scriptures, and how are they stated? This is how we can interpret the word of God with accuracy. Now why is the Holy Spirit called the seven spirits? First and foremost, it shows readiness, because it is in front of the Father; it shows readiness for a mission; it shows readiness to be sent off for the purpose of sanctification. In other words, this spirit of God waits from one moment to the next to rush out. Remember Pentecost; suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from Heaven. Therefore, the Spirit is ready to rush to the world and to give the gifts from the tremendous love that He has for the world. Now what holds the Spirit back? He awaits the will of God, the Father, and the path that will be opened by the Son. The three Persons of the Holy Trinity work out the salvation of the world. We mentioned this in the past, how the Spirit of God was moving above the waters, above the abyss and the face of the waters in Genesis. Why is it just the Spirit of God? Just as the Spirit took the form of a dove later in history, now it gives us the image of a giant bird that incubates life out of the waters. So, the Spirit of God was embracing the waters so to speak to keep them warm much like a bird that sits on its eggs to incubate them; and life springs forth out of the waters. How beautiful.
Second, the Spirit of God is sent from the Father and from the Son. The Lord Himself says, But when the Counselor [Paraklete] comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; (John 15:26) The Greek word is ekporevetai , goes out, proceeds, from the Father. So the Holy Spirit is sent out from the Father and from the Son but goes out from the Father only. Now if you ask me, what does send out mean? I will tell you nothing. I do not understand a thing. If you ask me, what does ekporevetai or proceeds mean? I will also tell you nothing. It is beyond my comprehension. St. Gregory the Theologian says if you can comprehend that the Son is born of the Father then you can also grasp the meaning of this ekporevetai or the Holy Spirit Who goes out from the Father. We simply go on repeating these expressions because they glorify God and they express an accuracy as far as the relations go among the Persons of the Holy Trinity. But we do not exactly know how all these things find their application in the unfathomable mystery of the Holy Trinity.
Also, in the book of the Revelation, we read as Christ tells John, And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God… (3:1) In other words, the Him who has the Holy Spirit sends Him out along with the gifts. Saint John writes, And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. (5:6) These are great and awesome images which serve to show how the Spirit of God is sent out full of its gifts because the number seven again is symbolic. It shows the multitude of gifts and that the Spirit of God comes laden with gifts for the world. In addition, the Spirit of God is in front of the throne of God as seven spirits because because of its ability to permeate. The Holy Spirit slips through everything everywhere. The Lord says the Holy Spirit searches the deep things of God. In other words, He is God. The Holy Spirit is God and it permeates the essence ( ousia ) of God.
Furthermore, we read, From the throne issue flashes of lightning, and voices and peals of thunder, and before the throne burn seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God; (Rev. 4:5), These are the seven spirits of God Who is the Holy Spirit. Prophet Ezekiel says this very beautifully. Now why do we keep using Ezekiel, Isaiah and Daniel? We use them to show there’s a great consistency between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Let us note also, this consistency in Ezekiel, In the midst of the living creatures there was something that looked like burning coals of fire, like torches moving to and fro among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. (1:13)These revolving blazing lamps show that the Holy Spirit penetrates everywhere, knows all and that there is nothing that escapes the Holy Spirit.
Grace and peace to you from him who is the faithful witness, the Firstborn from the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Here again what echoes is the greeting, grace and peace to you from God the Father, the seven spirits, or the Holy Spirit, and from Jesus Christ. And from Jesus Christ - as we see, Christ is placed last because the entire book will be focusing on Christ who is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. However, He is purposely mentioned third here with three characteristic titles, - three descriptive names – first, the faithful witness; second, the firstborn from the dead; and third, the ruler of the kings of the earth. All these three epithets or names refer to Jesus Christ. They refer to His human nature, not the divine; and Jesus Christ signifies just that, while Son of God refers to the divine nature Who is, and Who was and Who is coming and from the seven spirits before His throne and from Jesus Christ . But Saint John, here, wants to present to us Jesus Christ who is the center of history and the central figure of all the events he’s about to describe in his vision. And these are the events that form the book of the Revelation along with all the events that make up the human history. The first name describes Jesus Christ as the Faithful Witness. Now, why the Faithful Witness? This is simply because a faithful witness can only tell the truth. Everything He says is true. However, Faithful Witness is the name of God in the Old Testament in the 88th Psalm of the Septuagint; and as the moon is to endure all through the age, so is the witness in Heaven faithful . The faithful witness here in the book of Revelation is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is Yahweh or Jehovah. This is the same faithful witness in Psalm 89:37 – Yahweh, whom the Jehovah’s Witnesses call Jehovah. Jesus Christ is Yahweh, or Jehovah, the Lord.
When are the blind Jehovah’s Witnesses—the false witnesses actually - when are they going to see this? They believe Christ to be a creation. What a terrible blasphemy! So, Jesus Christ is the faithful witness or the faithful martyr for two more reasons. The first one is because He gave witness to the Truth, remember for example when Pilot asked Him, ‘Who are you?’ and He answered, For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice. (John: 18:37). Poor Pilate asks, “What is truth?" (18:38) and Christ does not answer. Some have ventured to say that Pilate should have asked, Who is the truth? and that he would have probably received a response. At any rate, the truth is a great subject. This is why we’re struggling, to come to the truth. Poor Pilate had the entire Truth in front of him. The Truth is not some abstract idea or thought. The Truth is a Person. I am the Truth , Christ announced. He didn’t say, "I came to tell you a few nice things about the truth to help you along.” I am the Truth and the life!
Two things will always trouble and interest mankind, the great subject of Truth and that of life. The axis that the entire humanity revolves around has in its two poles, in its two ends, the subject of truth at the one and life at the other. This axis of humanity is Jesus Christ. I am the Truth and the Life . So, I came to bear witness to the Truth. So, I Am the Truth Christ says, which means, everything He says, everything, will always be true. The truth about God, the truth about man, the truth about the world and the true worship of the True God and the love of the true God can only be found through Christ! Outside of Christ, there is deep darkness. Philosophers are struggling. They not only contradict each other but they often contradict themselves. They go around in circles, full of uncertainty. My friends, if we do not know Christ, we are living in deep darkness. We should feel very privileged; we should feel ecstatic, because we know how to get to know Christ or at least we know the way to get to know Christ in His fullness. So, He’s a Faithful Witness for everything He will say. This applies whether written or unwritten and of course, everything that is written in the book of the Revelation is trustworthy and true.
St. Paul says this in Timothy 1:15 (paraphrased). The Word of God is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance . But we must mention that Christ is often called a faithful witness in the book of the Revelation. For instance we read, And to the angel of the church in La-odice’a write: `The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, (3:14) — three names for Jesus Christ, the Amen. Amen is a Hebrew word and what’s interesting is that this word does not take an article but here, strangely enough, we see the article the in front of it. And Saint Paul will do the same about Jesus Christ, call Him The Amen, The Yes, The Sure and so on. Amen in Hebrew means let it be . So, pray that it is so; that is how it is; certainly. The Amen here means the Sure One, the Faithful and True Witness. These are all synonyms that show the faithfulness and the credibility of this witness. It is not by accident that in the Greek language the word witness and the word martyr are the same. We use the same word; the word martyria also means witness. So Christ is also a true witness, a true martyr because He martyred on the Cross. He was raised upon the Cross for the sake of the true witness or martyria . Since the martyria or witness of the truth is indispensably connected to sufferings and to fierce attacks of the devil, the devil-held world rather, the word martyrion in Greek means both witness and suffering.
A true witness will keep witnessing during peaceful times and during polemic times. So, a faithful witness or a martyr, not only tells the truth but dies for this truth. When the truth is offered to the world, it is offered with martyrdom. Truth and persecution, truth and suffering are very closely connected, so closely that the same word martyria expresses both. This is why the Evangelist will write; When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for their martyria (6:9)or testimony that they gave. They were slain of course, for the Word of God. They gave the martyria or the true witness, the true testimony of the Word of God, and the devil-ruled world killed them. Above all of them, we have the Absolute Martyr, the Absolute Witness, Jesus Christ Himself, because He brought to us the entire Truth. Moreover, for the sake of this truth, He became the first martyr with the martyrion of the Cross. The second name of Christ is the First Born from the dead. There are so many names throughout the Scriptures for Christ, so many that they call for our attention. He is called a Snake, a Thief, a Shepherd, the Sheep-pen, the Amen, the Faithful Witness, the Truth, and the Life. We find a plethora of names attributed to Christ in the Holy Scripture.
So, Jesus Christ who was the Faithful Witness, was also the First Born from the dead. Here, a great testimony is given. The identity of the One witnessing to John is fully certified here, and it is none other than Jesus Christ. Now it may not be very clear here, but towards the end of this chapter, Christ will say, I became dead and behold I’m alive again. He is alive again, through His holy Resurrection. All this refers to the human nature and more specifically to the body because the soul does not die. So the First Born from the dead is the pre-eternal God who became man, died on the cross, resurrected and now lives as God-man forever and ever. We also read, I am the First and the Last , (18) another name of Christ and the Living One . But when he says I am the First and the Last , He speaks as God because no human being can be the first and the last, the alpha and the omega. The alpha and the omega does not exist in any creation, in any human being; it is an attribute only of God. And the Living One, does not apply to a human being. The Living One refers to God. So, Christ can say, “I became dead, as a human being and behold I am living; I’m alive; I live.” In other words, He resurrected and lives forever and ever as God-man, not as God and not as a human being but as God-man forever and ever. And He has the keys of death and Hades.
Christ defeated death and Hades. He destroyed the bonds of Hades. Zigavinos, one of the Church Fathers expresses this very nicely, he says, “Christ is called the First Born from the dead being the first one to burst out from the belly of Hades.” The verb burst shows the power of Christ Who pulverized Hades. He destroyed the bonds of Hades. He smashed the chains, the locks, and the doors of the eternal gates of Hades. So He is the first that exploded through the doors of Hades, as First Born from the dead. Saint Paul also uses this term in his letter to the Colossians. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. (1:18) He has supremacy because He’s first in everything. He paves the way and we follow. He is the first dead to resurrect and we will follow; we will be the second, the third and so on. Saint Paul says Christ comes first and He guarantees our own resurrection.
He writes, But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep . (I Corinthians 15:20) So He was raised first and many will follow Him. And finally we come to the third name of Christ in this verse, and from Jesus Christ who is the faithful witness, the first-born from the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth. This title serves as an echo of the meeting with Pilate, where Christ offers His great martyria or testimony, that yes, He is truly King. Saint John the Evangelist records, my kingdom is not of this world . (John 18:1) Pilate asks, “So are you a king?” Christ answers, You say that I am . This means simply that yes you are correct; I am a king. Therefore, Christ is King, a ruler, and the ruler of history. He is the universal judge. He is victorious. This last name of Christ makes up the subject of the book of the Revelation being the central theme of the book. We read, they will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings . (Revelation 17:14)
So, again in this verse we have three epithets for Jesus Christ. These names seem to form a natural sequence between them. He who came to bear witness to the truth; and He died for the sake of this truth. He resurrected, gaining victory over death, not only for himself but for all mankind for whom He will finally be victorious as God-man, King and Lord of all the kings and all the rulers of the earth. These three names of Jesus Christ—the Faithful Witness, the First Born from the dead and the Ruler of the kings of the earth - these three names serve as the diagram of the entire journey of God the Logos throughout history. He comes. He gives the martyria or the testimony. He suffers a martyr’s death and exits human history. He actually takes human history along with Him by His Resurrection and Ascension and He transforms it to the kingdom of God. Let’s pay close attention to this. He enters history, martyrs and dies for the Truth, resurrects, ascends and with the final judgment, He assumes the entire history, the entire creation and changes it to the kingdom of God.
Now, what other book can compare to the magnificence of the book of the Revelation? What other book can even come close? Is there any other book in the entire universal literature? What book? None, absolutely none can even come close to the splendor of the book of the Revelation. These are tremendously huge subjects. My friends, we insist on some theological points. We insist on some theology. We understand this can be a little tiresome but we need to develop patience. We need to emphasize, we must emphasize, that we need to raise ourselves up. We must lift up our minds. We must elevate spiritually, raise our spirituality. Our spiritual standards need to get higher. Let’s not limit ourselves to some basic morality. No. Christ did not incarnate to make us nice people. Let us stop telling ourselves that we are good persons and that is sufficient, resting in this self-sufficiency, which is nothing more, than a spiritual starvation limit. We are the cause of the starvation limit when we are content with the few crumbs of some religious knowledge. No, my friends, the children of God must become filled with the bread of God and the bread of God is the bread that came from Heaven, God the Word Who gave Himself for food, real food! So we can see God the Word, through this Heavenly bread. That is why my friends, do not protest if we offer some theology here. It is not very much, but it is the bread that nourishes the children of God.
Revelation 1: 4-7
The three offices of Christ and the faithful: prophetic, priestly and royal.
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Therefore, glory belongs to the One who incarnated, who became a faithful witness, who shed His blood to wash us from our sins because He loves us. So to Him, Jesus Christ, be glory and power forever and ever, as we read at the end of John’s introduction to the book of the Revelation. Again, the Word of God took on flesh. The Word became flesh. He proved to be the Faithful Witness, “o martys o pistos,” and the Firstborn from the dead, only because He loved us. He shed His blood to wash our sins only because He loved us. There was no other reason God did this. God does not have any other motive outside of His love. God, desiring to express this love to us, gave His incarnate, His only Son to die on the Cross. But He did not only wash our sins, which pertains to the negative aspect of the love of God. Negatively speaking, He washed our sins. But God proceeded to go beyond this washing. Moreover, for those of us who believe and accept this washing by His blood, He makes us members of the royal priesthood: vasilion ieratevma , and thereby makes us a kingdom of priests to his God and Father; to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
My friends, this is an extremely important verse. It is extremely theological, a most theological verse. We need to give it our utmost attention. So, He has made us to be a kingdom of priests. Christ has made us a kingdom of priests to the Father, or to serve the Father, as the different translations say. In this verse, what becomes very clear and very evident is the substance and the purpose of Christianity. We see here that Christianity is not simply a religion, but a kingdom. This is the substance of Christianity. Christians are kings and priests. This describes the content of Christianity. If someone would ask you, “What is Christianity anyway?” You should answer, “It is a kingdom.” And if someone would ask you, “What is the purpose of the Christian community?” You should answer, “It is to make its citizens kings and priests.” “This sounds colossal. You may believe this sounds like a very high calling. It is a very high calling, indeed, as high as the heavens.
Now once we come to the realization that being a Christian means that I am a citizen of a kingdom, that I am a king and priest, then how can we ever say again that Christianity is one of the religions? How can we compare it to the man-made religions? Christianity is not a religion dreamed by men. It is a revelation, and therefore a kingdom. So, as a Christian, my purpose is not to use my faith to make my life easier and more pleasant here on earth. A Christian is not the person who pays his taxes, obeys the laws of the country, and raises a good and a nice family. It seems that this is how we have been taught to size up today’s good Christian: “a good and honest member of the society.” There is no question that this is a consequence of the Christian life. It is clear that a Christian will be a good person in the society. But is this why Christ came into the world—to make us good and honest people, like Plato used to say, to be good and honest, “kalos kai agathos.”? If this was the purpose of Christ’s coming, then He did not have to come into this world. The ancient Greeks could have helped us to accomplish these objectives – just to become good people. We have, and have had many good people, even before Christ. My friends, the mission of Christianity is not to make me a good and honest citizen, but to make me a king and priest of God, something that escapes the thoughts of all those outside of Christianity. Again, this escapes the imagination of even the greatest philosophers. Christians are super-privileged to have God establish a kingdom for them on earth. When we pray, we say, “Thy kingdom come.” By the way, this has nothing to do with a political, earthly kingdom. We have said this before. This kingdom is not of this world. We often see Christian political parties with an agenda to elect Christian leaders and Christian presidents. Many think that this would automatically make the earth a sort of a better place. The truth is that the kingdom of God is as far as the east is from the west compared to these Christian parties and Christian Coalitions.
So, we pray, “Thy kingdom come.” The Christians reign together with Christ. They become priests who offer their worship to the Holy Triune God. Now, Who is the source of these great privileges? Initially, the source of this privilege is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. While coming into the world as a human being, Christ was anointed by the Father. In saying this, we refer to the human nature, and not God the Logos who does not need to be christened by the Father, being equal, of one essence with the Father. “Jesus Christ” refers to the human nature. Therefore, the Incarnated Logos, Jesus Christ was anointed by God the Father with this triple office: the office of the Prophet, the Archpriest, and King. The Old Testament and especially the New Testament profess this triple office of Our Lord. We will not look into many verses other than the ones that we already interpreted last week. We mentioned the three descriptive titles, epithets, of Christ. “The Faithful Witness,” refers to the prophetic office of Christ, because He came to profess the truth and to talk about the truth, to prophecy. A prophet is not always someone who sees or foretells the future. This is only true in the narrow sense. In the broad sense, a prophet is he who talks about God. The word “prophet” in the broad sense can be found in the ancient Greek literature, even Homer saw a prophet as a person who prophesies or talks, and yes, a prophet can also talk about the future. We covered this earlier. The greater challenge of a prophet was not to foretell the future but to interpret the present. So, Christ is the Faithful Witness who came to bear witness to the truth, and He is the Teacher par excellence of heavenly things. Second, He is the Firstborn from the dead. This is characteristic of the Archpriestly office of our Lord, combining in His person the One who offers the sacrifice and the sacrificial Lamb, all in the same Person of Christ. We say this in the Divine Liturgy, “The One who offers and the One being offered,” and this is quite difficult to grasp, to be the One who offers the sacrifice and at the same time being the offering. Nevertheless, this is understood in the scope of the God-human nature of Christ. Third, the Ruler of the Kings of the Earth is characteristic of His royal office.
Combined, these three offices of Christ work out our salvation. These three offices – the prophetic, the archpriestly, and the royal –aid our salvation. With the first office, the prophetic, the true God is revealed. The second, the priestly office, is what lifts humanity to God – the oblation, or the anaphora. The priest during the prayer of oblation, or anaphora, lifts the Holy Gifts to God. He offers the Gifts to God: “Thine own of Thine own we offer to Thee…” But here we have the lifting, the raising - the anaphora- of the entire humanity. This anaphora was offered by Christ on the Cross. He offered this oblation by His Archpriestly office. He exercised His priestly office on the Cross. He lifted, raised, offered – we use all these words for the Greek word, anaphora – the human nature to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. With the third office, the royal office, nature becomes a true kingdom of God and ruled by God. The Holy Baptism and Holy Chrism that each faithful receives incorporate him in the Body of Christ, that is, the Church. [so that he becomes one body with Christ] In this manner, each faithful participates or takes on these three offices of Christ to a certain degree. Christ is a prophet, so the faithful becomes a prophet, to a certain extent. Christ is the Archpriest, and the faithful becomes a priest, to a certain extent. Christ is the king, so the faithful becomes a king to a certain extent. Therefore, this means that the Christian receives these offices from Christ, which Christ receives from the Father. Christ was anointed with the three offices, the triple office, and now we can see that St. John talks about this type of thing in Revelation, after the triple office of Christ, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father.
When did Christ make us a kingdom and priests to serve God? He did this after He proved to be the Faithful Witness, the Firstborn from the dead, and the Ruler of the kings of the earth. We find this position in the Old Testament as well. God Himself says through Moses, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel. (Exodus 19:6) Can we grasp the meaning of these words, my friends? God wants His nation to be holy. That is what prophet Isaiah says, You shall be called the priests of the Lord,…ministers of God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their riches you shall glory. (61:6) So first you will become priests of God, second you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in this wealth you will be glorified, which means—and here is where the Jews totally misinterpret — no, this does not mean to dominate and extract all the wealth from the world and keep it in some banks. What a shame! This is how these blessed people of the Old Testament, how these pitiful people, God’s elect of the Old Testament, misunderstand the Scriptures. The true meaning is that you will become kings and priests, and the true meaning of the king and the priest will only be given to us in Christ Jesus. If I do not have the presence of Jesus Christ, and if I study the Old Testament without the light of the New Testament, I can interpret Holy Scripture according to my selfish, national or racist ambitions and interests. So, if I am a Jew and I reject the New Testament; I reject Jesus Christ. Then I can say, “Here it is. God tells me to be wealthy, to rule the wealth of the entire world, and to govern the entire world.”
But this is a horrible mistake, a terrible misunderstanding of the word of God, and the elitist group, the Zionists have been moving in this direction for years. They are worth many tears, because they will never rule the world, and they will not get much joy out of this wealth, because when they finally accomplish this, and they will accomplish it, they will bring the Antichrist; and then, they will be destroyed. Therefore, they will not enjoy any of these efforts. They are truly fighting the wind and the second Psalm describes their plight. God will laugh at them. The Lord has them in derision. (2:4) He is mocking them. This is an anthropomorphic expression. It is like God telling them, “You poor, pitiful people! You plot in vain all these centuries; all these efforts to become a dynasty, to lord it over the world! Now it is all over. The end is here.” So, This is not the spirit of the Old Testament verses. Let’s move on to see what the spirit of the New Testament is, and how St. Peter explains these verses with the light of Christ. St. Peter takes these Old Testament verses, and he renews them in the light of the New Testament. We read in 1 Peter (2:5-9), But you are a chosen people. Who? “You” means the Christians, not the synagogue. But you (the Christians) are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God. So the holy nation and the royal priesthood are no longer for the Jews, but for the Christians! This is the new dimension under the light of the New Testament. So, you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people in God’s care, that you may declare the praises of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light! Do you see here any hint of materialism and earthly, monetary riches? There is not a trace! This is why the people who would like to support and form Christian political parties, whether they understand it or not, while they are doing this consciously or not, fall into the same trap as the Jews. They act like people of the Old Testament.
So every baptized and chrismated Christian is a prophet, a priest, and a king. Now what does all this mean for me, the baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christian? First, about being a prophet, it is the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and its many gifts. For this reason, St. John the Evangelist in his epistle is addressing the newly illumined, the newly baptized Christians and says, But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know everything. (1John 2:20) What, exactly, do they know? They know all those things that are necessary for one’s salvation. What does one need to know? One needs to know the delusion of the world, the methodology of the devil, the traps of his own self, and by being watchful, the path is opened so he can see his spiritual interest. So the Holy Spirit, which we receive by chrism, and we have this chrism of the prophet, the Holy Spirit is our internal teacher who opens our mind to understand the truths about salvation while helping us to escape the delusions of the world and to understand its schemes and its evil traps. Now, is this important? It is extremely important! I do not know if I should say it even louder so you can hear it again. Someone can see this in the people outside Christianity, or in people who are Christians but who have extinguished their Holy Spirit. They render their chrism useless because they live, think, and abide by the precepts of the world. How these people act in their everyday lives! Someone can see their outrageous, foolish, dangerous and reckless acts, and can question, “Don’t they understand? Don’t they see? Are they blind?”
Today a verse caught my attention, and this is the third time that I will mention it today from Psalm 118, I saw people persist in their foolishness, I began to melt inside. I was burning inside. Something was eating me inside! Truly, today, the widespread foolishness eats away, gnaws at the innards of the God-fearing individual. Unsurpassed foolishness! It is like a tree-climber who climbs the tree, sits on a branch, and suddenly takes a saw and cuts the very limb that is supporting him! He does it very naturally, not giving it any thought at all. Obviously, he is going to go crashing down! As a nation, we have been cutting our supporting branch. Our school systems have expelled God from their school grounds. They have expelled the guardian angels, and replaced them with police officers, metal detectors, and drug rehabilitation programs. The atheist teachers did all they could to take the fear of God out of their students, and now they fear for their lives from these fearless students. Our Christian children today are brought up by MTV and Blockbuster videos. Our times show strong signs of decadence, signs of a fall. The western world is slowly dying, and the average person today does not see this. They think that our times are simply the best, splendid. If you have any sensitivity, you melt inside. You burn inside to see all these people live their lives without a single thought for their eternal souls. These people are strangers to the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, the people that are anointed with the Holy Spirit energize their chrism. They have the general prophetic gift to be able to see, to discern, even to use God-given common sense. People in the world today lack even this very basic common sense, and many times these individuals talk in the name of a deep and impressive philosophy. Philosophy of fools! Foolishness! What comes to mind is the scriptural verse stating that God turns those He wants to destroy into fools. And it looks like God is planning to destroy us, so he allows this widespread foolishness! This is because we have left God. I brought this up as an example to show what it means to have a prophetic spirit, to have the spirit of God to be my teacher, the spirit of God to become my personal teacher to illumine me and show me how to walk.
Now we will look into the gift for the office of priesthood, and here we need to make a clarification. This general priesthood that exists in the faithful, the royal priesthood, in which every baptized Christian is a priest, cannot substitute for the liturgical priesthood. It cannot replace the Sacrament of the Holy Priesthood. This is something that the Protestants have done. They acknowledge the general priesthood, but they reject the specific or liturgical priesthood, and this is why they have eliminated the mystery of priesthood. What a tragedy, because I must tell you that the Sacrament of Priesthood is the mystery of the Church. And the mystery of the Church is the mystery of Salvation! This is why the mystery (sacrament) of the priesthood takes place during and inside the Divine Liturgy. The Divine Liturgy can only come forth from the priesthood, and it can only exist and co-exist with the priesthood. We are talking about the specific priesthood. In other words, the bishop, or the archpriest, celebrates the Divine Liturgy, enabled by his priesthood, and at the same time, inside the Divine Liturgy, the mystery of priesthood is acquired. This is why the mystery of the Church and the mystery of the priesthood are almost synonymous. Yet, they have their distinct differences as well. This is extremely important. This mystery was spurned by the Protestants. So, in reality, because they spurned the mystery of the priesthood, they do not have a Church. The Protestants, and this includes denominational and non-denominational Christians, have no Church per se. They are not a Church. They are simply Christian communities. They talk about a Church, but they are living a lie or they use the term very loosely. We repeat that they are not a Church because they do not have the mystery of priesthood with this specific meaning.
As you can see, we place great emphasis in this area about the specific and the general priesthood. However, both the specific and the general priesthood are initiated by Christ; they are fulfilled in Christ, and they are offered to Christ. Both of these priesthoods – general and specific – are linked together to present the offering. For example, the faithful brings the bread, the prosforon, for the consecration. He prepares it, he kneads it, he shapes it, he bakes it, and now he brings it to the Church and he offers it. He offers it to the priest, who will present the final offering. So, the priest will celebrate the completion of the offering, but the first offering comes from the faithful. Therefore, the initial offering of the bread takes place when the layperson uses his general priesthood. The priest using his specific priesthood completes the final offering, or anaphora. As we can see, the faithful, with his general priesthood, offers the gift and the elements of the Divine Liturgy, but something more; he has this spiritual partnership with the priest. In other words, he offers through or by the hands of the priest.
In practice, it works as follows, so you will be able to understand it much better. Can the priest celebrate the Divine Liturgy by himself? Can he take a prosforon, enter the church, wear his vestments, and begin, “Blessed is the Kingdom, of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit?” Can he do this without a layperson? No, he cannot! This is not for technical reasons, not because there is no chanter, or because there is nobody to help with the censer. That is not the case. Again, it is not for technical reasons, but for ecclesiological reasons. The priest is not allowed to celebrate the Divine Liturgy without having at least one faithful present, at least one lay person present—one more person. Again, the ecclesiological reasons are all these things I have been talking about. No, the priest, the bishop, or the patriarch cannot celebrate one single Liturgy by himself. You, the layperson must be present, because your general priesthood, combined with the specific priesthood, will complete the offering to the Lord. The laity must be present. This is why the laity partake Body and Blood, as the priest partakes Body and Blood. Please pay attention, because we are living in the “age of the dialogues:” dialogues with Protestants, dialogues with Catholics. Previously we talked about the Protestants, and now we must mention that the Roman Catholic Church does not allow the laity to commune the Blood of Christ, only the Body. What does this mean? It means that she gives privileges to the clergy, privileges above and beyond the faithful; this is why the Roman Catholic priest can celebrate mass every day in his room. His private mass can last anywhere from ten minutes up to an hour. So within ten minutes, the papist priest can receive his Holy Communion, and can go about his business. Our Orthodoxy has no knowledge of these things. This is because the papists, the clergy of the Catholics, ignore the lay people by practicing these erroneous innovations. The presence of the faithful, the presence of the laity, is of great, basic importance, and our Church expresses it by this method. “Yes, my priest, you cannot celebrate the Liturgy without at least one single lay person.” Do you see how important this information is? We must also mention that the very language of the Liturgy is written in the first person plural; “We offer.” “We ask.” “Let us ask of the Lord.” “Save us.” “Have mercy on us.” The entire congregation, the entire church, clergy and laity, presents the offering to the Lord.
St. Peter calls the faithful living stones, who build among themselves a spiritual house. St. Paul calls the faithful temples of the Holy Spirit. Temples of the Holy Spirit! Hold onto this thought. What does it mean that I am the temple of the Holy Spirit? My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. This means that in this living temple of God, each faithful is for himself, for his temple, its guard and its priest. Every faithful is a temple of the Living God. St. Paul repeats this many times, but when he talks about a temple, he also insinuates a priest. Who is the priest? I am the temple, I am the priest, and I am the guard, the watchman of the temple of God. Now in the Old Testament the sacrifices had this meaning; they substituted for the guilty party. A man would bring a lamb and offer it as a sacrifice in place of himself – to avoid sacrificing himself. The blood of the animal would be poured out. The animal, which did nothing wrong, sheds its blood in the place of the guilty person. However, here in the New Testament, we have a sacrifice far and beyond those of the Old Testament. If they took a sheep and sacrificed it, they were right by God. Not now. In the New Testament, as a Christian, the sacrifice of worship that I must offer up to God is my own self, my own selfishness, and my own ego. Let us listen to how St. Paul expresses this. Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. (Romans 12:1)
Present your bodies has a liturgical dimension. It is like presenting the holy bread, the prosfora, to God, like taking them to the north entrance. Long ago, the prosfora were offered at the Royal Door during the time of the reading of the apostle – the epistle reading. What is left from this as a reminder is that the priest comes out at this moment and incenses, because the priest used to incense the offerings of the faithful before he took them inside. This is called the presentation of the gifts. This is why St. Paul uses the word “present” here, present your bodies. Again, this of a liturgical dimension and it stems from the Old Testament. So, present not your wine or your bread, but your bodies. Your bodies are a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, which is your spiritual worship. Therefore, I offer myself, and when I offer myself, I am a priest. St. Peter says (1 Peter 2:5), and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, of course, is the Mediator. Therefore, the sacrifice of the celebrant faithful is the sacrifice of the faithful with the general meaning of the priesthood, meaning all of us, all the laity. This sacrifice is primarily sacrifice of praise, “the fruit of the lips,” as St. Paul calls it. Through him [Jesus Christ] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. (Hebrews 13:15) We also have the sacrifice of righteousness.
We read in Psalm 51, If you wanted a sacrifice, I would have given it to you. You do not delight in burnt offerings (animals thrown in a fire, etc.), because the sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise, you will not reject. Then you will delight in the sacrifice of righteousness, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings. What is the sacrifice of righteousness? This entire verse tells us this – it is the sacrifice of repentance. It is a great sacrifice to God. We offended God with our sins, and we saddened, and grieved the Holy Spirit. Now we offer our sacrifice of repentance. Righteousness also means virtue. It is the sacrifice of virtue. I will place inside the altar with a charcoal-smoke offering, I will put my virtues inside the charcoals to become incense to rise to heaven. Don’t we always chant in our Vespers service, “Let my prayer rise like incense before you?” So, I do not offer you incense; I offer you my prayers. If you will, Lord, I offer you incense as well, along with my prayers. However, as the incense rises at this moment, let my prayer rise as well, and let my virtues rise in the same way. — My virtues, my holiness. What is the sacrifice of righteousness? It is the sacrifice of my virtues. My calling is to be a holy person. Third, we have the sacrifice of almsgiving. St. Paul says Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:16) Therefore, we have first, sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of the lips, chanting, singing to the Lord. Second, we have sacrifice of righteousness, and that is our repentance, our virtues. Third, we have sacrifice of giving and sharing, almsgiving, for the priestly office. All this comprises this general priesthood that we all have.
And now, I will talk about the office of royalty. During our baptism, we receive as betrothal the Seal of the Holy Spirit. The priest says very clearly, “the Seal of the Holy Spirit.” We are marked. What is this mark? This mark is the Cross by which the faithful is marked noetically thus receiving the Seal of the Holy Spirit. This I do with my own free will when I am baptized and when I become a Christian. When I receive this Seal of the Holy Spirit, then I become the person who accepts the betrothal, a promise, that I will become a king. Not a servant, but a king! Would you like to see this? In the book of the Revelation, Round the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clad in white garments, with golden crowns upon their heads. (4:4) The number twenty-four is twelve times two, which denotes a great number. “Elders” means mature Christians, mature in holiness. There is so much greatness in these visions of St. John, and we will study them very closely when the time comes. These twenty-four elders were dressed in white, and they had crowns of gold on their heads. So, the faithful is not a servant, but is crowned with a crown of gold. He wears the king’s crown. He is a king! And the Lord says, “The righteous will sparkle, will shine like the sun, in the Kingdom of their Father.”
What does it mean, though, to have the royal office here on earth? I can understand the crown in heaven, that is OK, but what is the meaning of this royalty here on earth? It means to reign over my passions! It means to be the ruler of all creatures, the ruler of the entire creation. God told Adam and Eve to rule and dominate the entire creation, and He certainly did not mean the type of domination, or abuse rather, that goes on today, because this sort of domination is also digging our graves. When I conquer atomic energy, I open my grave, to go in from cancer, because radiation kills me. When I try to conquer the secrets of nature, and I set them loose to use them, they end up killing me. What we are eating today, what we’re drinking, what we’re breathing, all these things - they’re slow killers. Look at the number of pharmacies, pharmaceutical companies in your neighborhoods, and look at the statistics of disease control, the various types of cancers, all in the last hundred years. This is not the type of conquering that God had in mind. Being the ruler of nature means that I am the highest being of all creation, and there is not a single creature higher than I am. Everything is below me. I am the ruler of nature. We can see this in our past and present ascetics. They are lords of nature. Even the beasts and wild animals do obedience to them. St. Moses the Ethiopian, for instance, had some visitors, and being in the desert, he had no water. He ran out of water. He wanted to feed his visitors. He wanted to cook some vegetables for them, but he had no water. So very simply, he took his pot, went outside, and asked God very simply and very naturally, “Lord, please send me some water.” Immediately a cloud came, parked on top of his pot and rained enough water to fill his cooking utensil. He took it, boiled the vegetables, and treated his visitors. This is how man reigns over nature. I am the ruler of nature but I must recognize that above me is the absolute ruler, my God, who rules over all. We do not get ahead by ignoring God. In our arrogance, we do this. We want to unlock the secrets of nature that are killing us.
I am the lord of nature but I must also be the lord of my passions. I must govern my passions, and uphold myself with a royal, governing spirit – eigemon nous. “Eigemon” in Greek means, “king.” So,I need to uphold myself with a royal nous. So let my mind be the king and governor of my existence, not my emotions, so I do not become a prisoner or a slave of people, or become enslaved by some ideas or fads, so I do not become a slave of materialism. This is the meaning of having the office of king in this life. Revelation 1:7, Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. So, my friends, the One Who makes us kings and priests is coming. Behold, He is coming. He is coming with the clouds and every eye will see Him, every one. Even those who speared Him, the Greek says, – all the people who speared Him. All the people of the earth will mourn because of Him. These two verses serve as the conclusion of the introduction of this book, but they also include the central theme of the entire book of the Revelation. What is the central theme of this book? It is the Second Coming of Christ, not the rapture, not the millennium, not the taking up of the Church, not the Antichrist. The central theme of the book of the Revelation is the Second Coming of Christ. Everything that this book will tell us will revolve around this theme – the second presence of Christ.
