The following is a reprint of an article I published back in December. Thought I’d offer it again. The reference to “Global Cooling” is a play on Kalomiros’ description of the coldness of the modern heart.
I have been listening to a tape of the talk, “The River of Fire,” given by Dr. Alexander Kalomiros in 1980. By now it has become a very frequently cited and discussed document within the modern Orthodox world. Despite the occasional stridency of its tone, I cannot mkae myself disagree with its conclusions. The following is from the opening remarks of the talk – and speak eloquently of the “Christian Atheism” I have written about elsewhere. The greatest enemy of the Christian faith is the distortion of the Christian faith. Orthodox Christians can have no greater task than to live and teach in accordance with the truth – without this the human heart will continue to grow cold – as it turns away from the caricatures of God so often portrayed in our modern world. May God give us grace. The full text of the talk may be found here.
There is no doubt that we are living in the age of apostasy predicted for the last days. In practice, most people are atheists, although many of them theoretically still believe. Indifference and the spirit of this world prevail everywhere.
What is the reason for this state?
The reason is the cooling of love. Love for God no more burns in human hearts, and in consequence, love between us is dead, too.
What is the cause of this waning of men’s love for God? The answer, certainly, is sin. Sin is the dark cloud which does not permit God’s light to reach our eyes.
But sin always did exist. So how did we arrive at the point of not simply ignoring God, but of actually hating Him? Man’s attitude toward God today is not really ignorance, or really indifference. If you examine men carefully you will notice that their ignorance or indifference is tainted by a deep hate. But nobody hates anything that does not exist.
I have the suspicion that men today believe in God more than at any other time in human history. Men know the gospel, the teaching of the Church, and God’s creation better than at any other time. They have a profound consciousness of His existence. Their atheism is not a real disbelief. It is rather an aversion toward somebody we know very well but whom we hate with all our heart, exactly as the demons do.
We hate God, that is why we ignore Him, overlooking Him as if we did not see Him, and pretending to be atheists. In reality we consider Him our enemy par excellence. Our negation is our vengeance, our atheism is our revenge.
But why do men hate God? They hate Him not only because their deeds are dark while God is light, but also because they consider Him as a menace, as an imminent and eternal danger, as an adversary in court, as an opponent at law, as a public prosecutor and an eternal persecutor. To them, God is no more the almighty physician who came to save them from illness and death, but rather a cruel judge and a vengeful inquisitor.
You see, the devil managed to make men believe that God does not really love us, that He really only loves Himself, and that He accepts us only if we behave as He wants us to behave; that He hates us if we do not behave as He ordered us to behave, and is offended by our insubordination to such a degree that we must pay for it by eternal tortures, created by Him for that purpose. Who can love a torturer? Even those who try hard to save themselves from the wrath of God cannot really love Him. They love only themselves, trying to escape God’s vengeance and to achieve eternal bliss by managing to please this fearsome and extremely dangerous Creator. Do you perceive the devil’s slander of our all-loving, all-kind, and absolutely good God? That is why in Greek the devil was given the name of diabolos, “the slanderer.”
That was a pivotal text in my conversion to Orthodoxy. I am forever searching for a copy of the audio recording. I wish someone would make it an mp3 download.
Reading this several years back was a great help to me in understanding Hell, and what it meant. And removing, bit by bit [I am still on the way], the incorrect ideas I had.
I do wish as good a summary, though perhaps one with a less anti-Western view, was present; the anti-Western view has put some friends of mine off, sadly. Though they can see a glimmer of truth in what is being said elsewhere.
There are many ways in which I think the anti-Western stuff is overdone and creates a weakness in Kalomiros’ work. However, I also think that we in the West have no idea of how dominant and oppressive Western ideas seemed to some Orthodox a generation or two ago. Romanides (a teacher for Kalomiros) in defending his thesis in Athens (or Thessaloniki, I don’t remember which) actually was attacked because his work contradicted St. Thomas Acquinas. And this from an Orthodox faculty! It tended to create a sort of reactionary climate among many Orthodox as they were rediscovering their own faith and the freedom to say no to the West.
Though we find Kalomiros and Romanides hard on the West, it’s actually quite Western to be hard on the West. What was the Reformation if not hard on the West? It’s just that the Protestants have been out manouvered in their own argument, by an argument that’s older, with a patristic pedigree, and truth on its side.
My own thought is that we don’t have to beat up on the West (though I am accused of it and am probably guilty of it from time to time) but simply point to truth and error. I am a Westerner, born and raised in the South of the U.S., educated in public and private schools, with a masters from a liberal protestant seminary and a second masters from a liberal protestant graduate school. But during all of my adult years I have read Orthodox writings and seen their truth and the error that was all around me. My life is the crisis of the West, which is the crisis of modernity. Orthodoxy, I believe, is the answer to the questions posed by that crisis and the fullness of the truth of God in Christ. But I will always be a Westerner. Orthodoxy has returned to the West and it will not leave.
