Friday, August 5, 2022

Death and Afterlife 21 - Why Pray for the Departed?


If the departed cannot repent after their death why do we pray for them?

We know that the Apostle Paul prayer his deceased friend Onesiphorus. Writing to Timothy he prayed, “The Lord grant to him that he may find mercy from the Lord in that Day” (2 Tim 1: 18).

St. Epiphanius of Salamis, writes the following about two decades later (c. AD 374): Useful ... is the prayer fashioned on their behalf, even if it does not force back the whole of guilty charges laid to them. And it is useful also, because in this world we often stumble either voluntarily or involuntarily, and thus it is a reminder to do better. 

Are there exceptions?

The Church also prays on behalf of the one who is passing on, for him to be forgiven any sins which he may have committed which were not of the degree that leads to death [cf. 1 Jn 5: 16– 17]. In our services we continually pray for the departed.

So are there sins that may not lead to death? Some say uncompleted sins, sins that have not been fully carried out. Or, sins of ignorance, sins committed unintentionally, or sins that are latent, or sins of negligence, for example.

The Fathers of the Orthodox Church generally teach, that we must make our choice for or against God in this life. Once we have passed to the other life we will have no opportunity to escape from hell if we have not repented in this life.

What good do our prayers for the dead accomplish?

Most of the Fathers say that our prayers for the departed if they are sinners can lessen their suffering but not actually release them from their sinfulness.

Testimony from Mother Erene

Mother Erene, in a conversation with a previously departed nun, Mother Martha, asked her, “Why do you not hold Liturgies for me?”

“I won’t be given any benefit because everyone will be given according to his or her work. But when I feel that you are thinking about me and praying for me, I come among you during the Liturgy and feel happy. I love being among you and seeing you. And as I pray for you, I like to feel that you remember me in your prayers.”

Intercessory prayer remains a mystery. 

Metropolitan Kolistos Ware says prayer is a mystery:When one living person prays for another living person, we do not understand the manner whereby such prayer proves efficacious.

We cannot fathom the precise relationship between the act of prayer, the free will of the other person, and God’s grace and foreknowledge.

Nevertheless, from our personal experience we know that intercession between the living is effective, and we continue to practice it.

The fact, then, that we do not know exactly how our prayers benefit the dead is not a reason for ceasing to pray for them.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Death and Afterlife 20 - What is Hades?


What kind of place is Hades?

Saint Hippolytus the Roman writes: Hades is the place “in which all souls are detained until the time that God has determined.”

This is not a place where people enter a dormant existence. It is where eternal torment begins and continues in Hell after the Second Coming. We are tormented by all the desires we carried with us, but are now not able to fulfill.

Ezekiel; says:

“If a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live....

But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die.” (Ezek 18: 21–22, 24)

God allows us to judge ourselves before He judges us through our conscience.

Bishop Theophilus of Antioch (c. AD 180):

He ... will examine all things, and will judge righteous judgment, rendering merited awards to each.

To those who seek immortality by patient endurance in well-doing, He will give life everlasting, joy, peace, rest and an abundance of good things.

To the unbelieving and despisers, who do not obey the truth but are obedient to unrighteousness, when they will have been filled with adulteries and fornications, ... there will be anger and wrath, tribulation and anguish. At the end, everlasting fire will possess such men.

Repentance is not possible at this time.

St. John Chrysostom also tells us, “When we depart to that place, we have no longer the option of repentance, nor of washing away our misdeeds.”

This same sentiment is echoed by St. Cyprian of Carthage:, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory Nazianzen.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Death and Afterlife 19 - Will We Chose Hades or Paradise?


A journey into the unknown.

In this series we have explored the nature of the journey we will face after we die. We know it is not really death because our soul lives on. In this journey we will face a struggle without pain as the soul separates from the body, and then we will enter an unknown territory. There will be an ordeal as we struggle to find the proper path based on the condition of our soul and the time of our physical death. So what happens next?

Next we experience either a foretaste of Heaven or of Hell. 

Our soul will settle in what is called Paradise or Hades awaiting to be rejoined with our spiritual bodies at the Second Coming of Christ as promised. Our residence will for the time being be in a temporary state as a result of our own condemnation. Were we strong and persistent in our desire to be united with God, or were our passions still powerful enough that we were influenced by the forces of the demons who are trying to pull us towards hades, away from God?

This new state is analogous to sleep.

St Aphrahat the Persian (Demonstration 8.19) writes:

The errant servant while he is sleeping desires not to awake, for he knows that when the dawn shall come and he shall awake, his lord will scourge and bind him.

But the good servant, to whom his lord had promised gifts, looks expectantly for the time when dawn shall come and he shall receive gifts from his lord. And even though he is soundly sleeping, in his dream he sees something like what his lord is about to give him, whatsoever he has promised him, and he rejoices in his dream, and exults, and is gladdened.

As for the wicked, his sleep is not pleasant to him, for he imagines that lo! the dawn has come for him, and his heart is broken in his dream.

But the righteous sleep, and their slumber is pleasant to them....Then in the watch of the dawn they awake with joy.

But as for the wicked, their sleep lies heavy upon them, and they are like a man who is laid low by a great and deep fever, and tosses on his couch hither and thither, and he is terrified the whole night long, which lengthens itself out for him and he fears the dawn when his lord will condemn him.

Which will it be Hades or Paradise?

Monday, August 1, 2022

On Truth and Love - Saint Theophan the Recluse

Consider this lesson when thinking about how many are responding to many of the social issue of our time. Many times they try to persuade Christins to accept almost anything because of love. Saint Theophan uses John's Gospel to shows how dangerous this is. The following is written by Saint Theophan the Recluse

The Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, is a teacher of love. 

