Saturday, October 31, 2009
In 1227 Sultan Jalal al-Din of Khwarazm and his army of Turkmen attacked Georgia. On the first day of the battle the Georgian army valorously warded off the invaders as they were approaching Tbilisi. That night, however, a group of Persians who were living in Tbilisi secretly opened the gates and summoned the enemy army into the city.
According to one manuscript in which this most terrible day in Georgian history was described: “Words are powerless to convey the destruction that the enemy wrought: tearing infants from their mothers’ breasts, they beat their heads against the bridge, watching as their eyes dropped from their skulls.…”
A river of blood flowed through the city. The Turkmen castrated young children, raped women, and stabbed mothers to death over their children’s lifeless bodies. The whole city shuddered at the sound of wailing and lamentation. The river and streets of the city were filled with death.
The sultan ordered that the cupola of Sioni Cathedral be taken down and replaced by his vile throne. And at his command the icons of the Theotokos and our Savior were carried out of Sioni Cathedral and placed at the center of the bridge across the Mtkvari River. The invaders goaded the people to the bridge, ordering them to cross it and spit on the holy icons. Those who betrayed the Christian Faith and mocked the icons were spared their lives, while the Orthodox confessors were beheaded.
One hundred thousand Georgians sacrificed their lives to venerate the holy icons. One hundred thousand severed heads and headless bodies were carried by the bloody current down the Mtkvari River.
SAINT OR FEAST POSTED THIS DATE 2008(with 2007's link here also):
Friday, October 30, 2009
Saint Stephen was the younger son of King Stephen Urosh I, and grandson of First-Crowned King St Stephen (September 24). He ruled Serbia from 1275 to 1320. Stephen Milutin received the throne from his elder brother Dragutin, a true Christian, who after a short reign transferred power over to his brother, and he himself in loving solitude withdrew to Srem, where he secretly lived as an ascetic in a grave, which he dug with his own hands. During his righteous life, St Dragutin toiled much over converting the Bogomil heretics to the true Faith. His death occurred on March 2, 1316.
St Stephen Milutin, after he became king, bravely defended, by both word and by deed, the Orthodox Serbs and other Orthodox peoples from their enemies. St Stephen did not forget to thank the Lord for His beneficence. He built more than forty churches, and also many monasteries and hostels for travelers. The saint particularly concerned himself with the Athonite monasteries.
When the Serbian kingdom fell, the monasteries remained centers of national culture and Orthodoxy for the Serbian nation. St Stephen died on October 29, 1320 and was buried at the Bansk monastery. After two years his incorrupt relics were uncovered.
SAINT OR FEAST POSTED THIS DATE 2008(with 2007's link here also):
Can the laity (the members of the Church who are not ordained into the priesthood) involve itself in matters of the Faith? Can laypeople who are not empowered to officiate in Sacraments of the Church censure Bishops when those Bishops deviate from the truth? How justified are they who maintain an indifferent stance behind the backs of their Priests and Spiritual Fathers when the teaching and the Faith of the Church are being distorted, with the excuse that their Leaders and their Spiritual Fathers likewise do not witness and confess the truth of Orthodoxy because "they have undergone something human"?
1) Theology is necessary, in order to move on to orthopraxis
Everything that is necessary for our salvation has been delivered to the Church by Her deified teachers (that is, Her holy Prophets, Patriarchs, Apostles and Fathers) and can also be found in the Holy Bible, the decisions of the Ecumenical Synods that pertain to the Dogmas (the "Oroi") and to the way of life (the "sacred Canons"), as well as the works of the Holy Fathers, so that it is easily assimilated and comprehended by the simple faithful for the purpose of moving from Orthodoxy (the upright belief) to orthopraxis (the upright practice) and avoiding the obstacle of heresies. Heresies can, through an altered faith (heretical fallacy), destroy orthopraxis and "ontologically" alienate one from the Body of Christ, by having been cut off from the unity of the Church around the Bishop and from the Divine Eucharist.
According to one of the "principles" of proper theology, Orthodox theology is not a philosophical system; it is an endeavour to attain salvation and theosis (deification). That which preoccupies the Fathers in theological disputes is not the victory over an opponent, but the preservation of the potential for deification and salvation1.
The dogmatic and theological works of the Holy Fathers are to a large degree addressed to the laypeople - to the simple folks - with the aim to initiate them deeper into the faith and practice of the Church and to safeguard them from heresies. Hardly anyone reminds us of this point nowadays, because the theological-dogmatic sermon has mostly disappeared.
(We will deal with the consequences of heresy on people's spiritual lives separately.)
2) To "unerringly theologize" is not for everyone of course, but to "theologize philosophically" and to "confess" the proven Theology of the Church is for every pious person.
It is true that the Holy Fathers regard Theology as something extremely profound and simultaneously lofty and they stress that to be preoccupied with it befits only those who have progressed in a Godly lifestyle and are at least in a state of "catharsis" of passions - if not at the uppermost stages of "enlightenment" and "theosis", as Saint Gregory the Theologian says: "It is not for each and every one, dearest, to philosophize about God; it is not for each and every one... this matter is not that cheap, nor for those who are on a low course" but for those who "have been examined and have passed on to "theoria" (ie, the "sighting" of God) and have been purged in soul and body, or at least are being purged."2.
The preoccupation by Bishops and other Clergymen par excellence with Theology is understood in the sense that the Clergy mostly fulfil the requirements for attaining enlightenment and theosis because they are select, thanks to their perspicuous lives. The Sacred Canons determine firstly the responsibility of the Hierarchs to preoccupy themselves with the dogmas. But this does not mean that the Clergy comprise a separate body, beyond the Body of Christ - the Church - where they are organically joined to all of the faithful. That is why it has been pointed out, that "the usually quoted terms of "official Church", "administrative Church", "teaching Church", are in use conditionally and excessively, when from a dogmatic point of view, on the basis of precision, they appear as untested."3.
Thus, while Theology par excellence belongs to those who have been united to God through theosis and the illumination of the uncreated light, nevertheless, according to the teaching of the Holy Fathers "we others can also theologize, but at other, lower levels, but chiefly by following the true theologians"4. Αn unerring path is to trust everything that the Holy Spirit has revealed through the Saints. On this matter, Saint Gregory Palamas writes that those who are not saints can also theologize, and in fact can theologize with certainty, and "not by pursuing speculations, but by the words that have been spoken by God"5
Therefore, on the basis of the teaching by Saint Gregory Palamas and earlier Saints whose theology he had summarized, there are three kinds of theology:
(a) the unerring and mystical theology of those who have attained theopty (the "viewing" of God), who speak from personal experience and communion with God,
(b) the wisdom-loving theology of those who have no personal experience per se of theopty, but who humbly accept the experiences and the theopties of those who have attained theopty, and they theologize according to them and
(c) the modern (newly-found, innovative) theology of insolent theologians of those who theologize dialectically, on the basis of their own personal philosophical principles, and who reject the experiences of the Saints6.
The middle path - of wisdom-loving theology based on the dogmas of our Church - is based on "evidentiary reasoning". Given that we have been taught the dogmatic truths by the Holy Spirit Himself - through the Holy Fathers (Prophets, Apostles, Confessors, Hierarchs etc.) - this is evidence enough to make us feel certain about what the Church believes and to prevent us from going into "dialectic musings" or agnosticism (that is, to supposedly speculate dialectically about divine things, or about not being able to produce any certain positions and proofs thereof). This was one of the basic points of Saint Gregory Palamas' argument with the philosophizing pseudo-monk and agnostic, Barlaam the Calabrian.