Christ is coming! Behold! With this “behold” the writer wants to get our attention. We find this “behold” in the Gospel very often, when the word of God wants us to zero in on some key event. Here, behold! Look! He is coming! But here in these verses, we have an awesome picture, Christ coming back slowly in the clouds while the entire earth sort of freezes and all people, every eye on the entire earth shall see Him. Moreover, people will begin to wail and to beat themselves. Here we have an awesome image, an awesome picture of the Coming of Christ, and a troublesome and fearful picture. Here we come face-to-face with two Christological prophecies, both from the Old Testament; and they are combined. The one belongs to the prophet Daniel, and the other to the prophet Zachariah. These two prophesies are what gave St. John the inspiration to synthesize this vision and prophecy, by which vision he closes his introduction to this book. When someone comes to the realization at some point in their life, when someone truly realizes, truly and not sensationally, and to have it be a heart-felt reality that Christ is coming back, then we develop the strong nostalgia, a strong love, a hope, that nothing in this life can hold us. We do not desire to die, no, or to just leave. Not so. Simply, Christ is coming! It is such a strong hope. Christ is coming back! This should excite us! We must place this reality deep in our being. This was the reality and the experience of the first Christian Church. With this reality, the Church lived and gave us the martyrs and the saints. With this reality, the Church will once again give us martyrs and saints. I pray for this with all my heart.
Revelation 1: 7-9
The vision of Daniel and Zachariah— I am the Alpha and the Omega —Sharing in the suffering and gospel of the cross.
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. I John, your brother, who share with you in Jesus the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
As we were saying last time, these two verses serve as the conclusion of the initial introduction of the book but they also include the central theme of this book which is the Second Coming of Christ. These verses also contain two Christological prophecies from the Old Testament, one belonging to Prophet Daniel and a second one to Prophet Zachariah. As far as the prophecy of Daniel goes, we see that he did not only prophesy the first coming of Christ but his Second Coming as well. More specifically we see that his prophetic eye reaches the end of history and he tells us in his seventh chapter, I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. (7:13) Here we do not have the first presence or First Coming, but the second because One like the son of man refers to the Incarnate Son of God, the God-man who is positioned next to the “Ancient of Days” or God the Father.
The Lord Himself verified this in front of Caiaphas after Caiaphas questioned Him under oath and the Lord said, I am assuring you, I tell you that after this you will see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the power [meaning God the Father] and coming with the clouds of heaven. (Matt. 26:64) In simple terms, “You are now condemning me; you can go ahead and do that, but you will see that I will be coming back to judge you.” About Christ coming back as a judge - this identity of our Lord is spelled out in the book of the Revelation, Then I looked, and lo, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. (14:14) This informs us that He is coming with a sickle in His hand. He is not coming as a Savior but as a judge. At His first presence He came as a Savior, so His first presence pertains to the salvation of the world, and the second to the judgment. Christ Himself said, I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. (John 12:47) He also said, When the Son of Man comes to judge theworld. (Matthew 25:31).
Consequently, we have these two attributes which pertain to two appearances of the Lord. This also brings to mind the words of St. John the Baptist, Behold the winnowing fork is in His hand and He will clean His threshold and He will gather the wheat in His storehouse, while the chaff He will burn up in unquenchable fire, fire that never goes out. (Matt.3:12) Also in the parable of the weeds, the Lord advises, allow the wheat to grow with the weeds and at the end of time the sorting out, the “cleansing” will take place. (Matt. 13:25-40) The wheat will be collected and placed in the storehouse while the weeds will be thrown in the furnace, meaning the pious people, the Christians will be gathered in the Kingdom of God and the godless and the impious in the eternal Hell, or eternal torment. Thus, the first verse refers to the prophecy of Daniel while the second refers to the prophecy of Zachariah. Zachariah writes, And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace. (12:10-14) All this refers to the first presence of Christ. I did not come to judge but to save is indicative of a spirit of grace and compassion. And they will turn to look at Me and they will be mocking Me. But they will repent when they see me as they see Me. . They will see Him, of course, on the Cross. They will begin to beat their heads and their chests; they will be uprooting their hair. And they will wail as someone wails for an only child and weep bitterly over him as one weeps over a first-born. The land shall mourn. Which land is this? It is the land of Judea, not the entire earth; it is each tribe, each individual, and each family by themselves.
The Messiah will come with much Grace. The people of Palestine will scorn Him. They will laugh at Him, but after the signs on the Cross, (the darkness, the Resurrection) they will be beating their heads. This is but a very small preview, a small foretaste of what will be taking place at the end of history. Let us all listen how. You do remember that the Centurion saw the earthquake, the darkening of the sun; he saw all these strange phenomena. When he heard the words of Christ, Father forgive them for they know not what they do, (Luke 23:34) he saw His calmness, His meekness. He was not cursing or bad-mouthing His enemies, but He was praying for them, in the midst of the most excruciating pain on the Cross. Then the Centurion said, This man is truly the Son of God. (23:47) St. Luke the Evangelist tells us that the crowds were returning beating their chests. (23:48) This was an action of repentance. What did we do? Who did we crucify? However, Israel did not believe this small preview. Those that sensed who He was in His first presence began to wail.
Now St. John the Evangelist says that when Christ comes again He will be coming with the clouds and every eye shall see Him, everyone, even those who pierced Him, or actually, speared Him. Then those who pierced Him will wail because of Him. They will be beating their chests—all the tribes of earth, meaning the entire humanity. In the first plane of the fulfillment of this prophecy, (the prophecy of Zachariah) we have the twelve tribes of Israel. In the second plane we have the entire earth, the entire world. What is significant is the fact that they will see the One that they pierced, but historically one man, a Roman soldier pierced Him. This was his duty to verify the death of the executed. It was sort of a practical death certificate that needed to be given. All of these things were because the Jews condemned Him; they wanted Him dead. They wanted Him executed. But what does this mean? Every eye shall see Him, everyone who pierced Him, all those from the entire earth, all those who denied Jesus Christ. The person who denies Christ spears Christ. This is not simply rhetoric and I will bring up some examples from Scripture, one from St. Paul and some others from Holy Tradition.
St. Paul writes to the Philippians, I grieve for those whose God is their belly. (Phil 3:18,19) These are baptized Christians who made pleasure their God. According to St. Paul, these Christians re-crucify the Son of God; it is the same thing as those who pierced Him. Now how do I take part in this awful piercing of the Body of Christ? There are two ways; first, if I have denied His God-human nature, and second, if after becoming a Christian I continue to live a life of sin. When St. Paul talks to the Philippians he is not referring to a matter of faith, but a matter of lifestyle. He talks to baptized Christians who live for their belly, who make their god their belly. Their life was such that it did not agree with the Cross-bearing spirit of the Gospel. The second example of what it means to pierce Christ we will take from the life of St Peter, Archbishop of Alexandria who was a contemporary of the heretic, Arius. Archbishop Peter had a vision in which he saw Christ as a child with a torn outer garment. His garment was ripped in half. St. Peter asked, “Lord, who ripped your cloak?” The Lord said, “Arius.” (St. Athanasios later defeated Arius, the heretic who denied the Lord’s God-human nature.) In ancient frescoes here in our monastery, we have such a fresco of the vision as seen by St. Peter, but it was unfortunately, not very well preserved.)
Do you see what it means to pierce or to spear Christ? Initially, under the Cross one person speared Christ at the recommendation of the Sanhedrin. Now all the people throughout history and from our time, of course, (and we hope that none of our listeners are included in this number of people) will say one day; “I pierced the body of Christ, I pierced Him. I speared Christ by denying Him.” This denial can be either in the area of faith, in dogma, or in the daily practice of the Christian lifestyle. The Lord says, and this is very significant, Then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven. (Matthew 24:30) What is this sign? The Cross is the very sign that the heretics all through the ages and the scoffers, sneer and mock. Among these are the Chiliasts or Jehovah’s Witnesses, who mock the Cross of Christ. What will appear is the suffering, wounded Christ. Is Christ still suffering? Yes. Christ is forever suffering, forever wounded in Heaven with His bruises. These wounds are incurable. They are the very wounds that Thomas touched and felt. These wounds are the trophies of the Lord. These are the identifying insignia that will show everyone who Christ is, and there will be no question whatsoever that the One Who is coming is the One Whom they pierced.
The wounds are staying and they will continue to be present, not only until the end of history, but beyond history as well. When we proceed with the book of the Revelation St. John will present us with an awesome vision, a great scene which is a bit strange. He will see the Word of God as a Lamb because He was sacrificed. He will see the Son of God as a slain Lamb, standing. Again, this is rather strange. How is He standing if He is slain? This shows that Christ bears the wounds, and at the same time, He is alive. It is the same thing that Christ will tell St. John. We will probably look at these things in our next session. I became dead, (egenomin nekros)and behold, I am alive again. So as we see, the wounds stay; they are the war medals of the great victory of the Son of God. With these wounds, He saved the world. At the same time, these wounds will be the terrible, condemning evidence for all those pitiful people who did not believe in Him as the Son of God. Now they have to come face to face with the One they pierced, the One Who is the Son of God Incarnate.
Now every eye shall see Him, every eye shall see Christ when He comes. The pious will rejoice; the godless and unrepentant sinners will be cut to the heart. They will wail. At the same time, the opposite is true. The Christians, the pious, are distressed; they are crying, “Lord, how long? How long must we wait? When are you going to free us from this miserable, rotten world?” All these things will certainly be happening during the Second Coming of Christ, but we also had a bird’s eye view, a small glimpse of this during His First Coming. He told His disciples during, or a little before His Passion, “The world is full of joy and laughter, and you are crying and mourning. In a short while the world will be wailing and you will be laughing.” A short while, a couple of days from Great Thursday night until Pasca Sunday; Sunday the distress of the disciples was gone. As you can see, this mourning, this distress, this tribulation, this pain, these things are not forever. They are connected to a time-period, and time passes. So these are not permanently fixed. Christ is coming and the faithful will be rejoicing while the unbelievers will be weeping.
The Lord Himself tells us these things that St. John brings up in the book of the Revelation, Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven and all the nations, all the tribes of the world will see Him and they will lament. (Matthew 24:30) Koyontai ( kopsondai), literally means they will be cut to the heart. All the tribes of the earth, all the nations will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. By the way, do we notice how much the Gospels agree with the book of the Revelation? There is not a single point of the book of the Revelation which does not agree with the Gospels, not a single point. There is absolute agreement in the spirit, and sometimes, quite often, even in the letter between the book of the Revelation and the four Gospels. So, Christ is coming back, and here St. John the Evangelist makes a special declaration that Christ is coming back “cloud-borne;” He is riding on the clouds. The verse closes with the words, So it shall be, amen. This serves as the seal of this introduction. The Greek text here uses two words: Nai (nai) and Amhn (amen). This ending has a liturgical character. St. John uses the Greek word nai (nai), which stands for yes. This means for sure, Christ is definitely coming back. Then he uses the Semitic or Hebrew word “amen,” or Amhn (amen), which means the same thing. It also means yes. But it is a prayerful “yes”, expressing the wish that it be as soon as possible: yes, He is coming back, yes, and the sooner the better. Nai (nai), Amhn (amen).
St. Paul will use this same expression, For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No; but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why we utter the Amen through him, to the glory of God. (II Corinthians 1:19,20) His promises are yes and amen. In other words, everything will come to pass, everything Christ said will materialize, nothing will change, not an iota. Do you see how the books agree? The spirit of the books are in total agreement. Sometimes we see an author contradict himself, often in the same book. However, here we have various authors, in different times, in total agreement. This means exactly what Christ said, that the heavens and the earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. Not even an iota will pass away unfulfilled from the words of Christ. Christ said that the heavens and the earth will vanish but my words will stay forever. Therefore, Christ said, I will return, I will come back, and He is absolutely faithful. St. Paul says PistoV o LogoV (Pistos o Logos) ; meaning the word of God is trustworthy and worthy of full acceptance. Christ will come back. The heart of a faithful man who feels all these things becomes full of hope, becomes solid in this hope, and lives with the hope of Christ, the hope that truly rejuvenates and refreshes: yes, amen. I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, who is and who was, and who Is to come, the Almighty. (Rev.1:8) Actually, the Greek word is so much stronger: The Pantokrator (Pantokrator), the One Who holds it all in His hand. Who is and Who was — remember when we said something about the strange grammar used by St. John in this book? In Greek, he uses an article in front of a verb. The English language is often limited, but then again so is the Greek and any language is too poor to describe the Pantokrator, the One who holds it all, holds everything together in His hands. There are no words in this world that can express the magnificence of the Almighty, the Pantokrator.
Yes, amen, I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, Who is and Who was, and Who is coming, the Pantokrator (or the Almighty). I am the Alpha and the Omega. This is another name of God. As we said earlier, God has very many names precisely because He has no name. It is impossible to define God with one name; giving God a single name will somehow restrict His infinity. When man gives an entity a name, it is to describe or define, so when we name something we give it certain boundaries or limits. However God is without boundaries, God has no limits, and that’s why when Moses questions God about His name on Mount Sinai, he receives the answer, I am Who I am. (Exodus 3:14) He [Moses] wanted a name to take back to Egypt and God told him I am the One Who is. God gave no name, but we can say this is one of the many names of God, the Alpha and the Omega. Thus because God has no name we say that He is anonymous and yet polyonymous, he has many names. The spiritually illiterate and rather blinded Jehovah’s Witnesses, or false witnesses, think that they discovered God’s name. In Greece and in different countries they present themselves as the students of the Scriptures. They are the authorities of the Scriptures, bar none, and they claim that God’s great name is Jehovah.
Well, Jehovah in Hebrew means “Lord’. However, Lord is one of the many names that the Scriptures use to talk about God. It is certainly not the exclusive name of God as they argue. There is a plethora of names for God, as we will see soon. What is this meaning of the Alpha and Omega? It is the commencement of everything created, the commencement of the entire creation. Consequently, when He says I am the Alpha and the Omega He is really saying that I am the Lord of space and time. More specifically God is outside of the Alpha and the Omega. The A and W exists in God. The beginning of the entire creation belongs to God and God alone will cause the possible termination of the entire visible creation. It is in God. Only God can create from zero. God is the only real or ontological beginning. St. John says “ en arch hn o LogoV ” (en arhi ein o Logos); In the beginning was the Word. (John 1:1) This is what it means. The Word is the Alpha; the Word—the second Person of the Holy Trinity—was present when the beginning of Creation took place from zero, ex nihilo. Now God does not want to destroy or annihilate His creation, but He can bring His creation back to Omega. He can end it if He wants to. He could bring it back to zero because He is the only Entity, the only Being that can relate to the idea of zero. Not a single created being could relate to zero: not the logical man, nor the angel. No one can bring to existence something from zero, nor can someone reverse something that exists back to zero. It is impossible, not only impossible, but even impossible to understand or grasp. God is the Alpha and the Omega. Everything exists and is contained in Him. He is Lord of space and time.
By the way, God is not limited to Alpha and Omega, but the Alpha and Omega exists in God, which is the beginning and end of all creation. God has no beginning – anarcoV (anarhos) – and simultaneously ateleuthtoV (ateleftitos) or interminable; He is never ending. Creation has a beginning and an end. Thus, the Alpha and Omega are in God and God is the Lord of time and space. Accordingly, in this last verse of the introduction of the book we have an accumulation of Divine names. The first one is the “Alpha and the Omega,” the second name is “Lord,” the third, “God,” and the fourth name “The One Who is and Who was and Who is coming,” the fifth name the Pantokrator – the one Who holds everything. With this accumulation of Divine names, we see that the source of all the divine Revelation is God and consequently anything and everything that is written in the book of the Revelation is trustworthy and true. God reveals this as man (in his human nature). What is astonishing is when we see that these Revelations, these prophesies come to pass in the progression of the centuries, then we can truly say with conviction that, yes indeed, God is the source of this book, and the book of the Revelation is of Divine origin. Here, my friends, the introduction of this book ends. We must say that the introduction is equally worthy of this book’s depth and also the book’s writer, the depth of the writer, the flying eagle of our ecclesiastical theology.
Now the main theme of this book begins, which is the appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ in front of the shocked, fearful and shaken St. John to show him the future journey of the Church, the future struggles of the Church: its adventures, its wars, and its final victory. The book of the Revelation will mainly deal with these events. At this point, with God’s help, we will enter the main topic. I John, your brother, who share with you in Jesus the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. (Rev.1:1) The Evangelist is attempting to declare and reassure the historical evidence of this book. It is of great importance to have the historical background of any book. So in order to do this, he follows the example of the prophets of the Old Testament like Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and the other prophets, much like them, he records the place where this prophecy was revealed, and this place is the island of Patmos. [Translator’s note: about the island of Patmos. In the book of Archbishop Averky Taushev, The Apocalypse, which was translated by Fr. Seraphim Rose, that by the way is an excellent book, the island of Patmos is classified as one of the islands of the Sporades cluster of islands (pg. 66). This is incorrect. The island of Patmos is one of the “Dodecanese” cluster of islands. Some of the main islands in this cluster are Rhodes, Kos, Kalymnos, Leros, Astipalaia, Carpathos, Simi, Patmos, Niseros, Tilos, Kastelorizo and Halki.]
John also reveals the time and day of his Revelation which was on the Lord’s Day; Lord in Greek is KurioV (Kyrios) and Kuriakh( Kyriaki) is the Lord’s Day, or Sunday. St. John, along with the place of his vision, reveals the reason he found himself there and the time, and all this is to certify that this book is a historical reality. These are the elements necessary to give this book a historical dimension. In other words, this is not a myth or science fiction. We can go to Patmos and into this very cave, which is open to Christians and visitors from all over the world. We say all this to eliminate any doubt, and to defend our faith when those outside of this reality will argue as to the validity of all these historical events. If they question, simply ask them to go to Patmos. Send them to Patmos and they will see everything there before their very eyes.
According to our ancient Christian tradition St. John the Evangelist was exiled to Patmos during the persecution by the Roman emperor, Domitian (51-96 A.D.). I found myself on the island of Patmos,” the Evangelist says, for preaching the word of God and witnessing for Jesus Christ. He does not use the word exile, but we can derive that from the word Qliyh (thlipsi) or suffering, or affliction. He says your brother and companion in the suffering because if Patmos was on his missionary agenda, and he went there voluntarily to evangelize to the inhabitants of Patmos, then he would not use the word suffering. In the word suffering he hides the reality of his exile. On this St. Irenaeus (c. 130-200) — who lived only one century after that — says, “The book of the Revelation has not been around for very long; it came about during our generation and towards the end of the reign of Domitian.” St. Clement of Alexandria records this, “After the death of the tyrant (meaning Domitian) John left Patmos and came to Ephesus.” St. Andrew of Caesarea further adds, “St. John was sentenced to live on the island of Patmos. He was sentenced to exile on Patmos.” But Eusebius of Caesarea, in his chronicle, places this exile during the fourteenth year of the reign of Domitian which corresponds to 94 or 95 AD and that is when the book of the Revelation was written.
It was written on Patmos and not in Ephesus. This is important to note because the Lord tells him to write and send a letter to the Bishop of Ephesus; and a letter presupposes some distance. Hence, St. John writes his Revelation right then and there, on Patmos where he saw the vision. Again, all of the above shows that the book of the Revelation was written by John while exiled on the island of Patmos. What is interesting is the beginning of the sentence, “I John ( egw IwannhV – ego Ioannis),” he does this to accentuate the name, and this is of paramount importance, especially in a prophetic book. The identity of the writer and the origin of this book need to be made known. Now this is something that he does not normally do in his Gospels, where he tries to hide very gracefully behind the disciple whom the Lord loved, and the one that fell on his chest to ask Him, ‘Lord, who is the one that will betray you?’ However, here the content is very serious: this book is prophetic and the Evangelist must record his name for the sake of authenticity.
I John, your brother . This beginning reminds us of the book of Daniel, who uses the same technique in order to declare and certify that he is the writer of his book and he is the trustworthy witness of his book. He writes in his eighth chapter, In the third year of the reign of King Balthazar a vision appeared to me, Daniel, (8: 1) This verse of John starts out with very tender words, words of endearment, I John, your brother, and companion in the suffering and Kingdom, this is so beautiful. I John, he does not use his Apostolic title – I John an Apostle of Jesus Christ (or the servant of Jesus Christ)– as Apostles do in other books, he prefers to use only John and this is possibly because Christians everywhere were being persecuted. All Christians were in tribulation, they shared this common suffering, and common suffering brings out the brotherhood of all people. Disasters, tornadoes, floods, tend to bring out the spirit of brotherhood in many small towns even today. Consequently, the recipients of this book are under fierce persecution and John is a communicant, a participant; he shares in this persecution. I John your brother and co-participant ( koinonoV (koinonos) or companion) in the tribulation and Kingdom and patient endurance, and here, my friends, John unfolds in front of us, three enormous points, three great subjects: tribulation, kingdom and patient endurance – qliyhV (thlipsis), Basileia (Vasilia) and upomonh (Ypomoni). These are three great chapters in the Christian life and St. John unfolds these before us.
Let us look at the first one, which is qlhyhV (thlipsis), which literally means to compress, to squeeze, to pressure. The soul becomes greatly distressed. However, if the joy in the Lord is the fruit of the Christian identity then this distress or this qlhyhV (thlipsis) is the skin of the fruit; distress on the outside, but joy on the inside; outside, the shell, but inside the almond. The almond, or any fruit, cannot survive without the protection of the shell. Listen to this oxymoron; distress protects inner joy. Did you ever imagine this? This is only possible in the Christian realm. If we do not live and experience these things, we need to doubt our Christian identity. In other words, it is not possible to develop and maintain the joy and spirituality, which gives birth to the joy, in the absence of this distress. To be distressed in the Lord is not something that comes from the inside since it is the exterior covering of the fruit of joy, but it is something that comes from the outside. It is the state which the faithful find themselves in from the external reactions of the world and the devil.
As you know, the Lord warns us about this, but how many of us remember this? He says, they will deliver you up to tribulation, (Matthew 24:9) So, this is from external factors. This distress is persecution, jail, suffering and death, martyrdom. All this is from the outside and not from the inside. The Lord has named this state “the narrow gate’; and even more clearly, In the world you have tribulation, (John 16:33) In this world you will have distress; however this distress brings forth ineffable, indescribable and overflowing joy so much so that St. Paul writes, I am filled with comfort. With all our affliction, I am overjoyed. (II Corinthians 7:4) Dear St. Paul, overflowing with joy in the face of great distress? Well, that is why joy is the fruit to be found inside the shell of distress. If you eliminate and do away with this distress you will lose this inner joy. If you remove the shell you will lose the fruit. Please pay attention: qlhyhV (thlipsis) or distress, is a characteristic of those who will inherit the Kingdom of God. St. Paul once again says in the Acts of the Apostles, after his stoning at Lystra, We must go through much distress before we can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This “must” is the connecting link that connects the inner with the outer and these two cannot be separated. The two go together. Actually, he says not just distress but many distresses, plural. We need many qliyeiV (thlipses), many distresses to enter the Kingdom of God.
However here, I must warn you about something. Our times, my friends, are attempting to create (and here we must all listen very closely because we are all infected); our times are attempting to create a Christianity with no distress—a Christianity full of compromises and comforts. We refuse to hear about any discomfort or distress. This is one of the two great dangers that threaten our Church today. The first danger is secularization, and the second danger is ecumenism, or religious syncretism. These two great dangers threaten the Church as we are speaking. I will repeat. Secularization compromises the Gospel to fit the formulas of this world. It allows the “phronema” or the mindset of the world to enter the Gospel. It offers a politically correct Gospel, so we do not offend those who are in love with their passions and it presents a Gospel that embraces the homosexual, the lesbian, the adulterer and all the liars without any need for repentance. As John Shelby Spong, [the Episcopal bishop of Newark NJ for 24 years and who retired in 2000] puts it, “Christianity must undergo radical changes if it is to be relevant in the next century.” He proposes a new theological reformation that alters the way we think about God, no more, no less, a new Christianity that fits our rationalism; to recreate God according to our passions (a tremendous danger); a Christianity without Christ, a Christianity without the God-man, a Christianity that will pave the way to worship the Antichrist.
The second danger is ecumenism, or religious syncretism which is peace at the expense of truth. The disease of ecumenism has infected a number of bishops. In 1989, the Patriarch of Alexandria affirmed that the Prophet Mohammed is an apostle and a man of god and those that are against Islam, and Buddhism, are not in agreement with God. A few bishops of Greece and a number of lay theologians protested heavily and spoke out, but only a few, only the remnant. Unfortunately, a retraction was not demanded by any one of the other Patriarchs, as far as we know, and this blasphemy was simply forgotten. All this is because today’s Christian is looking for a Christianity that does not cost anything, a spirituality in opposition to the cross, a spirituality that shuns sacrifice. This ceases to be spirituality because it lacks the presence of the Holy Spirit; and it simply becomes a cheap substitute, a bankrupt form of spirituality. Such a spirituality does not have the Holy Spirit of God and it ends up as a humanistic spirituality, the one used by the psychologists. They use this term loosely, psychologists use it, fine artists, soloists, poets, opera singers; and this spirituality has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit has fled from this sort of spirituality.
The book of the Revelation, my friends, warns us, the beast was allowed to do battle with the saints and defeat them; he was allowed to open war with the faithful and overcome them. Did we hear this? God allowed the beast to defeat the faithful, the Christians. No one will be able to buy and sell without having “the mark.” This is financial boycott. You will not be able to do business—to buy, sell or trade, unless you are a member of the Masons, the Lions, or Rotary Club. By the way, every anti-Christian philosophy or activity includes this mark. Let’s not think the mark is only limited to the last three and one half years of history. The mark de-Christianizes people. It always has. As a result, if you play ball with these anti-Christian allies of the beast, you will be helped. If not, you will not be able to buy or sell, unless you have the mark of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is the faith and the patience of the saints, who are the ones who will stand, who will have the spiritual guts to say, “No way, keep your money. Keep your property. We will not be marked.” This will translate into fierce battle and persecution to force the faithful into extinction. The Antichrist will seek to destroy the true believers of Christ. All these things constitute the area of qliyhV (thlipsis) or distress, which is the skin of the fruit of joy and the prerequisite of the Kingdom of God. The Holy Script here does not talk about comfort or compromises but underlines, “here is the faith and the patience of the saints.” My friends, we have no idea what tomorrow will bring. Let’s begin to prepare.
Revelation 1: 9-11
The patience and the Kingdom— About (Sunday) the day of the Lord.
I John, your brother, who share with you in Jesus the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance. Here we have three characteristics that John uses to show that the Church is advancing on her journey. These three elements will always exist in the Church, even at peaceful times: suffering, patience, and kingdom. However, we must note that the Evangelist here is not referring to the everyday sufferings and patience that even the worldly people need to have. We often hear the statement, “Boy, life is tough, and full of problems.” but this is not what St. John is referring to, as we will see in this lesson.
Previously, we mentioned a number of things about thlipsis, or distress. Again different translators translate thlipsis as suffering, or tribulation, or distress. We need to look at patience and kingdom. Patience is the second subject of the Revelation which is indispensably connected to the element of distress. Many times when a brother is suffering, there is nothing we can do for him or her. We cannot do much, let us say, when a person has a physical illness. We often find ourselves telling that person “Have patience.” Or, we may be unable to solve someone’s financial problems. In any event when we cannot come up with a solution to someone’s needs, we tell that person to be patient, to hang in there. Oftentimes this may be, or may sound like, a way out because of our helplessness and our inability to offer our services in a constructive and positive manner. Moreover, usually the person that hears this repeatedly - is told to be patient; that something will happen; that you never know - to this person this begins to sound like advice with no substance—simply rhetoric. How many times do we tell people in distress to have patience, and, they usually bite their lips and repeat, “Yeah, patience,” like “thanks for nothing.” However, my friends, this very simple expression that people take for granted, if placed in its right context, would be the best advice; nothing could be better than this.
Our times lack this element of patience. Today patience is considered a virtue, but not necessarily a dynamic quality. It is something rather passive and unimpressive. The patient person who holds back and exercises control may be considered weak. I do not know what to say, but the people of our days are terribly impatient. People are busy today, always running, always chasing after something. Our civilization today is one of fast food, convenience stores, and three-minute microwave dinners; everything is quick, fast, in a hurry. We’re all running, all of us, and since we’re always looking at our watch to make time, to do more, to cover more ground; this eliminates the element of patience. We have difficulty coping with the everyday adversities of life due to this lack of patience. However, I will maintain my position and tell you that patience is the best medicine for suffering. With patience, we carry the cross of suffering and finally win the battle. Christ tells us, the one who will stay patient until the very end will be saved. (Matthew 10:22) However, every distress that visits us in our daily life and every display of patience need to be connected to Christ. Otherwise, there is no value or meaning, and this patience does not hold water in the afterlife; it is useless.
Granted, a few things can be accomplished in this life if someone handles his life’s challenges with patience. The first one, which is not of small importance, is to avoid nerve pills, to avoid treatment from nervous breakdowns. This is not insignificant, you know. Many times, I cross myself and pray, “My God, protect me, so I don’t end up in a neurological clinic at some point.” Our times are horrible. Sometimes, disasters strike in the family one after another and we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, so practicing patience is definitely to our advantage even in the mundane sense. However, this does not carry any weight in eternity if these things are not related and connected to Jesus Christ. So both the suffering and the patience which is the stretcher that carries us through our suffering, need to be connected with Christ.
St. John the Evangelist says, …in the suffering, and kingdom, and patience, in Jesus Christ. Here, the King James uses “Jesus Christ” while the NIV, which is more prone to evangelicalism, says only “Jesus.” Moreover, Jesus Christ means that the cause of my hardship is because I persist and insist on living a life of the Gospel. Please tell me, what is the value of suffering if I went to the casino and lost my life’s savings? Or I lived a life of sin and now I am sick or now I am hurting, or I lost some opportunities in life due to my foolishness or laziness? All these sufferings not only will not be rewarded in eternity, but on the contrary, Christ will reproach and judge people who acted like this and wasted their God-given talents. If we were prodigal, foolish, and unworthy servants, we will be judged. My tribulations must be due to my spiritual life, the result of living a life of the Gospel. If I am scorned, or if I lose an opportunity, or if I am not included, or if I am ignored due to my Christian identity; or if someone loses a promotion, loses an opportunity, because he refuses to become a Freemason, isn’t this a form of financial sanction? Sure, it is, and in the days of the Antichrist, this will be strictly enforced; Christians will either worship the beast or go hungry. This goes on behind the scenes now but in the future, this will become increasingly overt. So, when I am facing persecution, when I suffer in my life, because I’m holding on to the true Gospel, when I am holding on to my Christian identity, then this suffering will be posted in my eternal report card, so to speak. This is suffering in Jesus Christ; the patience that I must endure must be in Jesus Christ. As we know even the thief, the robber, the criminal, employs a great deal of patience. He waits for hours until the homeowner drives away so he can break in. Needless to say, this patience has no value, and is highly punishable.
The third element is the kingdom. Hence, we have suffering, patience, and kingdom in Jesus Christ. What is this kingdom? It is the mystical sharing of the faithful, throughout history, in the sufferings of Christ. The genuine Christian shares in the sufferings of Christ. These three, which have a social, ethical consequence, are characteristics of the genuine Christian. These three form an unbreakable chain: suffering, patience, and kingdom. To persist in the suffering, patience is needed. The suffering and the patience in Christ will lead us to the Kingdom of God. When we advise someone to be patient, we said earlier that this advice often is ignored. There is a reason for this, because when we offer this advice to the other person, we offer it and suggest it by its own merit, and not in the context of its fruit, which is the Kingdom. I believe we are all very guilty of this. When we advise our friends, neighbors, relatives, to hold on and be patient, do we ever tell them that the kingdom of God awaits them? We go to the hospital or visit a sick person at their home. We tell them and encourage them to be patient. However, we leave the kingdom of God out of the picture. Since we don’t mention the very purpose of this patience, and the purpose is the kingdom of God, the other person will be left dry, and he will be left with a sigh and repeat, “Yeah, I know, patience.” We need to mention what our saints always write about these adversities, worries, and troubles, that they are holy visitations preparing us for the kingdom of God.
This is the second time the word kingdom is mentioned in this chapter. The entire New Testament is full of this term “kingdom”, “kingdom of God”. We see this so often and truly my friends, Christianity is a kingdom and not a religion. A kingdom and a typology of Christianity as kingdom is the God-governed kingdom of Israel of the Old Testament. As you know, when the Jews inhabited the Promised Land, they did not have a leader. They did not have a king or a president. They had the so-called Judges, people who governed by the statutes of God, and God would make His will known to them. God was their Lord and King. The King of Israel was God, the Almighty. When Nathaniel first came face to face with Christ, and Christ told him, I saw you under the fig tree, Nathaniel said, You are the Son of God, the king of Israel. (John 1:48-50) This king of Israel is something that echoes the spirit of the Old Testament, how the Jews could look at the king, for them their king was their God; the two were intertwined. God asked Moses to record this because later the Jews asked for a king from the last judge, Samuel. And the cause for this was that the neighboring nations were having kings and the Jews began to become jealous.
So, the kings of the neighboring nations influenced the Jews, who started asking for a king. Samuel asked them, “Isn’t God enough for you?” God even told them the same thing. “Where did I let you down? Where did I fail you? So, you want a king? Very well then, I will give you a king, but a king will sit on the shoulders of your sons and your daughters.” (1 Samuel 8-9) Nevertheless, they insisted anyway. The first king was Saul; then came David, and then Solomon. Solomon was the peaceful king. He reigned for forty years with no war, and he taxed the Jews so heavily, so heavily that the Jews were groaning under this pressure of immense taxes. God had warned them ahead of time. At any rate, these details about the kings of Israel are not of interest to us at this time. What is of interest to us is the fact that historical Israel had God as its king, but the existing kings of Israel were enthroned under a certain term. They could not act on their own. They could not act on anything unless they asked God through the archpriest. If a king exercised his own authority, he would be punished. That is why Saul was dethroned, because he was acting independently, ignoring the commandments of God. Thus, the human king was a representative of God who was always the king of Israel. All this serves as a historical typology to this great truth, the great truth that Christianity is a kingdom and the King is Christ.
As we said, Christianity is not a religion. Moreover, religion means the worship of the divine for expiation, or to have some petition satisfied and some needs fulfilled, without necessarily having man take part in God’s life. We all need to understand this. Again, what is religion? It is to petition God for a number of things - my needs, whether God would give them to me or not, but it does not mean that I have to necessarily particpate ) in the life of God. This is the definition of religion, and this meaning corresponds to all religions on the face of the earth—all religions. Now, what is the meaning of kingdom? It means that God governs every aspect of the life of the Christian. There is nothing in the life of the Christian that excludes God. God is all-inclusive and the Christian enjoys all the good things of God. The ancient Greeks, for instance, felt that they were in good standing with their gods as long as they offered them a sacrifice. They assumed that that was all their gods wanted. Now, what was the lifestyle of the person offering the sacrifice? This did not matter much. They thought that this was not really any of the gods’ concern. That is why certain people would offer great and massive sacrifices—something like one hundred bulls, an entire estate. Now this person could have been a murderer, an adulterer, a fornicator, a thief, and a criminal. This did not matter much. At least, this is how they perceived things. This is how the ancient Greeks imagined things to be, that their gods were not interested in their lifestyle, as long as a sacrifice was offered. The gods would look favorably on this human offering and sacrifice. The gods would grant what was requested. This is the meaning of religion, but Christianity is a kingdom, and in this kingdom we are called to participate in the life of God.