Every believing Christian in the West is more or less living within the ruins of a past civilization and working their way through a post-Christian culture. If Orthodoxy criticizes the West, it’s either something that passed a long time ago or something that has replaced it with a great emptiness.
On the other hand, Orthodoxy’s own cultures have long since been demolished. The Church is what remains (much like post-Soviet Russia). I do not think there will be any more empires (for various reasons). But the Church remains and will remain by Christ’s own promise. I think it’s easy for some Orthodox to get tempted by the past – but the Church is not the past nor a path to the past. It is the only future present in this world.
I agree. And may I point out also that there is definitely a move by a large segment of “western” Christians towards Orthodoxy as they see the faults in the modern logic that is the foundation for Protestant/Evangelical theology. Among many of my generation (21-35 i.e. Gen Y) there is a big push for an ancient faith.
The evangelical community is finding more and more that their modern doctrines do not hold up. They fall apart. For instance when I was in an evangelical church, the church leadership changed their views and actual policy on evangelism 4 times, from a 4 step plan, to a once-saved-always-saved approach, to a let’s live it loud and go to them, to a “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary use words” approach. My generation is sick of a Christianity that preaches individualism and disconnectedness, and as such, we are very focused on community and learning from the ancient Christian faith (from my experience at least. And of course there are numerous problems with a post-modern worldview as well, but this isn’t the time nor the place for it. The fact is, for some reason, the extreme individualism you believe what you believe and I’ll believe what I believe is leading many to Orthodoxy.)
I have found that the Orthodox faith is the only way out of this mess, and I believe, based on observing the changing social conscience of evangelical communities, that the call to Orthodoxy will become much more prevalent as we go on.
So, I agree with you wholeheartedly when you say, “Orthodoxy, I believe, is the answer to the questions posed by that crisis and the fullness of the truth of God in Christ. But I will always be a Westerner. Orthodoxy has returned to the West and it will not leave.”
Father Stephen, I have heard that Kalomoiros was part of a zealot group, rather than canonical Orthodoxy. If that’s accurate, then this explains why his work on the River on Fire, while it contains spiritual riches, leaves a bad taste when read as a whole…
The spiritual riches are found in the extensive patristic quotation. The ugly taste comes from the zealot context that gives birth to that attitude towards “the West”.
It’s ironical how someone can sound so offensive to Western Christianity and preach God’s mercy at the same time.
Fr. Stephen, thank you so much for this post. I was not familiar with the “River of Fire” but I do understand the idea and the comments herein to your posting — at least I have some understanding by the grace of God. He is the Lover of Mankind and as such, I agree especially with this quote from your comments:
Though we find Kalomiros and Romanides hard on the West, it’s actually quite Western to be hard on the West. What was the Reformation if not hard on the West? It’s just that the Protestants have been out manouvered in their own argument, by an argument that’s older, with a patristic pedigree, and truth on its side.
My own thought is that we don’t have to beat up on the West (though I am accused of it and am probably guilty of it from time to time) but simply point to truth and error.
Orthodox worship, being true worship, is what has drawn us as a family, seeking to worship God in Spirit and in Truth. He has taken the pitiful love we offer and welcomed, expanded it, and continues to stretch us all in good ways, as we were created for good.
Thank you for the time and effort you take with your blogsite. May God bless all you do!
Categorically, we fall prey to Aristotelianism making “EAST/WEST”, distinctions. Orthodox Christianity always was, is, and will be, the catholic/universal Faith – East and West, North and the Sea.
This talk, by the blessed Dr. Alexander (a medical doctor), was given when St. Nektarios Cathedral (Seattle, WA) was in communion with ROCOR (July 22-25, 1980). It was not until 1986 that HTM left ROCOR.
Making statements like: “It’s ironical how someone can sound so offensive to Western Christianity and preach God’s mercy at the same time, “ falls prey to the very thing one is pointing out. Saint Hilary of Poitiers said: “Heresy lies not in the word, but the meaning given to it”. Have you heard this man’s voice? He is meek like a lamb and was one that did NOT go along with HTM when they left ROCOR. Please pray for his departed soul. +
The Elder Sofrony says: The first sign of emancipation is a disinclination to impose one’s will on others. The second-an inner release from the hold of others on oneself? Mastery over the wish to dominate is an extremely important stage which is closely followed by dislike of constraining our brother. Man is made in the image of God, ‘ Who is humble but at the same time free. Therefore it is normal and natural that he should be after the likeness of His Creator — that he should recoil from exercising control over others while himself being free and independent by virtue of the presence of the Holy Spirit within him. Those who are possessed by the lust for power cloud the image of God in themselves. The light of true life departs, leaving a tormenting void, a distressing tedium. Life is bereft of meaning. ‘When the Holy Spirit by its gentle presence in our soul enables us to master our passions we realise that to look down on others is contrary to the spirit of love. And if I have not agapi everything else-even the gifts of prophesy, of understanding all mysteries, or of performing miracles-profits me nothing (cf. 1 Cor. 13.1-3).