Saint Gregory Palamas had maintained that it was not possible to apply dialectic musings to theology, given that they focus on "the imagined and the possible, which by nature are sometimes different and other times different and other times exist and other times do not exist, and at times are true and other times are not". This is what the Hellene philosophers used to do, whose theology eventually resembled conjecture. On the contrary, evidentiary reasoning, which focuses on "that which is necessary, that which always exists and is always true and always the same", is absolutely necessary in theological problems but also very effective, because there are sides to a theological problem that can be subjected to proof. Proof is based on God-revealed "self-proven principles" on the one hand and "common meanings" and "tenets"7 on the other..
Consequently, we can as Orthodox always provide "evidence" on the overall truth about God, humanity and the world; perhaps not on the basis of our (possibly nonexistent) personal participation in God, but surely on the basis of (a) the theological teaching of our Saints, who had attained a union with God and (b) of common logic, which apples these teachings to the new problems that appear.
As we shall also see further along in historical incidents whenever the Faith was at risk, the defending of Orthodoxy - the "confession" of the truth by Orthodox faithful - was not a matter for philosophizing or discussion according to the "dialectic musings" that we mentioned previously; rather, it was a matter of persisting in the theology that was delivered from the very beginning to the faithful by the Church, as an infallible theology. There are no gradations between superiors and subordinates, clergy and laity in this display of persistence - this kind of confessing.
Saint Theodore the Studite is categorical: "It is a commandment of the Lord, that one must not remain silent in the event that the Faith is at risk. For He says ‘speak out, and do not remain silent'.." (Acts 18:9) And "If he retreats, my soul does not favour him". (Hebr. 10:38) And "If they remain silent, then the stones shall cry out" (Luke 19:40). Thus, when it comes to the Faith, it is not possible for one to say" "Who am I?"8.
Elsewhere, he writes: "At a time like this, when Christ is being persecuted through His Image, one is obliged to fight, not only if he is superior in rank and in knowledge by preaching and teaching the Orthodox word; but even if he is in the place of a student, he still has a duty to reveal the truth courageously and speak freely. These are not the words of me, the sinner, but of the divine Chrysostom, along with other Fathers.»9.
So, let us take a look at just a few of the many historical events related to the defending of Orthodox by the laity.
3) Historical testimonies by the people of the Church of their preoccupation with matters of the Faith
a. Eusebius, who later became Bishop of Dorylaion
One of the first people to react against the heretic Patriarch Nestorius - the layman Eusebius and later Bishop of Dorylaion - was finally vindicated by the Church during the condemnation of Nestorius. Eusebius (as a layman) had immediately reacted (in 429), by confronting the heretic Patriarch inside the church.
According to Saint Cyril, "On seeing him (Nestorius) presenting new and sacrilegious teachings within the Church, a certain man (among the very lenient and while still among the laity, but with a wondrous education accumulated inside him), having been moved by a fervent and God-loving zeal, cried out loudly saying that the pre-eternal Logos Himself had patiently endured a second birth - that is, according to human nature and by a woman; and while there was an uproar in the crowds for these things and most of them and the more prudent lauded him with immense praises as pious and most prudent and knowledgeable in the correctness of the dogmas, while others raged against him, he (Nestorius) discontinued and immediately acknowledged those whom he had destroyed with his teaching and turned his tongue against him (Eusebius) who had not tolerated his words, but also against the Holy Fathers, who had legislated for us the pious Symbol of Faith (the Creed) which we have as a secure and certain anchor for our soul, as it was written (Hebr. 6:19)»10.
Eusebius then immediately posted and circulated in a public, written libel on the wall of the Temple of Haghia Sophia a censure of the Patriarch, with the following prompt: "I will adjure in the Holy Trinity whosoever receives this document to present it to bishops, presbyters, deacons, readers and laypeople who dwell in Constantinople, and furthermore to provide them with a copy, for the purpose of censuring the heretic Nestorius for being of the same belief as Paul of Samosata who had been anathematized one hundred and sixty years ago by the Orthodox Fathers and Bishops. And that which was said by both sides are as follows........"11.
At a later date, this same Eusebius - now Bishop of Dorylaion - headed the confrontation along with Saint Flavianus, Patriarch of Constantinople, against the heresy leader Eutychius who had first introduced Monophysitism, and together with Saint Flavianus underwent persecutions following the robber council of Ephesus (449 A.D.).
Theophanes the Confessor and Chronographer writes the following on the matter: "The aforementioned Eusebius the scholastic who had first confronted Nestorius, when conversing with Eutychius the Archmandrite regarding the faith, found him to not believe correctly. After beseeching him exceedingly and exhorting him, he was unable to benefit him. Eusebius then mentioned the relative incident to Bishop Flavianus." etc12 .
b. Laypeople who confessed and were persecuted by the heresy leader, Patriarch Nestorius of Constantinople.
From a letter by the Pope of Rome Celestinus we are informed that many citizens of Constantinople - who, as we mentioned, had reacted against their Patriarch Nestorius - were subjected to persecutions and excommunication by the heretic Patriarch. As the Pope wrote to Patriarch Nestorius: "I hear that those of the clergy who believe the way the Catholic (=Orthodox) Church does - and with whom we are in communion - are suffering the worst kind of violence - such that it is said that they have even been isolated outside the City. We are rejoicing over their having earned the prize of confession, but we are sorrowed over the fact that their persecutor is a Bishop. The blessed Apostle Paul was transformed, from a persecutor to a preacher; but now there is the worst kind of impiety, that of a preacher becoming a persecutor."13.
Following the local Synod of Alexandria which condemned the newly-appeared teaching of Nestorius as a heresy (430 A.D.), Saint Cyril wrote a letter to the simple faithful of Constantinople, encouraging them to abstain from every communion with Nestorius, if he did not repent. As for those who he (Nestorius) had severed from every communion with him, Saint Cyril regarded them as still canonically in communion with the Church. Says the Saint in a letter of his to the citizens of Constantinople: «...preserve yourselves spotless and immaculate, neither communing with the aforementioned, nor paying attention to him as a teacher, if he remains a wolf instead of a shepherd and if he prefers after this reminder of ours to uphold perverse things.... We however are in communion with the clergy or laity who for the sake of the correct Faith have been separated or excommunicated by him, and we do not validate his unjust vote but rather, we praise those who suffer, telling them that ‘if you are scorned in the Lord you are blessed, for the Spirit of power and of God has reposed upon you' (1 Peter 4:14)»14.
c. Saint John of Damascus
Saint John of Damascus, while still an official of the Caliphate of Damascus and while the Iconomachy had broken out in Constantinople, wrote around 730 A.D. texts opposing the Iconomachy, which had caused a great deal of damage to the heresy. As mentioned in his Bios, the Saint, full of zeal like the Prophet Elijah, «...had sent -to those Orthodox who knew him- texts in the form of epistles that were in favour of venerable Icons, thus proving to its full extent and with great wisdom that the veneration of divine imprints (icons) is necessary. And he instructed them to say similar things to the others and to show them his epistles. And in many ways this young athlete of the truth hastened - as though in the middle of a circle - to circulate his epistles from hand to hand to the faithful, and to fortify Orthodoxy». This was how a calumny was spun against Saint John by the heretic Emperor of Constantinople Leo III, resulting in the unjust punishment of John by the Caliph (on the pretext that he was an aspiring insurrectionist and conspiring against Arabian supremacy), with the severing of his right hand. Following the miraculous restoration of his hand by the holy Icon of the Theotokos, the Saint abandoned his post and withdrew to a monastic life in the Monastery of Saint Savvas in Jerusalem15.
d. The ten Martyrs of the Copper Gate who had opposed the Iconomachy, commemorated on the 9th of August.