When we talk about theosis, being God-like, Christ-like, becoming one with Christ, it means that we enter the life of God, and this is what God wants us to do, how He wants us to be. That is why there is a vast difference between Christianity and the average religion. Unfortunately, today most of us live Christianity as a religion and not as a kingdom, and this presents a number of problematic consequences. First, we have separated ethics from doctrine, or the faith from the lifestyle, thereby reducing our faith to a sense of duty. Moreover, here we can have people totally un-churched, not even Christians in some cases. They may be Buddhists, spiritists, Masons, agnostics, and these people call upon and utilize the moral teachings of the Gospel. These people consider Christianity as a religion with good morality, and they think that morality is the central core of Christianity. By doing this we separate and we divorce the doctrine from morality. We often hear women say, “You know, my husband doesn’t come to Church. However, he is a much better Christian than I could ever be. He is more patient, gentler, calm, he keeps the Commandments, and he does not get angry. He may remind his wife for example; with all your churching you are still less calm than me. After the husband repeats this a number of times, the wife, who obviously does not know too many things, agrees with him. She even advertises about the goodness of her husband or her children. “Oh, my children are the best, they really love God. The only thing is, they never step inside a Church, but they love Jesus.” However, the issue is not if people are good, better, or best. There is no salvation under these circumstances. The wife cannot go to church in the place of her husband. The wife cannot perform the religious duty of the entire family. We often hear, “Mom goes to Church often enough for all of us.” Well, this is problematic and what this does, is it actually separates doctrine from morality. It reduces Christianity to a sense of religious duty.
Is there any wonder why Christianity today does not attract many converts? It is because it is presented as a religion of rules and regulations, and a performance of duty. Today’s man hates and despises the idea of duty. He is on duty enough with his work and with all his preoccupation. People also try to separate worship from their lifestyle. Some people may think, “Well, I go to church Sunday morning, I give my morning to God; at nighttime I can have the freedom to go to any nightclub I want to.” In doing this we fall into the area of form worship, or, to put it in everyday language, we’re just going through the motions. Our heart, our mind is not really involved. We are simply going through the motions. The motions are necessary, but once inside I must concentrate on the substance, because the substance behind all these forms and motions is what we need to get at. Now, if I do not discover the substance because my life is separated from this substance, then I will be left with a shell. Then I will be saying, “I must go to Church because my mother went to church. I must light my candle, and I must do these things, and so on” then I end up being a form worshipper, going through the motions without understanding the essence of these things.
The second setback stemming from this consequence of reducing Christianity to a religion from a kingdom, is that of syncretism, or the tendency to compare Christianity with other religions, even though we may consider Christianity as a higher and a better form of faith. This is a very basic mistake – comparing our faith with other forms of faith. For example, when a young man begins to look at Buddhism, we try to convince him that Christianity is a much better religion, much better than Buddhism or Mohammedanism. And this is the serious mistake—the minute we begin to say Christianity is better. We cannot compare. There is no comparison. All the things offered by other religions do not deliver. Nor do they save. They are all of this world and they are the product of human imagination, a product of the human intellect.
Accordingly, let us understand this once and for all; Christianity does not come to complete and measure up to the other religions. This is a very timely subject, especially in our days where syncretism and ecumenism are on the front burner of many religious conferences and meetings. Christianity did not come to measure up and take a stand above the other religions, but to neutralize them and replace them. True Christianity does not come to say, “Well, there’s something good in every religion.” If we look at things that way, then there are probably some very good verses in the satanic bible! No, the truth is that all the religions of the world are works and inspirations of the Devil. Do not tell me that Buddhism is not a work of the Devil. At least Buddha lived before Christ and he has some type of an excuse. However, now that the light came into the world, isn’t it a shame for Buddhism to exist? What is worse than this? This is a great and miserable shame for baptized Orthodox Christians in Europe and in the West to become Buddhists, to leave Orthodox spirituality for Eastern philosophy. Christ came to destroy all these things, to destroy the works of the Devil.
Christ said something, which may seem a bit heavy. We find it in the Gospel of John, “All those who came before me are thieves and robbers.” (10:8) —All of them. He did not make any distinctions or any exceptions. He did not say, “Oh, the philosophy of Plato was valuable and nice.” Or, “Buddhism and Confucianism have some wise sayings. True, they are not perfect, but they have some wonderful teachings.” Or “Yoga and T’ai Chi are helpful spiritual exercises,” Or, “TM (Transcendental Meditation) can be of some help.” Let us understand how far this type of thinking is from the Truth of Christ. Everyone, everyone that came before me are thieves and robbers. What did they steal? What did they rob? They stole the human soul, which is a possession of the living and true God, and its place is in the kingdom of God. This is Christianity.
Try to remember the vision of Nebuchadnezzar, who saw a great statue with bands of various materials: gold, silver, copper, iron, and clay. These are the kingdoms of the earth and, if you will, the religions of the earth as well. Daniel saw a rock uncut by human hand, but this rock was self-cut, self-hewn, from an unhewn mountain. In the Salutations to the Mother of God (read each Friday during Lent and for other purposes), one of the Salutations says, “Rejoice, unhewn mountain.” The Most Holy Theotokos is this unhewn mountain in the vision of Daniel. The self-cut rock signifies the virgin birth, and this rock is Christ. This is how Daniel interpreted this dream of Nebuchadnezzar. A heavenly king came and fell upon this statue and he pulverized and turned the statue to dust, and the dust was blown by the wind, and the statue was nowhere to be found. This is Christianity. It did not come to travel and journey along with the other religions or to coexist peacefully with them, and to learn to get along. It came to dissolve the false faiths once and for all. Now, after acknowledging all these truths, all these correct positions of Christianity, how can we compare Christianity to other religions? How can we possibly compare it with the false religions of this age? How can we talk about syncretism? Christianity is a kingdom and an inheritance. A Christian is not the religious man, the man who stays at a ritualistic worship or a habitual worship. A Christian is a citizen of a kingdom. A Christian is the person who keeps calling upon the Lord. He is the disciple. He is the Christian. He is the holy one.
So, we have tribulation, patience and then, the kingdom. Along the way, we do have companionship or koinonia.This companionship not only exists between the faithful in the form of fellowship, but also between the faithful and Christ because Christ is the one who suffered. St. Paul captures this very beautifully, The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him. (2 Timothy 2:11)This living, enduring and reigning is what St. John writes about using: tribulation, patience and kingdom.
Now St. John writes to his brothers and companions, to the Christians, On the Lord’s Day, I was in the Spirit. I was in a state of ecstasy. The Evangelist with much simplicity notes that he entered into a state of ecstasy. This “being in the Spirit” is an isolation of the man of the spiritual world from his normal external environment. He does this in order to encounter the supernatural world. However, there are two possible cases here. A person can be subjected to the active and the passive type of ecstasy. The second one, the passive, which a man can be subjected to, is demonic. It is a demonic ecstasy. Does this mean the Devil can create an ecstasy or a trance? Certainly. We need to be careful. There is much talk these days about out-of-body experiences. These are mostly demonic. This means to be in an ecstasy, but to be outside of oneself, to be in a place where I lose awareness or consciousness of my external environment. In this case, the subject has no clue where he is. Someone can be talking to him and he sees nothing, hears nothing; and the Devil can do this. Again, this passive state is demonic. And when a person is subjected to this type of ecstasy, this person is isolated; his consciousness is inactive; and his subconsciousness is inactive. He cannot perceive, and at times this is all erased from his memory. What is the significance of all this? We bring this up because this is the method used by all mediums or psychics. Mediums or psychics are mediators. They go between the external environment and the world of the spirits or the demons. The medium goes into ecstasy and gives us fantastic information and when he comes out of this trance, the medium remembers nothing. Not only does he not remember anything, he does not know anything, nothing at all. This is because in a demonic trance we have isolation of the consciousness. The consciousness is pushed aside.
On the contrary, during divine ecstasy we have complete control of all the powers of our soul. Another example of an ecstasy outside of St. John here in the book of the Revelation, who sees, talks, listens, is the one of St. Peter when he saw the screen with the animals being lowered. The Apostle not only sees, knows, feels, but he also reacts. When he hears, Peter, kill and eat, he says, Never, Lord. I will never kill and eat something unclean. Before all this, the book of the Acts of the Apostles says that he “fell into a trance” or an “ecstasy.” (Acts 10:10) He sees the sky open and unclean animals are lowered on a screen. Peter, kill and eat. “No, never Lord would I eat anything unclean.” He reacts. He is in complete control, he remembers the Law of Moses. He did not have any memory loss. This is significant because this is what we have in a divine ecstasy. This is divine ecstasy.
Therefore, St. John the Evangelist was in the Spirit. He says, I was in the Spirit. In other words, the powers of his body were somehow inactivated, subdued. Much like when we concentrate our mind on something, something intense, we may lose our perception of noise, hunger, thirst, or even danger. A snake could crawl right next to us if we are outdoors and we would have no clue because our mind was in a state of deep concentration. This is the meaning of the statement, “I was in the Spirit.” He goes on to tell us the time. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, (Rev. 1:10) or Kyriaki. In addition, this is the only verse in the entire New Testament that refers to the name of the first day of the week. In the Gospels, the Holy Evangelists refer to the day of the Lord, the day of the Lord’s resurrection, as “Mia ton sabbaton” or simply “the first day of the week.” However, here in the book of the Revelation we have the first instance where the day of the Resurrection took its name from the Tradition of the Church, “Kyriaki,” or Sunday, the Lord’s Day. As we know, in the Old Testament, the Sabbath was the day of the Lord, but in the New Testament, Sunday is also called the day of the Lord, or Kyriaki in Greek. It was on this day, the first day of the week that the Lord resurrected from the dead. He created light on the first day. He said let there be light. On this day, he sent his Holy Spirit to establish the Church on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles and the Church on the first day of the week, on Sunday. (In the Old Testament, by the Sabbath, or the seventh day, the entire visible creation was completed. The entire creation was completed in six days and on the seventh day we have the completion of the entire creation when the Lord rested.
Now from the first Christian century we have the institution of the Lord’s day, or Kyriaki, which is the first day of the week, not the seventh day, but, being the first day after the seventh, and the Church Fathers use a special term for this; they call it the first day after the seventh, the Eighth Day. Thus, the eighth day represents the day of the second creation or the re-creation, or the renewal of nature, since the old nature became just that—it became old from corruption and death. So on this day we have the Resurrection of Christ, the descent of the Holy Spirit, and the belief also exists that the Second Presence of Christ will be on Sunday as well. Now you may disagree with this and say, well, the Lord said, No one knows the day or the hour of the coming of the Lord. (Mark 13:32) Now this is true according to the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, but no one knows which Sunday it will be. Therefore, this belief of the Church does not contradict the written word of God about not knowing the day or the hour. However, is it not interesting that St. John also received the book of the Revelation on the Lord’s Day! The Resurrection, Pentecost, the book of Revelation, all this occurred on the Lord’s Day, and quite possibly the Second Presence of Christ will also take place on a Sunday.
We must also add that our Church celebrates the Resurrection of our Lord every week, every Sunday, and for Christians this is the specific meaning of a holiday. Sunday is a true holiday, a real feast day. The service of the Matins centers around the reading of the Gospel, or eothina, sections of the Gospel read during Matins, which are always referring to the Resurrection. All this makes Sunday a great day for Christians. In addition, the Epistle of Barnabas tells us in the fifteenth chapter, “This is why we must make the eighth day a day of great spiritual joy, in which day Jesus resurrected from the dead.” But in the ancient book of the Teachings of the Apostles, in the fourteenth chapter we read, “When you come together on the Lord’s Day, break bread.” or, “when you congregate on Sunday, celebrate the Holy Eucharist,” or “celebrate the Liturgy,” more simply. Receive Holy Communion, the Body and Blood of Christ. Here someone can ask how did some Christians get the bright idea that unless they fast from oil they should not receive Holy Communion? Unfortunately, they maintain some erroneous positions and people do not receive Holy Communion on Sunday because they cannot fast from oil on Saturday, or because they cannot fast for two, three, or five days from oil. The Canons of the Church forbid fasting from oil on Saturdays. These are heretical positions that keep the faithful from the medicine of immortality. So, for the sake of fasting, which is great in itself and necessary in our Christian discipline, no doubt, but due to lack of knowledge and much confusion we have lost the substance of the Day of the Lord, which is the most ideal day for being partakers of our Lord’s Body and Blood.
[Translator’s note: This is one extreme that we see in people from the old country. On one of my trips to the Midwest, we visited a very sick, elderly person in the hospital, and the parish priest offered the gentleman Holy Communion. A very pious and dear older man indeed; his response, “When I come out of the hospital, I must fast from oil for three weeks. Then I will come and take Holy Communion.” The latest I heard, and thank God for this, the gentleman did come out of the hospital alive and took Holy Communion. Again, this is the one extreme. We also have another extreme with some of our knowledgeable American Christians, who will be at a parish dance Saturday night or at a festival, sometimes even past midnight, drinking and eating everything in sight, and the next day they will line up for Holy Communion, in most cases totally unprepared. We need much help in these areas. We need Spiritual Fathers.] So, on the Lord’s day, the Book of Didache, (the teachings of the Apostles) says, “On the Lord’s Day, celebrate the Divine Liturgy. Take Holy Communion; not just the priest. With the fear of God and faith and love; draw near. Everyone draw near, all the Orthodox faithful who are eager and properly prepared to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ.” Therefore, the Lord’s Day, or Kyriaki, for the Christian is a day of the Resurrection, a day of celebration, a feast day, a day of rest, but also a day of good works.
The Holy Evangelist now continues, I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me, this tells us that this was something sudden. When something appears in front of us, in our visual spectrum, there is no element of surprise, but this noise was sudden and loud, very loud; it startled St. John. Somewhere else he will tell us the noise was loud, like the thundering of waterfalls. If you have ever been to Niagara Falls you can understand the thundering noise of falling waters. Thus, the voice of God is compared to the sound of water that falls from very high. A voice such as this will be heard at the final moment of history, at the last trumpet, when the tombs will be opened and the dead bodies will resurrect. St. Paul says in Thessalonians, For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangels call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; (1 Thess, 4:16) These are great mysteries. Generally, the voice or the noise of the trumpet is the voice of God. Remember Mt. Sinai, how God spoke—it was a noise of a trumpet call, a noise of thunder, and the people trembled while hearing this voice. What did the voice tell St. John? Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven Churches, So, write this entire vision, everything you see in a book, and send it to the seven Churches. Does this mean send the same book? No, it means write everything in a book and make seven copies. In the Old Testament there was one book in the temple and everyone went to the temple to hear the word of God. Not too long ago in some of our villages in Greece and some other Orthodox countries, no doubt, the only Gospel would be on the holy altar. This is unfortunate. The Word of God clearly tells us, Write this book and send it to the seven churches, meaning, copy it over and over again. Spread it all over. Yes. We need to print books and pamphlets and spread our faith to every corner of the earth. This is the will of God. Now we have printing shops, tapes, CD’s, computers, the web, everything. Let us use everything to spread the word of God all over the earth.
Here the Evangelist uses the words “heard” and “saw”. One time he’ll say, I heard the voice and then he will say, I saw the voice. Both of the senses of seeing and hearing are at a high level of excitement. St. Andrew says, “In spiritual matters, hearing and seeing are the same thing, because vision and hearing show the dynamics and the power of the revealed images. When we tell someone “I heard it with my own ears and saw it with my own eyes,” this shows the seriousness of these revealed events. The Evangelist wants to stress here that he is an eyewitness. He is an eyewitness of all these events that he will write. Not only did he see them with his eyes, but he heard them as well. Thus, write all this in a book is a command, but not only this; if the writing of the book is a command then the reading and studying of this book is also a command. Of course, books are written to be read and studied and not to be displayed and decorate our shelves in our libraries. My friends, we must study the word of God. Day and night we must study the word of God. However, let us expand on this book writing that St. John was instructed to do. Here we must mention that according to our Tradition, John could not write! We need to remind ourselves of this in our title-hungry days. John did not have a degree in theology from any of the Divinity schools. John’s writer was Prochoros, one of the seven deacons. In our holy iconography, John is depicted in a cave receiving the vision of the Revelation and next to him is deacon St. Prochoros acting as his stenographer. St. John is not the writer, but St. Prochoros is, so the original copy of this book was written in Patmos in the cave of the Revelation, which is perfectly preserved to this day.
Now whatever happened to that original book written by Prochoros? Did we ever wonder if it is still in existence? The very first book, is it still around? Can we find it in the archives of the Holy Mountain or Patmos? My friends, even though we have an abundance of many ancient manuscripts, nothing has been preserved from that original book which was in a form of a scroll, not even a tiny piece, not even a tiny piece of paper or membrane on which the original book was written. If you will, there is not a speck left from the Gospels, or the Epistles of Peter and Paul; there is not a single piece of paper from the entire New Testament. The original books written by the very hands of the Apostles have all vanished. This is not of great significance. The same thing happens with the virtue of almsgiving. We give someone a glass of water or a loaf of bread and these actions do not carry much weight in the course of someone’s life. The person that we helped will thirst again and go hungry again in a few hours. But the Lord said, He who gives a glass of water in my name will not lose his reward. I was hungry and you fed me. I was naked and you clothed me. (Matthew 25: 35,36) This action, or rather the energy of this action, this insignificant action, will take eternal dimensions. It will stand forever, because it was connected with the will of God as a virtue. The virtue will stand. The spirit of this action will stay even though the material thing will disappear. The material is the carrier, the vehicle of this virtue. This applies to the original books of the New Testament as well. It does not matter that the material carrier was not preserved. Yes, it would be awesome and monumental to have a few pages from the handwriting of Sts. Paul, Peter, or Luke. This would be very exciting, but it is not significant. The important thing is that the word of God is not bound to a few pages. The word of God is alive. We have the word of God.
We have millions of books of the word of God. However, I want to add something more to this thought. We try to build certain things in our lives that will stand forever. We build a great house. We build a church. We buy things that last. We want them to last forever. We buy clothes, for instance, that will last an entire lifetime. We are tempted in this way. This is a great temptation, to build a monastery, let us say, in such a way to last until the end of time. We build a church to last until the end of history. Again, God is not bound to material elements. The important thing is to preserve the spirit of Orthodoxy. We have built hundreds, if not thousands, of Orthodox churches in this hemisphere. This is not a guarantee that the Spirit of God will be bound to them. The Spirit of God is not bound to stones and walls. Each generation must work to preserve and keep the spirit of Orthodoxy ablaze. Today, we do not have the hermitages of Sts. Anthony and Makarios, the hermits of Egypt and Sinai, the hut dwellers, and the stylites, or pole dwellers and tree dwellers. These are all gone. However, the ascetic spirit has not left the Orthodox Church. The true members of the Orthodox Church dwell in a spirit of asceticism and this spirit will always be in the Church. So let us not get caught up in the schemes of the material forms. But let us stay at the spirit. We have the book of the Revelation. It does not matter if it is the first book or the zillionth copy. We have the Revelation of God in front of us, which will give us the message of God, the message of our salvation.
Archimandrite Athanasios Mitilinaios, the New Chrysostom, as he is commonly called in the Greek spiritual circles, was born in the area of Athens, Greece. His family roots are from the beautiful Aegean island of Mitilini, as his last name suggests. Ordained at a young age, he preached incessantly from village to village where he was appointed a chancellor to the Metropolitan of Larisa.
While teaching and illuminating great numbers of souls, Divine Providence would have him restore and revive the abandoned Monastery of Komnineiou and St. John the Theologian on the mountainside of Stomion overlooking the majestic Aegean Sea. The audio-cassette recordings of his teachings, some dating back to the early seventies, are circulating world-wide.
One of these recordings fell in the hands of Mr. Constantine Zalalas in 1987, who was assisting Fr. Nicholas Kossis with the catechetical program in the Annunciation Church of Easton, PA. The following year, Sept. of 1988, Mr. Zalalas and Fr. Nicholas met with the Elder Athanasios at his majestic monastery on the mountain slope of Kissavos in Stomion Larisa. At the end of his confession to the Elder, Constantine asked for a blessing to begin to bring this much needed spiritual nourishment to the English speaking world. The Holy Father’s response, “I bless this with all my heart!”
With the Elder’s blessing the audio department of Saint Nikodemos Publication Society has distributed over 50,000 tapes, over 180 different topics about our Orthodox Faith. Thousands of these cassettes and CDs have also been distributed by our monastic communities and church bookstores, independently. At least 90% of Mr. Zalalas recordings, translations, adaptations, and lectures are primarily centered on the Greek recordings of the indefatigable “new Chrysostom Elder Athanasios Mitilinaios”. Mr. Zalalas, who resides in Bethlehem PA with his family has been meeting with the Elder almost every year and has been advised by him regularly over the phone for the last 18 years.
On May 23, 2006, the Elder slept in the Lord after a lengthy illness. May his memory be eternal. He has left us with 8,000 recorded lectures, imbued with the aroma of patristic traditional Orthodoxy.
May we have his Blessing!
With the Elder’s blessing the audio department of Saint Nikodemos Publication Society has distributed over 50,000 tapes, over 180 different topics about our Orthodox Faith. Thousands of these cassettes and CDs have also been distributed by our monastic communities and church bookstores, independently. At least 90% of Mr. Zalalas recordings, translations, adaptations, and lectures are primarily centered on the Greek recordings of the indefatigable “new Chrysostom Elder Athanasios Mitilinaios”. Mr. Zalalas, who resides in Bethlehem PA with his family has been meeting with the Elder almost every year and has been advised by him regularly over the phone for the last 18 years.
On May 23, 2006, the Elder slept in the Lord after a lengthy illness. May his memory be eternal. He has left us with 8,000 recorded lectures, imbued with the aroma of patristic traditional Orthodoxy.
May we have his Blessing!
The elder while praying heard a voice, “I will give you a spirit of architecture”! The entire monastery was designed by the elder and completed primarily by the monks.
Your eminence Archbishop Kyrill,
Holy Fathers, Deacons, monastics, guardians of Our Myrrh streaming Virgin Nectary, brothers and sisters, Christ and His Mother are in our midst.
Our Most Holy Mother will always be with us because, although totally unworthy, we belong to the generations of Christians who call her blessed. Our presence here at Our Lady Joy of All Who Sorrow Cathedral, with St. John (Maximovitch) of Shanghai and San Francisco, continues to fulfill the prophetic words of her magnificent ode, after the Annunciation: “Behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed!” And even though we belong among the most sinful generations of Christians, her miraculous and ever so fragrant presence among us validates and justifies the early melodist of our holy Church: “During Birth you preserved your Virginity and after your Dormition you did not abandon the world O Theotokos.”
What could be greater proof for this truth! For the past five years, she has blessed us with the paradisiacal myrrh of her Son. She anoints us with the heavenly fragrance of the Holy Trinity, the oil of gladness, according to the 45th Messianic psalm of King David. Yes, we can boast in the Lord, His Mother and our Mother Church, the pillar and foundation of the Truth! Only in Orthodoxy do we taste Paradise in this Life! We see, smell, taste, touch, and live the majesties of God with our body and soul! Emmanuel, God with us! At the same time, we are saddened by the orphanage of millions of non-Orthodox Christians around us, because they have never truly felt the warm embrace of such a majestic mother—the sweet kiss of our celestial mother. The myrrh, pouring from this icon that our impure lips come in contact with, is the sweet kiss of our Glykofilousa—the sweet kissing ever Virgin Mother.
The holy Virgin’s distant forefather David, the prophet and king, beautifully captures what we have been experiencing not only this weekend, but for the last five years with her miraculous myrrh steaming presence. Approximately 3060 years ago, he wrote about the majesties of the Messiah, His Bride the Church, and the Theotokos—the Virgin Mary—because our Virgin Mother is synonymous with the Church—and I quote:
“Therefore God, your God has anointed you with the elaion aggaliaseos, with the oil of gladness, more than your companions.”
What a stunning prophecy about the hidden mystery—hidden before all ages! Oil is material, and anointing can only take place in the physical world! A spirit cannot be anointed with oil! What God can be anointed? The God Who would be betrothed to His physical creation. The God Who would assume a physical body, in time. Therefore “God, your God has anointed you” … refers to the human nature of Christ.
The devil hid this verse from Arius and his contemporaries who fought the divinity of Christ. Remember, the Triune God addressed Jesus Christ as God approximately 3060 years ago! The next verse is equally astounding… “All your garments are scented with myrrh, aloes and cassia… All your garments are perfumed with Myrrh…” This is a phenomenal prophesy about the companions of Christ: the Virgin Mary, first and foremost, and all the Holy Virgins that she will lead to the palace of the king, according to the same psalm. We all have been sanctified and covered our spiritual nakedness with the garment called Christ! For as many of you have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ, according to Saint Paul. Adam and Eve were clothed with a God-woven garment, an immaterial garment, the garment of the Uncreated light… But after their tragic disobedience, they lost that fragrant garment, and they were dressed with the skins of dead animals. They lost the fragrance of Paradise, and they chose the stench of death and corruption…Our predecessors’ ill use of the gift of free will removed God from the center of their lives, so to speak… Yet, the love and the longing of the Hypostatic Wisdom was to live with men… One of the titles of Christ in the Old Testament is the Wisdom of God. “I the Wisdom (with capital W) was beside Him as a Master craftsman, and my delight was with the sons of men…” we read in the eighth chapter of Proverbs.
I am not giving out verses anymore… this is a good way to get some of you to read that whole Chapter.
Several weeks ago I was speaking at one of your parishes, The Holy Apostles in Beltsville Maryland and we had a most pleasant surprise … Metropolitan Ilarion stopped by to visit and stayed for the presentation. I protested and tried to convince him to teach, but I was unsuccessful. I was stunned by his simplicity and humility…With such leadership, it is no wonder God is blessing you with miraculous icons…I tried again to persuade him to speak after my talk, and he said very few words. Yet he was the real teacher that evening. He taught all of us by his simplicity and humility. May God grant him and all your hierarchs many years! One of his comments that evening was that we Orthodox are lazy in reading the Scriptures… So I thought from now on it would be a good idea to provide (only) the chapter, and those who love the word of God enough, will read through the chapter to locate the verse.
So, the delight of the Wisdom—Proverbs, Chapter Eight—was to wear garments and live with the sons of men. This was the kat’evdokian—the prior or primary will of God. God created the entire Universe through His Master Craftsman, Wisdom—His Word and beautified it to share His love with us.
The rebellion of Adam and Eve left the Wisdom homeless. Sin, death, and corruption insulated nature from God. He needed to borrow His initial physical garments from this physical world, but there were none compatible with the brilliant purity of God. According to St. Gregory of Thessaloniki, God cannot touch anything unclean, and the fall made the world unclean. The garments of man were full of blood, treachery, and evil.
According to the church Fathers and St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain, the Incarnation of God was independent of the fall. The Wisdom would incarnate regardless of the fall. The ultimate purpose of man is to reach theosis, and this could not take place without the hypostatic (personal) union of the two natures of Christ. Thus, the prior or primary will of God was to incarnate and live with His creation. The delight of the Wisdom was to live with the sons of men.
His foreknowledge of the fall pre-eternally worked out a few minor adjustments. My elder and teacher, Athanasios Mitilinaios, calls this the concessionary or secondary will of God. This is extremely important especially for those converts who may struggle with the western doctrine of predestination. The foreknowledge of God does not contradict the concept of man’s free will. God predestines with His primary will but He economizes—He mends—the bad choices of man’s free will with His Secondary will. For example, the primary will of God was for Adam and Eve to stay in the garden without sin, then mankind would increase and multiply in an angelic manner.
In view of the fall, however, in view of that tragic ancestral sin, God’s foreknowledge pre-installed a sort of a safety net called gender, or marriage. So marriage between a man and a woman is that safety net that safeguards man from the inherited consequences of that early fall. Virginity and purity were the primary will of God, the state of His Kingdom. Marriage is certainly blessed by God, but it is His secondary will, and as such, it will not exist in the Kingdom of God where only His primary will shall prevail.
While preparing these lines, I glanced through the first chapters of Genesis and at the end of every creating day, God used the refrain: and God saw that it was good. He does this for all natural creation but not for mankind.
There we read: So God created man in His own image; male and female He created them. Here the refrain and God saw that it was good is missing.
At the end of the same Chapter, however, we read: Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. This very good, according to St. Nicodemos, who often quotes Saint Gregory Palamas and Saint Maximos the Confessor, includes the contribution of our Most Holy Virgin. Her amazing virtue and purity would work in a synergistic action with God to reverse Adam’s fall. Her words Let it be done to me according to your will would repair Adam’s ill will. God had His eyes on her and through her the renewal of man when He said everything was indeed very good.
The sin perpetuated by Adam and his descendants made the Wisdom homeless, incapable of acquiring His garments, His human nature. He needed a House according to the ninth chapter of Proverbs: Wisdom has built her house. She has hewn out Her seven pillar. …The house and real Temple of the Wisdom was Mary of Nazareth. Wisdom needed a sinless virgin to cloth Himself, so He could give birth to His Bride, the Church, to establish Her with the seven pillars—the sacraments of the Church—and to cry out: Come, eat of my Bread and drink of the wine I have mixed with water!.. That water is the Zeon that our altar boys carry to the liturgist priest.
None of these mysteries could take place without the Let it be done according to your will of our Fragrant Virgin.
Please forgive me if I exhausted some of you with this lengthy and perhaps too theological introduction, but this knowledge will help us somewhat understand our saints’ preoccupation with, admiration, and adoration of the person of the Most Holy Theotokos. … The Great Gregory, the second theologian of our Church, sharply warns Kleidonios and all his followers past and contemporary: “Anyone who does not call Mary Theotokos— Birthgiver of God—is separated from divinity—he is godless…” very strong language from this otherwise very sensitive and most meek theologian.
Rightfully then and most befittingly, Saint Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain concludes that only one person in human history surpassed the spiritual height of even the angelic world. According to this holy Father, all creatures communed “only of God’s energy, while our Lady received in herself, hypostatically, the second person of the Holy Trinity, ending up mainly and truly Theotokos … setting to prove that according to the volition and foreknowledge of God, the Theotokos was the most purposeful and utmost end of the entire creation.”
Naturally, the teaching of St. Nicodemos echoes the holy patristic teaching on the most Holy Theotokos, the teaching of the Church. The Saint’s most fervent eros of soul for the most Holy Theotokos is parallel to the deep love and the deep piety all holy Fathers felt towards the venerable person of the Mother of the Lord. Moreover, this is axiomatic in the area of Orthodox hagiologion: One cannot be a saint without first being a lover of the Mother of God. The theology of the Theotokos of Saint Nicodemos is the result of the profound piety, love, and personal experience of the Saint, who lived and was in constant occupation with her name. According to the verbal tradition of his contemporary monks, the Most Holy Theotokos would often appear to him and tell him: “I bless you, my child Nicodemos, and strengthen you to write.”
Of course, all the saints (precisely because they were saints) with their strong spiritual vision discerned that the Most Holy Theotokos drew the love of God, and she became very beloved and desired of the only desired One because of her universal holiness. However, even the Saints confess their complete inability to approach, even partially, the bottomless ocean of the mystery of her ever virginity. Basil of Seleucia writes relatedly, “How can I dare to investigate the virginal ocean and depth of the great mystery, unless you O Theotokos teach me, the inexperienced swimmer that I am, to cast off the old man corrupted from the deception of desire?”
Saint Nicodemos’ great love for the person of the most Holy Theotokos drove him to be insatiably occupied with her name, with the blessedness, and with all the majesties which the Mighty One did for her (Luke 1:49).
The saint wrote in his Theotokarion, which includes 2450 hymns to the Virgin, full of contrition and read in our monasteries daily, “[from all the creatures] she only from birth became by disposition completely unmoved towards evil. She had forever put to death the passionate inclinations of the three parts of soul [noetic, appetitive, and irascible] for she gave birth to the Creator of all and (to) a man crucified in the flesh.” In the interpretation of the Ninth Ode, Saint Nicodemos continues to develop his theology of the superior worth of the Theotokos compared to the rest of the created world of people and angels, “The Virgin Mary, with her ultra supernatural purity in all her life and especially during the period of the twelve years in the Holy of Holies, was deemed worthy to become Mother of the Son and Word of God Himself.”
And the Saint continues, “Who else was more theoretical* and capable to transverse into the mysteries of heaven more so than the Theotokos; no one, from the ranks of Angels or men more than her, understood the majesties of God.”
Yet in our recent theology, especially in the academic area where the Protestant influence has been intense, we may hear the expression “the first after the One” distinguishing the intellectual and theological profundity of the “mouth of Christ” of the Apostle Paul. The Apostle of the Gentiles certainly was a vessel of grace, a chosen vessel, a tireless servant of the Word.
But the holy living Tradition which saves the Church from this sort of intellectual theologians through the centuries, singles out one theologian par excellence who is “higher than the heavens and purer than the rays of the sun” according to St. Nicodemos, who summarizes the universal consciousness of the Fathers of the Church by attempting to appraise the unrepeatable and forever unique person of the Theotokos. As St. Nicodemos expounded in his confession of faith, in Orthodox theology “the first after the One” is our Virgin Mother, and the Orthodox views of the Kollivades (Saint Nicodemos, Saint Makarios of Corinth, and Athanasios Parios) stressing the need for continuous holy Communion and concerning the performing of memorials on the appointed day of Saturday and not Sunday created storms in the souls of the 18th century “zealot and uneducated monks of the Holy Mountain” resulting in him being slandered with rage for twenty-two years.
The sacred community of the Holy Mountain, naturally, justified and acquitted the Saint from this unsacred war, whose cause was a daring hypothesis in the footnotes of his newly published book, Unseen Warfare, which said, “With every right the Holy Triune God, enjoyed and greatly rejoiced before the ages foreknowing according to His divine knowledge, the Ever Virgin Mary. Because it is the opinion of certain theologians that if we were to assume that all the nine ranks of angels would be torn down from the heavens and would become demons, if all of the people from the ages would become evil and all go to hell … With all of this, all these evils compared to the Theotokos’ fullness of holiness would not be able to sadden God, because the Lady Theotokos alone would be able to please Him in all and for all. …she alone loved Him above all, because she alone obeyed His will, above all, and because she alone was capable and receptive of all those natural, optional, and supernatural gifts—which God distributed to all creation …”
All these gifts of the Most Holy Theotokos are listed in the content of his interpretation of the Ninth Ode where the insatiable longing of the Saint is poured out, “Oh most sweet in person and in name Mariam, what passion is this that I feel in myself? I cannot get enough of the praises of your majesties! For the more I praise them all, the more I desire them, my longing is forever kindled, and my desire becomes insatiable …”
In the passage “for He looked upon the humility of His handmaiden,” Saint Nicodemos underlines the depth of our Virgin’s humility and footnotes, “The Theotokos did not only have the depth of humility rooted in her heart, but as from a spring springing forth, it flooded all the external members of her all pure body …” In her whole demeanor, in her movements, in her words, and in all her inner character and appearance, her humility shone like the sun … Generally speaking, the presence of the Lady Theotokos radiated so much divine grace and respect, that, whoever first gazed upon her, received in his soul such reverence and compunction … even from that initial glance one knew—merely from her external character—that she truly is the Mother of God …
St. Dionysius the Areopagite, like all the saints, had great love for Christ, his Lord. When he was informed that Christ’s all pure Mother was still alive, he travelled from Athens to meet her. When he first gazed upon her divine countenance and her amazing and royal beauty, not to mention all the angels who were encircling her as a queen, he was dumbfounded… finally upon hearing the godly words of her all pure mouth, he was amazed and awestruck, confessing that her physical character and appearance alone proclaimed her to be the Mother of God.”