Let us realize how far we are from a living experience of Orthodox.
I post here the PREFACE TO THE ENGLISH EDITION of PATRISTIC THEOLOGY by Fr. John Romanides
The significance and impact of Fr. John Romanides’ writings on Orthodox theology in the twentieth century is hard to underestimate. He was a path-finder who opened the road for academic theology to return to Patristic theology and for pietism to be replaced by hesychasm. He was a man who loved the Truth with his whole heart, and with his whole soul, and with his whole mind (Mal. 22:37), evidence of which exists in the pages of this book and his entire life. For, the study and living out of the mind of the Holy Fathers was for Fr. John an entrance into the very heart and mystery of salvation and no cold academic exercise.
For many pious readers raised on the vestiges of Western Christian expressions, the words of Father John will undoubtedly be new and even unbelievable, and may even come as a shock. The Faith of the Church herein presented is not conformed Lo this world (Rom. 12:2), is not the product of scholastic study, but is born of God and overcome/h the world, for this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our Faith. (I John 5:4). It is precisely this otherworldly faith which most who call themselves Christians today, including not a few Orthodox, have yet to encounter.
It is, therefore, a great joy and honor for Uncut Mountain Press to be able to make these illuminating and liberating lectures available to English-speaking Orthodox Christians, especially to students of theology and future clergy. May they assist all who would be Disciples of Christ to know the Truth and be made free by it (John 8:32).
Fr. Peter Alban Heers
Petrokerasa Thessaloniki, Greece
July 27/August 9, 2007
Holy Great Martyr [and Healer] Panteleimon
Commemoration of the Glorification of Saint Herman of Alaska
You raise a point that I have been given to reflect upon lately. The Saints – of both East and West – all exhibit a tremendous inner freedom when it comes to the world.
I enjoyed reading this post. And I agree: Kalomiros can be strident (at least on paper if not in voice), but the concerns and ideas he raises are real.
Re: the loathing of God, I am so much a captive of the West (by birth and culture), that I fear I fall into that category at times. It’s like it says in “The Way of a Pilgrim”: I don’t love God, I don’t believe the Gospel, and I don’t love my neighbor. There’s not much good in me.
But I hope to be healed by the Healer. And in order to do that, I need to go to the Source: the Church, which presents the teachings and the means in the Sacraments to be healed.
So what do I do, when Orthodox teachers tell me that I can receive the same Source of healing in the Roman Catholic church? Brothers and sisters, I’m not asking this rhetorically: I mean it. Can I go to a Catholic church now and receive the same? Because it would be a lot easier: there are more Catholic churches around. See the text below from the Balamand Statement, and see who signed it.
I am NOT posting this to be incendiary. I am NOT some malicious “fanatic.” I just want to know if we believe the Orthodox Church to merely have an appealing cultural “flavor”; or if we believe that it is the one place we can get the medicine Kalomiros says is so necessary. And I do mean “we.” By the way, I know we are not to judge outsiders. That’s not the question I’m asking. I’m asking if, since all these Orthodox bishops signed this statement, if it’s okay to go to a Catholic church now… if, though inferior in art and liturgy, I can receive the same healing there.
See text of Balamand below my signature.
13) In fact, especially since the Pan-Orthodox Conferences and the Second Vatican Council, the rediscovery and the giving again of proper value to the Church as communion, both on the part of Orthodox and of Catholics, has radically altered perspectives and thus attitudes. On each side it is recognized that what Christ has entrusted to His Church—profession of apostolic faith, participation in the same sacraments, above all the one priesthood celebrating the one sacrifice of Christ, the apostolic succession of bishops—cannot be considered the exclusive property of one of our Churches. In this context it is clear that rebaptism must be avoided.
14) It is in this perspective that the Catholic Churches and the Orthodox Churches recognize each other as Sister Churches.
Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople
His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos of Australia Orthodox Co-President of the Joint International Commission
Patriarchate of Alexandria
His Eminence Metropolitan Dionysios of Nubia
Professor Constantine Patelos
Patriarchate of Antioch
His Eminence Metropolitan George of Byblos and Botrys
Father Archimandrite Youhanna (Yazigi)
Church of Russia
Father Hegumen Nestor (Zhilyaev)
Church of Romania
His Eminence Metropolitan Antonie of Transylvania
Father Archpriest Dumitru Radu
Church of Cyprus
His Eminence Metropolitan Chrysanthos of Morphou
Professor Macarius Papachristophorou
Church of Poland
Father Hieromonk Barsanuphius (Doroszkiewicz)
Church of Albania
Professor Theodoros Papapavli
Church of Finland
His Grace Bishop Ambrosius of Joensocu
His Eminence Metropolitan Spyridon of Ita
I think Balamand is largely been rejected throughout much of the Orthodox world, and the language of “sister Churches” in particular has been repudiated. I cannot judge another Church, as you say. But I do know that the fullness of truth dwells in the Orthodox Church and made personal decisions at great cost in order to convert and be received into her bosom. I cannot suggest that anyone should do otherwise. This same Patriarch of Constantinople, in a speech given in the U.S., said that the differences between Orthodoxy and Rome were “ontological” in character – that is – at the very level of their being. Many RC’s were scandalized. Thus I think Balamand has failed the test of “reception” which the Orthodox would require of any doctrine or statement. It is a non-starter.
