HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF THE HOLY TRINITY
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!
With these great and holy words Church pastors usually begin all their sermons, dear brethren. However, on other days these holy words serve only as a preface to church homilies, while on this day they can also form the subject of instruction, since today is the feast day in honor and the glory of the Most-holy, One-in-essence, Life-giving, and Indivisible Trinity. Of what can it be more suitable to speak today than of those Persons Whom we are celebrating?
It is naturally difficult to look at the sun, and it is more difficult to look at the Holy Trinity; vision fades, the mind is blinded! In this manner were blinded the heretics Arius, Macedonius, Savellius, Nestorius. Thus become blinded likewise those who try to gaze at the Bright Visage with arrogant eyes. But we will do otherwise: following the example of the godly universal teachers, we will arm our weak vision with the word of God, which, though drawing the spiritual sun towards us, at the same time tempers for us the brilliance of its rays. This method will be the most trustworthy for us, for in the word of God it is the Father Himself, or the Son Himself, or the Holy Spirit Itself that speaks of Himself. Will They not speak of Themselves properly?
What then does God’s word reveal to us about God? It reveals that God is One in the very fullness of this word. However, though one in His Essence, God has three Persons. For He is the same Who appeared sole to Moses on Mount Sinai, and Who revealed Himself as triune at the River Jordan, and Who then announced through His Evangelist: “For there are three that bear record in heaven – the Father, The Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one” (1 John 5:7). And the Son of God Himself, when sending out the Apostles to convert the entire world from darkness to light, commanded them to baptize all people in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In view of this we have no problem in confessing God both as one and as triune. To accept, worship, and confess the Holy Trinity is our duty, because that is the foundation of our faith, the object of our love, and the pledge of our hope. That is life eternal! For who redeemed us with His blood, if not God the Son? Who sanctified us with His grace, if not God the Holy Spirit?
Therefore, in one God we are confessing three – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God the Father is so called because, being the source of the entire Divinity, He pre-eternally engendered the Son and likewise pre-eternally produced the Holy Spirit out of Himself. God the Son is so called because from eternity He is born of the Father’s own essence, while in time He, as man, deigned to be born of the Most-holy Virgin Mary. God the Holy Spirit is so called because He is pre-eternally animated by the Father, and Himself animates all creation, particularly reasoning souls. The traits that distinguish the Divine Persons among themselves are already obvious from their very names: God the Father has existed always; God the Son is born, but does not engender and does not produce the Spirit; God the Holy Spirit issues from the Father, but is not engendered and, moreover, does not Himself engender or produce. Fatherhood, filiality, and provenance – the three distinguishing characteristics of the Divine Persons! Differing thus from each other, these three Persons yet comprise one and the same God, one in power, one in will, one in glory and might.
In this manner the Church, following the word of God, teaches us about God, teaches us without presuming to have said all that there is to say, nor presuming to have described fully and entirely the Divine being.
Not at all! The Church, despite its dignity as the bride of Christ, is far from the audacious thought that it knows all about God and His being. The Church calls the teaching on the Holy Trinity a mystery, i.e. a subject of faith which surpasses our mind, and what surpasses the mind cannot be explained in words, since whatever can be explained in words is no longer a mystery.
What is most comprehensible to all in the mystery of faith are the blessings with which each Person of the Holy Trinity has characterized Itself in regard to mankind. There is nothing obscure or perplexing in this aspect of the mystery. God the Father is our greatest Benefactor, for He called us forth out of nothingness, dignified us with His image, did not abandon us even when we fell, but sent His Only-begotten Son to redeem us and His Holy Spirit to sanctify us. God the Son is our greatest benefactor, for after our ill-fated transgression of the paradisaical commandment, He took upon Himself full responsibility for our sins and the entire burden of our fall. In order to return us to the state of first-created perfection, He clothed Himself in our nature, lived among us, died for us, and arose for our sake. God the Holy Spirit is our greatest Benefactor, for despite His ethereal sanctity He does not disdain us, sinners and iniquitous ones, but enfolds the Church and all that is within it with His grace. By means of the sacraments He revives, fortifies, and heals our souls which have been deadened by sin, enlightens us through the prophets and apostles whom He inspires, and even deigns to reside mysteriously in the soul of each believer, in order to prepare it for resettlement in the eternal abode of the Holy Trinity. In brief, the entire teaching of the word of God concerning the actions of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit consists of an account of their benevolent deeds towards sinful mankind in various forms.
It is precisely against this, the most elevated, comforting, and all-forgiving teaching, that the nearsighted human reason has often rebelled with its pitiful doubts and objections! This same arrogant and boastful reason would like the fullness of Divinity to be revealed to it! However, it is enough to lift just the edge of the veil by pointing to the unity of the three Persons, and already the poor human reason is unable to endure the brilliance of the Holy Trinity. What would happen if the Triune appeared in all His fullness? But let reason look around itself, and it will see triunity in the entire world. Thus, all things exist in time and space, but time is triune: there is past, present, and future. Space is also triune: there is length, width, and height or depth, which is the same. How is the world held together? By the forces of centrifugence, centripetence, and rotation. Of what does each day consist? Of morning, midday, and evening. Of what is each night composed? Of twilight, midnight, and dawn. What do we see in each thing? Form, color, and weight. With all of this and many other manifestations does visible nature express the triunity of the force which summoned it out of nothingness.