The Lady fully possessed the God-woven garment of humility. Although she was chosen to be the true Mother of God and queen of all creatures visible and invisible, she addressed herself as the slave of the Lord at the annunciation of Archangel Gabriel with the most natural ease. The more a soul is purified and perfected, the more she feels her weakness and unworthiness. Such was the depth of the Ever Virgin’s humility that she considered herself unworthy to be the servant of the Virgin of Isaiah, who would give birth to the Messiah according to our host, St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco (Isaiah, 7:14). Also some teachers consider “that the Virgin, out of her great and unparalleled humility, did not reveal the annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel to her betrothed Joseph, so that she might not seem boasting and proud, but she left God to inform him from above.”
Some of the personal majesties of the Theotokos are her relative sinlessness and her personal struggle. According to Saint Gregory of Thessaloniki, as a little child, the Theotokos in the Holy of Holies invented the “noetic action” and was the inventress of noetic prayer and noetic hesychasm, “for through the return of the nous to the heart and everlasting prayer, she was elevated above each form and shape and thus constructed a new path to heaven—noetic silence—through which she ascended above all creatures and envisioned the glory of God more perfectly than Moses, saw divine grace which cannot be captured by the senses, but is a most graceful spectacle of angels, monks, and of pure souls.”
St. Nicodemos in his book Garden of Graces continues with the “majesties that the mighty One has done for her”:
She is the distillation of all seventy-seven generations of the righteous, before and after the law, from Adam all the way to Righteous Joachim according to Saint Basil the Great.
She is the acrostic of every prophet and the beginning of all the prophecies beginning in Genesis.
She is the mother of Grace before the time of grace.
He has made her wider than the heavens for having contained the Uncontainable God in her womb.
The majesty of all majesties was the supernatural conception of God the Word, Who did not grow in her womb according to the common laws of developmental biology. Saint Basil teaches in his Christmas homily that “the Infant formed itself instantly and not by small divisions [of cells and blastomeres]…” The saint is suggesting that in the absence of gametes and ova, there was a different kind of development, not so different from that of the Old Adam. The Master crafting Wisdom fashioned the Old Adam out of clay. Once again, 2000 years ago the same Master-crafting Wisdom fashioned His garment, His human nature from the all pure blood of the Virgin, and the King of all was seen for the first time by the Archangel Gabriel during the Annunciation according to the Theotokion of the first tone, “While Gabriel was saying rejoice to you oh Virgin, at the sound of the voice the Master of all was incarnating. … The Virgin carried the tiny Infant which continued to grow naturally for nine months without any birth pains and without any feeling of weight or exhaustion.
Finally, she gave birth to the One through Whom all was made without any change and corruption. She preserved and maintained her virginity during this supernatural birth and for the rest of her life, since she was totally devoted to the primary will of God, which preordained virginity. In the absence of this crystal clear patristic Orthodox theology, our non-orthodox Christian neighbors struggle with the brothers of Jesus for centuries now and very recently have slipped to the sad point of ascribing carnal thoughts and even a marriage to the Son of God, Whom they obviously no longer accept as One with the Trinity. This is nothing other than the spirit of the Antichrist according to Saint John the Divine. The Orthodox position is that the hypostatic union of the two natures made Jesus totally immune to any worldly desires and temptations. Jesus was the only true man who never deviated from the perfect will of God as the Father proclaimed during Epiphany and Holy Transfiguration: “This is my beloved Son with Whom I am well pleased.”
According to Saint Nicodemos, the Lady Theotokos continued her personal struggle after her Son’s Resurrection and Ascension, “The Lady Theotokos strove honorably to also struggle after the Ascension of her Son, with fasting, prayers, prostrations, and with every kind of ascetic struggle …”
In the passage of the ode “and my spirit rejoiced in God my Savior” the Saint summarizes the Church’s teaching on the Theotokos’ relative sinlessness. He Who would save the world from its sins also saved the Theotokos from the ancestral sin, because although the Theotokos was higher than every voluntary sin, forgivable and mortal … she was, however, subject to the ancestral Sin until the Annunciation. Then she was cleansed of this through the coming of the Holy Spirit.” Saint Nicodemos places her ever-virginity, Resurrection, Translation, and Ascension in the Kingdom of the Heavens, in the supernatural majesties of the Theotokos.
Saint Nicodemos in his book, Garden of Graces, includes Saint Augustine’s testimony on the Theotokos’ inconceivable worth, “If the great Creator God, Who brought everything into being from non being, was able to make more perfect creatures, of course, He was able by being Almighty; three things, however, God Himself could not do more perfectly: the humanity of Christ, the birth-Giving worthiness of the ever Virgin Mary, and the everlasting glory of the Blessed ones.”
In the light of the above, we cannot agree with the opinion of some theologians in the Orthodox sphere who claim that the Virgin’s mediation or intercession, as they hasten to call it, does not differ essentially from the intercession of other saints. It is known that a few decades ago, the Tradition of the Church of Christ which prays “Most Holy Theotokos save us” was doubted. Only God, they say, saves. The All Holy Virgin Mary can only intercede like every saint. Certainly, the Church prays “by the intercessions of the Theotokos, Savior save us” but also chants “and I have you as a mediatrix towards the philanthropic God,” and since our Lady is “More Honorable than the Cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim,”—“the Saint greater than saints,”—“God after God,” all this implies that her intercession—her mediation—is incomparably higher than that of the saints and angels.
It seems the danger of rationalism and humanism continues to lurk in the Orthodox world today. This danger was much greater in the age of Saint Nicodemos because the Orthodox lands were impoverished by the enslavement to the Ottoman Turks. The “saved” missionaries of Protestantism “were running rampant in the forsaken vineyard of Balkan Orthodoxy attempting to save the Orthodox.”* Perhaps this is why Saint Nicodemos puts forth an excellent argumentation for the superior mediation—intercession—of the Virgin Mother to her Son and God. The Saint begins his apology from the inspired canon of Pentecost “…look, he argues,… the melodist did not say that the Virgin gave or granted, or another such word, but that she lent flesh to the Creator of all, she gave a loan to the Word of the Father… This implies that the Theotokos, through such a loan, made the Son of God a debtor to herself.” The Saint further elaborates that this was a loan of a different type and irrelevant to the “external” loans of money and objects which are usually returned with interest in the commercial world. The loan to the “All-crafting Wisdom of God” was inner and everlasting, and with no prospect of repayment. The hypostatic union of Christ is irrevocable since God the Word will be endlessly united with the human nature (a loan from the All Holy Virgin Mary) because this presence of human nature makes him the ontological Mediator between Creator and creature, God and man. Without the presence of human nature, the “impossibility of the Old Testament Moses to see God” would be prevailing until today. As a result, those various heretics who set the boundary for the work of Christ’s salvation at Golgotha and those who argue that the body of Christ dissipated during the Ascension are delirious! Far be it! Saint Nicodemos would say, who further theologizes: “What can we conclude from this? Since the Son of God is permanently indebted to His Mother, for this reason first He needed to glorify her with all the Godbefitting glories and honors unknown to another creature; secondly, since the loan He received from her is endless, He must now endlessly fulfill the petitions and requests of His Mother…”
And the Theotokofilos Nicodemos continues, “Did you ever see such glory, my beloved? Did you see the majesties of the Virgin? Hasten to her with piety and faith and your prayer requests in all matters of salvation will be answered.”
Your Eminence, the love and compassion of the Queen of heavens knows no boundaries according to this wonderful story from St. Cosmas the Aetolian.
According to St. Cosmas, a certain Christian named John surrendered to the evil path of thievery. He became the captain of a band of an hundred thieves, but he also had great reverence for the Mother of God, which he probably inherited from his pious home. He never failed to pray the salutations to our all holy Mother, morning and night.
Soon enough, the mercy of God, through the intercession of the Panagia, the all holy Virgin enlightened a holy ascetic to visit this band of robbers and preach to them the word of salvation. He convinced the captain, John, to summon all his followers, and the clairvoyant ascetic saw that one was missing. “Who is missing?” he asked. Indeed, the cook was missing. The ascetic requested his presence, and this cook upon his arrival refused to look at the man of God in the face. The holy ascetic ordered this strange cook: “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to tell us your name and where you come from…” He replied, “I am the master of lies…but now that you have bound me with the Name of Christ I am forced to tell the truth… I am a demon and my master sent me here to serve Captain John, eagerly waiting for that first day that he would skip his prayers to the Mother of God, so I can take his soul straight to hell. I have been here for fourteen years and he has never omitted his ‘Rejoice Bride Unwedded’!”
The ascetic distanced the demon to the other side of the world, and then he evangelized the thieves who showed exemplary repentance. Some became monks, and some were married and lived very pious lives.
Your Eminence, my brothers and sisters in Christ, this story beautifully exemplifies the love of our Lord and His mother for every sinner. There is nothing more precious to the Lord on this earth than a few drops of tears from a contrite heart. Even one tear of true repentance outweighs a ton of good works done in the absence of repentance.
Your Eminence, the par excellence theological title, which renders the All Holy Virgin Mary’s position in Orthodox theology, is Theotokos. The term Theotokos goes directly to the heart of the Christological dogma and, due to this, it was natural for it to be contested by a number of heretics, who distorted different aspects of the Christological doctrine and the hypostatic union of God the Word. In the Church’s conscience, the Theotokos is classified as the “bulwark of faith” and as an unshakable term, it comprises a formidable fortress against all Christological heresies. In the unanimous teaching of the Fathers, the name Theotokos is unbreakably associated with the soteriological consequence of the name Theanthropos, and the Theotokos, as a term and as a person was, and remains throughout the centuries the anchor of salvation “of those who kiss her venerable icon.” Alongside the title of Theotokos, the Fathers and teachers of the Church validated the title ever Virgin Mary in the Fifth Ecumenical Counsel in the Ninth Canon, formulating the correct faith about Christ, “incarnated of the holy glorious Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary” as the Liturgy of the Sacred Chrysostom preserves till today.
The multitude of prophecies, depictions, types, and symbols of the Most Holy Theotokos in the Old Testament proclaim the unrepeatable person of the All Holy Virgin Mary, truly making her the “ladder, bridge, and gate” of mankind’s salvation. In his work “Eortodromion” Saint Nicodemos conducts comprehensive commentaries interpreting the hymnographers and melodists throughout the centuries who “borrowed” from the prophetic word for the interweaving of their hymns for the Mother of God. Extending the theology of the Fathers, Saint Nicodemos declares that the “center, end and purpose of the whole law, all the sayings and enigmas of the prophets is the Theotokos herself, and before her, God the Word Who incarnated from her.”* Like other Theotokos-loving Saints, Nicodemos used a large part of his writings to express his insatiable longing for the “incomprehensible miracle” of the Mother of God.
Interpreting the Ninth Ode, St. Nicodemos theologizes on the superior worth of the Most Holy Theotokos vis-à-vis the other creatures. The Theotokos exceeds every creature in purity, brilliance, simplicity, inexpressible longing, and perfect obedience to the will of God. So the gifts of the Theotokos make her “full of grace” before the Annunciation and Mother of grace before the time of grace, Pentecost. With the “behold the handmaid of the Lord” the all holy Virgin Mary was cleansed of the Adamian stain and “became spotless and undefiled” to serve the mystery of “rebirth” lending her all pure blood to the new Adam.
The indwelling of Christ in the virginal womb of the Theotokos graced her and deified her to an incomparable degree in relation to any other creature and, according to Fr. Athanasios Mitilinaios, He made her the ontological mediatrix between the human race and the new Adam, her Son, although this may sound excessive to some.
The Most Holy Theotokos certainly saves because according to the davidic psalm, she is the Queen who is standing at the right of the King, her Son, Who sits “at the right of the Father” in the kingdom of the heavens.
Most Holy Theotokos protect us, shield us, and save us from the fiery darts of the evil one through the prayers of our holy Hierarchs. Amen.
Written (in Greek) by C. Zalalas
Translated by Fr. Nicholas Palis
Edited by Eliades/Zalalas/Reznic
(View as PDF)
 Theoklitos Dionysiatis, Saint Nicodemos the Hagiorite, 2nd Edition, pp. 250.
 Ibid., 245.
 Ibid., 248.
 Theoklitos Dionysiatis, Saint Nicodemos the Haghiorite, pp. 187.
 St. Nicodemos, Garden of Graces, pp. 196.
 Ibid., 195.
 Saint Nicodemos, Handbook of Counsel, Athens 1987, pp. 314.
 Krikonis Chris., Saint Nicodemos the Haghiorite, Life and Written Work, Athens 2001 pp. 125.
 See. Theoklitos Dionysiatis, Saint Nicodemos the Hagihorite, pp. 246.
 Saint Nicodemos, Garden of Graces, pp. 214.
 Ibid., 204.
 Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco, The Orthodox Veneration of MARY the birthgiver of God, California, 1996, pp. 65.
 Saint Nicodemos, Garden of Graces, pp. 205.
 Saint Nicodemos, Garden of Graces, 195.
 Ibid., 217
 Ibid., 200.
 Ibid. , 213
 Ibid., 214. In this homily of the Sacred Augustine Saint Nicodemos observes that Augustine classifies the “everlasting glory” in the creatures and footnotes: Perhaps the Sacred Augustine called the everlasting glory a creature, not in and of itself, far be it! For it is uncreated, as a natural and inseparable energy of the Divine Essence.
 Mavromatis George, She is Truly Theotokos, pp 190.
 See. Theoklitos Dionysiatis, Saint Nicodemos the Haghiorite, pp. 251.
 Ibid., 250.
 Theodoropoulos Epiphanios Arch, The Akathist with Interpretation, Athens 1988, pp. 174.
 Saint Nicodemos Haghiorite, Eortodromion, pp. 233.
Holy Metropolis of Glyfada
Letter of Metropolitan Pavlos, to the Synod of Greece
September 28, 2010.
Translated by CZ
Bulla September 28th, 2010
Protocol # 1037
The Holy and Sacred Synod
Of the Church of Greece Iasi 1 115 21 ATHENS
“CONTEXTUAL”, “POSTPATRISTIC” , AND OTHER "THEOLOGIKAL QUESTS”
AT THE CONFERENCE OF THE THEOLOGICAL ACADEMY OF VOLOS
The “Academy for Theological Studies” of the Holy Metropolis of Demetrias, Volos, organized and hosted a theological conference with the following topic:
“NEOPATRISTIC SYNTHESIS OR POST-PATRISTIC THEOLOGY. THE QUEST OF CONTEXTUAL THEOLOGY IN ORTHODOXY.”
This conference was a “radical theological surprise” in the negative sense, for the listener who had not been adequately prepared to listen to a highly “distorted” neotheological language. And it was not difficult for this “language” to be heard by many, since the conference was broadcast on the internet TV station www.intv.gr. with parallel translation in English and Greek. Some of these unorthodox distortions heard during the course of this conference will be presented a bit further down. It is necessary however to initially offer our observations on two key conditions that lead this “theological gathering” to a “theological shipwreck”.
First, the term “synafeiaki [contextual] Theology.”
The conceptual content of this term seems vague and not easily understood. Perhaps it can be seen as a glossy lingual neoplasm in order to express some concepts that arise from the need of formulating some new social realities. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The term “synafeiaki Theologia” is known for at least forty years in inter-Christian literature and expressed in English as “Contextual Theology” or “Cohesive Theology”. The term became widely known by the “World Conference on Mission and Evangelism” which was organized in 1972 in Bangkok. The dominant trend in this conference was for the various Christian confessions to work against being seen divided, before non-Christians, as a result of doctrinal differences, and to further show unity by placing a priority on issues of social justice and oppression of social classes. This would steer the missionary and preaching effort to give first priority to the formulation of methods of restoring social injustice as opposed of spreading the truths of the Gospel. No one can deny the need for social justice, but this can only become a reality by living the truths of the Word of God as expressed through the doctrines of the Ecumenical Synods of the God-bearing Fathers of the Church. The basis and the prospect of “Contextual Theology” was " the conversion of missions into a community of churches in mission” (http://www.mission2005.org).
In Orthodox theology however, we do not have “community of churches” but “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.” The appearance of Christian missions emerging from a “community of churches” degrades the “One Church” to a group of denominations that does not reveal the only Truth and further degrades missionary work to a sociological instead of a soteriological perspective. The “contextual theology” introduced in Bangkok has greatly expanded its horizons according to the internet site (http://www.blogtalkradio.com/empowermentsanctuary /blog/2008/04/15/about-holistic-theology-empowerment-sanctuary :
"The goal of contextual theology is to enrich the spiritual, emotional, mental and physical experience of life, by exploring various teachings and concepts found in spirituality, metaphysics, in quantum physics, religion, the advisory of life, secular trends and scientific understanding, and then to synthesize all these together in a flowing and dynamic contextual sum…we offer to provide you with a variety of tools designed to help you in your personal growth and development … and all these regardless if you are involved with Angelic Support, Universal Law, Buddhism, Gnosticism, Christianity, or any secular, scientific or intellectual experiences in spirituality. "
Here arises a crucial question: Did the organizers of this conference have any knowledge of the history of the term “contextual theology”? If they did not, why did they use it? To make an impression or to pioneer modernism? But if they knew, then we can rightly speak of an attempt to “distort theology.”
Second, the term “post patristic Theology.”
This term, outside of being novel, is also unbiblical and unorthodox. Unbiblical, because it contradicts the very basis of the patristic theology of our Church. The Lord Himself has said:
“And the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” (John 14:26).
"But when the Paraclete comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.” (John 15:26)
"However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth….” (John 16:13).
The Holy Fathers are the fruit of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church. The Fathers therefore are called God-bearing, because they are the vessels and the organs of the Holy Spirit. With persistent ascesis and strenuous neptic struggle, they subjugated the spirit of the flesh to the will of God. In Orthodoxy there cannot be Theology without ascesis and Theology without Fathers. The Fathers with their theology fulfill the aforementioned words of our Lord. The Fathers do not say anything novel, nor do they write new philosophical theories, but because they are spirit-filled and live in the Light of God, they interpret the truths revealed by Christ, empowered by His light.
The Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, leads the Fathers of the Church “to all the truth.” This means that there can be no period in the life of the Church that Fathers do not exist. This would mean that the Paraclete stopped “holding fast” “the entire institution of the Church" (Vespers of Pentecost). All this leads to the obvious conclusion that the term “posts patristic” theology is totally baseless. It is impossible to have a period after the Fathers, since the Church will always grow theologically with the Grace of the Holy Spirit through the God-bearing Fathers. We do not deny the term “neo-patristic theology” because new Fathers will always emerge over time. But we reject the term “post patristic theology” because it leads us straight to Protestantism. The Church without Fathers would be a “falsified Christian Protestant formulation” without any relation to the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church .”
Were the organizers of this “theological” conference not aware of the fundamental and basic principles of Orthodox Theology?
If that is true, how do they dare organize “theological” conferences under the auspices of a carrier bearing the grandiose name “Orthodox Academy,” while the prefix/title suffers from theological unorthodoxy? But if they were aware, then we have every reason to speak about a sinister willingness to corrupt and distort the basic structures of Orthodox Theology.
Apart from these basic directives set by the conference and expressed by the general title, there were in the course of meetings a plethora of problematic points posited by the speakers which created deep concern regarding their Orthodox content.
We herein quote some of these troublesome positions:
-"The juxtaposition between East and West must stop” (Marcus Plested, Second Session 4/6/2010 and deacon Pavel Gavrilyuk, Fifth Session 06/04/2010).
-“In their scholastic approach to Scripture that is so dear to fundamentalists, they believe that every sentence of the Bible is inerrant” (John Fotopoulos, Fourth Session 06/04/2010).
“Thanks to Jung we can finally understand the dual theory of the Cross” (George Dimakopoulos, Fifth session 04/06/2010).
“The contextual method helps us to compare the Fathers with the non-Orthodox” (Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyef of Volokolamsk, Third Session 06/04/2010).
"The focus of Fr George Florovsky on the minds of the Fathers reveals a weakness in his methodology and interpretive” (John Behr, Second Session 06/04/2010).
“A view that claims the only truth is imperialist” (George Dimakopoulos, fifth Session 06/04/2010).
– “Theology must conform to liberal ways of thinking so it can depart from the patristic tradition “(Alexei Nesteruk, Fifth session 06/04/2010).
" Trembelas is ignorant of all three volumes of the Dogmatics of Barth” (Father Dimitrios Bathrellos, Fifth Session 06.04.2010). Comment: It is certainly true that in the Dogmatics of Trembelas there are omissions, but the omission or ignorance of the Protestant system of dogmatics can hardly be held as a serious critical evaluation [in a supposedly Orthodox conference].
"Tradition can not be a guarantor of truth. If the interpretive [method] of Gadamer could be accepted it would help Orthodoxy to not hold tradition as a fortress of truth” (Assaad Katan, Sixth Session 05/06/2010).
“We must search for the seeds of post patristic theology in the Fathers themselves” (Deacon John Manousakis, Sixth Session 06/05/2010).
"It is time to do away with stereotypes and myths from theology” (Daniel Ayuch, Fourth Session 04/06/2010).
"From the eighth century [Orthodox] theology lacks originality and theological production” (Daniel Ayuch, Fourth Session 04/06/2010). Comment: Mr. Ayuch seems to be uninformed about [several theologians, especially] St. Gregory Palamas.
“Church is all the other Christians” (Father Emmanuel Klapsis, Tenth session 06/06/2010).
“It is necessary to go above and beyond the Fathers since they compromised with the spirit of the world” (Pantelis Kalaitzidis, Tenth Session 06/06/2010).
“We need to go beyond the Fathers” (Deacon Pavel Gavrilyuk, Fifth session 04/06/2010).
“The Orthodox [theological] schools should invite non-Orthodox theologians to teach” (Deacon Pavel Gavrilyuk, Fifth session 06/04/2010).
“We must see the western fathers such as Thomas Aquinas as co-workers worthy of our attention” (Deacon Pavel Gavrilyuk, Fifth session 06/04/2010).
“We must attempt to move toward an Orthodox theology of religions” (Father Emmanuel Klapsis, Tenth Session 06/06/2010).
“Spouses should be able to receive Holy Communion without spousal abstinence on the eve of Divine Liturgy” and “Holy Communion should be offered to women during the period of menstruation” (Pantelis Kalaitzidis, Tenth Session 6/6/2010 and Helen Kasselouri-Chadjivassiliadis, Sixth Session 5/6/2010).
Comment: We emphasize here that St. Timothy of Alexandria has adequately responded to these issues in his canonical questions and answers, as recorded in the Rudder and validated by the Fourth, the Sixth and the Seventh Ecumenical Synod.
“There must be a reinterpretation of our dogmatic tradition” (Pantelis Kalaitzidis, Tenth Session 06/06/2010).
“The theory of evolution does not conflict with the doctrine of creation” (Father Andrew Louth, Seventh Session 06/05/2010).
“The Fathers have transcended the Archaic Christian theology … and we must now transcend [go over and above] the Fathers” (Pantelis Kalaitzidis, Tenth Session 06/06/2010).
“Every birth has birth pangs, but out of it will come something new” (His Eminence Metropolitan of Demetrias and Almyros Ignatius, Conference closing remarks , Tenth Session 06/06/2010). Comment: It must be emphasized here that the dogmas of the Church were, in fact, a result of a painstaking ascetic, neptic and theological process, and as every child is born only once likewise the dogmas do not need not be reborn or, as it was stated many times in the Conference to be “redefined”.
All of the above [highlighted] selections of some of the positions of the speakers at this conference are in need of thorough explanations.
We do not deny freedom of speech in the field of Orthodox theology, but we can not accept freedom of reasoning to end up a Protestant reasoning. The organizers of the conference are required to come up with adequate explanations in order to avoid unnecessary clashes for fruitless “births.”
Our Theology needs to increase in the Grace of the Holy Spirit. And this can be done through the Saints, who are always present in the Church.
Awaiting the Hierarchy to intervene accordingly regarding this scandalous offense against the flock of Christ, I remain yours,
With the deepest respect,
The lowest among the bishops
†of GLYFADAS PAVLOS
We live in a time characterized by Rebellion against the Apostolic and ecclesiastical Orthodox spirituality of the Holy Fathers. Alarming is also the great multitude of the visible and invisible enemies of the Orthodox Church. Enemies from without and within, and the danger exists that we may become confused, misled, scandalized and spiritually hypothermic if we fail to guard ourselves with the fail-safe direction of the Holy Fathers. We are listening today to many different voices about salvation, unconditional love, peace, joy, sharing, christian unity, ecumenism, love with no bounds, branch theories, ecumenical services, interfaith prayers, etc.
What may have been lacking in our spiritual diet are some honest direct answers to some serious questions which our faithful often have such as:
-Shouldn’t we forget differences with the other Christians and concentrate on “common ground”?
-Aren’t we being somewhat arrogant by maintaining that only Orthodoxy has the truth?
-Is the Holy Spirit in every Christian regardless of Creed?
-Can we visit and pray with the “Non-Orthodox” (we dare not say heretics!) especially with the Roman Catholics since “we are almost like them”?
-Can we have fellowship with other Christians (non-Orthodox) who believe and love Christ?
-Must we worship correctly to be saved?
-Is it better to be a strong and committed Protestant Christian than a marginal sinful Orthodox?
-If the Holy Spirit and its gifts can be possessed outside of the Orthodox Church then why do we need to Chrismate those that convert to Orthodoxy?
-Is it possible that this action of the Church to re-Chrismate the new converts speak loud and clear that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are lacking in the other Christian bodies?
-If salvation can be secured in every Christian creed then where is the crime of keeping Orthodoxy “America’s best kept secret”?
If you have been struggling with these questions, you are certainly not alone. The spirit of confusion is widespread, about as widespread as the spirit of the ecumenistic movement which has been romancing the “fronema” (mindset) of the Western Christian for over half a century.
As we have stated in some of our past work, ecumenism in the true sense, is having all of humanity embrace the truth of the gospel, having every person on this planet come to the Truth Himself, The Christ. However, the type of ecumenism that accepts all Christian confessions as equal (Branch Theory), that is equally sharing bits and pieces of the truth and teaches love about truth, ignorance of dogma for the sake of peace, and disregard of differences which tend to divide, this type of ecumenism is the latest child of Free Masonry and the great-grandfather of the Antichrist, a true menace of the Church.
Naturally, the “lovers of all” the “unconditional lovers and peacemakers” and the deluded blind followers of the Branch Theory will stereotype our message as one of narrow-mindedness, conservativism, judgmentalism, egotism, fanaticism, and criticism to say the least. Initially you may even agree with them, after all who wants friction, strife, unrest and controversy, when love and peace is such a wonderful alternative.
But did you ever consider that Orthodoxy is not limited to a few isolated individuals or a few decades or certain topographies? Orthodoxy is the universal (Catholic) Church of Christ and the Militant Church is in complete communion with the Triumphant Church that cloud of witnesses, martyrs, confessors, teachers, saints and the Apostles who “tested the spirits” over the centuries to preserve for us the secure and proven path that leads to theosis? Our “fronema” (way of thinking) must be an extension or at least be in complete harmony with their beliefs and thoughts. Their lifestyle, “The lives of the Saints” constitutes the true interpretation of the gospel, they did not simply study the gospel, but they lived it by their very action. Not necessarily scholars, they were the true theologians. Today’s children of scholasticism and rationalism, a new breed of modern theologians are slowly eroding the authority of our Church Fathers in order to justify their positions.
Dear Reader, let’s “test the spirits”, fully understanding that if “our spirit” contradicts and flatly opposes the genuine spirit of our Holy Fathers we run the great risk of self-excommunication. Let’s not be deceived, no one understood the Love of Christ more than our Saints. Often they sold themselves as slaves to give the proceeds to the poor yet always ready to spill their blood for the truth.
In an attempt to help our brothers and sisters who love the truth, we will present some articles, statements, confessions, and short verses from a number of various Church Fathers from throughout the centuries. Let’s be careful however, because according to our modern Christian thought and criteria we may find their message full of conservativism, judgmentalism, egotism, fanaticism, and criticism to say the least. My friend be aware that no one deceives you. Their messages are full of love for the Truth, fully understanding that in the absence of Truth there can be no Love in the Christian sense.
The Holy Scriptures On Non Orthodox Teaching
“Whosoever shall break one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same he shall be called least in the kingdom of God”. Matthew 5:19
The bad teacher, according to Zigavinos, has no place in the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus said to them, “watch out that no one deceives you”.Matthew 24:11
“For many will come in My name claiming, I am the Christ, and will deceive many”.Matthew 24:11
“and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people”.Matthew 24:11
“for false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect, if that were possible. See I have told you ahead of time.” Matthew 24:25
The apostles have also warned us about the danger of heretics (non-Orthodox Christians). They instructed the early Christians to be on guard against false teachers and their heretical and destructive teachings. Savage wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing does not necessarily refer to New Agers or Buddhists or atheists, but to Christians who went astray!!!
"I know that after I leave savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own numbers men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them."Acts 20:29-30
"If anyone preaches to you a gospel other than what you received, let him be anathema (eternally lost)!"Galatians 1:9
"Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way."2 Thessalonians 2:3
"Some have these (concerning the faith) so they have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. 1 Timothy 1:20
Is St. Paul being judgemental here about these two Christians who decided in their minds that they could formulate their own beliefs? Let’s be very careful because it is the Holy Spirit that is speaking through St. Paul!!!
"The Spirit clearly says that in later times "some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons."1 Timothy 4:1
All false teachings (heresies) small or large are teachings inspired by demons!!!
"If you point these things out to the brothers you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus brought up in the truth of the faith."1 Timothy 4:6
"If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching he is conceited and understands nothing."1 Timothy 6:3
Do the Protestants, Roman Catholics and non-denominationalists teach any false doctrines? Hundreds of them!!! According to St. Paul, they understand nothing about the Mystery of Godliness!!! (They are full of intellectual scholasticism.)
"For the time will come when men (Christians) will not put up with sound doctrine…they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear."2 Timothy 4:3
"Alexander the metal worker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done…at my first defense no one came to my support but everyone deserted me."2 Timothy 4:14-16
St. Paul does not hesitate to name the enemies of the Church in order to protect the faithful.
"Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings."Hebrews 13:9
"…just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies."2Peter 2:1
The apostle Peter is plainly teaching us that false teachings (heresies, teachings of the demons, un-Orthodox beliefs and doctrines) cause loss of salvation!!!
"Dear friends, do not believe every spirit but test the spirits."1 John 4:1
"Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God."2 John 1:9
No Christ, No God!!!
"If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching do not take him into your home or welcome him."2 John 1:10
"I wrote to the Church but Diotrephes who loves to be first will have nothing to do with us…gossiping maliciously about us."3 John 1:9
St. John, much like St. Paul, does not hesitate to expose the heretical Diotrephes because his egotism was a stumbling block to the Church.
Generally, heretical teachers and enemies of the Truth were exposed and named in the Holy Scriptures. However the names of great sinners, such as the Thief on the Cross, the harlots and the incestuous person in Corinth, were silenced. This is a clear indication that a man “possessed by false teaching” is far more dangerous than a man of immorality and bodily passions. According to St. Paul such a man is self-judged. It is nearly impossible for such a man to return to the fold.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of the Americas was truly blessed by the stature of the ever-memorable Archbishop Michael, a great spiritual leader of our times. The following article was found in the personal library of Father Nicholas Elias in Bethlehem Pennsylvania who fell asleep in the Lord several years ago.
The Schism of the Roman Catholic Church from the Eastern Orthodox
Exactly nine hundred years have passed since the separation of the two great Churches of Christendom when the Western Church broke away from the Eastern Orthodox. Many still seek the cause of this most unfortunate division. Actually, it can be found in the difference concerning the Primacy of the Pope of Rome.
Until the Fifth Century A.D. there was not one single instance of dissention or antagonism between the two Churches. The bishop of Rome had always been considered the First in the order of hierarchy. This was a natural consequence of the position in the ranks of hierarchy. The third canon of the Second Ecumenical Council (381) designates the position of honor of the Bishop of Constantinople as second only to that of the Bishop of Rome. This decision of the Council is based on the premise that Constantinople is the new Rome, and incidentally, it has been retained among the titles of the Patriarch of Constantinople.
This indicates, as was brought out at the Council, that the political importance of the city defined the honorary status of the hierarchy. The same fact was repeated with emphasis by the now renown 28th Canon of the Fourth Ecumenical Council held at Chalcedon in 451. At that time, the Bishop of Constantinople was acclaimed as equal in honor to the Bishop of Rome.
In the meantime, erroneous beliefs began to circulate in the Church of the West. Of these, the most serious was an addition to the Creed of Nicea-Constantinople concerning the Holy Spirit. The Church of Rome wanted to say that the Holy Spirit proceeds “and from the Son.” In Latin, this addition was accomplished by the word, “filioque”.
It should be made clear at this point that the Creed or PISTEVO was compiled and authorized as the Christian Confessions of faith by the First and Second Ecumenical Councils. The first seven articles of the Creed were approved at the First Council and the remaining five were composed at the Second Council which was held in Constantinople. The Eighth article states “and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father, who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped…” The addition of “filioque” (“and from the Son”) was first heard in Spain during the middle of the Sixth Century. From there, this innovation spread to other western countries. It is most noteworthy however, that during the early part of the Ninth Century, Pope Leo III protested against this addition to the Creed. Convinced that it should remain as it has been written and proclaimed by the first two Ecumenical Councils. He ordered that the Creed be inscribed without any change upon two silver plaques. These were placed in St. Peter’s at Rome for all to see. This is a historical fact which is accepted by all historians as true.
The first to object strongly to this addition to the Creed, and to other errors of the Western Church, was Photios, the great Patriarch of Constantinople, who flourished in the middle of the Ninth Century. Photios was a brilliant scholar and theologian who held a high position in the Imperial Byzantine Court. He attained great literary fame with his monumental work, “Myrio Biblos”, in which he summarized 280 ancient writings of which the majority were subsequently lost. Due to his great ability and exceptional virtues as a layman he was admitted to the priesthood and in a period of six days he was ordained deacon, priest, and bishop. On Christmas Day of 857, he was enthroned as Patriarch of Constantinople.
The discord between the Eastern and the Western Church continued on a livelier vein even after Patriarch Photios. The Eastern Church, with the Patriarch of Constantinople at its head, protested against the errors in dogma taught by the Western Church. Constant appeals were made to Rome to renounce all error and conform with the teachings of the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the first eight centuries. Simultaneously, the Western Church, with the Pope as its head, maintained that the entire Christian Church was obliged to adhere without discussion to the pronouncements of the Roman See. They maintained that the primate of the Church of Rome was the vicar of Christ on earth, because he was supposedly the heir to the primacy of St. Peter whom Christ our Lord had installed as head of the universal Church and who founded the Christian Church of Rome.
Now let us see what we can learn from the original account of the events in quetion:
(a) We should first consider that passage from the Gospel according to St. Matthew upon which the Roman Catholics base the primacy of St. Peter. Our Lord was at Caesarea of Phillippi (Matt.16) when he asked His Disciples, “Whom do men say that I am?” And they said, “Some say that thou art John the Baptist; some, Elias; and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets.” He saith unto them, “but whom say ye that I am?” And Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art Christ the Son of the Living God.” And Jesus answered and said unto him, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar Jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”(Matt. 16:13-18)
It is quite evident from these words of our Lord that He built His Church not upon Peter for then He would have clearly said, “Thou art Peter and upon thee I will build my Church,” but upon the rock of the true Faith which Peter confessed. Christ our Lord clearly said that His Church is built upon the truth which Peter declared that our Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God. Only through considerable distortion of the text can one draw the conclusion of the Roman Catholics, that Christ built the Church upon Peter.
(b) It is also clear from the Scriptures that St. Peter had no authority over the Apostles. In his Epistle to the Galatians, St. Paul states that when he saw Peter was not thinking correctly, he corrected him in the presence of others, “But when Peter was to come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed” (Gal. 2:11). Further down, St. Paul elaborates by saying, "…when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, “if thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” (Gal. 2:14). On the basis of these words of St. Paul we may justly question, “Is there even a trace of recognition here of Peter’s authority to teach without the possibility of error?”
