Is Bible Study Orthodox?

Sadly, people are still asking this question, or worse, answering that it is not!

by Fr. John Whiteford
 
It is unfortunately not uncommon to find Orthodox people who argue that it is not Orthodox to study the Bible. Perhaps clergy and monastics should study the Bible, they might concede, but not laymen. They argue that all that we need to know we get simply from the services of the Church, or perhaps from reading the Fathers of the Church, if they do not consider the Fathers to be off limits as well.

The problem with this reasoning is that if you actually read the Fathers of the Church, you will discover that they regularly admonished people to study the Scriptures… and not just clergy and monastics.

Let’s begin with the Ecumenical Canons of the Church, which are certainly the most authoritative declarations of the Fathers of the Church. Canon 19 of the Quinisext Council states:

“We declare that the deans of churches, on every day, but more especially on Sundays, must teach all the Clergy and the laity words of truth out of the Holy Bible, analyzing the meanings and judgments of the truth, and not deviating from the definitions already laid down, or the teaching derived from the God-bearing Fathers; but also, if the discourse be one concerning a passage of Scripture, not to interpret it otherwise than as the luminaries and teachers of the Church in their own written works have presented it; and let them rather content themselves with these discourses than attempt to produce discourses of their own, lest at times, being resourceless, they overstep the bounds of propriety. For by means of the teaching afforded by the aforesaid Fathers, the laity, being apprised of the important and preferred things, and of the disadvantageous and rejectable, are enabled to adjust their lives for the better, and do not become a prey to the ailment of ignorance, but, by paying due attention to what is taught, they sharpen their wits so as to avoid suffering wrongly, and for fear of impending punishments they work out their own salvation” (D. Cummings, trans., The Rudder of the Orthodox Catholic Church: The Compilation of the Holy Canons, Saints Nicodemus and Agapius (West Brookfield, MA: The Orthodox Christian Educational Society, 1983), p. 313 [emphasis added]).

St. Nicodemus provides the following interpretation of this canons:

“The Canon decrees that the Deans of churches, by which term is meant preeminently the Bishops, but secondarily also the Presbyters, must teach all the Clergy and the laity every day in the week, and especially and above all on Sundays (or even other holidays). For on these days, since Christians are wont to rest from their manual work, they congregate in the churches and listen to the divine words. Consequently those teaching therein afford them additional benefit. But such men must not teach with their own words and thoughts, but with those of divine Scripture, without straying away from the definitions adopted and confirmed by Councils and the dogmas of the faith, or away from the teaching handed down by the God-bearing Fathers. And if at any time they repeat words of the Bible, they are not to explain them in any other way than as the teachers of the Church have explained them in their written works; and they must endeavour more to make headway by teaching the discourses of the divine Fathers than by composing sermons of their own, lest by employing thoughts and conceptions of their own, and being unable sometimes to understand things aright, they fall out of line with what is proper and the truth. For by learning things from this teaching of the doctrines taught by the Fathers, the laity learn what things are of advantage to their souls, and what are disadvantageous, and they accordingly change their mode of living from viciousness to virtuousness, and are freed from the darkness of ignorance. By paying attention, again, to that teaching, and hearing about the chastisements and punishments which bad persons are bound to suffer, for fear of these they abstain from vices and bring about their salvation. Besides this, however, c. XIX of Laodicea says that the Bishop must first give a didache (or “teachment”) in the liturgy” (Ibid., p. 313f). 

If the Church did not think the laity need to understand the Scriptures, such a canon issued by an Ecumenical Council would hardly have been necessary. And note that it encourages the deans of Churches to teach the Scriptures daily.

Furthermore, commenting on the Apostolic Canon that provides one of the earliest list of the canonical books of Scripture (Canon 85), St. Nicodemus states:

“These are the holy books of the Old and of the New Testament: according to the Maccabees, those in your hands; the sources of salvation, according to St. Athanasius; the records left by the holy men, according to the Areopagite; the books of the official testaments, according to Eusebius; the canonical books of the Bible, according to Council held in Carthage. Study therein, brethren and fathers, and meditate upon them day and night, in order that you may become more like the righteous man pronounced blissful by divine David. Read them continually and perpetually, because, according to St. Chrysostom, reading the Scriptures is the key which opens the way to heaven, and the mouths of the Prophets are the mouth of God. Busy yourselves therewith all the time that you have available, since, according to St. Augustine, the remedy for every disease of the soul is to be found in the Bible. Search the Scriptures in order that you may find therein the life that is everlasting, according to what the Lord Himself said (John 5:39)” (Ibid., p. 152 [emphasis added]).

In St. Athanasius the Great’s canons, which were specifically affirmed by the Quinisext Council, he recites the list of the canonical books, and then speaks of the deutercanonical books, which he refers to as “the readable books”, and states:

“Nevertheless, for the sake of greater exactness, I add also this, writing as I do the fact as a matter of necessity, that, there are also other books than these outside of the list herein given, which, though not canonically sanctioned, are to be found formally prescribed by the Fathers to be read to those who have just joined and are willing to be catechized with respect to the word of piety….” (Ibid, p. 769 [emphasis added).

Obviously, if catechumens were advised to read the deuterocanonical books as part of their preparation for baptism, it would be highly unlikely that after they were baptized they would have been prohibited from reading the canonical books.

It is objected that most people could not afford to own copies of the Bible prior to the printing press, and that most people were illiterate. Obviously, those who were illiterate would have not been able to read the Scriptures on their own, but even such people are known to have memorized large portions of Scripture. But there is good evidence that literacy among Christians and Jews during the first few centuries of Church history was not as low as is often asserted.

“Both Hellenism and Judaism promoted literacy, and the use of books was widespread during the early period before and after Christ. Already, by 75 BC, in Judah, elementary education was available to all boys — the world’s firs public school system, on could say. A significant number of people , at least in cities, could read, and “writing was an essential  accomplishment of life at almost all levels to an extent without parallel in living memory”[C. H. Roberts, “Books in the Graeco-Roman World and in the New Testament,” in the Cambridge History of the Bible, edited by P. R. Ackroyd and C. F. Evans (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), vol. 1, p. 48] (Dr. Mary D. Ford, The Soul’s Longing: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on Biblical Interpretation (Waymart, PA: St. Tikhon Monastery Press, 2915), p. 60). 

It is true that a complete copy of the Bible would have been well beyond the reach of all but the most wealthy of Christians, but the Bible was not usually produced as a single volume text, and so copies of the Gospels, or the Epistles would have been circulated separately, and would have been something that people of more modest means could afford to get, though it was certainly a big investment. But we know that there were many scriptoria that employed as many as 100 scribes, and would produce about 1,000 manuscripts a month, and obviously, there had to be a large demand for such texts to sustain such levels of production (Ford, p. 64). In addition to the production of texts of Scripture there were also biblical dictionaries and commentaries which were produced to help readers better understand the Scriptures. (Ford, p. 68).

We can see an example of someone who was not even yet a Christian who had copies of Scripture at his disposal in St. Augustine’s Confessions. He recounts the occasion which led him to become a Christian, when he was in his garden, and was experiencing a spiritual crisis as he struggled to determine what direction he should take:

“…I heard the voice as of a boy or girl, I know not which, coming from a neighbouring house, chanting, and oft repeating, “Take up and read; take up and read.” Immediately my countenance was changed, and I began most earnestly to consider whether it was usual for children in any kind of game to sing such words; nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So, restraining the torrent of my tears, I rose up, interpreting it no other way than as a command to me from Heaven to open the book, and to read the first Chapter I should light upon. …So quickly I returned to the place where Alypius [a lifelong friend of St. Augustine] was sitting; for there had I put down the volume of the apostles, when I rose thence. I grasped, opened, and in silence read that paragraph on which my eyes first fell,—“Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” No further would I read, nor did I need; for instantly, as  the sentence ended,—by a light, as it were, of security infused into my heart,—all the gloom of doubt vanished away. Closing the book, then, and putting either my finger between, or some other mark, I now with a tranquil countenance made it known to Alypius” (Confessions, 8:12:29-30).

But even if it were true that many did not study the Scriptures in the Early Church because they could not read it, or could not afford a copy of the Scriptures for themselves, this would hardly be a compelling argument against the private study of the Scriptures for those who can read and who can afford to have a copy of the Scriptures — as is the case with most people in our time.

St. John Chrystostom makes it very clear that he considered the private study of Scripture to be an obligation of all Christians, including the laity — and in fact says that they have a greater obligation and need to study the Scriptures than do monks:

“This, also, I am ever urging, and shall not cease to urge, that you give attention, not only to the words spoken, but that also, when at home in your house, you exercise yourselves constantly in reading the Divine Scriptures. This, also, I have never ceased to press upon those who come to me privately. Let not any one say to me that these exhortations are vain and irrelevant, for “I am constantly busy in the courts,” (suppose him to say;) “I am discharging public duties; I am engaged in some art or handiwork; I have a wife; I am bringing up my children; I have to manage a household; I am full of worldly business; it is not for me to read the Scriptures, but for those who have bid adieu to the world, for those who dwell on the summit of the hills; those who constantly lead a secluded life.” What dost thou say, O man? Is it not for thee to attend to the Scriptures, because thou art involved in numerous cares? It is thy duty even more than theirs, for they do not so much need the aid to be derived from the Holy Scriptures as they do who are engaged in much business. For those who lead a solitary life, who are free from business and from the anxiety arising from business, who have pitched their tent in the wilderness, and have no communion with any one, but who meditate at leisure on wisdom, in that peace that springs from repose — they, like those who lie in the harbour, enjoy abundant security. But ourselves, who, as it were, are tossed in the midst of the sea, cannot avoid many failings, we ever stand in need of the immediate and constant comfort of the Scriptures. They rest far from the strife, and, therefore, escape many wounds; but you stand perpetually in the array of battle, and constantly are liable to be wounded: on this account, you have more need of the healing remedies” (Discourse 3 on the Rich Man and Lazarus, Chapter 1, emphasis added).

Despite the great expense in acquiring copies of Scripture, St. John Chrysostom nevertheless admonished people to get at least some portions, and to study them on their own. They should not put all of the burden for instruction on the clergy but should study themselves, and instruct others:

“Do not wait, I entreat, for another to teach thee; thou hast the oracles of God. No man teacheth thee as they; for he indeed oft grudgeth much for vainglory’s sake and envy. Hearken, I entreat you, all ye that are careful for this life, and procure books that will be medicines for the soul. If ye will not any other, yet get you at least the New Testament, the Apostolic Epistles, the Acts, the Gospels, for your constant teachers. If grief befall thee, dive into them as into a chest of medicines; take thence comfort of thy trouble, be it loss, or death, or bereavement of relations; or rather dive not into them merely, but take them wholly to thee; keep them in thy mind. This is the cause of all evils, the ignorance of the Scriptures. We go into battle without arms, and how ought we to come off safe? Well contented should we be if we can be safe with them, let alone without them. Throw not the whole upon us! Sheep ye are, still not without reason, but rational; Paul committeth much to you also. They that are under instruction, are not for ever learning; for then they are not taught. If thou art for ever learning, thou wilt never learn. Do not so come as meaning to be always learning; (for so thou wilt never know;) but so as to finish learning, and to teach others. In the arts do not all persons continue for set times, in the sciences, and in a word, in all the arts? Thus we all fix definitely a certain known time; but if ye are ever learning, it is a certain proof that ye have learned nothing” (Homily 9 on Colossians).

St. Seraphim of Sarov read the entire New Testament every week:

“So that our spirit will have freedom to uplift itself there and be nourished by sweetest conversation with the Lord, one must humble himself with prayers and the remembrance of the Lord, and I, humble Seraphim, for this reason, go through the Gospel every day. On Monday I read St. Matthew from beginning to end. On Tuesday, St. Mark. On Wednesday, St. Luke. On Thursday, St. John. The other days of the week I divide between the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles, and I do not for a single day neglect to read the epistle and gospel appointed for the liturgical day and the lives of the saints.
Through this not only my soul, but even my body rejoices and is vivified, because I converse with the Lord. I hold in my mind his life and suffering, and day and night I glorify and give thanks to my Redeemer for all his mercies that are shed upon mankind and upon me, the unworthy one” (quoted in “Reading the Scriptures with Accountability – Patristic Counsels on Bible Study,” by Fr. Josiah Trenham, Ancient Father Radio, 11-12-2016).

Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), gave the following advice on spiritual reading:

“But what should you read? First of all, read the Bible, concurrently from 1) Pentateuch and Kings, 2) from the Prophets and Wisdom Books and 3) from the New Testament. Read every day, for at least half an hour. If you make yourself read through the Bible twice in this way, then subsequently you will reread it at your own desire and inclination” (Confession: A Series of Lectures on the Mystery of Repentance, trans. Fr. Christopher Birchall (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1975) p. 28).