Thank you for your informative comment. Dr. Kalomiros was indeed a very meek man – not an extremist – but someone who sought to speak the truth. His Six Days of Creation is also a very insightful work.
I hope anyone who has read my remarks understands that I have no substantive criticism of either Romanides or Kalomiros, but have commented only on their tone, and have tried to set that in an historical context so that readers can understand better what they read.
When my husband and I were in Petrokerasa (two years ago??) we heard there was an American priest there. Now we know who you are. next time we visit that most delightful village I ever saw, we hope to meet you.
Kalomiros’ viewpoint in The River Of Fire (1980) is a very relevant one.
Paganism, atheism, humanism (and secularism) have all but obliterated the true meaning of God’s justice derived from the Hebraic word “tsedaka” meaning “the divine energy which accomplishes man’s salvation” (Kalomiros, 1980).
The degree to which the Western Church actually subscribes to this interpretation of justice displays a certain seasonality — itself a telling pointer towards the source. As a rule, Church doctrine whether false or not, rapidly filters into the home and from it flows into all the vacuums.
“The pagan mentality was in the foundation of all heresies” says Kalomiros (1980). We know that heresies give birth to schism, which are the work of the devil.
But, the destiny of the Soul is not determined by the will of the majority as in democratic elections, but by that Soul’s willing acceptance of the love of the almighty and eternal Father, who adopts us as His own.
Be this the position of Holy Orthodoxy today.
The Holy Orthodox tradition is more than just a breath of fresh air in the established Church scene.
It’s autonomy from the surrounding political processes is perhaps, it’s greatest strength and the source of it’s piety. What a gift and may this be preserved “ad infinitum”. It will, by God’s continued graces.
Still, I cannot say that what I have seen in some non-Orthodox and Western Churches is not good. For the good I have seen, I am also eternally grateful to God.
God is a good God and abandons no one. There is much good in many places and may it multiply as God wills!
If God can raise me up, the most unworthy of vessels, there is truly nothing He cannot do. Amen!
Dear Father, bless! Thanks again for another fine post. I had been made very ready in a quite miraculous way by the Holy Spirit to read Kalomiros’ address when I “found” it on the Internet. It was the answer to my need for objective and Orthodox confirmation of a truth the Lord had spoken to my own heart in response to a great need and also (like Isaac8 above) the deciding point for me in terms of converting to Orthodoxy. May Kalomiros’ memory be eternal!
I have to respectfully disagree. What Kalomiros discusses in the essay is not an original viewpoint and he supports this by quoting several Fathers. I took the whole of it to be sweet, and a curative against the poison of Western Christianity, but his tone is strident (and historically this is very understandable) and it is possible that some will be turned off by that and miss the more central message. I have spoken to so many “post-Christians” who embraced atheism after concluding the god they were taught about in a Western Christian milieu is a cosmic sadist and torturer that from my perspective it is essential to get beyond how the Christian God has been presented in the West.
Sometimes I wonder about speculations that we’re living in the “age of apostasy”. Yes, fewer people are religious, but how much of it is simply people being honest with themselves? Before, everyone went to church because it was part of the culture, not because everyone sincerely lived a life of repentance. If Europe had truly been a “Christian” continent (both East and West) history would have played out much differently. For all the shortcomings of the West, at least it gave people the opportunity to show their true colors instead of hiding in the pews in a so called Christian society.
The age of apostasy would have to be dated several centuries back and more depending on where you are. It is certainly the case that there have been cultures of more universal and true piety than ours. And times that have been worse.
In the general run of things, if you lived in Europe, you might be more convinced of a general apostasy (where 5 % or less attend Church). It’s a mixed bag – but not really great anywhere.
But the Church remains.
The West not only gave us the opportunity to show their true colors, but also gave us ample encouragement to do so.
Oops, I meant: “to show our true colors”
Thank you Father, and others posters, who commented further on “the West”: it did help me to see the broader picture. My thanks.
I’ve posted this link before, but here is another essay on the same subject of the nature of Heaven and Hell in the scriptures for anybody who may be interested in reading it:
Dear Father Stephen,
This seems eerily similar to the Armirnian vs. Calvinism debate. The free will of man vs. the sovereign will and grace of God. I feel like I am going around in circles, and I am getting dizzy. It has been a quarter century of this.
Can you help me reconcile Dr. Kalomiros’ assertion that the decision to be saved is up to us, with statements of Christ and the Apostles indicating that unless one is enabled by God, one cannot even come to God?
John 6:65 “Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto Me, except it were given unto him of My Father.”
So I ask, how free can our wills be if it is God the Father who determines who comes to Christ? How can we speak of a partnership with God in theosis, if our wills are no truly free?