© Concerning the foundation of the Christian Church in Rome there is authoritative testimony that it was not accomplished by St. Peter. It was established by Christians who settled in Rome. Moreover, St. Paul considered it his Church. He mentioned this in his epistle to the Romans “…from Jerusalem and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation…for which cause also I have been much hindered from coming to you. But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you. Whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey” (Gal. 15:19-20, 22-23).
From this passage, therefore, we clearly see that St. Paul had no knowledge that St. Peter was in Rome or that Peter had founded the Church there. On the contrary, he says that he feels obliged to preach the gospel where no other Apostle taught so that he would not build upon the foundation laid by another. Surely this is an explicit testimony that St. Peter was in no way connected with the foundation of the Church of Rome. Actually, St. Peter served the Church for many years in Antioch, as verified by St. Jerome, and then went to Rome where he suffered martyrdom with St. Paul.
(d) In conclusion, it should be pointed out that the order of precedence given to the Apostolic Sees was determined exclusively by the political importance of various cities. The Bishop of Rome was recognized as first because Rome was capital of the empire. Originally, the Bishop of Constantinople was designated as second by the Second Ecumenical Council. Subsequently, when Constantinople became the capital of the Byzantine Empire and was referred to as New Rome, The Fourth Ecumenical Council proclaimed the Bishop of Constantinople equal in rank with the Bishop of Rome.
The Bishop of Alexandria was designated third, because his city was then the great center of learning; and following him were the Bishop of Antioch and Jerusalem. If the position of honor were determined not by the political but by the religious significance of the city, does it not stand to reason that the primacy of honor would be reserved for Jerusalem, the Mother Church of Christendom? There would be no dispute in that case, for our Lord lived there, was crucified there and arose from the tomb there. Moreover, the first Christian Church was founded in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.
These are the true and accurate facts as they are brought to light by the authentic documents which make up Ecclesiastical History. It is very unfortunate that the Western Church insists on its viewpoint for so many centuries.
We Orthodox are deeply grieved that our Roman Catholic brethren distort the facts. We are praying daily and will continue to pray that the Roman Catholic Church will again embrace the truth, as many learned laymen of that faith have done already. That event will be one of the most momentous in the entire history of mankind. It will mark the beginning of the fulfillment of the prayer of our Lord on the night of His betrayal, “Father, I pray that they all may be one; as Thou Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us; that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me.”
St. Nikodemos The Hagiorite Publication Society
From the library of Fr. Nicholas Elias
The Miracle of Saint Spyridon
Approximately thirteen hundred years after his repose, Saint Spyridon’s body remains incorrupt on the island of Corfu generating an untold number of miracles. What is significant about this extraordinary miracle and possibly shocking to some of our Christians is the fact that God or His Saints do not necessarily accept the offerings or the prayers of heretical and deluded Christians.
In 1716 the Turks had the island of Corfu under a tight siege. They had 50,000 troops and a good number of ships surrounding the island, cutting its lifeline from land and sea.
The barbarian armies were concentrated at the far walls of the city. Pizani, a general of the forces of the Venetian Republic, was anxiously anticipating the oncoming enemy attack (Corfu and the nearby islands were occupied by Italy at the time). At daybreak on August 11, 1716, St. Spyridon the patron Saint of the island, appeared in front of the enemy lines holding a glistening sword in his right hand. His austere and grandiose appearance horrified the aggressors who began to recede. The Agarenes, panic-stricken by the most awesome presence and fearless attack of the Saint, abandoned weapons, machinery and animals running for their lives. This great miracle became known throughout the island. The Turks had left behind 120 cannons, a good amount of weapons, ammunition, animals and food.
After this powerful, surprising and most obvious miracle, the Venetian ruler Andrew Pizani, a Papist, wanted to erect a Papist altar in the Orthodox Church of St. Spyridon (forever pushing for this was also the Papist Cardinal of the island). However, St. Spyridon appeared to Pizani in a dream saying, “Why are you bothering me? The altar of your faith is unacceptable in my Temple!” Naturally Pizani reported this to the Papist Cardinal who answered that it was nothing but an evil fantasy of the devil who wanted to nullify the noble deed. After this Pizani was very much encouraged, so he ordered the necessary materials to commence construction of the altar. The materials were piled up outside of the temple of St. Spyridon. When the Orthodox priests of the temple and the Greek leaders of the island realized this, they were cut to the heart. They asked to meet with Pizani to beg him to put a stop to this. Pizani’s response was quite disheartening. He bluntly said, “As the ruler, I will do whatever I please!” At that moment, the Orthodox community of the island turned their eyes to their Saint beseeching him to put a stop to this abomination.
That same night, St. Spyridon appeared to Pizani as a monk and told him, “I told you not to bother me. If you dare to go through with your decision, you will surely regret it, but by then it will be too late.”
The next morning Pizani reported all this to the Papist Cardinal who now accused him of being not only faithless but “yellow”. Again, after this, the ruler mustered up enough courage to order the construction of the altar.
The Papists of the island were celebrating their triumph while the Orthodox were deeply grieved. Their grief could not be comforted and with tears they begged for the Saint’s intervention to save them from the Papist abomination. The Saint heard their prayers and intervened dynamically. That evening, a terrible storm broke out unleashing a barrage of thunderbolts on Fort Casteli, the base of Pizani and his ammunition barracks. The entire fort ended up in a holocaust. Nine hundred Papist soldiers and civilians were instantly killed from the explosion, but not a single Orthodox-who were not allowed in the fort after dark-was harmed. Pizani was found dead with his neck wedged between two wooden beams. The body of the Papist Cardinal was found thrown a great distance from the fort. But the most amazing fact is that the same night and at the same hour another thunderbolt struck in Venice targeting the compound of Pizani, burning his portrait that hung on the wall. Strangely enough nothing else was damaged. Also, the guard of the ammunition barracks saw the Saint draw near him with a lit torch. He was carried by the Saint near the church of the Crucified without a single scratch.
The Fathers and Truth
“It is impossible to recall peace without dissolving the cause of the schism-the primacy of the Pope exhalting himself equal to God.”
St. Mark the Evgenikos
“The Latins are not only schismatics but heretics…we did not separate from them for any other reason other than the fact that they are heretics. This is precisely why we must not unite with them unless they dismiss the addition from the Creed “filioque” and confess the Creed as we do.”
St. Mark the Evgenikos
My brothers, I studied for forty and fifty years. I read many books about the Jews, the idolaters, and about the impious and heretics. I studied the depths of wisdom. All the other faiths are false and counterfeit. Only our own faith, the Orthodox Christianity, is True and Holy.
St. Kosmas the Aitolos
Neither the Papist nor the Protestant church can be considered as the True church of Christ. The first was altered by a number of innovations and the accursed despotism (Primacy) due to which resulted the schism from the Orthodox. The same goes for the Protestants whose innumerable innovations lead to total anarchy and chaos. Only the Orthodox church maintained the teachings of Christ flawlessly without a single innovation. Only in the Orthodox church does unity exist. The unity which the Savior was petitioning from the Father saying, “Holy Father keep them in your Name those that you gave me so they can be one just like we were one.” (John 17:11…)
St. Nektarios of Aigina
“Those that are not reborn by the divine grace in the only ONE, HOLY, CATHOLIC AND APOSTOLIC CHURCH, they do not consist of (comprise) any church, neither visible nor invisible.”
“Through the dogma of “Infallibility” the Western church lost its spiritual freedom. It lost its beauty and balance, and was deprived of the wealth of the grace of the Holy Spirit, the presence of Christ- from spirit and soul ended up a dead body. We are truly grieved for the injustice done to the church and we pray from the bottom of our hearts that the Holy Spirit illumine the mind and the heart of the Most Blessed Pontiff to have him return to the ONE, HOLY, CATHOLIC AND APOSTOLIC CHURCH that which he took from her, something that should never have taken place.”
The “Third Fall”
“In the history of mankind there are 3 falls: The fall of Adam, of Judas the Iscariot and that of the Pope. The essence of falling into sin is always the same: the desire to become God by oneself. In this manner, a man insensibly equates himself with the devil, because he also wants to become God by himself to replace God with himself…The fall of the Pope lies exactly in this very thing; to want to replace the God-man with the man…”
Justin Popovich of Serbia
Papacy is a heresy
“The papacy is included among the heretical weeds forever appearing in the church of God which is very often plagued and continues to plague the salvation of mankind in Christ; in being bad seeds and rotten members they are justly cut off from the healthy body and the Orthodox Catholic Church of Christ.”
Ecumenical Patriarch Anthimos 1895
“All those of you that are genuine children of Orthodoxy, leave as quick as possible from the priests who succumbed to Latin rule (Uniads), and neither congregate with them nor accept a blessing from their hands.”
St. Germanos of Constantinople
“The Latins are unbaptized because they do not keep the three immersions while baptizing…let them learn that a baptism is not complete by petitioning the Holy Trinity only, but what is also needed is the likeness (typos) of the death, the burial and the resurrection of the Lord…for us to be participants in the likeness of the death of Christ and His three-day burial; it is imperative that the three immersions take place otherwise this is impossible…”
St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite
Father Philotheos Zervakos writes (1923)
My dear lady,
It is an honor for me to write to you even though I do not know you personally and I hope you do not misunderstand my doing so because my action does not come from any other motive other than pure innocent Christian Love, from Christian brotherly duty and the commandment given from our Christ the Savior. Having arrived in Naxos a few days ago, I was informed that you are the assistant principle of the Academy and that you abandoned the Orthodox religion of our Fathers and have embraced that of the Latins (Roman Catholics). This made me grieve deeply and it continues to grieve me and rightly so, because I think of all people as my brothers. So when I see one of my brothers or sisters to suffer some physical injury or calamity I grieve; how much more must I grieve and weep when this calamity is spiritual…I’m not aware of the reasons which pushed you to deny Orthodoxy (which was founded by the Holy Fathers through the Seven Ecumenical Counsels, illumined by the Holy Spirit) and bow down to Papism which is a forerunner of the Antichrist because it was pride and arrogance that ruled over the Pope who desired to become the highest authority of the church and of the state. By this action, he tore apart the church of Christ accepting the addition to the Creed and going against the words of the Lord who told His disciples when He was about to be crucified, “The Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father”(John 15:26-27).
Following this, the Pope worshippers fell into innumerable innovations (cacodoxies) and heresies, turning upside down all the sacraments of the Orthodox Church…You may tell me that we Orthodox have many faults, this I also confess and I preach that clergy and laity have lost their purpose in life but this is no reason for us to betray our religion because of the sins of others. Christ said that many are called but few are chosen and that the gate that leads to life is narrow and sorrowful and few will enter through it. The path to perdition is wide and spacious and many are walking through it…
The Romanian Fathers
Archimandrite Cleopa Elie and Reverend Father Dimitri Staniloae are considered to be the flying eagles of Romanian Orthodox Spirituality. Decades of struggling, sacrifice and steadfast Love for the faith have produced thousands upon thousands of spiritual children in spite of the atheist and repressive regimes of their country. Their piety and that of the Romanian Orthodox in general compelled the visiting Patriarch of Jerusalem to say, “I’m sorry that I was not born in Romania!”
The following passages in matters of Love and Truth were translated from the book “Spiritual discussions with Romanian Fathers” written by hieromonk Ioannikios Balan. Their answers clearly demonstrate the universality which characterizes the Orthodox Church; these “passionless” Holy Fathers speak the truth of the gospel in a crisp and crystal clear tone in the absence of diplomacy and compromise.
Father Cleopa: What should be the attitude of Orthodox Christians towards Christians of other confessions?
Towards other Christians, as long as they do not keep challenging us about the Truth of our faith we must behave with love and compassion, help them with their needs according to the example of the Good Samaritan given to us by our Savior Jesus Christ. (Luke 10:37, Matthew 7:12). However, if they are willing to challenge and provoke us about our holy faith or the Sacred Tradition of our Holy Church “we must defend it with all our might and we must fight until death” (Unseen Warfare, St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite).
True, we must love our neighbor but within bounds. Whereas, our love towards God should know no bounds. Let’s not think that it is right to love our neighbor while allowing the True Faith of Christ to be stepped upon from foreigners (Protestant and non-Orthodox missionaries to Romania) because they want to distance us from this faith and teach us their own which is crooked and heretical. Therefore, every Orthodox priest and every faithful member of our church must be a good soldier of Christ with all the piety and bravery and power of Godliness in order to project the truth of our Orthodox faith, if capable by his words or writings. He must not pretend to be meek in situations where there is no need for meekness because according to the prophet:“There the meek must become a warrior.”(Joel 4:11)
Poimen the Great teaches the same thing saying: "We must show perseverance for whatever temptation comes along whether they wish to pluck our eyes out or to cut our right hand. However, if someone wishes to distance us from our faith then let’s become idignant (Gerontikon). He also says,“the first time walk away, the second and third time fight against him who wants to separate you from the true faith.” Archimandrite Cleopa Elie
The Orthodox Romanian Theology has as its head for over 50 years the most prominent among her representatives teacher and most Reverend Father Dimitri Staniloe. His person is highly recognized in Romania and abroad as one of the greatest personalities of the Orthodox church today. An outstanding leader of the church, unsurpassed in his knowledge of dogmatics, a great defender of Orthodoxy, and teacher of the theology of humility, translator of patristic treasures and tiredless author of theological and spiritual studies. His writings have great relevance to us living in the spiritual “melting pot”, of the United States.
Can the Orthodox Christian be “assured” of his salvation from this life?
The Christian lives his salvation in this life in the form of a betrothal which is expressed by the clarity of his conscience, by his participation in the Divine Mysteries and a way of life which is in agreement with the will of God. However, eternal salvation with Christ depends on the Christian life-long commitment here on this earth, as far as the will of God is concerned. The weaknesses that he possesses do not give him the guarantee that he will maintain this way of life nor can he be assured of repentance after falling into a sinful lifestyle, so he cannot be totally sure that he will hold on to his salvation.
What are some of the main factors which can positively help man’s salvation?
The true faith in Christ, the love of God and neighbor, and helping the needy…
Do all people such as idolaters, bad Christians, heretics, schismatics and Christians with mortal sins have the Grace of the Holy Spirit?
In the New Testament, God promised for the Grace of the Holy Spirit to be given to all those who will believe in Jesus Christ (Isaiah 44:3, Acts 11:17). It was especially given to the Apostles. Idolaters, unbelievers and apostates do not have the Grace of the Holy Spirit. “In the last days there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires. These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit” (Jude 18-20). In the last days many false prophets and false Christs will use deception to show that they have the Grace of the Holy Spirit and they will perform great signs and false miracles by the power of Satan in order to deceive many according to Christ (Matthew 24:25, Mark 13:22), to deceive even the elect and to distance them from the true faith (Rev. 19, 20). Christians who fall into great sins “sadden the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30) however they don’t lose the Grace of their salvation. If they return with all their heart to the path of repentance, confession and good works, they receive once again very abundantly the Grace of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38). Heretics and Schismatics do not have the Divine Grace because they sinned against the Holy Spirit and their malice of unbelief has been made evident being that it opposes the true faith of Christ…" The Church yesterday today and forever The theology of the Roman Catholics considers grace created and not an energy proceeding from Christ. Salvation is living in Christ Jesus or the life of Christ for the faith through His uncreated energies. This is accomplished when a man is progressing in virtue with the help of Divine Grace.
What other Christian church possesses the grace of salvation except the Orthodox Church?
The grace of salvation can only be received in the Orthodox Church because this is an energy of Christ which remains always the same in the church yesterday today and forever. The theology of the Roman Catholics considers grace created and not an energy proceeding from Christ. Salvation is living in Christ Jesus or the life of Christ for the faithful through His uncreated energies. This is accomplished when a man is progressing in virtue with the help of Divine Grace.
Do the Protestant, Anglican, and Neo-Protestant confessions which do not have apostolic hierarchy maintain some grace of the Holy Spirit?
Salvation in the Protestant formats of faith is terribly impossible being that it lacks the union in Christ through the True Faith in Him … Unity of the church is absolutely impossible because it lacks the Divine Mysteries through which Christ Himself works out His salvation in the hearts of men. Therefore, the faithful do not have the ability to reach holiness or the communion in Christ among them. The man of Protestantism knows something about Christ but with words only and even these lack the fullness of the Apostolic knowledge and the sanctifying energy of Christ, which is given through the Divine Mysteries to the priesthood, and the blessing…
The Orthodox Church teaches us that there is no salvation outside of the church. How are we to understand this type of thing?
Only the person who lives in the Orthodox Church keeps the fullness of the faith towards Christ and the faith in the Mysteries by which he receives the whole Christ within (Body and Blood) and becomes saved. If one sins from weakness he can choose to be forgiven. Since all these things do not exsist in the Protestant and Neo-protestant Off- shoots how can their church save its members? They only hear words about Christ and they treat these words as something external. They lack communion with Christ and His energies because these energies spring forth from His Mysteries. Their teachings are presented distorted and very nebulous concerning His person. Some of them could be saved but only through exceptional means from great works that they may perform and from the general spirit of these confessions. But they cannot have any assurance, or confidence of this.
Is salvation possible for the Christians who separated themselves from the bosoms of the Orthodox Church?
Members of the Orthodox Church who knew the True Faith and the conditions of their salvation, but out of carelessness refused to take advantage of them and finally denied this faith, they cannot be saved unless they repent for their deeds and return into the bosom of the Church …
How can the Christians who do not have the true faith be saved, and based on what law will they be judged at the last judgement?
Only the Christians who serve God with the true Faith will be saved as the Holy Spirit says: “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.” (Ps. 145:18). About the people who did not believe in the true God we cannot say that they are being saved because the Apostolos (epistles of the Apostles) teaches us “One Lord, one faith and one Baptism.” (Eph. 4:5). And again: “Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule.” (Gal. 6.16). And elsewhere: “If anyone competes as an athlete he does not receive the victory crown unless he competes according to the rules.” (2 Tim. 2, 5). As far as the criteria for judgement, Saint Gregory of Nyssa tells us that people will be judged by four different criteria: The idolaters according to the law of their conscience (Rom 2, 14-15). The Jews according to the law of Moses. (Rom 2, 12). The Christians according to the law of the gospel. (John 12, 48-Rom 2, 16, James 2, 12).
In addition there is also a fourth criterion which concerns everyone. This is the law of God’s created beings, or the natural law as the Holy Fathers call it, which God gave to man from the very beginning. According to St. Isaac the Syrian, it is the contemplation of the creations of God…
For this law Saint Gregory of Nyssa said: “The creation of God is like a trumpet which calls out from heaven to all men that God is the Creator and its Maker” This law will judge all people who did not want to recognize the Creator of the world.
What is hate which is born in man’s heart and how can someone fight against it?
Hate, along with the other passions comes forth from the love of the self, which is the root of all passions according to St. John of Damascus and St. Isaac the Syrian. According to Saint Maximos the Confessor, this love is the unnatural love of our body. Hate is the mankiller (I John 3:15). It is allowed only against the devil and sin: "You who love the Lord Hate evil. " (Ps. 97.-IO). "Hate evil and love Good. " (Amos 5, 15).
Hate is also allowed against the unrighteous according to the word of the Psalmist. "I hated injustice and I loved your law. " (Ps 119, 163), (Rom. 12, 19). “Christians must hate to lie and every way of injustice.” (Ps 119, 163). "I hate the double-minded but I love your Law (Ps 119:13). "Do I not hate them O Lord who hate you? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with perfect hatred I count them my enemies. " (Ps 139, 21:22).
These passages are also aimed at clearing up a common misconception that hatred is never an option and should not exist in the vocabulary of the pious God-loving, peace-loving and mature Christian. But the Holy Romanian Father Cleopa states that there is a form of hatred that is not only allowed, but commendable in the life of the devout Christian. The type of hatred that our Lord Jesus Christ refers to in the second chapter of the book of the Revelation: “You hate the works of the Nicolaitans which I also hate.” (Rev. 2:6). Naturally this “perfect hatred” is altogether unrelated to the mundane evil and sinful hate that’s the work of the devil.
This “perfect hatred” of our Lord will shield our hearts from the possibility of giving in to sin through coersing, compromising, the need to be popular or simply peer pressure. The person who hates sin leaves no room in his heart for any compromise in that area. He guards his heart with this perfect hatred against the demons and their wicked servants who are attempting to make him an enemy of God. By keeping this blessed hatred in his heart against the passions of the sinful nature, the world, and the devil he will ensure and safeguard his LOVE for God. The child of God will hate and abhor anything that may suggest his separation from the True Faith and consequently the Only True God. This is the hate that our Lord commanded in His Gospel: “Unless you hate your father, mother, husband, wife, children you are not worthy of me.”
How can the God of Love suggest hatred towards members of our own family, especially since His 5th commandment insists that we honor our parents? Quite simply the love and honor towards our parents is relative, within bounds; when our parents or spouse or our “Right eye” or “Right hand” are forcefully and continually interfering with our absolute worship towards God to the point where they are endangering our relationship with Him, then our separation from them is the solution directly given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Holy Ones, (Saints, martyrs, confessors) practiced this blessed perfect hatred against sin, passions, heresies, and generally all “the works that our Lord hates.”
-This is the “perfect hatred” that pushed Saint Nicholas to slap Arius for inventing the devil-inspired heresy that Christ was not without beginning or not “one substance” with the Father.
-This is the “perfect hatred” that our martyrs, saints and confessors used against ungodly human authority, idolatry and heresy.
-This is the “perfect hatred” that the modern western, marginal Orthodox Christian priest or lay person does not understand, swayed by the notion of false love, and the lack of understanding of this concept is quite widespread among clergy and laity alike.
The results are quite horrendous, when in the name of boundless love, false unions and world peace we downplay doctrines, ignore church traditions and overlook differences to make us more “comparable” to the other Christian confessions. Let’s not be deceived any longer! In matters of truth there is no room for diplomacy or compromise! With this in mind, we would like some answers from the modern Orthodox priests and theologians:
-If you believe that all religions save, then why are you seeking converts?
-If you believe that Christian denominations in general save, then why are you so concerned about losing members to other churches, certainly not because of the loss of dues!
-If you believe that Protestantism saves, then why must you bring Orthodoxy to America?
-If you believe that all Christian confessions save, then where is the crime of keeping Orthodoxy America’s best kept secret?
My friends, these are questions that some diplomatic church teachers cleverly avoid to answer publicly perhaps because they are themselves unclear on these issues. We all must be careful not to expel the “perfect hate” from our hearts thus falling victims to the superheresy of ecumenism, not realizing that “perfect hatred” for falsehood translates into “perfect love” for the Truth, the Christ!
“It is better to choose a commendable war than peace which separates from God.”
St. Gregory the Theologian
“Today, while the overall teachings of the Fathers is under attack and the shipwrecks of Faith are numerous, the mouths of the faithful are silent.”
St. Basil the Great ep. 92
“If some pretend to confess the true Orthodox faith yet associate with the non-Orthodox (spiritually) and after having been given the necessary direction choose not to distance themselves from them, you should not only refuse to associate with them but do not even call them brothers.”
St. Basil the Great
“An obvious fall from faith and pride is to either subtract something from what is written or to introduce something new to the unwritten.”
St. Basil the Great
“Keep striving until the fire of heresy is put out, before it consumes the church.”
St. Basil the Great
“According to what we were taught by the Holy Fathers, this is what we use to instruct those that have questions.”
St. Basil the Great
“Just like the viper and the scorpion and the rest of the poisonous animals change good nutrition into poison so in the same fashion, heretics and the unethical alter the Good Words of the gospel into evil.”
“If a bishop or a priest, the very eyes of the church, turns his back on the church thus scandalizing the faithful, it is necessary to dismiss them. You will be better off to gather at a house to pray (without them), than to be placed with them, like Annas and Caiaphas in the Gehenna of fire.”
St. Athanasios the Great
“If the discussion and the question proposed is about the Faith and the traditions of our church, then even the most meek and quiet and peace loving person must fight and defend these matters.”
St. Nikodemus the Hagiorite
In the event that a clergyman or layman would enter a Jewish or heretical congregation for the purpose of prayer let him be defrocked and excommunicated.
45th Apostolic Canon
A bishop or a presbyter or a deacon having prayed with heretics (all non- Orthodox) Only let him be excommunicated, and if he has allowed them to participate as clergy at any service let him be defrocked.
65th Apostolic Canon
The Holy Canons do not use diplomacy and this is why our modernizing Christians would love to do away with them!"
“Even if very few remain true and adamant with the laws of Orthodoxy and piety they are the church and the authority, and the protection of the ecclesiastical divine mysteries belongs to them.”
St. Nikephoros the Confessor
“Anyone who is capable of speaking the truth but remains silent, will be heavily judged by God, especially in this case, where the faith and the very foundation of the entire chuch of the Orthodox is in danger. To remain silent under these circumstances is to betray these, and the appropriate witness belongs to those that reproach (stand up for the faith).”
St Basil the Great
“Heretics will not enter the Kingdom of God because by denying one or more truths of the gospel, they cut themselves off from the ONE, HOLY, CATHOLIC, AND APOSTOLIC CHURCH. The history of the church has witnessed a great number of heretics over the years. Today, such heretics are the Papists and the Protestants with their hundreds of denominations, such as, the Uniates, the Evangelicals, the Pentecostals, the Baptists, Methodists, Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists and so many others which spring up constantly. In Greece there are more than one hundred heresies looking to aquire one convert. Be careful my fellow Christians from all of these. Have nothing to do with them even if they happen to be your parents or brothers. The evangelist of love says this, ‘Do not say even good morning to them’.”
Archimandrite Charalambos Basilopoulos
“It is of no use to live a ‘clean life’ while holding on to corrupt doctrines, just like there would be no difference if your doctrinal beliefs were ‘healthy’ but your life was corrupt.”
St. John the Chrysostom
“Just as perverse dogma will usually give birth to an ‘unclean lifestyle’, a corrupt and sinful lifestyle will give birth to perverse dogma.”
St. John the Chrysostom
(Biography of Greek Fathers 36, 185)
“There is such a thing as a good separation. There is also such a thing as a bad agreement, just like there can be a good disagreement.”
St. John the Chrysostom (pgs. 53, 314)
“The way of Godliness consists of these two things: True (pious) doctrines and good works. Without good works, true faith is not acceptable to God, likewise, good works are not acceptable to Him in the absence of True Faith (pious dogma).”
St. Cyril of Jerusalem
“With every way possible let us guard ourselves not to receive the communion of heretics nor administer it to them… this way we will not become participants of their falsehood and condemnation.”
St. John of Damascus
“Even if someone donates all the money in the world to charity and he happens to be in communion with a heresy he does not become a friend of God but an enemy…”
St. Theodore the Confessor
“One person and the truth consist of the majority.”
Abbot Sylvester the Hagiorite
“Let them burn your body, let them fry it, let them take your property. Don’t worry. Let them have these, they are not yours anyway. You only have need of soul and Christ! These two, even if the entire world happens to fall on you it cannot take these from you unless you give them up on your own.”
St. Kosmas the Aitolos
“Be joyful and cheerful because you have the blessing to be pious Orthodox Christians. On the other hand, you must cry and mourn for the impious, the godless, and the heretics who walk in darkness in the hands of the devil.”
St. Kosmas the Aitolos
“Outside of Orthodoxy there is no other confession which can lead man to the fullness of the Christian life, to sanctification, to the cleansing from sin or to eternity, because the other ones, the non-Orthodox confessions, supress ‘the truth in wickedness’(Rom. 1, 18). They confuse the truth with sophistries and lies and in this way they don’t maintain the means of Grace necessary for man’s renewal. These only belong to the Orthodox church the only ‘Holy and Spotless’” (Eph 5,27)
Saint John of Kronstadt
“Every work and voice which was not spoken by the holy fathers proved to be an innovation.”
St. Maximos the Confessor
“I believe this to be a matter of hate towards man and separation from divine love when one attempts to give validity to a false faith which will ultimately corrupt its followers even more.”
St. Maximos the Confessor
“Orthodoxy is the only church and the only Truth. Her ecumenical mission cannot be anything else but the complete confession of this Truth. Western Christianity has been deluded by rationalism (Orthologismos) and it has lost the very meaning and the possession of the Divine Mystery, as well as, the full realization of Salvation. I consider this extremely important to have this Truth heard today by using all possible means, since the danger of slipping towards theories of relativism is great, even among the ranks of Orthodox theologians.”
Father Dumitru Staniloae
“It is for that reason that I say (teach) nothing of what is mine. I briefly express the thoughts and words passed down by Godly and wise men.”
St. John of Damascus
“The faith which I was taught by the Holy Fathers which I taught at all times without adjusting according to the times, this faith I will never stop teaching; I was born with it and I live by it.”
St. Gregory the Theologian
“The fact that the spiritual accomplishments of the past do not seem to be appreciated always but on the contrary they are looked upon with some contempt by some contemporary ‘orthodox’ theologians, this does not bring forth a favorable witness about their dogmatic consciense nor does it give the feeling that tradition is alive in them; especially since these theologians are eager to betray their Fathers.”
“The purity of heretics is worse than all debauchery … how can a virgin, having rebelled against the true Faith, now pay attention to the deluded, believing the demons and honoring lies?”
St. John the Chrysostom
“Him who believes falsely you must not trust, but him who ‘does not live right’ but believes properly you may (trust) listen to…because he who lives badly will not advise others to live like him … but he who has false and crooked beliefs will teach these to all people.”
“Keep an eye on your bishops as far as their Orthodoxy is concerned lest they go so far as to teach doctrines against the true faith or celebrate with heretics or schismatics. As far as other things, they act out of ignorance or because the days are evil…and they will give an account to God only.”
Saint Gennadios Scholarios
“If someone believes evil about the faith (heretically)…flee from him and have nothing to do with him not only if he is a man but even if he happens to be an angel from heaven. However, do not critique a person’s lifestyle because, ‘Do not judge so you will not be judged,’ applies to all matters of the lifestyle and not in the matters of the Faith.”
Holy Father Chrysostom
The Holy Spirit, the comforter, who is always in the church is speaking through the golden mouth of our church the Chrysostom. The Holy Father sheds a great deal of light on many of our Christians who are not clear in the area of “judgementalism”. They often ask, “Isn’t it judgemental to speak in an apologetic fashion, exposing the false beliefs of another Christian, a priest, a bishop, a non-Orthodox, Protestant or Roman Catholic?” Saint John the Chrysostom plainly says to flee and have nothing to do with someone who could possibly affect us spiritually. Christ, the Good Shepherd has placed bishops, priests, deacons and theologians to guard His Flock which He bought with His blood. Unfortunately not a few of today’s flock watchers have changed into wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing. They invite members of the flock to open the gates of the sheep pen assuming that there can be no harm in that. We often hear of inter-faith services, ecumenical services, inter-denominational prayers. All these will bring upon these shepherds the wrath of God, who warns us through Ezekiel 33: 6-9. This condemnation will also hold true for all of us who make no effort to wake up our deluded brothers, letting them believe that they can be saved regardless of their doctrinal beliefs. The Holy Spirit talks through the Prophet: “And you, Son of man I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel and you will hear a word from me. If I say to the sinful man, you shall surely die and you do not call out to warn the impious to turn from his evil way, this sinner will die in his sin but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the impious to turn from his way and he does not turn from his way he shall die in his iniquity but you will have saved your soul!”
Indeed, it is a great crime to keep Orthodoxy America’s greatest secret and everyone will be held liable especially our shepherds. We implore our brothers and sisters in Christ to understand that theosis does not take place in the absence of true faith. Holiness is a must and it can only be realized in the Orthodox church, the genuine continuation of the church established by Christ and His Apostles. So, being true to the spirit of the Apostles and the Fathers we are not judging the heterodox - we are warning them, calling out to them - this being the correct approach, and the expression of true love. It is not judgmental to expose and contradict all unorthodox teachings in the spirit of love for the truth, because all false teachings are devils seedlings which can turn people into “weeds”. Mathew 13:25. Judging according to Saint Chrysostom is to expose the personal weaknesses, sins, idiosyncrasies and imperfections of our neighbor in the style of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in an attempt to elevate ourselves.
Again we quote some Apostolic “judgementalism” (truth in love).
“Avoid Godless chatter because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. (part of the answer to the question why some heretical denominations are flourishing and spreading much faster than the truth) Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has taken place and they destroy the faith of some.” 2 Tim 2:6-8.
“You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me including Phygetus and Hermogenes.” 2 Tim 1: 15.
“If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to Godly teaching he is conceited and understands nothing.” I Tim 6:3.
Let this be a warning for the Orthodox brothers and sisters who are infatuated by the sensationalism of the pseudo-pentecostals. Their teachings have spread like gangrene victimizing a great deal of Orthodox laity and clergy alike. Their strange tongues are not something specific to their appearance a few decades ago. These “peculiar tongues” were taught to them by the demons, (I Tim 4:1) and have nothing in common with the genuine languages that our Apostles spoke in the Holy Spirit. About five hundred years before the appearance of the pseudo-pentecostals, St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica, claims: “This is why those that speak strange tongues from the energy of the demons are outside of themselves, at that point not understanding a thing of what they are saying.” (Gerontikon of Mount Athos Vol. 11).
The truth and the reality of things is exactly what St. Gregory Palamas is talking about, that these tongues are an inspiration of the demons, in their attempt to blaspheme God. The demons tremble at the thought of cursing God directly so they achieve this through their unsuspecting victims the “pseudo-charismatics”. These poor people actually believe that they are full ‘of the spirit’ but in reality they are babbling all kinds of blasphemous words against their creator. To add insult to injury the devil has cunningly spread a vicious rumor amongst them that it is very safe to speak and pray in tongues because “the devil cannot understand tongues”. The truth according to St. Gregory Palamas is that the devil not only can understand tongues, but he has invented them! A small hairline crack at the side of the dam will not be reason for concern to the ignorant bystander but it will be the cause of great fear and alarm for the engineers fully aware that this crack will soon increase, eventually bringing about massive destructions to its surroundings. The devil works in the same way by introducing some small cracks in the ark of salvation of the Church.
“I reminded you many times about the atheist heretics (non-Orthodox), and now I implore you not to compromise with them on anything, do not eat or drink with them in the name of friendship, better relations, love or peace, because he who is swayed and compromises with them renders him self-foreign to the Catholic (universal) church.”
St. John the Chrysostom
“Be aware not to be corrupted from love of the heretics; for this reason do not accept any false belief (dogma) in the name of love.”
St. John the Chrysostom
“Even if the heretics are many in numbers, they are still found “outside of the Holy Gardens” of the church. Even if very few stay true to Orthodoxy and Godliness, they are the church of Christ.”
St. Nikephoros the Confessor
“Members of the Orthodox church are all and only those of the faithful that believe and do not doubt the flawless Faith of Christ the Saviour and all that was passed down, preached and interpreted by Christ, the Apostles and the Holy Ecumenical Synods.”
“Nor life without true faith nor this faith without holy works can save.”
St. Theodore the Studite
“…do not have a single thing to do with schismatics and absolutely nothing with heretics … As you know I myself have avoided them due to their Christ hating and heterodox heresy.”
St. Anthony the Great
“All the great teachers of the church, all the Synods, all the divine Scriptures prescribe the fleeing from the heterodox (heretics) and to stand afar from their association (communion).”
St. Mark Evgenikos
“The fight against heresies represents the highest expression of love for the heretics while the tolerance and the amnesty for heresy is a cruel form of love and overmasked hate. In the realm of false ecumenism (branch theory) lurks the worse case of ‘man hatefulness’. Thus, it is not without significance that St. Maximos the Confessor issued a statement condemning the tolerance of heretics. ‘I define this to be cruelty towards mankind and absence of divine love to attempt to give authority to a false faith aiding even more the destruction of those that are adhering to it’.”