He of course went on to advise that we should read from the lives of the saints and the Fathers as well, but this was first on his list.

In the classic text, The Way of a Pilgrim, the pilgrim carries with him two books every where he goes, the New Testament, and the Philokalia.

Had the Russian Church not wanted its people to read the Scriptures they would not have translated the Scriptures into Russian and published them. Go to any Church bookstore in Russia, and you will find many copies of Scripture available for the people to purchase and to read.

We must interpret Scripture in the light of the teachings of the Church and in accordance with the interpretation of the Fathers, but the study of Scripture is something that the Church places a high priority on, and admonishes all of her faithful to engage in, to the best of their ability.

How to Read the Bible and Why, by St. Justin (Popovich) of Chelije

 

The Bible and Homosexual Practice (7 Video Lectures)

by Fr. John Whiteford

One of the best books you can read on the subject of Homosexuality from a Christian perspective is “The Bible and Homosexual Practice,” by Dr. Robert Gagnon of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. I found the following videos which provide some of the highlights of that book in lecture format.
 
The Old Testament

Genesis 1 & 2: 


Sodom: 


Levitical Prohibition: 


David & Jonathan: 

The New Testament

The Witness of Jesus: 


The Witness of Paul: 


Hermeneutical Relevance of the Bible

 

Shrimp and Homosexuality

by Fr. John Whiteford

In reponse to Christian stands against homosexuality non-Christians often point to Old Testament laws that are no longer followed by New Testament Christians, such as the Leviticus 11:9-12 forbidding of the consumption of shrimp. Why do Christians continue to adhere to some Old Testament laws and not others? Why do Christians eat shrimp but oppose homosexuality? Fr. John Whiteford answers these questions:

The Bible says that homosexuality is an abomination (Leviticus 18:22), but it also says that eating shrimp is an abomination (Leviticus 11:9-12), so why do Christians east shrimp, but oppose homosexuality?

As these texts are translated by the King James Version, and in several other translations, you do find the same word (“abomination”) is used, but in the Hebrew text you find two different words:

Leviticus 18:22 reads: Thou shalt not lie with a man, as with a woman: it is abomination [to??e?bah].

Leviticus 11:9-12 reads: “These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat. And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination [sheqets] unto you: they shall be even an abomination [sheqets] unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcasses in abomination [sha?qats (verbal form of sheqets)]. Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination [sheqets] unto you.

These two words, while they have some overlap in terms of their range of meaning, do not have thesame range of meaning. The NRSV translates “sheqets” as “detestable,” which at least alerts the reader to the fact that the words are not identical. According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, the word “sheqets” is used “mostly in reference to unclean and forbidden foods … Relegating certain animals to the category of “unclean” and “abominable” may in a number of instances involve considerations of health. Yet the main consideration here must be that, whatever the reason, or however much or little it was understandable to the Israelites, certain foods were forbidden and regarded as detested. This was to be accepted on the simple basis of trust in, and obedience to God” (Vol. II, ed. R. Laird Harris, et al. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), p. 955).

While “to??e?bah” can refer to that which is ritually offensive, it also includes matters that are morally repugnant, such as homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22), human sacrifice (Deuteronomy 12:31), ritual prostitution (1 Kings 14:23f), etc. “Whereas to??e?bah includes that which is aesthetically and morally repulsive, its synonym sheqets denotes that which is cultically [i,e, ritually] unclean…” (Ibid., p. 977).

Even when one uses the very same word, this does not necessarily mean that they carry the same weight. I can say that I love Blue Bell Ice Cream, and I can say that I love my wife, but while I would die for my wife, I will generally only buy Blue Bell when it is on sale. Though the same word is used, it is used in two very different senses.

In the case of eating shrimp vs. homosexual sex, you can tell a lot about the degree to which these things were regarded as sinful by the punishments meted out to those who violated them. In the case of eating shrimp, there was no specified punishment at all. The person who shrimp would have certainly been considered unclean for some period of time, pending ritual purification. According to Jewish tradition, they might also have been subject to corporal punishment. The punishment for engaging in homosexual sex was death (Leviticus 20:13).

We can also tell that these things are viewed very differently by the fact that only Israelites were expected to abstain from non-kosher food. On the other hand, the passage that the ban against homosexual sex is listed (in Leviticus 18) is in the context of a list of sexual sins for which God judges even the gentiles. This is stated before this list, and repeated again at the end of it:

And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, I am the Lord your God. After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances. Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the Lord your God. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord (Leviticus 18:1-5).

Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you: and the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations [to??e?bah]; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you: (For all these abominations [to??e?bah] have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;) That the land spew not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spewed out the nations that were before you. For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations [to??e?bah], even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people. Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance, that ye commit not any one of these abominable [to??e?bah] customs, which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 18:24-30).

There was no mention that non-kosher foods were forbidden before the Law of Moses. For example, God said to Noah: Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things (Genesis 9:3). And when Gentiles began entering the Church, the Apostles declared that the Gentiles were not bound by the kosher laws of the Mosaic Law:

For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well(Acts 15:28-29).

And it should be noted that the word translated as “fornication” is the Greek word “porneia,” which includes any kind of sexual immorality, including those listed in Leviticus 18. This also completely ignores the vision given to St. Peter which specifically ended the requirement for Christians to abstain from non-kosher food (Acts 10:9-16), and that there are several other New Testament passages that condemn homosexuality. So the argument that Christians are hypocritical in their appeal to the ban on homosexual sex in in Leviticus 18:22, which still each shrimp, lobster, clams, and crawfish is completely consistent with testimony of Scripture.

Some things are inherently sinful, and some things are sinful in specific contexts. For example, it is sinful for an Orthodox Christian to disregard the fasts for no compelling reason, and to eat a hamburger on a fast day, but there is nothing inherently sinful about hamburgers. Likewise, for Israelites, not eating certain kinds of foods had a symbolic meaning, and was a matter of obedience, but there was nothing inherently sinful about eating shrimp. However, it is inherently sinful for a man to have sex with another man, and the Bible is completely unambiguous about this.

A Recent Example:

A recent example of pro-homosexuals trying to argue against taking seriously Leviticus 18:22 by appealing to the biblical illiteracy of the average American is the following clip from the TV show “West Wing,” which “Occupy Democrats” have been circulating via social media recently, which even resulted in CNN’s Don Lemon playing portions of it:

(the pertinent part of this clip begins at about 1:18)

This line of argument is really not just against the Church’s position on homosexuality. It is also an argument against taking the Bible seriously at all. No one who considers himself a Christian should have any sympathy for such arguments. But we should know how to respond to them, and so let’s look at the passages referenced in this video:

Exodus 21:7-11: This passage provides some special protections for female slaves, because they obviously were in a more vulnerable position. For more on this question, see “Stump the Priest: What about Slavery in the Bible?“, but suffice it to say here that this passage does not command that anyone own slaves, nor that anyone sell their children into slavery—it puts limits on how slaves could be treated. This was quite in contrast with Roman law, for example, in which a master could do whatever he wished to a slave, up to and including killing them, for any reason.

Slavery is no where in the Bible presented as a good thing. A Christian can certainly not own slaves and oppose most forms of slavery without violating any tenet of Scripture or Church Tradition (we still allow for involuntary servitude as a punishment for a crime, and in the form of the military draft). And so the comparison of this issue to the question of whether or not homosexual sex is a sin is a ref herring.

Exodus 35:2: This passage calls for the death penalty for those who break the Sabbath. The Church still believes that the Ten Commandments, including the commandment to remember the Sabbath day, apply to Christians, but we consider the Lord’s day (Sunday) to have taken the place of the old Sabbath as the primary day of Christian rest and worship, though we also continue to observe Saturday the day of creation. The Church does not call for the death penalty for violating this, nor does it call for it in the case of homosexuality. For more on this, you can listen to the sermon: The 4th Commandment: Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.

The Old Covenant was given to people who were at a very low level of spiritual understanding. The harsh penalties that are often found in the Old Testament law were due to this. St. John Chrysostom, commenting on the law which condemned Sabbath breakers to death, said that it was “Because if the laws were to be despised even at the beginning, of course they would scarcely be observed afterwards” (Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew 39:3). But while the harsh and immediate penalties for the violation of the law are relaxed in the New Testament, the strictness of the laws themselves are not only not relaxed, but are rather enhanced. Just as you spank younger children, but expect less of them, and expect more of older children, without spanking them, the Old Testament dealt with the Israelites where they were, but brought them gradually to a higher level of spiritual understanding.

Then Martin Sheen‘s character simply begins to make stuff up. He speaks of the Bible calling for stoning someone who plants different seeds together, and burning to death someone who mixes different kinds of fabrics. While Leviticus 19:19 does say: Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle breed with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee, you will note that it says nothing about anyone being stoned or burned alive for failure to observe these customs. This shows the complete dishonesty of those who make such arguments. These customs were part of the ceremonial law of Moses (which still has symbolic value, but which is no longer directly applies in the New Testament), not the moral law of God—which was in effect before the law of Moses, and remains in full force and effect today. See: The Continuing Validity of the Moral Law of the Old Testament.

For more information on the Levitical Law and homosexuality , see:

Dan Savage Savages the Bible, Christianity, and the Pope,” by Dr. Michael Brown

As well as the following video from Dr. Robert Gagnon:   

Robert Gagnon: The Bible and Homosexual Practice (7 Video Lectures)

Source

On Purgatory

by St. Mark of Ephesus

First Homily of St. Mark of Ephesus on Purgatory

At the false council of Ferrara-Florence, Saint Mark, Bishop of Ephesus, was commissioned to wrote a response to the Latin doctrine of Purgatory.

Because we are required, preserving our Orthodoxy and the Church Dogmas handed down by the Fathers, to answer with love to what you have said, as our general rule we shall first quote each argument and testimony which you have brought forward in writing, in order that the reply and resolution in each of them might follow briefly and clearly.

1. And so, at the beginning of your report you speak thus: “If those who truly repent have departed this life in love (towards God) before they were able to give satisfaction by means of worthy fruits for their transgressions or offenses, their souls are cleansed after death by means of purgatorial sufferings; but for the easing (or ‘deliverance’) of them from these sufferings, they are aided by the help which is shown them on the part of the faithful who are alive, as for example: prayers, Liturgies, almsgiving, and other works of piety.”

To this we answer the following: Of the fact that those reposed in faith are without doubt helped by the Liturgies and prayers and almsgiving performed for them, and that this custom has been in force from antiquity, there is the testimony of many and various utterances of the teachers, both Latin and Greek, spoken and written at various times and in various places.

But that souls are delivered thanks to a certain purgatorial suffering and temporal fire which possess such [purgatorial] power and has the character of a help — this we do not find either in the Scriptures or in the prayers and hymns for the dead, or in the words of the teachers.

But we have received that even the souls which are held in Hades are already given over to eternal torments, whether in actual fact and experience or in hopeless expectation of such, can be aided and given a certain small help, although in the sense of completely loosing them from torment or giving hope for a final deliverance.

And this is shown from the words of the great Macarius the Egyptian ascetic who, finding a skull in the desert, was instructed by it concerning this by the action of divine power. And Basil the Great, in the prayers read at Pentecost, writes literally the following: “Who also, on this all-perfect and saving feast, art graciously pleased to accept propitiatory prayers for those who are imprisoned in Hades, granting us a great hope of improvement for those who are imprisoned from the defilements which have imprisoned them, and that Thou wilt send down Thy consolation” (Third Kneeling Prayer at Vespers).

But if souls have departed this life in faith and love, while nevertheless carrying away with themselves certain faults, whether small ones over which they have not repented at all, or great ones for which — even though they have repented over them — they did not undertake to show fruits of repentance: such souls, we believe, must be cleansed from this kind of sins, but not by means of some purgatorial fire or a definite punishment in some place (for this, as we have aid, has not at all been handed down to us). But some must be cleansed in the very departure from the body, thanks only to fear, as St. Gregory the Dialogist literally shows; while others must be cleansed after the departure from the body, either while remaining in the same earthly place, before they come to worship God and are honored with the lot of the blessed, or — if their sins were more serious and bind them for a longer duration — they are kept in Hades, but not in order to remain forever in fire and torment, but as it were in prison and confinement under guard.