The Book of Saints for the 9th of August commemorates the feast-day of the Holy Ten Martyrs, who had undergone martyrdom for the sake of the Icon of the Saviour Christ which was placed on the Copper Gate of Constantinople. The first nine of these ten Saints (Julianus-Marcianus-John-Jacob-Alexios-Demetrius-Photios-Peter-Leontios and the patrician Maria) had participated in the resistance that the populace had displayed against the Army, when an officer (Spatharios) had attempted to take down the sacred Icon of Christ from the Copper Gate during the reign of Leo III Isaurus in the year 730 A.D., following the signing of an Iconomachy decree16. After eight months of imprisonment and horrific tortures, the Saints were executed for the sake of Orthodoxy, together with the patrician Maria! 17
e) The sacred Canons make allowances and encourage the reaction of laypeople against heretic (pseudo) pastors.
The most eloquent of texts regarding the defending of the Faith by the faithful - even when opposing Bishops, when Bishops through heresy are revealed as "pseudo-bishops" and "pseudo-pastors" - is the renowned text of the 15th sacred Canon of the 1st - 2nd Synod (of Photiane) of the year 861 A.D.; a Synod that is regarded as one of equal authority to the Ecumenical Synods. After elaborating on how Christians should react in cases of aberration by the Bishops of their territory, this sacred Canon finishes with the following clarification: "Whosoever, on account of a heresy denounced by the Holy Synods or the Fathers, separate themselves from the Primate (of the Church, the Bishop), that is, when he publicly preaches heresy and teaches it to the Church "barefacedly", they not only are not subject to a canonical penance prior to a synodic opinion for having walled themselves off from communion with the said Bishop, but they will in fact be worthy of the appropriate honour by the Orthodox. For they have not accused Bishops but rather pseudo-bishops and pseudo-teachers and have not split the Church with a schism; instead, they have taken care to rid the Church of schisms and partitions" 18.
There are also other related Canons and interpretations by Canonologists (which we will examine in a special section)..
f) The confirmation of the Bishop's Faith by the laity.
As very rightly observed by the renowned theologian Protopresbyter fr.George Florovxky, that although a Bishop does not teach the Faith based on a "power of attorney" and suggestions by the flock - ie the faithful people - he likewise cannot say whatever he wants, because "in the Church, ‘personal opinions' cannot and should not exist"19. Therefore, the Bishop is called upon - and limited to - expressing the age-old catholic experience of the Church. If he has not "embodied" himself in the Holy Spirit to this experience - which will become apparent in his teaching, behold, he will duly and justifiably be subject to the reaction of the Fold. These are the exact words of fr. George Florovsky: "the bishop must embrace inside him the whole Church; he must display, must reveal Her experience and Her faith. He must not express himself, but must speak on behalf of the Church - ‘ex consensus ecclesiae'. [...] The bishop has not obtained the full competency to preach from his flock, but from Christ Himself, through his Apostolic Succession. But this full competency which has been given to him is a competency to bear the witnessing of the catholic (overall) experience of the Church. He is restricted to this experience. Subsequently, in questions pertaining to Faith, it is the laity that must judge, depending on his teaching. The duty of obedience ceases to be valid, when the bishop deviates from the catholic model, in which case, the people have the right to accuse him, even to dethrone him"20.
For that reason, the response by the Patriarchs of the East to Pope Pius IX in 1848, was to proclaim the significance of the role of laypeople in the preservation of the Faith of the Church: "for us, neither Patriarchs nor Synods could ever introduce new things (dogmas and morals), because the defender of religion is the Body of the Church itself - that is, the people themselves, who want their religion eternally unaltered and the same as that of their fathers."21
When interpreting this response of the Orthodox Patriarchs to Pope Pius IX in 1848, where the role of the laity for the preservation of the Faith is pointed out, fr. George Florovsky observes: "The whole body of the Church has the right to verify - or, to be more precise - the right, but not only the right but the duty of "verification". In this sense, the Patriarchs of the East had written in the familiar Encyclical of 1848 that ‘the people themselves have been the defenders of the religion'"22.
a. The praises of Saint Theodore the Studite to a woman confessor
Martyrs and Witnesses of the Faith had also appeared during the Iconomachy era, from among the orthodox laity. Saint Theodore the Studite in his letter to a persecuted official, the patrician Irene, had consoled her and encouraged her with the following words: "Who of the confessors doesn't know that you are co-confessing? Where has it not been heard that there is a senator among the martyrs? The orders of Monks have admired you and you have been praised by the congregations of the laity. But of what value is that? The very orders of angels and saints have been delighted thanks to you. And do not think that my words are flattery. Look, o martyr of Christ, how much you have been honoured, how much you have been elevated; compare clay and gold for me: that is how much greater and how much more than the earthly rank that you abandoned is the heavenly rank that has now been bestowed upon you by God - that is, to be called a martyr of Christ, and confessor of the truth."
"For this, I would remind you no not deviate from that objection - you, who have clung to the immovable rock of Orthodoxy - nor to become easily thrown and of a double mind on account of the falls (into heresy) by either laypeople or monastics and all those who think they are something, or anyone in general. They are pseudo-brethren, pseudo-apostles, who have an education of piety but have denied its power (2 Tim.3:5). Many wiseacres and "seemingly hierarchic" and "seemingly saintly" persons have been defeated in older generations; on the contrary, few and truly wise people, who have lived with a fear of God, have shone forth as lights in the world, because the beginning of wisdom is for one to have an awe of God (Psalms 110:10) even though they have not been regarded as important personages, because man looks upon the face but God examines the heart"23.
b. The fighting confession of the confessors of the laity amid the persecutions by the heretics checks and censures the slackness of many Monks
There are many things that one could say here also. We have chosen only one indicative example by Saint Theodore the Studite, addressed to his friend, the Hegumen Theophilos, on the matter of the "adulterian heresy" - that is, the ecclesiastic tolerance towards the illegal (adulterous) marriage of King Constantine VI and his subsequent synodical acquittal by the (adultery-marrying) Hegumen Joseph, who had performed that illegal (adulterous) marriage.
"So, because heretical disrespect came out into the open through a Synod, thus also must your piety be expressed with courage together with all the Orthodox, by not communing with the cacodoxy, nor commemorating any one of them who had participated in that adultery Synod or are of one mind with it. And of course it is fair, blessed father, since you too are in every way God-loving as your name indicates, to be God-loving in this also. For the Chrysostom had characterized as enemies of God in a loud and prolonged voice, not only the heretics, but also those who commune with them. And if your steadfastness is not secured, who then can be saved? And he who has outspokenly confessed with the help of God like a saint and yet the heresy becomes fulfilled, but now, if he relapses after the heresy, how will anyone dare to say a single word? And if the monastic order doesn't regard everything as chaff - I mean the monasteries and everything around them - how can a layperson scorn woman, children and the rest? 24.
The right - or rather the duty - of the faithful to defend the Faith is more than obvious. In another section, God willing, we shall also tackle the subject of the contribution of Monks in matters of the Faith.
- 1. Cmp. Protopresbyter Theodore Zisis "Following behind our Divine Fathers - Principles and Criteria of Patristic Theology" , Patristic texts 1, Vryennios Publications, Thessaloniki 1997, page. 44.
- 2. Essay 27, Theologikos 1, 3, PG 36, 13e. (translated).
- 3. P.N.Trembelas, Dogmatics, vol. Β΄, Soter publications, Athens 2003, page 376 (translated).
- 4. Protopresbyter Theodore Zisis, as above, page 43.
