Saturday, June 10, 2023

Is it Proper to Venerate Relics of Saints or Is This Idol Worship?

The veneration of relics is a practice deeply rooted in Orthodox Christianity , which may appear unfamiliar or even questionable to many Protestants. However, understanding the theological and historical foundations behind this practice can shed light on its significance within the Orthodox tradition. Orthodox Christians do not worship relics, they only venerate them.

Differentiating Veneration and Worship is the first step. 

Worship is the act of offering reverence, adoration, and devotion to God alone. It is the acknowledgment of God's supreme authority, glory, and worthiness of praise. Worship is reserved exclusively for God, and Orthodox Christians believe that worship should be directed solely towards the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Veneration, on the other hand, is an act of respect and honor recognizing the sanctity and holiness of saints and their relics. It involves practices such as kissing their relics or icons, bowing, or lighting candles, similar to paying respects to influential historical figures, visiting the graves or embracing photos of loved ones.

Historical and Scriptural Basis:

  1. Relic veneration has roots in early Christianity, as evidenced by historical records and the writings of Church Fathers. Accounts from the fourth-century Church historian Eusebius of Caesarea and the Pilgrimage of Egeria describe the veneration of saints and relics during that time. Church Fathers such as St. John Chrysostom, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, and St. Ambrose of Milan spoke of the importance of venerating relics, emphasizing their spiritual power and the miracles associated with them (see quotes below). At the Second Council of Nicaea, in 787 A.D., bishops from East and West required that all churches should contain relics. 
  2. Biblical Support: There are several passages that provide a foundation for the Orthodox belief. Hebrews 12:1 refers to a "great cloud of witnesses," indicating the presence and intercessory role of saints in the spiritual journey of believers. Revelation 5:8 portrays heavenly elders offering the prayers of the saints to God, indicating their awareness of our prayers and intercession on our behalf. James 5:16 acknowledges the effectiveness of the prayers of the righteous, aligning with the Orthodox belief in the intercessory power of the saints.
  3. Archeological Sites: The Catacombs of Rome, such as the Catacomb of Callixtus and the Catacomb of Priscilla, contain numerous inscriptions and artwork depicting the veneration of saints and martyrs. The discovery of the tomb of St. Peter beneath St. Peter's Basilica in Rome further affirms the early Christian practice of venerating the relics of apostles and saints.
  4. Pilgrimage Sites: The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, built over the sites of Jesus' Crucifixion, Burial, and Resurrection, has been a major pilgrimage site since the 4th century. It houses the Stone of Anointing, believed to be the place where Jesus' body was prepared for burial. The Monastery of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai in Egypt, founded in the 6th century, became a pilgrimage destination due to the presence of the relics of St. Catherine of Alexandria.
  5. Relics of Apostles and Martyrs: In the early Church Christians believed that the bodies of the martyrs, who had willingly sacrificed their lives for their faith, were sanctified and possessed a special spiritual power. The relics of martyrs were often placed in churches, and Christians would gather to venerate them and seek their intercession. The relics of the Apostles, particularly Peter and Paul, were highly venerated in the early Church. For example, the bones of St. Peter were buried beneath the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, and early Christians would visit and venerate this sacred site. The Relics of St. Polycarp a disciple of the Apostle John were venerated by the early Christian community. His bones were said to emit a pleasant fragrance and were preserved as a treasured relic.
  6. The True Cross: The veneration of the True Cross, believed to be the actual cross upon which Jesus was crucified, has ancient roots. In the 4th century, St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, traveled to Jerusalem and discovered the True Cross. Fragments of the True Cross were distributed to various churches, and the veneration of these relics became widespread in the early Christian Church.

Orthodox Christians believe in the "communion of saints"the spiritual unity and fellowship shared by all the faithful, both living and departed. It recognizes that the saints, as members of the Church, continue to participate in the life of the Church and have a relationship with God in heaven. In Orthodox Divine Liturgy both the angels and the saints are called to join with us in worship as one church, the one on each and the one in heaven. 

The Church is known in Scripture as the Body of Christ. The Body of Christ is one Body. The Church is not divided by those who have fallen asleep in Christ and those of us who remain behind .Our success or failure in spiritual life is not private business, but the concern of a great cloud of witnesses that is made op of the saints who are living in heaven. They support us with their prayers. Many Orthodox services contain the phrase, “Lord, Jesus Christ, through the prayers of our holy fathers have mercy on us and save us.” It is calling on a reality that abides. We are not alone. The great cloud of witnesses stands with us and in prayer.