Love breathes through his gospel, lessons about love fill his epistles and his life serves as a striking example of love. He expounded on all the mysteries of love – its source, its movement in deeds, and its culmination – and where it leads all that follow it, to the heights…

Contemporary wise men say, believe as you like. 

They possess a special kind of vain wisdom called “Indifferentism” by which they reason say: believe as you like, it makes no difference – just love everyone like brothers, be charitable to them, and have a good influence on them. They point out that the Evangelist John the Theologian writes only about love. For him, love is light and life and all perfection. According to his words the person who does not love walks in darkness, abides in death, and is a murderer. It is well known that when he grew old and was unable to walk they carried him to church. There he only admonished, “Brethren! Let us love one another.” Thus he so valued love. They tell us that we also should love like that and only love, believing any way we wish. I myself have had to listen to such “wisdom.” Perhaps you have also had to listen to or will hear something similar to this.

How does this contradict the fundamentals of Christian good sense?

...These so-called “wise” people desire to build everything without God – their external welfare and their morality. From this, they strive wherever possible to craftily weave a school of thought where there is no need to talk about God. And they beat their drums about love. They tell us to love one another and here there is nothing to think about God. It is especially on this point where the Holy Evangelist routs them. 

True love involves a close bond with God’s love.

Although St John continuously, and exactingly reminds us to love one another, he also places love in such a close bond with God, with love for God and the knowledge of God, that it is impossible to separate them. Behold where love originates, Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. And he adds, Beloved if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. (I John 4:10, 11). 

Our mutual love must be the action of faith in the Lord is not all right to believe as you want. Further, he teaches, Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; (John 4:7) If we love one another, God dwelleth in us … (I John 4:12) God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him. (I John 4:16). You see, he does not say a word about love without speaking about God and the Saviour. Love is from God and leads to God. Thus he who says that he loves his brother, and does not know and love God and the Saviour, is a liar and the truth is not in him (John 4:20,2:4). 

To love your neighbor you must love God.

Therefore it is possible to summarize the entire teaching of the Holy Evangelist on love in the following words: in order to love your neighbor you must love God, and in order to love God, you must, of course come to know Him within yourself and especially in His salvific activity on us. We must know and believe. What does the will of God consist of? In faith and love: thus the commandment says: That we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another. (I John 3:23).

Our faith is the source of love.

It does not only command us to love but to believe in the Lord, and in such a way that faith is the source of love. If one were to gather into one all the places where St. John the Evangelist speaks only of love, one could still not confirm his teaching by the false reasoning: only love and believe as you want. 

Can there be faith independent of love?

Besides his teaching on love he also speaks of faith, independent of the law of love. Behold how he categorically rejects those who say, believe as you want. 

What does John preach about from the very first verses: 

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looketh upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us; That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. (I John 1:1-3). 

The most important point with all the apostles is the teaching about communion with God through the Lord Jesus Christ, from which proceeds communion of the faithful with one another. How can we have the one without the other?

Who is a liar?

Further he asks the question: who is a liar? and answers thus: Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father… Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son o f God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. (I John 2:22, 23. 4:15). The whole matter is summed up in confessing the Lord Jesus Christ to be the Son of God and to be God. How then could one possibly say, “Believe any way you want”? Then there follows the warning: Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Herein know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist. (I John 4:1-3) 

He who says, “Believe as you want” does not confess Jesus Christ, 

For if he did confess Christ he would not speak thus. Therefore he cannot be from God. Where then is he from? – truly from the antichrist. 

Essence of Christianity

Finally, the Holy Evangelist describes the whole essence of Christianity thus: And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. (I John 5:11-12). Who possesses the Son of God? Those who believe in His name. Therefore he says, and writes: unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life … (I John 5:13).

Without belief in the Son of God there is no eternal life.

Consequently, he who does not believe in the Son of God, has not eternal life. Could it possibly make no difference how one wants to believe? No. We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us light and understanding, that we may know the true God, and that we may be in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life (I John 5:20). These excerpts should be enough, I suppose, in order to show the Indifferentists that in vain do they seek to find support for their lie in the teaching of the Theologian. It is more than likely that they make such claims without having ever read his holy and divinely inspired writings, but rather quote him based on rumors about his overflowing love. Let them even now find something else besides the above argument, to defend their teaching to us believers. One word alone from the beloved disciple is sufficient to discredit their teaching and without any doubt to confirm our belief explicitly in that which was given to us by the Lord through the Holy Apostles and preserved by the Church.

False love of those who attribute acts charity as true love.

I would only add the following consideration to the decisive words of the Apostle and Evangelist John: having estranged themselves in their minds from the Lord, these unbelievers grasp at acts of charity whose source and support are precisely in love. They act in this way only to be founded on something without the assurance that they have found a solid basis. If only they had a clear understanding of how it is indeed possible for man to act in a fruitful way, they would never remain fixed on their teaching. The essence of the matter is – that we are not in the proper state. Therefore we cannot act in the right way. 

We must be in the right state for acts of love.

In order for us to act in the correct way, we must enter into the right state. By our own powers we are not capable of doing this. The Lord, having come to the earth, lifted up man to the right state. He did not lead man into this state for His own sake but rather that man would accept from Him renewed humanness and thus gain the possibility of acting properly. 

The proper state begins with Baptism.

We obtain this state through Holy Baptism, for those who are baptized into Christ have put on Christ. From the time of Baptism we become one with the Lord and begin to live His life and act by His power. Those who would claim love or the right action (for love is the fullness of the law) should first accept all the premises of Christianity in order to be able to walk rightly and deny their own falseness (lie). This is impossible without faith, for faith is the root of Christianity and the beginning of everything.