The practical implications run deep and wide. This has plagued me in my life. A certain fatalism (determinism) is the conclusion one draws. My free will is subject to God’s will. No need to fight God. Passivity takes over, and voila we have God to blame for all that occurs.
Dr. Kalomiros’ position about hell and judgment (as well as God’s general disposition, and Kalomiros’ critique of the west’ nose dive into atheism) stands or falls on this pivotal issue, as far as I can see it.
Thank you for your time.
Orthodoxy never treats such verses out of the context of the rest of Scripture. Classically, Orthodoxy says that we must use our freedom to cooperate with the grace of God (and grace is given to all). Generally it is referred to as synergy (probably one of the earliest uses of the word). We remain free, and with what meagre, broken freedom we have, we cooperate with the abundant grace of God (which is God’s own Life not His “good favor” as in some Western accounts). If we were not free we would not truly love nor would we, in fact, truly be Persons. We need to be healed (its our salvation).
I would use the example, for instance, of medicine. The medicine heals it, though you remain free to take or refuse it. Your freedom has a role, but it cannot have the role of the medicine.
Our theosis (deification,etc.) is not something that we have the power to do for ourselves. Only the very Life of God could do this in us. But we have to say yes to Him, and that is an act of communion, not just a moment’s decision, but hand put to the plow and turning not back.
Orthodoxy never got caught in the trap, though later some wanted to accuse it of “semi-pelagianism” which is just non-sense.
Your free will is indeed able to fight God. How do you think you sin so much? Indeed, as one of the Fathers said, “Prayer is a struggle to a man’s dying breath.”
It’s this irresitable grace doctrine that is the problem. Of course we can resist God. We do it all the time, and yet He continues to pour His grace out upon us.
But God has created as Persons, in His image. Freedom and Love are the sine qua non of personhood.
Thank you Father for your reply. I trust you understand I am genuinely struggling, and wish not to enter into an argument for argument’s sake (who has time for that?). Perhaps I am not the only one struggling with this, so these comments can be of benefit to others as well.
“It’s this irresistable grace doctrine that is the problem.” Very perceptive; I wholeheartedly agree. I presume the answer to my dilemma is to look at every assumption (yes, every Scripture) anew from the Orthodox perspective.
How would you counter the charge of semi-pelagianism or even pelagianism? It may seem a preposterous charge, however the underlying issues seem to be very relevant to this discussion.
In reading Dr. Kalomiros’ article I kept thinking “why the need for the Incarnation? why then did Jesus die for our sins? why the need for the Resurrection?” The gates of Paradise and death itself could have easily been defeated by God by some other means. Perhaps it was not out of necessity (as the false notion of justice requires)?
As they say “It is hard to teach an old dog new tricks”. Your (continued) prayers are much appreciated.
A lot of it really does come down to sloughing off the frameworks you are raised in. It is very hard to obtain an Orthodox viewpoint coming from other Christian traditions. My impression is that the big battle between Calvinism and Arminianism that is so central to many Western traditions is basically a non-issue for the Orthodox. I did find that synergy made the most sense of the whole of scripture if one didn’t isolate verses that seemed to favor one view over the other. Certainly a person who is very entrenched in a Calvinist viewpoint may see Orthodox thought on the subject as semi-Pelagian. I believe Fr. Stephen mentioned on an older post that even Franklin Graham’s organization accused the Orthodox of holding to a “works based salvation.”
The River of Fire seems to me to be a bit of anti-western nonsense based on ideas that were never fully accepted by the Orthodox Church. The theme of God’s judgment runs strait through the biblical text and is so prevalent that to deny it seems a work of monumental obfuscation. The paper seems to make God a benign life force rather than the God found in sacred scripture; it seems almost Buddhist to me. If the author can wiggle his way around such Biblical text as this: “God spared to the angels that sinned but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness to be reserved unto judgment.” (Peter 2:4) He is still stuck with the creed, “and he shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” I don’t have the direct quote in front of me but Kierkkegaard once said that Christian theology was an attempt to get around the Bible. In this case it seems both an attempt to get around the Bible and to slander the West.
The belief in a material fire, for instance, maintained in the West, was long ago condemned as heresy in the East. Kalomiros is working from the Fathers (despite the West bashing). The inability of many traditions in the West to interpret Scripture in accordance with Apostolic teaching has been tragic, to say the least (ask American Natives who were interpreted as Canaanites and Amalek not to speak of the heresy of seeing America as the promised land).
There is no getting around Scripture in the Orthodox Church, but the continued faithfulness to Apostolic witness. There is nothing unique in Kalomiros other than some of the Western diatribe. This is as much the faith of the Church (that God is a good God and loves mankind) as the Creed itself. God is tri-personal, and good beyond any mere benign understanding.
Kalomiros does not deny the judgment. Nor does he deny hell. But he interprets them in their proper patristic and Orthodox manner. Sorry that it should novel.