All such ones, we affirm, are helped by the prayers and Liturgies performed for them, with the cooperation of the divine goodness and love for mankind. This divine cooperation immediately disdains and remits some sins, those committed out of human weakness, as Dionysius the Great (the Areopagite) says in the “Reflections of the Mystery of those Reposed in Faith” (in The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, VII, 7); while other sins, after a certain time, by righteous judgments it either likewise releases and forgives — and that completely — or lightens the responsibility for them until that final Judgment. And therefore we see no necessity whatever for any other punishment or for a cleansing fire; for some are cleansed by fear, while others are devoured by the gnawing of conscience with more torment than any fire, and still others are cleansed only the very terror before the divine glory and the uncertainty as to what the future will be. And that this is much more tormenting and punishing than anything else, experience itself shows, and St. John Chrysostom testifies to us in almost all or at least most of his moral homilies, which affirm this, as likewise does the divine ascetic Dorotheus in his homily “On the Conscience.”

2. And so, we entreat God and believe to deliver the departed from eternal torment, and not from any other torment or fire apart from those torments and that fire which have been proclaimed to be forever. And that, moreover, the souls of the departed are delivered by prayer from confinement in Hades, as if from a certain prison, is testified, among many others, by Theophanes the Confessor, called the Branded (for the words of his testimony for the Icon of Christ, words written on his forehead, he sealed by blood). In one of the canons for the reposed he thus prays for them: “Deliver, O Savior, Thy slaves who are in the Hades of tears and sighing” (Octoechos, Saturday canon for the reposed, Tone 8, Canticle 6, Glory).

Do you hear? He said “tears” and “sighing,” and not any kind of punishment or purgatorial fire. And if there is to be encountered in these hymns and prayers any mention of fire, it is not a temporal one that has a purgatorial power, but rather that eternal fire and unceasing punishment. The saints, being moved by love for mankind and compassion for their fellow countrymen, desiring and daring what is almost impossible, pray for the deliverance and daring what is almost impossible, pray for the deliverance of those departed in faith. For thus does St. Theodore the Studite, the confessor and witness of the truth himself, say, at the very beginning of his canon for the departed: “Let us all entreat Christ, performing a memorial today for those dead from the ages, that He might deliver from eternal fire those departed in faith and in hope of eternal life” (Lenten Triodion, Meat-Fare Saturday, Canon, Canticle 1). And then, in another troparion, in Canticle 5 of the Canon, he says: “Deliver, O our Savior, all who have died in faith from the ever-scorching fire, and unillumined darkness, the gnashing of teeth, and the eternally-tormenting worms, and all torment.”

Where is the “purgatorial fire” here? And if it in fact existed, where would it be more appropriate for the Saint to speak of it, if not here? Whether the saints are heard by God when they pray for this is not for us to search out. But they themselves knew, ad did the Spirit dwelling in them by Whom they were moved, and they spoke and wrote in this knowledge; and likewise the Master Christ knew this, Who gave the commandment we should pray for our enemies, and Who prayed for those who were crucifying Him, and inspired the First Martyr Stephen, when he was being stoned to death, to do the same. And although someone might say that when we do everything that depends on us. And behold, some of the saints who prayed not only for the faithful, but even for the impious, were heard and by their prayers rescued them from eternal torment, as for example the first Woman-Martyr Thecla rescued Falconila, and the divine Gregory the Dialogist, as it is related, rescued the Emperor Trajan.

(Chapter 3 demonstrates that the Church prays also for those already enjoying blessedness with God — who, of course, have no need to go through “purgatorial fire”.)

4. After this, a little further on, you desired to prove the above-mentioned dogma of purgatorial fire, at first quoting what is said in the book of Maccabees: “It is holy and pious….to pray for the dead…that they might be delivered from their sin” (2 Maccabees 12:44-45). Then, taking from the Gospel according to Matthew the place in which the Savior declares that “whosoever shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this world, nor in that which is to come” (Matt. 12:32), you say that from this one may see that there is remission of sins in the future life.

But that from this there in no way follows the idea of purgatorial fire is clearer than the sun; for what is there in common between remission on one hand, and cleansing by fire and punishment on the other? For if the remission of sins is accomplished for the sake of prayers, or merely by the divine love of mankind itself, there is no need for punishment and cleansing by fire. But if punishment, and also cleansing, are established by God… then, it would seem, prayers for the reposed are performed in vain, and vainly do we hymn the divine love of mankind. And so, these citation are less a proof of the existence of purgatorial fire than a refutation of it: for the remission of sins of those who have transgressed is presented in them as the result of a certain royal authority and love of mankind, and not as a deliverance from punishment or a cleansing.

5. Thirdly, (let us take) the passage from the first epistle of the Blessed Paul to the Corinthians, in which he, speaking of the building on the foundation, which is Christ, “of gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, stubble,” adds: “For that day shall declare it, because it is revealed in fire; and the fire itself shall prove each man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work shall abide which he built thereon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:11-15). This citation, it would seem, more than nay other introduces the idea of purgatorial fire; but in actual fact it more than any other refutes it.

First of all, the divine Apostle called it not a purgatorial but a proving (fire); then he declared that through it good and honorable works also must pass, and such, it is clear, have no need of any cleansing; then he says that those who bring evil works, after these works burn, suffer loss, whereas those who are being cleansed not only suffer no loss, but acquire even more; then he says that this must be on “that day”, namely, the day of Judgment and of the future age, whereas to suppose the existence of a purgatorial fire after that fearful Coming of the Judge and the final sentence—is this not a total absurdity? For the Scripture does not transmit to us anything of the sort, but He Himself Who will judge us says: “And these shall go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt. 25:46): and again: “They shall come forth: they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment (John 5:29). Therefore, there remains no kind of intermediate place; but after He divided all those under judgment into two parts, placing some on the right and others on the left, and calling the first “sheep” and the second “goats” — He did not at all declare that there are any who are to be cleansed by that fire. It would seem that the fire of which the Apostle speaks is the same as that of which the Prophet David speaks: “Fire shall blaze before Him, and round about Him shall there be a mighty tempest (Ps. 49:4); and again: “Fire shall go before Him, and shall burn up His enemies round about (Ps. 96:3). Daniel the Prophet also speaks about this fire: “A stream of fire issued and came forth from before Him (Daniel 7:10).

Since the saints do not bring with them any evil work or evil mark, this fire manifests them as even brighter, as gold tried in the fire, or as the stone amianthus, which, as it is related, when placed in fire appears as charred, but when taken out of the fire becomes even cleaner, as if washed with water, as were also the bodies of the Three Youths in the Babylonian furnace. Sinners, however, who bring evil with themselves, are seized as a suitable material for this fire and are immediately ignited by it, and their “work,” that is, their evil disposition or activity, is burned and utterly destroyed and they are deprived of what they brought with them, that is, deprived of their burden of evil, while they themselves are “saved”–that is, will be preserved and kept forever, so that they might not be subjected to destruction together with their evil.

6. The divine Father Chrysostom also (who is called by us “the lips of Paul,” just as the latter is “the lips of Christ”) considers it necessary to make such an interpretation of this passage in his commentary on the Epistle (Homily 9 on First Corinthians); and Paul speaks through Chrysostom, as was made clear thanks to the vision of Proclus, his disciple, and the successor of his See. St. Chrysostom devoted a special treatise to this one passage, so that the Origenists would not quote these words of the Apostle as confirmation of their way of thought (which, it would seem, is more fitting for them than for you), and would not cause harm to the Church by introducing an end to the torment of Hades and a final restoration (apokatastasis) of sinners. For the expression that the sinner “is saved as through fire” signifies that he will remain tormented in fire and will not be destroyed together with his evil works and evil disposition of soul.

Basil the Great also speaks of this in the “Morals,” in interpreting the passage of Scripture, “the voice of the Lord Who divideth the flame of fire” (Ps. 28:7): “The fire prepared for the torment of the devil and his angels, is divided by the voice of the Lord, so that after this there might be two powers in it: one that burns, and another that illumines: the tormenting and punishing power of that fire is reserved for those worthy of torment,; while the illumining and enlightening power is intended for the shining of those who rejoice. Therefore the voice of the Lord Who divides and separate the flame of ire is for this: that the dark part might be a fire of torment and the unburning part a light of enjoyment” (St. Basil, Homily on Psalm 28)

And so, as may be seen, this division and separation of that fire will be when absolutely everyone will pass through it: the bright an shining works will be manifest as yet brighter, and those who bring them will become inheritors of the light and will receive the eternal reward; while those who bring bad works suitable for burning, being punished by the loss of them, will eternally remain in fire and will inherit a salvation which is worse than perdition, for this is what, strictly speaking the word “saved” means — that he destroying power of fire will not be applied to them and they themselves be utterly destroyed. Following these Fathers, many other of our Teachers also have understood this passage in the same sense. And if anyone has interpreted it differently and understood “salvation” as “deliverance from punishment,” and “going through fire” as “purgatory” — such a one, if we may so express ourselves, understands this passage in an entirely wrong way. And this is not surprising, for he is a man, and many even among the Teachers may be seen to interpret passages of Scripture in various ways, and not all of them have attained in an equal degree the precise meaning. It is not possible that one and the same text, being handed down in various interpretations, should correspond in an equal degree to all the interpretations, should correspond in an equal degree to all the interpretations of it; but we, selecting the most important of them and those that best correspond to church dogmas, should place the other interpretations in second place. Therefore, we shall not deviate from the above-cited interpretation of the Apostle’s words, even if Augustine or Gregory the Dialogist or another of of your Teachers should give such an interpretation; for such an interpretation answers less to the ideas of a temporary purgatorial fire than to the teaching of Origen which, speaking of a final restoration of souls through that fire and a deliverance from torment, was forbidden and given over to anathema by the Fifth Ecumenical Council, and was definitively overthrown as a common impiety for the Church.

(In Chapter 7 through 12, St. Mark answers objections raised by quotations from the works of St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, St. Gregory the Dialogist, St. Basil the Great, and other Fathers, showing that they have been misinterpreted or perhaps misquoted and that these Fathers actually teach the Orthodox doctrine, and if not, then their teaching is not to be accepted. Further, he points out that St. Gregory of Nyssa does not teach about “purgatory” at all, but hold the much worse error of Origen, that there will be an end to the eternal flames of Hades — although it may be that these ideas were placed in his writings later by Origenists.)

13. And finally you say: “The above-mentioned truth is evident from the Divine Justice, which does not leave unpunished anything that was done amiss, and from this it necessarily follows that for those who have not undergone punishment here, and cannot pay it off either in heaven or in Hades, it remains to suppose the existence of a different, a third place in which this cleansing is accomplished, thanks to which each one, becoming cleansed, it immediately led up to heavenly enjoyment.”

To this we say the following, and pay heed how simple and at the same time how just this is: it is generally acknowledged that the remission of sins is at the same time also a deliverance from punishment; for the one who receives remission of them at the same time is delivered form the punishment owed for them. Remission is given in three forms and at different times:

(1) during Baptism;

(2) after Baptism, through conversion and sorrow and making up (for sins) by good works in the present life; and

(3) after death, through prayers and good deeds and thanks to whatever else the Church does for the dead.

Thus, the first remission of sins is not at all bound up with labor; it is common to all and equal in honor, like the pouring out of light and the beholding of the sun and the changes of the seasons of the year, for this grace alone and of us is asked nothing else but faith. But the remission is painful, as for one who “every night washes his bed, and with tears waters his couch” (Ps. 6:5), for whom even the traces of the blows of sin are painful, who goes weeping and with contrite face and emulates the conversion of the Ninevites and the humility of Manasses, upon which there was mercy. The third remission is also painful, for it is bound up with repentance and a conscience that is contrite and suffers from insufficiency of good; however, it is not at all mixed with punishment, if it is a remission of sins; for remission and punishment can by no means exist together. Moreover, in the first and last remission of sins the grace of God has the larger part, with the cooperation of prayer, and very little is brought in by us. The middle remission, on the other hand, has little from grace, while the greater part is owing to our labor. The first remission of sins is distinguished from the last by this; that the first is a remission of all sins in an equal degree, while the last is a remission only of those sins which are not mortal and over which a person has repented in life.

Thus does the Church of God think and when entreating for the departed the remission of sins and believing that it is granted them, it does not define as a law of punishment with relation to them, knowing well that the Divine Goodness in such matters conquers the idea of justice.

