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

Attendees with Disabilities at the First Ecumenical Council


For the Sunday of the Holy Fathers. If you have parishioners with disabilities, this will encourage them. What heroes of the faith!

…The General Council having thus received authority from the king, the fathers directed that there should be gradations in the assembly and that each Bishop should sit in his place according to his rank. Chairs were there made for all and the king entered and sat with them. He kissed the spots which were the marks of Christ in their bodies.

Of the 318 fathers, only 11 were free from such marks, whose name were Absalom, Bishop of Edessa, and son of Mar Ephrem’s sister, Jonah of Raikson, Mara of Dora, George of Shegar, Jacob of Nisibis, Marouta of Mepairkat, John of Goostia, Shimon of Diarbekir, Adai of Agal, Eusebius of Caesarea and Joseph of Nicomedia. But all the others were more or less maimed in their persecutions from heretics. Some had their eyes taken out; some had their ears cut off. Some had their teeth dug out by the roots. Some had the nails of their fingers and toes torn out; some were otherwise mutilated; in a word there was no one without marks of violence; save the above-named persons. But Thomas, Bishop of Marash was an object almost frightful to look upon; he had been mutilated by the removal of his eyes, nose and lips; his teeth had been dug out and both his legs and arms had been cut off. He had been kept in prison 22 years by the Armanites [Armenians] who used to cut off a member of his body or mutilate him in some way every year, to induce him to consent to their blasphemy, but he conquered in this fearful contest to the glory of believers and to the manifestation of the unmercifulness of the heretics. The fathers took him with them to the Council and when the king saw him, he fell down upon the ground and worshipped* him saying,

“I worship* thee, O thou martyr of Christ, who art adorned with many crowns.”

To describe the doings of the Council from the beginning to the end is a great task, for the fathers were in sessions three years engaged in discussions about every kind of heresy. Protracted controversies took place between the fathers and the heretics, one party giving their views in writing and the other answering them in the same manner.

The following Confession of Faith was agreed upon by the 318 holy fathers, who assembled in Nice a city of Bithynia in the time of the Emperor Constantine, on account of the blasphemous doctrines of the accursed Arius.

We believe in one God, Father Almighty, maker of things visible and invisible; and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, only Begotten and first born of all creatures; who was born of the Father before all worlds and was not created; true God, of the true God, of the nature of the Father, and by whom the worlds were made and all things created, and who for our sakes and for our salvation descended from Heaven, took a bodily form by the power of the Holy Spirit, and became man; was conceived and born of the Virgin Mary, suffered and was crucified in the days of Pontius Pilate, was buried and rose again the third day as it is written, ascended to Heaven and sat down at the right hand of the Father, and will come again to judge the dead and the living; and in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth that proceedeth from the Father, a life giving Spirit and in one holy Apostolic Catholic church; and in one Baptism for the remission of sins; and in the resurrection of the body, and in life everlasting.


*Obviously, this translation in context, refers not ‘worship’ (latreia) due to God, but relative veneration (honor or ‘worth-ship’) used in the Old English idiom. Context, people – context.



Confession in the Early Church Fathers


Yes, Virginia, the early Church practiced confession… in Church.

The Early Church Fathers on Confession

Here are some quotes from early church fathers which show the sacramental tradition of the Mystery of Confession’s unbroken lineage from the earliest days of the Christian church.

Didache 4:14; 14:1
As early as 70 AD

Confess your sins in church, and do not go up to your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life…. On the Lord’s Day gather together, break bread, and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons
180 AD
Against Heresies 1:22

[The gnostic disciples of Marcus] have deluded many women…Their consciences have been branded as with a hot iron [cf. 1 Tim 4:1ff]. Some of these women make a public confession, but others are ashamed to do this, and in silence, as if withdrawing from themselves the hope of the life of God, they either apostatize entirely or hesitate between the two courses.

Tertullian of Carthage
200 AD
On Repentance 10:1,6

[Regarding confession, some] flee from this work as being an exposure of themselves, or they put it off from day to day. I presume they are more mindful of modesty than of salvation, like those who contract a disease in the more shameful parts of the body and shun making themselves known to the physicians; and thus they perish along with their own bashfulness. Why do you flee from the partners of your misfortunes as you would from those who deride? The body is not able to take pleasure in the trouble of one of its members. It must necessarily grieve as a whole and join in laboring for a remedy….With one and two individuals, there is the Church [cf. Matt 18:17ff]; and the Church indeed is Christ. Therefore, when you cast yourself at the knees of the brethren, you are dealing with Christ, you are entreating Christ.

Origen of Alexandria
c. 244 AD
Homily on Leviticus 2:4

In addition to these [kinds of forgiveness of sins], albeit hard and laborious: the remission of sins through penance…when he [the sinner] does not shrink from declaring his sin to a priest of the Lord and from seeking medicine….In this way there is fulfilled that too, which the Apostle James says: “If, then, there is anyone sick, let him call the presbyters [where we get priests] of the Church, and let them impose hands upon him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him [James 5:14-15].”

St. Cyprian of Carthage
250 AD
The Lapsed 15:1-3; 28

The Apostle likewise bears witness and says: ….”Whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” [1 Cor 11:27]. But [the impenitent] spurn and despise all these warnings; before their sins are expiated, before they have made a confession of their crime, before their conscience has been purged in the ceremony and at the hand of the priest…they do violence to his body and blood, and with their hands and mouth they sin against the Lord more than when they denied him.

….Of how much greater faith and salutary fear are they who…confess their sins to the priests of God in a straightforward manner and in sorrow, making an open declaration of conscience. God cannot be mocked or outwitted, nor can he be deceived by any clever cunning….Indeed, he but sins the more if, thinking that God is like man, he believes that he can escape the punishment of his crime by not openly admitting his crime….I beseech you, brethren, let everyone who has sinned confess his sin while he is still in this world, while his confession is still admissible, while the satisfaction and remission made through the priests are still pleasing before the Lord.

St. Athanasius of Alexandria
295 – 373 AD
On the Gospel of Luke 19

Just as a man is enlightened by the Holy Spirit when he is baptized by a priest, so he who confesses his sins with a repentant heart obtains their remission from the priest.

St. Basil the Great
330 – 379 AD
Rules Briefly Treated 288

It is necessary to confess our sins to those to whom the dispensation of God’s mysteries [i.e. the Sacraments] is entrusted [i.e. priests]. Those doing penance of old are found to have done it before the saints. It is written in the Gospel that they confessed their sins to John the Baptist [Matt 3:6]; but in Acts they confessed to the Apostles, by whom also all were baptized [Acts 19:18].

St. Augustine of Hippo
c. 354 – 430 AD

Let this be in the heart of the penitent: when you hear a man confessing his sins, he has already come to life again; when you hear a man lay bare his conscience in confessing, he has already come forth from the sepulchre; but he is not yet unbound. When is he unbound? By whom is he unbound? “Whatever you loose on earth,” He says, “shall be loosed also in heaven” [Mt 16:19; 18:18; Jn 20:23]. Rightly is the loosing of sins able to be given by the Church… (Psalms 101:2:3)

Yet those who do penance in accord with the kind of sin they have committed are not to despair of receiving God’s mercy in the Holy Church, for the remission of their crimes, however serious. (Echiridian 17:65)

Iniquity, however, sometimes makes such progress in men that even after they have done penance and after their reconciliation to the altar they commit the same or more grievous sins….and although that place of penance in the Church is not granted them, God will not be unmindful of His patience in their regard….(Letters 153:3:7)

There have been those who would say that no penance is available for certain sins; and they have been excluded from the Church and have been made heretics. Holy Mother Church is not rendered powerless by any kind of sin. (Sermons 352:9)

St. Ambrose
c. 333 – 397 AD
Penance 2:2:12

But what was impossible was made possible by God, who gave us so great a grace. It seemed likewise impossible for sins to be forgiven through penance; yet Christ granted even this to His Apostles, and by His Apostles it has been transmitted to the offices of priest.