But if the Divine Trinity shines throughout the entire world, then in man, who was created in the image of God, it is reflected with even greater fullness. Here we see triunity everywhere and in everything, beginning with the visible composition of our nature: our body with its ability to procreate, our soul with its ability to feel, and our spirit with its ability to comprehend lofty and divine concepts. Should we take man’s body – here is a visible triunity of composition: bones, flesh, and secretions. Should we take the soul – there is the same triunity: feelings, concepts, and desires. Should we take the spirit – again there are three: mind, purpose, and free will.
In view of such triunity in all of creation, both sensual and spiritual, is not the repudiation of triunity in the One Who exists eternally equal to closing one’s eyes and not seeing the light at midday? Such is the fate of those who, having rejected the guidance of the word of God, entrust themselves only to their poor reason! Wandering from misconception to misconception, they often end up doubting their own existence.
Regretting such lack of reason and wishing all doubters enlightenment from above, let us turn, dear brethren, to the subject of our discourse, let our minds soar above all creation, let us draw near to the throne of the Triune. Let us prostrate ourselves in awe before the majesty of His perfection, and as proof of our love and gratitude for all the countless blessings showered upon us by the Most-holy Trinity, let us give to It the gift of our whole being. To God the Father let us offer our body, that it may be a tool for the fulfillment of His holy will. To God the Son let us offer our soul, that it may be inspired by the strength of His Cross. To God the Holy Spirit let us offer our spirit, that it may soar in the celestial realms, flaming from the Spirit’s breath. Blessed is the one who still in this life has already begun, as the Church sings, “to shine with the unity of the Trinity …” Amen.
WHY DID THE HOLY SPIRIT APPEAR AS FIRE?
You have heard that the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples in tongues of fire. But why did the Holy Spirit, co-eternal with the Father and the Son, appear as fire? Why as tongues of fire? Why does He sometimes appear as a dove and at other times as a flame? Why did He descend as a dove upon the Only-begotten Son, but as a flame upon the disciples? The Holy Spirit appears as fire because, in the words of the holy Apostle Paul, God is an ethereal, indescribable, and invisible fire: “For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29). God is also called fire because He destroys the rust of sins.
But the Lord sends fire down to earth when with the breath of the Holy Spirit He enflames the hearts of mortal men. And the earth lights up when a heart of flesh, that is cold in its iniquitous pleasures, abandons the desires of the modern world and becomes enflamed with love for God. Thus the Spirit very properly appeared as fire, because from every heart in which He chooses to dwell, He dispels the numbness of ice and enflames such a heart with a desire for eternal life. And the reason He appeared in tongues of fire was because the Spirit is co-eternal with the Son, while the Son is the Word of the Father; thus, just as the tongue is in close proximity to the word, so the Holy Spirit appeared in flaming tongues, in order to show the Spirit’s particular closeness to the Word of the Father. Furthermore, the Spirit also appeared in tongues of fire because He causes everyone in whom He dwells to be ardent and cogent. Church teachers possess tongues of fire, because in their sermons on the need to love God they kindle the hearts of their listeners. This flame was acquired from the mouth of the Lord Himself by those who said: “Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us… and while He opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32), because from the spoken word the spirit is kindled, its cold rigidity is dispelled, the soul begins to burn with lofty aspirations, and distances itself from earthly desires. Celestial commandments are never heeded with a cold heart, but with a heart burning with the fire of inner love for them.
The Holy Spirit appeared both as a dove and as fire, because He makes all those whom He encompasses both pure and ardent – pure as a dove and fiery in their ardor. Such a combination of ardor and purity is the only one acceptable to God. Thus, since the Spirit teaches both righteousness and purity, He had to appear as a dove, so that every heart touched by His grace would be tranquil with meekness and fiery with ardor for the truth.
Yet why did the Holy Spirit appear as a dove over our Redeemer, our Intercessor between God and men, but upon the disciples He descended as fire? It is well-known that the Only-begotten Son of God is the Judge of mankind. But who could have borne His judgment if He, before gathering us together in meekness, had judged our sins with ardor for truth? Thus, having made Himself Man for the sake of men, He appeared meek before men. He did not want to destroy sinners, but wished to gather them to Him; He wished first to rectify them through meekness, in order to have with Him those who could later be saved on the Day of Judgment. For this reason the Holy Spirit appeared as a dove over the One Who came not to destroy sinners through ardor, but to bear them a while longer through meekness. On the other hand, upon the disciples the Holy Spirit had to descend as fire, so that they, being plain people and even sinners, could spiritually enflame other slaves of sin to rebel against their sins and to cleanse by means of repentance those sins which God had spared through meekness. And the fact that even adepts of the Heavenly Teacher are not without sin is confirmed by St. John, who says: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
Thus the Holy Spirit descended as fire upon people and as a dove upon the Lord because we, in our ardor for truth, must carefully notice and burn with the fire of constant repentance those of our sins which the Lord mercifully bore through meekness. Consequently, the Spirit appeared over the Redeemer in the form of a dove and over people in the form of fire, because the more moderate is our Judge’s strictness towards us, the more must our weakness be enflamed against its own self.
The Ascension of our Lord
“God is ascended with jubilee, and the Lord with the sound of a trumpet” (Psalms 46:5).
On the feast of the Ascension of our Lord we celebrate the fulfillment of this prophecy of King David, which is used as the Prokimenon of the day. What does it mean for Orthodox Christians? It is not only Jesus Christ Who has ascended; for He has raised human nature itself to the heavens. We too shall rise from the dead and, if we are judged worthy, will rise with our regenerated, spiritual body to heaven, where, as the Blessed Augustine says, “all the people of God shall be made equal to the angels.”