To love we must first believe in Him

The Lord Himself says this: Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except ye abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing. If a man abides not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned (John 15: 4-6). When someone begins to expound to you about love or fruitful action independent of true belief, tell him: Wait, first believe correctly. By faith acquire all the salvific precepts of Christianity. Through them be united with the Lord, make your life and strength depend on Him like you would on an injection for your health and then you will begin to act in a fruitful way. It is a fact that the witness to a righteous life is fruitful activity in love, but in order to attain it and to remain in it, one must accept all of God’s Truth with faith and pass through all of God’s sanctifying actions [on one’s self]. Only under these conditions, i.e., by abiding in True Love, may we grow up into Him in all things, Who is the head, even Christ (cf. Eph. 4,15). We could summarize thus: he who does not have the right Faith cannot enter into the proper state, and he who does not enter into the right state cannot properly act. Now do you see how one cannot say: “Believe as you wish, only love”?

Beware of institution’s that have faith in reality.

Faith is not only the image of the knowledge of God and of our relationship to Him; it also includes all the salvific institutions [not just the Church as an establishment but all that is contained within the Church for salvation] given by God. These salvific institutions maintain active faith. Our so-called wise men might not actually be opposed to Christian teaching, but, more than anything else, they are repulsed by Christian institutions. Since these institutions are nothing more than faith in reality and in action, then their main sin is that they do not want to act in the spirit of the Faith. One is only amazed at how these people so persistently expound about deeds and labors but remove themselves from activity in the realm of holy Faith. There is something amiss here. Surely they are acquainted with the laws of logical thought. There is such duplicity here that one must assume that they are not in fact doers, but are acted upon – they are the tools of a foreign spirit, and such a spirit that is itself foreign to Truth. 

Be on guard of evil reasoning of this world.

Brethren, having understood this, let us guard ourselves against the evil reasoning of this world. Only those who have never tasted the Truth can waver in it. Let us fulfill with humility and in the spirit of truth all that our holy Faith demands. Then we will have, and carry within, a witness which will bring to naught all false arguments from without. May the Lord illumine us by His Truth. Amen.


Sunday, July 31, 2022

Avoiding Temptations - Saint Isaac the Syrian

Saint Isaac the Syrian advises beware of idleness:

Idleness allows us to fall into the hands of demons

Do not neglect spiritual disciplines. This overcomes idleness

Remember that God’s negative judgment comes because we allow evil forces to tempt us causing us to fail in our duty or incorrectly use our resources

Necessary disciplines

“Love your neighbor, don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, be kind, be content with what you have, be generous to others, don’t judge, weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.”

Remember the goal

The goal is to love our neighbor as Christ while we live in this world.

What is required:

Active pursuit of spiritual life, Repentance and Prayer

What is most important: 

Learning to love the unlovely, seeking opportunities to be generous, 

rejecting judgmental thoughts, practicing loving kindness and mercy even when you don’t feel like it.


Saturday, July 30, 2022

The Divine Liturgy - Greatest Gift of All

The Greatest Gift.

The Divine Liturgy is the greatest of all gifts the Lord has given us. That is not to minimize all the other gifts we have received. It is He who has given us life. Also it is He who has given us the wonder and beauty of the earthly world He created for our sustenance and enjoyment. What beauty we find in the flowers, the streams, the forests, the mountains, oceans, lakes and deserts. In addition, the Earth is alive with so many amazing creatures. Beyond these gifts is His Incarnation where He came to transform human life so we could be untied with Him, His divinity. Through Him humanity is united with the divine. Also, He gave up His life voluntarily on the Cross for our salvation showing us the path to eternal life with Him by His Resurrection and Ascension. But, the greatest gift is what He has left for us, His Body and Blood that we partake in the Divine Liturgy. In this, even though Jesus is not physically with us, we are united with Him, in full communion with Him. We are filled with His love and His divine energies. This empowers us to continue to do His work, to be a temple of His spirit, and able to shine with a divine radiance His love to others. What a beautiful gift!

Never refuse this gift!

We should not refuse this gift ever. When we come to the Church each Sunday we should seek forgiveness for all our sins and prepare ourself out of our Love of Him by offering our thanks for His sacrifice and all He has provided for us. We should come with the purpose to partake of this gift. To ignore it and to sit by idly observing, we are in a real way refusing communion with God.

A grand mystical happening.

The Divine Liturgy is a coming together of the heavenly church and the earthly church. We are joined with the angels and the saints. We amplify the angelic voices when we offer hymns glorifying Him. We have icons reminding us of the presence power of the saints who also join us.

The Church is more than an Organization

It is too easy to think of the church as another organization or institution. Yes, we do have a council and a president and legal charter. We do need to support the maintenance of the church through our contributions, but all these activities are subordinate to what the Church is. It, with its members, is the Body of Christ. In the Liturgy we all are joined as one body as we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. It is in this way we express our love and receive the strength do do His will.

God wants Union.

Remember that our God wants to be united with us out of His love. The Divine Liturgy is a gift that surpasses all things. We cannot afford to turn our heads at the time His gifts are presented and we are called to come and partake. When we ignore this call it is like we are shutting the door in His face. Instead, we must recognize our unworthiness and come forward to receive this gift out of our love and desire to be united with Him. Through our participation we are consecrating our whole being to be united with Him and to do His work

Saint Nicodemus says,

"Ask God, in Whom you believe and Whom you love that in you He increase love, a desire for unity with Him, and fervor of love for Him. 

"As you partake of this holy gift remember how powerful it is.  Allow it to nurture in you meekness, giving you greater patience in you daily work and a greater love of God."

“Through Divine Communion Christ implants in us the seeds of immortality, as He Himself said, ‘Whosoever eats My flesh and drinks my Blood, has eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:54).”