- 5. Second Evidentiary Essay 18 and 28, P.Christou publications, vol.1, 94. 103.
- 6. Archmandrite George, Saint Gregory Palamas - Teacher of Theosis, Sacred Monastery of Saint Gregory publications, Holy Mountain 2000, page 54.
- 7. Monk Theocletos Dionysiates, Saint Gregory Palamas, Speliotis publications, Thessaloniki, page 61.
- 8. Epistle (81) Pantoleon Logothetis, PG 99, 1321Α.Β (translated).
- 9. Epistle (2) To Monastics, PG 99, 1120Β (translated).
- 10. Five books against the slanders of Nestorius 1, 5, PG 76, 41e. (translated).
- 11. ACO Ι, 1, 1, 101 (translated).
- 12. Theophanes, Chronography Α.Μ. 5940, PG 108, 260B.261Β (translated).
- 13. Epistle of Celestinus to Nestorius ACO 1,1,1,81 (translated).
- 14. ACO Ι, 1, 1, 113-114 (translated).
- 15. The entire Bios in John Patriarch of Jerusalem's "Bios of our Blessed Father John of Damascus", PG 94, 429-489. The specific incident, taken fom paragraph 14 (PG 94, 449Β) onwards.
- 16. Refer John Feidas, Ecclesiastic History, Vol. Α΄, Athens 1994, page 774.
- 17. Menaion of August, in the Ecclesiastic Library«FOS», «FOS» publications, Athens 19702, page101.
- 18. Hieromonk Agapios and Monk Nicodemus, Pedalion of the Noetic Ship of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, page 292 (translation).
- 19. fr. George Florovsky, Topics of Orthodox Theology, "Artos Zois" publications, Athens 1973, page 208.
- 20. Ibid, pages 207, 208.
- 21. (§17), in John Karmiris' , The Dogmatic and Symbolic Monuments of the Orthodox Catholic Church, Vol. Β΄, Athens 1953, page 920.
- 22. fr. George Florovsky, as above, page 207.
- 23. Εpistle (156) Irene the Patrician, in Theodori Studitae Epistulae, Vol. Β΄, De Gruyter publications, Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae, Series Berolinensis 31, Berlin 1992, pages 276.277 (translated).
- 24. Εpistle (39) To Abbot Theophilos, PG 99, 1049Α.Β (translated)
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Saint Serapion of Zarzma was the son of a Klarjeti aristocrat famed for his wealth and good deeds. Serapion had two brothers, who were still young when their mother died.
Their father also reposed soon after.
From childhood St. Serapion longed to lead the life of a hermit. With his younger brother, John, he set off for Parekhi Monastery, where he requested the spiritual guidance of “the spiritual father and teacher of orphans,” the great wonderworker Michael of Parekhi.
The older brother remained at home to continue the family tradition of caring for wanderers and the poor.
St. Michael perceived in the young Serapion true zeal for a divine ministry and blessed him to enter the priesthood.
Once, while he was praying, St. Michael was instructed in a vision to send his disciples Serapion and John to Samtskhe to found a monastery.
Serapion was alarmed at the thought of such a great responsibility, but he submitted to his spiritual father’s will and set off for Samtskhe with several companions. He took with him a wonder-working icon of our Lord’s Transfiguration.
The monks climbed to the peak of a very high mountain and, having looked around at their environs, decided to settle there and begin construction of the monastery. But soon the villagers chased the monks away, and the holy fathers located the exact place that their shepherd, St. Michael, had seen in the vision. At that time a faithful nobleman named George Chorchaneli ruled in this mountainous region. Once, while he was out hunting, George saw smoke over the dense forest and sent a servant to discover the cause. He was soon informed that two remarkable monks had settled in that place. Immediately he set off for the spot, humbly greeted the monks, venerated the wonder-working icon, and asked for the fathers’ blessings.
Overjoyed and inspired by Serapion’s preaching, the prince fell on his knees before him and promised to help him in every way to establish the new monastery. Having donated this land and the surrounding area to the monastery, he presented the monks with a deed assigning ownership of all the territory the monks could cover on foot in one day to the future monastery. The prince sent his servant to accompany them.
The brothers walked over unexplored territory, through dense forests, and over rocky paths. Two local residents, the God-fearing Ia and Garbaneli, accompanied them. But not all the local people received the monks so warmly: the residents of Tsiskvili met them with hostility and tried to block their path.
That very same night a miracle occurred: an earthquake split the rocks that were holding back Lake Satakhve and washed away the entire village of Tsiskvili. Only two brothers survived. To this day this place has been called “Zarzma” [the word “zari” is often used to denote a tragic occurrence].
The brethren began to search for a suitable place to build their church. St. Serapion wanted to construct the church on a high hill, but John and the other brothers objected. “It is not necessary, Holy Father, to build in this place,” they said. “It is high and cold here, and the brothers are dressed only in rags.”
To resolve this question, the holy fathers filled two small icon lamps with equal amounts of oil. Serapion placed one of them at the top of the hill, John placed the other near a stream on the southern side of the hill, and they began to pray. At daybreak Serapion’s lamp had already gone out, but John’s lamp continued to burn until midday. Thus they began to build the church in the place that John had chosen.
The monks faced many obstacles in the construction of their church. The area was covered with dense forest, and the stones necessary for building could be found only in the river. At George Chorchaneli’s suggestion, they salvaged the stone from a church that had been destroyed by the earthquake.
After three years of construction, the monastery was completed, and the wonder-working icon of the Transfiguration was placed in the altar of the church. The monks fashioned cells, and St. Serapion established the rules of the monastery.
When he was approaching death, Michael of Parekhi sent two of his disciples to Serapion and John. When he learned that the construction of the monastery was completed, he rejoiced exceedingly and blessed its benefactor, George Chorchaneli. Then he took the withered branch of a box tree and presented it to him, saying, “My son, plant this tree near the church and, if it blossoms again, know that it is God’s will that you zealously continue the work you have begun in His name.” After some time the branch blossomed, and this miracle became known to many.
When the blessed Serapion sensed the approach of death, he summoned the brothers, bade them farewell, and appointed Hieromonk George his successor as abbot. He was buried with great honor on the eastern side of the altar at the monastery church.
SAINT OR FEAST POSTED THIS DATE 2008(with 2007's link here also):
Post Twenty-Five: "Orthodox Spiritual Life According to Saint Silouan the Athonite" by Harry Boosalis
(click on images to enlarge)
Dr. Harry Boosalis actually came to my home parish of St. Paul the Apostle Orthodox Church the last Nativity season to do a presentation on this book. I was unable to attend but interestingly, just when I learned he was to visit us, I had just picked up his book to read as my next in line. His book was on top of my stack and I began reading it and shortly after it was announced that the Las Vegas Orthodox Clergy would be hosting Dr. Boosalis as our speaker.
I remember not being too deeply drawn in at that time when I read it, but looking back, I was not able to engage the work with all my attention at that time.
Looking over it now preparing to offer some short comments on it I recognize its worth more.
One of its chief strengths is that the author accepts the Saint's writings and life and does not attempt to dissect him and his writings with the aim of critiquing him and finding where the Saint is in error or perhaps uninformed by modern scholarship's findings.
It is to Harry Boosalis' credit that he urges the reader to emulate him and the other Saints.
He writes in the Prologue,
The Saints do not follow after the ways of the world. They follow only the person of Christ. Thus they are prepared to die for their faith. Yet even after their deaths, their messages and ministries live on, still exerting an influence on the lives of the faithful. This especially holds true with regard to St. Silouan the Athonite.