But the thought of this promise reminds us also of our responsibility. The risen Lord is no longer with us in the flesh, but only through His invisible Holy Spirit. The interim between the First and Second Coming of Christ is for us a time of witness and testimony of Him Whom we worship without seeing. The Lord, just before His Ascension, commanded His disciples: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mark. 16:15); and He told them: “Ye shall be my witnesses… unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Christ has been with us for forty days, and we have rightly feasted; we must now, being filled with the Holy Spirit of God, strive to spread His Gospel and be His witnesses before the world. For everything that we do, or fail to do, we shall be judged by Him Who shall return to earth in the same way He ascended to Heaven. With such a sobering thought in mind, how can we not be zealous to make His truth known, so that all may join in the joyous cry of this feast: “Be Thou exalted, O God, above the heavens, and Thy glory over all the earth” (Psalms 107:5).
SUNDAY OF ALL SAINTS
In the heavenly firmament there are many stars of different magnitude and brilliance, but there are many more which we do not see. There are many saints of God, shining in the glory of our heavenly Father, but undoubtedly there are many more whom we do not yet know. All of these saints, revealed and not revealed to the world, whom we commemorate today, are like brightly shining beacons in the turbulent sea of life upon which treads our ship – the Holy Church of Christ.
There was a time when they, too, followed this path full of danger, illness, and all manner of deprivation. Crowned now with glory, being in joyous communion with the Lord God, they continue to support us on this path and encourage us to bear our cross. It is well-known that man is not born into this world for joy and comfort, and for this reason he should not become attached to earthly things above heavenly ones.
We have heard the following words in today’s Gospel reading: “He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:38). In order to fully understand this saying of Christ, we should ponder the word “cross.” This word was often used by the Lord in His discourses.
In their hearts the Orthodox people have fully understood the meaning of this word and use it to symbolize misfortunes, burdens, tribulations, and all kinds of worldly sorrows. We have many such crosses, and each person has his own special one. One person has a sick wife – that is a cross; another has a sick husband – that is a cross; still others have to deal with sickly children – that is a cross; some have children who are healthy, but who do poorly in their studies – that, too, is a cross. There are many more examples that can be given!
Besides these personal crosses we also have a common cross – and that is our isolation from Orthodox society, our life in an alien environment. This cross is felt by many, especially the faithful, to be more painful than all kinds of personal sorrows.
In other words, there is not a single person upon whose shoulder the Lord did not place a cross. However, to everyone the Lord gives a cross that he can bear. If a good master does not place a larger burden upon his horse than it can carry, will the Lord do otherwise? And if we sometimes feel that our cross is too heavy, that it exceeds our strength, – that comes from lack of faith in God, from our faintheartedness.
Let us be encouraged by the fact that even the holy saints, before they vanquished the world, often paid tribute to human weakness, and is some cases descended to the very pit of sinful life. And if afterwards with the help of God they soared on wings of faith and righteousness, – what prevents us from following them up the mount of virtue? For we are not alone, the Lord Himself is always with us, our guardian angels assist us, and the holy saints intercede for us before the throne of God.
Imagine the following picture: let us say that a great big ship suddenly starts to sink in the middle of the ocean; will the passengers then hopelessly fold their hands and descend to the bottom? Of course not! Some will rush to the lifeboats, others will hang on to lifebelts, wooden planks, etc., and all will try to keep afloat. Not a single person would entertain the thought: oh well, let me sink, because I do not know how to swim.
The same thing happens almost every day with the small boat of life of each one of us, the only difference being that up to now, by the grace of God, we have been able to survive. However, let us fear lest the tempest catch us unawares, and then willy-nilly we will have to descend into the abyss…
Thus, in all our misfortunes let us not lose hope of salvation, especially in our spiritual life, even if by human reckoning there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. The lives of the saints whom we are now commemorating tell us that the impossible for men is very possible for God. The Lord has promised all those who follow Him with their cross not only sorrows, misfortunes, and sufferings, but also rewards for such. And since our Lord is Master of heaven and earth, nothing can happen to us on earth without His holy will.
Let us follow the example of God’s holy saints by bearing each his own cross uncomplainingly, just as they had done. If we fall, let us quickly arise and continue to carry the cross, as today’s Gospel reading instructs us. And the Lord, seeing our efforts, will help us just as He had helped His disciples.
O, all ye holy saints, pray to God for us! Amen.
BASIC PRECEPTS OF THE ORTHODOX FAITH
(see beginning here)
VI. Violation of Harmony in the Universe
The Fall of man was preceded by the Fall that occurred in the angelic world. According to the united teaching of the Church fathers, the first to fall out of the great sin of pride and disobedience to God was one of the foremost and most perfect angels, and afterwards this supreme angel lured away other angels who were in his power and subordination. Having abused his free will, this angel fell into the great sin of the mind; he “did not hold on to truth” (John 8:44) and from that time became a liar and the father of deceit and murderer of mankind. This ringleader among all the evil spirits, called the devil, also bears other, most unattractive names: the tempter, Beelzebub prince of demons, Belial, Satan, prince of this world, etc., while the other evil and unclean spirits are called demons, fiends, angels of Satan, fallen angels.
In clarifying the essence of the sin out of which the supreme angel fell, the Church fathers express two opinions. Some say that “death entered into the world through the devil’s envy”; but others, notably St. Gregory the Theologian, say that through the devil’s envy death entered into the blessed earthly life of the first people. The fall of the devil himself occurred through his pride. On this basis the wise Ecclesiastes says that the origin of sin is pride.