St. Jerome
c. 347 – 420 AD
Commentary on Matthew 3:16-19

Just as in the Old Testament [ibi] the priest makes the leper clean or unclean, so in the New Testament [hic] the bishop and presbyter [i.e. priest] binds or looses not those who are innocent or guilty, but by reason of their office, when they have heard various kinds of sins, they know who is to be bound and who loosed.

Theodore Of Mopsuestia
c. 428 AD
Catechetical Homilies 16

This is the medicine for sins, established by God and delivered to the priests of the Church, who make diligent use of it in healing the afflictions of men. You are aware of these things, as also of the fact that God, because He greatly cares for us, gave us penitence and showed us the medicine of repentance; and He established some men, those who are priests, as physicians of sins. If in this world we receive through them healing and forgiveness of sins, we shall be delivered from the judgment that is to come. It behooves us, therefore, to draw near to the priests in great confidence and to reveal to them our sins; and those priests, with all diligence, solicitude, and love, and in accord with the regulations mentioned above, will grant healing to sinners. [The priests] will not disclose the things that ought not be disclosed; rather, they will be silent about the things that have happened, as befits true and loving fathers [cf. 1 Thess 2:11; 1 Cor 4:15] who are bound to guard the shame of their children while striving to heal their bodies.

St. John Chrysostom
c. 344 – 407 AD
Homilies on John 86:4

Priests have received a power which God has given neither to angels nor to archangels. It was said to them: “Whatsoever you shall bind upon earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose, shall be loosed” [Matt 18:18]. Temporal rulers have indeed the power of binding; but they can bind only the body. Priests, however, can bind with a bond which pertains to the soul itself, and transcends the very heavens…Whatever priests do here on earth, God will confirm in heaven, just as the master ratifies the decision of his servants. Did He not give them all the powers of heaven?

“Whose sins you shall forgive,” He says, “they are forgiven them: whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” [John 20:23].

What greater power is there than this? …The Father has given all the judgment to the Son. And now I see the Son placing all this power in the hands of men. They are raised to this dignity as if they were already gathered up to heaven, elevated above human nature, and freed of its limitations….The priests of Judaism had power to cleanse the body from leprosy — or rather, not to cleanse it at all, but to declare a person as having been cleansed. And you know how much contention there was even in those times to obtain the priestly office. Our priests have received the power not of treating with the leprosy of the body, but with spiritual uncleanness; not of declaring cleansed, but of actually cleansing…What mean-souled wretch is there who would despise so great a good? None, I dare say, unless he be urged on by a devilish impulse….God has given to priests powers greater than those given to our parents; and the differences between the powers of these two is as great as the difference between the future life and the present….Our parents begot us to temporal existence; priests beget us to the eternal. The former are not able to ward off from their children the sting of death, nor prevent the attack of disease; yet the latter often save the sick and perishing soul — sometimes by imposing a lighter penance, sometimes by preventing the fall. Priests accomplish this not only by teaching and admonishing, but also by the help of prayer. Not only at the time of our regeneration [at Baptism], but even aftward they have the authority to forgive sins….

“Is there anyone among you sick? Let him call in the priests of the church, and let us pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man, and the Lord shall raise him up, and if he have committed sins, he shall be forgiven” [James 5:14-15]. (The Priesthood 3:5:182-4; 3:6:190-6)

…Great is the dignity of priests. “Whose sins you forgive,” He says, “they are forgiven them” [John 20:23]…The things that are placed in the hands of the priest, it belongs to God alone to give…. Neither angel nor archangel is able to do anything in respect to what is given by God; rather, Father and Son and Holy Spirit manage it all; but the priest lends his own tongue and presents his own hand. Nor would it be just, if those who draw near in faith to the symbols of our salvation were to be harmed by the wickedness of another. (Homilies on John 86:4)

Pope St. Leo the Great
c. 459 AD
Letter of Pope Leo I to the Bishops of Campania, Samnium and Picenum dated March 6, 459 AD

I decree also that that presumption contrary to the apostolic regulation, which I recently learned is being committed by some in an illegal usurpation, is by all means to cease. With regard to penance, certainly what is required of the faithful is not that the nature of individual sins be written in a document and recited in a public profession, since it is sufficient that the guilt of consciences be indicated to priests alone in a secret confession. For although that fullness of faith may seem to be praiseworthy which, for fear of God, is not afraid to blush before men, nevertheless, because the sins of all are not of such kind that those who seek Penance do not fear to make them public, such an unapproved custom is to cease.





Confession in the Early Church Fathers

On The Fear Of God

by Adriane Evans Adams

fear_of_godIn some people’s minds, it is the terror of an ever-looming threat of the wrath of God, who is watching from the heavens, ready to afflict. This hardly seems to fit the God we know to have loved the world so much that though we were sinners, Christ died for us; a God whose mercies are new every morning; a God that takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked; a God who wishes all men to be saved; a God who welcomes the repentant prodigal with open arms, a God who is Love. I do not think God means for us to be overcome with fear of Him. How could we love Him under those circumstances? There are differing opinions about what “the fear of God” is meant to express. It seems to be a complex topic, and I have wondered about it myself.

Look at what Scripture and the Church Fathers have to say. Look at what early Christians understood it to mean. The Bible says,

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do His commandments: His praise endureth for ever.”

When we consider Creation, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, how can we not be awed by such intelligence, love, holiness, and power? He is all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful. This “fear” is the beginning of wisdom. That word “beginning” seems to be key in this context. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Living a Christian life brings understanding.

Job said,

“Can you search out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than heaven— what can you do? Deeper than Sheol— what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth And broader than the sea.”

It is beyond our comprehension. That’s a bit intimidating.

But further down in Job, chapter 11:

If you would prepare your heart, And stretch out your hands toward Him; If iniquity were in your hand, and you put it far away, And would not let wickedness dwell in your tents; Then surely you could lift up your face without spot; Yes, you could be steadfast, and not fear; Because you would forget your misery, And remember it as waters that have passed away, And your life would be brighter than noonday. Though you were dark, you would be like the morning. And you would be secure, because there is hope.

St. Paul the Apostle said,

“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

But further in the chapter, he speaks about hope and salvation. Interesting how these passages start with the fear of God and continue on to talk about hope.

In Exodus 20, Moses told the children of Israel,

“Fear not: for God has come to prove you, and that His fear may be before your faces, that you sin not.”

Did you catch that? The fear of God was for their benefit.

St. Maximos the Confessor (580-662) said,

“Dispassion engenders love, hope in God engenders dispassion, and patience and forbearance engender hope in God; these in turn are the product of complete self-control, which itself springs from fear of God. Fear of God is the result of faith in God.”

He also explained,

Fear of God is of two kinds. The first is generated in us by the threat of punishment. It is through such fear that we develop in due order self-control, patience, hope in God and dispassion; and it is from dispassion that love comes. The second kind of fear is linked with love and constantly produces reverence in the soul, so that it does not grow indifferent to God because of the intimate communion of its love.

Christ the Victor1 John 4:18 tells us

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love.” So it seems one can be a God-fearing person without living in fear.

Abba John the Dwarf (4th century) said,

“Humility and the fear of God are above all virtues.”

St. Isaac the Syrian said,

There is a humility that comes from the fear of God, and there is a humility that comes from the fervent love of God. One man is humbled because of his fear of God, another is humbled because of his joy. The man humbled from fear of God is possessed of modesty in his members, a right ordering of his senses, and a heart contrite at all times. But the man humbled because of joy is possessed of great exuberance and an open and insuppressible heart.

Saints Barsanuphius and John: Guidance Toward Spiritual Life, trans. by Fr. Seraphim Rose, says,

 “The beginning is humility and the fear of God: ‘The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom’ (Proverbs 1:7). And what is the beginning of wisdom, if it is not to remove oneself from everything hateful to God?”

St. Kosmas Aitolos said,

“Acts of kindness and generosity are spoilt by self-esteem (pride), meanness and pleasure, unless these have first been destroyed by fear of God,” and “The fear of God compels us to fight against evil; and when we fight against evil, the grace of God destroys it.”

Hermas said in the 2nd century,

“Only those who fear the Lord and keep His commandments have life with God. But as to those who do not keep His commandments, there is no life in them…. All, therefore, who despise Him and do not follow His commands deliver themselves to death, and each will be guilty of his own blood. But I implore you to obey His commands, and you will have a cure for your former sins.”