Inspired by Saint Nicodemus. What has God Done for Our Salvation, "The Greatness of the Divine Eucharist," pp 6-10

Friday, July 29, 2022

Jesus Prayer - Elder Aimilianos

What is Jesus Prayer

It is so short! It is a repetition of these words: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”

What happens when we repeat it

We acquire a spiritual dynamism that does not come from us, but from God Himself.

It is comprehensive

It comprises the divinity. It includes Christ Himself, Who immediately enters into communion with our hearts.

It’s habit forming

This invocation helps us to acquire a habit, so that the remembrance of Christ within us becomes unceasing. So everything around us and inside our hearts becomes filled with God.

Not magical formula or mechanical work or psycho-somatic exercise

…about which one might think that it has access to a kind of gnostic or syncretic knowledge… or that this exercise would bring spiritual results… or that through this formula, man can tend towards infinity or to a faceless god. The repetition is just an intensification, and a focusing, and a rooting of the Name of Christ and thus of Christ Himself, in our daily lives. 

What does it do?

It creates within man the power to unceasingly invoke God, and therefore, the human participation, offers him a state of joy and spiritual happiness, and other charisms. 
And then, when man reaches this primary stage, well, he understands that Holy Spirit mediates between his personality and the Personal God!

It is, I would say, the only prayer which, clearly creates our preconditions to be able to find God daily, and also, easily, to find Him and rejoice in God. 
Through this prayer, the One Who is unseen becomes visible in our lives.

What is its purpose?

It is what is being worked by God in you.
What God works in our inner being… What He works is an experience. But it is not only the experience of God! It is also a revelation of the way He comes, of how the coming of God happens. The Personal God within the human personality… And of course, He comes in Light!
 And one still feels and understands at the end of his or her ascent, the union which is performed…
And with this union, the purification comes, the spiritual advancement comes, the growth of the little baby which is being born into man.

The purpose of Prayer, in a word, we could say, is a perfect mystery of the unseen God, the One now felt, and the visible person… a mystery performed by God. This mystery has been revealed to us by the Fathers of the Church. We also know from experience, always, how to become a recipient of God. Not through reasoning and meditation, but in a way that God penetrates the human person, and transforms it entirely. And so, he or she becomes a person who can taste, understand and comprehend this mystery.

It is a continuous climb

It is an ever-rising communion, perfect, unchanging. I mean, no person changes, neither one, nor the other. There is a divine vision and a communion with the unseen. 

Thursday, July 28, 2022

St. Luke of Simferopol on how to pray

When I talk about prayer, they often answer me: "I don't know how to pray. Teach me how to pray." What do I answer?

I answer first of all that prayer is the greatest and most difficult of all human works. We know that no difficult task is learned easily. A long study is needed in all matters, in every art. If long study is needed in the affairs of mankind, then so much the more so in this greatest of all affairs. Study, study, study endlessly - and it will be given to you.

How to start learning? 

Here's how: there are many prayers compiled and written by great saints of God, great saints, great saints and martyrs. …Do not invent your own prayers, pray those that the Holy Church teaches you. But as you read these prayers, delve into every word of them, catch yourself in every distraction, in every distraction from the words of the prayer. If you pray like this, then the holy prayers of the great saints of God will sanctify your souls.

The Jesus Prayer

But there is one more prayer - the Jesus Prayer - it is considered the most important and necessary for all monks.

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner."

This prayer truly works miracles, and therefore it is considered extremely important, if not the most important of all. Learn this prayer, start with it. Learn it this way: lock the door of your room, stand if you like; even sit on a chair if you like, kneel if you like.


With your head bowed low, first of all, look into your heart, meditating and remembering which of the great multitude of sins torments your heart the most, which is the most repugnant to God.

…Standing, sitting, on your knees, find your most serious sin, lower your head low and beg the Lord Jesus, first of all, for the forgiveness of this sin of yours ... Pray the Jesus Prayer, best of all with the prayer rope and say: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." And at this time, think about this your most serious sin. Repeat this prayer at least a hundred times, always focusing your thoughts on your most serious and disgusting sin. Starting with this, get used to remembering other sins.

Seek forgiveness.

Praying the Jesus Prayer, you will keep all sins in your mind and ask the Lord for forgiveness not only in the most difficult, but also in all your sins. This prayer will work a miracle in your souls. You will be ashamed; when you begin to confess your gravest sin before God, you will feel an insistent desire to be freed, to be freed from this vile sin without fail.

Way to freedom.

By praying like this day by day, you will be freed more and more from your main sin and from all your other sins, and your soul will be transformed. You yourself will begin to notice how your attitude towards your neighbors will change: you yourself will notice that you are becoming more and more gentle, patient, meek, humble. You will treat people with great care, you will make sure that you do not hurt or offend anyone and anything. And the Jesus Prayer will transform your heart and produce this miracle - the invisible miracle of God's grace in your heart.

Here is what I wanted to tell you about prayer.

And if you want to purify your heart, if you want to fearlessly stand before the Terrible Judge Christ, then follow what I advise you. Pray, pray the Jesus Prayer, and above all, repent and repent.


Prayer of repentance should be your most important and constant prayer. But as it cleanses your heart, you will learn to pray not only for yourself, but also for those near and far, for the whole human race, and the most holy, most pleasing to God prayer for those who hate and offend you will come.

Highest form of Prayer.

Earlier I advised you not to imitate the sectarians in composing your own prayers, but now I will say that there is the highest form of prayer - prayer without words, the cry of the soul to God, opening the heavens and bringing us into the most living communion with God.

May the Lord vouchsafe us all to acquire such a prayer! But it will come only when we become true temples of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Homily on the Prayer of the Prophet Elijah

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Death and Afterlife: 18 - Where will we be after the Ordeal as we crossover from earthly life?

Our experience of this crossover is different for each of us.

