ANGELS AND DEMONS
In the month of November we celebrate the feast of the entire angelic host, which includes our closest friends in this world – our guardian angels. Although we cannot see the angels with our physical eyes, if we open the eyes of our hearts and minds, we will realize the great significance that angels have in our lives. God sent us angels to be our traveling companions and our guides in this life, to guard us and protect us from all evil. They are also our most faithful allies in our struggle against the forces of evil.
God is absolute Love, and this love impelled Him to create intelligent beings who would be able to comprehend love, to love God and participate in His bliss. The first such beings to be created were the angels. God endowed them with great abilities and settled them in His heavenly abode. However, though the angels possessed a great deal of perfection, they were not absolutely perfect, and so were open to the influence of passions. Thus it came about that some of the angels, seduced by the thought of their limited perfections, entered a state of pride, which became the cause of their fall. Lucifer was the first to rebel in pride against his Creator, and he was followed by many other angels who left God. But to leave God means to leave life and embrace death. The rebellious spirits left God of their own accord, and the just Lord also left them, leaving them to their own will. And what consequently happened? The faithful angels separated themselves from the rebels and rejected them with horror, while the rebellious ones turned from bright angels into angels of darkness. Those who had just recently shone with divine glory, now became an object of revulsion and horror throughout the entire heaven and even to themselves. Those who had just recently sung the glory of God, now began to curse and blaspheme. Driven out from heaven by the bright angels and tormented by their own rage, they fell with the speed of lightning into the abyss of hell.
The angels who had remained faithful to God now became absolutely perfect. The Lord rules the universe together with them and uses them as His faithful messengers. The angels are like a model of the perfection and the majesty of God. Their minds and knowledge have no other limits except those imposed by God upon His own creation. The angels are also endowed with superior strength and might, by means of which they are able, in accordance with God’s will, to act upon bodies and the physical world.
But as much as the bright angels are perfect and blissful, so the fallen angels, together with their leader Satan, are horrible and evil. They are eternally tormented by an intense hatred of God, a desire for revenge and utter despair. This is what the struggle of good and evil is all about: it is the struggle of Satan against God and all His creation.
The action of evil forces in the world is quite evident, especially in our times. But from whence springs this great rage with which they are trying to destroy us? Being unable to attack God Himself, they attack Him through His creation, especially through man, who has been created in His likeness and image. What hellish pleasure they find in defiling this image and taking away from the Creator His favorite creation! Being unable to do good, the evil spirits feel great satisfaction in making man participate in their crimes and share their punishment. And can Satan remain indifferent to us, knowing that we live in the hope of attaining the eternal bliss which he himself has lost? He becomes greatly enraged at the thought that the faithful followers of Jesus Christ, together with the bright angels, will judge him at the end of time. This envy burns him more powerfully than the flames of hell. For this he tries to move heaven and earth, just to lure us into his net. He turns all his anger against us and becomes most dangerous when he attacks not openly, but with the various enticements and wiles of his devious mind.
But it is at this point that the angels come to help us! In order to encourage and support His creation, His faithful sons, in their fierce and unequal battle with the forces of evil, the Lord sends us His angels, His heavenly troops. To each of us He assigns one of them, who becomes our guardian angel, our protector. And it is not only each Christian who has his own guardian angel, but each family, each pious society, each nation. The angels are the friends and brothers of the people on earth. They are so imbued with the love of God that they immensely love us, too, because in us they see the same gifts of God’s grace which they themselves possess. Truly, in the words of King David, man is a being who is only slightly lower than the angels.
The angels love us and participate wholeheartedly in our salvation, which is just as precious to them as their own holiness. They feel great joy at our salvation and do their utmost to keep us on the right path.
Let us love and value these wonderful friends and helpers of ours, especially our guardian angel; let us constantly turn to them in prayer, as to our nearest and dearest, so that together with them we would be able to enjoy eternal life in heavenly bliss!