Vincent, could you post some quotes for the various Fathers that opposed […”never fully accepted by The Orthodox Church”] this soteriological teaching being presented by Dr. Alexander Kalomiros?
I remember reading The River of Fire back in the early ’90’s when I was coming from an Eastern religious upbringing … everything around me was being ‘presented’ as ‘black and white’, I however was raised in a ‘quantum/non-Aristotelian’ home, where we understood ‘reality’ as BOTH p, and not-p, at the same time. Everything by degrees.
It seems that when the ‘western logical intellect’ (dianoia) comes into contact with ‘Eastern’ Christianity, it forgets that, Christ is above all categories of even categorisation … philosophical categories do not apply to Christianity. They are beyond the created realm.
Fr. John Romanides said: “Today’s missionary work consists mainly of this: we enlighten superstitious people and make them Orthodox Christians, without trying to heal them. By doing this, however, we are just replacing or exchanging their former beliefs with a new set of beliefs. We are replacing one superstition with another. And I say this because when Orthodoxy is presented in this way and is offered in this way, how is it different from superstition? After all, when Orthodoxy is presented and offered as a Christianity that does not heal – despite the fact that healing is its primary task – how is it different from superstition?
There are Christians in the West who also have Christian dogmas and accept certain councils. On the basis of outward appearance, there does not seem to be such a great difference between the dogmas of the heretics and those of the Orthodox. The difference is not as huge as it is between Christians and idolaters. On the surface, Orthodox doctrine is not so strikingly different from that of heterodox Christians, especially given the fact that Orthodox doctrine, as taught today in Greece, is unrelated to the therapeutic treatment found in Orthodox tradition. So from the perspective of doctrine, how is Orthodox tradition different from the tradition of the heterodox? And why should someone who is not Orthodox believe in Orthodoxy and not in some other Christian dogma? After all, in the way that they are presented, neither one of them is offered as a treatment or pathway towards healing, but as superstition.
These days we talk about changing our way of thinking, about changing our beliefs, about changing our outlook on life, and this is the way we view repentance. In other words, for Orthodoxy today repentance is identified merely with the acceptance of Christ. That is to say, we accept Christ. And because we accept Him, we go to Church, we light a candle or two, and we become good little boys and girls. If we are young, we go to Sunday school. If we are adults, we go to a religious meeting now and then. And supposedly we are living in repentance; supposedly we are repentant. Or else, if we have done something bad in our life, we show some regret and ask forgiveness and call what we are doing repentance. However, this is not repentance. It is simply regret. Regret is the beginning of repentance, but the human soul is not purified by mere regret. In order for one’s soul to be purified of the passions, the fear of God and repentance must first be present and continue throughout the stage of purification until it is completed with divine illumination, the illumination of our nous by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Since the Orthodox do not put this therapeutic treatment into practice, what makes them different from those who are not Orthodox? Is it doctrine? And what good are Orthodox doctrines if they are not used for the healing of the soul? When used in such a way, doctrine offers no benefit whatsoever.”
May we be humble enough to accept those categories presented to us by Christ’s Holy Church, that raise us above this ‘world’.
Saint Gregory of Sinai counsels: “Hence because we are in fact non-spiritual we live and behave in a non-spiritual manner. Should we repent, we understand and practice the commandments only in a bodily way and not spiritually. And if after many labours a revelation of grace is in God’s compassion granted to us, we take it for a delusion. Or if we hear from others how grace acts, we are persuaded by our envy to regard that also as a delusion. Thus we remain corpses until death, failing to live in Christ and to be inspired by Him. According to Scripture, even that which we possess will be taken away from us at the time of our death or our judgment because of our lack of faith and our despair (cf. Matt. 2) : 29)· We do not understand that the children must be like the father, that is to say, we are to be made gods by God and spiritual by the Holy Spirit; for ‘that which is born of the Spirit is spirit’ (John 3 : 6). But we are unregenerate, even though we have become members of the faith and heavenly, and so the Spirit of God does not dwell within us (cf. Gen. 6 : 3). Because of this the Lord has handed us over to strange afflictions and captivity, and slaughter flourishes, perhaps because He wishes to correct evil, or cut it off, or heal it by more powerful remedies. ” (On the Signs of Grace and Delusion, Philokalia Vol. 4)
Lord have mercy!
adding: […] “For Saint Gregory of Nyssa, every concept relative to God is a simulacrum, a false likeness, an idol. The concepts, which we form in accordance with the judgment and understanding which are natural to us, basing ourselves on an intelligible representation [categories], create idols of God instead of revealing to us God Himself. There is only one name by which the divine nature can be expressed: the wonder which seizes the soul when it thinks of God.” Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (Crestwood, New York: Saint Vladimir’s Press, 1998), pp. 33-34.