St. Theodoros the Great Ascetic (9th century) said,

“The greater our longing for God the greater grows our fear; and the more we hope to attain God, the more we fear Him… For as nothing is more blessed than to attain God, so nothing is more terrible than this great fear of losing Him.”

Here is what St. Nikolai Velimirovich had to say:

“Beholding the undreamed-of richness of God’s gifts, an obedient man is filled with fear and amazement both at God’s almightiness and his own sin. He would then want to hide from God, that God should depart from him and he himself return to his old spirit and his old life. But as soon as God’s splendor and His mercy are revealed to a man, his own sinfulness, unworthiness and long estrangement from God are instantly revealed to him.”

He also said,

How can he who has not begun correctly, finish correctly? Whoever started out on a wrong path from the beginning must turn back and must take-up the correct beginning… He who does not have the fear of God cannot have the love for God. What are we talking about? He who has no fear of God has no faith in God. The greatest ascetics, those who mortified themselves and who for a period of forty or fifty years daily and nightly lived a life of mortification until death, were filled with the fear of God and these, the most sinless among mortals, cried out in their hour of death: “O God, have mercy’ on me a sinner!”

Fr. Dimitru Staniloae said,

“Faith which hasn’t reached fear or isn’t accompanied from the beginning by fear hasn’t gained a high enough degree of efficiency to lead to action.”

St. John Climacus (6th century) said,

“Like the sun’s rays passing through a crack and lighting up the house, show up even the finest dust, the fear of the Lord on entering the heart of a man show up all his sins,” and “He who has obtained the fear of the Lord has forsaken lying, having within himself an incorruptible judge – his own conscience.”

St. Diadochos of Photiki (5th century) said,

“No one can love God consciously in his heart unless he has first feared Him with all his heart. Through the action of fear the soul is purified and, as it were, made malleable and so it becomes awakened to the action of love.”

Faith in God, the belief He exists and is present and is what the Scriptures say He is, can lead one to see his own shortcomings, feel remorse for wrong-doing, and want to change. Not just awe of what God can do, but realization of His unfathomable love for us. And it seems the more we change and grow in faith and understanding of His love, the less we live in fear. Yet this doesn’t diminish our reverance or humility. We don’t forget who God is and what He can do. He is still Almighty God. We still know He is to be feared.

St. Anthony (ca. 251–356) said,

“Always have the fear of God before your eyes. Remember Him who gives death and who gives life,” and “Die daily, that you might live eternally, for one who fears God will live forever,” and “If a man wishes to attain to love of God, he must have fear of God. Fear gives birth to mourning, and mourning to courage. When all this has ripened in the soul, it begins to bear fruit in all things.”

He also said,

“I no longer fear God, but I love Him, for love casts out fear.”

When you read what the scriptures and Church Fathers have to say, this isn’t a contradiction.

St. Symeon the New Theologian (949–1022) said,

When a man walks in the fear of God he knows no fear, even if he were to be surrounded by wicked men. He has the fear of God within him and wears the invincible armor of faith. This makes him strong and able to take on anything, even things which seem difficult or impossible to most people. Such a man is like a giant surrounded by monkeys, or a roaring lion among dogs and foxes. He goes forward trusting in the Lord and the constancy of his will to strike and paralyze his foes. He wields the blazing club of the Word in wisdom.

St. Dorotheos of Gaza (6th century) said,

Holy Scripture says of the midwives who kept alive the Israelites’ male children, that through the God-fearing midwives they made themselves houses. Does it mean they made visible houses? How can they say they acquired houses through the fear of God when we do the opposite, and learn in time, through fear of God to give up the houses we have? Evidently this does not refer to visible houses but to the houses of the soul which each one builds by for himself by keeping God’s commandments. Through this Holy Scripture teaches us that the fear of God prepares the soul to keep the commandments, and through the commandments the house of the soul is built up. Let us take hold of them, brothers, and let us fear God, and we shall build houses for ourselves where we shall find shelter in winter weather, in the season of storm-cloud, lightning, and rain; for not to have a home in winter-time is a great hardship.

He also explained,

“Goodness itself [is] knowing what it is to be with God… This is the man who has true love, which St. John calls perfect love, and that love leads a man to perfect fear. Such a man fears and keeps to God’s will, not for fear of punishment, not to avoid condemnation, but because he has tasted the sweetness of being with God; he fears he may fall away from it; he fears to be turned from it.”

And here is something all Orthodox Christians will recognize that ties it all together perfectly. It can be heard all around the world every Sunday:

“With the fear of God, with faith and love draw near.”




A Call for an Orthodox Approach to Scripture

by Fr. Lawrence Farley

This excellent article by Fr Lawrence has complete harmony with the Orthodox Tradition and is quite a distant thing from what is often passing for ‘Biblical Studies’ today – within the Orthodox Church today and without. We’ll be bringing you more along these lines shortly.

The much needed ‘return to the Fathers’, Fr. Alexander Schmemann said,

“means, above all, the recovery of their spirit, of the secret inspiration which made them true witnesses of the Church”

(quoted in Liturgy and Tradition, p. 84f).

That is, what is needed is a return to the mind-set, the inner attitude and spiritual world-view of the Fathers.

This return to the Fathers is nowhere needed more than in a return to their view and veneration of the Divine Scriptures. The Church is now suffering from a low and deficient view of the Scriptures, one gained from the liberal world of western Academia, one which feels itself free to dissent from the received meaning and interpretation of the Scriptures in favor of more modern and politically-correct views.

In the writing of ostensibly Orthodox authors, in casual conversations with some clergy, in letters to the editor in our Orthodox journals, one can often find evidence of this alienation from the attitude of the Fathers. In one article, supporting references to the Scriptures are pilloried as “biblical literalism”, in another, Pauline use of the Old Testament is discounted as “rabbinic exegesis”, in yet another, one is warned against “the hazards of appealing too quickly to patristic testimony”. Anyone who is a convert from liberal Protestantism can easily identify the common disease which produced all the above citations: a low view of the Scriptures in which they are praised as sources and authorities but ultimately discounted as products of their age rather than as living oracles of Truth.

When one steeps oneself in the literature of the Fathers, one is aware of entering a different world, of breathing a different air. For the Fathers, the Scriptures spoke with the voice of God and an apt citation of a Scriptural text (read and interpreted, of course, through the Tradition of the Church) was seen as bringing all godly controversy to an end. This was not “proof-texting” (which involves the use of Scripture separated from Holy Tradition). Rather, it was an awareness of Scripture as a locus and carrier of that Holy Tradition and therefore as a reliable arbiter in all Christian disputes.

A casual reading of the Fathers will confirm that this was their approach. Consider the words of St. Clement of Rome:

“You well know that nothing unjust or fraudulent is written in the Scriptures”.

Or the words of St. Irenaeus:

“the Scriptures of certainly perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and by His Spirit”.

Or the words of St. Hippolytus:

“those who not believe that the Holy Scriptures were spoken by the Holy Spirit…are unbelievers”.

Or Origen:

“With complete and utter precision the Holy Spirit supplied the very words of Scripture through His subordinate authors…according to which the wisdom of God pervades every divinely-inspired writing, reach out to each single letter”.

The Fathers did not adhere to a view of dictation, which would reduce the human authors of Scripture to merely passive conduits of the Divine Word. They knew full well that these were human documents, subject to the normal human variants of style and didactic purpose. Nonetheless, they were also very aware that these same human documents were vehicles for the Spirit of God, containing, as Divine Oracles, God’s timeless and transcendent Truth, and thus not subject to error.

According to the Fathers, how should we read the Scriptures today? I would point out two components of an Orthodox and patristic approach to the Divine Scriptures.

We should read the Scriptures in the Church. That is, we should interpret the Scriptures guided by our Holy Tradition as preserved in the interpretations of the Fathers. As Origen expresses it,

“That alone is to be believed as the truth which is in no way at variance with ecclesiastical and apostolic Tradition”.