FOR WHAT WE SHOULD THANK GOD
Homily for Thanksgiving Day
Today we have gathered in the church, dear brethren, to give thanks to God for His great mercy to us. God’s greatest mercy to us is that we are Orthodox Christians. Our faith is truly that pearl, for which the merchant who is mentioned in the Gospel sold all his possessions in order to acquire it. And each one of us now possesses this greatest treasure in life.
In our times, more than ever before, it is very important for us to appreciate this treasure, to thank the Lord for it, and to hold onto it with all our might.
Look at the life which surrounds us, dear brethren: we see so many misfortunes and calamities, natural disasters, social ills, spiritual woes; we see so many sorrows and misfortunes in each family, in our personal lives; we see so much evil all around us, horrible, cruel, soul-freezing evil, so that it can truly be said that our entire world is steeped in iniquity.
And so, gazing upon all this horror, we must thank the Lord with all our heart. We must thank God that our faith, like the sun, shines for us in the surrounding darkness, lights our way out of it into the Kingdom of truth, into eternal life; provides us with the warmth of goodness and love amid the surrounding cruelty and inhumanity; guides us onto the true path of life, so that we can avoid and protect ourselves from the evil which ensnares us; leads us into the quiet shelter of the Church, which provides us with a safe harbor from the insane vanity and malice of the world around us.
We must thank the Lord that our faith gives us the spiritual wisdom to understand current events, evaluate them properly and learn from them; to understand that natural and social disasters are sent by the Lord primarily in order to shake mankind out of its state of sinful indifference, awaken it from spiritual slumber, remind it that we do not live on this earth forever, and that we are destined for another life.
For example, when tragic destruction occurs in our country after terrible natural disasters or terrorist acts, how many people then remember God, turn to God with tears and prayers, at least for a short while are thrown out of their routine of worldly busyness and spiritual indifference? That is precisely the purpose of all that God allows to happen. This is confirmed by the words of the Lord Himself, said as a lesson to the Jews around Him, but which equally apply to us: reminding them of the biblical event in which the tower of Siloam fell and crushed the people standing nearby, the Lord said: do you believe that those men on whom the tower fell were more sinful than the other inhabitants of the city? No, I tell you, but all of you will perish likewise if you do not repent.
So will we, too, perish if we do not repent, dear brethren, and thus we should thank the Lord that He does not allow us to perish, but through sorrows and misfortunes reminds us of repentance, encourages us to abandon the destructive path of modern life.
In our personal lives, too, there are now many sorrows, for which we should also give thanks to the Lord, because they are a sign of God’s concern for us and care of us. Pious Christians were always concerned when they did not experience sorrow in their lives for any length of time, fearing that the Lord had abandoned them. And so today, dear brethren, having come to church to give thanks to the Lord, we should thank Him for everything: for all the joys and all the sorrows equally, because everything which God’s Providence sends to us in our lives is given to us for our salvation. Amen.
Prayer of Thanksgiving
(From the moleben)
O Lord Jesus Christ our God, O God of every merciful kindness and compassion, Whose mercy is without measure, and Whose love for mankind is an unfathomable deep! Falling down before Thy greatness, with fear and trembling as unworthy servants, and humbly rendering thanksgiving unto Thy loving-kindness for Thy benefits bestowed upon us, we glorify, praise, hymn and magnify Thee as Lord, Master and Benefactor, and falling down again we thank Thee! We humbly pray to Thy ineffable merciful kindness: as Thou hast now accepted and fulfilled our supplications, so also grant that henceforth we may increase in true love of Thee and in all virtues, and that we may ever offer thanksgiving unto Thee and glorify Thee, together with Thine unoriginate Father, and Thy most holy and good and consubstantial Spirit. Amen.
BASIC PRECEPTS OF THE ORTHODOX FAITH
III. The Creation of the Invisible or Angelic World
The One Triune God, possessing the absolute fullness of supreme qualities for eternal glory and rapture in His exclusive Divine life, could have refrained from creating the world and man. But being infinitely benevolent and loving, in accordance with His Own desire God decided to bring forth from nothingness into existence the entire Universe, i.e. by the power of His mighty word (let it be so!) He created the world and man out of nothingness, and from that time on He continuously takes care of His creation.