Orthodox Christians invoke the prayers and intercessions of the saints, seeking their assistance, guidance, and support in their spiritual journey. Orthodox Christians do not view the saints as rivaling Christ's role as the sole Mediator between God and humanity. The saints intercede for the living out of love and compassion, directing the prayers and needs of the faithful to God. The intercessory power of the saints is seen as an extension of Christ's mediation, reflecting the unity and love within the body of Christ.

This belief is based on biblical foundations, including passages such as Hebrews 12:1, which speaks of a "great cloud of witnesses" surrounding the faithful. Also Revelation 5:8 portrays the elders in heaven offering the prayers of the saints to God. It suggests that the saints in heaven are aware of our prayers and intercede on our behalf. James 5:16 encourages believers to pray for one another, acknowledging the effectiveness of the prayers of righteous individuals. Orthodox Christians believe that the saints, who have attained righteousness through their union with Christ, have great intercessory power.

Throughout history, numerous miracles and testimonies have been associated with the veneration and prayer with relics. The Kursk Root Icon, and various relics of saints like St. Nektarios of Aegina and St. Spyridon, to name a few, have been connected to healings, deliverance, and other spiritual interventions. While miracles should not be the sole basis for faith, these accounts provide testimony to the profound impact of relic veneration in the lives of Orthodox Christians.

In Scripture we see the bones of Elisha bring a dead man back to life (4 Kings 13:21 septuagint or 2 Kings 13)  In the Acts of the Apostles 19:12 we see where a handkerchief touching St. Paul provided healing for people who were sick.  Also, the woman with a flow of blood was healed by touching Christ’s garment. The garment became an avenue of grace. Relics also can become a conduit for Grace, the work of the Holy Spirit.

Protestant Concerns and Respectful Engagement:

Many Protestants have reservations about relic veneration. From the sixteenth century onwards they denounced the physical intermediaries between the human and the divine—priests, saints, relics, shrines. In his “Treatise on Relics,” John Calvin argued that most of the artifacts were forgeries and that the veneration of relics “is a defilement and an impurity which should never be suffered in the church.” There were several cases where Kings would make up relics and sell them for profitable gain so it was difficult to know which were valid. It was due to these historical abuses that took place in the Roman Church that led in the Reformation a new doctrine of Sola Scriptura, which means to ascertain the truth of Christian truths you must find it recorded in Scripture. To this day Orthodox Christians will be confronted with the questions from visitors, “where do you find this in Scripture?” For those who believe in Scripture Alone they see this practice as diverting attention from the true Physician of souls and distracts true seekers from looking to Christ alone as our all sufficient Saviour. 

Engaging in respectful dialogue is essential for understanding one another's perspectives. Addressing concerns about idolatry, it is crucial to reiterate that veneration is not worship, but a means of honoring the saints and seeking their intercession. Emphasizing the unique mediatorial role of Christ, while recognizing the saints as powerful intercessors, can help alleviate concerns about the practice.


The veneration of relics holds a significant place in Orthodox Christianity, rooted in both historical tradition and theological understanding. While it may appear foreign to many Protestants, a closer examination reveals its deep connection to the communion of saints, the intercessory power of the righteous, and the historical practices of early Christianity. By understanding the distinction between veneration and worship, acknowledging the biblical and historical foundations, and engaging in respectful dialogue, Protestants can gain a greater appreciation for the Orthodox perspective on relic veneration. This understanding of the Orthodox is in part why they say they have the wholeness of the faith.

It is important to remember that the veneration of relics is not meant to replace or diminish the central role of Christ as the sole mediator between God and humanity. Rather, it is seen as a means to honor the saints, who exemplify the transformative power of God's grace and serve as inspirations for believers. By seeking their intercession and venerating their relics, Orthodox Christians find solace, encouragement, and a sense of connection to the larger body of Christ throughout history.

While differences in practices and beliefs will inevitably exist between Protestantism and Orthodoxy, fostering understanding and respect can contribute to greater unity among Christians. By delving into the theological foundations and historical context of practices such as relic veneration, we can cultivate an environment of mutual appreciation and dialogue, recognizing the richness and diversity of Christian traditions.