Indeed. The image of Christianity as healing in Christ (as you well described it) is not only New Testament, it is propounded well by St. Ignatius in the 2nd century and throughout the Fathers. Without such an understanding people will never see the sacraments (mysteries) of the Church in the proper light, nor know the goodness of God. Thanks for the notes.
evlogeite! , Pater 🙂
In John 3:19 the nature of the judgment is clearly spelled out:
And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil.
we were enemies of God through sin, and God had appointed the sinner to die. There must needs therefore have happened one of two things; either that God, in His truth, should destroy all men, or that in His loving-kindness He should cancel the sentence. But behold the wisdom of God; He preserved both the truth of His sentence, and the exercise of His loving-kindness. Christ took our sins ‘in His body on the tree, that we by His death might die to sin, and live unto righteousness’ (I Pet. 2:24). St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures:Lecture 13 no. 33)
For what principle did the Blood of His Only-Begotten Son delight the Father, Who would not receive even Isaac, when he was being offered by his father, but changed the sacrifice, putting a ram in the place of the human victim? Is it not evident that the Father accepts Him, but neither asked for Him nor demanded Him; but on account of the Incarnation, and because humanity must be sanctified by the Humanity of God, that He might deliver us Himself, and overcome the tyrant, and draw us to Himself by the mediation of His Son, Who also arranged this to the honor of the Father, Whom it is manifest that He obeys in all things? So much we have said of Christ; the greatest part of what we might say shall be reverenced with silence. St. Gregory the Theologian, Second Oration on Pascha
Jesus], in administering the righteous judgment of the Father to all, assigns to each what is righteous according to his works. … Justification will be seen in the awarding to each that which is just; to those who have done well, there will be justly assigned eternal happiness. The lovers of wickedness will be assigned eternal punishment. … But the righteous will remember only the righteous deeds by which they reached the heavenly kingdom.” 170-236 AD St. Hippolytus Against Plato sec. 3)
I will never in a million years understand a person who argues for a vengeful God if he is given a viable alternative.
Justice is not vengence and that’s my point.
St. Isaac of Syria on the subject of the justice of God:
Do not call God just, for His justice is not manifest in things concerning you. And if David calls Him just and upright, His Son revealed to us that He is good and kind. ‘He is good’, he says, ‘to the evil and to the impious.’ How can you call God just when you come across the Scriptural passage on the wage given to the workers? ‘Friend, I do thee no wrong: I choose to give unto this last even as unto thee. Or is thine eye evil because I am good?’ How can a man call God just when he comes across the passage on the prodigal son who wasted his wealth with riotous living, how for the compunction alone which he showed, the father ran and fell upon his neck and gave him authority over all his wealth? None other but His very Son said these things concerning Him, lest we doubt it, and thus bore witness concerning Him. Where, then, is God’s justice, for while we are sinners Christ died for us! [I, 51 from The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian, translated by Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Boston, 250-251]
I believe I am accountable to both God and my neighbor for my actions. I know this may sound strange to many Americans. I personally am not offended by the idea that God will judge me and has the power to condemn me.
“Behold I come quickly and my reward is with me to render to every man according to his works. ” Rev 22:12
This could go on forever and there is really no point in it. I don’t disagree that St Isaac is part of the Orthodox tradition nor do I deny the validity of much of what he says. My point though, is that his, is not the only voice in the Orthodox Church. I am not as well read as many who have posted on this site but from what I have read the language and imagery often used by many Orthodox writers is consistent with both the Bible and the West. By attacking the West Kalomiros attacks his own church.
I don’t think the information in “The River of Fire” precludes or contradicts the notion of God’s judgment. With much of what seems to be contradictory in the various comments above, I feel like I’m just seeing two sides of the same coin.
Like William notes, the picture given in the “River of Fire” (as well as the toned down article I linked above) doesn’t remove the notion of judgment, but it does move it beyond a merely human picture of it.
I think that when Kalomiros and Romanides attack the West, they are attacking the novel patterns of thought that crept in after it broke with the Church in the Great Schism. The West of St. Patrick is not the issue, the West of scholasticism and double-predestination very much is. I think to the degree that the “West” makes God a hateful figure (which is Kalomiros’ main point) it should be attacked.
The Catholic Church does not teach double predestination. As for Hell I will give you the Catechism definition, ” God’s Merciful love means remaining separated from him by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called hell. (p292) Catechism of the Catholic Church Doubleday 1995
Walk into any catholic home in America and you might or might not find the works of Augustine. You will find the image of the sacred heart of Jesus. I can think of no better image which conveys the love of God for humanity. Not all of what Augustine wrote is part of catholic teaching. As for the apostasy of the West Kalomiros should focus on the apostasy of the East. The Catholic churches in my area are full of young people the Orthodox Churches look like geriatiric centers. You don’t make converts by building straw men and knocking them down. There is nothing novel about the patterns of thought in the West they can be found in the Bible.
Vincent, I think it has been conceded that Kalomiros was overly hard on the West as well as stating the reasons. Cut him some slack, he had his cultural issues to deal with as we do. His general argument on salvation though, remains quite good, rooted in the Eastern Fathers.