Before all else, with His Divine thought God created out of nothing, i.e. not out of anything, the invisible world, the heavenly powers, constant hymners of His Divine glory. This so-called “rational world,” the world of angels, by the grace that was given to it is always and in everything devoted to the Divine will. According to Church teaching, the very name “angel” denotes not the nature, but the position of these messengers of God. Angels are rational, spiritual beings, distinguished from God and from man and, moreover, actual beings and not imagined ones. By their nature angels are spirits; if they sometimes appear to people in sensual or bodily form, they take on this form in order to manifest themselves to man. The same may be said of the language (speech) of the heavenly messengers, which cannot be taken literally or physically. In the Holy Scriptures the bodiless angelic world is presented as being incredibly great in number. Both the Old Testament mystic the prophet Daniel and the New Testament mystic Apostle John the Theologian saw “thousands of thousands” serving the Old of Days as He sat on His throne, and “hosts of hosts standing before Him.” However, in this immeasurable world of angels there are subdivisions or levels. The Church divides the angels into nine ranks on the basis of all these names being mentioned in the Holy Scriptures. The Church divides the entire invisible world into nine ranks, subdividing them into three orders, with three ranks in each order, to wit: the first order, the closest to God, are the seraphim, cherubim, and thrones; the second order are the dominions, powers, and authorities; the third order are the principalities, archangels, and angels.
Having created the invisible world, the Lord then created out of nothingness also the visible or physical world and, finally, man himself. This “crown of creation,” being composed of both an invisible rational soul and a material body, carries within him the image of the visible and the invisible worlds.
It was hard for the sages of this world to comprehend the Orthodox teaching, based upon Divine Revelation, on the provenance of all that exists outside of God, brought forth from non-existence by the creative act of the Omnipotent Lord. Both ancient and modern sages fell deeply into error in their teachings on the origin of the world. Some of them acknowledged that the world is eternal; others taught about the “emanation” of the world from God; yet others believed that as a result of some blind chance the world just formed itself out of eternal chaos, i.e. out of a supposedly eternally existing mass of atoms; and still others asserted that God created the world out of “material that was co-eternal with Him.” Not one of them could elevate himself to the concept of the world originating through the power of the Omnipotent God, the Primary Cause of all existing things. Even in Christian times there appeared free-thinkers who began to teach that the physical world was created by the angels out of eternal material and without God’s knowledge. The heretical Manicheans even went so far as to posit the creation of the world by the origin of evil – the devil.
Truly cultured people arrive at the ideas of the eternality of God and the temporality of the world, as well as the creation of the world out of nothingness, not only through feeling, but also through logic. It is precisely this logic which does not allow us to explain the origin of the world as being due to blind chance, without any cause. Everything in the world has its cause. Through sound reasoning our mind arrives not only intuitively, but also logically at acknowledging such a Primary Cause of the world, which, not being a consequence of any other cause, comprises within itself the cause of all existing things. This Supreme and Absolute Being is the true God and Creator of the world. What is easier for us – to ascribe all the beauty, order, and harmony in the world to a higher, sentient Primary Cause or to the blind chance of an atomic chain reaction? Let adherents of the Kant-Laplace theory comfort themselves with the thought that “due to some unknown (!) impetus, the centers that were formed and solidified began to revolve like a whirlwind and… formed the world.” Let them satisfy their curiosity with “an eternally existing hot nebula,” out of which “the entire universe appeared,” while we, venerating the supreme and sentient Primary Cause of the entire universe, will joyously glorify His eternal Power and Divinity.
In vain do the godless, who doubt God’s existence, wait until science tells them with finality whether God exists or not. Natural and applied sciences do not deal with the issue of God. That is not their specialty. It is well-known that natural and applied sciences concentrate their entire attention on the study of already existing things, our surrounding world, and the laws to which this world and life within in are subordinate. If we believers are interested in the question of how the world originated, science is interested more in how to best name and define this primeval cosmic material or energy, and to what laws this material or energy is subordinate. It is precisely logic itself which demands from scientists, when they begin to delve deeper into theological/religious thinking, to acknowledge that the Primary Cause of the world is the Omniscient Origin, Personal and Sentient. Only then does everything in the world become comprehensible and explicable.