Archimandrite Spiridon Bilalis
The Announcement of the Joint Conference of the Abbots of Mount Athos
The extraordinary Joint Conference of the Sacred Community on Mount Athos, April 9-22, 1980, noting that the issue of the relations of our holy orthodox Church with the heterodox has assumed a serious and resolute character, especially as it relates to the dialogue with Roman Catholics, has resolved publicly to state the opinion of the Athonite fathers on this subject for general consideration:
1 . We believe that our holy Orthodox Church is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ, which possesses the fullness of grace and truth and, in consequence thereof, unbroken apostolic succession. On the contrary, the “churches” and “confessions” of the West, having in many ways perverted the Faith of the Gospel, the apostles and the fathers, are deprived of sanctifying grace, of real mysteries and apostolic succession. That this is correct, His Eminence, Metropolitan Maximos of Stavropolis stresses: “Orthodoxy is not one of the churches, but The Church herself. She has preserved precisely and authentically the teaching of Christ in its pristine splendor and in all its purity. Over and above a simple, unbroken historical continuity and consistency there exists in her a spiritual and ontological authenticity. The same Faith, the same Spirit, the same life. It is this which constitutes the distinguishing feature of Orthodoxy and which justifies her claim that she is and remains The Church” (Episkepsis, #227, March 15, 1980).
Dialogue with the heterodox is not reprehensible from the Orthodox point of view if its goal is to inform them of the Orthodox Faith and, thus, make it possible for them thereby to return to Orthodoxy when they receive divine enlightenment and their eyes are opened.
Theological dialogue must not in any way be linked with prayer in common, or by joint participation in any liturgical or worship services whatsoever; or in other activities which might create impression that our Orthodox Church accepts, on the one hand, Roman Cahtolics as part of the fullness of the Church, or, on the other hand, the Pope as the canonical bishop of Rome. Activities such as these mislead both the fullnes of the Orthodox people and the Roman Catholics themselves, fostering among them a mistaken notion as to what Orthodoxy thinks of their teaching. The Holy Mountain is grievously disturbed by the tendencies of certain Orthodox hierarchs who have been invited to participate in Roman Catholic services, celebrations and processions, especially on the occasion of the return of holy relics. Conversely, we congratulate those hierarchs who have publicly expressed their alarm for the fullness of Orthodoxy.
We express our complete approval of what His All-Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch said during the visit of the Pope to Constantinople, namely that there exist various impediments between Orthodox and Roman Catholics: “First of all, we have serious theological problems which concern fundamental principles of the Christian faith” (Episkepsis, #22 1, Dec. 1, 1979, p. 17). These divergences in the principles of Christian faith requires that we do not advance to participation in common liturgies and worship services before oneness of faith is attained. The mystical character of the kiss of peace during the divine Eucharist always presupposes harmony of faith: “Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess…” We cannot pray together, especially during the Divine Liturgy, when we do not believe in the same faith and are separated by fundamental questions of faith. Only an indifference to the faith could permit us to do so. Moreover, the Holy Mountain cannot accept the opinion, expressed in the joint statement of the Patriarch and the Pope, concerning the “cleansing of the historical memory of our Churches” and the partial opening, by means of a dialogue of love, of the road towards “new movements in theological work and a new attitude to the past which is common to both Churches” (Episkepsis, ibid., p. 19). Actually, the heretics must cleanse their own historical memory of all their own historically acknowledged deviations in faith and practice from the true, evangelical Orthodox Faith. On the contrary, the historical memory of the Orthodox, which is based on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and on the constant experience of the apostolic faith of the God-bearing Fathers, must be lived by all of us in repentance and humility, and must instruct us both in the present and in the future life if we do not wish to fall from that faith. As Orthodox, we must cleanse ourselves by means of the historical memory of the Church, but not “cleanse” her with an egotistical and anthropocentric spirit, setting ourselves up as judges of the Tradition of the Church.
The Holy Mountain is convinced, not without great anxiety, that although the Orthodox are making many concessions and compromises to the Roman Catholics, the latter antithetically continue to adhere to their own errors which have served as the cause of their schism from the Orthodox Church and later led to the Protestant split. Thus, the Pope during his visit to the center of Orthodoxy in the patriarchal cathedral, did not in the least hesitate to proclaim that he was coming to Constantinople as the successor of Peter, “who as the ultimate authority has the responsibility of superintending the unity of all, to guarantee the agreement of the Church of God in fidelity and in the ‘faith which was once delivered unto the saints’ (Jude 3)” (Episkepsis, ibid., p. 9). In other words, the Pope defended (papal) infallibility and primacy; and there are many other actions and manifestations which the Pope has effected on behalf of uniatism. We remember the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Greek government and the Vatican which, even though it may justify papism, is unjust and strikes out at the Mother and Nourisher of our (Greek) nation, the Orthodox Church.
The Holy Mountain also expresses its anxiety over the constituency of the commission for the dialogue. Uniates comprise a portion of the Roman Catholic delegation, a fact which is a provocation for the Orthodox. The sensibilities and dignity of the Orthodox delegation demand the immediate substitution of others in place of the uniates in the membership. No Orthodox whose manner of thinking corresponds to this faith can agree to participate in a commission which includes uniates. Likewise, the Holy Mountain is disturbed by the great weakness and insufficiency of the Orthodox delegation. The most remarkable Orthodox theologians are not participating. The Holy Mountain is also not represented, despite the fact that it is the sole monastic center which preserves the faith and the theology of the Fathers, and which is far removed from the influence of secularism and scholastic Western theology.
From the Orthodox point of view there is no justification for optimism in regard to the dialogue, and for this reason no haste should be exhibited concerning it. The Roman Catholics are pressing the dialogue, hoping to strengthen themselves by annexing Orthodoxy to themselves, for they are confronted by very powerful internal disturbances and crises, as is well known. The number of former Roman Catholics who have converted to Orthodoxy also disturbs them. But Orthodoxy has no reason to hasten towards dialogue since the papists remain so obdurate and immovable as regards infallibility, uniatism, and the rest of their pernicious teachings.
Hastening the dialogue under such conditions is equivalent to spiritual suicide for the Orthodox. Many facts give the impression that the Roman Catholics are preparing a union on the pattern of a unia. Can it be that the Orthodox who are hastening to the dialogue are conscious of this?
The Holy Mountain maintains that for it there can be no question of accepting a fait accompli, that, by the grace of God, it will remain faithful, as the Lord’s Orthodox people, to the faith of the holy apostles and the holy Fathers, impelled to this also by love for the heterodox, to whom real help is given only when the Orthodox show them the vastness of their spiritual sickness and the means of its cure by maintaining a consistently Orthodox position.
The unsuccessful attempts in the past with regard to union must teach us that steadfast unity in the truth of the Church, in accordance with the will of God, presupposes a different preparation and a path distinct from that taken in the past and from that which, apparently, is now being taken.
All of the superiors and representatives of the twenty sacred and pious monasteries of the Holy Mountain of Athos at the Extraordinary Joint Conference
Letter to the Patriarch of Constantinople from the Sacred Community of Mount Athos
December 8, 1993
Translated from the Greek by George Gabriel
To His Most Divine All Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch, our Father and Master, Lord Lord Bartholomew,
Most Holy Father and Master:
The union of the Churches or, to be precise, the union of the heterodox with our One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Orthodox Chruch is desirable to us also so that the Lord’s prayer may be fulfilled…“that they may be one” (Jn. 17:21). At any rate, we understand and await according to the Orthodox interpretation. As Professor Fr. John Romanides reminds us, “Christ prays here that His disciples and their disciples may, in this life, become one in the vision of His glory (which He has by nature from the Father) when they become members of His Body, the Church…”
For this reason, whenever heterodox Christians visit us, to whom we extend love and hospitality in Christ, we are painfully aware that we stand apart in faith and, because of this, we are not able to have ecclesiastical communion.
Schism, the division between the Orthodox and the Non-Chalcedonians first and between the Orthodox and Westerners later, truly amounts to a tragedy about which we must not become silent or complacent.
In this context, therefore, we appreciate efforts made with fear of God and in accordance with Orthodox Tradition that look to a union that cannot take place through the silencing or minimizing of Orthodox doctrines of the heterodox, because it would not be accepted by the Church or blessed by God, because, according to the patristic saying, “A good thing is not good if it is not achieved in a good way.”
On the contrary, it would bring about new schisms and new divisions and miseries to the already (dis)united body of Orthodoxy. At this point, we would like to say that in the face of great changes taking place in lands that have an Orthodox presence, and before so many kinds of unstable conditions on a worldwide scale, the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, in other words Orthodox, Church should have strengthened the cohesion of the local Churches and given herself over to the care of her terror-stricken members and to their spiritual stabilization, on the one hand, and in her consciousness (as the One Holy Church), on the other, she should have sounded the trumpet of her unique redemptive power and grace and manifested it before fallen humanity.
In this spirit, to the extent that our monastic office permits us, we closely follow developments in the so-called ecumenical movements and dialogues. We note that at times the word of Truth is rightly divided and, at times, compromises and concessions are made regarding fundamental matters of the Faith.
Second, we cite the case of the Patriarchate of Antioch, which without a Pan-Orthodox decision, has proceeded to ecclesiastical communion with the Non-Chatcedonians (Monophysites). This was done despite the fact that a most serious issue had not yet been resolved. It is the latter’s non-acceptance of the Ecumenical Councils after the Third and, in particular, the Fourth, the Council of Chalcedon, which in fact constitutes an immovable basis of Orthodoxy. Unfortunately, in this case too, we have not seen a single protest by the Orthodox Churches.
The gravest matter, however, is the unacceptable change in the position of the Orthodox that arises from the joint statement at the June, 1993 Balamand Conference of the mixed commission for the dialogue between Roman Catholics and Orthodox. It adopted anti-Orthodox positions, and it is mainly to this that we call the attention of Your All Holiness.
First, we must confess that the statements which Your All Holiness has made from time to time that the Uniate movement is an insurmountable obstacle to the continuation of the dialogue between Orthodox and Roman Catholics used to put us at ease.
But the above document (of Balamand) gives the impression that your statements are being side-stepped. Furthermore, Unia is receiving amnesty and is invited to the table of theological dialogue despite the contrary decision of the Third Pan-Orthodox Conference in Rhodes requiring: “the complete withdrawal from Orthodox lands by the Uniate agents and propagandists of the Vatican; the incorporation of the so-called Uniate Churches and their subjection under the Church of Rome before the inauguration of th dialogue, because Unia and dialogue at the same time are irreconcilable.”
In Paragraph 10 we read: “The Catholic Church… (which conducted missionary work against the Orthodox and) presented herself as the only one to whom salvation was entrusted. As a reaction, the Orthodox Church, in turn, came to accept the same vision according to which only in her could salvation of “the separated brethren” it even happened that Christians were rebaptized and that certain requirements of the religious freedom of persons and of their act of faith were forgotten. This perspective was one to which that period showed little sensitivity.”
As Orthodox, we cannot accept this point of view. It was not as a reaction against Unia that our Holy Orthodox Church began to believe that she exclusively possessed salvation, but believed it before Unia existed, from the time of the Schism, which took place for reasons of dogma. The Orthodox Church did not await the coming of Unia in order to acquire the consciousness that she is the unadulterated continuation of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of Christ, because she has always had this self-awareness just as she had the awareness that the Papacy was in heresy. If she did not use the term heresy frequently, it was because, according to St. Mark of Ephesus, “The Latins are not only schismatics but heretics as well. However, the Church was silent on this because their race is large and more powerful than ours…and we wished not to fall into triumphalism over the Latins as heretics but to be accepting of their return and to cultivate brotherliness.”
But when the Uniates and the agents of Rome were let loose on us in the East in order to proselytize the suffering Orthodox by mainly unlawful means, as they do even today, Orthodoxy was obliged to declare that truth, not for purposes of proselytism but in order to protect the flock.
St. Photius repeatedly characterizes the Filioque as a heresy, and its believers as cacodox.
St. Gregory Palamas says of the Westerner Barlaam, that when he came to Orthodoxy, “He did not accept sanctifying water from our church … to wipe away (his) stains from the West.” St. Gregory obviously considers him a heretic in need of sanctifying grace in order to come into the Orthodox Church.
The statement in the paragraph in question unjustly heaps responsibility on the Orthodox Church in order to lessen the responsibilities of the Papists. When did the Orthodox trample upon the religious freedom of the Uniates and Roman Catholics by baptizing them against their will? And if there were some exceptions, the Orthodox who signed the Balamand document forgot that those who were re-baptized against their wishes were descendants of the Orthodox who were forcibly made Uniates, as occured in Poland, Ukraine, and Moldavia. (See paragraph 11).
In paragraph 13 we read: “In fact, especially since the Pan-Orthodox Conferences began and since the Second Vatican Council, the rediscovery and the giving of proper value to the Church as communion, both on the part of Orthodox and of Catholics, has radically altered perpectives and thus attitudes. On each side it is recognized that what Christ has entrusted to his Church-profession of apostolic faith, participation in the same sacraments, above all the one priesthood celebrating the one sacrifice of Christ, the apostolic succession of bishops cannot be the exclusive property of one of our Churches. In this context, it is clear that every form of rebaptism must be avoided.”
The new discovery of the Church as communion by Roman Catholics has, of course, some significance for them who had no way out of the dilemma of their totalitarian ecclesiology and, therefore, had to turn their system of thought to the communal character of the Church. Thus, alongside the one extreme of totalitarianism, they place the other of collegiality, always motivated on the same man-centered level. The Orthodox Church, however, has always had the consciousness that she is not a simple communion but a theanthropic communion or a “communion of theosis [deification],” as St. Gregory Palamas says in his homily on the procession of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the communion of theosis is not only unknown in but also irreconcilable with Roman Catholic theology, which rejects [the doctrine of] the uncreated energies of God that form and sustain this communion.
Given these truths, it was with deepest sadness that we confirmed that this paragraph (13) makes the Orthodox Church equal to the Roman Catholic Church which abides in cacodoxy.
Serious theological differences, such as the Filioque, Papal primacy and infallibility, created grace, etc., are receiving amnesty, and a union is being forged without agreement in dogma.
Thus are verified the premonitions that the union designed by the Vatican, in which, as St. Mark of Ephesus said, “the willing are unwittingly being manipulated,” (i.e. the Orthodox, who also live under hostile circumstances ethnically and politically today and are captive to nations of other religions), is pushed to take place without agreement regarding doctrinal differences, through the mutual recognition of the mysteries and apostolic succession of each Church, and the application of intercommunion, limited at first and broader later. After this, doctrinal differences can only be discussed as theological opinions.
But once union takes place, what sense is there in discussing theological differences? Rome knows that the Orthodox will never accept her alien teachings. Experience has proven this in the various attempts at union up to the present. Therefore, despite the differences, Rome is crafting a union and hoping, from a humanistic point of view (as her perspective always is), that, as the more powerful factor, in time she will absorb the weaker one, which is, Orthodoxy. Fr. John Romanides presaged this in his article “The Uniate Movement and Popular Ecumenism”’ in The Orthodox Witness, Feb. 1966.
Do the Filioque, [Papal] primacy and infallibility, purgatory, the immaculate conception, and created grace constitute an apostolic confession? Despite all of this, is it possible for us as Orthodox to recognize as apostolic the faith and confession of the Roman Catholics?
Do these serious theological deviations of Rome amount to heresies or not?
If they are, as they have been described by Orthodox Councils and Fathers, do they not result in the invalidity of the mysteries and the apostolic succession of heterodox and cacodox of this kind?
Is it possible for the fullness of grace to exist where there is not the fullness of truth?
Is it possible to distinguish Christ of the truth from Christ of the mysteries and apostolic succession?
Apostolic succession was first set forth by the Church as a historic confirmation of the continuous preservation of her truth. But when the truth itself is distorted, what meaning can a formalistic preservation of apostolic succession have? Did not the great heresiarchs often have this kind of external succession? How can it be possible for them to also be regarded as bearers of grace?
And how is it possible for two Churches to be considered “Sister Churches” not because of their pre-Schism common descent but because of their so-called common confession, sanctifying grace, and priesthood despite their great differences in dogmas?
Who among the Orthodox can accept as the true successor to the Apostles the infallible one, the one with the primacy of authority to rule over the entire Church and to be the religious and secular leader of the Vatican State?
Would this not be a denial of Apostolic Faith and Tradition?
Or are the signers of this document unaware that many Roman Catholics today groan under the foot of the Pope (and his scholastic, man-centered ecelesiological system) and desire to come into Orthodoxy?
How can these people who are tormented spiritually and desire holy Baptism not be received into Orthodoxy because the same grace is supposedly both here and there? Ought we not, at that point, respect their religious freedom, as the Balamand declaration demands in another circumstance, and grant them Orthodox Baptism? What defense shall we present to the Lord if we withhold the fullness of grace from them who, after years of agony and personal searching, desire the holy Baptism of our One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church?
Paragraph 14 of the document quoted Pope John-Paul II, “The ecumenical endeavor of the Sister Churches of East and West, grounded in dialogue and prayer, is the search for perfect and total communion which is neither absorption nor fusion but a meeting in truth and love.”
But how is a union in the truth possible when differences in dogmas are sidestepped and both Churches are described as sisters despite the differences?
The Truth of the Church is indivisible because it is Christ Himself. But when there are differences in dogmas there cannot be unity in Christ.
From what we know about Church History, Churches were called Sister Churches when they held the same faith. Never was the Orhtodox Church called a sister of any heterodox churches, regardless of the degree of heterodoxy or cacodoxy they held.
We ask ourselves a basic question: have religious syncretism and doctrinal minimalism-the byproducts of secularization and humanism-perhaps influenced the Orthodox signers of the document?
It is apparent that the document adopts, perhaps for the first time by the Orthodox side, the position that two Churches, the Orthodox and Roman Catholic, together constitute the One Holy Church or are two legitimate expressions of her.
Unfortunately, it is the first time that Orthodox have officially accepted a form of the branch theory.
Permit us to express our deep sorrow over this in as much as this theory comes into screaming conflict with Orthodox Tradition and Consciousness up to now.
We have many witnesses to the Orthodox Consciousness that our Church alone constitutes the One Holy Church, and they are recognized as pan-Orthodox in authority. They are the:
Council of Constantinople, 1722;
Council of Constantinople, 1727;
Council of Constantinople, 1838;
1848 Encyclical of the Four Patriarchs of the East and their synods;
Council of Constantinople, 1895.
These decreed that only our Holy Orthodox Church constitutes the One Holy Church.
The 1895 Council of Constantinople summarizes all of the preceding Councils: “Orthodoxy, that is, the Eastern Church, justly boasts in Christ that she is the Church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils and the first nine centuries of Christianity and is therefore the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of Christ, the ‘pillar and bulwark of truth.’ And the present Roman Church is the church of innovationism and adulteration of the writings of the Church Fathers and the distortion of the Holy Scriptures and the decrees of the Holy Councils. Justly and for good reason it was denounced and is denounced as long as it persists in its delusion. ‘Better a praiseworthy war,’ says St. Gregory of Nazianzus, ‘than a peace separated from God’.”
Representatives of the Orthodox Churches declared the same things at the World Council of Churches conferences. Among them were distinguished Orthodox theologians, such as Fr. George Florovsky. Thus, at the Conference of Lund in 1952, was declared:
“We came here not to judge other Churches but to help them see the truth, to enlighten their thought in a brotherly manner, informing them of the teachings of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, that is to say, the Greek Orthodox Church, which is unaltered from the apostolic period.”
At Evanston in 1954: “In conclusion, we are obliged to declare our deep conviction that the Holy Orthodox Church alone has preserved the faith once delivered unto the saints’ in all of its fullness and purity. And this is not because of any human merit of ours but because God is pleased to preserve His treasure in earthen vessels…”
And at New Delhi in 1961: “Unity has been broken and it is necessary that it be won anew. For the Orthodox Church is not a Confession, not one of the many or one among the many. For the Orthodox, the Orthodox Church is the Church. The Orthodox Church has the perception and consciousness that her inner structure and teaching coincide with the apostolic kerygma and the tradition of the ancient, undivided Church. The Orthodox Church exists in the unbroken and continuous succession of the sacramental ministry, of the sacramental life, and of the faith. The apostolic succession of the episcopal office and the sacramental ministry, for the Orthodox, is truly a component of the essence and, for this reason, a necessary element in the existence of the whole Church. In accordance with her inner conviction and an awareness of the circumstances, the Orthodox Church occupies a special and extraordinary position in the ancient, undivided Church, from which the present Christian denominations originate by way of reduction and separation.”
We could also set forth here the testimonies of the most distinguished and widely acknowledged Orthodox theologians. We shall limit ourselves to one, the late Fr. Demetrius Staniloae, a theologian distinguished not only for his wisdom but for the breadth and Orthodox mind set of his ecumenical perspective.
In many places of his noteworthy book, Towards an Orthodox Ecumenism, he refers to themes that are relevant to the joint statement (being discussed here) and bears Orthodox witness. Through it, therefore, the disagreement between the positions taken in the document and the Orthodox faith shall be shown:
“Without unity of faith and without communion in the same Body and Blood of the Incarnate Word, such a Church could not exist, nor could a Church exist in the meaning of the word.”
“In the case of one who is entering into full communion of faith with the members of the Orthodox Church and is becoming a member, economia (dispensation) is understood to give validity to a mystery previously performed outside of the Church.”
“In the Roman Catholic view, the Church is not so much a spiritual organism that is headed by Christ as it is a nomocanonical organization which, even in the best of circumstances, lives not in the divine but in the supernatural level of created grace.”
“In the preservation of this unity, an indispensable role is played by the unity of faith because the latter wholly bonds the members with Christ and with one another.”
“Those who confess not a whole and integral Christ but only certain parts of Him cannot achieve a complete communion either with the Church or with one another.”
“How is it possible for the Catholics to unite with the Orthodox in a common eucharist when they believe that unity is derived more from the Pope than from the Holy Eucharist? Can love for the world spring forth from the Pope, that is, the love which springs from the Christ of the Holy Eucharist?”
“There is growing recognition of the fact that Orthodoxy, as the complete body of Christ, reaches out in a concrete way to take in the parts that were separated.”
It is self-evident that two complete bodies of Christ cannot exist.
Your All Holiness, one has to wonder why the Orthodox proceed to make these concessions while the Roman Catholics not only persist in but reinforce their pope-centered ecclesiology.
It is a fact that the Second Vatican Council (1963) not only neglected to minimize the primacy and infallibility (of the Pope), indeed, it magnified these. According to the late Professor John Karmiris, “Despite the fact that the Second Vatican Council covered over the familiar Latin claims about the Papacy’s monarchical absolute rule with the mantle of the collegiality of the bishops, not only were those claims not diminished; on the contrary, they were reinforced by this Council. The present Pope (John XXIII) does not hesitate to promote them, even at inopportune times, with much emphasis.”
And the Pope’s Encyclical,“To the Bishops of the Catholic Church” (May 28,1992), recognizes only Rome as the “catholic” church and the Pope as the only “catholic” bishop. The church of Rome and her bishop compose the “essence” of all other churches. Moreover, every local church and her bishop simply constitute expressions of the direct “presence” and “authority” of the bishop of Rome and his church, which determines from within every local church’s ecclesial identity."
According to this papal document, since the Orthodox Churches refuse to submit to the Pope, they do not bear the character of the Church at all and are simply viewed as “partial churches” (Verdienen der titel teilkirchen.).
The same ecclesiology is expressed in The Ecumenical Guide (a guide for the application of principles and agenda regarding ecumenism) of the Roman Catholic Church, presented by Cardinal Cassidy to the meeting of Roman Catholic bishops (May 10-15, 1993, one month before Balamand), with non-Catholics and indeed Orthodox in attendance.
The Ecumenical Guide stresses that Roman Catholics “maintain the firm conviction that the singular Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church, which is ruled by the successor to Peter and by bishops who are in communion with him,” in as much as the “College of Bishops has as its head the Bishop of Rome, the successor to Peter.”
In the same document, many nice sounding things are said about the need to develop an ecumenical dialogue and ecumenical education obviously to muddy the waters and draw away naive Orthodox by that effective, Vatican-designed method of Unity, i.e. of submission to Rome.
The method, according to The Ecumenical Guide, is the following: “The criteria that were established for ecumenical collaboration, on the one hand, are mutual recognition of baptism and the placement of the common symbols of faith in empirical liturgical life; and on the other hand, are collaboration in ecumenical education, joint prayer, and pastoral cooperation in order that we may be moved from conflict to coexistence, from coexistence to collaboration, from collaboration to sharing, from sharing to communion.”
Such documents, however, that are full of hypocrisy are generally received as positive by the Orthodox.
We are saddened to ascertain that the joint declaration is founded upon the Roman Catholic reasoning above. Because of these recent developments under such terms, however, we begin to ask ourselves if those who claim that the various dialogues are detrimental to Orthodoxy might be justified after all.
Most Holy Father and Despota, in human terms, by means of that joint declaration, Roman Catholics have succeeded in gaining from certain Orthodox recognition as the legitimate continuation of the One Holy Church with the fullness of Truth, Grace, Priesthood, Mysteries, and Apostolic Succession.
But that success is to their own detriment because it removes from them the possibilty of acknowledging and repenting of their grave ecclesiology and doctrinal illness. For this reason, the concessions by Orthodox are not philanthropic. They are not for the good of either the Roman Catholics or the Orthodox. They jump from “the hope of the Gospel” (Col. 1:23) of Christ, the only God-Man, to the Pope, the man-god and idol of western humanism.
For the sake of the Roman Catholics and the whole world, whose only hope is unadulterated Orthodoxy, we are obliged never to accept union or the description of the Roman Catholic Church as a “Sister Church,” or the Pope as the canonical bishop of Rome, or the “Church” of Rome as having canonical Apostolic Succession, Priesthood, and Mysteries without their (the ‘Papists’) expressly stated renunciation of the Filioque, the infallibility and primacy of the Pope, created grace, and the rest of their cacodoxies. For we shall never regard these as unimportant differences or mere theological opinions but as differences that irrevocably debase the theanthropic character of the Church and introduce blasphemes.
The following decisions of Vatican II are typical:
“The Roman Pontiff, the successor to Peter, is the permanent and visible source and foundation of the unity of the bishops and of the multitude of the faithful.”
“This religious submission of the will and mind must be manifested in a special way before the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra.”
"The Roman Pontiff, the head of college of bishops, by virtue of his office, possesses infallibility when, strengthening his brethren (Lk. 23:32) as the shepherd and highest teacher of all the faithful, he declares a teaching through an act of definition regarding faith or morals. For this reason it is justly said that the decrees of the Pope are irreversible in nature and not subject to dispensation by the Church in as much as they were pronounced with the collaboration of the Holy Spirit…consequently, the decrees of the Pope are subject to no other approval, to no other appeal, to no other judgement. For the Roman Pontiff does not express his opinion as a private person but as the highest teacher of the universal Church, upon whom personally rests the gift of the infallibility of the very Church herself and who sets forth and protects the teaching of the Catholic Faith.
“In the course of his responsibility as the vicar of Christ and shepherd of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has the fullest, highest, and universal authority in the Church, which he is always empowered to exercise freely. There cannot exist an Ecumenical Council if it is not validated or at least accepted by the successor to Peter. The convocation, presidency, and approval of the decisions of the Councils are the prerogative of the Roman Pontiff.”
Do all of these teachings, Your All Holiness, not fall upon Orthodox ears as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and against the Divine Builder of the Church, Jesus Christ, the only eternal and infallible Head of the Church from Whom alone springs forth the unity of the Church? Do these not utterly contradict the Gospel-centered and God- Man centered Orthodox Ecclesiology inspired by the Holy Spirit? Do they not subordinate the God-Man to man?
How can we make such concessions or co-exist with such a spirit without losing our faith and salvation?
Remaining faithful to all that we have received from our Holy Fathers, we shall never accept the present “Roman Church” as co-representative with ours of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of Christ.
We consider it necessary that among the theological differences the distinction between the essence and the energy of God, and the uncreatedness of the divine energies be noted, because if grace is created, as the Roman Catholics claim, salvation and the theosis of man is nullified, and the Church ceases to be a communion of theosis and degenerates into a nomocanonical institution.
Deeply pained in our soul because of all of the above, we have recourse to you our Spiritual Father. And with deepest respect, we call upon you and implore you, in your characteristic pastoral understanding and sensitivity, to take this most grave matter in hand and not accept the (Balamand) document, and generally to take every possible action to stave off the undesirable consequences it will have for pan-Orthodox unity if by chance some Churches adopt it.
Moreover, we ask for your holy and God-obedient prayers so that we too who are lowly inhabitants and monastics of the Holy Mountain, in this time of spiritual confusion, compromise, secularization, an the dulling of our doctrinal acuity, may remain faithful unto death to that which was passed on to us by our Holy Fathers as a “form of doctrine” (Rom. 6:17), whatever that may cost us.
With deepest respect, we venerate your holy right hand.
Signed by: All Representatives and Presidents of the Twenty Sacred Monasteries of the Holy Mountain of Athos
P.S. Note that this letter was also sent to the Churches that participated and were directly concerned in the theological dialogue and also to the remaining Churches to keep them informed.
“Without a doubt, great is the mystery of evsevia,” or true piety (1 Timothy 3:16). Piety in the early church was another term for the faith of the Christians. Keep in mind that the name “Christian” was initially a pejorative term, something that stigmatized this class of people, those of the Way, the followers of Jesus Christ. So according to St. Paul, the mystery of Christianity is great, it is a great and profound mystery indeed. Certainly it is not a social, political, or philosophical system, or a kingdom of this world. Christ’s teachings did not focus on earthly happiness or prosperity, as many false prophets claim today. The prosperity gospel is a heresy, and a brainchild of the Antichrist.