In conclusion, the veneration of relics in Orthodox Christianity is a practice that holds deep spiritual significance, rooted in a theological framework that emphasizes the communion of saints, intercessory power, and the historical traditions of the early Church. Engaging in respectful conversation and seeking to understand the perspectives of others can bridge the gaps and promote a more comprehensive understanding of one another's faith traditions. Through mutual respect and dialogue, Christians from different traditions can grow in their understanding of one another and work towards greater unity in Christ.

Quotes from Church Fathers

St. John Chrysostom (349-407 AD):

"The martyrs have great power in their intercession with God; and if anyone makes a request through them, they obtain what they ask." (Homily on St. Lucian, 7.2)

Reference: Homilies on St. Lucian. Available in "Saint John Chrysostom: Discourses against Judaizing Christians" (translated by Paul W. Harkins). St. John Chrysostom (c. 349–407): "Do you know what it means to touch the relics? It is to touch the dust, the mortal remains of the dead. But this dust has greater power than heaven and earth, for the Lord grants His grace through these relics" (Homily on St. Babylas).

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386 AD):

"Then we make mention also of those who have already fallen asleep: first, the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, that through their prayers and supplications God would receive our petition." (Catechetical Lecture 23.9)

Reference: Catechetical Lectures. Available in "Cyril of Jerusalem: The Early Church Fathers" (translated by Edwin Hamilton Gifford).

St. Ambrose of Milan (340-397 AD):

"We are celebrating the martyr's birthday with fitting honors, because Christ's martyrs are indeed the flower of His churches. And this is the testimony of the Catholic faith, that these gifts of God have been bestowed upon His saints." (On the Death of Satyrus, 43.60)

Reference: Letters and Selected Works. Available in "St. Ambrose: Letters 1-91" (translated by Mary Melchior Beyenka).

St. Basil the Great (c. 329–379): "The bones of the martyrs work countless miracles. Everywhere, in countless numbers, their relics raise up churches in their honor" (On the Holy Spirit, Chapter 29).

St. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335–395): "The martyrs' relics are not lifeless, but on account of the indwelling grace, are living and life-giving, sanctifying those who come near them with faith" (On the Martyr St. Theodore). 

These quotes illustrate the Church Fathers' recognition of the power and significance of relics in the spiritual life of the Orthodox faithful. Relics are seen as conduits of God's grace, capable of working miracles and sanctifying those who venerate them with faith.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Will Belief in Jesus Lead to God’s Blessing of Material Wealth?

There are many who think believers in Jesus can transcend poverty and receive God’s blessing in the form of wealth.. This is called the  Prosperity Gospel. They argue that God desires all believers to be physically healthy, financially prosperous, and successful in every aspect of life. They suggest that through unwavering faith, fervent prayer, and financial contributions, one can receive miraculous blessings, including wealth.

However, this teaching cannot be traced back to the Apostles and is not embraced by Orthodox Christians. It is viewed as manipulative, placing excessive emphasis on material possessions and personal gain. It disregards the biblical teachings on humility, contentment, and the reality of suffering. 

Those who advocate the Prosperity Gospel support their view citing a few examples from Scripture such as Deuteronomy 28:1-14 and Malachi 3:10-12, which speak of God's blessings upon the obedient and generous, including material prosperity, abundant crops, and protection from harm. They also point to verses like Matthew 7:7 and John 16:24, where Jesus states that believers who ask in faith will receive what they seek. They interpreted this to include material blessings and financial abundance. Additionally, they highlight passages like Matthew 17:20, where Jesus speaks about faith the size of a mustard seed being able to move mountains, suggesting that strong faith can lead to miraculous results, especially financial prosperity. They also emphasize the concept of sowing and reaping, particularly in relation to financial giving, referring to passages like 2 Corinthians 9:6-11.

In contrast, Orthodox Christians hold a different perspective based on Apostolic Tradition. They prioritize spiritual growth, holiness, and union with God as the central focus. Material wealth and prosperity are not regarded as the appropriate goals or measures of spiritual success. Instead, they emphasize humility, selflessness, obedience, and the pursuit of the Kingdom of God. They also recognize that suffering and hardship are inherent to the human experience. Rather than promising the avoidance of suffering through faith or monetary offerings, Orthodox Christians believe that Christ's example teaches us to embrace and find meaning in suffering or poverty, following the path of self-denial and carrying our cross.