The devil’s pride was manifested in his insane desire to be the equal of God, and some Church fathers believe that the devil’s pride was manifested in his desire to become even higher than God. Some Church fathers say that the supreme angel, the one closest to God, having learned that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity – the Son of God – was to suffer for the sins of mankind in the future, was unable to enter into the great mystery of the redemption of mankind and, doubting the Divinity of the Son of God, did not wish to worship Him, or – in the opinion of others – envied His being preferred over all the angels. In his second epistle to the Thessalonians (2:4) Apostle Paul depicts the devil as God’s opponent. According to the teaching of the same Apostle, the coming Antichrist will reveal this incorrigible demonic pride in all its hideousness and shamelessness. The Antichrist – this man of iniquity and son of destruction, who will oppose God and will set himself up higher than all that is God’s, “will sit in God’s temple as God, declaring himself to be God.”
The Fall in the angelic world was immeasurably deeper and more audacious than the Fall of the first people. Being bodiless spiritual forces, free from all temptations of the flesh, the angels fell out of the sin of pride, having audaciously rebelled against their Creator according to a previously calculated plan. Not only the chief angel, but all those who followed him have fallen so deeply, that they will never again rise out of the abyss of their irredeemable pride. Both the devil and all the angels who followed him, “who kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, are reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day,” according to Apostle Jude (1:6). There was a time, before they were thrown down from heaven, when they could have repented; but the fallen angels did not repent and now no longer have any possibility of repentance. St. Basil the Great says that a certain possibility still existed for the devil to repent before the first man was tempted. But then the physical world was established, the Garden of Eden was planted, and within it appeared innocent and blissful man, with a commandment of obedience to God. It was then that the devil’s envy increased at seeing the blissful life of our forefathers. Instead of repentance, the devil’s pride and spiritual death grew exponentially, and the possibility for repentance was lost forever. For this reason the private opinion expressed by Origenes, that the time will come when even the devil will repent, was condemned by the entire Church, which repudiated all possibility of “the evolution of the devil and his angels.”
In the Holy Scriptures we find many testimonials to the unquestionable existence not only of the devil, but also of other unclean spirits and evil demons, which the Lord and His apostles expelled from people.
There are wicked ones among them, but there also those who are “most wicked” (Luke 11:26). When the seventy disciples came back from their preaching, they joyfully told the Saviour: “Even the demons obey us in Thy name.” When sending the twelve apostles out to preach, the Lord gave power over the evil spirits to them as well.
The number of fallen angels who have become evil spirits is immense. The Lord healed many from evil spirits and expelled the demons from them, while out of one man He expelled an entire legion of demons. Based upon the words of St. John the Theologian that “the serpent’s tail drew the third part of the stars (angels) of heaven, and did cast them to the earth” (Rev. 12:4), some Church fathers conclude that the devil took away with him one third of the angels.
“The devil who had sinned from the beginning” (1 John 3:8) apparently took away with him angels of all ranks and levels, who retained these levels of subordination even after their fall. For this reason Apostle Paul exhorts us to “take up the whole armour of God, so as to be able to withstand against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world” (Eph. 6:11-12).
And so it is that God did not create the evil spirits. The evil spirits do evil not because of their originally-created nature, essence, or purpose, but because of their free evasion from obedience and subordination to their Creator, because of the tendency they acquired in their sinful fall to oppose God and all that is precious and holy in the eyes of God. Thus St. John the Theologian ascribes the origin of evil in the world exclusively to the devil, who destroyed universal harmony by the tolerance of the All-holy Creator, Who does not coerce the free will of His free creations – both angels and humans. In denouncing the unbelieving Jews, the Saviour said: “Ye are the sons of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning and stands not in the truth, because there is no truth in him; when he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own (i.e. out of his own nature, distorted by pride), for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44).
However, there used to be and can even now be found “wise men of this world,” who find it more logical to allow that evil has existed from eternity and that supposedly there were eternally two origins battling between themselves: the good and the evil. At the same time some dualists view this coeternal existence of the two origins in the following manner: the evil origin, no matter how strong it may be, is always lesser in might than the good origin. Other dualists, however, consider these two opposing origins to be equal in power, battling eternally, and for this reason there is no absolute good in the entire universe nor absolute evil, and either one or the other origin is continuously prevailing. Nevertheless, there is much that is incongruous and logically contradictory in this dualist system, namely: if the two origins had been absolutely equal, they would have mutually weakened each other, and then there would have been neither good nor evil in the world. If one agreed with the first opinion that evil and good are not equal, then the stronger one would have destroyed the weaker, and there would have existed in the world – depending on who was stronger – either solely the good or solely the evil origin. One may well ask – how do these origins exist? As opposing and mutually destructive origins, neither can exist within the other, nor one near the other. This means, if one accepts the dualists’ viewpoint, that it must be supposed that each of them occupies a special part of the universe, and from there they attack each other??? Who, then, assigned a sphere to each origin? They could not have done it themselves, because if evil came to an agreement with good, or good came to an agreement with evil, they would cease being evil or good. Consequently, it must be supposed that neither good nor evil, but a Third Being, Who, moreover has power and dominion over these origins, exists in the universe. More correctly, it turns out that there is One Supreme Origin in the world, to Whom everything in the world is subordinate. And again human reason comes to the conclusion that there is One (Sole) God. As to evil and good, these are manifestations of lower, in comparison to God, free origins, namely: (1) the good spirits or angels, as servitors obedient to God, created good by God Himself, and (2) the evil spirits, i.e. the devil and his servants, who fell of their own free will and were thrown down from heaven.