Source

The AntiChrist: An Orthodox Perspective from the Church Fathers

by Fr. Andrew J. Anderson

 

In another sermon we reviewed the sequence of “End-Time” events, according to the Orthodox Church’s understanding. We heard of how the first events will be the “beginning of sorrow: wars, great earthquakes, famines, plagues, “fearful sights and great signs from heaven” (Matt. 24:7-8; Luke 21:11). We read the words of Christ, St. Paul, and the teaching of the Holy Apostles, as recorded in the book, “The Didache” (cir. first/second century). We saw clearly that a man is coming in the future who will be the opposite of the Lord Jesus Christ. He will be the “instead-of-Christ”, the “Antichrist.” With the help of his false prophet, his false teaching, his false miracles and displays of power, this evil man will offer to the world, (especially to the Jews), a kind of earthly kingdom that is in everything the opposite of Jesus Christ’s Heavenly Kingdom.

At first making a gentle, seductive appearance, this man will later reveal his true evil character. St. Paul warned of this evil man when he said, in 2 Thess. 2: 3,4,9,10:

Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day [i.e. the Day of the Last Judgment] will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God…The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.

This “man of sin,” the “lawless one,” the Lord Jesus will “consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” (2 Thess. 2:8).

Our Lord Jesus Christ referred to this future false “christ” when He warned in Matthew 24:23, “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it.”

The teaching of the Holy Apostles, as recorded in the book known as “The Didache” (cir.first/second Century), is summarized similarly:

For in the last days false prophets and seducers will increase…and then the deceiver of the world will appear as though he were the Son of God, and he shall do signs and wonders and the earth shall be delivered into his hands; and he will do immoralities which have never been done since the age began. Then shall the race of men will come into the fire of proving trial… (Didache 16:3,4,5)

In today’s sermon I hope to answer the following questions: Did the Father’s of our Holy Church support and continue to hold these Apostolic views about the Antichrist? Do they see him as a future global leader—politically and spiritually? How do they think the Antichrist will come into world popularity? How will he reveal his true evil identity?

For answers to these questions, let us examine quotes from some of the greatest and most famous Fathers of the Church: St. Irenaeus of Lyons (second century), St. Ephraim the Syrian (fourth century), St. John Chrysostom (fourth century), St. Cyril of Jerusalem (fourth century), St. John of Damascus (eighth century), together with St. Ignatius Brianchaninov (nineteenth century Russian Bishop) and the recently canonized wonderworking St. Paisios of Mount Athos (†1994).

St. John of Damascus on the Antichrist

We start with a long quote from St. John of Damascus, the great eighth century Church Father whose writings summarized the apostolic teachings of all the early Church Fathers who had preceded him. St. John is one of the most trusted Orthodox theologians whose inspired hand penned hymns for our Orthodox Pascha Matins service, the Orthodox Funeral Service, and the entire Book of the Eight Tones (the “Octoechos”). He also wrote the classic Orthodox catechism, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, which has been the main catechism of the Church for centuries. In Chapter 26 of Book 4 of this Exposition St. John summarizes the early Church’s teaching on the Antichrist:

It should be known that the Antichrist is bound to come. First, therefore, it is necessary that the Gospel should be preached among all nations (1): And then shall that wicked one be revealed, even him whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders (2), with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish, whom the Lord shall consume with the word of His mouth and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming (3). The devil himself (4), therefore does not become man in the way that the Lord was made man. God forbid! but he [the Antichrist] becomes man as the offspring of fornication and receiveth all the energy of Satan. For God, foreknowing the strangeness of the choice that he would make, allows the devil to take up his abode in him (5)

He [the Antichrist] is, therefore, as we said, the offspring of fornication and is nurtured in secret, and on a sudden he rises up and rebels and assumes rule. And in the beginning of his rule, or rather tyranny, he assumes the role of sanctity (6). But when he becomes master he persecutes the Church of God and displays all his wickedness. But he will come with signs and lying wonders (7), fictitious and not real, and he will deceive and lead away from the living God those whose mind rests on an unsound and unstable foundation, so that even the elect shall, if it be possible, be made to stumble (8).

But Enoch and Elijah the Thesbite shall be sent and shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children (9), that is, the synagogue to our Lord Jesus Christ and the preaching of the apostles: and they will be destroyed by him. And the Lord shall come out of heaven, just as the holy apostles beheld Him going into heaven, perfect God and perfect man, with glory and power, and will destroy the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction, with the breath of His mouth (1). Let no one, therefore, look for the Lord to come from earth, but out of Heaven, as He himself has made sure (2).

Antichrist will be a mockery and parody of the true Christ

The Antichrist will be a mockery and parody of the true Christ, the Lord Jesus. Early Church saints such as St. Irenaeus, St. Jerome, and St. Ambrose and others hold that the Antichrist will be a Jew, as Jesus was, but will be born from the wrong tribe, not from the Tribe of Judah, but from the Tribe of Dan. Both St. John of Damascus and St. Ephraim the Syrian believe that the Antichrist—“the offspring of fornication”— will be born, not of a holy virgin, but “of prostitution” from an immoral, sinful, “defiled maiden”.

Just as Jesus Christ was raised quietly, before making His public appearance to begin His ministry at the age of 30, so too the Antichrist will be raised in obscurity, until the day of his public appearance (as St. John of Damascus said—quoted above—that the Antichrist will be “nurtured in secret”.)

Unlike the Lord Jesus Who had the Holy Spirit descend upon Him to work with Him in His earthly ministry, the Antichrist will be possessed by the Devil himself, and will operate using the Devil’s own power (see 2 Thess. 2:9 and Rev. 13:2). St. John of Damascus points out in his quote (in his ExactExposition) that the Devil will NOT incarnate as a human. Only the Son of God became incarnate. Instead, the Devil will “take up his abode in him [the Antichrist].” In other words, the Devil will possess a man through the “strangeness of the choice that he would make” and will live in him, thereby making him to be the Antichrist.

St. Paul made it clear to the Thessalonians that before the Antichrist can make his public appearance, there first must be a massive apostasy, or falling away, from the Christian Faith. “The falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition.” (2 Thess. 2:3) St. Paisios of Mount Athos (d. 1994), a modern day saint who lived through most of the twentieth Century was of the opinion that this requirement has been fulfilled. Commenting upon our times, he said that “The situation is horrible. Madness has gone beyond all bounds. Apostasy is upon us, and now the only thing left is for the ‘son of perdition’ (2 Thess. 2:3) to come. The world has turned into a madhouse.”

Global war as the catalyst for desire for a global “savior”—the Antichrist

But what would be the catalyst that would draw the world and the Antichrist together?

Several twentieth Century Russian Orthodox staretzii (Holy Spirit-filled elders)—such as St. Lavrenty (Laurence) of Chernigov (†1950), St. Seraphim of Vyritsa (†1949), and St. Paisios of Mt. Athos (†1994)—believe that the world will yet again be embroiled in another huge global war, which will remove peace from the earth. They suggest that such international turmoil will be the motivation for the citizens of the world to seek an ultimate political peace-maker who will unify them in an effort to bring peace back again into the world. As Jesus stated, when describing the world situation just prior to the End, that first there will be “wars and rumors of wars” (Matt. 24:6). The Book of Revelation opens with a colossal war (chapters 6-9). The Antichrist will make his appearance on this troubled world scene and offer peace on earth. He will entice and seduce the world with the help of demons. “He will offer a plan for the successful resolution of the world crisis, based on social and political wisdom—the establishing of a uniform political and social structure over the whole world”—in other words, a single government for the whole world with himself as the king.

Once the Antichrist makes his first public appearance, evil spirits will generate a global excitement over him. Says St. Ephraim the Syrian (fourth century): “Evil spirits dispersed over the universe will excite in men a universal, most exalted opinion of Antichrist; a general… and irresistible attraction to him.” (Thus, some Orthodox elders have strongly advised against even looking at the face of the Antichrist, lest you get seduced by his charm.) As a result of this demonic stirring up of excitement over the Antichrist, according to St. Ignatius Brianchaninov (nineteenth century), there “will arise a demand for an invitation to Antichrist. A voice of appeal will issue forth in human society, expressing the urgent need for a ‘genius of geniuses,’ who would elevate material development and progress to a higher plane and bring about prosperity on earth.” He will be hailed as the ultimate political savior. Most everyone will be placing all their hopes on him, looking to him to solve the world’s political and financial turmoil. People will be supremely impressed with him and will think that he is the best leader ever, the ultimate man. They will say, “Who is like unto the beast [the Antichrist]? Who is able to make war with him?” (Rev.13:4).

The Great Pretender who deceives the world

At first, while he goes about increasing his popularity, the Antichrist will feign (fake) the attributes of the Lord Jesus Christ—love, compassion, meekness; he will NOT show to anyone that he has the Devil living inside of him. St. John of Damascus says that the Antichrist, “in the beginning of his rule, or rather tyranny, he assumes the role of sanctity.” St. Ephraim (fourth century) states that the Antichrist will come

in such a manner as to deceive all. He will appear humble, meek, a hater (as he will say himself) of unrighteousness, shunning idols, showing a preference to piety, good, a lover of the poor, beautiful to the extreme, steadfast, affable to all and especially esteeming the Jewish people because the Jews will await his coming. He will take cunning measures to please everyone in order that the people will quickly come to love him; he will not accept gifts nor speak in anger nor show a gloomy appearance, but with a decent exterior he will set about deceiving the world, until he is enthroned.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (in about 350 A.D.) comments that “at first he [the Antichrist] shall feign mildness,—as if he were a learned and discreet person,—and sobriety and loving-kindness.”

This fake, pretend sanctity will deceive many. Says St. Ephraim, “When the nations and peoples see such virtues and powers (in the Antichrist), all will have one thought—to pronounce him ruler, saying to each other; ‘Will another man so good and so truthful be found?’” As prophesied in Rev. 13:4—People will cry out in amazement and awe: “Who is like unto the beast?”

At this point, Christians much watch out! “Take heed that no man deceive you,” said Jesus. “For many shall come in My name, saying, ‘I am Christ’ and shall deceive many” (Matt. 24:4-5). St. John Chrysostom (fourth century) taught that the Antichrist will deceive people and “will violently usurp everything that does not belong to him and call himself ‘God’. This is what Christ meant when He said that Antichrist ‘will come in My name’.”

Tragically, many Christians who are not watchful, and many Jews too, will be deceived. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (fourth century) states that “since the true Christ is to come a second time, the adversary [the devil] makes use of the expectations of the simple, and especially of those of the circumcision [i.e. the Jews]… By this name ‘Christ’ he shall deceive the Jews, who are expecting the Anointed [i.e. the Messiah (in Hebrew), the Christ (in Greek)]; and he shall seduce the Gentiles…”

St. Paisios of Mount Athos taught that the Antichrist will present himself as the “savior” whom all the religions of the world are waiting for—all rolled into one man. He will say:

“I’m the Imam, I’m the fifth Buddha, I’m the Christ whom Christians are awaiting. I’m the one whom the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been waiting for. I’m the Jewish messiah.”

St. Ignatius Brianchaninov clearly states, “The world of man will not recognize Antichrist; it will acknowledge him to be Christ, it will proclaim him as Christ.”

This will be the great deception, that people, even many unwatchful Christians, may mistake the false christ—the Antichrist—for the true Christ, the Lord Jesus. People will flock to see the “Christ”, telling their friends, as Jesus warned: “Look, here is the Christ!” or, “Look, He is in the desert!” or, “Look, He is in the inner rooms!” Jesus warns us, when that happens: “Do not believe it.” (Matthew 24:23, 26).

The true Christ will come from heaven, not on earth

The Lord Jesus at His Second Coming will appear to all IN THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY, not on earth. But the false “Christ” (Antichrist) will appear on earth. “The monks of Solovki Monastery have handed down an answer which St. Zosima gave to his spiritual children who asked him how to recognize Antichrist when he comes. The holy monk gave this precise reply, ‘When you hear that the Christ has come to the earth or has appeared on earth, then know that it is Antichrist’.” Jesus told the Jews that He would be seen coming on the clouds of heaven: “You shall see the Son on man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:62)

St. John the Evangelist said the same about Jesus in Revelation 1:7: “Behold, He cometh withclouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him.” The angels who appeared to the Apostles when they stood gazing into heaven at the Lord’s Ascension said the same thing: “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven”(Acts 1:11). And, Jesus Himself clearly taught that His Return would be like lightning from out of heaven, a dramatic wonder for all to behold instantly around the world—“For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matt.24:27). St. Ignatius Brianchaninov explained: “It will be neither necessary nor even possible for men to give report to each other of the coming of the Son of God. He will appear suddenly; He will appear in His omnipotence to all men and the whole world at one time.” Thus, St. John of Damascus summarized correctly: “Let no one, therefore, look for the Lord to come from earth, but out of Heaven, as He Himself has made sure.”