In error are the pantheists who, although they acknowledge the Primary Cause (God) in the world, yet assert that this Primary Cause had created unconsciously. Such is the conclusion reached by pantheists-pessimists like Hartmann and Schopenhauer. These and similar philosophers say that the primary cause may have unconsciously manifested appropriate powers in arranging the universe, just as animals unconsciously perform a whole series of appropriate functions. But for a rational mind it is much easier to posit that nature functions appropriately, albeit unconsciously, precisely because it is indebted for its arrangement and all the laws instilled within it to a Sentient Being. It is much more logical to draw the same parallel, the same interaction between God and nature as exists between man and the insensate but appropriately functioning machines he creates.
If it is rational and logical to acknowledge the existence of a Personal Sentient God, then it is quite logical to also agree to the fittingness of a supernatural Divine Revelation and of religion as a living union between a Personal God and rationally-free man, created by Him in the image and likeness of God. Only in the Divine Revelation do we find answers to all the questions of the questing human mind which neither science nor philosophy can answer. It is from the Revelation that we learn that evil in the world is the result of the fall of some of the angels and the first-created man, who came out of their Creator’s hands pure and innocent, but through pride and misuse of their free will violated the original harmony of the world. Only from the Revelation do we learn of the personal life of the Creator of the universe – the totally incomprehensible to our logic dogma of the Most-holy, One-in-essence, Life-giving, and Indivisible Trinity, or the triune unity of God within Himself.
God is not only the Creator, but also the Sovereign Lord and Provider. He cares for all the beings in the world, and this care is expressed in His preserving, assisting, and governing His creatures. Preservation is that act of God’s providence wherein the Almighty maintains the existence of the entire world and of all the particular beings in it, with all their forces, laws, and activities. Assistance is that act of God’s providence wherein the All-benevolent provides for all rational creatures and helps them when they freely choose and do good. And when they do evil, He only tolerates it. Governance is that act of God’s providence wherein the Provider guides the lives of His creatures towards designated goals, often turning their very deeds into good consequences. According to the precise meaning of the Word of God and the teaching of the Church fathers, God’s providence is divided into the general, pertaining to the entire world, and the particular, pertaining to each specific creature. “How can the One Who out of His infinite goodness created the world not care for His creation?” – says Blessed Theodorite. Being Omnipotent and Omnipresent, God has no difficulty whatsoever in caring for His creatures. Without God’s providence there would not have been the amazing order we see in the world and, randomly tossed hither and thither like a ship in a tempest, the world would have turned into primeval chaos and turmoil. “Having been called forth out of nothingness, the world could not have existed on its own,” – say Athanasius the Great and Cyril of Alexandria. Whoever denies God’s providence, denies God Himself, say the holy Fathers. Although God’s providence encompasses the entire world, the freedom of spiritually rational beings is not violated by it, while the existence of different forms of evil cannot be attributed to the Ruler of the world. For this reason so-called deism, or the philosophical movement which acknowledges God the Creator but denies God’s providence in the world, is totally rejected by the Church.
(To be continued)
Saint John of Kronstadt on prayer
“I languish, I die spiritually,” – said St. John, – “when I do not serve in church for several days, and my soul and heart revive, are aflame when I serve, immersing myself in a prayer that is not formal, but genuine, spiritual, sincere, fiery. I love to pray in God’s church, in the holy altar, before the altar table, because by the grace of God I become wondrously transformed in church; in a prayer of penitence and humility my soul becomes free of the fetters of passion and I feel uplifted; I feel as though I am dead to the world and all its goods; I come alive in God and for God, for the one God, I become suffused by Him and am one in spirit with Him; I become like a child comforted in his mother’s lap; my heart becomes full of divine sweet peace; my soul becomes enlightened with a divine light, everything is seen in this light, everyone is approached in the right way, one feels kindness and love towards everyone, even towards one’s enemies, and they are easily excused and forgiven!”