Orthodoxy also teaches the importance of generosity and supporting those in need. Giving is seen as an act of love and charity, not as a transaction to receive material blessings in return. Their focus lies in selfless giving and sharing our resources with the less fortunate, following the teachings of Jesus to care for the poor and marginalized.

Orthodox Christianity claims a continuity of the faith taught by the Apostles. It places great emphasis on the teachings of the early Church Fathers, the Scriptures, and the consensus of the Church's tradition. It encourages believers to exercise discernment and caution when interpreting Scripture, recognizing the need for a balanced understanding of God's Word and avoiding interpretations that may distort the core message of the Gospel.

Regarding material wellbeing, Orthodox Christianity encourages believers to cultivate a spirit of detachment from material possessions. While such possessions are not inherently evil or to be wholly rejected, they are seen as resources that should be used responsibly to fulfill God's will. It is important to guard against idolizing wealth and excessive attachment to material possessions. Believers are expected to be good stewards of the resources God has entrusted to them, demonstrating generosity and supporting charitable causes, including the Church. Christ calls His followers to care for the marginalized, and those who are blessed with material abundance have a responsibility to help those in need. Furthermore, Orthodox Christians are encouraged to exercise moderation and self-control when it comes to earthly pleasures and material possessions. Believers should not let the pursuit of pleasure or wealth overshadow their pursuit of God. True joy is not found in material wealth but in union with God, recognizing that earthly pleasures provide only temporary happiness.

The teachings of the Church Fathers offer valuable insights on this topic. For instance, St. John Chrysostom reminds us that the rich exist for the sake of the poor, emphasizing the importance of caring for those in need. St. Basil the Great teaches that our possessions, such as bread, coats, shoes, and money, are meant to be shared with those who lack them. St. Gregory of Nyssa highlights the idea that the land and resources we possess ultimately belong to God, and we are entrusted with them to nourish the poor.

Additionally, numerous important scriptural passages shed light on this topic. Matthew 6:19-21 urges us not to store up treasures on earth but to focus on treasures in heaven. Luke 12:15 warns against covetousness and reminds us that life does not consist of material possessions. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 encourages the wealthy to put their hope in God rather than in uncertain riches, emphasizing the importance of doing good, being generous, and sharing. James 5:1-3 serves as a cautionary reminder of the transient nature of earthly wealth and the consequences of hoarding riches.

The Prosperity Gospel's overemphasis on material blessings as indicators of God's favor or spiritual maturity distorts the true essence of the Gospel message. It can divert individuals from learning from poverty and suffering to cultivate a deeper relationship with God, to develop virtues such as humility, and generosity, prioritizing the well-being of others. Moreover, followers of the Prosperity Gospel may experience disillusionment and a crisis of faith when faced with setbacks or hardships, as their faith becomes tied to gaining material outcomes rather than a genuine connection with God.

Orthodox Christianity, in contrast, emphasizes the pursuit of the Kingdom of God, the cultivation of virtues, embracing the cross, and finding true fulfillment and salvation in communion with Christ. Material wealth should never be the primary focus or measure of our faith. Instead, we are called to seek spiritual growth, practice selflessness, and respond to the needs of others with love and generosity. We are called to be responsible stewards of the resources entrusted to us and to exercise discernment in interpreting Scripture. Orthodox Christians understand that true joy and fulfillment come from a deep union with God, and material wealth should never distract us from our ultimate purpose in life.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Once We Believe is Salvation Guaranteed?

Salvation is not guaranteed. Once we believe, are baptized and chrismated, we become part of Christ’s church and His family. We receive the Holy Spirit and are able to participate in the sacramental life of His church. We now have a path opened to salvation, eternal life with Christ. Having a free will makes this a life long process. We can choose to disobey any of His commandments, like Adam and Eve, separate ourselves from God.

We have a free will.  Jesus Himself warns His disciples about the possibility of being deceived by false teachers and being surrounded by those who disregard His teachings. He tells them, “He who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13), implying that even close disciples are not guaranteed of salvation; they must endure. 

Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, encourages them to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) and to “become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation…holding fast the word of life” (Philippians 2:15-16). Peter also warns in his second letter, “beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked” (2 Peter 3:17).

From a comprehensive view of Scripture, it is clear that those who have faith can be led astray and therefore need to learn how control the use of their free will. Our condition is one filled with passions and worldly self-centered desires that need to be tamed in order to follow His commands and become like Him, prepared for eternal life. We live in an environment filled with temptations.

Salvation the result of a lifelong process. This is the teaching of Apostolic Tradition, Scripture, and is consistent with the understanding of the Church Fathers. Central to this effort is continual repentance, acknowledging our sinful nature, seeking reconciliation, and seeking God’s help to change our ways. 

The Church Fathers consistently support this view. For example, St. John Chrysostom writes, “And just as no one can enter into a gymnasium without preparation, so no one can enter into paradise without the training of repentance" (Homily on Repentance and Almsgiving). Saint Gregory of Nyssa says “The grace of God is indeed always given for illumination and guidance, but it is not always received by those who desire it, but only by those who are always struggling to live according to His commandments, since, as we have learned, it withdraws from those who are negligent and does not remain in a place unoccupied." (On the Soul and the Resurrection)

Many Protestants and Evangelical Christians claim that once a person declares their faith, they are saved eternally. They often use Scripture passages like the following to mistakenly support their belief.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand (John 10:27-29)."

“Nor angels nor principalities  nor powers …nor any othe created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).”

While this idea of eternal salvation is very comforting, unfortunately, it is not the whole truth. The imagery of the Good Shepherd in John 10 emphasizes the faithful love and watchful care of Christ for His followers, rather than making a statement about an irreversible guarantee of salvation. Romans 8:38-39, which speaks of nothing being able to separate us from the love of God, refers to external things, but it does not negate the importance of human free will.

The Orthodox belief is deeply rooted in Tradition, Scripture, and the Seven Ecumenical Councils and the teaching of the Church Fathers. The Protestant view, on the other hand, is an innovation that disregards Tradition and promotes individualistic interpretation of Scripture. Historically, their view emerged as a response to corruption within the Roman Church, leading figures like Martin Luther to believe that these problems were due to a false understanding of Scripture and the neglect of Tradition.

Believing that belief in Jesus is enough for eternal salvation is a major error. It discourages people from engaging in the necessary disciplines necessary for salvation. Their view undermines the importance of ongoing repentance, the need for self-discipline and the cooperation with the transformative work of God’s grace in our lives. It is not what the Apostles taught and is seriously misleading.

We do share a faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior. However, the truth is that we are created with a free will and can choose not to follow God’s will. This makes it necessary for a lifelong process to align our will with God’s will for salvation. This involves continual self-reflection, repentance and cooperation with God's grace. These differences highlight the need for respectful dialogue so that everyone can be saved through the lifelong synergy of our efforts and God’s grace.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

How Does a vibrant spiritual life begin


Disconnected from a vibrant spiritual life? Baptized as infants, then growing into adulthood, many Orthodox Christian have become preoccupied with worldly cares, relegating God to an afterthought. Though they may now attend church out of obligation, their personal spiritual life feels empty, lacking a warm connection with God. Perhaps they engaged in Bible study classes, but it remained a social and intellectual exercise.

A spiritual awakening. A vibrant spiritual life begins with what the Fathers call a spiritual awakening. This is a mystical experience that begins with an act of grace. This encounter with God leads to a conversion, a deepening of faith, and a renewed commitment to live in accordance with God's will. It's akin to waking up from a deep slumber, suddenly realizing the reality and nature of God's love. One becomes acutely aware of past neglect and failures to live as God intended. This awakening prompts a decisive choice to change one's life—a love affair with God where the desire to please Him is paramount.

More is necessary. However, this awakening only touches the heart which is not enough to transform one's way of life. It reveals the need for personal change, exposing feelings of insignificance and self-centeredness. It makes one conscious of their opinions, habits, and pleasures that are incompatible with a life of unity with God.

Don’t ignore it. Such awakenings can happen unexpectedly and at any time, constituting a free gift from God. If the first awakening is ignored then subsequent ones may not come as easily, as St. Theophan the Recluse teaches. Therefore, it is crucial to act upon this initial experience.