The two witnesses—Enoch and Elias—will oppose the Antichrist

While the Antichrist, with the help of the demons, is stirring up global lust for him to be their savior and ruler, God in His mercy will send two mighty prophets to warn everyone that this man is not the real Christ, but is the Antichrist. St. John of Damascus (in his Exposition) states the literal opinion of the Church Fathers that St. Elijah will return to earth with holy Enoch before Judgment Day. This will fulfill the ancient prophecy of the Prophet Malachi (4:5-6), which states:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children…” (Malachi 4:5-6).

The coming of Elijah and Enoch will also fulfill the prophecy of St. John in the Book of Revelation (11:3-12), which speaks of the “two witnesses” (also known as the “two olive trees” and the “two candlesticks”—see verse 4) who will tell the truth about the Antichrist and will warn the world about him, exposing his fake sanctity. This will continue for three and a half years (or, 1260 days), while the Antichrist’s political machine is ramping up and gaining power, during which time the Antichrist is pretending to be the nice guy (Rev. 11:3). St. John of Damascus states that in fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy, “Elijah the Thesbite shall be sent and shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, that is, the synagogue to our Lord Jesus Christ and the preaching of the Apostles” St. John of Damascus believes that some Jews will saved from following the Antichrist, and with the help of Elijah and Enoch they shall repent and turn to Jesus, the true Christ, and become Christians. The Jews who repent are the “fathers” (the Old Testament synagogue) who turn their hearts to accept and love their “children” (the New Testament Church).

The Antichrist will be annoyed with what these two great prophets are saying and doing, but at first will do nothing against them because he is trying to look so nice. But finally, in rage, when he begins his egotistical tyranny as world king, the Antichrist will show his true inner evil self and will kill these two prophets and launch a fierce persecution against all who oppose him, particularly Christians (Rev. 11:7, and 13:7).

St. Cyril of Jerusalem on the Antichrist’s quest to be the global king

Even though God will send Enoch and Elijah to warn humanity (which convinces some people and some devout Jews), most men and most Jews will be deceived by the false “Christ”—the Antichrist—and will run after him. The nations will desire that this “wonderful” man rule them all, and he will therefore easily grab the power of global rule. St. Cyril of Jerusalem taught that the “Antichrist is to come when the times of the Roman Empire shall have been fulfilled and the end of the world is drawing near.” He “shall seize for himself the power of the Roman Empire, and he shall falsely style himself ‘Christ’.” The Roman Empire will have ended (“shall have been fulfilled”). At the time when the end of the world “is drawing near”, the Antichrist shall grab—“shall seize for himself”—the “power” of the old Roman Empire, which was a huge, powerful political machine that united nations under the one throne of one emperor, whose worship as a god was a required part of politics (and this was also the reason why so many Christians became martyrs, refusing to worship the emperor or his image). The Antichrist will have global power because “authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation” (Rev.13:7).

St. Cyril’s Catechetical Lectures (written in mid-300s AD) state:

And now, in this same way, since the true Christ is to come a second time, the adversary [the devil] makes use of the expectations of the simple, and especially of those of the circumcision [i.e., the Jews]; and he brings in a certain man who is a magician, and who is quite expert in sorceries and enchantments of beguiling craftiness. This one shall seize for himself the power of the Roman Empire, and he shall falsely style himself Christ. By this name Christ he shall deceive the Jews, who are expecting the Anointed [i.e. the Messiah]; and he shall seduce the Gentiles by his magical illusions.

This aforementioned Antichrist is to come when the times of the Roman Empire shall have been fulfilled and the end of the world is drawing near. There shall rise up together ten kings of the Romans, reigning in different parts, perhaps, but all reigning at the same time. After these there shall be an eleventh, the Antichrist, who by the evil craft of his magic shall seize upon the Roman power. Of the kings who reigned before him, three shall he humble, and the remaining seven he shall have as subjects under him. At first he shall feign mildness,—as if he were a learned and discreet person,—and sobriety and loving-kindness.

Having beguiled the Jews by lying signs and wonders of his magical deceit, until they believe he is the expected Christ, he shall afterwards be characterized by all manner of wicked deeds of inhumanity and lawlessness, as if to outdo all the unjust and impious men who have gone before him…[quote is continued below]

Most people of the world will love this Antichrist and will want him to rule them. From our own Church hymnbook, the Lenten Triodion—we hear in the Synaxarion reading for Meat-Fare Sunday that the Antichrist “will be constrained by men and will be proclaimed king and the multitudes of the Jewish people will love him; he will restore Jerusalem and will erect the templefor them” (Apostasy and Antichrist, p.30).

Solomon’s Temple will be rebuilt

St. Ephraim (d. 373AD) in his sermon, “On the coming of the Lord, the end of the world, and the coming of the Antichrist,” says the Jews will accept the false “messiah”—the Antichrist—and he will rebuild for them their Temple in Jerusalem.

“The Jews will rejoice and give honor to the reign of the antichrist more than anyone else. And he, under pretense of preference, and being industrious with them, will designate for them all a place and the temple.”

After the Temple of Solomon is rebuilt in Jerusalem, the Antichrist will sit in the Temple to be crowned “king”.

St. Paisios said that a sign that this prophecy is about to be fulfilled is when we see the Mosque in Jerusalem being taken down in order to make way for the re-construction of the Jewish Temple of Solomon on the ancient Temple Mount. This will be the time for the Christians to “flee to the hills” and mountains that the Lord Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24:15-22, because terrible things will start to happen once the evil king is crowned in Jerusalem. The final persecution of Christians will begin: “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt. 24:21).

The Dragon inside the Antichrist reveals himself and desires worship

Having rebuilt the temple of the Jews in Jerusalem, and having been crowned king of the world, a great change in the countenance and actions of this global leader will be seen. The Antichrist will now openly display his real, evil, inner character, which he had been concealing. And, he will reveal his true desire. Like the pagan Roman emperors of old, the Antichrist (and the Devil living inside of him) wants worship, not merely political leadership. The famous kings in history who also sought worship from their subjects—such as Nero and Nebuchadnezzar—are just historical prototypes of the Antichrist.

Then will be the time when St. Paul’s words will be fulfilled: “The man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (2 Thess. 2:3-4). This will be the “abomination of desolation” in the Temple of which the Lord Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24:15.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386AD) in his Catechetical Lectures describes the Antichrist’s sudden “change” of character, once he has been enthroned as a global king, sitting and demanding worship:

Having beguiled the Jews by lying signs and wonders of his magical deceit, until they believe he is the expected Christ, he shall afterwards be characterized by all manner of wicked deeds of inhumanity and lawlessness, as if to outdo all the unjust and impious men who have gone before him. He shall display against all men, and especially against us Christians, a spirit that is murderous and most cruel, merciless and wily. For three years and six months only shall he be the perpetrator of such things; and then he shall be destroyed by the glorious Second Coming from heaven of the only-begotten Son of God, our Lord and Savior Jesus, the true Christ, who shall destroy him with the breath of His mouth, and shall deliver him over to the fire of Gehenna.

St. Ephraim (fourth century) writes of the Antichrist’s desire to be worshipped:

He will herald himself as the precursors heralded him; he will call himself the preacher and re-establisher of true knowledge of God. Those not comprehending Christianity will see in him a representative and champion of the true religion and will join with him. He will herald himself, calling himself the promised messiah and the children of worldly wisdom will hail his presentation. Because of his renown, might, genial capabilities and his widest development of the elements of the world, they will proclaim him a god and will make themselves his accomplices.

The Antichrist will want the whole world to worship him because the Devil living inside him wants the worship that belongs to God. Like the ancient emperors Nero and Nebuchadnezzar, he will demand—and try to force—people to worship him. According to Revelation chapter 13, an assistant to the Antichrist known as the “False Prophet” will set up a talking image (in Greek, “icon”)of the Antichrist (“the Beast”). Anyone who refuses to worship this image/icon will be killed (Rev. 13:15).

St. Irenaeus on Nebuchanezzar as a prototype of the future Antichrist

St. Irenaeus, in the second century, perceived in the story of the ancient King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (Book of Daniel, Chp.3) a prefigurement of the coming future ultimate wicked king, the Antichrist. King Nebuchadnezzar himself was a tyrant ruling an empire. He sought all peoples, nations, and tongues to worship his golden image of himself that he had set up. If they refused to worship the image, they would die by being thrown into the fiery furnace. St. Irenaeus foresaw that similarly the Antichrist “beast” in the book of Revelation would also use the threat of death to force the nations into worshipping his image. He wrote:

And there is therefore in this beast [i.e. the Antichrist], when he comes, a recapitulation made of all sorts of iniquity and of every deceit… For that image which was set up by Nebuchadnezzar had indeed a height of sixty cubits, while the breadth was six cubits; on account of which Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, when they did not worship it, were cast into a furnace of fire, pointing out prophetically, by what happened to them, the wrath against the righteous which shall arise towards the [time of the] end. For that image, taken as a whole, was a prefiguring of this man’s coming, decreeing that he should undoubtedly himself alone be worshipped by all men.”

No “pre-Tribulation” rapture into Heaven for End-Time Christians

The Three Holy Youths are seen by St. Irenaeus as a prefigurement of the Church in the End-Times that shall be persecuted severely by the Antichrist for its refusal to worship him or his image. Believers must remain strong at that time. Endurance is needed. Patience is needed (Rev. 13:10). There will be no “pre-tribulation” rapture (rapture means: “caught up”) as a miraculous escape route into Heaven to avoid End-Times persecution. This concept of escaping the Antichrist’s final persecution by a divine rapture up into Heaven is a modern-day false teaching that only a certain percentage of Protestants believe. It was invented in Scotland in 1830 by Margaret Macdonald and promoted widely by Englishman John Nelson Darby (whom some credit as its originator.) Before these two people lived, no Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Orthodox Christian ever heard of or believed such an idea. Rather, the historic Christian view has always been to follow the Lord Jesus’ exhortation of believers to endurance, saying: “He who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13).

Orthodoxy rejects and has never taught the innovative and recently developed modern-day theory of an escape “rapture” that will gather Christians into heaven ahead of time so that they will not have to see the Antichrist nor be persecuted by him nor undergo a period of persecution, trial, and tribulation. If there was such a rapture into Heaven ahead of the Antichrist’s persecution, then all of Jesus’ warnings to believers to watch out and not be deceived by the false christ would be useless warnings (see Matthew 24:23-27). Rather, Scripture teaches that “it was given unto him [to Antichrist—the Beast] to make war with the saints, and to overcome them” (Rev.13:7). Obviously, the Christians will be still on the planet if the Antichrist is going to be fighting and persecuting them. If the “saints”—the believers—had been previously raptured (caught up) into heaven prior to the Antichrist’s persecution of them, then this Scripture (Rev. 13:7) would mean nothing. Rather, St. Paul explains that the real “rapture” of believers being “caught up” into the sky is simply the gathering of the believers who are still alive on the earth (and enduring to the End) to meet the Lord Jesus in the air when He finally returns on the clouds of glory at His Second Coming—which takes place after the Antichrist’s persecution.

For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thess. 4:16-17)

This gathering of the remaining faithful Christians (the “elect”) to Christ at His Second Coming willfollow the period of great End-Time Tribulation that Jesus Himself described:

Immediately after the tribulation of those days…they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:29,30,31)

The Antichrist’s short three and a half year violent reign

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days…” Holy Scripture is very clear that before Christ’s Glorious Return in the sky, there will be a terrible time of persecution for believers, with no pre-tribulation escape rapture. True believers must be strong, patient, and trusting in Jesus (Rev. 13:10). Many will be witnesses for the true Christ, and will be beheaded, becoming martyrs (Rev. 20:4). For a short period of three and a half years (“1260 days”—Rev. 11:3) the Antichrist will have deceived the world, pretending to be nice, so that he could take over political control. But then, after becoming global monarch, for second short period of another three and a half years (“42 months”—Rev. 13:5) he will try to force humanity to worship him. Like ancient King Nebuchadezzar, the Antichrist will use devious and evil means to do so. He will use coercion to force all people into his spiritual and political camp by controlling the buying and selling of all goods and services. Thus, after a pre-reign period of a first three and a half years of campaigning during which time he fakes kindness in order to gather global political support, then following his coronation as global king in Jerusalem, the Antichrist will have a short, yet violent reign of another three and a half years. St. Paisios of Mt. Athos took this time frame to be literal. Thus, the total is seven years allotted to the Antichrist—from his first appearance on the world scene until his overthrow at Christ Jesus’ Second Coming, as described in 2 Thessalonians 2:8.