In his Introduction, Dr. Boosalis takes note of the general increase in the interest in "spirituality" in the Western world but notes it is a spirituality that seems to be more at home divorced from communion with God as
commitment to Christ is seen as a relic of an antiquated morality that deprives modern man from his 'true' calling toward fulfillment in worldly pleasures and carnal pursuits.
He also observes how many who have become disenchanted with the juridical and legalistic tendencies of the Western confessions are seeking outside these confessions and he says,
A growing number of believers see the Saints of the Orthodox Church as examples on which to base their own spiritual lives. For these faithful, the Saints and their teachings are the criteria that point toward the true meaning of life and the ultimate direction that they are to follow as they seek to live according to Christ.
and he continues further down,
This is one reason why so many people are attracted to the Orthodox Faith. They are coming to realize that the Saints and the Fathers of the Church give definitive guidance on how to base one's life in Christ.
I so much wish to underscore the following also found in the Introduction,
The Fathers are not historic personalities confined to a bygone era. They are not simply relics of an antiquated past. On the contrary, they live among us. They live within the Church, pouring out the light of the Gospel of Christ. Through the continuous operation of the grace of the Holy Spirit, in synergy with man's free-will, the Church is preserved throughout history as a living divine-human or 'the-anthropic' communion.
as this beautiful little thought speaks so well to the ills of doubt and skepticism and the assumed a priori "need" to find fault with the Fathers and their writings which seems so prevalent in so many writing today on the Holy Fathers and their writings.
Not able to devote much more to describing this book, my hope is that my post provides the reader with the outlook of the author and that the author attempts not to overly "spin" Saint Silouan but rather presents him and his writings as faithfully as possible for the hope of a closer look into the Saint's life and what he had to say.
I will here post the Table of Contents thereby giving the reader a more full idea of what is contained in the book.
The Teaching of Saint Silouan
I. The acquisition of the grace of the Holy SpiritII. Spiritual warfare
1. Preliminary points of Orthodox anthropology
2. The goal of the life in Christ: the deification of man
3. The synergy of divine grace and human freedom
4. The experience of divine grace and its effect on man
5. The loss of grace
1. The deceit of the enemy
2. Methods and means of defense
3. The danger of delusion
4. Discernment and the role of the spiritual father
1. The cause of suffering
2. Suffering as an unavoidable aspect of the life in Christ
3. Suffering as a Christ-centered experience
4. The fruits of suffering
5. The importance of courage
IV. The virtue of humility and the passion of pride
1. The meaning and importance of humility
2. Christ-like humility
3. Luciferian pride
4. Christ-like humility as the way of victory over pride
5. The war against pride
6. 'Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not'
V. Universal love
1. Love for God
2. Love for neighbor
3. Love for enemies
4. Love for all creation
Conclusion—Prayer for the salvation of all mankind
READ THE PREVIOUS POST IN THIS SERIES:
MUST WE OBEY WHEN OUR SPIRITUAL FATHER DOES NOT UPHOLD THE ORTHODOX WAY OF LIFE?
What does our ecclesiastical past teach us on the matter of obedience to our spiritual Father when dealing with a matter of Faith, whether of a dogmatic nature or related to the holy Canons? Do we owe our spiritual Father indiscriminate obedience when he opposes the Tradition of the Church or do we not? Do we carry the stigma of "disobedience" before God, or are we ‘covered', by remaining obedient to Christ in accordance with the infallible Tradition of the Church? It is these questions that we shall attempt to answer in this article.
1. Our Spiritual Father must be the best possible choice in every sense
2. Since the Spiritual Father is "in type and in place of Christ", he cannot accept heresies
3. Indifference or silence on matters of heresy on the part of the Spiritual Father is forbidden
4. What the Holy Bible says about praiseworthy disobedience
5. According to the holy Canons, the Monk must move away from obedience to a heretical Hegumen
6. Saint John the Chrysostom recommends disobedience to cacodox ecclesiastical leaders
7. The "Ladder" clarifies that the Monk who is humble may gainsay the Leaders in matters of Faith
8. The exemplar model example of Saint Gregory of Decapolis
9. The teaching of Saint Symeon the New Theologian
10. Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov in favour of cautious obedience
As regards issues of Faith, the matter of obedience to one's Spiritual Father (a particularly delicate subject, unknown to many) is contained in the more general subject of obedience to one's Bishop; for the relationship between the Spiritual Father - Confessor and the faithful Christian is impossible to be considered independently of that of the faithful Christian with the Ecclesiastical Community's Bishop; a Spiritual Father does not guide the faithful Christians by means of a personal law that relies on his Priesthood but by means of a written warrant by the local Bishop, as determined by in the way that the holy Canons define; and more evidently per the 50th (46) Canon of the Holy Local Synod of Carthage. Thus, whatever has already been mentioned in previous articles on the subject of the Bishop and the interference of the laity in matters of Faith, mostly applies here as well.
In other words if the faithful Christians, based on the example of the Saints who lived through the course of ecclesiastical history as well as the example set by the holy Canons, have the right to defy heretising Bishops and to sever communion with them (by abandoning also their congregations), as it has been ordained chiefly by the 31st Apostolic and the First-Second Synod's 15th Holy Canons, how much more so do they have the right to distance themselves from unrepentant Spiritual Fathers who persist in developing their heterodox phronema (mindset).
If the Bishop, on whose behalf the Spiritual Father enacts the Mystery of guidance of the faithful Christians to God, namely the Sacrament of Repentance and Confession, is not infallible "ex officio", how much more so does this hold for the Spiritual Father, who partakes of the grace of Priesthood to a smaller degree than the Bishop does, and is therefore most certainly not infallible.
1. Our Spiritual Father must be the best possible choice in every sense
Very often, we find the Heads of our Church reminding us of the duty of obedience to the Bishops, to the Presbyters and to their given orders; and yet the Flock is mostly unaware of the sort of people the Clerics, who steer the way, are meant to be.
Saint Nicodemus the Haghiorite, in his spiritually most edifying work Spiritual Practices, writes the following when referring to Basil the Great: "Examine the diligence that you have placed in trying to find a good spiritual father; for what other greater need do you have than finding a good guide for such a journey that you need to embark upon, full of dangers, like the one to heaven is? [...] Now my beloved child consider in what terrible danger you will find yourself in if not only do you not search for such a spiritually worthy man to guide you correctly to your salvation and to heal you well from your passions and sins, but you end up even avoiding such a man [...] So does Basil the Great (Rules in summary 229) also speak and he says: ‘In the same way that people do not reveal the body's ailments to everyone or to random people they meet but only to those who are experienced in therapy, similarly the confession of sins ought to take place in front of those who can heal them, as it is written: ‘you who are strong are to carry the illnesses of the weak' [Rom. 15,1]; in other words, you are to carry them with your diligence'".
In relation to the above, father John Romanides provides the following interpretation: "Of course, the spiritual father ought to already be in the state of illumination, so that he can also induct others in this state of illumination and to lead them to the Baptism by water [namely the absolution of sins] and to the Baptism by Spirit, which is the visitation of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the one being baptised and the enlightenment of man's heart".
Consequently, if the Elder - Spiritual Father - Confessor needs to lead the best possible life and to be able to give the best possible teaching, how much more so does he need to possess the minimum requirements, the "ABC", namely keeping the purity of Orthodoxy?