This does not mean a rejection of all the fruit of modern commentary and criticism. It does mean a selective use of such modern work. The plumb-line of Tradition is to be hung against new work: only such as is consistent with Tradition is be accepted.

We should read the Scriptures on our knees. That is, we should come to the Scriptures as humble learners to be taught, not as judges to teach and correct. Humility is the pre-condition for everything in the Christian life, especially in our reading of the Scriptures. In this as in all things,

“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

We are often exhorted to be diligent in reading the Scriptures. This is a valuable exhortation—but one that must be supplemented with another: read the Scriptures as the Fathers read them. We must open our Bibles as opening the oracles of God—reading, as it were, over the shoulders of the Fathers.

Only then can we gain true and eternal benefit for our souls.

Source: Milk & Honey Blog

Hell According To The New Testament

Though Bishop N.T. Wright is not Orthodox (he’s the Anglican Bishop of Durham), he explains very well the Orthodox/New Testament teaching on hell. This was originally entitled “N.T. Wright and the Orthodox View of Hell.”

This is only 3 minutes long, but a very nice treatment of a contentious topic – at least, contentious since the middle ages and the publication of Dante’s Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradisio. The ‘tiered’ understanding of the afterlife is the origin of this false teaching about hell.

With tip of the skufya to Orthodox Christian Faith website.

The Eucharist As Sacrifice

Compiled by Maximus Scott

Philip Schaff 1819-1893

The Catholic church, both Greek and Latin, sees in the Eucharist not only a sacramentum, in which God communicates a grace to believers, but at the same time, and in fact mainly, a sacrificium, in which believers really offer to God that which is represented by the sensible elements. For this view also the church fathers laid the foundation, and it must be conceded they stand in general far more on the Greek and Roman Catholic than on the Protestant side of this question. (History of the Christian Church, Vol. III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity: A.D. 311-600, § 96. The Sacrifice of the Eucharist)


J.N.D. Kelly 1909-1997

[T]he Eucharist was regarded as the distinctively Christian sacrifice from the closing decade of the first century, if not earlier. Malachi’s prediction (1:10 f.) that the Lord would reject the Jewish sacrifices and instead would have ‘a pure offering’ made to Him by the Gentiles in every place was early seized [did. 14,3; Justin, dial. 41,2 f.; Irenaeus, haer. 4,17,5] upon by Christians as a prophecy of the eucharist. The Didache indeed actually applies [14, 1] the term thusia, or sacrifice, to the eucharist, and the idea is presupposed by Clement in the parallel he discovers [40-4] between the Church’s ministers and the Old Testament priests and levites, as in his description of the function of the former as the offering of gifts. Ignatius’s reference [Philad. 4] to ‘one altar, just as there is one bishop’, reveals that he, too thought in sacrificial terms. Justin speaks [Dial. 117,1] of ‘all the sacrifices in this name which Jesus appointed to be performed, viz. in ther eucharist of the bread and the cup, and which are celebrated in every place by Christians’. Not only here but elsewhere [Ib. 41,3] too, he identifies ‘the bread of the eucharist, and the cup likewise of the eucharist’, with the sacrifice foretold by Malachi. For Irenaeus [Haer. 4,17,5] the eucharist is ‘the new oblation of the new covenant’… It was natural for early Christians to think of the eucharist as a sacrifice. The fulfillment of prophecy demanded a solemn Christian offering, and the rite itself was wrapped in the sacrificial atmosphere with which our Lord invested the Last Supper. The words of institution, ‘Do this’ (touto poieite), must have been charged with sacrificial overtones for second-century ears; Justin at any rate understood [1 apol. 66,3; cf. dial. 41,1] them to mean, ‘Offer this.’If we inquire what the sacrifice was supposed to consist in, the Didache provides no clear answer. Justin however, makes it plain [Dial. 41,3] that the bread and the wine themselves were the ‘pure offering’ foretold by Malachi. Even if he holds that prayers and thanksgivings are the only God-pleasing sacrifices, we must remember that he uses [1 apol. 65,3-5] the term ‘thanksgiving’ as technically equivalent to ‘the eucharistized bread and wine’. The bread and wine, moreover, are offered ‘for a memorial (eis anamnasin) of the passion,’ a phrase which in view of his identification of them with the Lord’s body and blood implies much more than an act of purely spiritual recollection. Altogether it would seem that, while his language is not fully explicit, Justin is feeling his way to the conception of the eucharist as the offering of the Savior’s passion. (Early Christian Doctrines pp. 196-197)

Jaroslav Pelikan 1923-2006

By the date of the Didache – although the date is itself a controversial issue- the application of the term ‘sacrifice’ to the Eucharist seems to have been quite natural, together with the identification of the Christian Eucharist as the ‘pure offering’ commanded in Malachi 1:11. But even without an answer to the question of the Christian sacrifice, the description in the Epistle to the Hebrews of the death of Christ as a sacrifice seems to have been based on the Jewish liturgy.When the Jewish liturgical context of this sacrificial language could no longer be taken for granted among Christian hearers and readers, the Christian liturgies were already using similar language about the offering of the prayers, the gifts, and the lives of the worshipers, and probably also about the offering of the sacrifice of the Mass, so that the sacrificial interpretation of the death of Christ never lacked a liturgical frame of reference.

Liturgical evidence suggests an understanding of the Eucharist as a sacrifice, whose relation to the sacrifices of the Old testament was one of archetype to type, and whose relation to the sacrifice of Calvary was one of ‘re-presentation,’ just as the bread of the Eucharist ‘re-presented’ the body of Christ… (The Emergence of Catholic Tradition pp. 146-147,170)


Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

It was also widely held from the first that the Eucharist is in some sense a sacrifice, though here again definition was gradual. The suggestion of sacrifice is contained in much of the NT language…the words of institution, ‘covenant,’ ‘memorial,’ ‘poured out,’ all have sacrificial associations. In early post-NT times the constant repudiation of carnal sacrifice and emphasis on life and prayer at Christian worship did not hinder the Eucharist from being described as a sacrifice from the first…From early times the Eucharistic offering was called a sacrifice in virtue of its immediate relation to the sacrifice of Christ. (F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, 475-476)

The Westminster Handbook to Patristic Theology

In patristic writing the Eucharist is above all a “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” rooted in the memorial of the Lord’s saving passion and resurrection. The celebration of the eucharistic mysteries was approached eschatologically: the consecratory power of the Holy Spirit who once again made present the Lord of Glory in the eucharistic forms opened up a timeless window within the time-bound earthly church whereby believers, both individually and collectively, were caught up into the single redemptive work of Christ that had been accomplished within history but now applied beyond all time and history. The Eucharist celebrated the Christ who through His sacrifice (as re-presented in the church’s mystery) restored life to the faithful. (Fr. J. McGuckin: Eucharist, pg. 126)

The Didache ca. 70

Assemble on the Lord’s day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one. Anyone who has a difference with his fellow is not to take part with you until he has been reconciled, so as to avoid any profanation of your sacrifice (Matt. 5:23–24). For this is the offering of which the Lord has said,

‘Everywhere and always bring me a sacrifice that is undefiled, for I am a great king, says the Lord, and my name is the wonder of nations’ (Mal. 1:11, 14).(Didache 14)


Liturgy of St. James arranged 1st-4th cent. a.d.

Priest: O Sovereign Lord our God, contemn me not, defiled with a multitude of sins: for, behold, I have come to this Your divine and heavenly mystery, not as being worthy; but looking only to Your goodness, I direct my voice to You: God be merciful to me, a sinner; I have sinned against Heaven, and before You, and am unworthy to come into the presence of this Your holy and spiritual table, upon which Your only-begotten Son, and our Lord Jesus Christ, is mystically set forth as a sacrifice for me, a sinner, and stained with every spot. Wherefore I present to You this supplication and thanksgiving, that Your Spirit the Comforter may be sent down upon me, strengthening and fitting me for this service; and count me worthy to make known without condemnation the word, delivered from You by me to the people, in Christ Jesus our Lord, with whom You are blessed, together with Your all-holy, and good, and quickening, and consubstantial Spirit, now and ever, and to all eternity. Amen. (Prayer of the Standing Beside the Altar)

Liturgy of St. Mark arranged 1st-4th cent. a.d.