The dualists say that their system supposedly helps explain the existence of evil in the world, for it is impossible for evil to come from good.
Naturally evil did not come from good, for how can good beget evil? When God created the world, says the writer of Genesis, Moses, “God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). This means that everything came out good from the hands of God, and evil did not exist at first. Evil appeared only when some of the free creatures stepped away from natural obedience to God and embraced an unnatural existence without God and outside of God. All free creatures may be good only by being within God, the absolute and real Good.
As for the Fall of the first people, it was not as terrible and destructive as was the Fall in the spiritually-bodiless angelic world.
The fallen first people wept, repented, recognized their error, and suffered to have so offended their Creator and, therefore, the will and the reason of the first people could again receive a different orientation towards good, rectification, and submission to God. The devil fell of his own free will, while man became the victim of the tempter. However, even for fallen man it was impossible to arise on his own from the abyss of sin without special aid from the Lord and Creator Himself. Fallen man committed three terrible evils: (1) by his sin he infinitely offended the infinitely Benign, vastly Great, endlessly Just Creator, and became subject to damnation; (2) with his sin he infected his entire being; (3) with his sin he caused destructive consequences not only in his human nature, but in all of nature around him. Therefore, the following are necessary for the restoration of fallen man and for his salvation: (1) to satisfy God’s Justice; (2) to destroy sin in man’s entire nature, enlighten his dimmed reason and will, restore the image of God within him; (3) destroy the profound consequences of sin in man’s nature. Who could do this? No one except God.
The infinitely great offense had to be exculpated by an infinitely great sacrifice. Only the One Who was without sin could restore God’s image, rectify the will and reason, and destroy sin in man. According to Church teaching, neither angels nor man himself could restore human nature damaged by sin, but only the One Omnipotent God.
(To be continued)
ON SUPERSTITIOUS BELIEFS
In all times, there have been magicians/mages, sorcerers, and seers. Today, most mages insist that their gift is from God. In Russia, they employ crosses, icons, and prayers. Nonetheless, to link the words “Orthodox” and “extrasensoric” [one who claims a gift of extrasensory perception, ESP] would be absurd.
This is a spiritual substitute, the age-old reception of the demonic disguised as Orthodoxy so as to attract clients, says Hieromonk Anatoly (Berestov), who directs the work of the St. John of Kronstadt Spiritual Assistance Center in Moscow. Thousands of victims of magic have turned to the Center over the course of its existence. There have also been cases in which practitioners of witchcraft, clairvoyance, and sorcery have sought the help of the Center. They repented of their sins, confessed, later participated in the rite of renouncing occultism and being joined to the Church.
No other civilized country has as many magicians and sorcerers as there are in Russia. Moreover, the statistics take into account only the numbers of folk healers. No one has compiled statistics on the numbers of witches, sorcerers, seers, and “babas” [old women considered to be ogresses].
According to Victor Makarov, a doctor of medicine, a professor, and the president of Russia’s League of Professional Psychotherapy and of the Asian Psychotherapy Federation, “In Russia today, there are approximately 4,000 physicians/psychotherapists and about 30,000 psychologists involved in psychotherapy, and there are about 500,000 practitioners of ESP, warlocks, and sorcerers who in our country are referred to as folk healers. By that measure, we are quite competitive with the African continent and with a number of countries in Asia.”
Go to any “folk healer,” and he will invariably tell you that you have had a “hex” put on you. He will also suggest who has done it to you (so that you might then suffer years of unremitting hatred toward that person). Also, he will immediately comfort you by offering to remove the cursed spell by means of “folk medicine,” a field in which he has achieved mastery. However, don’t be surprised if after undergoing such treatment, you wind up in a psychiatric hospital.
Superstition, i.e. vain faith that is of no real use to one’s soul, is a kind of spiritual disease. Without fear of exaggeration, it can be compared to narcotic addiction. It comes into being where there has been a weakening in true knowledge of faith and of spiritual life. Faith without understanding very quickly turns into superstition, i.e. into a quite strange amalgam of disparate opinions, finding room for both angels and demons, and even for the Lord God, but lacking any understanding of repentance, battle against sin, or transformation in one’s way of life.
The superstitious person believes that his personal happiness depends upon how successfully he can fend off evil powers. Any understanding of God’s love, God’s will, or God’s providence, is entirely alien to that concept. Such a person neither knows nor wants to know that sorrows and sufferings allowed by God are manifestation of God’s love for us, are a means to educate us, are something that enables one to recognize his own weakness, to sense and recognize that God’s help is essential, and to repent and change one’s life. How such sorrows visit us does not matter – whether through illness or loss of loved ones, whether as the result of a tragic event, or through sorcerers’ slander. Does this mean that warlocks, wizards and sorcerers really do exist, and that they can inflict harm?
Yes, the connection between satanic forces in the guise of magic, sorcery, and curses, and the practice of healing, has existed since ancient times; to deny that would be the same thing as denying the existence of the prince of evil himself, the devil. However, we must remember that neither a sorcerer nor Satan himself can exert any influence on us unless that is something permitted by God, something that always has a very concrete purpose – to strengthen a person’s faith and bring him to the recognition that God alone is our only Helper.