The experience of Crossing over from an earthly life to one after the soul has separated from the body and now exists in a spiritual realm, is different for different people. For some it may be swift and this struggle between good and evil is felt rather than seen. What is for s=certain we will end up in either Paradise or Hades as a result.

There is no reality to Purgatory for Orthodox Christians

Purgatory is a teaching of the Roman Catholic Church where the soul is in a intermediate place where it will face punishment for it sins. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines purgatory as a “purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven,” which is experienced by those “who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified” (CCC 1030).  For Orthodox there is no second chance for purification. When we enter this crossover state our soul is what it was when we physically died and will endure an ordeal based on how we lived our life. We will be pulled by both good and evil forces at this time. Hopefully we will have a soul pure enough, a faith strong enough, and a sound relationship with God to know who to follow and willing to be guided by our guardian angel through this ordeal. 

This state is a mystery.

This state we enter is mainly a mystery, so we need to be careful about earthly descriptions. Saint Paul says, I know a man “who was caught up to the third heaven” “whether in the body or out of the body I do not know.” Saint Athanasios says, the mystery of death “is strange and dreadful and hidden from mankind.”

We are led to either Paradise or Hades.

At some point during this ordeal we cannot avoid, we will come to an end, and  arrive at our chosen destination. Some of us will be carried by angels to Paradise and others who are unworthy and easily tempted by the demons will be led to Hades.

Here is how Christian Hippolytus of Rome (c. AD 170-235) puts it. “The unrighteous are dragged ... by angels who are ministers of punishment. These souls no longer go of their own accord. Rather, they are dragged as prisoners by force. And the angels appointed over them hurry them along, reproaching them and threatening with an eye of terror, forcing them down into the lower parts. “

We read in Scripture from Paul, “In this waiting, let us make every effort to be found blameless and without reproach in peace” [cf. 1 Cor 1: 7–8]. 

We will exist in a temporary state.

Our souls will exist in a temporary state of anticipation awaiting the Second Coming of Christ. Saint Athanasios the Great tells us the the righteous will experience “a partial enjoyment.” While sinners will experience a “partial punishment.” At this stage what we experience is a temporary judgment as seen in the parable of Lazarus and the Rich man.

This of our destination as a state of being. 

We should think of Heaven and Hell not as places, but as states of being. The interim place while awaiting the final judgment is called Paradise of Hades. Here we will be awaiting the Final Judgment, living in anticipation of what clearly is to come.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

How does grace operate in people of prayer?

“Grace begins to operate in people during prayer in different ways, for, as the apostle says, the Spirit distributes Himself as He will in a variety of modes, and is perceived and known correspondingly (Heb. 2:4). Elijah the Tishbite serves here as an example for us (Kings 19:11-12). In some the Spirit appears as a whirlwind of awe, dissolving the mountains of the passions and shattering the rocks of our hardened hearts, so that our worldly self is transpierced and mortified. In others the Spirit appears as an earthquake, that is to say as a sense of inward jubilation or what the fathers more clearly define as a sense of exultation. In others He is manifested inwardly as a fire that is non-material yet real; for what is unreal and imaginary is also non-existent.

Finally, in others – particularly in those well advanced in prayer – God produces a gentle and serene flow of light. This is when Christ comes to dwell in the heart, as St. Paul says (Eph 3:17), mystically disclosing Himself through the Holy Spirit. That is why God said to Elijah on Mount Horeb that the Lord was not in this or in that – not in the particular actions He manifests Himself in to beginners – but in the gentle flow of light; for it is in this that He attest the perfection of our prayer. 

St Gregory of Sinai (The Philokalia Vol 4, pp 285-286)

Monday, July 25, 2022

How to deal with increasing atheism

Why is Orthodox the best kept secret?

One of the beautiful things about Orthodoxy is that it is in many ways a secret from the whole of the world, but not because we are keeping it from the world, but because oftentimes we failed to share our Orthodoxy. 

Many today are proclaimed atheists

I read recently a poll that was taken at different countries around the world and the huge number of people who are now claiming to be atheists - they don't believe. The worst country of all of course was China, but Scandinavian countries, Central America places, European nations, the 70% of the people claiming to be atheists. 

When talking at college campuses I am looking at young adults who have never been to church.

When they see someone standing in front of them like me with my robes and my beard and my cross around my neck, I could just see in their eyes that there's like,  "oh, here we go... what's this going to be about? I'm an atheist, I don't care what this guy has to say".

What happens when I share the nature of Orthodoxy?

This beautiful deep spirituality that is Orthodoxy - and it's sort of like a light bulb goes on in their head. You can see in their eyes that they're seeing Christianity for the very first time. I remember once an Orthodox bishop friend of mine told me that he felt that this atheism that has become the prominent religion of western civilization is based on a turning away from Calvinism and that angry Calvinist god image, and people just don't buy it. They don't want anything to do with it, so they walk away.

People are hungry for faith.

In this day when we have so many young men becoming Orthodox, I'm not surprised because I saw in these college campuses the same thing happening with young people - because people are hungry for faith, they're hungry for God and most of the time they don't even know it, because they've never been taught about God, except maybe this big papa in the sky and they don't believe it, they don't accept it... well, I don't either. 

There is a misguided view of the nature of God as an angry God.

I said: "Well, I guess if we're going to define what you just said as atheism, I guess I must be an atheist, because I don't believe in that God either." And then I talked about the God that I do believe, in the God that reveals Himself in the heart.

How is quantum physics related to our knowledge about God?

I asked him if he believed that quantum physics was of true science and he said, "Well, of course", and I said: " Well, are you aware that in quantum physics a quantum physicist discovers that about 80 percent of what they ultimately accept as truth is intuitively discovered? It's not a science it's not the kind of science like, say, biology - that is grounded in this world and in the physical nature - and I said that's what Orthodoxy is: it is a science of the soul. It is a science that is revealed to us in the news that the eye of the soul. And I said there's no one here that could convince me that what I have in the heart - that I believe is true - is wrong. There's no one that could convince me of that, just as there's no one that could convince any quantum physicist that might be among you that his science is false.