A lifelong process. A spiritual awakening initiates a lifelong process that may involve trials and arduous self-reflection. However, if the awakening is genuine, God becomes intimately relevant to every aspect of life. Though the mystery of God persists, one no longer doubts His reality and ever-present nature. The newfound motivation propels individuals to embrace an Orthodox way of life, incorporating ascetic practices such as prayer and fasting. Regular church attendance and participation in the Sacraments, particularly Holy Communion, become vital sources of nourishment for the soul, empowering one to purify the heart and overcome sinful tendencies.

In the subsequent posting, I will summarize the varying ways in which Saint Theophan the Recluse describes this spiritual event.

References: The Path to Salvation by Saint Theophan the Recluse, Chapter 4 pg 102-104

Ten Points for an Orthodox Way of Life

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Ascetic Disciplines: Are They Necessary for Salvation?

Ascetic practices are essential. The Orthodox way of life involves ascetic practices that include regular participation in Sacraments and worship, daily prayer, fasting, reading Scripture and other spiritual books. These are seen as necessary to become like Christ and prepare for eternal life with Him. From the time of Christ and the Apostles this has been the constant teaching of the Church. Even after being taught the necessity of these practices, many Orthodox Christians fail to fully embrace them. Why is this? Why do some Christians lack the motivation or discipline to follow these traditional teachings?

Worldly lifestyle. It may be that many people are accustomed to indulgent or worldly lifestyles, unwilling to take the time or limit their actions by self-imposed spiritual disciplines. Society's emphasis on material possessions and consumerism reinforces the belief that pleasure-seeking and material gain are the primary goals in life. This perspective ignores the reality of Christ's teaching that we need to perfect ourselves to live by all He taught so we will be prepared to enter into His eternal kingdom. There is a widely held idea that it is not necessary to limit actions that may restrain instant, short lived worldly pleasures. Many live a life steadfastly attached to worldly things and pleasures, ignoring any thought about an eternal life. This way of thinking lacks the perspective that comes with remembrance of death and the promise of eternal joy in a life with Christ for those who are prepared.

Ignorant of lives of Saints. It is clear from the lives of the saints that these spiritual disciplines can be incredibly rewarding. By intentionally limiting their impulses and desires, individuals can develop a greater sense of self-control and discipline, becoming better able to control their emotions as well as  their physical actions. They can learn to align their self-will with the will of Christ, cultivating a deeper sense of spiritual fulfillment and inner peace. If they make this effort they receive the ever increasing help of God's grace and overcome any fear of death. 

Limited view of God. Another possible reason why many fail to engage in ascetic disciplines is because they have a limited view of God. They lack an understand of Him as our creator, One who is all powerful, Who created us in His image as Scripture teaches. If we embrace the view of God as our loving creator, we will seek to know Him intimately, not just intellectually. We will want to do what he commands for us out of our love for Him because of His love for us. This proper understanding will cultivate a strong desire to perfect ourselves through a spiritually disciplined life so we will be united with Him out of love. Becoming united with Him will become our aim in life.  

Lack of understanding of full Gospel story. There are many people who do not understand or accept the full reality of the Gospel story, seeing parts of it only symbolically, or even ignoring parts they do not believe. Some minimize the reality of miracles, even the virginal birth in the Incarnation of Jesus as God’s only begotten Son. Rather than seeing Him as fully God and man, they see Him only as a super good man. They may also resist accepting the reality of the Resurrection of Christ, or the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in sustaining life and giving us power to change our way of life in the form of grace. Since the time of the Enlightenment, the role of Holy Spirit has been replaced with reason and science. This has led us to believe that we have the power independent of God to control all aspects of our life. The rise of medical science has furthered this view, leading us to believe that we can avoid death with drugs and medical procedures. As a result, we have buried any thought of death. Even many common rituals after death involving cremation as an expedient and economical way to dispose of the body, followed by a gathering to celebrate life, shelters us from the reality of death as a transition to a new life. For many, the idea of eternal life has lost its meaning, is not in their daily consciousness or their aim. Therefore, the thought of death fails to motivate many to alter their way of life or seeing the necessity for engaging in ascetic disciplines.