Priest: We offer this reasonable and bloodless sacrifice, which all nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun, from the north and the south, present to You, O Lord; for great is Your name among all peoples, and in all places are incense, sacrifice, and oblation offered to Your holy name. (The Anaphoral Prayer)

Pope St. Clement of Rome fl. 96

These things therefore being manifest to us, and since we look into the depths of the divine knowledge, it behooves us to do all things in [their proper] order, which the Lord has commanded us to perform at stated times. He has enjoined sacrifices and liturgies (Grk. prosphora kai leitourgia) to be performed [to Him], and that not thoughtlessly or irregularly, but at the appointed times and hours. (Letter to the Corinthians 40)

Our sin will not be small if we eject from the episcopate those who blamelessly and holily have offered its sacrifices. Blessed are those presbyters who have already finished their course, and who have obtained a fruitful and perfect release. (ibid., 44)

St. Ignatius of Antioch ca. 45-107

Make certain, therefore, that you all observe one common Eucharist; for there is but one Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and but one cup of union with his Blood, and one single altar of sacrifice (Grk. en thysiasterion) —even as there is also but one bishop, with his clergy and my own fellow servitors, the deacons. This will ensure that all your doings are in full accord with the will of God. (Letter to the Philadelphians 4)

The term ‘sacrifice’ is first linked to the Eucharist in Did. 14.1 but the exact meaning is not clear. The same applies to the use of thysiasterion in Ignatius of Antioch, Eph. 5.2-3, Trall. 7.2, Magn. 7.2; Phild. 4. The Encyclopedia of Christianity Vol. 4 By Erwin Fahlbusch, Geoffrey William Bromiley pg. 812

St. Justin the Philosopher ca. 103-165

And the offering of fine flour, sirs, which was prescribed to be presented on behalf of those purified from leprosy, was a type of the bread of the Eucharist, the celebration of which our Lord Jesus Christ prescribed, in remembrance of the suffering which He endured on behalf of those who are purified in soul from all iniquity, in order that we may at the same time thank God for having created the world, with all things therein, for the sake of man, and for delivering us from the evil in which we were, and for utterly overthrowing principalities and powers by Him who suffered according to His will. Hence God speaks by the mouth of Malachi, one of the twelve [prophets], as I said before, about the sacrifices at that time presented by you:

‘I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord; and I will not accept your sacrifices at your hands: for, from the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same, My name has been glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to My name, and a pure offering: for My name is great among the Gentiles, says the Lord: but you profane it.’ Malachi 1:10-12

[So] He then speaks of those Gentiles, namely us, who in every place offer sacrifices to Him, i.e., the bread of the Eucharist, and also the cup of the Eucharist, affirming both that we glorify His name, and that you profane [it]. (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 41)

Accordingly, God, anticipating all the sacrifices which we offer through this name, and which Jesus the Christ enjoined us to offer, i.e., in the Eucharist of the bread and the cup, and which are presented by Christians in all places throughout the world, bears witness that they are well-pleasing to Him. But He utterly rejects those presented by you and by those priests of yours, saying, ‘And I will not accept your sacrifices at your hands; for from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is glorified among the Gentiles (He says); but you profane it’ Malachi 1:10-12. (ibid., 117)

Athenagoras of Athens ca. 133-190

And what have I to do with holocausts, which God does not stand in need of?—though indeed it does behoove us to offer a bloodless sacrifice and

“the service of our reason” (Rom. 12:1).

(A Plea for Christians, Chap. XIII: Why Christians do not Offer Sacrifices)

St. Irenaeus of Lyons ca. 2nd cent-202 a.d.

Again, giving directions to His disciples to offer to God the first-fruits of His own, created things— not as if He stood in need of them, but that they might be themselves neither unfruitful nor ungrateful— He took that created thing, bread, and gave thanks, and said, This is My body. (Matt. 26:26) And the cup likewise, which is part of that creation to which we belong, He confessed to be His blood, and taught the new oblation of the new covenant; which the Church receiving from the apostles, offers to God throughout all the world, to Him who gives us as the means of subsistence the first-fruits of His own gifts in the New Testament, concerning which Malachi, among the twelve prophets, thus spoke beforehand:

I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord Omnipotent, and I will not accept sacrifice at your hands. For from the rising of the sun, unto the going down [of the same], My name is glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to My name, and a pure sacrifice; for great is My name among the Gentiles, says the Lord Omnipotent; (Mal. 1:10-11)

— indicating in the plainest manner, by these words, that the former people [the Jews] shall indeed cease to make offerings to God, but that in every place sacrifice shall be offered to Him, and that a pure one; and His name is glorified among the Gentiles. (Against Heresies Bk. IV, 17:5)

Tertullian ca. 160-220

She who is bound (to another) has not departed (from him). But (will she say), In peace? In that case, she must necessarily persevere in that (peace) with him whom she will no longer have the power to divorce; not that she would, even if she had been able to divorce him, have been marriageable. Indeed, she prays for his soul, and requests refreshment for him meanwhile, and fellowship (with him) in the first resurrection; and she offers (her sacrifice) on the anniversaries of his falling asleep. (On Monogamy 10)

St. Hippolytus of Rome ca. 170-235

The Word prepared His Precious and immaculate Body and His Blood, that daily are set forth as a sacrifice (Grk. epitelountai thyomena) on the mystic and Divine table as a memorial of that ever memorable first table of the mysterious supper of the Lord. (Fragm. in Prov., ix, i, P. G., LXXX, 593)

St. Cyprian of Carthage died ca. 258

For if Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, is Himself the chief priest of God the Father, and has first offered Himself a sacrifice to the Father, and has commanded this to be done in commemoration of Himself, certainly that priest truly discharges the office of Christ, who imitates that which Christ did; and he then offers a true and full sacrifice in the Church to God the Father, when he proceeds to offer it according to what he sees Christ Himself to have offered. (Epistle 62,14)

St. Athanasius of Alexandria ca. 293-373

By these things Israel of old, having first, as in a figure, striven for the victory, came to the feast, for these things were then foreshadowed and typified. But we, my beloved, the shadow having received its fulfillment, and the types being accomplished, should no longer consider the feast typical, neither should we go up to Jerusalem which is here below, to sacrifice the Passover, according to the unseasonable observance of the Jews, lest, while the season passes away, we should be regarded as acting unseasonably ; but, in accordance with the injunction of the Apostles, let us go beyond the types, and sing the new song of praise. For perceiving this, and being assembled together with the Truth , they drew near, and said unto our Savior,

‘Where will You that we should make ready for You the Passover Matthew 26:17?’

For no longer were these things to be done which belonged to Jerusalem which is beneath; neither there alone was the feast to be celebrated, but wherever God willed it to be. Now He willed it to be in every place, so that

‘in every place incense and a sacrifice might be offered to Him Malachi 1:11.’

For although, as in the historical account, in no other place might the feast of the Passover be kept save only in Jerusalem, yet when the things pertaining to that time were fulfilled, and those which belonged to shadows had passed away, and the preaching of the Gospel was about to extend everywhere; when indeed the disciples were spreading the feast in all places, they asked the Savior,

‘Where will You that we shall make ready?’

The Savior also, since He was changing the typical for the spiritual, promised them that they should no longer eat the flesh of a lamb, but His own, saying,

Take, eat and drink; this is My body, and My blood.

When we are thus nourished by these things, we also, my beloved, shall truly keep the feast of the Passover. (Letter 4,4)

Fr. Dion Dragas: Particularly interesting to note here is Athanasius’ understanding of the ‘sacrifice’ mentioned in Malachi’s prophecy in Eucharistic terms, which is, of course, in line with the whole patristic tradition. The real import of this is that the celebration of the Eucharist, involving the partaking of or communion in the humanity of Christ – which is called ‘spiritual’ [i.e., true or inner] in contrast to ‘typical’ [i.e., figurative or outer] – is now the only way to celebrate the Passover properly, which is now completely renewed, inasmuch as it is no longer related to the deliverance of the ancient Israelites from a human bondage and an entry into an earthly land, but to the salvation of all humanity from death and the devil, and entry into heaven. As a consequence, Jewish sacrifice and celebration of the Passover is now impossible.