The False Prophet and the Mark of the Beast (666)

In seeking all of humanity to worship him, the Antichrist will have the aid of an assistant —the False Prophet, a second beast, a sort of global religious leader (Rev. 13:11-18 and Rev. 19:19-20). Just as the Forerunner (St. John the Baptist) gathered followers for the true Christ (Jesus), this False Prophet in the time of the Apocalypse will gather followers for the Antichrist. And just as the Apostles sealed the new Christians with the seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:27), marking them for God, so too the False Prophet will seek to formally mark all of humanity with the Antichrist’s name or number—the mysterious “666”—either on the hand or on the forehead (Rev. 13:16-18). This mark—whatever it proves to be—we Orthodox Christians view as a serious denial of ChristWe must not accept it. Accepting it will be a rejection of one’s Holy Chrismation and a rejection of God.

Modern-day saint and wonder-worker Paisios of Mt. Athos, in speaking of the coming “666” mark, said that if a Christian accepts the Mark of the Beast, he or she will have denied Christ. He believed it to be some form of computerized personal ID number. He noted that in the Old Testament the Jews required a yearly tax of 666 gold talents from conquered nations. Thus, St. Paisios said that “today, in order to subjugate the whole world, they’ll once again introduce the old tax number linked to their glorious past. That is, ‘666’ is the number of mammon. Everything is going as planned. They put the number a long time ago on credit cards. As a result, he who is not marked with the number ‘666’ will be unable to buy, sell, get a loan, or find work.”

Accepting the devil’s ID mark (“666”) on hand or forehead will be a rejection of the Gift of the Holy Spirit, which was received at Holy Baptism in the Anointing of Holy Chrism (the sealing of one’s hands and forehead by the priest)—the true mark of the true Christ. St. Paul wrote: “When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13). This holy seal of God is mentioned again in Rev. 7:3 as the “seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” It is literally placed on the hands and forehead of each newly Baptized Orthodox Christian to give to them the Holy Spirit through the Holy Chrism (the sacred anointing oil) following their Holy Baptism. With that holy Baptismal seal we “denied the devil and sided with Christ,” as St. Paisios stated it.

The Baptismal Seal of the Holy Spirit is the opposite of the Devil’s seal (the “666”), which also will be marked on right-hands and foreheads (Rev. 13:16). This fake “chrismation” of the devil removes the Holy Spirit and brings a person into the devil’s kingdom of darkness. It will be used to control them through fear, because without it they cannot buy any food.

And he [the False Prophet] causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name…and his number is 666. (Revelation 13:16-18)

Warning from Holy Scripture: Do not take the 666 Mark—the Devil’s “chrismation”

Receiving this “666” mark of the Antichrist will send a person to eternal hellfire. For any Christian who accepts it, it is a denial of Christ—a betrayal—which cancels out their previous holy Chrismation seal/mark of the Holy Spirit and sends them to hellfire, since they put their trust in the Antichrist (and his system) instead of keeping their trust in the true Christ Jesus.

If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God…and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: and the smoke of their torment ascends up forever and ever; and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receives the mark of his name. (Rev.14:9-11)

The False Prophet will try to coerce all humanity to accept the Antichrist’s “chrismation”—the mark of the Beast—by arranging life so that in the new global government’s one-world economy, no one will be able to buy or sell without that mark. Those who do not take the mark face economic disaster, famine and starvation.

Saint Andrew of Caesarea on the Mark of the Beast

Saint Andrew of Caesarea (d. 637AD), who for centuries has been an Orthodox authority on the interpretation of the Book of Revelation, spoke of this in his famous Commentary on the Apocalypse. He wrote of this mark of the Beast/Antichrist:

He…will strive to place upon all the outline of the ruinous name of the apostate and deceiver, “in their right hands,” in order to cut off the doing of right and good deeds, and likewise “in their foreheads,” in order to instruct the deceived to be bold in deception and darkness. But it will not be received by those sealed in their faces with the Divine Light (cf. Rev 7:3,4). And the seal of the beast will be spread everywhere, in buying and selling, so that those who do not receive it will suffer a violent death from want of necessities.

St. Ephraim the Syrian on the Mark of the Beast

St. Ephraim the Syrian (fourth century) in his sermon, “On the coming of the Lord, the end of the world, and the coming of the Antichrist”, wrote this about the mark of the beast:

Beloved, we need a lot of prayer and tears in order that some of us prove strong through the trials; because the beast will work many illusions. He himself is an enemy of God and wants to destroy everyone. The torturer will use such means so that all will have to have the mark of the beast on themselves, in due time, that is at the fulfillment of time, when the Antichrist comes and deceives all with signs. And only in the case [that they have the mark] will they be able to purchase food and other necessities; and he will set up supervisors to enforce his orders. My brethren, notice the wiliness of the beast which is above all measure, and the contriving of his wickedness—how he will start with the stomach, so that man, when brought to an extreme of food deprivation, will be compelled to accept the mark, or rather the wickedly profane symbol, not just on any part of the body but on the right hand and also on the forehead, so that he will be unable afterwards to make the sign of the cross with the right hand or to sign the holy name of the Lord or the glorious and honorable cross of Christ our Savior on the forehead… Therefore my brethren, a terrible trial is ahead for all the Christ-loving people—that they not fear or fall into negligence until the hour of death during the time when the serpent will be marking [people] with his sign instead of the sign of the cross of the Savior… And if someone will not be marked with the mark of the beast, that person will not be taken captive with his fantastic signs. And likewise the Lord will not abandon such, but will enlighten them…

St. Paisios of Mt. Athos warns Orthodox not to take the 666 Mark

The Christians who reject the “666” mark and refuse to worship the image of the Antichrist will be seen as religious rebels and extremists—unfortunately—and will be persecuted by the authorities, becoming martyrs for Christ as in the days of the Roman Empire. However, St. Paisios the Athonite warned that not all Christians will see any danger in taking the devil’s mark. He believed that even some Orthodox Christian priests will be fooled and will not warn their flocks. Instead they will “diaper” their spiritual children with comforting lies, telling them to take the “666” mark and not to worry, saying: “it does not matter, it is nothing.” How sad! These clergy will not be able to discern the “signs of the times,” and will earn for themselves the same rebuke that the Lord Jesus gave to the Pharisees in His day:

“You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times” (Matt. 16:3).

Yet those Christian non-conformists who do actually refuse the “666” mark will be “hated by all nations” for Christ’s sake, as the Lord Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24:9. Because of the Christian rebellion against the Antichrist’s claims, the Antichrist will launch the fiercest persecution of Christians ever seen in history, as the Lord predicted in Matthew 24:21—

“Then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time.”

But out of His mercy, for the sake of those faithful followers who are going to be saved, the Lord Jesus promised that

“those days will be shortened” (Matthew 24:22).

The Great Tribulation—St. Ephraim the Syrian’s sermon

St. Ephraim (fourth century) describes those End Days, the Antichrist, and the afflictions to come during the Great Tribulation:

Yet I shall begin my sermon with pain and with sighs shall I speak concerning the end of the present world and of the most shameless and appalling serpent [i.e. Antichrist] who will bring the world into turmoil and will put fear, cowardice and terrible disbelief into the hearts of men. He will work wonders, signs and terrifying spectacles, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect (Mat. 24:24), deluding all by false signs and semblances of miracles wrought by himself. For by permission of the Holy God, he will receive the power to deceive the world, because impiety will have filled the earth and every sort of horror will be committed everywhere. Therefore, the most pure Master will permit, because of the godlessness of the people, that the world should be tempted by the spirit of falsehood, since men desired to separate from God and love the evil one. Great will be the contest, O brethren, in those times, especially for the faithful, when signs and wonders will be wrought with great authority by the serpent himself; when he will show himself in awful apparitions as being similar to God—he will fly about in the air and all the demons, like angels, will exult before the tormentor. For he will cry aloud with might, transforming his countenance and dismaying all men without measure. Who, brethren, will then prove to be guarded, unshakable, having in his soul the faithful sign—the holy coming of the Only-Begotten Son, our God—when he beholds the unspeakable afflictions which will come from every direction upon every soul and from which there will be utterly no comfort, no respite whatever, neither on earth nor on the sea, who will persevere when he beholds the whole world in turmoil, everyone fleeing to hide himself in the mountains and some dying from hunger, others melting like wax from thirst and no one who will take pity; when he sees every eye pouring forth tears and with strong desire asking, “Is the word of God to be found anywhere on the earth?” and hearing the answer, “Nowhere!” Who will endure the insufferable affliction when he sees the gathering of the peoples who will come from the ends of the earth to see the tormentor, many worshipping him, crying with trembling, “You are our saviour!” The sea will rebel, the earth will dry up, the heavens will not give rain, plant life will wither, and all those living in the eastern parts of the earth will flee to the west because of the great terror and those living in the western parts will flee to the east with trepidation. But the shameless one, having then taken power, will send the demons to all the ends of the earth to preach: “The great king has appeared in glory, come and see him.” And who will have such an adamantine soul as to endure all these temptations? Where, as I said, will such a man be found whom all the angels would bless?

The Seven Bowls of Wrath

The difficulties of that final era of tribulation will not be limited to the persecution of Christians, but will come “upon every soul,” as St. Ephraim notes. Indeed, all men—all flesh—will suffer greatly at that time as the very earth, sea and sun will rebel against the Devil and his false “Christ”. St. Ephraim notes that “the sea will rebel, the earth will dry up, the heavens will not give rain, plant life will wither.” These actions are all foretold in the prophecy of Apocalypse. They are part of the “last plagues”—the seven Bowls of Wrath—spoken of by St. John in Revelation 15 and 16, when God will use strong measures in order to try to save rebellious, stubborn, idolatrous humanity from hellfire, by provoking them to repentance with harsh measures. The Lord will command seven angels to pour out seven “bowls of wrath” upon the earth. As a result, the water system of the sea, rivers, and springs will shut down, becoming like blood (Rev. 16:3-4). The sun will scorch this waterless earth and then go dark (Rev. 16:8-10). As a result, plant life will wither, which easily leads one to conclude that there will be massive crop failures everywhere, followed by widespread famine. People will be hungry, even those who took the mark of the beast in order to gain access to food in stores. Holy Russian Elder St. Lavrenty of Chernigov (†1950) agrees with St. Ephraim, saying that “there will likewise be no water; all the rivers and lakes will dry up. This disaster will last for three and a half years.” He further explains how “the entire feeble populace will go after satan, and when the earth will produce no harvest people will come to him [to Antichrist, with Satan in him] with the request to give them bread, but he will answer: ‘The land does not give any grain. I can’t do anything’.”

The Antichrist and his Mark will fail

The last trials will terribly affect the followers of the Antichrist. They who previously took his mark in order to be able to shop, and buy, and sell, will not have any bread to buy. They will turn to the Antichrist—their “savior” on whom all their hopes hang—asking for the bread that he promised them. But, he will have none to give, and will excuse himself, saying that he does not control the weather or the crops. He will leave humanity helpless.

Thus, taking the mark of the Beast in order to eat will prove to be a failed hope, a terrible pain, and an eternal damnation. It will be a failed hope because the ruined water system will destroy the whole of agriculture. People with the mark will not have any bread to buy or sell or eat, even though they had hoped that taking the mark would give them food to eat. It will be a terrible pain, because Rev.16:2 prophesies that terrible sores will come to all those who took the mark of the Beast or worshipped his image. Yet, despite these trials, humanity will still refuse to turn to God the Holy Trinity and repent (Rev. 16:9,11). Thus, the mark of the Beast will prove to be their eternal damnation, because in taking it, they refused (or cancelled) the saving mark of Jesus, the Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit, given on their forehead and hands during Holy Chrismation. The mark of the Beast will damn them to eternal hellfire in the Lake of Fire when Jesus returns and judges the world (Rev. 14:9-11).

St. Nilus the Myrrh-gusher offers a word of hope to End-Time believers

St. Nilus the Myrrh-gusher (d. 1651AD) forwarded this encouragement to the future Christians of the End-Times, prophesying of divine aid to be offered to the believers, and telling of forgiveness of sins and entrance into Heaven being the reward for not denying Christ (i.e. for not taking the “666” mark):

When the cursed glory [i.e. Antichrist] sees Enoch and Elijah preaching to the people and telling them not to receive the mark of the Antichrist, he will order to have them arrested. But they will be convincing the people not to receive the mark, saying that whoever shows patience and does not receive the seal [i.e. the 666 mark], that one will be saved and God will receive him straight into the Paradise only for not receiving the seal. And let each one sign himself with the sign of the honorable Cross, making the sign of the cross at all times because the seal of the cross frees man from the torment of Hades; the seal of the Antichrist, though, brings one into the torments of Hades. If you are hungry and need food, endure for a short time and God, seeing your patience, will send you help from on high; you will be livened again (fed full of life) with the help of the God in the Highest. If you do not show patience, however, you will receive the mark of this unclean king, and will the regret it.