2. Since the Spiritual Father is "in type and in place of Christ", he cannot accept heresies
The degree of the significance in averting and fighting off heresy can be deduced from the fact that the entire dogmatic teaching of the Church has not been fashioned after philosophical contemplation but after its confrontation with heresies, which have always threatened the path of Orthodoxy, the only one that can cure human nature from sin: "The Fathers would change terminology from time to time and they would adapt their terminology in order to find the right terms to use, depending on the needs of the time. They did not do this in order to be able to comprehend the teaching of the Church in a better way but in order to combat the heresies that would crop up. For the comprehension of the Church's teaching comes from illumination and theosis and not from philosophical or philological fermentation or from philosophical contemplation on the teaching itself. The purpose of dogma, which is formulated by the Fathers, is not to comprehend it, but the dogma-led union of man with God".
Thus we see that the Cleric's acceptance of heresy destroys the therapeutic nature of his Pastoral Theology. "In the same way that in medicine it is not possible to allow a ‘quack' to treat patients, it is equally impossible to allow a heretic to treat the souls of men. For since he is a heretic he does not know and thus cannot provide treatment". Of course, the same also holds for a Cleric who is unable or does not care to discern Orthodoxy from heresy, viz. spiritual "medicine from quackery", for it is simply a matter of time and of scheming by the evil spirits before both himself and his spiritual children all fall into a fallacy. Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov says: "Through the acceptance of false teachings (i.e. of fallacious concepts about God), and through the distortion of the dogmatic and ethical teaching that God Himself revealed to us, the corruption of the spirit is achieved because of the impact and interference of these false teachings. This way, man ends up as a son of the devil".
Consequently, if the relation between the Spiritual Father - Confessor and the faithful Christian aims at providing a real image of the relation between Christ and the faithful Christian, as the "Ladder" of Saint John of Sinai accordingly mentions ("Do not consider it below your station to confess your sins in the presence of your helper [i.e. of your Elder], with humility and contrition as if you were doing so in front of God Himself"), then the disruption of the relation between the Spiritual Father and Christ due to the Spiritual Father's heresy forces the faithful Christian either to seek another Spiritual Father of sound Orthodox judgment or - in case the faithful Christian believes there is still some hope for his Spiritual Father to return to sound dogma - to avoid at the very least abiding by the fallacious positions and counsel of his Spiritual Father. According to Saint Gregory of Nyssa, whoever "heretises"without a doubt the one who has been cut off from the salvific Faith is headless, like Goliath was, who became cut off through his own sword which he sharpened against the truth, divorcing himself thus from the true Head". How will such a Spiritual Father manage to teach salvation to others? (viz. develops a heretical mindset) becomes cut off from the mystical Head of the Church, Christ: "
Let us not forget that according to Devout John's "Ladder", the transmission of Orthodoxy is an Elder's foremost goal. In his exhortations directed at Pastors, we find the Saint saying the following: "Above all, you should leave the integral faith and the pious dogmas as a legacy to your children, so that not only your children but your grandchildren too will you manage to guide towards the Lord by walking the path of Orthodoxy".
Thus, if the heretising Spiritual Father chases away the faithful Christian who keeps an Orthodox mindset, then the blame is placed on the misbelieving ill-minded Elder and Spiritual Father, for our Church teaches that our obedience to our Elders must have Christ in mind.
3. Indifference or silence on matters of heresy on the part of the Spiritual Father is forbidden
Therefore, based on both the aforementioned evidence and on ecclesiastical experience, it becomes obvious that the danger from heresy does not only lie in wait for the establishment of complete and official acceptance of the heretical dogmas by a Spiritual Father (or indeed by a Bishop), but also lies in wait for the creation of an environment festering with (a) indifference to the problems of heresy (which is a sinful transgression, being a delinquency) and/or (b) attempts at dissuasion of any opposition to the heresy (e.g. the well-known and totally unacceptable statements "do not talk about matters of Faith", or "do not talk about Antichrists but about Christ" and so on, which amount to positions well-known in ecclesiastical history often upheld by the lukewarm - unconcerned or blameworthy leaders of every era). As a parenthesis, we mention that it is also a commandment of the Fathers to prepare our spiritual children for the arrival of the Antichrist.
Without a question, the Old Testament reproaches the shepherds of old Israel who would remain unconcerned for their flock's protection. The Old Testament tells us characteristically, through the mouth of Prophet Ezekiel:
"As I live, saith the Lord God, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock. Therefore, O ye shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I shall visit the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock..."
In the New Testament we see Christ criticising the "Angels", namely the Archbishops of Pergamus and of Thyateira, even more harshly for even though they would nurture their flock in an overall admirable manner, they would nonetheless allow the heretical Nicolaitanes and false prophets (viz. "Jezebel") to harm their flock: "Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.". On the other hand, He praises the blameworthy (on some issues) "Angel" of Ephesus because he would recognise the false prophets and hate the works of the heretical Nicolaitanes: "But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate".
In practice, the Holy Fathers would either reprove or find ways to bypass the Emperors' practice of banning conversations on matters of Faith; a practice that aimed at the preservation of political peace and unity in the Empire between Orthodox and heretics. During the course of one of his discussions on the Christological issue with the heretical Monothelete Patriarch of Constantinople Pyrrhus, we find Saint Maximus the Confessor overturning this silencing on matters of Faith that had been enforced from without and replying to Pyrrhus with the following words: "What then? Just because God called us to become aware of His truth because of our hearts' intention that He foreknew, should these [erroneous things] that have been communicated to some people as regards this, either in writing or by word, not be examined in great detail for the love of all those people who, as it happens, come across them without paying careful attention or even if they do pay attention are more prone to error? PYRRHUS: If the examination aims at this, then it is needful to do so. For to look after the safety of those who are more innocent-minded constitutes imitation of the divine love for man". This stance of Saint Maximus can only be interpreted as an opposition to the politics of imposed silencing on Christological discussions that had been successfully established through the decree "Typos" (AD 648) dictated by the Monothelete Emperor Constance II.
Consequently, it is impermissible to keep silent on matters of Faith when souls are in danger from heresy.
Let us mention a few straightforward yet relevant examples:
- (a) In our days we note a revival of Origenism, a hidden neo-Origenism, in the form of academic exoneration of the heretical theologian Origen for his delusions (3rd century AD). According to this teaching, Origen had supposedly not been a true heretic, for, had that been the case, the Church would have condemned him while he had still been alive and not after his death. Supposedly, his condemnation during the Holy Fifth Œcumenical Synod (AD 553) largely occurred in an attempt to exercise "ecclesiastical diplomacy" in order to appease the spirits of the powerful anti-Origenist theologians and to restore peace in the Church; particularly in the Holy Lands, where, the theological and more general dispute between Origenists and Orthodox had taken a very nasty turn since the time of Saint Sava's death (AD 532). To this neo-Origenist teaching, which has infected many theological academic writings, chiefly however the oral teaching of academic theologians, one must not forget to add the presentment of the Origenist delusion for the restoration of all as a "theologumen" (i.e. as an issue that is still theologically unclear). The Holy Fathers clearly warned us not to accept this delusion on the restoration of all (namely, that the hell of the demons and of the unrepentant sinners will eventually come to an end), for this will completely cast us into sin, since hell supposedly is not eternal and consequently supposedly we do not need to be afraid of it. On the contrary, Saint John of the Ladder characteristically says: "Let us all take heed, and especially those of us who have experienced falls, that our heart does not become affected with the illness of the impious Origen. For this detestable illness, by supposedly advertising God's mercy, becomes welcome to those who are lustful". This is a characteristic example of how a latent heresy in the ecclesiastical body can destroy souls.
- (b) The well-known book "The imitation of Christ", work of the Latin Monk Thomas à Kempis, is still being projected as soul-edifying reading material for many faithful Christians in Greece; a work that has managed to become an international best seller and whose circulation at some point reached second place to the Holy Bible.