It should be noted here that the fulfillment of the Jewish Passover by the Eucharist does not imply that the eucharistic meal which Jesus ate with his disciples was, for Athanasius, a Passover meal. If that was the case, then the shadow would determine the reality of the truth. For Athanasius, however, as for the unanimous tradition of the Fathers, the Eucharistic meal acquired its meaning from the new and unique event of the sacrifice of Christ which was effected through His acceptance of the Cross. This view is derived from the crucial Pauline statement

“Our passover, Christ, is sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7),

which is central to Athanasius’ teaching concerning the Christian sacrifice in his Festal Letters. (Saint Athanasius: Original Research and New Perpsectives. Chap. 4: Saint Athanasius on Christ’s Sacrifice pp. 108-109)

Council of Nicea 325 (1st Ecumenical)

It has come to the knowledge of the holy and great Synod that, in some districts and cities, the deacons administer the Eucharist to the presbyters, whereas neither the canon nor custom have handed down to us, that those, who have not the power to offer sacrifice (prospherein) may give Christ’s body to those who offer (prospherousi). And this also has been made known, that certain deacons now touch the Eucharist even before the bishops. Let all such practices be utterly done away, and let the deacons remain within their own bounds, knowing that they are the ministers of the bishop and the inferiors of the presbyters. Let them receive the Eucharist according to their order, after the presbyters, and let either the bishop or the presbyter administer to them. Furthermore, let not the deacons sit among the presbyters, for that is contrary to canon and order. And if, after this decree, any one shall refuse to obey, let him be deposed from the diaconate.

Strong’s definition  prosphora

presentation; concretely an oblation (bloodless) or sacrifice: – offering (up).

Thayer’s definition

1) the act of offering, a bringing to

2) that which is offered, a gift, a present. In the NT a sacrifice, whether bloody or not: offering for sin, expiatory offering.

St. Serapion of Thmuis ca. 339 a.d.

Heaven is full, the earth is also full of thy sublime glory, O Lord of hosts. Extend thy power upon this sacrifice, and grant thy aid to its fulfillment; for it is to thee that we have offered this living victim, the unbloody sacrifice.  To thee have we offered this bread, the likeness of the body of thine only Son. This bread is the image of His holy body; for ‘the Lord Jesus on the night in which He was betrayed, took bread, broke it, and gave it to His disciples and said: Take and eat, this is my body, which shall be broken for you,’ for the remission of sins.  Therefore have we, by repeating the figure of His death, offered the bread and pray:

By this sacrifice reconcile thyself with us all and have mercy upon us, O God of truth. And as this bread was scattered upon the hills and brought together into one, so do thou unite thy holy Church from every people and every land and every city and every village and house, and build up one living Catholic Church. We have also offered the chalice, the symbol of the blood; for the Lord Jesus, ‘after He had supped, took the cup and said to His disciples: Take, drink, this is the new covenant, which is my blood, which shall be shed for the remission of sins.’

Therefore have we also offered the chalice, because we have consummated the symbol of the blood.

Let thy holy Word (Logos), O God of truth, come down upon this bread, so that the bread may become the body of the Word, and on this chalice, so that the chalice may become the blood of Truth. And grant that all who partake of them, may receive the medicine of life, as a cure for all sickness and as an increase and progress in virtue, not, however, as judgment, O God of truth, nor as punishment and disgrace. (The Anaphora of Serapion)

St. Ephrem of Syria ca. 306-373

From the moment when He broke His Body for His disciples, and gave it to them, one begins to count the three days during which He was among the dead. Adam practically, after eating of the fruit of the tree, lived a long time, even though he was counted among the dead for having disobeyed the commandment of God. God had spoken to him thus

‘The day when you eat of it, you will die.’

Thus it was for Our Lord. It was because He had given them His Body to eat in view of the mystery of His death that He entered into their bodies as He entered later on into the earth. (Commentary on the Diatessaron 19, 4[translated from the Armenian version])

St. Cyril of Jerusalem ca. 313-386 a.d.

Then, after the spiritual sacrifice, the bloodless service, is completed, over that sacrifice of propitiation we entreat God for the common peace of the Churches, for the welfare of the world; for kings; for soldiers and allies; for the sick; for the afflicted; and, in a word, for all who stand in need of succour we all pray and offer this sacrifice. (Catechetical Lecture XXIII, 7-8)

Gregory Nazianzen 329-390 a.d.

Cease not to pray and plead for me when you draw down the Word by your word, when in an unbloody cutting you cut the Body and Blood of the Lord, using your voice for a sword. (Letter to Amphilochius 171)

Liturgy of St. Basil ca. 4th. cent. a.d.

Priest: Lord, our God, You created us and brought us into this life. You have shown us the way to salvation and have bestowed upon us the revelation of heavenly mysteries. You have appointed us to this service by the power of Your Holy Spirit. Grant, therefore, O Lord that we may be accepted as servants of Your new Covenant and ministers of Your holy mysteries. Accept us as we draw near to Your holy altar, according to the multitude of Your mercy, that we may be worthy to offer You this spiritual sacrifice without the shedding of blood, for our sins and for the transgressions of Your people. Grant that, having accepted this sacrifice upon Your holy, heavenly, and spiritual altar as an offering of spiritual fragrance, You may in return send down upon us the grace of Your Holy Spirit. Look upon us, O God, and consider our worship; and accept it as You accepted the gifts of Abel, the sacrifices of Noah, the burnt offerings of Abraham, the priestly offices of Moses and Aaron, and the peace offerings of Samuel. As You accepted this true worship from Your holy apostles, accept also in Your goodness, O Lord, these gifts from the hands of us sinners, that being deemed worthy to serve at Your holy altar without blame., we may obtain the reward of the faithful stewards on the fearful day of Your just judgment. (The Petitions)

St. Gregory of Nyssa ca. 335-394

He offered Himself for us, Victim and Sacrifice, and Priest as well, and

“Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

When did He do this? When He made His own Body food and His own Blood drink for His disciples; for this much is clear enough to anyone, that a sheep cannot be eaten by a man unless its being eaten be preceded by its being slaughtered. This giving of His own Body to His disciples for eating clearly indicates that the sacrifice of the Lamb has now been completed. (Sermon One on the Resurrection of Christ)

St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 338-397 a.d.

We saw the Prince of Priests coming to us, we saw and heard Him offering His blood for us. We follow, inasmuch as we are able, being priests; and we offer the sacrifice on behalf of the people. And even if we are of but little merit, still, in the sacrifice, we are honorable. For even if Christ is not now seen as the one who offer the sacrifice, nevertheless it is He Himself that is offered in sacrifice here on earth when the Body of Christ is offered. Indeed, to offer Himself He is made visible in us, He whose word makes holy the sacrifice that is offered. (On Twelve Psalms 38,25)

St. John Chrysostom ca. 349-407 a.d.

When you see the Lord immolated and lying upon the altar, and the priest bent over that sacrifice praying, and all the people empurpled by that precious blood, can you think that you are still among men and on earth? Or are you not lifted up to heaven? (The Priesthood 3:4:177)

What then? Do we not offer daily? Yes, we offer, but making remembrance of his death; and this remembrance is one and not many. How is it one and not many? Because this sacrifice is offered once, like that in the Holy of Holies. This sacrifice is a type of that, and this remembrance a type of that. We offer always the same, not one sheep now and another tomorrow, but the same thing always. Thus there is one sacrifice. By this reasoning, since the sacrifice is offered everywhere, are there, then, a multiplicity of Christs? By no means! Christ is one everywhere. He is complete here, complete there, one body. And just as he is one body and not many though offered everywhere, so too is there one sacrifice. (Homilies on Hebrews 17:3 [6])

Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom ca. 4th cent.

Priest: Lord, God Almighty, You alone are holy. You accept a sacrifice of praise from those who call upon You with their whole heart. Receive also the prayer of us sinners and let it reach Your holy altar. Enable us to bring before You gifts and spiritual sacrifices for our sins and for the transgressions of the people. Make us worthy to find grace in Your presence so that our sacrifice may be pleasing to You and that Your good and gracious Spirit may abide with us, with the gifts here presented, and with all Your people. (Prayer of the Proskomide)

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444 a.d.