On the contrary, Christ was very frank about the immediate payback of those who would choose to become His disciples. He clearly stated that, "In the world, you will have tribulation" (John 16:33). "You will be persecuted and hated by all because of my name.... Do not fear those who kill the body.... You will be scourged in the synagogues.... When they persecute you in this city, go or flee to another one.... He who loses his life for my sake will find it.... Do not worry about clothing.... Do not lay up treasures on earth" (Matthew 10). "Woe to the rich!" (Luke 6:24). "Sell everything and give it to the poor and follow me" (Mark 10:21). The Gospel of Jesus Christ, being a gospel of self-sacrifice, a gospel of the cross, is diametrically opposed to the gospel of the prince of this world the gospel of self-gratification and self-centeredness. Christ is the suffering Messiah, "the scandal of the Jews and the foolishness of the Greeks" (1 Corinthians 1:23), and His disciples were not promised comfort, pleasure, and riches, but trials and tribulations, pain and suffering, scourging and death. During the first three centuries, the Church boasts about eleven million martyrs who fertilized the tree of faith with their martyrs' blood. The martyrs are the most intriguing and most beloved saints of Christianity. Our most popular and beloved saints, with innumerable churches dedicated to their names, are those who died for the faith, like St. George, St. Demetrios, St. Stephen, St. Catherine, St. Barbara, and the forty martyrs of Sevastia, just to mention a few. The daily reading of the lives of the saints is most beneficial to all Christians, because the saints are those who understood and interpreted the Scriptures correctly. The lives of the saints are the Gospel in action, and the epitome of this love for the Gospel is the desire to die for the one who revealed this Gospel to us, our Lord Jesus Christ. That's why martyrdom has been called the highest gift of the Holy Spirit by Elder Athanasios Mitilinaios, who further teaches that faith alone is inadequate for this endeavor. "Faith alone," which was taught by Luther, will not suffice during times of martyrdom. What is needed rather, is faith that passes through the testing of temptations, and which graduates to true Christian love. So let's not rest on our laurels thinking that we have faith, and that because of our faith we are accomplished Christians. Years ago, I was verbally attacked by an Orthodox church administrator who claimed, "Mister, I will match my faith to yours any day of the week!" Being a fairly new member of that community, I kept my composure and my silence, but my spirit was troubled. I sensed some delusion on her part, because she participated in the Mysteries of the Church just once or twice a year, and only when the bishop was present. Tragically, this excellent veteran administrative volunteer, after suffering a brief illness, visited some relatives who convinced her to espouse the Uniate faith, and who later gave her a Catholic funeral, prohibiting the involvement of our priests. Intellectual faith, then, does not make us good or great Christians. So let's not boast about our faithfulness to the Church, our perfect attendance, and our involvement in various church functions. This faith will be useless to us in times of persecution if we don't travel the path from faith to hope, and from hope to love. What kind of love? Certainly not love for our country or even our neighbor, but love for God and more specifically, love for the God-human person of Jesus Christ a love that will throw us into flames, into furnaces, into snake pits the burning love for martyrdom. If our spiritual discipline fails to cultivate this type of love, then perhaps not only is martyrdom out of the question, but our salvation itself may also be uncertain. This loving relationship between the believer and Christ is indispensable. Faith does not promote the "inner mysticism" so much expressed by St. Paul. Love is the way to this mysticism, to the mystical union between man and Christ. During the Mystical Supper, the disciples partook of the precious Body and Blood of our Lord. They became one with Him. This is the ultimate union the only new thing under the sun where man unites himself with his Creator in a mystical union of love. St. Paul's flaming love gives us the underlying anthem of this mystical love in Romans 8:31, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or distress?" This mouth of Christ continues, "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of Christ." Here, "height" refers to wealth, positions, medals and glory, some of the most common methods used by almost all persecutors to persuade the martyrs to deny Christ. , And depth refers to extreme defamation and public humiliation. Would height or depth separate the martyrs from the love of Christ? -- Invariably not. Faith is a presupposition of this love; we start with faith. We believe in the promises of our Lord, and we hope to reach that goal, but when we believe, we are not automatically saved. "Faith without works is dead," St. James says. Once we believe, we enter the stadium of virtues. We begin to follow the commandments of God the necessary therapeutic discipline to provide us with the total realignment of our sinful will to the holy will of God. The keeping of the commandments will continue to pedal our entire psychosomatic existence along the path of God. The keeping of the commandments is indispensable in the Christian struggle, because this is the key to the acquisition of the martyrical love beautifully hymned by St. Paul. According to the unlying lips of our Lord, "Who is he who loves me? He who keeps My commandments" (John 14:21).. The element of martyrdom is always and will always be in the Church. We must point out that martyrs are not just those who die at some point and finish their life in that way. Today, a single parent who sacrifices his life and does not remarry for the well-being of his or her children, the young people who offer their bodies as a pleasing sacrifice to the Lord by maintaining their purity and virginity, the spouse who patiently endures an unfaithful husband or wife, the mother who risks her marriage by refusing the wishes of her husband who may want an abortion all these things are great examples of Christian martyrdom. The Church will always have this element of martyrdom among strong and faithful Christians. According to St. Cyril of Jerusalem, some of the greatest martyrs will be at the end times. He states in his catechisms, "Who will be these fortunate people? Who will be these Christians who will have an opportunity to confess and martyr during the years of the Antichrist? I say that they will be the greatest of all martyrs!" St Cyril exclaims. The martyrs of the past fought with the servants of Satan--the emperors, governors, presidents, etc.who enacted the persecutions against Christians; but the martyrs of the last days will fight against Satan himself. In the twentieth paragraph of his sixteenth catechism on the Holy Spirit, St. Cyril continues to give us great insight about the main constituent, if you will, in Christian martyrdom. He holds that martyrdom is completed by the Holy Spirit. As we know, millions of Christians were tortured, persecuted unjustly, subjected to untold tortures, thrown in fire, faced with wild beasts, and sunk to the bottom of the sea. St. Polycarp was placed in flames and St. Ignatius was fed to the lions. Often the martyrs were placed in sacks, tied to stones that ended up on the ocean floor. On certain occasions vipers and poisonous snakes were included in the sacks along with them! How do these people,normal in every respect,persevere in these horrible tortures that we can hardly imagine? According to St. Cyril , during these trials, the Holy Spirit comes and whispers to the ear of the martyrs.. The Holy Spirit whispers, "Wait on the Lord, man, await the Lord! Your ordeal is temporary and minor! The heavenly glory is immense! You will suffer for a short period of time, but you will be forever with the angels! For I reckon that the sufferings of this present age are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." According to the forty martyrs of Sevastia, whose martyrdom we will include in this booklet, "The winter is harsh, but the paradise is sweet." If we were to place the sufferings of this age or the tortures of martyrdom on a weighing scale, the sufferings are nothing compared to the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is eternal. The Holy Spirit whispers in the ears of the soul of the athlete, according to St. Cyril. When the athlete receives this revelation from the Holy Spirit, he becomes galvanized. The athlete receives inner information. He is reminded of scriptural verses, etc. The Holy Spirit then comes and describes, the Kingdom of God to the athlete. It is well known that the Holy Spirit does not reveal celestial images, images of the Kingdom of God to the Christian, until the soldier of Christ chooses by his own will and his own disposition to go through martyrdom, and often not until the martyrdom itself begins and the tortures are in progress. This shows that the man has chosen the way of martyrdom on his ownAfter martyrdom becomes humanly unbearable however, the Holy Spirit overshadows the martyr by giving him a taste of the Kingdom of God. This action of the Holy Spirit can be seen in the martyrdoms of all our great martyrs, all through the centuries, from protomartyr Stephen all the way through the last neomartyrs during Turkish occupation. The martyrdom of St. George the New, the neomartyr from Ioannina in northwestern Greece, in 1838 AD, was stereotypical in those lands at that time. Many young men,for different reasons, or because of immaturity,were convinced at some point to change their faith and become Muslims. Later on, when the Holy Spirit whispered to them, they almost always renounced the faith of the false prophet, and they confessed the faith of Christ in front of the Muslim rulers, which always guaranteed death. St. George was instructed by other faithful to leave, to escape that region, because the rest of Greece was then free, but he decided to stay and confess the truth of Christ and expose the falsehood of Mohammed in front of the Islamic Muslim rulers. Inside the jails, the other captives witnessed the presence of a peculiar light around the martyr all through the night. St. George the New of Ioannina received the energy of the uncreated light, which is the light of the Kingdom of God. This is what the Kingdom of God is all about, it is the light of Christ. Christ allows, or grants, to His creation to have what He has, which is the uncreated light, the divine glory. Christ is the Kingdom of God the uncreated energy of God is the Kingdom of God. As citizens of paradise we will participate in this divine glory, which is the uncreated light of Christ. God visits His saints and gives them a taste of the Kingdom of God, of the incomprehensible mysteries of God, and once the martyrs have this experience they cannot turn back. Let's listen to St. Ignatius, who begs the Christians not to hold him back, and he states that "If the lions don't want to eat my flesh, I will compel them to!" The martyr gives it all, he can't wait, he cannot hold back his joy, and he rushes to cross over to the other side. This is the cause of the joy of the martyrs they tasted the Kingdom of God. St. Stephen the protomartyr confessed Christ to the Sanhedrin. He offered an outstanding apology to his countrymen, beginning from the Old Testament, from the Patriarchs, their adventures all through Egypt, the birth of Moses, the leadership of Joshua, and the kingdom of David. At some point, young Stephen is overcome by the zeal of Elijah, and he goes on the offensive. "You stubborn people! You are just like your fathers! Is there a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered Him!" (Acts chapter 7). When they heard these things, they felt their heart ripped by a handsaw. They gnashed at him with their teeth. Stephen could have been somewhat more diplomatic. St. Paul met many times with the Sanhedrin. He spoke in the synagogues, and many times he walked away from the synagogues because it was not time for him to end his life. But Stephen charged! He went on the offensive, and the Holy Spirit rushed into Stephen. The Holy Scripture states that Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked up into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. He saw heaven. He saw the Kingdom of God. He saw the glory of God Christ in the uncreated light. So Stephen was invincible at this point. He was unstoppable once he saw the Kingdom of God. He tasted the Kingdom of God and he charged ahead. At the initial states of the martyrdom, the opportunity is given to man to choose his journey. He has the choice to say yes or no. The free will of man is not violated. Are you a Christian? A simple "no," and the trouble would be over. The response must be confessed by the martyr by his or her own free will. He needs to show his faith and love. After this confession takes place, the martyrdom begins, and when it begins to become unbearable, the Holy Spirit intervenes dynamically. He shows paradise to the martyrs. They have their faces turned towards the persecutions, but by the power of the Spirit they are at the same time in paradise spitting upon their imminent trials and tortures. St. Cyril of Jerusalem continues in his sixteenth catechism, "Do you want proof that the martyrs are led to martyrdom by the Holy Spirit? The Lord tells His disciples, 'Now when they bring you to the synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how or what you should answer, or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say'"(Luke 12:11-12). Glancing through the martyrologia,the lives of the martyrs all through the centuries,from the early centuriesall the way through the neomartyrs after the fall of Constantinople, we will find a standard response to the various courts whether Roman or Muslim: "Christiano eima." "I am a Christian." This phrase was repeated over and over again when the martyr was offered wealth, positions and honor to change his faith or to sacrifice to idols. This was usually the extent of the missionary work of Mohammed, who spread his faith by the sword: "If you become a Muslim, you get to keep your head." Well, hundreds of thousands of neomartyrs decided not to keep their heads, and they put to shame this demonic missionary work of Mohammedanism. Neomartyr Michael Paknanas was less than twenty years old, and he worked as a gardener in Athens in the 1800s. The Turks, who enslaved Greece at the time, were trying to convince him to become a Muslim. When flattery and wealth failed to persuade him, they put to use some of their more convincing standard missionary work by torturing the teenager. When all the tortures proved to be futile, the executioner was preparing to behead the young man, but at the same time he was feeling some compassion for him. So he began cutting his neck slowly with the sword by administering very light blows, while asking the martyr to reconsider. The martyr's response? "I told you, I am a Christian. I refuse to become a Muslim." The ax-man strikes with another light blow to make some more blood flow, to possibly convince him. The martyr repeats, "I told you, I am a Christian. Strike with all your might, for the faith of Christ." This totally aggravated the executioner. He did exactly that, and St. Michael was sent to the heavenly mansions. Who taught these very simple but profound words to the teenage martyr? Who else but the Holy Spirit? "Strike with all your might, for the faith of Christ," was the most elegantand apropos response, superior to all the rhetorical abilities of Demosthenes, Socrates and Plato put together, and all the words of the greatest preachers. This most eloquent rhetoric is the work of the Holy Spirit. The confessors and the martyrs make up the spinal cord of our Church. The blood of the martyrs is the greatest proof that Christ is not an idea. Christ did not come to bring us a book. Christ is real. Only a few weeks ago, while traveling in Texas, we noticed an announcement on CNN news. "Judge in Italy charges Catholic priest with fraud for stating that Jesus Christ existed." So at these perilous timeswhen not only the divinity of Christ is being denied and doubted, but the very existence of Jesus Christ is being questioned by the atheistic human beings who have the spirit of the Antichrist,, the lives of the martyrs are extremely important to all Orthodox Christians who want to keep the Holy Spirit aflame and ablaze in their lives. In the pages that follow, we will present four, very inspiring, stereotyped martyrdoms. Two are from the Roman persecution of Christianity, and another two from the Ottoman Empire (now reduced to today's modern Turkey). The first two are group martyrdoms: the deacon Ammoun with the forty virgin martyrs of Thrace, located in northern Greece, and the forty martyrs of Sevastia. From the neomartyrs, we will translate the martyrologion of St. Niketas, 1732, and the martyrologion of St. Chryse, 1795. The Forty Virgin Martyrs and Their Deacon Ammoun One of the prophesies about the life of virginity,very prevalent in the New Testament,can be found in the 44th Psalm of David. There, Prophet David sees his distant, precious daughter,the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary,and prophesies: "Virgins shall be brought to the king after her. With joy and gladness they will be led to the temple of the king." The life of the Theotokos, the Birthgiver of God, as a model and fortress of the virgins, propelled many souls to devote themselves to Christ totally. The Holy Spirit in the epistles of St. Paul, especially in the beginning of 1 Corinthians, exalts the state of virginity: "Now concerning the things which you wrote to me, it is good for a man not to touch a woman." In verse eight, St. Paul continues, "But I say to the unmarried and to the widows, it is good for them if they remain even as I am," meaning celibate. A few verses down (v. 32) St. Paul says, "But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares for the things of the world how he may please his wife, or husband."So according to these verses of St. Paul, it is very clear that virginity and celibacy is more conducive to a higher spirituality. This is not to say that holiness cannot be reached within marriage that is also very, very possible. However, the great life of the Most Holy Theotokos, the Ever-Virgin, and the grace given to us in the New Testament and these great verses of St. Paul, spark a great love in Christians for a life of virginity and total devotion to the Lord. Many young women lived in the homes of their parents. Just like the daughters of the deacon Philip, they lived a life of virginity, prayer, and devotion to the early Church. Although we did not have organized monasticism before the fourth century, all the elements of the ascetical or monastic lifestyle flourished in the life of the Church, and added to the Mother Church millions of martyrs. On the first day of September, which marks the opening of our ecclesiastical year, the Church opens its golden pages of martyrdom by celebrating the resolve of the forty women virgin ascetic martyrs who put to shame the torture mechanisms of Licinius. The forty women virgin martyrs lived in Adrianoupolis of Thrace, in northeast Greece, and they were disciples of Deacon Ammoun. During that time, around 305 AD, the emperor of the eastern region of the Roman Empire was Licinius, a dreadful persecutor of Christianity. Licinius had instituted a decree for the annihilation of all Christians who refused to sacrifice to idols. The decree of this bloodthirsty tyrant soon reached all cities, towns, and villages.Christians were slaughtered like lambs, refusing to submit to his soul-destroying promises and choosing rather to die for the love of their heavenly bridegroom. During these horrible years, the forty virgin martyrs were apprehended and put to the test along with their deacon Ammoun. The names of these glorious Christian women are as follows: Adamantine, Athena, Akrive, Antigone, Arivea, Aspasia, Aphrodite, Dione, Dodone, Elpinike, Erasmia, Erato, Ermeneia, Evterpe, Thaleia, Theanoe, Theano, Theonymphe, Theophane, Kalliroe, Kalliste, Kleio, Kleonike, Kleopatra, Koralia, Lambro, Margarita, Marianthe, Melpomene, Moscho, Ourania, Pandora, Penelope, Polymnia, Polynike, Sapfo, Terpsichore, Troada, Haido, and Harikleia. By their daily ascetic struggles, by their prayers, vigils, and fasting, the seed of faith rooted, sprouted, and blossomed in the fertile ground of the virgins' souls. Steadfast faith, precise keeping of Christ's commandments, and obedience to their pious spiritual father Ammoun, made them as pure as lilies. This purity invites and hosts the two theological virtues of humility and love, which further house the Trinity in the Christian heart. The intimidations, threats, and tortures did not sway the virgins. The idolater archon Varos of Adrianoupolis did not sway the unshakable faith of this holy team of virgin martyrs. They united their godly prayers, and immediately and miraculously the priest of the idols was airborne. He remained suspended and hung in midair, thus punished for many, many hours, and finally he landed on the ground and breathed his last. Deacon Ammoun was hanged, and had his ribcage opened with knives. After this, a red-hot iron helmet was placed on his head. The above tortures caused no apparent harm to this athlete of Christ, so he was transported to Heraklea of Thrace, to the tyrant Licinius, along with the holy virgins. Licinius ordered to have ten of the virgin martyrs burned by fire, and another eight beheaded, along with deacon Ammoun. Another ten were put to death by the sword, being struck in the mouth or in the heart, thus giving up their spirit. Of those remaining, six were martyred by being forced to swallow sizzling hot iron marbles, and the last six were cut to pieces by knives.
Dismissal hymn of the martyrs, Plagal First tone:
O athletes of Christ, come and participate,
And the forty maidens, along with pious Ammoun,
Exalt with glorious festivities,
For they fought the great fight,
And by their ascesis in Christ,
Were made powerful and radiant.
Intercede to the Lord,
For the salvation of our souls.
The forty martyred women and the martyr Ammoun exercised their faith, hope, and love toward Christ in an amazing way. They proved to the world that the Christian Gospel is not some ideology, but the source of life and power. They proved indefatigably that the Church of Christ is a divine creation. The fools for Christ defeated the wise.The weak defeated the mighty.. The words of St. John the Chrysostom find their full justification through the centuries: "The Church, under persecution, scores victories. When insulted, it becomes even more radiant. It receives injuries, but it does not succumb to the wounds. It sails through rough seas, but it does not sink. It fights, but it is never defeated. O man, there is nothing more powerful than the Church." With the unshakable and steadfast faith in the Resurrected Savior, the forty virgin martyrs did not simply show patience and perseverance through these various tortures. They didn't simply display boldness and heroism, but a characteristic element of Christian martyrdom the presence of joy, a joy quite inexplicable to the idolaters, and the cause of many conversions. Curious bystanders were often the eyewitnesses of a great marvel and profound mysteryPeople heavily injured dismembered, severely beaten, hanging on a cross (or about to be hung), engulfed by flames were full of joy. Instead of mourning,weeping and chest-beating, they were glorifying God. The day of martyrdom was a day of joy. They were rejoicing because they were deemed worthy to confess Christ, the cause of all joy. They irrigated the tree of the Church with their blood. There is no greater sermon, there is no better way to show to the unbelievers and idolaters that Christ is the true God. The blood of one martyr would bring in dozens of new believers to the Church often thousands. Eusebius, the early church historian, informs us, "They didn't seem to worry when faced with persecution and all kinds of tortures, but they displayed fearless boldness through their faith in the God of all, and they welcomed their final decision of death with joy and laughter and great rejoicing. Therefore they chanted hymns and offered thanksgiving to the God of all, up until their last breath" (Ecclesiastical History, Volume 8, 9:5).
Stichera Prosomia of Vespers, Fourth Tone:
Let us all hymn Deacon Ammoun, Athena and Antigone,
Elpinike, Moscho, Haido, Harikleia,
With Pandora, Lambro, Kalliste,
Troada, and Dodone, Erasmia, Erato, Kleonike and Thaleia,
Marianthe, Evterpe, Arivea,
Akrive with Aspasia, let us praise with joyous songs.
Saint Gregory Palamas with his written works has boosted theologically the deeper content of the hesychastic life, and with his toilsome and persistent ecclesiastical struggles, contributed decisively to the unanimous and conciliar acceptance of the teaching of Hesychasm.
In his attempt to safeguard the lofty theological character of hesychia, he developed a most profound dogmatic theology around the identity and soteriological function of Divine Grace.
In the process he simultaneously revealed the theological presuppositions necessary for the hesychasts to share and abide in the life of the Holy Spirit. These presuppositions are found in the steadfast and delusion-free parameters of theophany and theoptia (vision of God). The invincible ultra-defender of Hesychasm expressed the mind of the Church infallibly, asserting that the existential living experience of the deifying energy of the Holy Spirit , especially endows with theological meaning the hesychastic way of life. This life culminates in the complete union of man with God and in the charismatic theosis of man, which consists of the higher form of the spiritual life of the faithful.
Saint Gregory Palamas studied the Ascetic Literature near holy hesychasts, who were taught Hesychasm not only through Divine Grace, but through their personal experience as well. From these distinguished teachers he was taught the sacred nipsis (guarding of the nous) and the noetic prayer. His teacher par excellence, however, was his personal toil and the empirical knowledge procured through this toil. Thus, he received empirical knowledge of the hesychastic way of life, and when he received the calling to defend Hesychasm, he had already assimilated fruitfully and productively the entire Patristic Tradition. Consequently, he displayed an unrivaled combative spirit, theological eruditeness, along with holy-spiritual experience especially reflected in his written works In Defense of the Holy Hesychasts and in the Hagiorite Tome, synoptically. But what is the specific meaning of hesychia and Hesychasm? The ascetical term hesychia is primarily existential and experiential in character. Hesychia means the peace established in the inner man, when he sees, becomes disgusted with, and proceeds to expel his eidechthes prosopeion (his ugly mask) which had developed from the wandering of the nous. Hesychia is indispensably connected with the nipsis (guarding) of the nous, the spiritual vigilance, and the experiential knowledge of all those states which actualize in the practice of nipsis in a spiritual and inexpressible manner.
Consequently, the main task of the hesychast is the “guarding of the heart” with the congenial Keeping of the Commandments, spiritual purity, and sacramental life. With the Keeping of the Commandments, the hesychast expels the law of sin and introduces to himself the guarding of the nous. His senses are kept in check with the virtue of temperance (egkrateia), while the (pathetiko) impassive part of the soul is governed by love and the (logistiko) noetic by nipsis (sobriety). The hesychastic way of life affords the functional ability to Divine Grace to “remodel” the inner man and to conform him according to his prototype, granting him “blossomed” , his ancient and indescribable beauty. The hesychast lives without cares, absolved, as much as possible, from all matters of distraction. With the use of incessant prayer he unites his nous (essence of the soul) with God, and thus totally concentrated in his inner self, finds a new and mysterious ascent towards heaven. There having fixed his nous, he tastes ineffable pleasure, experiences perfect and sweetest peace—true hesychia and quietude. And thus, after having surrendered himself to God, sees the glory of God and visualizes the Divine Light.
The ultimate purpose of the hesychastic life is for man to become one with the Trihypostatic Monad (according to the archieratical prayer of Christ and with his synergy) just as He entered into communion and unity with the human nature, without distancing Himself from His own Triadic Monad.
For the aforementioned reasons, the hesychastic life is esteemed by the theologian of hesychia and of the Light of Grace, as the ultimate form of the ascetical life, and Hesychasm as the most precious segment of the Church, being that in its parameters by and large the paramount spiritual experience of the uncreated Light is lived as the vision of God (Theoptia).
Christ during his historical presence on earth revealed His uncreated Divinity to the elect of His Apostles with His Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. According to the theological evaluation of Saint Gregory Palamas, the disciples saw upon the mount “the essential majesty of God… the ultra-luminous brightness of the archetypal beauty, the formless kind of Divine comeliness… they saw the inconceivable and ineffable Light… they saw the Grace of the Holy Spirit, which they subsequently received, and it abided in them.”
The Grace of God is the betrothal of the inheritance of the saints, the Spirit of sonship, the promise of the Spirit, which the Son received from the Father and granted to his faithful. It is the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit.
The faithful receives the Divine Grace during Holy Baptism, and more specifically, during the mystery of Holy Chrism, whereby he becomes Her charismatic offspring since he was born from Her during the Divine washing, and thus he procured the ancient beauty.
Afterwards, the uncreated Grace exists incessantly in the faithful and assists him soteriologically (in matters of salvation) and multifariously, while Her Divine Light illumines him accordingly—at times, more, and at times, less. This Light becomes visible spiritually with the noetic sense, and it consists of the inseparable glory and brightness of Divine nature. Futhermore, it also constitutes the garment of the soul of the faithful, since it will bring back to her the ancient and most excellent beauty, but it simultaneously consists of the true nourishment of the angels as much as the righteous. It does not have its own substance, and for this it is called enhypostatic and not auto-hypostatic. Thus, it is reasonable to speak about the effulgence of hypostatic Light in the souls of the faithful, which acts in them without being separated from the Holy Spirit. Being an uncreated glory of God, pre-eternal and infinite, the Divine Light is not sensual, but noetic and spiritual, which is approximated and envisioned spiritually. It is incorporeal divine illumination and Grace, which becomes “envisioned in an invisible manner, and it is conceived in an inconceivable manner.” It is a “natural ray of Divinity”, and “the very Divinity which manifested to the disciples on the mount,” according to Saint Gregory the Theologian.
Divine illumination to be beheld presupposes the purification of the heart, and it is found evaluatively higher than homiletics about God, and certainly above reason. Of course, Divine illumination provides knowledge of God, but this knowledge and understanding is granted to the nous by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, when occasionally this Divine illumination is called “knowledge and understanding,” it must be understood in a different l ight because what is meant here is another kind of understanding—a spiritual one. Barlaam, the anti-hesychast philosopher, thought that anyone who has knowledge of beings (onton) brings God inside him, or, can see (achieve vision of God) through this knowledge. In reality though, Palamas says, this man has within him the knowledge of the created things and through this knowledge he contemplates God, raises his mind to God abstractly, and expresses Him conjecturably. This perception of God does not consist of knowledge of God in and by itself. However he, who has energized the Divine Light inside himself, sees in an inexpressible way, and his expressions about God are not conjectures, but are based on having true vision and practical experience of Him. He truly ascertains that he has God inside him, because God is never separated from His eternal glory. The most trustworthy person who can inform us about the presuppositions necessary to acquire and to see the Divine Light happens to be that Divine person, who received our nature and imparted to it the glory of His nature. These presuppositions are the keeping of the Divine commandment, because Christ promised His appearance to whoever keeps them. This appearance Christ called “the abidance of Himself and of His Father in Him” saying, “if a man love s me he will keep my words and my Father will love him and we will come unto him and make our abode with him.” In this verse, Palamas sees the Grace and energy of the Holy Spirit through which God manifests and abides in those deemed worthy. The abidance of the Son with the Father is interpreted as participation (metheksi) of the deifying Grace and energy, while in a similar context Palamas identifies the coming of Christ, the abidance and His manifestation together with the Father with our ascent toward Him through revelation, as super-celestial ascent and rapture. The knowledge of God procured by the vision of Light is above all other knowledge, since there is nothing greater in existence than the abidance and manifestation of God inside of us, neither anything equal nor approximate. Thus, we know that the keeping of the commandment provides true knowledge, because with only this the health of the soul is secured. Health of the soul cannot exist when the intelligent power (gnostiko) of the soul is ill.
The Keeping of the Commandments, however, offers not only knowledge of God, but even charismatic theosis, to which we are guided as long as we see inside of us God’s glory in the Spirit. This materializes when it is God’s good pleasure to elevate us towards the spiritual mysteries. If the knowledge of the Divine Scriptures, according to the Apostle Peter is sure and secure, in the words of the same Apostle, this knowledge is equated with the “Light of an oil lamp that shineth in a dark place until the day dawns, as it dawned brilliantly on Tabor, and Christ, the Day Star, arises in your hearts.” This so indicative of the great difference between the knowledge of the holy Scriptures compared to the Light of knowledge emanating from the mystical vision of God . It is the light of the sun shining in the middle of the sky at noon time.
One thing is meant by “illumination of Divine Grace,” something else by “constant vision of Light,” and another, entirely different thing by “vision of things in the Light, when the distant things appear in front of the eyes and the future events appear as present. Even here, however, a graduating scale also exists, which is connected to spiritual progress. This progress will continue ad infinitum, being incoherent with the capacity of the Divine illumination in the faithful. The vision of Divine glory is always analogous to the receptivity of the seer. In novices for example, the illumination of this Light is dimmer and not constant, whereas in the perfect, in addition to the superabundance of Light, an endowment of humility takes place—one of a different kind than that of the novices. Humility leads to penthos (mourning), and mourning increases the purification of the heart—a necessary perquisite toward receptivity for more illumination. Secure advice about the method of gaining vision of the Light of Grace can be given by those who see it para ton oronton from all those who experienced its knowledge empirically. In other words; those who received santification through the harshness of askesis and humble prayer, without which (sanctification) no one will see the Lord, according to Saint Paul. Sanctification presupposes the cleansing of the heart by the keeping of the commandments and the continuous preoccupation of the nous with the genuine and immaterial prayer, and especially through the commandment of love. Thus, God is seen by those who have been purified through love via purification, namely, all those who have been cleansed from passions and ignorance. Their nous, having been purified and illumined and clearly sharing in the Grace of God, affords them to become partakers of mystical, supernatural spectacles. Simultaneously, they see the brightness by which the nous has been enriched from the Grace of God, which furthers strengthens the power of the nous to transcend itself and to complete its union with the things beyond reason. With this illumination, the nous sees God in the Spirit. With the power of the Holy Spirit, it acquires the spiritual experience and hears things unheard and sees things unseen. Not only the envisioned Divine Light, but even the seeing power by which the nous sees, is a spiritual power found incomparably higher than the created rational powers. And this power is provided by Divine Grace. The vision of Divine Light takes place in those who have spiritual eyes and the mind of Christ, with which they behold the invisible and comprehend the incomprehensible. The nous of the faithful sees the spiritual realities with clarity when it becomes one Spirit with the Lord. Then he knows the things of God, since only the Spirit knows the things of God. Thus, the Divine Light becomes visible with the transformation of the senses, which is precisely why it remains invisible to other people during its charismatic manifestation. Besides this, Divine Grace is acquired by the saints as supernatural and Divine participation, according to the same parameters that scientific knowledge is acquired by scientists, which while being always present in them, its action manifests itself only when necessary. As energy of the Holy Spirit in a pure soul, it appears as the power of sight in the healthy eye and becomes one with the entire man, much like the unity of the members of the body and the unity of the soul to the body.
The Divine Light is envisioned by its own Light, with a vision energized by the Holy Spirit. How does this take place exactly? In reality, the method by which the invisible God is seen is inexpressible. Saint Paul, to whom Palamas refers, will tell us that this happens “in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Holy Spirit.” The champion of Hesychasm proceeds towards very profound clarifications. The immaterial nous, he says, gazing toward the first, the supreme and true Light—God, without turning back, with the immaterial, incessant and pure prayer, and having already transformed to the angelic office, after being enveloped by the same first Light, he also appears the same by participation with the One Who is the archetype according to cause. Then he radiates, having the comeliness of the mystical beauty, the brilliance and the ineffable radiance. In this manner, this Light, which is God, illumines its participants charismatically with their union with it in an inexpressible way. The deified, beholding in themselves the uncreated Light, see the garment of their deification (theosis) which Christ promised to them in His archieratical prayer, and according to that prayer He wanted them to be with him and to behold His glory.
It is significant that Palamas never wanted to write anything about man’s theosis. When he was challenged by his opponents, however, he was compelled to refer to it with a few words of piety—insufficient according to his statement–underlining in these, that the experience of theosis is lived as betrothal during the historical presence of the saints on earth.
The Light of the Transfiguration on Tabor along with the one that the saints behold here on earth is evaluatively placed on the same level with the Light of the future Second Presence of Christ. It is the same Light which will continuously envelop the worthy ones during the future life.
It is the prelude of God’s glory. This is the Light of the future age, which will be visible with the eyes of the heart. It is the Light which the Saints behold inside them, the glory of Divine nature, the very immaterial Divinity of the Father and the Spirit, which effulges in the face of the Only Begotten Son during His Transfiguration. Accordingly, it is overt that photophany consists of the manifestation of God to his saints, while participation in this theophany corresponds with vision of God (theoptia). Theophany and theoptia consist of the delusion free theological presuppositions of the life in the Holy Spirit, which is equated with the charismatic theosis of man. Those who are deemed worthy to behold this Photophany share in this god-working Light, which being Divinity, deifies them charismatically. This Divine Light, the radiance of God, consists of theosis according to Palamas. There is nothing more sublime from this theoria (vision) for the worthy. Through this Light, God unites with the saints. This Divine Light is the deifying gift. Because of this, it is said that theosis is essential energy of God. Alternatively, if theosis proceeds from the activation of some natural power of man, then the deified saints do not transcend their nature, nor are they born of God, nor are they Spirit, born of the Spirit. While God is unknowledgeable, invisible, and immaterial, He becomes knowledgeable in a supernatural way, contained, translucent, and during theoptia, becomes one Spirit with those who accompany Him with a pure heart, according to the prayer of our common Father to His own Father. For He says, “grant them, even as Thou, Father art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us.” Thus the Apostles, due to their unity in Christ, through the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, are united with Christ, and between them to such a degree, that Palamas is more than content to refer to one of them (John), and to say that through him all saints are represented. This union with God is perfect, because the faithful becomes one Spirit with God. This very Holy Spirit was preaching through the Apostles after Pentecost. Theosis, as Grace of the Holy Spirit, coincides with the Kingdom of God. Thus, for someone to become god by Grace is identical with achieving the Kingdom of God. And since the Kingdom of God is without beginning and uncreated, likewise theosis is without beginning and uncreated. Uncreated, and without beginning is also the holiness of the saints. Those deified are full of the pre-eternal Light which grants them god-like knowledge and life. They are not governed by the created temporal life, having beginning and end, but by the Divine and pre-eternal life of God the Word residing in them, as Apostle Paul wrote about himself, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” In reality, Christ lives in the heart of the faithful through the Holy Spirit, and the criterion for this is the Holy Spirit He gave to them. This explains why the energy of God and those deified are one and the same. In reality, theosis is clearly superior to the simple vision of Divine Light, because theosis presupposes the full union of man with God. But for man to become suitable for this union, his likeness with God is indispensable, which is achieved with the energy emanating from the Keeping of the Commandments, an energy which does not result from the mere natural imitation, but results from the power of the Spirit, which ineffably co-exists with those baptized. The virtue that follows from the Keeping of the Commandments simply makes the faithful suitable for the union, which is completed only by the uncreated Grace of the baptized. This union procedure with God is officiated by prayer, always in the framework of Divine mysteries, since we receive and maintain the uncreated Divine Grace through the mysteries. Moreover, since the deified receive and maintain actively the uncreated deifying Grace, that is the same Holy Spirit as a gift, it is apparent they do not simply have an improvement according to their nature.
The pursued purpose of the deified life in the Holy Spirit of the faithful is the betrothal experience of the promises of God for the future goods. He who shares in the living Divine Grace becomes a temple of the Divine glory and a place of spiritual bliss. He is shown forth as salt of the earth and light of the world, regardless of whether he is a monk or if he lives with a spouse in the world.
Some of the characteristics of the (Holy)-spiritual experience taking place from the vision and experience of the uncreated Light, are the cessation of the shameful (carnal) pleasures and passions of the soul; the calming of thoughts; serenity and spiritual joy ; contempt for human glory; humility along with inexpressible rejoicing ; hate towards the worldly spirit; Divine eros for the heavenly things, or better yet for the God of the heavens ; all of which one can experience and live independently of the state of his health or the integrity of his senses. Then, the god-like state develops with reference to virtue and the difficulty of movement or total immobilization towards evil. Furthermore, the Divine Light as charismatic presence of the Holy Spirit is also experienced as apocalyptic knowledge—as knowledge of God, as righteousness, as holiness, and freedom. This makes the mouth of the deified the mouth of God with wisdom of God, “which cannot be debated or challenged by any of the enemies,” because according to the assurance of the Lord, “for it is not you who speak but the spirit of your Father speaking through you.” Outside of the vision of the Divine Light, the defender of hesychia includes in the realm of the life in the Holy Spirit, the prayer of the heart, the spiritual warmth and the spiritual pleasure, but the pleasing and sweet tears of Grace. Man shares in the life of the Holy Spirit in his psychosomatic entirety. Thus, the dispositions and energies of the body are also sanctified, because whatever is human does not die but is transformed by the uncreated Grace. The qualities of the Divine beauty are conveyed from the nous and the soul to the entire body. When the body is enriched by the workings of the Divine Grace, the bodily heart reveals its communion with it by spiritual leaps, while the body becomes weightless, illumined, and warmed.
On account of its uncreated character, the deified life of the faithful in the Holy Spirit remains essentially inexpressible, even when attempting to discuss it. Under no circumstances could someone explain the quality of the spiritual pleasure that streams from the joy and Grace of God to those who have not experienced it personally. This goodness of the Paraclete to those who have not tasted it is essentially unheard of and inexpressible. However, it remains known and distinctive only to those who have acquired it.
The causes of these spiritual experiences can only be perceived by the noetic and spiritual sense. Finally, the life in the Holy Spirit must be definitely acquired and experienced by the faithful in this present life, because whoever does not receive it here, will not have it in the future life after death either.
From what has been written above it should be clear that the charismatic theosis of the faithful is essentially equated with his (holy)-spiritual life, and furthermore that the theological pre-conditions of this life is theophany—through the effulgence of the deifying Grace—and theoptia (vision of God). Inasmuch , the gift of the vision of God and the charismatic abidance in the life of the Holy Spirit are pre-determined from specific anthropological presuppositions as well. Lucifer and our forefathers had the gift of Vision of God. In both circumstances, however, the loss of this charismatic gift took place after their known fall. The cause of their fall was the same. Lucifer and our forefathers desired and pursued their equality with God, blatantly ignoring their existential specifications as created beings. They proudly and egotistically projected their will ; they dodged God and His will for them ; and they ventured for the spiritual elevation of their position with their personal choices as the sole criteria. Thus, they tragically missed the mark. Consequently, if the faithful pursues theosis or the charismatic life of the Spirit and makes it the purpose of his life, he is in danger of succumbing to the same temptation of his forefathers with the analogous consequences. Theosis, as charismatic life of the Holy Spirit, cannot become man’s purpose because man cannot realize a purpose found much beyond and above his created natural capabilities. As Saint Maximos says very pointedly, “we feel it as being above nature according to Grace but we don’t work out our theosis. Nor do we have natural capability to receive the power of theosis.” Theosis consists of God’s purpose for man and the uncreated gift to him. Through this however, things change radically, along with the entire process for the realization of this propose. More specifically, the theosis of the faithful which was essentially expressed in the archieratical prayer of Christ—for the faithful to become one with the Triune God and to behold continually His uncreated glory has as its basic presupposition the Keeping of the Commandments, since this leads to the manifestation of Christ and God the Father to the heart of the faithful in the Spirit. The Keeping of the Commandments, however, pragmatically means the resignation of the faithful from his own will, regardless of how good it may appear to be. It means the subjection of his will to the will of God. But for the faithful to abandon his own will, he needs to previously come to the knowledge of his inner man by Divine Grace and to see the tragic result of the wandering of his nous in the dead end roads of his self-will. Then, he will feel disgust for his self-will, he will renounce it, and by this he will practically deny himself. Thus, he will enable himself from this point on to become a true disciple of Christ. Only then will he steadily redirect his will to the will of God and consider the Keeping of the Commandments as the only way to please God, without another single alternative solution.
The faithful, abandoning his will in disgust, humbles himself truly and pragmatically, causing himself to be endowed richly with the Grace of God. The Grace of God gives him the ability to be responsive to the will of God for the keeping of his commandments, because according to the assurance of Christ, “without me you cannot do anything.”
In this context, however, the charismatic theosis of the faithful, which comes forth from the keeping of the Commandments, is offered as uncreated deifying energy and a gift from God, and under no circumstances consists of an accomplishment or an achievement of the faithful. Under these anthropological presuppositions, the continuous progress of the faithful in the charismatic life of the Holy Spirit is realistically ensured, and the danger of ever falling according to the ancestral paradigm is nullified.