“O, how exalted is the soul when it is with God! The Church is truly a paradise on earth! How fervently one appeals to the Lord and the Mother of God! What meekness, humility, kindness one feels! What indifference to earthly things! What ardent desire for heavenly bliss! The tongue cannot even describe the rapture one experiences in having God within one’s heart! With Him all earthly things are like dust and decay.”
“One must constrain oneself and do prostrations even against one’s will; this is necessary to combat the pride which nestles deep within our heart. Pride cannot bear to prostrate itself.”
“A prayer requires that the object of the prayer be expressed concretely or, at the least, that the heart have a clear realization and desire of it; secondly, that this desire be expressed with feeling and a sincere belief in the mercy of the Lord and the Mother of God; thirdly, one must have a firm intention not to sin, but to fulfill the will of God in everything.”
“If you are united to God by lively faith and virtue, especially meekness, humility and mercy, ask Him whatever you wish, whatever the Holy Spirit instructs you to ask, – and you shall receive: either immediately, in an instant, in a single hour, or after a while, in accordance with God’s wisdom.”
“If during prayer you start doubting the possibility of your request being fulfilled, remember that on God’s part it is possible to give you everything, except for direct evil, which is characteristic only of the devil; that your very word or very request is already a realization on your part that the fulfillment of your request is possible; for if I can think of something, then fulfilling this “something” is undoubtedly possible for the Lord, for Whom the thought is already deed. To the possibility of fulfilling everything one should add His boundless benevolence, through which He is the Source of being and all the gifts of being. To this one must add God’s wisdom, which in giving to us knows how to chose the gift that is best for us, that accords with our spiritual and physical state. The only thing required on your part is a firm and indubitable certainty in the Lord’s fulfillment of your request, and that your request be for good things, never the opposite.”
“People who rarely pray have a weak heart; when they want to pray, their heart weakens, and their hands, body and thoughts weaken, and it is hard for them to pray. One must overcome this weakness: try to pray with one’s whole heart, because it is good and easy to pray wholeheartedly.”
“The most important thing in a prayer, of which one must take care primarily, – is to have a lively and clear-eyed faith in the Lord: think of Him being in front of you and inside you, – and then, if you wish, ask the Lord Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, and it shall be granted you. Ask simply, without any hesitation, – and your God will be everything for you, doing great and wondrous deeds in an instant.”
(From the diary of St. John of Kronstadt, “My Life in Christ")
THE SACRAMENT OF PENITENCE
(see beginning here)
Discourses on confession (6)
I must also tell you about the onerous sin of avarice or love of money, one of the most prominent and vile forms of idolatry. Love of money even turned a disciple into a betrayer of Christ and has destroyed countless others. Such people place their hopes not in God, but in wealth, gold, silver, savings accounts. They become so attached to one or another way of amassing money, that sometimes they even go hungry and worship their amassed wealth as an idol, not wishing to spend any money either on themselves or on others. Beware of cupidity! There are so many people who put their money into savings accounts and just watch them grow, becoming terribly attached to the little book with pretty numbers, and never give anything from there to anybody, even to their family members, though the latter may be destitute. Come to your senses before it is too late. Whether you have amassed a treasure chest or a savings account, it is all the same – cupidity is idolatry and the work of Judas, which destroys the lover of money forever.
Usury also represents idolatry, as do all kinds of vile profit: bribery, extortion, etc. Whoever is guilty of it – repent and reform, flee from love of money as from a destructive fire.
There are many forms of subtle idolatry. One persons sinks all his hopes, all his passion, all his means into the acquisition of ultra-modern home furnishings, another spends it all on clothes, a third one on an expensive automobile, others become addicted to unrestrained pleasures, still others to games of chance. Forgive us, O Lord! Let us try, no matter how hard it may be, to tear ourselves away from our foul idol and to serve Thee, our One true God.