He states demonstratively: “This is My Body,” and “This is My Blood“(Mt. 26:26-28) “lest you might suppose the things that are seen as a figure. Rather, by some secret of the all-powerful God the things seen are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, truly offered in a sacrifice in which we, as participants, receive the life-giving and sanctifying power of Christ. (Commentary on Matthew [Mt. 26:27]; Jurgens, III, 220)

St. Augustine of Hippo ca. 354-430 a.d.

You know that in ordinary parlance we often say, when Easter is approaching, Tomorrow or the day after is the Lord’s Passion, although He suffered so many years ago, and His passion was endured once for all time. In like manner, on Easter Sunday, we say, This day the Lord rose from the dead, although so many years have passed since His resurrection. But no one is so foolish as to accuse us of falsehood when we use these phrases, for this reason, that we give such names to these days on the ground of a likeness between them and the days on which the events referred to actually transpired, the day being called the day of that event, although it is not the very day on which the event took place, but one corresponding to it by the revolution of the same time of the year, and the event itself being said to take place on that day, because, although it really took place long before, it is on that day sacramentally celebrated. Was not Christ once for all offered up in His own person as a sacrifice? And yet, is He not likewise offered up in the sacrament as a sacrifice, not only in the special solemnities of Easter, but also daily among our congregations; so that the man who, being questioned, answers that He is offered as a sacrifice in that ordinance, declares what is strictly true? For if sacraments had not some points of real resemblance to the things of which they are the sacraments, they would not be sacraments at all. In most cases, moreover, they do in virtue of this likeness bear the names of the realities which they resemble. As, therefore, in a certain manner the sacrament of Christ’s body is Christ’s body, and the sacrament of Christ’s blood is Christ’s blood, in the same manner the sacrament of faith is faith.

Now believing is nothing else than having faith; and accordingly, when, on behalf of an infant as yet incapable of exercising faith, the answer is given that he believes, this answer means that he has faith because of the sacrament of faith, and in like manner the answer is made that he turns himself to God because of the sacrament of conversion, since the answer itself belongs to the celebration of the sacrament. Thus the apostle says, in regard to this sacrament of Baptism:

We are buried with Christ by baptism into death. Romans 6:4

He does not say, We have signified our being buried with Him, but We have been buried with Him. He has therefore given to the sacrament pertaining to so great a transaction no other name than the word describing the transaction itself.

(Letter 98,9)

Apostolic Constitutions ca. 400

He has in several ways changed baptism, sacrifice, the priesthood, and the divine service, which was confined to one place: for instead of daily baptisms, He has given only one, which is that into His death. Instead of one tribe, He has appointed that out of every nation the best should be ordained for the priesthood; and that not their bodies should be examined for blemishes, but their religion and their lives. Instead of a bloody sacrifice, He has appointed that reasonable and unbloody mystical one of His body and blood, which is performed to represent the death of the Lord by symbols. Instead of the divine service confined to one place, He has commanded and appointed that He should be glorified from sunrising to sunsetting in every place of His dominion. (Bk. VI, XXIII)

St. Columba of Ireland ca. 521-597

At another time, as the saint was staying in that part of Scotia (Ireland), named a little before, he came by chance on the Lord’s day to a neighboring little monastery, called in the Scotic language Trioit (Trevet, in Meath). The same day a priest celebrated the holy mysteries of the Eucharist, who was selected by the brethren who lived there to perform the solemn offices of the Mass, because they thought him very pious. The saint, on hearing him, suddenly opened his mouth and uttered this fearful sentence: “The clean and unclean are now equally mingled together; that is, the clean mysteries of the holy sacrifice are offered by an unclean person, who just now conceals within his own conscience a grievous crime.” The bystanders, hearing these words, were struck with terror; but he of whom they were said was forced to confess his sin before them all. And the fellow-soldiers of Christ, who stood round the saint in the church, and had heard him making manifest the secrets of the heart, greatly wondered, and glorified the heavenly knowledge that was seen in him. (St. Adamnan, The Life of St. Columba Chap. XXXII)

Pope St. Gregory the Great ca. 540-604 a.d.

And here also we have diligently to consider, that it is far more secure and safe that every man should do that for himself whiles he is yet alive, which he desireth that others should do for him after his death. For far more blessed it is, to depart free out of this world, than being in prison to seek for release: and therefore reason teacheth us, that we should with our whole soul contemn this present world, at least because we see that it is now gone and past: and to offer unto God the daily sacrifice of tears, and the daily sacrifice of his body and blood. For this sacrifice doth especially save our souls from everlasting damnation, which in mystery doth renew unto us the death of the Son of God: who although being risen from death, doth not now die any more, nor death shall not any further prevail against him: yet living in himself immortally, and without all corruption, he is again sacrificed for us in this mystery of the holy oblation: for there his body is received, there his flesh is distributed for the salvation of the people: there his blood is not now shed betwixt the hands of infidels, but poured into the mouths of the faithful. Wherefore let us hereby meditate what manner of sacrifice this is, ordained for us, which for our absolution doth always represent the passion of the only Son of God: for what right believing Christian can doubt, that in the very hour of the sacrifice, at the words of the Priest, the heavens be opened, and the quires of Angels are present in that mystery of Jesus Christ; that high things are accompanied with low, and earthly joined to heavenly, and that one thing is made of visible and invisible? (Dialogues Bk. 4, 58)

St. Isaac the Syrian died ca. 700

For lo, we observe that when we are offering the visible sacrifice everyone has made ready and has taken their stand in prayer, seeking mercy from the Deity, making supplication and and concentrating their intellect upon God, then the Holy Spirit come upon the bread and wine which are set upon the altar table. (The Ascetical Homilies, Homily 23)

Celtic Liturgy: Stowe Missal ca. 650

In the Mass for Living Penitents

O Lord, pardon us Thy penitents, Thy pretentious servants, that with untroubled mind we may be able to offer this Sacrifice for, that by the dictates of Faith, they may obtain forgiveness and health, through Thee O Holy Father. May Thy followers be able to make the offering and attain to the Salvation of eternal grace by Thine aid. Through our Lord Jesus Christ Who reigneth with Thee and the Holy Spirit throughout all ages of ages.


O Lord we beg Thee to graciously attend these sacrificial offerings here present that our devotions may be profitable to salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ Who reigneth with Thee and the Holy Spirit throughout all ages of ages.

Bede the Venerable 673-735

So devout and zealous was he (St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne ca. 634-687) in his desire after heavenly things, that, whilst officiating in the solemnity of the Mass, he never could come to the conclusion thereof without a plentiful shedding of tears. But whilst he duly discharged the Mysteries of our Lord’s Passion, he would, in himself, illustrate that in which he was officiating; in contrition of heart he would sacrifice himself to the Lord; and whilst he exhorted the standers-by to lift up their hearts and to give thanks unto the Lord, his own heart was lifted up rather than his voice, and it was the spirit which groaned within him rather than the note of singing. (Life of St. Cuthbert Chap. XVI)

St. John Damascene ca. 676-749

With bread and wine Melchisedek, the priest of the most high God, received Abraham on his return from the slaughter of the Gentiles. (Gen. 14:18) That table pre-imaged this mystical table, just as that priest was a type and image of Christ, the true high-priest. (Lev. 14:19-20) For you are a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedek. Of this bread the show-bread was an image. This surely is that pure and bloodless sacrifice which the Lord through the prophet said is offered to Him from the rising to the setting of the sun (Mal. 1:11). (The Fount of Knowledge 3.4)

St. Symeon the New Theologian ca. 949-1022

Therefore, it is with the desire to satisfy your charity about this matter that I should wish to pose this question, as if I were addressing those who speak in this way: “Tell me, most excellent brethren, why is this impossible?” They say, “It is because some are readily and easily brought to compunction, while others are hard-hearted and have hearts of stone so that even when they are beaten they are without compunction. How are those who are o disposed able to mourn and weep, and how can they always communicate with tears? Even the very priests who celebrate the divine and bloodless liturgy, how are they able to weep?” (The Discourses, Chap. IV On Tears of Penitence)

Synod of Blachernae in Constantinople 1157

Convened regarding Basilakes and Soterichus. Condemned those who say Christ offered His sacrifice to the Father alone, and not to himself and to the Holy Spirit; those who say the sacrifice of the Divine Liturgy is only figuratively the sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood; those who deny that the sacrifice in the Liturgy is one and the same as that of Christ on the cross; those who say men were reconciled to the Son through the incarnation and to the Father through the passion; those who think the deification of Christ’s humanity destroyed his human nature; those who deny that his deified human nature is worthy of worship; those who say that, since the human nature of Christ was swallowed up into Divinity, his passion was an illusion; those who say that characteristics of Christ’s human nature (creaturehood, circumscription, mortality, and blameless passions) exist only hypothetically, when one considers Christ’s human nature in abstraction, and not really and truly.