However, here is how Saint Ignatius Branchianinov judges the spirituality of this book: "And a typical example of an ascetic book written by an author who at the time of writing had been found in the state of delusion known as ‘aponoia' [lack of an Orthodox mindset and utter shamelessness], can be taken to be "The Imitation of Christ" by Thomas à Kempis. It smacks of a subtle sensualism and haughtiness which stimulate a form of hedonism in people full of passions who are blinded by them, which [hedonism] they mistake to be a ‘foretaste of the divine grace'. Woe, the miserable souls! Woe, the blinded ones! [...]. We see Francis of Assisi, Ignatius Loyola and many other ascetics of the Latins driven to a terrible demonic delusion analogous to the one that Malpas had fallen into; and yet the Latins place these among their saints".
If such a writing of Latin spirituality has already reached such a dangerous point of widespread public acceptance and propagation in an Orthodox country, thanks to the ignorance or indifference of the Spiritual fathers, how much more will Orthodox countries continue to be imbued with such a heretical spirituality if we do not speak openly against the dangers of the Western heretical, rationalist and emotionalist spirituality?
4. What the Holy Bible says about praiseworthy disobedience
Apostle Paul's explicit remark on Galatians (Gal. 1, 8.9) (made in fact by using accentuation twice: "as we said before, so say I now again"), not to accept any innovation in preaching the gospel, even if that proceeds from an angel in heaven or from the Apostles themselves, openly abolishes every notion of "Primacy" in the hands of individuals over the Tradition inside the Church (since not even the Apostles can change their Gospel a posteriori, since it is "from above"), and furthermore it alone provides us with sufficient guidance in what happens when we are found obligated to show obedience to the Faith of the Church: we must turn away whoever alters the ancient evangelic kerygma ("let him be anathema").
As regards another verse, "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as those who must give account" (Heb. 13, 17), one may also pay attention to another point worthy of note: the reasoning behind the obedience shown to those "that have the rule", namely to the leaders, is that "they watch for your souls"; obedience is not without its preconditions. If, based on our ecclesiastical experience, we come to the realisation that these rulers neglect their duty, that they do not care for the salvation of the souls that have been entrusted unto them and that they ignore the spiritual dangers and above all the danger of heresy, then the duty of obedience to them is abrogated.
As it has been mentioned accordingly "First of all, the Holy Bible distinguishes between good and evil shepherds; between true and genuine shepherds, teachers and prophets on one hand and false shepherds, false teachers and false prophets on the other [...]; obedience is not indiscriminate but discriminate".
5. According to the holy Canons, the Monk must depart from obedience to a heretical Hegumen
In the section of the "Rudder" (that momentous and reputable collection of the holy Canons by Saint Nicodemus the Haghiorite) where the Saint clarifies the number of reasons for which a Monk may leave his Monastery, we find mentioned among them the situation where the Hegumen happens to be a heretic. By referring to Basil the Great, the Saint adds: "Now, Basil the Great (Great Rules 36) forgives one's departure from his monastery for only one reason, namely when [the Hegumen] has suffered spiritual ruin; something that, according to [Saint Basil], must first be revealed to those who have the power to correct it; and if they do not correct it, then [the Monk] must divorce himself from their company, no longer as if departing from brothers, but as if from strangers"; and he then continues with the remaining interesting and soul-edifying admonitions.
In this case, it is also evident that if the Elder - Spiritual Father happens to be a heretic (or if he happens to be pro-heretical, depending also on the degree of his acceptance of the heresy), not only do we owe him no obedience, but it is imperative that we distance ourselves from him.
6. Saint John Chrysostom urges disobedience to the cacodox ecclesiastical leaders
Saint John Chrysostom, who is considered by our Church as "a God-inspired instrument and an inexhaustible ocean of dogmas", when interpreting the apostolic commandment on obedience and submission to the Leaders, to the Hegumens (lit. the word means leaders, "them that have the rule"), "obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves", makes the following clarifications: "Perchance someone may tell us that [apart from anarchy and indiscipline] there is a third evil, namely when the ruler [of the Church] is evil. I too know it; and this evil is not small, but much worse even than anarchy is: for it is better not to be guided by anyone, instead of being guided by someone evil. For the former [subordinate] many a time was he saved and many a time was he found to be in danger; but the latter will most certainly stay in danger, being led to an abyss. So how come he says ‘Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves'? After having mentioned further up those ‘whose faith [you must] follow, considering the outcome of their life' he then says ‘obey them that have the rule over you and submit yourselves'. So what happens then, you ask, when he is cunning and we do not obey him? In what way do you mean "cunning"? If he is such in the faith, avoid him and leave him; not only if he happens to be a man but even if he happens to be an angel descending from heaven [Gal. 1, 8]. If he is so because of the life he leads, then do not be concerned [...].Yet do not pay attention to his life, but to his words; for no one could ever be harmed from his ethos. Why? Because it is plain for all to see; and even if he happens to be cunning a thousand times over, he will never teach cunning things. But when he happens to be [cunning] in the faith, neither is this obvious to all nor will the cunning one stop teaching. For even the words ‘Do not judge in order not to be judged' are meant for one's life and not for the faith".
7. The "Ladder" clarifies that the Monk who is humble may gainsay the Leaders in matters of Faith
In Saint John of Sinai's work "Ladder", this paramount spiritual writing that has been characterised as "a masterpiece of Eastern asceticism" in which "obedience has a fundamental place in virtuousness", it is clarified that exceptions to the rule are allowed. Devout John characteristically mentions the following about the virtue of humility: "You do not find hatred, any form of contradiction or any trace of indiscipline associated with the one who is connected with [this virtue], lest we are dealing with issues of Faith".
8. The exemplar model of Saint Gregory of Decapolis
Saint Gregory of Decapolis, whose memory we celebrate on November 20, and who shone with his life during the second half of the 8th century in Decapolis of Isauria, had been distinguished for his almsgiving, his unassuming stance, his obedience, his humility and his meekness as early as his teenage years and continued to be equally distinguished for these virtues later on when he became a monk. The Saint's biographer narrates that while the Saint's mother did not dissuade him from becoming a monk, she convinced him nonetheless to enter the brotherhood of another Monastery where his flesh brother also resided, in order for them to struggle spiritually together, and for one to be consoled by the other's presence. The biographer continues the narration by telling us how Saint Gregory dealt with the fact that the Monastery's Hegumen proved to be a heretic: "In order to consent to his mother's will, Gregory went to that Monastery whose Abbot happened to be a heretic, the wretched soul; and when the Saint realised this, he could not stand it, being the fervent zealot of piety that he was, and instead checked him in the presence of the entire brotherhood; and [the hegumen], becoming greatly angered, beat up the Saint badly, who departed from the monastery with his wounds still fresh on his body; and went to another Monastery in this bloodied state, whose Hegumen happened to be a relative of his mother named Symeon, who also happened to be the Archimandrite of all the Monasteries of Decapolis".
9. The teaching of Saint Symeon the New Theologian
Sublime Saint Symeon the New Theologian, for whom we cannot say here as much as we should, has left us with some wonderful teachings and God-inspired experiences of his divine Eros, but also with a teaching that reproves the state of his era's clergy. It is believed that Saint Symeon commenced an important spiritual revolution. Father John Romanides characteristically writes: "... there came a time in the Church when people would be ordained as clerics that in the ancient Church would not have been suitable to advance beyond laity [...] In other words, they did not have the spiritual presuppositions to join the Holy Orders. Saint Symeon the New Theologian revolted against this irregular situation and he proved so successful that the Church named him New Theologian. From his time until the time of Saint Gregory Palamas, a great conflict took place in the Church as regards the matter of qualifications needed for the election of bishops. Because of this Hesychast controversy, as it became known, which was resolved by the adoption of Saint Symeon the New Theologian's theology, it was eventually ordained that the bishops of the Church should be chosen from the ranks of the monks who followed the Hesychast tradition, illumination and theosis".