God will so love those who “endure to the end” in faithfulness to Him that He promises to liven them “full of life” when they are hungry, and to grant them salvation and entrance into the Heavenly Kingdom at the Judgment. Jesus promised: “But he that shall endure unto the end, the sameshall be saved (Matt. 24:13). St. Nilus is referring to Christ’s promise when he says that God will save you—even if you are not the best Christian—if only you remain faithful to Him to the End by not taking the mark or name of the Beast and by not worshipping the image of the Beast. For a little patience now, then at the Final Judgment God will open Paradise for you.

The Lord will cut short the days of the Great Tribulation

Due to the severity of that time—with the persecution of Christians and the Seven Last Plagues—our Lord Jesus promised to “shorten” those days in order to prevent all humanity from dying, particularly the faithful Christians (the “elect”) who are patiently enduring to the end, hiding here or there. Even though the allotted time period of this Great Tribulation is supposed to last for the three and a half violent years during which the Antichrist will reign as global monarch (42 months are prophesied in Rev. 13:5-7), the time will be shorter than that in actuality. Jesus mercifully promised to intervene and cut those days short, in order to save the lives of believers.

“And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” (Matthew 24:22)

So, there is hope that the time of great trial and tribulation will be in reality less than 3 ½ years.

The Lord’s Glorious Second Coming, the rapture, and the Final Judgment

The Antichrist will be running around hunting down and persecuting Christians until the day of his own sudden destruction. The true Christ—the Lord Jesus—will appear suddenly on the clouds of heaven with great glory and power, with all His holy angels. His appearance will destroy the Antichrist, as St. Paul said, “whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” (2 Thess. 2:8). Judgment Day will spring suddenly upon the entire world, and the Devil, his Antichrist, the False Prophet, and all the demons will be thrown into eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire (Rev. 19:20; Rev. 20:10).

Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And He will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. (Matthew 24:29-31)

The real rapture will then take place, as the believers on earth will be gathered by the angels up into the air to meet the Lord Who is coming in glory on the clouds to judge the world, which He made. All of humanity will be raised from the dead and stand to be judged by the Lord Jesus Christ. This will be the Final Judgment before the Throne of God, during which the “sheep” will be separated from the “goats” (Matthew 25:31-33). The damned (the goats) will enter eternal condemnation in the Lake of Fire, where the Devil, the Antichrist, and False Prophet were thrown, while the Righteous (the sheep) will enter Eternal Life in the Kingdom of God (the New Jerusalem), where they will reign with Christ forever and ever.

The “1,000” year reign symbolism

The reign of the saints with Jesus Christ will be eternal, not a literal “1000 years” or “millennium” (Rev. 20:5-7). The early Church at the Second Ecumenical Council in 381AD rejected the literal 1,000 year interpretation of Rev. 20:5-7, taking the term “millennium” as symbolic for a long, perfection and completion of time “as the Church age, when Jesus reigns on earth in those who believe. It is that era between the first and second comings of Christ, also called the ‘last times,’ when Satan’s effectiveness at deceit is restricted through the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, and the saints share in Christ’s earthly reign through the Church.”

Baptized Christians share in Christ’s Paschal victory over the Devil through their Holy Baptism, in which they are united to Christ and can enjoy His power over Satan, who for them is bound while at the same time he still runs around among the un-Baptized non-believers leading them to perdition until receiving his own eternal damnation in the Lake of Fire on Judgment Day. For those who join Christ in Baptism and never leave Him as Judas did, their victory over the Devil never ends. The Church Fathers at the Second Council opted to go with the clear and literal words of the Archangel Gabriel who told the Virgin Mary that Jesus’ Kingdom will have no end (Luke 1:33). This wording was put into the Nicene Creed in order to stop the heresy of chiliasm, which said that Christ’s reign would be merely a literal 1,000 years on earth

Christians must correctly ponder the subject of the End-Times and be watchful

Brothers and sisters, from these quotes we have seen that the Fathers of our Holy Orthodox Church over the centuries have held to a concrete idea that the Antichrist will be a real man, possessed by the devil, who will gain political global dominion and will seek to be worshipped and obeyed by all nations. Christians need to be watchful so as not to be deceived by the Antichrist, whenever he finally comes. Do not get confused by all the competing apocalyptic ideas out there in the media and on the Internet concerning the topic of the Antichrist. Do not mistake the true Lord Jesus (Who will arrive in the clouds) for the Antichrist who will set up his kingdom on earth. As St. John of Damascus said: “Let no one, therefore, look for the Lord to come from earth, but out of Heaven.” Let us stick to our Orthodox view, the only one that we can trust. After all, ours is the Church of history, of the Fathers, of the Apostles, and of Christ. As we ponder this topic, let us love God with all our hearts. Let us trust Him and never be fearful. Let us ever remember that He dearly loves us and will always be with us and help us. Ours is not to be fearful—it is for us to love God and to be watchful. Pray Psalm 90 (91) always.

It is better to be knowledgeable about the Orthodox interpretation of the End-Time prophecies in order to be spiritually prepared than to be neglectful and ignorant and be caught unprepared when those days arrive. St. Cyril of Jerusalem, in his time, urged his fourth century listeners to be prepared and to think on these matters, and to speak of them to their friends and family members.

St. Ephraim in the fourth century advocated being knowledgeable with sound doctrine concerning the End. He taught that such matters will be “clear” to real believers as the events come to pass before their very eyes. If he preached on such matters so long ago, how much more should we in the twenty-first century ponder these things!

To those who have the knowledge, the coming of antichrist will be obviousBut to him whose mind is in the matters of this life and loves the earthly, this will not be clear; because those who are always tied down with the affairs of this life, even if they hear, they will not believe, despising those who will speak. And the saints will be strengthened because they have set aside all cares of this life.

St. Paul reminded St. Timothy that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (II Timothy 3:12). But Jesus promises to help us share His victory over these difficulties:

These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace.

In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

It is certainly better to have a limited trial on earth now (with Jesus sustaining us) followed by aneternity with Him in the Kingdom of Heaven, than to deny the true Christ and spend a few short years trying insufficiently to avoid sufferings on earth only to end up spending an eternity suffering in hell.

Conclusion

Stay true to the Lord Jesus Christ to the very end, trust in Him with all your heart, and everything will turn out fine for you in the End. Christ will be with you—and will help you—His true and faithful followers, as He promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). He promised to be with us, saying when He ascended, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto theend of the world. Amen.” (Matt. 28:20)

St. Paul experienced this when he was brought to his first trial in Rome. Though all his friends ran away, afraid for their lives, leaving him alone to face the Roman judge, the Lord Jesus Himself came and stood by St. Paul and helped him get through: “At my first defense, no one stood with me, but everyone deserted me. May it not be charged against them. But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me” (2 Tim. 4:16-17).

From the End-Times Prophecy of Joel, we hear the promise of merciful salvation — for “everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.

The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome Day of the LORD comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls. (Joel 2:31-32)

Jesus promised that “whoever comes to Me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37)

Jesus said: “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the Kingdom of God is near.” (Luke 21:27-31)

“Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev. 22:20)

Source

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On Rebaptism in the Eastern Orthodox Church

an interview with Fr. John Whiteford

I’ve been a fan of Fr. John Whiteford for some time, and his presentation on this important topic is balanced and excellent in the superlative. 

How the Antichrist can be Recognized

The monks of the Solovetsky monastery pass on the answer given by Righteous Zosima to his disciples, when he was asked how the Antichrist could be recognized. Righteous Zosima said,

“When you will hear that Christ has appeared on earth, know then that this is the Antichrist.”

This answer is most precise. The world or mankind will not recognize the Antichrist, it will recognize him as Christ, it will proclaim him Christ… Therefore watch and pray.

Suicide: Why the Church Does What it Does

by Fr. John A. Peck

“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).

The following is an excerpt of a talk on Suicide in Christian History given at the 3rd Annual Orthodox Bioethics Conference held in Daly City, CA and sponsored by the Vicariate for Palestinian/Jordanian Orthodox Christian Communities in the US.

The Orthodox Church has held fast to its canonical position that suicide is unacceptable under any circumstance, indeed even for sufferers of mental illness. This position has never been negotiable and has remained unchanged since the formation of the Church.

We will go through a short history of the Church’s response to suicide, starting with the Holy Scriptures.

Suicides in the Bible

Holy Scripture records eight unambiguous suicides. In the Old Testament, we have the examples of

  • Abimelek (Judges 9:54),
  • Saul (1 Samuel 31:4),
  • Saul’s armor-bearer (1 Samuel 31:5),
  • Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23),
  • Zimri (1 Kings 16:18),
  • Ptolemy Macron (II Maccabees 10:13)
  • Razis (II Maccabees 14:43-6)

and in the New Testament,

  • Judas Iscariot (Matthew 27:5).

Almost all of them were wicked men.

Samson (Judges 16:30), is considered a special case, as the purpose of his sacrificial death was to destroy the enemies of God’s people, and is not classed as a suicide, and in this he exists as a type of Christ, who offered Himself in a sacrificial death.

While we do not see a pronounced moral condemnation of the acts of the deceased by at least the narrators of these suicide events in Holy Scripture (which is in line with how such events are usually recorded in the Bible), we can at least deduce in the case of Judas Iscariot that the taking of his own life by hanging, was out of a deep sense of despair for how he had betrayed our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Judas, we are told in Matthew 27:3-4,

“repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, ‘I have sinned in betraying innocent blood’.”

There is a noted silence on the suicide of Judas by New Testament writes, as the idea seems to be that he experienced the natural result of his actions. In Acts 1:25, Peter spoke of Judas who left his apostolic ministry

“to go where he belongs.”

Literally, the verse reads

“to go to his own place.”

“His own place” is hell. If that seems harsh, consider the words of Jesus in John 6:70-71 when he said,

“Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)

He did not literally mean that Judas was a demon, but that Judas was even then (about a year before the crucifixion) acting under Satan’s influence.

This should fill us with a healthy fear and Jesus also tells his disciples, and through them, us,

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)

We who are evil!

Other people in Scripture felt deep despair in life.

  • Solomon, in his pursuit of pleasure, reached the point where he “hated life” (Ecclesiastes 2:17).
  • Elijah was so fearful and depressed that he yearned for death (1 Kings 19:4).
  • Jonah was so angry at God that he wished to die (Jonah 4:8).
  • Even the apostle Paul and his missionary companions at one point

“were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8).

So much for the worthless platitude that “God only gives you what you can handle” – well, not according to the Bible!

However, none of these men committed suicide.

  • Solomon learned to “fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
  • Elijah was comforted by an angel, allowed to rest, and given a new commission.
  • Jonah received admonition and rebuke from God.
  • Paul learned that, although the pressure he faced was beyond his ability to endure, the Lord can bear all things:

“This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).

We can also reflect on the martyrs, who willingly gave their life for Christ. Were these accounted as suicides? No, they were not. The Synaxarion (1998) includes saints whose lives came to an abrupt end when they refused to give up their Christian beliefs. For example, female Orthodox Saints of the first four centuries willingly:

  • walked into fires on seeing their brethren thrown into flames (e.g. St Agathonike according to Eusebius’s account, and separately St. Apollonia who endured terrible sufferings to the point of having her teeth extracted);
  • threw themselves from rooftops at the risk of rape (e.g. St Pelagia of Antioch); and
  • threw themselves into rivers to drown, fearing impending rape by drunken soldiers (e.g. St. Domnina and her two daughters Berenice and Prosdoce).

Yet, the intent of the female martyrs had nothing to do with suicide.

These were men and women of faith who when faced with an imminent threat to their lives, acted to glorify God. They did not go out actively seeking to end their misery.

The Church Fathers on Suicide

We have much to gain also in the distinction of the voluntary and involuntary murder as legislated in the canons 22 and 23 in the Synod of Ancyra in 314. Independent of whether a murder was voluntary or involuntary, a period of repentance had to be fulfilled before the one who had committed the crime could partake in sacraments again.

But the difference with a suicide was that no repentance for the act of self-murder could take place because the one who takes their life is instantaneously cut off from the ability to request forgiveness of their sins.

One reason the Church Fathers applied such strict definitions around suicide from the outset of the Church’s formation was because the Greco-Roman world tended both to disparage the body and to endorse suicide in circumstances of severe hardship. The Cynics, Epicureans, Stoics, and Gnostics, for example, all endorsed voluntary death for reasons consistent with each group’s broader ethical vision”.