God is wise and merciful, while the devil is cunning and insidious. Yes, many omens come true, and fortunes prove correct. However, the Lord warned us, “let it be unto you according to your faith.” What you believe in will be what guides you along life’s path, and what directs you in life. That is self-evident. At every day and every hour, the Lord tests our faith in our life, our works, our actions, and our responses to what happens to us and around us. If our faith has descended to the level of superstition, then the Lord often allows what was presaged in signs and omens to come to pass, and the magician’s charms and curses to have an effect, so that a person of little faith might be enlightened, might open his spiritual eyes to his sins, passions, and vices, and clear away the filth. However, the superstitious person does not want to admit that. Quite the contrary: he is quite satisfied with his sinful way of life, and does not want to change it. That is why he gets the evil idea that, as he is a good person undeserving of sorrows, it follows that someone is ruining his life. In that regard, the superstitious person thinks that if sorrows and woes have entered his life through a mystical action, a different action will set everything right, and he will go on living in clover, in the same sinful manner.
Here it is essential to turn our attention to the kind of people who spread this kind of superstition. In these matters ignorant little old ladies make up only a very small percentage. In the main, this is a well-known army of warlocks, magicians, extrasensorics, parapsychologists, healers, astrologers, fortune-tellers, soothsayers, false messiahs, false prophets, hypnotists, and a wide variety of sectarians. What an array of “miracles” these servants of darkness employ in their attempts to buttress their authority! Healing on demand before the eyes of the amazed crowd, predictions of future events, “resolution” of family conflicts and romantic difficulties, etc. There is no method they will be too squeamish to employ to gain people’s trust! They lie about supposed blessings from priests or even bishops, but for some reason never allude to a blessing from a Buddhist lama, Roman Catholic priest, or a rabbi from some synagogue. They employ little icons, crosses, and prayers. Sometimes, these healers themselves adopt quite a religious appearance.
Often these people send their victims to be baptized, or have them go to confession and communion. This is a very subtle measure, a step taken to distract the most skeptical and suspicious person. It creates the illusion that the wizard is cooperating with the Church, instills the idea that the person is in the hands of good, benevolent, bright powers, and achieves the most secret goal: trampling and desecration of the holy, and instilling a magical approach to the Mysteries of the Church. It is an approach through which people believe that God is obligated to help them in response to some external ritual action: lighting a candle, reading a prayer, going through the formality of confession or the formality of communion. It is hard to watch oneself, to try to correct oneself, to seriously internally prepare for the Mysteries of the Church; it is easier to go through some formality, and then expect God to work a miracle. Many people want to meet a starets (an elder) and a clairvoyant, and they dream of getting into the hands of a priest who performs exorcisms. All this, so that with one or two visits to such people, they might quickly rid themselves of life’s sorrows. We must remember that such a path will not lead us to see our sins, to repent, or to truly commune with our loving God.
As is well known, in faith we give up our will to the one in whom we trust. God calls us to submit our will, for our own good, to His holy direction. This is to say that God calls us to live according to His commandments. One could compare those commandments to a physician’s orders. Suppose the doctor says that when you have a stomachache you must avoid certain foods; no one would see that as a restriction of our free will. Likewise, in His commandments, God helps us to recognize that it is our sins that inflict harm upon the soul, and helps us to avoid committing them. In placing faith in an extrasensoric, we submit our will to him, and thereby relinquish our freedom. Thus, through healers and superstitions, the forces of darkness gain access to the souls of their victims. Even God, the Creator and Giver of Life, does not violate our freedom of will. He says, “I stand and knock,” and He enters only into an open, pure, believing heart. Satan strives to take every possible means to have us submit to him, but is impeded by God’s concern for us.
The sorcerer, the worker of magic charms, turns himself over into the hands of the devil. Unfortunately he becomes, while yet alive, a child of perdition and damnation. Often he trades on the illnesses and woes of unfortunate people, and counts on their wanting healing, by any possible means, the quicker the better. Disguising themselves, magicians of all stripes shift the center of gravity of all discussions and accusations away from themselves. Thus a perception is firmly rooted: that there are two different things – black magic and white magic. In fact, Christians understand that there is but one – magic of the devil – and that no different shades or colors are involved.
Extrasensorics vehemently insist that the serious consequences of their craft (loss of the faculty to reason, disturbance of spiritual state, depression and many other things) are the result of work by unqualified, amateur ESP practitioners. But it is not the work of dilettantes that is at the root of the problem. It is that one cannot make contact with demonic forces without sustaining harm, just as one cannot touch a high-tension electrical cable without suffering harm. It is essential to note that even if one who has dealings with healers does not sustain spiritual damage, he does at the very least contract a spiritual disease, some kind of contempt for and enmity toward certain people, a sense of smugness, vanity, and pride.
The awful phenomenon of serving the devil is becoming increasingly commonplace. Sorcerers appear on the radio and on television. Others boast of being hereditary wizards, of the fact that their ancestors had horns. From their advertising posters, their otherwise externally seemly faces look out through evil piercing eyes. They print massive amounts of literature, and there are schools for sorcerers and extrasensorics. It is important to remember that while the names they think up for themselves are varied, the foundation of their work is one.
In conclusion I would like to call upon all the faithful children of the Church to consider the fact that to a great extent we are also guilty of this growing abomination. If each faithful Christian were but to warn their irreligious friends and relatives, dissuade them from taking that dangerous step, tell them about the true Orthodox view of the world, and direct them to take their misfortunes and sorrows to church, the frightening rate of growth in the numbers of worshipers of Satan would not be so enormous. What we have now is that by using the seemingly innocent and harmless sins of superstition, belief in omens etc., the enemy of the salvation of mankind is continuing to pursue his destructive campaign. There is an all-too-close connection between faith in black cats, empty buckets, the evil eye, charms and hexes, and direct Satan-worship.
How then can we rid ourselves of hexes and charms?