So Saint Symeon, who is a Saintly spiritual giant of such epic proportions that he was the third person in our Church to have been assigned the title of a Theologian, having made such an important contribution to its ascetic teaching, has also left us with a teaching of particular and characteristic importance to our topic: "Plead God with prayers and tears for Him to send you a guide who is dispassionate and holy. At the same time, also study the divine Scriptures by yourself and particularly the practical writings of the Holy Fathers; so that by cross-examining the teachings and works of your teacher and Leader with these [writings] you may become able to see and to comprehend [his teachings]. And those teachings that are in agreement with the Scriptures, you should adopt and hold them dear in your mind, while the adulterated and foreign ones you should learn to perceive them as such and to turn them away, in order not to be deceived. For know this: many deceivers and false teachers have come forth in these days".
Another teaching, analogous to the one mentioned above, has been saved in the Life (i.e. in the biography) of Saint Symeon by his disciple Saint Nicetas Stethatos. Close to the time of his death, Saint Symeon advised his disciples to obey the successor Hegumen Arsenius in all things with one possible exception: "Do not take amiss his words and actions, but even in case these happen to be in opposition to the Fathers' consensus, you should bow your heads unto him for the time being. Afterwards, those of you that may have surpassed the others in years, life experience and words, let them notify him in private of the reason for the impediment to apply his words, in accordance with the "Rules" of Basil the Great27a. For the sake of God, you should endure him when he happens to be sore or bitter, without contradicting or repugning him; for the one who contradicts or repugns him repugns God's authority, as Paul says (Rom. 13, 2). Truly, in matters where no transgression of God's commandments or of the apostolic Canons and ordinances has taken place, you ought to obey him in all things and to submit yourselves unto him as if he were the Lord Himself. However, in all things where the Gospel of Christ and the laws of the Church are in danger of being overturned, not only to him should you not submit when he admonishes and commands you, but not even to an angel who just came down from heaven and who evangelises you things different from what the eyewitnesses of the Logos had been evangelised".
10. Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov in favour of cautious obedience
This celebrated Saint and theologian of the Russian Church of the 19th century, about whom we have already mentioned, dedicates an entire chapter in his valuable book "An offering to Contemporary Monasticism" on the subject of "Obedience to an Elder". Among the many other references he quotes from the Fathers that are found cited in the topic of indiscriminate obedience to unpurified Spiritual Fathers, he makes important clarifications and additions: "Obedience makes the subordinate one with the one he obeys. The Holy Bible says: ‘and the flocks conceived before the rods' (Gen. 30, 39) [...]. One may say: the subordinate's faith can replace the elder's inadequacy. Wrong! Faith in truth saves. Faith in lies and in diabolical deceit harms! This is said by the Apostle. For those who willingly perish, he says: ‘...they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.' (2 Thess. 2, 10-12) [...] In our times, we observe a general degeneration of Christianity. [...] And it is a great blessing for us and great joy that we were given the possibility of being fed with the crumbs that fall from the Spiritual table of the Fathers. The crumbs themselves do not constitute the most adequate nourishment. But they can (although not without leaving us with feelings of privation and hunger) save us from spiritual death".
Let us also keep well in our hands these "crumbs" that fall from the patristic teachings, like from the ones presented above, in order to save ourselves from theological chaos as well as from the relativism of and subjection to heresy, by staying firmly disobedient to every type of pro-heretical pseudo-obedience. The homily of Saint Ephraim of Syria on the Second Coming of Christ is formidable: "Woe unto those who pollute the holy Faith with heresies or who subject themselves to heretics". Whether these happen to be lay, or much more so if these happen to be clerics[i].
- Saint Nicodemus the Haghiorite, Rudder, edition Vas. Rigopoulos, Thessalonica 2003, p. 488.
-  Saint Basil the Great, Rules in summary 229, PG 31, 1236A
-  Saint Nicodemus the Haghiorite, Spiritual Exercises, Exercise III 4, edition V. Rigopoulos, Thessalonica 19917, p. 320 (and notes). The excerpt taken from Basil the Great is a translation.
-  Protopresbyter and University Professor John Romanides, Patristic Theology, redaction by Haghiorite Monk Damascene, edition Parakatatheke (Deposit), Thessalonica 2004, p. 176ff.
-  Ibid. p. 70ff
-  Ibid. p.203ff
-  Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov, An offer to contemporary monasticism, tome III, edition Holy Metropolis of Nicopolis, Preveza 1995, p.203.
-  Saint John of Sinai, Ladder, Homily IV, On obedience 58, edition Holy Monastery of Paraclete, Horopos Attica, 19946, p.95
-  Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Homily against Eunomius 12, PG 45, 912.
-  Saint John of Sinai, On the Shepherd 97, edition Holy Monastery of Paraclete, Horopos Attica, 19946, p.402 (PG 88, 1201A).
-  Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechesis for Illuminated 15, 18 PG 33, 896A
-  Ezekiel 34, 8-10 (KJV)
-  Rev. 2, 12-23
-  Rev. 2, 6
-  Saint Maximum the Confessor, Discourse to Pyrrhus, PG 91, 333C.D (translation).
-  Cf. J. Phidas, Ecclesiastical History, Tome I, Athens 19942, p.747
-  Saint John of Sinai, Ladder, Homily V, On repentance 29, op. cit. p.133, PG 88, .
-  Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov, op. cit. tome I, edition Holy Metropolis of Nicopolis, Preveza 1993, p.136ff.
-  Protopresbyter Theodore Zisis, Bad obedience and holy disobedience, Φίλη Ορθοδοξία (Orthodoxy My Friend) 11, edition "Bryennios", Thessalonica 2006, pp.21.23
-  Saint Nicodemus the Haghiorite, Rudder, op. cit., p.341, footnote (1)
-  Great Vespers, November 13, Kekragarion I
-  Saint John Chrysostom, Homily on the Epistle to Hebrews 34, 1. PG 63, 231
-  Introduction to Saint John of Sinai's Ladder, op. cit, p.5
-  Ibid., Homily 25, On humility 9, p.268
-  Matthew Langis, bishop of Oinoe, The Great Synaxarist of the Orthodox Church, tome XI, Athens 19915, p.537ff
-  Protopresbyter John Romanides, op. cit. p.104ff
-  Saint Symeon the New Theologian, Practical and Theological Chapters 32, by P. Christou in ΕΠΕ (Library of Greek Fathers) Philokalia of the Neptic and Ascetic Fathers 3, Patristic Editions Gregory Palamas, Thessalonica, p.242 (translation)
- [27α] Saint Basil the Great, The Great Rules 27, PG 31, 988A.B
-  Saint Nicetas Stethatos, Life of Symeon 66, by P. Christou in ΕΠΕ Philokalia of the Neptic and Ascetic Fathers 19, Patristic Editions Gregory Palamas, Thessalonica, pp.146.147
-  Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov, op. cit., tome I, pp.141.143.146ff
-  Saint Ephraim of Syria, Homily on the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in Devout Ephraim of Syria - Works, tome IV, edition "The Garden of Panaghia", Thessalonica 1992, p.26
[i] For a broader analysis on the subject of obedience and disobedience in matters of Faith, see also the very informative first part of the book Bad obedience and holy disobedience by Professor and Protopresbyter Theodore Zisis, Orthodoxy My Friend 11, edition "Bryennios", Thessalonica 2006.