Those who believe in superstitions also sin against God. How can an Orthodox Christian fear a cat running across the road, or accept as a forecaster of misfortune a bird crying strangely before a change in the weather, or even the new moon, if he happens to see it on the left side! Thus people of other faiths, looking at us, think that our entire faith is just as vacuous and pitiful. Monday is considered to be an unlucky day, and yet it is dedicated to the angelic hosts! This day of the angels is an unlucky day for the devil and for all those who consciously or unconsciously serve the devil. It is impossible to list all the superstitions which illiterate old women and foolish people pile up in their lives. Do not believe in any of them. And should you have done so, repent and promise to never again have faith in superstitious beliefs.
Also repent those of you who have participated in sorcery and witchcraft. This is the horrible province of the devil! Satan, who is being expelled by the grace of the Holy Spirit from everywhere in the Church of Christ, is none other than the ancient murderer of mankind. He is full of great wrath against man and wishes to destroy him. He finds cunning loopholes, even the tiniest and apparently innocent, through which to attack the faithful and destroy them. The Church very strictly condemns all kinds of fortunetelling and strongly punishes it. Let me give you the example of an old church rule: whosoever calls in the gypsies is barred from communion for eight years! A similar punishment is meted out to those who engage in melting wax, tin, etc. Why does the Church warn us so severely? It is because the evil spirits easily attach themselves to these seemingly innocent activities, while communion with the evil spirits is an offense before God, alienating the fortuneteller from God’s grace, depriving him of God’s help, and making him vulnerable to the enemy’s arrows.
Some of you go to visit old wives, who claim that they supposedly use holy objects or venerated icons to provide help. Be very wary of them. A highly spiritual hieromonk once said to me: “It is better for people to attach themselves to lawfully ordained “batyushkas” (priests) than to “matushkas” (old wives)! They are led into delusion by thinking that these old women read prayers. But the old women only pretend to be praying in order to soothe their visitors, while under their breath they mutter demonic incantations. Thus they say: three is not three, seven is not seven, – negating the Holy Trinity, and the seven sacraments, and the nine ranks of angels, and all that is sacred and salvific. The demon demands it of them, otherwise he cannot assist them. And whosoever of you gets help through these old women will certainly not be glad of it. Demonic captivity is horrible. Let them flee from these old wives as from fire.”
(To be continued)
LIVES OF THE SAINTS
On November 10th (October 28th by the old calendar) the Church commemorates the holy great-martyr Parasceva.
Saint Parasceva was the daughter of a pious couple who lived in the city of Iconium during the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian. She was given the name of Parasceva, because she was born on a Friday (“parasceva” in Greek means Friday).
Her parents reared her in the holy faith, piety and strict obedience to the Lord’s commandments. Becoming orphaned early, Parasceva inherited great wealth from her parents; however, brought up to love God and her neighbors, she did not spend this wealth on herself, but rather used it for charity towards the needy and the homeless. Becoming engaged in spreading Christianity among her compatriots and doing good deeds, Parasceva decided never to marry, but to give herself over entirely to serving God and her fellow-citizens.
At that time Emperor Diocletian initiated a cruel persecution of Christians. Denounced by envious pagans, Parasceva was thrown into prison and later brought before the tribunal of an iniquitous commander, who had arrived in the city to persecute Christians. When the saint firmly averred herself to be a Christian, the angry commander ordered her to be subjected to severe beating and torture, and then once more thrown into prison, all wounded and barely breathing, and not expected to live through the night. However, great was the commander’s surprise when on the following day she was found to be completely well: her face shone with divine light and beauty, and on her body there was not even a single trace of yesterday’s wounds and torture! An angel had appeared to her in prison during the night and had healed her. The commander, however, ascribed her healing to the idols and ordered her to go the their temple and bow before them in gratitude. Saint Parasceva, accompanied by the high priests and a multitude of people, did go to the temple, but upon entering it, by the power of her prayer she crushed all the idols there. Then the people ran out of the temple, crying: “Great is the Christian God!”