First of all, by utterly forgetting about them. Secondly, by recognizing that the real misfortunes and woes that beset us are the result of a sinful life, and that the action of God’s grace calls us to repentance. Thirdly, by responding to that call and entering under the protection of Christ’s Church – not on the level of attending “séances of confession,” but rather, with a sincere desire to heal ourselves of our sins, with the intention to wholeheartedly accept the Church’s instructions, its teachings with respect to the faith and to piety, and with a desire to commune of the grace of the Mysteries of the Church, Mysteries that heal and grant us birth into a new life in Christ.
LIVES OF THE SAINTS
On May 22nd (the 9th by the old calendar) the Church celebrates the translation of the holy relics of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker.
In 1087 A.D. the Turks overran the Greek provinces of Asia Minor and began rampaging through them. The city of Myra on the coast of Lycia, in which the wonderworking relics of St. Nicholas were buried at that time, was also ravished. St. Nicholas appeared in a dream to a righteous priest from the city of Bari, and bid him send a group of his fellow citizens to Myra, in order to transfer the relics of St. Nicholas to Bari. The city of Bari is located in the south of Italy, on the eastern shore of the Italian peninsula, on the Adriatic Sea, and from ancient times was inhabited by Orthodox Greeks. A group of Bariites traveled to Myra under the guise of merchants, entered the church, and found the shrine with the relics of St. Nicholas overflowing with myrrh. Pouring the myrrh into a container, they took the relics and the container back to their ship and sailed off. The relics of St. Nicholas were transported to Bari in a wooden casket. The Bariites returned to their city on May 9th, and all the inhabitants came out to welcome the relics of the saint with great joy and honor. The relics of St. Nicholas immediately began to work a multitude of miracles. They were placed under the altar of a small church at the seashore. Later a large church was built above the smaller one, and both are standing to this day.
The last Russian emperor, the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II, donated generously for the decoration of the lower church containing the relics of his patron saint. Since Russian pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land before the revolution always stopped in Bari on the way, in order to pay homage to St. Nicholas, the Russian Imperial government built an enormous cathedral in honor of the saint, and also adjacent lodgings for the pilgrims. After the revolution, the pilgrims’ house was sold to the city, in return for which the city pledged the upkeep of the church and its priest. This majestic cathedral still stands on beautiful grounds in a shady garden.
The altar under which rest the myrrh-streaming relics of St. Nicholas
THE ORTHODOX VIEW OF EVOLUTION
(see beginning here)
The patristic teaching on evolution
What do the holy Fathers say about this? I have already quoted St. Ephraim the Syrian, whose whole commentary on Genesis describes how all God’s creative acts are done in an instant, even though the whole “Days” of creation last 24 hours each. Let us now see what St. Basil the Great says about God’s creative acts in the Six Days.
In speaking of the Third Day of creation, St. Basil says: “At this saying all the dense woods appeared, all the trees shot up… Likewise, all the shrubs were immediately thick with leaf and bushy; and the so-called garland plants – rose, myrtle, and laurel – all came into existence in a moment of time, although they were not previously upon the earth” (Hexaemeron, V, 6).
Again, he says: “’Let the earth bring forth.’ This brief command immediately became mighty nature and an elaborate system, which brought to perfection more swiftly than our thoughts the countless properties of plants” (V, 10). Again, on the Fifth Day: “The command came. Immediately rivers were productive, and marshy lakes were fruitful of species proper and natural to each” (VII, 1).
Likewise, St. John Chrysostome, in his commentary on Genesis, teaches: “Today God goes over to the waters and shows us that from them, by His word and command, there proceeded animate creatures. What mind, tell me, can understand this miracle? What tongue will be able worthily to glorify the Creator? He said only: ‘Let it bring forth’ – and there appeared a great variety of flowers, grasses, and seeds, and everything occurred by His words alone; so also here He said: ‘Let the waters bring forth,’ and suddenly there appeared so many kinds of creeping things, such a variety of birds, that it is impossible even to enumerate them with words” (VII, 3).
Here I reiterate: I believe that in the majority of cases modern science knows more than did the saints Basil the Great, John Chrysostome, Ephraim the Syrian, and other Fathers concerning the characteristics of fish and similar specific facts; no one will deny that. But who knows more of the ways in which God created: modern science, which is not even sure whether God exists and, in any case, attempts to explain everything without Him; or these divinely-inspired Fathers? When you say that God does not create instantly, then I believe that you propound the teaching of contemporary “wisdom” and not the teaching of the holy Fathers.
In a certain sense, of course, God’s creation is not instantaneous work; but even here the holy Fathers are quite precise in their teaching. I have cited Saint Ephraim the Syrian, who said: “It is just as intolerable to say that something was created instantaneously which, according to the Scriptures, was created in the course of six days.”
Thus St. Gregory the Theologian, asserting, just as did St. Ephraim the Syrian, that creation was not “instantaneous,” teaches: “Therefore, the days of creation are counted as something that is first, second, third, and so on to the seventh day, and with these days is divided all that has been created and set in motion by indescribable laws, and not produced instantaneously by the Almighty Word, for Whom to think and to speak already mean to accomplish in fact. If man, who was honored in being made by God and in His image, was the last to appear in the world, this is in no way amazing; because for him, as a king, it was necessary to prepare a kingly abode, and only then lead into it the king, accompanied by all the other creatures.”