Aim of life is eternal life. The Orthodox Church teaches that our ultimate goal is to prepare for eternal life by becoming united with God through a life of virtue and spiritual discipline. It is a life emphasizing ascetic practices that helps us control our self-centered desires, overcome our sole focus on pleasure seeking, and instead align our will with God's. A life lived in unity with God enables us to perfect ourselves for a future eternal life in His divine kingdom. Preparing for the life after death becomes our aim.

Commitment necessary. It is true that not everyone may be ready or willing to make this commitment. Ultimately, the decision to follow the teachings of the Orthodox Church requires a personal understanding of God's fullness, a mystical experience of His love, and a recognition of our need to prepare for eternal life with Him in His kingdom. Only with this view will one be willing to give up self-centered and materialistic thinking and pleasure seeking and be willing to commit time and effort for spiritual disciplines, self-reflection, and spiritual growth. For those who do, the rewards are significant, life-changing, and lead us to salvation and a joyful eternal life.

Reference: Ten Points for an Orthodox Way of Life

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Concerning Death, What Should We Think?

When we hear that someone has died, don’t we tend to think of this as a tragic calamity? Saint Gregory of Nyssa teaches that seeing death in this way is foolish because it is a denial of the reality of a beginning of a new life. This view results from an attachment to the ever-changing beauty of the world. We expect all we know as good to continue, and when something we see as beautiful is destroyed we suffer and grieve. When we face the loss of a loved one, we are overtaken by our sense of loss. We are unable to embrace a greater reality consisting of a greater unchangeable divine beauty. To overcome viewing death as a loss, we must understand the nature true beauty and good that is unchangeable. We must  recognize that our grief and suffering is caused by our attachments and passions that cause us to hold on tightly to things of this world. But what is this true beauty and good that is unchanging?

According to Saint Gregory, true beauty and good are naturally beautiful in and of themselves at all times, regardless of any utilitarian purpose. They are divine, not of this world. However, many people accept only what is good for their their present physical life and their desires. This kind of good is ever-changing leading to sadness and grief when it is taken away. When we die, we must realize that all worldly beauty vanishes, everything we value, all we see as beautiful and good. To overcome this cause of suffering, we must separate from these attachments and instead become attached to what is good at all times, what is divine. We must be freed from the limitations caused by our earthly passions.  

Our soul is immaterial and does not die with the body. The body is earthly and when it dies, nature causes it to disintegrate and return to the earth. Saint Gregory views the soul as pure and free and not defined by earthly passions. It migrates toward this unchangeable good nourished only by divine knowledge. When it separates from the body in death, it is no longer influenced by sensible pleasures that delude our judgment of good. This immortal life of the soul is not inflated with pride, weighed down by humiliations, enraged by self-confidence, trampled down by fear, moved with anger, or confused by fear. Therefore, knowing the nature of this new life of our liberated soul, how can we be sad because of death? Only if we are unaware of our true nature, the eternal beauty of the divine life of the soul. 

Wen someone dies, think about how they have been relieved of everything that causes suffering and hardship. When the soul separates from the body, we no longer experience anguish. We now possess a nature that no one can see or understand. Our soul, immaterial, without form, spiritual, and incorporeal, partakes of spiritual and immaterial existence once it has shaken off corporeality. Being made in the image of God, which is all good, when we die we are coming closer to the source of our existence. We have removed our fleshy garment, which saint Gregory calls an ugly mask.

Death brings a new kind of life. It’s like we have grown out of the stage of childhood and fully matured. Our sense of smell recognizes the odor of Christ. All our senses are transformed and united with what is good. This life of struggle is a road to our future hope and resembles a budding tree about to produce first the flower and then the fruit. This current life is but the seed of what is to come. Nature relentlessly advances towards death. The final goal of our journey is restoration to our original state or likeness of God.

Our future form will not be the same as it’s present form. We are continually in a process of change from birth. Our new form will not be subject to the conditions of our material corporeal  state. All evil will be rejected, and we will be one with Him, with His grace radiating throughout. “As a result, each person will show kindness to his neighbor, rejoice to see his neighbors beauty, and sadness will cease to exist because will reveal it own deformed state.” This will be the ultimate expression of the unchanging divine beauty, where death is not a tragedy, but rather a gateway to an eternal life of unending joy.


“Concerning Those Who Are Asleep,” by Saint Gregory of Nyssa, trans, John Saniddopoulos