I think many Roman Catholic theologians would today not be far amiss from Kalomiros if we were discussing the topic. I posted the article with a warning about it’s western stuff. Jus take it in stride. As noted, no one beats up on the West more than the West. He could have been a lot more generous. It is granted. No argument.
He sets up some historical strawmen, but I can assure you in some Church circles those straw men are alive and well. I’ve not encountered it particularly among Roman Catholics, but elsewhere it is part of the cultural mainstream of certain forms of American Christianity.
I might add that the Catholic Catechism is under constant revision, something a bit unknown to the Orthodox. Sometimes we’re arguing with documents that the average Catholic has never seen or believed. With my apologies, read Kalomiros and his patristic sources and forget the diatribe on the West. If you find it helpful, good, otherwise, forgive something that was not helpful to you. And may God bless.
No need for apologies. It is always a pleasure to read your postings and even to argue about them. I have read St Issac and agree with him. That may be a surprise. I still think that much that exists in the Western tradition is valid and can’t be easily dismissed. Have a Good tip and God bless you and your family.
I bought a copy of Salt of the Earth by Cardinal Ratzinger recently. Thus far, it seems to be quite a good read.
“An awareness needs to develop that in fact to a large extent we no longer know any Christianity at all. For example, how many images in a church no longer say anything to some people? The original meaning is no longer generally understood. Even terms that are still generally familiar to the middle generation, like tabernacle and so forth, have become foreign words. Nevertheless the predominant mentality is still that we already know all about Christianity and are now in search of something different” (1996, p. 18).
This is a great article and brain storming article, thx Fr Steven.
Despite the great advance of modern technology, and the fundamental incoherent between science and religion. Human being are actually still quite superstitious. For instant, i live in Hong Kong. It is a small international financial city, people are so supersititious to the extend to avoid the certain real number of floor of a building, likes 4,13,14 etc. Every sort of black magic is published through mass media every day. So, science doesn’t refute the spirtuality of man’s heart.
There is a sexual scandal drawing huge public attention. The government sues a man for using false excuse for laying down with a young teen model. There were people gave credit for that man at law court and claimed laying down with him could improve their fortune……
We chinese has radical culture movement for hundred years, we tried to learn the west’s science and scoial system. Finally, our superstition have been exported to the world……
In fact, there is a doctor casts demon out of his patient’s flash in mental hospital in the name of Christ in Hong Kong.
Clearly, neither intellecutal ideas or science does really change people’s mind and ture them to be ‘enlightened’.
I can not make any judgment about the reality of such scandal. But throughout my life, i feel there is a realm of religion. By which it governs our soul, consequently, our behavior is controled by our soul. It likes good tree bears good fruit: bad tress bears bad fruit.
For me, the spread of christianity has been a myth. Could u imagine the conqueror believes God the Lord of her subject. Rather than winner takes all, transforming everything, spreading out their living style and culture. It likes american culture spreads throughout the world today. The spread of the Gospel is the greatest miracle on the earth.
I am not very proficient in English, and do not know any greek or russian. Bascially, i have no idea about ‘western’ seminary or ‘traditional’ teachers. I know Balamand from the interent. Personally speaking, those differences in teaching were quite a stumbling block to myself on faith. But on the other hand, when i read the Gospel, i realize i should pay my attention on my own sins and shortcomings rather than on other people’s disagreement. It seems by disagreeing other people won’t make myself pass throught the eye of needle easier.
I watched the 60 Minutes interview of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. It reminds me orthodoxy is the church inherent the ture ancient christian tradition.
Calvinism, i know it form a book called ‘protestant ethnic and the spirit of captialism ‘by Max Weber. I think the ture impact of Calvinism has been more dangerous on social life than its jesuit statement of religion. By claiming themselve are chosen people of God, they are free to do anything even enslave other people, and working hard for their greed. they were frighting the blood civil war between the north and the south. eariler, Saint Herman of Alaska was protecting native american from being enslaved by russian, despite Saint Herman of Alaska was sent under the request of russian for their spiritual need. I watched the movie called Gods and Generals form HBO channel, the africian american told his northern general, why those european christian brothers and sisters believe in God, on the other hand, they enslave us…….It reminds me about what should a true christian be.
“The River of Fire” remains one of my favourite Orthodox texts.
Fire in this context has the primary meaning of the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is given to the world at Pentecost (Acts 2:1–4). It further declares the judgment of Christ, in which the faithless will burn (see Th 1:6–10; 2:8). Note that this fire is one. It is the same Power and the same Spirit which both enlivens the faithful and destroys the faithless.
(From Orthodox Study Bible footnotes. Ref. Luke 3:16, 17).
By the way, dear Fr. Moderator, I will certainly understand if you decide that this post should not be posted on your blog. I am not trying to disturb anyone’s faith. I wrote this for cathartic purposes, and somewhat in response to the fellow who quoted St. Gregory of Sinai from the Philokalia. I am afraid for this fellow. He is on a dangerous road, in my opinion.
Lapsed. I agree that these roads can lead to trouble.