And St. John Chrysostome teaches: “The Almighty hand of God and His boundless wisdom would not have had any difficulty in creating everything in one day. But what am I saying? Not even in one instant. But as He had created all existing things not for His own benefit, because He, being all-satisfied, has no need of anything, – but on the contrary, created everything in accordance with His goodness and love for mankind, so He creates in stages and through the mouth of the blessed prophet (Moses) presents us with a clear exposition of creation… Why was man created last, if he is the most perfect of all creatures? For a just reason. When a king intends to enter a city, his arm-bearers and other members of his entourage must precede him, so that the king might enter into a prepared place; similarly God, intending to place a king and master over all earthly creatures, first prepared all the decorations, and then created the master” (III, 3; VIII, 2).
Thus, the patristic teaching clearly tells us that God, although quite able to create everything instantly, preferred to create in stages of increasing perfection, with each stage being accomplished not in an instant, nor in the course of an indefinitely long period of time, but between these two extremes, specifically in six days.
In their commentaries on the book of Genesis, saints Ephraim the Syrian and John Chrysostome clearly look upon God’s creation as the work of six regular days, each one of which God creates “immediately” and “instantaneously.” Likewise St. Basil the Great, contrary to the widely-accepted opinion of Christian evolutionists, regards the acts of God’s creation as immediate and sudden, believing the duration of the Six Days to have been 24 hours each, for he says in regard to the First Day: “And there was the evening, and the morning. The prophet means the duration of day and night… ‘And there was the evening and the morning of one day.’ Thus is determined the measure of day and night, and is gathered into a single period of time, for 24 hours fill the duration of one day, if under day one also understands night” (Hexaemeron, II, 8).
As I have already said, I do not believe this question to be of primary significance in examining the problems of evolution; nevertheless, it is an eloquent testimony to the influence of modern philosophy on Christian evolutionists, who cannot wait to re-interpret these Six Days so as not to appear foolish in the eyes of the “wise men” of this world, who have “scientifically proved” that, no matter how creation occurred, it took place throughout millions of years. Of greater importance is the fact that these Christian evolutionists have such a difficult time believing in a six-day creation, which presented no problems to the holy Fathers, because the evolutionists do not understand what precisely occurred in these Six Days: they believe that lengthy natural processes of development took place, in accordance with the laws of our current decaying world; in fact, according to the holy Fathers, the nature of that first-created world was totally different from ours, as I will show below.
Let us examine in greater detail another patristic commentary on the book of Genesis, belonging to St. John Chrysostome. Note that I do not cite little-known or dubious Fathers, but only the very pillars of Orthodoxy, who present our Orthodox teaching with the greatest clarity and holiness. And in St. John’s writings we do not find any “allegories” either, but a very strict interpretation of the text as it has been written. Like other Fathers he speaks of Adam having been created literally out of dust, and Eve literally from Adam’s rib.
He writes: “If the enemies of truth shall insist that it is impossible to produce something out of nothing, then we shall ask them: was the first man created out of earth or something else? Undoubtedly they will agree with us and will say out of earth. Then let them tell us, how could flesh be formed out of soil? Soil can only produce mud, brick, clay, tile; but how did flesh appear? How did bones, nerves, veins, fat, skin, nails, hair appear? How did so many different materials come from one essence? They will be unable to offer any reply to this” (II, 4). And again St. Chrysostome writes: “God took a single rib, it is said; but how from this single rib did He form a whole creature? Tell me, how did the taking of the rib occur? How did Adam not feel this taking? You can say nothing about this; this is known only by Him Who created… God did not produce a new creation, but taking from an already existing creation a certain small part, from this part He made a whole creature. What power the supreme Artist God has, to produce from this small part (a rib) the composition of so many members, make so many organs of sense, and form a whole, perfect, and complete being” (XV, 2-3).
If you wish, I can quote many other passages from this work, showing that St. John Chrysostome – is he not the chief Orthodox interpreter of Sacred Scripture? – everywhere interprets the sacred text of Genesis as it is written, believing that it was nothing else than an actual serpent (through whom the devil spoke) who tempted our first parents in paradise, that God actually brought all the animals before Adam for him to name, and “the names which Adam gave them remain even until now.” (But according to evolutionary doctrine, many animals were extinct by the time of Adam – must we believe that Adam did not name “all the wild beasts” [Gen. 2:19], but only the remnant of them?)
St. John Chrysostome says, when speaking of the rivers of paradise: “Perhaps one who loves to speak from his own wisdom here also will not allow that the rivers are actually rivers, nor that the waters are precisely waters, but will instill in their listeners that they (under the names of rivers and waters) represented something else. But we shall not heed these people, but will believe the Divine Scripture, and following what is written in it, shall strive to preserve in our souls sound dogmas” (XIII, 4).
Is there need to quote more from this Divine Father? Like St. Basil and St. Ephraim he warns us: “Not to believe what is contained in the Divine Scripture, but to introduce something else from one’s own mind – this, I believe, subjects those who hazard such a thing to great danger” (XIII, 3).
(To be continued)
O, LAUD THE LORD!
O, laud the Lord from heavens
And sing to Him unceasingly!
His miracles and glory
Embrace the world ineffably.
O, laud Him, bodiless powers
And hosts of shining angels!
Out of the darkness of the tombs
Shone forth a great and radiant light.
O, laud the Lord from heavens,
Ye hills, and crags, and mountains!
Hosanna! The fear of death is gone,
And our gazes grow brighter.
O, laud the Lord, ye sea's horizon,
And vast and boundless ocean!
May all inordinate sorrow be silenced,
And all our hopeless clamor.
O, laud the Lord from heavens
And glorify Him, ye mortals!
Christ is risen! Christ has risen
And trampled death forever!