Evanglizing is not about standing and preaching on the street corner.

One of the beautiful things about Orthodoxy is that we, when we evangelize, if we're true to our faith, it's not about going out and tagging people on the street with the pamphlet, it's not about knocking on doors, it's not about putting pressure on your family or friends. Lots of times I have young people who are recent converts and they have family members that are sort of irritated with the fact that, "Oh, you're a church goer now", and they are against it, and they try to dissuade them of it, and at the same time these young people want to share the faith with those in their family and among their friends that don't have any faith. "How", they ask, "do we do that?"

How are we to evangelize?

Well, I remember what I did with my own parents when my mother especially was very upset when I all of a sudden was Orthodox and a monk. She could no longer be proud of me if, as she put it, because I'm now dressing funny and looked kind of funny and smell of incense. She saw that as kind of like a return to being a hippie. So what I did is, I prayed to God to help me be the very best son that I could be to my parents and I say that to all of you: pray that God help you be the very best friend, the very best son, the very best citizen, not being judgmental, not pointing fingers, not getting in everybody's face about the truth of Orthodoxy.

The truth of Orthodoxy can only be imparted from the heart. 

It's not you who's going to convert anyone, it is the Holy Spirit. And oftentimes we get in the way of the work of the Holy Spirit. So if we are to be true to our faith, we live it and we let everyone see the light of Christ in us on a daily basis, by being loving, by being forgiving, even when you have someone that's just insulting you for your beliefs. You don't lash out. It's not about winning the debate, it's about letting the light of Christ shine through you!

Abbot Tryphon, Abbot of the Monastery of the All-Merciful Saviour

Saturday, July 23, 2022

What makes Christianity different from other religions?

Other religions are of the world.

Religions like Buddhism and many others are made up in the minds of men. They may begin with a self-induced trance or an ancient myth. They usually refer to an undefined “divine.” Then they are then systematized.

It seems like they have not yet gained the full understanding of what the "divine" is. This is why we say in Christianity we have the whole truth. Some religions include worship of inanimate objects like the old Greek gods. Others 

Archimandrite Athanasios writes: 

“These other religions “start” from man and “end” to man. A cycle “from man to man.” They do not talk about salvation, but even if they did it would be nothing other than the well-known saying: “when I want to raise myself by pulling my head…” It’s impossible to raise myself. If I weigh 100kg, I can lift a sack with wheat.However, I cannot lift myself when I weigh 100 kg. Why is that? Who knows why, physics gives us the answer: “The forces are a closed system.” That’s what we say in physics, and it is impossible to lift myself. The powers have come from outside. Thus, I cannot save myself, regardless of how much I want it, [using] what I come up with, whatever construct I build…”

For salvation an outside force is required.

“Thus, a force from the outside has to come. Whatis this force? For all other religions, this outside force does not exist.”

Christianity is based on revelation of an outside force, a creator, sustainer and savior.

“What is Christianity? Christianity is a revelation. When [something] is revealed, it means that it is not made up. What does revelation mean? [When] something that is hidden, I remove what conceals it and I reveal it. Christianity exists and the salvation of man is revealed! Thus, what is Christianity? A revelation!”

Christianity is based on facts and history of revelation 

“Christianity is facts and history. Christ indeed became a man, indeed died, indeed was resurrected, indeed ascended. These are facts! Indeed He will return. As Pascal says, if 10 prophecies were said and nine of them have been realized, it remains for the tenth to be realized. All these happened in the face of Christ as facts, as history. What remains now? The Second Coming. In conclusion, this is the difference, a terrifying one we might say, with the invented religions—that Christianity is a revelation, history, facts. Our salvation is a fact and is born out of facts.”

In Christianity we see the reality of this outside force at work in the virgin birth of Jesus. It is further seen in the many miracles He performed. And then in His death we see His Resurrection and then Ascension, followed by His sending of the Holy Spirt, empowering His disciples to also heal and then establish churches for the healing and salvation of everyone. All this is documented by witnesses and historical Roman and Jewish commentators. Christianity's based on revelation.

Based on a talk given by Archimandrite Athanasios Mytilinaios (1927-2006)

Friday, July 22, 2022

Do you fill you idle time with media with secular content? Why?

Why do I consume so much non-Christian media, media created by those who don’t live by Christ, those who don’t glorify Him, or who may not even believe in God? 

If you are like me, out of habit you will immediately go to your phone when you are bored, or when you need to fill in an idle moment. I find that I will scan sites and read posts by people who don't share my beliefs, and even some who choose a totally different lifestyle based on non-Christian values. Some even espouse hatred, bigotry, and other non-Christian behaviors. Also, much media is designed to stimulate sexual desire and the desire for material goods.
How about the music we listen to? What are the lyrics teaching us? Does the music bring a peaceful mind. I don't often listen to music, but I know many of you listen to music all day long. 
I have begun to think about how this casual absorption of secular media of all kinds shapes my brain, my way of thinking, and eventually my behavior. I ask myself, why am I doing this? Maybe there is an alternative.

Do I allow non-Christian content because I think it is more “intelligent" and will help me?