SUNDAY OF ORTHODOXY
St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
Today, the first Sunday of Great Lent, our church celebrates its victory against heresy and more specifically the decisive defeat of Iconoclasm on March 11 843 AD. We celebrate this event not only for the icons, but for the fact that the Orthodox Church is the only form of Christianity which has preserved the teachings of the seven Ecumenical Councils without addition or subtraction down through the centuries. The 7th Ecumenical Council preserved and safeguarded the truth in its successful defense of the Holy Icons. In doing so our Holy Fathers anathematized the unrepentant icon-fighters, the Iconoclasts, who contended that since Jesus Christ is God it is not permissible to depict Him in icons because the divine is invisible and therefore it should not be depicted. This theological battle lasted over 150 years, and thousands of martyrs were added to the celestial altar. Some of our pacifist Christians in their lack of understanding often judge this element of the Orthodox Church as unnecessary triumphalism. According to them it is egotistical to claim that we the Orthodox have the entire truth. The church being the Body and the Bride of Christ, is spotless and without wrinkle, and the pillar and the foundation of the truth. Without the absolute truth we lose the path that leads to God's likeness, which is the purpose of our creation. So why the battles, over dogma, over doctrine, over icons and biblical interpretation? The church fathers and especially the defenders of the faith were not some querulous characters. Most of them were monastics, like St. Anthony, St. Maximos the Confessor, St. Gregory the Theologian, St. Gregory Palamas, and St. Nikodemos The Hagiorite. They were hesychasts they loved solitude!!! But they defended the faith not because God was in danger or His Church was in danger. Never! They were shepherding the flock! They fought because of their pure love for God's people who were infected by the spiritual disease of Arius, or Nestorios or Apollinarios or Dioskoros. They were defending the traffic signals, the bridges, the road signs,and the guardrails of the narrow path that leads to God, to the source of love and perfect freedom. The dogmas, the commandments, the statues found in the gospel are not some juridical, legalistic inventions of priests to keep the populations under their thumb! And, Christ did not incarnate to teach us some good manners or to give us some reward after we die! This is the pitiable plight of the descendants of Luther, Calvin, and the early reformers who completed the derailment of their followers from the already derailed schismatic Church of Rome. Take for example some recent claims of some contemporary icons of the Protestant Mega-Churches. "Jesus had an ego. He said, 'I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me. ' Wow, what an ego trip he was on! " (Robert Schuller, "The Phil Donahue Show " 9/12/1980). Ego trip? Not exactly! This statement is totally irresponsible, and contrary to Christ's hypostatic union of the two natures, the unconfused union of divinity and humanity. Christ said, "Learn from me because I am of a meek and humble heart and I will give you rest." So Christ does not have a trace of egotism because egotism is demonic and in Christ there is no sin. More recently this same pastor (before 9/11) professed on national television: "It would not bother me if my descendants became Moslems". More new-age psycho-babble is heard from his disciple Rick Warren of Orange County California, author of The Purpose-Driven Life. Warren states, "Learn to Love yourself
Be true to yourself
Believe in yourself" (Ladies Home Journal March 2005, page 36). Doesn’t this sound like the sermon of the serpent to Eve in the garden? You can reach theosis (divinization) by yourself, you don’t need to involve God!
It is no wonder that 50% of the American Christian children graduate from a four-year college not only with a college degree but with a high degree of denial of faith in Jesus Christ. False doctrines of an angry God, a God so angry that He needs to sacrifice His Own Son to satisfy His justice have deleterious effects on the minds of our American youth. True doctrines or true dogmas are not some laws written up at some conferences called Ecumenical Councils. The church Fathers had empirical knowledge of the Holy Trinity, of the two natures of Christ, of the Love of God, in the uncreated light. They experienced these revealed ontologies and then they expressed them in theological terms. The dogmas or the commandments do not necessarily save man, they simply open the road. They guide the faithful to reach catharsis and illumination to experience and taste the reality of God. This, however, cannot take place outside of the Orthodox dogma. Take the dogma of the Holy Trinity, for example. We cannot be called Christians without the dogma of the Triune God. The fact that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons with One Essence, is of paramount importance in our spiritual life and ultimately in our overall behavior towards our fellow human being. Dogmas influence our daily existence. In Christianity we have a personal God, not a higher power. A higher power has might and force, but not love. Salvation without love is hatred, and love that does not preserve freedom is destruction. Saint Nickolai Velimirovich observes, "For someone to conceive a God without a son translates to conceiving a God without love: without a co-eternal son, who then did God love pre-eternally before the Creation of the World? This would mean that God did not know how to love. " The repercussions of this are very overt in the religion of Islam. The Quran ridicules the teaching of the Holy Trinity. At the Temple of Omar, one of the most holy sites of Mohamedanism, the following commandment is engraved on the wall: "Faithful, know that Allah has no Son ". The repercussions of this false teaching permeate and pervert man's entire life. If God does not love someone else before creation, then who does He love, Himself ? Such an emotion is not love but selfishness and egotism. Since God according to Islam, does not have a Son, it is not surprising that there is no mention of God's love within the Quran. Moreover, if it is not mentioned in the Quran it will not be developed by chance or flourish among its faithful. Mohammed never mentions love with regard to Allah at all. He only emphasizes might, power, justice, submission and mercy - mercy if you are obedient and if you are a good child of Allah! If you offend Mohammad or Allah, or if you choose to doubt your submission to this faith, then according to Mohammed you don't deserve to live. Let's not go too far. The God of the West presents similar idiosyncrasies mainly because the Western theologians after the schism followed Plato and Aristotle to defend their faith against the rising threat of Islam. They confused the energies of God with the essence of God as a result of the Anselmian Theology and thus distorted the Orthodox revelation. Adam 's fall,they teach, offended the justice of God. This made God angry,so angry that He needed to sacrifice His Own Son to satisfy His "need " for justice and righteousness! If we are obedient to this God of "needs " He is happy with us, but if we cross Him His divine wrath is aroused!!! The Popes of the West needed an army to defend this ideology. Holy Inquisition and the fear of being burned at the stake defended these false religious doctrines for a number of years. After the Age of Enlightenment however, Europe fell into Deism and Agnosticism mainly because of these flaws of the Western Christian theological system. We are not immune from this issue in our Orthodox world today,especially when we reduce the gospel to morality and ethics by ignoring the main purpose of our life,the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. Doing this drives our children into the embrace of existentialism and agnosticism. According to the Fathers, true faith (Orthodoxia) will lead to true practice (Orthopraxia). True faith and true life are indispensably connected. Returning to the subject of Icons, allow me to ask the same question I posed to some of our teenagers after Liturgy this morning: Who would you think was the first iconographer or iconmaker of our church? Most people would venture to say St. Luke. In reality, the first iconmaker, the first iconographer was God Himself. Of Course! He made us, he created us "Kat ' 'Eikova, " according to his Icon. So the first iconagrapher is the Holy Trinity, our God. In Genesis 1:36 we read, "Let us make man
" (the "us " revealing the multiplicity of persons in God) "according to our image " or "kat 'eikona imeteran. " Therefore, according to Scripture, Christ is the Icon of God the Father and Adam was created in the image, in the "Eikona ", of Jesus Christ. The basis of this theological feud over icons was the dogma of the Incarnation. The Orthodox maintained that we came to know God because He became flesh. Our God is no longer imageless. The iconoclasts were heavily influenced by the rise of Islam which began to conquer the outer parts of the Byzantine Empire during the 7th century. Leo the Isavrian managed to have the right arm of St. John of Damascus cut off because of his brilliant theology in the defense of the icons. Syria at the time was under Moslem occupation. The iconoclasts essentially undermined God’s incarnation and more specifically, they undermined the humanity of God the Logos. It is known that Islam is highly iconoclastic. No images of any kind are permitted in the Mosque. But this is the other side of the same coin of Monophysitism. The 1st Ecumenical Council safeguarded the dogma of Christ’s Divinity against Arius who taught that Christ was created in time. The 7th Ecumenical Council defended the teaching of Christ ‘s Humanity that is, that Christ is the God-man. The central teaching of St. Athanasios’ Homily on the Incarnation revered world wide even by Protestants like C.S. Lewis was:
"God became man so man can become God by grace! " The Logos became Flesh so man can become Logos by grace. To this day biblical fundamentalists will tell you, "I only accept the Holy Scripture. " But you wouldn't have a New Testament without the Church. The Church came first! St. Athanasios the Great filtered out for us the pseudo-gospels and the pseudo-epistles and canonized the 27 Books of the New Testament. So how can you trust these 27 books as authentic and not trust the theology or the church of the Saint who compiled them? If the Holy Spirit was with him, and it certainly was, when he was fighting Arius and selecting the authentic books of the New Testament ,it was also with him when he used the term Theotokos or Birthgiver of God for the Ever Virgin Mary. The very term Theotokos is the jetty that crushes all Christological heresies. When we name the Virgin Mary "Theotokos" we leave no doubt about the identity of Her Child.He is God or "Theos"in Greek. He is the God-man. Salvation is attainable only though the God-human person of Jesus Christ. According to the scriptural interpretation of the Church Fathers,salvation is a journey from the image to the likeness. We are created according to God's image and we are given the potential at our baptism to enter the stadium of virtues to acquire the likeness. Christ gives us the grace, the spiritual weapons, but we must exercise our free will. We do not believe in predestination because we cannot have a God of predestination and a God of freewill at the same time. One of these two Gods does not exist. St. Gregory Palamas teaches in his homily on free will that we are not automatically children of God by our mere baptism. "He came to his own but his own received Him not, but to those who received Him He gave the power (the potential) to become children of God!" So we are becoming children of God by the grace of Christ. Our Church Fathers teach about three states of Christian development: purification, illumination, and theosis (deification). Although repenting Christians can certainly be saved in anyone of these three states of development, only those at the level of theosis reach their full potential in this life and become gods by grace. They become christs by grace and we depict their transfigured bodies on icons, we include them in our liturgical services, and we venerate their icons in our churches. The icon is a visual dogmatic method expressing the truth of our faith in the same light as the Holy Scripture. Are icons graven images or idols? Certainly Not. We stated that the first iconomaker was God and He continued to use iconography in the Old Testament. God Himself commanded Moses to make a bronze snake to heal the dying Israelites. Was that snake an idol? God Himself commanded Moses to create cherubim using pure gold with specific dimensions and place them over the Arc of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. Were these gold cherubim idols? An idol or a graven image is a depiction of an inexistent being or an inexistent god. The bronze snake was not an idol because it pre-figured Christ on the cross, and the golden cherubim above the golden altar are existing realities of heaven. The golden calf, on the other hand, was indeed an idol because it was depicting an inexistent god. So icons are not idols but precious in the eyes of the Lord! So precious that the Most Holy Theotokos permitted St. Luke to write her personal icon. St. Luke wrote four icons of her when God's mother was still alive and he painted 70 more after her dormition. In Russia alone we have 200 feast days of miraculous icons for the Mother of God. God is well pleased to glorify His saints and to dispense His grace through created matter. The staff of Moses worked countless miracles, the staff of Aaron budded, and the bones of Elisha resurrected a dead person in the Old Testament. The same God of the Old Testament who is Jesus Christ grants the same experiences to all those who purify themselves like Moses, Prophet Elijah, Aaron, and Elisha. So why are some icons more miraculous than others? One, and perhaps the main reason is the holiness of the iconographer. Each iconographer at the state of theosis is living the reality of Christ 's Transfiguration. As Christ 's Light became manifest it sanctified everything around a certain radius of Mount Tabor. Everything changed into the Kingdom of God. Not only John, James and Peter (who wanted to change his address at that very moment), but even the rocks, the soil, the shrubbery, the clothing of the apostles changed. Everything became brighter than the sun. Likewise a saint is someone who has become a pure vessel of the Holy Spirit one dead to the world one who no longer lives but invites Christ to live in him . According to St. Paul, the co-essential Trinity come and make their abode in this person, and in the environment of this saintly Christ-bearing person. So not only the icons, but the shoes, the clothing, the utensils of Saint Spiridon and St. Nektarios, and the chains and the shadow of Peter, and the work rags of St. Paul were full of healing power. So icons painted by saints are especially miraculous. And let's not think that someone needs to be 80 years old like Moses to have this grace. A young child can be at the state of theosis. This was not uncommon before the age of radio, television, cds, and gameboy. Young children at the age of ten or twelve like Father Iakovos Tsalikis, Elder Paisios, and many others had visions of God. One young man of the same caliber lived in Smyrna less than one-hundred years ago. His family was renting an apartment. This young boy was very pure, very spiritual and had an ardent love for the Theotokos, the Virgin Mary. He expressed this love by painting the icon of the Mother of God on the wall of his bedroom and by praying under this icon daily and extensively. After a number of years his family had to move and the landlady was surprised to find an icon on the bedroom wall of the apartment. The new non-Christian tenants were ready to move in and the new lease called for a fresh paint job. Strangely enough, no paint would stick to this fresco. They tried repeatedly to paint over this icon but the new paint was miraculously not only peeling, but falling off of the icon. The landlady was in despair. If the new tenants were Orthodox they would understand, but this was not the case. So she went and purchased a tall new dresser big enough to hide the icon, she pushed it up against the wall and left. The following morning she was walking through the apartment with the new tenants showing them every room. When they opened the door with the icon they found the new dresser face down on the floor of the room and the icon of the Virgin Mother staring them in the face. The icon did not wish to be hidden! God was glorifying his young servant who reached holiness from a very young age, and the Holy Spirit sanctified not only him but the works of his hands. This is central to our Orthodox Faith. The Holy Spirit does not abandon the material nature of man who reaches theosis. This is the theology behind the relics of the Saints. The relics of the Saints, the material belongings of the Saints (i.e. chairs, beds, clothing, crosses, icons) are forever energized by the presence of the Holy Spirit! They are distribution outlets of grace! It is worth mentioning here one of the great surprises relayed to me by Dr. Dimitrios Tsellegidis, Proffessor of Dogmatics of the theological department of the University of Thessaloniki. His doctoral dissertation was on the theology of icons. At some point Dr. Tsellegides visited an elder who was the spiritual father of a convent in Northern Greece. This elder who is still living today happens to be blind by birth. Although he was 100% blind, his spiritual vision is 20/20. After visiting with him and discussing various ecclesiastical topics, our Doctor Tsellegidis expressed some curiosity about the elder's cell. Their dialogue was this. "Now elder I know that you are totally blind why then do you have dozens of icons on the walls of your cell? " "Demitri, because of their grace! " "Elder I understand that, I do know that icons are windows of grace, and that they somehow bring us closer to the saint they depict when we venerate them, but in your case, you cannot see. Wouldn't one or two icons be enough for you to venerate since you really don't know which icon you are venerating? " "Demitri, of course I know which icon I venerate. Each icon has its own distinct grace! St. Irene has one grace, St. Barbara has her own grace, and St. Nicholas has an altogether different grace. " The professor and his companions were in disbelief. "Elder I'm sorry but I have a difficult time believing this. Do you mind if we do a little test? Would you please tie your hands behind your back so I can bring you an icon to venerate? " Dr. Tselleggidis takes an icon off the wall from the back of the elder and places it on the elder's lips to venerate. "Oh Demitri this is Saint Catherine the Great. " "I'm sorry Elder but I think you made a mistake in this case. I hate to tell you but I think I took St. Barbara off the wall. I think you made a mistake! " "My dear Demitri, the grace of St. Catherine is totally different. Trust me I know St. Barbara very well! Go ahead and read the name of the icon! " The Professor was flabbergasted when he saw that the blind man could "see " much better than the PhD of dogmatics with perfect natural vision. The icon was that of Saint Catherine indeed! This had Professor Tselleggidis and his company in tears, and quite humbled. The purity and ascetical struggle of this blind elder transformed his inner vision and transfigured his cell to Mount Tabor! Did you ever consider this? How did the eye witnesses of the Transfigured Lord recognize Moses and Elijah on either side of the Lord on Mount Tabor since they were totally blinded by the Uncreated Light a light that turned the sunlight into candle light by comparison? Their natural eyes were useless but the eyes of their soul were wide opened! Only with the eyes of their soul did they recognize Moses and Elijah in the Holy Spirit. Does this answer how the blind monk was able to differentiate between the icons of different saints? He was a saint himself he was at the state of theosis. In closing I need to say that I'm not Orthodox simply because I was born to Orthodox parents. I am Orthodox because all the experiences of Moses, Aaron, Elijah, Elisha, and all the prophets are lived and experienced only in the Orthodox Church today! The Light of Mount Tabor comes out of the Holy Tomb of Christ every year on Holy Saturday only in Orthodoxy! Our Metropolitan Maximos was an eyewitness of the healing power of this holy fire. The flow of the waters of Jordan still turns backwards when our Orthodox Patriarch blesses and sanctifies the water of the Jordan every Epiphany! We have saintly elders in Orthodoxy with apostolic gifts not lesser than those of St. Paul and Saint Peter. The woman with the issue of blood in the gospel of Saint Mark was healed not by the Word of the Lord, not by His hands, but by the fringes of His cloak. Here then is the theology of the icon, and of the relics of the Saints if you will: the icons are the FRINGES OF THE LORD'S CLOAK and by extension the fringes of all those who kept their baptismal garment pure and became christs by grace! My friends, we are surrounded by fellow citizens, very good people of many Christian denominations accentuating and emphasizing some doctrine of the gospel. Unbeknownst to them, their leaders have divided the garment of the Lord in thousands of pieces. In Orthodoxy we have not only the Lord with his garment intact but all the fringes of the Lord's Cloak, and His fringes are still miraculous today. In Orthodoxy we preserve all the trimmings of the Lord's banquet and every year during Great Lent our Holy Church invites us to come and enter the stadium of virtues, to search, touch, and taste the sweetness of its life-giving springs, to discover and see "that the Lord of Orthodoxy is good." Once we practice and apply our Orthodox faith, and we begin to explode with the love of Christ. It is then that we successfully begin to share this unfathomable treasure with the sixty million unchurched Americans, including the unchurched Orthodox who are waiting for you, the Good Samaritan, to lead them to the hospital called the Orthodox Church. AMEN!
Sunday of Orthodoxy 2006
Elder Athanasios Mitilinaios - “On Icons”
Metropolitan Ierotheos Vlahos - “Entering the Orthodox Church”
Fr. John Romanides - “Patristic Theology”
Fr. Joel Gianakopoulos - “An Orthodox-Protestant Debate”
Which commandment is the first of all?
Jesus was asked to mediate amongst disputing scribes. His answer loud and clear: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself -there is no other but He; and to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Mark chap. 12, 30-34.
I was under the erroneous impression that since I go to church regularly, light my candle and throw a few dollars in the plate, I’m a God-loving person. The truth is that I have used all my heart for the desires of this world, all my mind and my understanding to establish my earthly career goals, and all my strength for sports and temporary activities.
Therefore I am very far from God and His Kingdom, and the more I search my inner-self, the more I examine my spiritual condition, I begin to realize that I don’t really love God. I do not have religious faith and I’m full of pride and materialism. These facts I discovered about myself after a careful inner examination.
The diagnosis shows that I don’t love God! If I truly loved God I would be in constant dialogue with Him - in the morning in the car, at work, out of work, in school, on vacation, in the air and the sea. He is everywhere. Every thought about God would give me joy and gladness. Furthermore, I would be especially happy in His home. But why is it that I find myself getting there late while during the week I’m always on time for my other business matters? Why does my mind wander and my spirit is everywhere but where it is supposed to be? And while I can sit for many hours through a sports event, a basketball final, football final, fishing derby, in front of my computer, I have to force myself through a Sunday morning service.
When two people have genuine love for each other and they announce their love through engagement, they cannot wait to get off work so they can be in each other’s company. It is no longer natural for them to live separately, so with the blessed sacrament of marriage they unite and are always with each other. In a similar manner, if I truly loved God I would want to be constantly talking to Him at every hour and every place. Unfortunately, while I can easily stay on the telephone for hours with any one of my friends or family members, I have to force myself to pray to God. In the morning I can easily spend 45 minutes on coffee and the newspaper, yet I try to hurry through my morning prayers.
I remember a few years ago when I used to watch television that I would sit for three and four hours watching a football game, movie, or anything else, and my eyes would be glued to the set. Why is it that I cannot spend a small fraction of that time to thank my Creator who allows me to wake up every morning and keep breathing through the day?
Day after day I strive to learn and experience new things, I spend hours on my work, my studies my career. All through the years I labored - mostly in vain - to meet people, and to get to know them as much as possible, even though I will only be with them for ten-twenty, fifty years, but I have made every little effort to get to really and truly know the one person that died for me the person that promises to me an eternal prince, the person I’m supposed to spend eternity with, the person of Jesus Christ.
Even now while I spend 15-20 hours a day for earthly things I can hardly spend more than an hour or two working on my salvation and eternal life.
If love towards God is keeping His commandments as Jesus stated “if you love me you will keep my commandments.” Not only do I not keep his commandments but I avoid learning them very well.
While I spend hours on the manual of a new car that will rust in a few years, hours on the manual of motorboat, computer stereo, or VCR, I can hardly spend a few minutes with His Manual that teaches about Him, about His life, His qualities, His commandments, and His Way -the manual to Eternal life.
The football player commits himself to his coach and his coach and his team, so does the basketball player. The gymnast perfects his or her routine for years and years, so does the high jumper, the pole vaulter, the swimmer, the diver, the sprinter, the javelin thrower, the discus thrower, the ice skater, the marathon runner�And all of this for a possible 10 minute appearance in finals, nationals, or Olympics. And why don’t I have a fraction of that zeal for the biggest game of all-the game of my salvation? A game that I don’t love God, and the proof is that don’t keep his commandments, while he continues to love me and allows me to exist.
After further examination of my inner self I find that I don’t truly love my neighbor. Jesus said you must love your neighbor as yourself, and if necessary to give your life for him. Not only do I not do that, but I hardly go out of my way for him. I should have happiness when he is happy , and sadness when he is sad. However, I laugh and joke at some of the downfalls and weaknesses of my neighbors. When someone is gossiping about a third person’s sins, mistakes, or general shortcomings, I don’t walk away, but open my ears more and don’t hesitate to laugh about it. If I had Christian Love I would avoid all kinds of gossip and would feel happiness when someone’s hard work gets them a better house, better garden, better job, higher wages, and a higher spirituality. On the contrary, many times I feel jealousy creeping in, as well as disgust and contempt for my fellow human. I pretend to be all smiles on the outside, but on the inside there are traces of envy, malice, anger, and misery, which are uncharacteristic of the true Christian Love.
Many times I ignore my own sins, my own weaknesses. I overlook and justify my shortcomings, but get easily scandalized or pass judgments on the weaknesses of the other person, while in a few hours I will be asking “our Father to forgive my trespasses�”
'In a final attempt to further examine myself, I discovered that I don’t have the true faith-If I believed totally and absolutely in Life after death and the Gospel, I would be different person. Here on Earth I respect the laws of the State-I don’t steal, I don’t kill, I don’t get drunk and disorderly, and I pay my taxes because I’m afraid of the state prison, yet I ignore the everlasting prison that awaits me. Subconsciously I have this though-who really knows what goes on after I die? Maybe death is the end of it all!
When I talk about Eternal life my intellect agrees with it, but my heart is far from being convinced. And this lack of Faith is proven by the attention I give to temporary things. Christ said one thing is necessary, but I live my life like I’m going to be here forever-I insure my life, I insure my health, I insure my home, insure my car. I’m insured for earthquakes, I’m insured for floods, I’m insured for fires, and I’m insured at the bank. I insure and manage my checkbooks here on earth, but what insurance policy will help me on that terrible day? Which one of these insurance companies and agents will mean anything during the judgment seat of Christ?
Will my spiritual checking account be properly balanced? A negative balance would mean eternal punishment and torment. Knowing this I should strive to increase my spiritual deposit as I grow older. I should receive the sacraments more seriously and more often, with more vigilance, watchfulness, and conviction.
If I truly believed in the Gospel I would look at the Earth as a Hotel, my house as a rental room-none of my belongings are mine, they belong to the Hotel owner-I came without them and I’m leaving without them.
I don’t love God because I don’t believe in Him, I don’t have Faith in Him, because I didn’t go all out to get to know Him. The church fathers say that Faith presupposes proper knowledge, and knowledge leading to Faith will produce Love-The kind of love that will unite us with our Lord Jesus Christ in this life and in the one to come.
Let’s pray to God to make himself known to us–provide us with worthy teachers, and leaders, and further let us ask our Lord Jesus Christ to make us love Him as much as we now love sin-when we get to really know Him. If we get to know Him we will automatically love Him.
Dedicated to the Memory of Father Nicholas Elias. By C.Z.
(a parable from a church saint)
A certain man had three friends. Two of these friends he loved very much. He would sacrifice everything for their friendship. He would stay up all night just to please them. He literally worshiped them. For the first friend he worked day and night. He had such great love for him that many a time he did not even take time to eat.
He was also crazy about his second friend. When he opened his wallet one could see the photographs of this friend. When he met this friend he was jumping for joy. He loved to spend time with him.
Along with these two friends he also had a third one. This friend he did not love very much. Now and then he would remember to visit him. Very seldom would he do something nice for him. His company was-almost always-the first two friends.
One day he received some bad news. He panicked. This matter cost him sleep. He would lie awake night after night from the agony. What caused all this? One night while sleeping he was awakened by a loud knock on his door. He got up and found a constable at the door serving him a summons. What is this? The man asked in disbelief.
This is a piece of paper," said the nighttime visitor, inviting you to attend a court hearing. You are a suspect."
“Me a suspect? What did I do?” He asked, full of fear.
I do not know. All I know is that you are being accused of a great crime. I have no more information. Just sign the summons, I can’t wait any longer. I must visit quite a few others like you to bring them to court. So long and take care.: So the constable left the summons and walked back into the night.
The suspected man was left behind, petrified. He broke out into a cold sweat. What would happen to him? A suspect! He must find some character witnesses immediately to help him prove his innocence and avoid being sentenced. But how could he find these people?
“I have two good friend” he thought. “I love them so much. If they don’t help me now that I’m in trouble, when would they help me, thus proving their friendship? I must go find them at one.”
So, first thing in the morning he decided to visit his two great friends. After a little while he was knocking at the door of his first friend. He will so happy to see me he thought, while knocking.
“My friend” he says "you know how much I cared for you all these years. You know how Much I sacrificed for you. You know how many nights I labored for you. So now I beg of you, this is the first time that I am asking you for a favor. In the name of our friendship, please come to the courtroom to tell the judge that I’m not guilty. Tell him I’m innocent. Please help me. Don’t you feel sorry for me? While saying these things, he was crying bitterly. His tears got worse when he saw that his friend was totally indifferent.
“Listen to me” the friend said. "I realize that you loved me and did everything for me, but at this time I can’t come to court. I must go away on business. But, since I see that your clothes are in bad shape and full of holes, take this suit of clothes so you will at least be well dressed when you appear before the judge. "
A suit of clothes my friend?" said the suspected man. "I don’t need clothes. I want you. I want you to come personally to be my witness. Can’t you come? Don’t you remember all the time we had together, our great friendship
His friend was as cold as ice. He proceeded to show him that he was no longer welcomed at his house and that the conversation was officially over. So the poor man leaves, only to run and find the second friend. He just knew that his friend would help him, and stand by him in this difficult time. He comes to the house of his second friend and knocks on the door.
“Who is it?” his friend asked in a heavy voice.
“It is your good friend. Open quickly. I have to tell you something very serious.”
His friend opens the door. He is surprised at the condition of his visitor, and asks him, What happened to you? Why are you troubled? Why are you pale and crying?
“Oh my friend, I’m in deep trouble. They are accusing me. Tomorrow I must be in court. I’m accused of a crime and if found guilty they will surely sentence me to death.”
“What did you say? You are kidding! You are such a good person and they are accusing you.”
"No, it is not truth, I’m in danger. So I came to ask you to come along with me. You know how much love I’ve had for you over the years, so please come with me to testify on my behalf and prove my innocence. My other friend has deserted me. Don’t send me away empty handed. Please come
“When do you want me to come?”
“Oh, that is too bad, tomorrow I can’t, I"m very busy. The only thing that I can do is walk along with you until we get to the door of the courthouse. After that I have to leave. I can’t stay. I/m so sorry to see you in this shape, and I will be sad if you are found guilty. But I don’t know what to tell you, I just can’t come.”
"I’m not looking for company to walk me to the courthouse, "said the poor man. “I’m looking for witnesses to support my case.”
“I understand,” said his second friend, “but I simply can’t.”
"So he decides to go. He was rather nervous and kept talking to himself. "I wonder how he will receive me? "
When he reached the home of his third friend, he knocked on the door half-heartedly.
“Who is it?” a rather pleasant voice inquired from inside.
“It is I,” answered the unexpected visitor in a trembling voice. “Open the door for me please. I’m in big trouble…”
With much joy and politeness his friend answered the door. “Welcome! Please come in. How are you? How is everything? You seem upset. What’s happening to you? Maybe I can help.”
“My friend,” said the visitor with much embarrassment,
“I’m ashamed to look at you. I know that I didn’t love you as much as my other two friends.” He went on to explain his plight." Can you help me! I know that I am not worthy of your love and I would understand if you would say no. But
“Nonsense!” his friend interrupted him. "Don’t be shy. Don’t be afraid. We will face this thing together. I will not leave you, and I’m certain that I can convince them of your innocence. So don’t worry. Let’s go. You will see what I will say in court on your behalf
We can all imagine the feelings of the man in the parable. Where he least expected it he found understanding and love. His third friend come to his aid and was instrumental in proving his innocence.
Even though this is not one of Jesus’ parables, nevertheless it is full of wisdom characteristic of the fullness of spirit possessed by our church saints. So let us see what is the meaning behind the different people and details of this parable.
The man of our story is everyman. You and I , all of us. We all have three friends. The one friend that people love and get tired for is money. They work hard to have a lot of money. Many times they don’t go to church on Sundays to make more money. They work overtime, even at night. They steal, lie, and cheat to make money fast.
The second friend that people love a lot are relatives. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sister, uncles, and acquaintances.
The third friend we will reveal a little later.
Everyman will one day hear a knock at the door of his soul. An unearthly visitor will come knocking and calling to bring a notice. This visitor is death. None of us will be able to escape death. He will come calling one day, unexpectedly. Maybe when we are young, maybe when we get older. One thing is for certain. Sooner or later death will be calling us to appear in God’s court as defendants. Who will the first friend do? He was giving the man a suit of clothing. This friend, as we said earlier is wealth. No matter what you have, you only take you a suit of clothes to be buried in.
The second friend? He walked the defendant to the court and then left. This friend is our relative. No matter how much our relatives love us and vice versa, they will only follow us to the cemetery. They will leave there and they will return to their everyday lives and soon forget us.
Let’s look at the third friend. Who is he? The good deeds. The good deeds that we did while alive. They will travel with us to the other life and the will come to our rescue at the Judgment seat of God. Let’s not let a day go by without giving the opportunity to the angel to record some good deed in our book of Life.
Dedicated to my St. Nicholas students whom I love in the truth.
Lia Eliades - 2006 Oratorical Festival
Senior Division - San Francisco Diocese
Topic # 3: At the Ascension of Jesus, the angels were heard saying: “Why do you stand looking into Heaven? This Jesus will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.” What do the Church Fathers teach us about the “Second Coming?”
As we sat around the Thanksgiving table a few years ago, my family was discussing how quickly technology had progressed in recent decades. My aunt, a devout Protestant, told us that she had always wondered how everyone on earth, simultaneously, would be able to see Christ at his Second Coming, since, according to Revelation, “He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him.” (Revelation 1:7) After a short, striking pause, she exclaimed, “TV!”
I knew very little about the Second Coming then, but something about this idea rang false with me, and I began researching the teachings of our Church on this enigmatic subject, which has been interpreted so differently by so many people. I found the Church Fathers emphasized that we must always be prepared for Christ’s return, as He “is coming at an hour we do not expect,” (Matthew 24:44). This being said, they have set wonderful parameters within which we may see the book of the Revelation and other eschatological passages of Bible. What I found in the Scriptures and in the writings of the Fathers assured me that any “Jesus” we see coming back on TV is not our Lord and God, but an antichrist.
“An” antichrist? Yes. Herod was an antichrist, Nero was an antichrist, and even heretics like Arius were antichrists. An antichrist, according to St. John the Theologian, is “anyone who denies that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh,” (1 John 4:3) or, in other words, anyone who doesn’t believe in the unconfusedly united divine and human nature of Christ.
Yet, before the Second Coming of Christ, we will see one Antichrist-with a capital “A.” The tradition of our Church teaches us that he will not be a vicious killer like Nero or Hitler. In fact, most people-far from recognizing him as the Antichrist-will love and respect him, and perhaps even believe that he is Christ returned to the earth. He will walk about and perform miracles, perhaps bring “peace” and economic prosperity to the world, live a chaste life in apparent virtue-he’ll be an all-around “good guy,” and many people will forsake the true God and follow this impostor. Unfortunately, the Antichrist will even deceive many Christians.
Does this surprise us? It shouldn’t! Christ Himself said, “Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many… for false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand.” (Matthew 24:5, 24)
This is why it is critical to be “wise as serpents” (Matthew 10:16) in listening to teachings on the end times. When I typed “The Second Coming” into Google, I came up with 360 million results, and it would not surprise me if over 99 percent of them were riddled with the misinterpretation and false information which inevitably arise when we become, “Wise in our own eyes,” as the Prophet Isaiah writes. (Isaiah 5:21)
One well-known, false teaching on the Second Coming is the concept of “pre-tribulation rapture,” or the idea that before the Antichrist appears and the plagues described in the book of Revelation come upon the earth, all the “good Christians” will be raptured into heaven and escape the trials and tribulations of the last days. Yet a careful reading of the Scriptures, a good look at the lives of the Saints-especially the martyrs-of the Church, and even a minimal knowledge of the teachings of the Church Fathers, will help us to clearly see the fallacy here.
In the Scriptures, Christ constantly warns His disciples that following Him is not for those who want a comfortable, easy life! “They will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.” (Matthew 24:9) “Blessed are you when men revile and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake.” (Matthew 5:11) “He who loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:14) The apostles died dreadful deaths after lives of intense hardship, the martyrs of the Church were brutally mutilated and suffered terrible torments, and Christians in all centuries have been persecuted for their faith in and love for Christ.
How, then, can we believe that Christ-to keep “good Christians” from tribulation-will rapture them up into heaven before they experience pain and torment? On the contrary, the Church Fathers even envy those Christians who we understand will live and suffer in the last days. “Who will be these fortunate Christians, who will have the opportunity to confess and martyr during the years of the Antichrist? I consider these to be the greatest of martyrs!” exclaims St. Cyril of Jerusalem. (From his fifteenth catechism on the Holy Spirit.)
A second heresy pertaining to the Second Coming is “chiliasm” or “millennialism,” based on a passage in Revelation, “Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshipped the beast or his image… and they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:4) Proponents of the millennial heresy believe that Christ will come back and establish a peaceful kingdom on the planet earth where He will reign with the “good Christians” for a thousand years.
The Church Fathers, however, including St. Andrew of Caesarea, have always taken the “thousand years” to be a symbolic number referring to the period between the first coming of Christ on earth and the Second Coming. During this period-right now this very moment! -Christ’s saints are reigning with Him in the heavens.
It is crucial to understand this. If we believe that Christ is coming back to earth just like a normal human being, to walk around and perform miracles, and to establish a kingdom here full of “good people” living in “peace” and economic prosperity, we’re setting ourselves up to be deluded. Many will believe him to be Christ-the Christians and even the Orthodox will fall away from the Church and follow him. We will face great tribulation, and it will be extremely difficult in those days for us to preserve our faith and to hold on to our true Lord Jesus Christ.
When Christ comes back, WE WILL KNOW! There will be NO DOUBT! He will come as He left on the day of His ascension, “In the clouds of heaven,” (Matthew 24:30; Revelation 1:7) and “As the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west.” (Matthew 24:27) “Every eye shall see Him!” (Revelation 1:7) All the dead will rise from their graves! (1 Thessalonians 4:16) Time will stop! “The heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat!” (2 Peter 3:10)
The event will be unmistakable, to say the least. Nothing will be left of the world as we know it, except those who have faithfully followed “the Lamb,” (Revelation Chapters 5 through 22) our Christ, “whose kingdom will have no end.”
We won’t see this on TV. Our Lord’s awesome Coming will follow the reign of the Antichrist, and will initiate the complete transformation of the world. Then we shall see the eternal and indescribable kingdom of God. Let us struggle to keep the faith here and now, that by God’s grace we may all be participants in this glorious kingdom. Amen.
Tears of Repentance
Orthodox Christian Parenting
Revelation Volume 3
(The Seven Trumpets and the Antichrist)
Revelation Volume 2
(The Seven Seals)
Revelation Volume 1
(The Seven Churches of Revelation)
In Search of the Truth