The Church Fathers, in particular St. John Chrysostom and St.  Augustine of Hippo, are often juxtaposed by western commentators as having diametrically opposing thoughts on the subject of premature death – which is incorrect.

St. John Chrysostom gave full support to female saints who leapt to their deaths instead of allowing themselves to be raped and being defiled.

St. Ambrose of Milan also showed sensitivity toward these exceptional cases (e.g. recounting the death of 12 year old St. Agnes, Concerning Virginity I.2.5-9), as did Saint Jerome (e.g. writing to St. Paula about the martyrdom of Saint Blæsilla in Letters 39.3).

While on the other hand, St. Augustine was adamant that no one should kill themselves, no matter the magnitude of their desperation, but was circumspect in the context of martyrdom. It is worth quoting him in full:

“But, they say, during the time of persecution certain holy women plunged into the water with the intention of being swept away by the waves and drowned, and thus preserve their threatened chastity. Although they quitted life in this way, nevertheless they receive high honor as martyrs in the Church and their feasts are observed with great ceremony. This is a matter on which I dare not pass judgment lightly. For I know not but that the Church was divinely authorized through trustworthy revelations to honor thus the memory of these Christians” (City of God 1.26).

St. Augustine sharply condemns the practice of suicide, emphasizing,

“that no man ought to inflict on himself voluntary death” (City of God 1.27).

Likewise, St. John Chrysostom also condemns suicide:

“Whereas God punished such men [those who commit suicide] more than murderers, and we all regard them with horror, and justly; for if it is base to destroy others, much more is it to destroy one’s self” (Commentary of St. John Chrysostom on Galatians 1.4).

To theses we can add the author of The Shepherd of Hermes (written between AD 90-150), Saint Justin Martyr (AD ca. 100-ca 160), Saint Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-220), and Lactantius (AD ca. 260-330).

For instance, St. Clement of Alexandria writes,

“He who presents himself before the judgment-seat becomes guilty of his own death. And such is also the case with him who does not avoid persecution, but out of daring presents himself for capture. Such a person…becomes an accomplice in the crime of the persecutor” (The Stromata, or Miscellanies IV.10).

And Lactantius (The Divine Institutes III.18) writes:

“If homicide is wicked because it is the destroyer of a man, he who kills himself is fettered by the same guilt because he kills a man.”

The Fathers used very strong language to describe their beliefs about suicide for good reason (i.e. the highly public and influential deaths of philosophers by suicide was seen as acceptable in the Roman and Greek pagan worlds, but NOT by the Christian fathers!).

He stresses that outside this context of insanity, all that we have historically concerning the church’s life is incompatible with the praxis of suicide.

Thus, we know by the Orthodox Church’s canon law that

1) a person who willingly commits suicide and is not insane has sinned and should not receive a funeral rite (1 John 3.15), and

2) one who commits suicide in the condition of insanity, is able, through economia under the Bishop’s authority, to receive a funeral rite.

In Alaska, for example, where suicides have been not uncommon, during the late 90’s, it became known to Bishop Innocent Gula of blessed memory that any death which could not be easily explained otherwise, was being ruled by default a suicide by law enforcement. BY DEFAULT. When he heard this, he instituted a rule of only withholding funeral rites and memorial services from those deaths which could be proven to be genuine suicides. Not surprisingly, the number of such declared suicide cases plummeted.

Today the role of the priest is expected to be limited to caressing human passions instead of the aim of treating or extinguishing passions. By banning a religious funeral the Holy Fathers, full of love for mankind, ensure the following key matters:

A. They shout out to all Christians with a blatant voice that whoever kills himself has committed a serious sin, and SIN IS SERIOUS. In this way they are mentally supporting someone who is suicidal in a wise, clear and unambiguous manner to repel any such thought, even in cases of serious human difficulties. Have the supposed “philanthropists” of today never contemplated that they justify suicides with intense emotional arguments, becoming unintentional instigators of many future suicides?

B. There is another, more spiritual reason why there should be no funeral service for a suicide. The social contempt for the suicide is a silent prayer to God to have mercy on them. Every humiliation of man before God increases Divine Mercy. Even posthumous humiliations help the soul in its account before God. This is shown in numerous instances in the life of the Church.

We read in The Ladder of St. John Climacus, that in the chapter “On Repentance” the monks whom the author knew and had reached a virtual angelic state, humbly asked that after their death

“they would not even receive a memorial stone for them”,

but they requested their bodies be tossed without any postmortem honors.

St. Ephraim the Syrian asked that he not be buried with honors, and that they not light candles or incense for him, etc, so that God would take pity on him.

It is important to consider the deliberation given to confessors in a chapter entitled “Instruction to the Spiritual Father” in the book Exomologetarion: A Manual of Confession by St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite. In his discussion of suicide the saint stated:

“Namely, for a person to kill himself, while having a sound intellect, being conquered by despair.”

The qualification, “while having a sound intellect” is critical in understanding the application of canonical penalties and the voluntary or involuntary aspect of the offense.This would also have the effect of easing God’s judgment of such an act. St. Isaac the Syrian, noted,

“Just because the terms ‘wrath,’ ‘anger,’ ‘hatred’ and the rest are used of the Creator in the Bible, we should not imagine that He actually does anything in anger, hatred or zeal. Many figurative terms are used of God in the Scriptures, terms which are far remove from His true nature.”

Again, quoting the holiest of Syrian Saints,

“Among all God’s actions there is none which is not a matter of mercy, love and compassion: this constitutes the beginning and end of His dealing with us” (Brock, 1997).

The Holy Fathers on God’s Mercy

St. Ephraim the Syrian wrote,

“Only hope in the manifestation of Thy Grace, O man-befriending Master, consoles me and keeps me from despair. Whether Thou so desirest or not, save me, O all-good Lord, according to Thy great kindness.”

“God’s mercifulness is far more extensive than we can conceive.” (St. Isaac of Syria quoted by Brock, 1997).

God’s love according to St. Isaac is the driving force of all He has done, is doing. and will ever do. St. Isaac the Syrian noted:

“In love did He [God] bring the world into existence; In love is He going to bring it into that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of Him who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised.”

It is only in the context of understanding God and all His works as love that St. Isaac’s understanding of the end of time becomes comprehensible. St. Isaac wrote:

“Accordingly the kingdom and gehenna [hell] are matters belonging to mercy; they were conceived of in their essence by God as a result of His eternal goodness…That we should further say or think that the matter is not full of love and mingled with compassion would be an opinion laden with blasphemy and an insult to our Lord God.

By saying that He will even hand us over to burning for the sake of sufferings, torment and all sorts of ills, we are attributing to the Divine Nature an enmity towards the very rational beings which He created through grace; the same is true if we say He acts or thinks with spite and with a vengeful purpose, as though he were avenging himself.”

With this in mind, St. Isaac’s reference of God being in hell, still trying to draw the demons and those there to love Him, is humanly fathomable. St. Isaac, based on his “mystical union of with the love of God”, would consider the final judgment, as described in the Parable of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25: 31-34): the separation of the sheep from the goats to be the state of the soul at death, but a state not final or irreversible. Both demons and sinners would still have the possibility to respond, by God’s eternally enduring, merciful, and loving grace, so

“they will gaze towards God with the desire of insatiable love…”

It is important to reflect on the words of St. James

“…yet mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:13

In the Euchologian, which every priest today uses, there are the prayers for the parting of the soul. These are heartbreaking cries of holy ascetics who pray for their body to be despised in order for their soul to find mercy from God.

It is asked that the body of the sinner remain unburied for God to take pity on him. Therefore, it is by love and love alone that the Church does not give a funeral to suicides.

A blessed Athonite elder, Fr. Anthimos Agiannanites, when asked by relatives about a young suicide, if he should be commemorated during the Divine Liturgy (of course a funeral service was out of the question), responded:

“Do not commemorate him during the Liturgy. It is better for his soul. When the All-Merciful sees that we do not honor him, the Same will take pity on him, but when we honor him, He will not have mercy on him.”

There is in the Akathist for the Repose of Those Who Have Fallen Asleep a small prayer which is be prayed for those who have ended their own life.

” Forgive, O Lord, those who have died without repentance. Save those who have committed suicide in the darkness of their mind, that the flame of their sinfulness may be extinguished in the ocean of Thy grace.

Ikos 5 from the Akathist for the Repose of Those Who have Fallen Asleep.

St. Leonid of Optina advised a spiritual child of his grieving over his father’s suicidal death:

Entrust yourself and the fate of your father to the will of the Lord, which is all-wise and omnipotent. Take care through humble-mindedness to strengthen yourself within the bounds of moderate grief. Pray to the all-good Creator, thereby fulfilling the debt of love and filial duty-in the spirit of the virtuous and wise, thus:

Pray simply, without testing [God], placing your heart in the right hand of the Most High. It was not, of course, the will of God that your father come to such a bitter end, but now he is totally under the will of the Mighty One, and, soul and body, he is cast into the fiery furnace, which humbles and exalts, kills and gives life, brings down into hades and raises up [therefrom]. Furthermore, He is so kind, omnipotent and overflowing with love, that the good qualities of all mortals are nothing compared to His most exalted goodness.

For this reason, you must not grieve beyond measure. You say: ‘I love my father, which is why I am sorrowing inconsolably.’ But God, incomparably more than you do, loved and loves him. It is therefore necessary for you to leave the eternal fate of your father to the goodness and loving-kindness of God. And if He deigns to have mercy, who will gainsay Him?

Then St. Leonid advised him to pray this prayer:

“Seek out, O Lord, the perished soul of my father; if possible, have mercy! Thy judgments are unfathomable. Do not account this prayer of mine as a sin. May Thy holy will be done.”

St. Ambrose of Optina also recommended this prayer.

St. Theophan the Recluse also wrote about this:

“The Church does not command [us to pray for suicides]. How then dare its sons and daughters to (offer liturgical) pray(er) [for them]? What is evident here is an attempt to show that we are more merciful than the Church, than God Himself. It is better to limit ourselves to feeling pity for them, entrusting them to the immortal compassion of God, and praying for them in our private prayers, that He deal with them according to His loving-kindness and according to your faith in that loving-kindness.”

Finally, does not the Third Kneeling Prayer which we read recently on Pentecost Sunday pray to the Lord Almighty that he will release those who are held in the bondage of Hell?

“…who also on this all-perfect and saving feast, art graciously pleased to accept prayers for those who are imprisoned in Hell, promising unto us and unto those held in bondage great hope of release from the vileness that doth hinder us and hinder them… We who are living will bless thee, and will pray, and offer unto thee prayers and sacrifices for their souls.”

Again, is there some special mention there that we are excluding suicides from this prayer, or any reason we should believe it?

Private prayers, giving alms on behalf of the suicide, and other acts of love, with the hope that the Lord will have mercy on that poor soul, are not forbidden.

What is forbidden is the composing of liturgical prayers, and remembrances at liturgy for persons who commit suicide.

This is how our fathers respond. For this dead person to not be read over, as we have seen, is the greatest compassion we can offer him.Otherwise, the prayers of the Church prevent Divine Mercy because they are false, self-righteous, and hypocritical towards God.

For the Orthodox Church there is a fine line that cannot be crossed when making proclamations about suicide, before it opens the floodgates to the slippery slope. Yet, canonically, the Church has always known where it stands regarding suicide and the Fathers when consulted accurately have had one voice on the matter. What we are witnessing at present are significant pastoral responses that seek to communicate clearly that the Church is here for those who need it and that God will

“wipe away every tear” (Revelation 21:4),

no matter if one is struggling with mental illness, physical unwellness, very difficult life situations, or even atheism.

The Wisdom and Mercy of the Church Today

Following the example of the Holy Fathers, such as Ss. Basil the Great and John Chrysostom, who integrated the scientific knowledge of their day in establishing monastery hospitals, in our day, the bishops of America, (SCOBA) in a Pastoral letter issued in 1977 took into account what science has learned about those suffering from suicidal thoughts. First they cite an early church canon:

Thus, Canon 14 of Timothy of Alexandria states that liturgical services should be offered,

“if a man having no control of himself lays violent hands on himself or hurls himself to destruction.”

And the patristic interpretation of this teaching states that services should be offered when a suicide victim

“is not of sound mind, whether it be as a result of a demon or of an ailment of some sort” (Question XIV of the 18 Canons of Timothy, Archbishop of Alexandria. Pedalion, p. 898).

At end of the Letter they issued the following pastoral guidelines to be granted after appropriate investigation:

The general pastoral recommendation being that a church burial and memorial services could be granted unless there were an absence of significantly diminished capacities.

 

See the lectures of this Bioethics Conference HERE

Source: Fr John Peck – the Orthodox Church of Tomorrow