Much of the content of what I consume in such idle moments isn't even true. It's definitely not Christian. When I analyze it I can see that the values being presented are antithetical to Orthodox teaching. Why don't I organize my phone so I will choose content that will encourage an Orthodox lifestyle? Why don't I insist on media that will call me to a moment of prayer, that will remind me of about what Christ has taught me in order to live a righteous life? Do I think this type of content is somehow less “intelligent”? Why do I choose it? I know the stuff I allow to enter my mind is created by people who don’t worship God. The god worshiped by most these days is one based on self-satisfaction, on worldly things. It's not teaching love or designed to bring peace of mind. It's not helping me to learn to better discern how to deal with all life's challenges in a way that helps me grow in Christ. I need to remember at all times what my life is all about, what is the purpose God has created for me and placed on this path we call life? I know well that this purpose is to perfect myself with His help to grow in His image and prepare for eternal life in His kingdom. I need to ask myself, "Do I really need the 'wisdom' of someone who is firmly attached to the material world and has no interest in my spiritual development?"

Are we treating Orthodoxy as an add on to our life?

If I persist in allowing social media to shape my lifestyle, to program my mind, I will find it ever more difficult to live a life in union with Him. I will be acting as if my faith is simply an add on to my life. This is not what I want. Orthodox Christianity is not something we simply add-on to the norms that make up the common lifestyle today. Orthodoxy teaches an alternative way of life based on a truth called “the way” by early Christians. If I and you are interested in our spiritual growth in Christ, we must be concerned about everything we allow to enter our minds, especially that which conflicts with His teachings. Most media today has become hostile to Christianity and is distracting souls away from Christ. I, along with you, need to find a way to minimize this mindless practice, this way we fill our idle time, this habit, and seek alternatives that will aid in the salvation of our souls.

How can we replace this distracting secular media content? 

What am I going to do? Much of what I am about to say I have done in the past before this addiction to social media and instantaneous news was so easily available. But I have been lazy in not disciplining my use of this new media world of today. I plan to  consciously make changes to spend more time reading Orthodox books. I have a Kindle app on my phone and have in it many unread books by saints who teach about the Orthodox way of life. It's easy to select one of these books and pick up where you left off previously. I don't often listen to music and prefer silence. But for those who need music to mask their noisy surroundings you can easily program apps like Apple Music or Spotify to select Orthodox hymns and Classical music made by composers who were not shy about their faith in God. Ancient Faith Radio (AFR) has an app with Orthodox music 24/7 as does the OCN network. There are also innumerable Orthodox podcasts available of AFR and OCN as well as many Orthodox YouTube channels.  There are some I now follow and others I can eliminate. There are also freely available audio versions of the Bible, numerous video series like the Bible Project with short lessons, and apps that include reading plans with commentary. I know there is more than enough content available to help you and me replace what has become a distraction for our spiritual growth. 

Now the hard part, to change my behavior. 

May the Lord have mercy and help me.

Inspired by an article by Roosh Valizadeh

Thursday, July 21, 2022

What is heresy?

"Heresies are a deviation from the truth of Christianity. Once again, heresy is the logical interpretation of [Christian] dogma. When I attempt to understand a mystery, a revelation, in a logical way, I fall into heresy. For example, I am trying to realize how God is three persons, but still one. There is no chemical, mechanic, logical or any other analogue/comparison to realize this. I simply accept it. In case, however, I say: “There can’t be three persons, so I reject the two and keep one [of them], because I am finding [it] difficult to understand it… This is called heresy. 

Archimandrite Athanasios Mytilinaios (1927-2006)

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Death and Afterlife 17 - What is issue with Toll Houses?

Have you heard about the idea of toll houses? What are they? 

This concept is promoted by some Orthodox teachers and denied by others. So we cannot say it is a Orthodox doctrine. There is no agreement. The idea is that there are demons who man stations, like toll houses. There is a series of these that we must pass through on the way to Paradise. These booths  are there to expose our sins and block our entry. This idea was developed in Russia during the period of Roman Catholic influence. It is very legalistic and based on worldly images.

Some reasons that many do not agree with this idea. 

First, it violates the idea of an immediate transition. Also Scripture is clear that we are judged only by Christ, not demons.

The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son. (John 5:22 

It also close to the Roman Catholic idea of purgatory that Orthodox do reject. There are no Biblical reference for this. Further it is based on a story told by a monk who had a vision 1000 years ago. It violates the idea that the soul can't be judged separate from the body. It is also very legalistic and does not consider God’s mercy and love.

Some documents are thought to be forgeries.

Saint Cyrl is quoted teaching this theory, but this part of his work is thought by some to be a forgery.

There will be a struggle between good and evil

As we discussed in the previous section, there are demons who want to discredit our faith and temp us to j one with them. We also know that there is some kind of judgment where everything in our life is exposed for all to see. This is not arbitrary, but based on the choices we have made. It’s also known that we will be supported by angels who will lead us to Paradise unless we are enticed by one of the demons. There may be sinful tendencies that we still have we are not willing to let go and therefore follow the demon promising these.

Toll houses are a way of thinking about the informal judgment often referred to as the particular judgement. Remember our soul will retain its character that it had at the time of death. The Final Judgment will come after the General Resurrection when we are rejoined with our spiritualized bodies. This occurs after the Second Coming of Christ.

We are destined to either Hades or Paradise.

Archimandrite Tikhon from Russia who writes in his book, Everyday Saints and Other Stories:

"Regardless of the situation a person may face, a decision will still have to be made. All who neglected to enjoy a life within the loving embrace of Christ, whose life indicated an affinity for works of darkness, will find themselves in Hades. Those who know and love Christ, have followed His commandments, and are righteous will enter into Paradise."

Sant Paul says:

"Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life." (Gal 6: 7–8)

Saint Justin the martyr writes:

"Each man goes to everlasting punishment or salvation according to the value of his actions.”

Confession and Holy Communion do purify

There are many in the Orthodox Church who believe that those who partook of the Body and Blood of the Lord immediately before death will be granted a direct transition to Paradise. When the book of life is opened there will no longer be any entries. In a less legalistic view there will not be lingering passions that the demons can use to tempt us to flow them.