The wrathful commander, ascribing Parasceva’s miracle to the power of magic, ordered her to be hung and burned. However, by the saint’s prayers the fire did not harm her, but an angel suddenly appeared and fanned the flames, as a result of which a great number of pagans died. The multitude of people, seeing such a miracle, cried out once again: “Great is the Christian God!” – and many of them came to believe in Christ. Then the persecutor, fearing the agitation of the populace, ordered Saint Parasceva to be beheaded. The holy martyr’s body was buried with great honor by her Christian fellow-citizens, and from her tomb there issued many miracles of healing the sick.
THE ORTHODOX VIEW OF EVOLUTION
A while ago the well-known magazine “Time” ran an article on new anthropological discoveries in Ethiopia, supposedly testifying to “that moment at the dawn of human history, 6 million years ago, when our ancient forebears – the chimpanzee apes – stood upright and began to walk, and when men and chimpanzees went their separate evolutionary ways”(!) Despite the fact that for many years now prominent scientists have struggled against the heresy of evolution, trying to prove that there is nothing scientific about it, that it is only a theory which requires as much faith as religion, – the heresy continues to flourish, having become firmly embedded in our educational system, so that it is boldly presented to our children under the guise of science, and is offered to society under the same guise on the pages of prominent magazines like “Time.”
It appears, however, that the heresy of evolution is alive and well not only in our schools and our society, but in the Church as well. The renowned spiritual writer of our times, the righteous Father Seraphim Rose, has often warned Orthodox Christians of the danger of believing in modern science, which often diverges from the teaching of the Holy Fathers. In 1974 Father Seraphim wrote a letter to the Greek theologian Alexander Kalomiros, asking him to present his views on the theory of evolution. Kalomiros’ extensive discourse shook Father Seraphim to the depths of his heart: not only did Kalomiros accept the theory of evolution, expounding on the “evolved beast” Adam, but declared even that “whoever rejects evolution – rejects the Holy Scriptures.” Such words, coming from the mouth of an eminent Orthodox theologian, forced Father Seraphim to sit down and write a response, in which he put forth his understanding of the matter, basing it solely on the teaching of the Holy Fathers. Without denigrating true science in any way, Father Seraphim shows that the theory of evolution is not a firmly proven scientific fact, but is accepted on faith, i.e. it is not so much a scientific theory as a false philosophical doctrine. In view of that notorious article in “Time,” it would be quite timely for us to become acquainted with the Orthodox view on evolution, scrupulously presented in the following wonderful opus by Father Seraphim Rose.
A response to A. Kalomiros
At last I am writing my reply to your letter on evolution. The question of evolution is an extremely important one for Orthodox Christians, for in it are involved many questions which directly affect our Orthodox doctrine and outlook: the relative worth of science and theology, of modern philosophy and patristic teaching; the doctrine of man (anthropology); our attitude toward the writings of the Holy Fathers (do we really take their writings seriously and try to live by them, or do we believe first of all in modern “wisdom,” the wisdom of the world, and accept the teaching of the Holy Fathers only if it harmonizes with this “wisdom”?); our interpretation of the Holy Scriptures and especially the book of Genesis. In what follows I will touch on all these subjects.
The theory of evolution: science or philosophy?
First of all, I am in full agreement with you when you say: “We should not mix up pure science with various philosophical theories, written in order to explain facts that had been discovered by science.” Facts (pure science) are one thing, while their explanation (philosophy) is another. I must tell you that I once wholly believed in evolution. I believed in it not because I thought about it a lot, but simply because “everyone believed it,” because it was a “fact,” and how can you reject “facts”? But then I began to think about this subject more deeply. I began to realize that quite often what is presented as “science” is by no means a fact but a philosophical theory, and I carefully began to distinguish between scientific facts and scientific philosophy. After many years I came to the following conclusions:
a) Evolution is not a scientific fact but a philosophy.
b) It is a false doctrine, invented in the West as a reaction to Catholic-Protestant theology and masking itself under the guise of science, in order to seem respectable and to deceive people who readily accept scientific facts; (in the West almost all contemporary false doctrines do the same; even “Christian Science” pretends to be scientific, likewise spiritism, various Hindu cults, etc.).
c) In many points it contradicts the teaching of the Holy Fathers.