Was Adam an Actual or Symbolic Figure, According to the Fathers of the Church?

From the Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries.

There are thousands of patristic references to Adam – an immeasurable chaos. However, it will be hard to locate a verse that refers to Adam in an absolutely univocal manner; i.e., a verse that cannot but imply a specific person.

An endeavor like this is a difficult one, for two reasons:

a) Because the Fathers had no cause to outrightly state (per our rationale) that Adam “is not a symbolic person”. Such an issue had not been put forward as a theory during their time, which is why they did not preoccupy themselves with something that they regarded a given fact; and

b) Because in the case of Adam, a multitude of symbolisms do also apply, however without them annulling his literal existence as a person – as the hypostatic beginning of mankind.

It is for this reason that in the present article priority has been given (among the multitude of texts that could have been cited), to the more palpable ones, without the need for one to have a knowledge of classical Greek – such basic and essential texts being: the Holy Bible – the Sacred Canons – two or three of the major Fathers and a very concise analysis of the ‘person-centred’ theology, so that anyone can comprehend just how significant the literal acceptance of the person of Adam is, for the Christian faith.

To answer this question we could begin with the New Testament itself.

In the Gospel of Luke which presents the genealogy of Jesus Christ (Luke 3:23-28) – in other words, the persons through which human nature [1] “reached” the Lord – it is apparent that Adam is mentioned as one of many other historical – and not symbolic – persons:

“…of Cainan, who was of Arphaxad, who was of Sem, who was of Noah, who was of Lamech, who was of Methuselah, who was of Enoch, who was of Jared, who was of Maleleel, who was of Cainan, who was of Enos, who was of Seth, who was of Adam, who was of God.” (Luke 3:36-38)

Thus, the Orthodox Church has accordingly instituted the Feast of the Holy Forefathers, [2] during which the following resurrectional (“sticheron”) hymn is chanted, where it again is impossible to arbitrarily exempt Adam (as if he were only a symbolic character) amid an entire sequence of historical persons:

“Come, all you lovers of feasts, let us laud with psalms: Adam the Forefather, Enoch. Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; after the law Moses and Aaron, Joshua, Samuel and David; after whom Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel and the Twelve, together with Elijah, Elissaios and them all; Zechariah and the Baptist and all those who proclaimed Christ, the life and the resurrection of our kind.”

In the Sacred Canons of the Church, Adam is commemorated in one of the Canons that were issued by the Synod of Carthage (AD 419). Of course this was a Local Synod, however its Canons acquired ecumenical authority after having been validated by the 2nd Canon of the Quinisext Ecumenical Synod[3]. The 109th Canon of the Synod of Carthage mentions the following about Adam – whom it obviously treats as a historical person with a body and a soul:

“…Whosoever says that Adam, the first-made man, was made thus mortal, so that whether he sinned or not, he would have died in body – that is, he would have exited the body as a soul, not on account of sin, but by natural necessity, let him be anathema.” [4]

Adam’s historicity is equally stressed by the prominent Father of the Church and recapitulating dogmatologist, Saint John of Damascus:

“… everything that the Father has are also His (the Holy Spirit’s) except for unbegottenness; which does not signify a difference in the Essence or the status, but the manner of Their existence – just as Adam was unborn (for he was a creation of God) and Seth who was born (for he was a son of Adam) and Eve, who proceeded from Adam’s side (for she was not born), thus they too do not differ from each other in nature (for they are all human beings), but only in their manner of existence” [5].

Saint Athanasius the Great regards Adam not as a symbolic figure, but as much a historical one as Moses; and this is also confirmed by the fact that he speaks of the Incarnation – the Lord’s “entry” into human history:

“…and, albeit immediately able, even from the very beginning in Adam’s time, or Noah’s or Moses’, to send forth His Logos, He did not send Him… [6]

Moreover, we can also discern the same correlation (about the historicity of Adam’s person) in the words of the Apostle Paul:

“… but death reigned, from Adam up to Moses…” (Romans 5:14)

But even in regard to the content of Orthodox Theology, it is an entirely inappropriate perception that would give priority to the “essence” over the true being, the “person”.

In order to clarify these terms with certain examples: “lumber” is an essence, but “wooden objects” are the beings. Respectively, “humanity” is understood as being the essence, but “the human” is the being, the person. The being is something tangible and we perceive it with our senses, whereas we only have indirect communication with the essence.

In the

“person-centredness of Hellenic Patristic thought […] first place is no longer given to the notion of the essence, but to the person, the existence, the being. Instead of an impersonal ‘divine’, reference is made to a personal ‘God’, Who is not perceived as the supreme ‘being’, but as the sublime ‘o wn’ (He Who Is), the way He revealed Himself to Moses” [7].

As Saint Gregory Palamas expresses with clarity:

“…when God was responding to Moses, He did not say ‘I am the essence’, but ‘I am the One Who Is’ (o wn); for, (the name) ‘The One Who Is’ does not imply that ‘He Is’ from the essence; rather, it is the essence that comes from the being; because He, the ‘One Who Is’ has included in Himself all of being” [8]

This helps us to understand that the Fathers refer to Adam as a “being”, as a “person”, and not as an “essence”, not as the symbol of “mankind” – a stance that would not have been consistent with the overall viewpoint of their theology.



[1] “Christ bore Adam’s nature, without however being ‘of Adam’. He was not part of the natural continuity of descent of all humans, from a natural (biological) forefather. While he did have Mary as His mother, an actual descendant of Adam (and this guarantees the authenticity of His human nature), He did not have a natural (biological) father; a fact that exempts Him from any incorporation in the natural roots of the race that Adam represents as a patriarch”. (Andreas Theodorou, “Basic Dogmatic Teaching – Answers to questions on Dogma”, 3rd edition, Apostoliki Diakonia, Athens 2006, p. 83).

[2] “Adam and Eve (December, Sunday of the Holy Forefathers). The commemoration of the first-created is observed together with the remaining forefathers of Christ, on the Sunday before Christmas, at times on December the 16th, at times on the 18th and at other times on the 19th of the month” (Sophronius Eustratiades (Metropolitan of Leontopolis), “Calendar of Saints of the Orthodox Church”, Apostoliki Diakonia, Athens 1935, p.10)

[3] Panagiotis I. Boumis, “Canonical Law”, 3rd ed. augmented, Gregoris, Athens 2002, pp. 39.41

[4] Original and translation taken from: Prodromos I. Akanthopoulos, “Codex of Holy Canons”, 3rd ed., Vanias, Thessalonica 2006, pp. 340. 341

[5] Original and translation taken from: St. John of Damascus, “Exact publication of the Orthodox faith” (transl. N. Matsoukas). Pournaras, Thessalonica 1992, pp. 54-57.

[6] St. Athanasius the Great, “Complete Works”, Dogmatics 1 (Against Arians 1), by Patristic Editions Gregory Palamas, Thessalonica 1974, pp. 112-113.

[7] Marios Begzos, “The Future of the Past – Critical introduction to the Theology of Orthodoxy”, Armos, Athens 1993, pp. 41-42

[8] St. Gregory Palamas, “A catalogue of the outcomes of the incongruous”, No. 37, found in: Writings, tome 1, ed. P. Christou, Thessalonica 1962, p. 666