Our path is personal and unique

The experience one has in passing into the crossover realm and onto his final destination will differ for different people. Those who live pious lives with total faith and have confessed their sins will have an easy transition as there will not be much of a struggle in the transition. The angels will be able to clear a path without much difficulty. We will be oriented by our pure nature to flow the angels and ignore the pleas of the demons who will be tempting us. What is clear is what we have done in our lives will be visible for all to see, including ourselves. Based on our life, this transition will lead us either to Paradise or to Hades.

Be prepared

Now is the time to prepare by purifying our soul through confession and virtuous living drawing on the help of the Holy Spirit.

How to develop true faith in others?

Experience of Faith is most important

I have been involved with the catechizing of adults for almost 20 years. In my experience there is only one way one becomes a true Orthodox Christian. It is by experience. There are seekers who long for the original historic Church, who want to gain the proper understanding of doctrine, or only are rebelling against a leader like the pope in the Catholic Church. Also, there are those who have married into an Orthodox family. Their interest is primarily to learn the traditions, both religious and cultural, of their spouse, to fit in, to support their spouse, and to become a dutiful mate. In none of these cases will one readily adopt the Orthodox way of life. To become a true believer requires an experience of God, an inner realization of our higher purpose and destiny. This may be aided and nurtured with a study of church history and church doctrine, but that is not sufficient.

Why do Children fall away when they become adults?

Likewise Orthodox parents frequently see their children fall away from the Orthodox way of life. This happens even though they have been brought up in the faith, attended Sunday school regularly and required to take communion each Sunday. Something changes when then become adults and begin to make choices based on their own will, they often do not continue in the way of life they were taught once they feel liberated from parental control.

So How can we bring one to a faith based on the love of God and a sincere desire to perfect oneself in their ability to live by everything Jesus has taught us?

Can we just explain it in clear and simple terms?

No! Faith is something that must be experienced and rooted in the heart. It is not something that can be grasped by the mind. Can you have a conversation about your sincere faith with someone who is not practicing the Orthodox way of life or not yet familiar with the way of the Church? What have you experienced as a result? 

I always thought it was important for a person to understand the underlying idea behind any situation. So why is it that we can't explain our faith using simple language, why we go to church and what for, and why we need to have Holy Communion and Holy Confession? How successful have you been even with close friends and relatives?

We can't nurture a feeling of love of God with threats of fearful images?

We should not threaten them with stories about hell and eternal damnation or separation from God. They don't now fear being separated from God. They are immersed in their own belief in the superiority of their own will. They don't experience the need for God.

One needs to have a proper fear of God? 

This is a feeling of awe, not being afraid. It includes a feeling of respect and of love. To have this proper fear requires a feeling of the presence of God in our life. This is different than the fear we feel when facing difficulties in life. This is often when one calls out to God for help, but how long does this last? What have you observed? When we face a dangerous or difficult situation we naturally think of God, but his is not necessarily the proper fear of God. It's more self-centered.

The only way we can develop the appropriate fear of God is through a personal reconciliation with the eventuality of death. When we seriously reflect on our death, we become uncomfortable about what happens after death. This discomfort cannot be eliminated until we experience His presence, His love and the hope of eternal life He promises those who choose to follow Him. It is to no avail to try and scare someone telling them they will go to hell if that don’t do….

What is needed is this feeling of awe. 

Awe is when we acquire a realization of God’s ever presence, when we experience His love. This only comes through a personal experience.

This is the basis of our problem in trying to bring others into the true faith for their salvation. 

We can provide the context for this experience through the teaching of the Gospel, the understanding of proper doctrine, and the knowledge of the ascetic practices that open and cleanse our hearts of sin. The Church services when conducted in a mystical fashion, the hymnology when sung with angelic like voices, and the communal activities provided can all help. They alone still are not sufficient. We can pray that God will at some point awaken those we love to experience His presence. Once they have this personal experience of His presence and love all the teaching and practices will take on meaning. Then there will then be a motivation out of love to follow the way of life taught by the church.

Inspired by Archpriest Maxim Pervozvansky

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Prayer of Saint Makrina on her death bed

Saint Makrina wrote: 


you have taken the fear of death away from us.  The end of our life here you have made the beginning of true life.  For a little while you will let our bodies rest in sleep, and then with the last trumpet you will wake them from their sleep.

You give to the Earth to keep for you this earth of ours, which you shaped with your own hands; and you will take it back again, and from a mortal, formless lump transform it into a thing of immortal beauty.

To free us from sin and from the curse laid upon us, you took both sin and the curse upon yourself.

You crushed the head of the dragon that had seized men by the throat and thrust it into the gulf prepared for the disobedient.

When you shattered the gates of hell and trampled the devil, death’s lord, beneath your feet, you cleared the way for our resurrection.

To us who fear you, you gave a sign, the sign of your holy cross, to destroy the enemy and infuse new vigor into our lives.

O eternal God, you have been my refuge since I left my mother’s womb; I love you with all my inmost strength; I have devoted myself, body and soul, to you from my childhood onwards.

Set now an angel of light beside me and bid him take my hand and lead me to the resting-place where there is water for refreshment, beside the dwellings of the holy fathers.

The flaming sword you snapped in two; the man who hung upon the cross with you and implored your great mercy you restored to paradise.  Remember me, too, now that you are back in your kingdom, since I also have hung upon the cross with you and the nails have pierced my flesh; for I have always feared your judgment.  May the dread gulf not divide me from your elect or the Slanderer stand in my way; may your eyes not rest on my sins.

If out of the weakness of human nature I have fallen and sinned in word or deed or thought, forgive it me; for you have power to forgive sins on Earth.  When I am divested of my body, may I stand before you with my soul unspotted; receive it, blameless and faultless, with your own hands.