A clear definition
Many of the arguments between “evolutionists” and “anti-evolutionists” are useless, for one basic reason: they are usually not arguing about the same thing. Each one of them means one thing when he hears the word “evolution,” and the other means something else; and they argue in vain, because they are not even talking about the same thing. Therefore, in order to be precise, I will tell you exactly what I mean by the word “evolution,” which is the meaning it has in all the textbooks on evolution. But first I must show you that in your letter you have used the word “evolution” to mean two entirely different things, but you write as if they were the same thing. You have failed here to distinguish between scientific theory and philosophy.
a) You write: “The first chapters of the Holy Bible are nothing else but the history of creation progressing and being completed in time… Creation did not come into being instantly, but followed a sequence of appearances, a development in six different ‘days.’ How can we call this progress of creation in time if not evolution”?
I answer: all that you say is true, and if you wish you can call this progress of creation “evolution” – but this is not what the controversy over evolution is all about. All scientific textbooks define evolution as a specific theory concerning HOW creations came to be in time: by means of the transformation of one kind of creature into another, “complex forms being derived from simpler forms” in a natural process taking countless millions of years (Storer, “General Zoology”). Later on, when you talk about the “evolved beast” Adam, you reveal that you believe in this specific scientific theory also. I hope to show you that the Holy Fathers did not believe in this specific scientific theory, even though this is certainly not the most important aspect of the doctrine of evolution, which more fundamentally is in error concerning the nature of man, as I will show below.
b) You say: “We all came into being by evolution in time. In our mother’s uterus each one of us was at first a single-cell organism… and finally a perfect man.” Of course everyone believes this, whether he is an “evolutionist” or an “anti-evolutionist.” But this has nothing to do with the doctrine of evolution which is being disputed.
c) Again you say: “Adam was of which race – white, Negro, red, or yellow? How did we become so different from one another when we are descendants of one single couple? Is this differentiation of man in different races not a product of evolution”?
I answer again: No, this is not what the word “evolution” means! There are very many books in the English language which discuss the question of evolution from a scientific point of view. Perhaps you do not know that many scientists deny the fact of evolution (meaning the derivation of all existing creatures by transformation from other creatures), and very many scientists state that it is impossible to know by science whether evolution is true or not, because there is no evidence whatsoever that can conclusively prove or disprove it. If you wish, in another letter I can discuss with you the “scientific evidence” for evolution. I assure you that if you look at this evidence objectively, without any preconceptions about what you will find in it, you will discover that there is not one piece of evidence for evolution that cannot equally be explained by a theory of “special creation.” Please be very clear that I am not telling you that I can disprove the theory of evolution by science; I am only telling you that the theory of evolution can neither be proved nor disproved by science. Those scientists who say that evolution is a “fact” are actually interpreting the scientific facts in accordance with a philosophical theory, while those who say that evolution is not a fact are likewise interpreting the evidence in accordance with a different philosophical theory. By pure science alone it is not possible conclusively to prove or disprove the “fact” of evolution. You should also know that many books have likewise been written about “the difficulties of the evolutionary theory,” which seems to be totally inexplicable if evolution is a “fact.”
(To be continued)
Not flesh, but spirit is corrupt in our times,
And man so desperately pines in anguish...
From darkest shadows does he strain towards the light
And, having found the light, he grumbles in revolt.
He's scorched and dessicate with disbelief,
He tolerates the currently intolerable.
Of his destruction he is utterly aware,
And thirsts for faith – but does not ask it...
He will not say, with prayer and mournful tears,
No matter how he sorrows before the closed door:
“O let me in! – I do believe, my God!
Do Thou please come and help my disbelief!...”
– Translated by Natalia Sheniloff