Thursday, 19 July 2007

Orthodox Monasticism 27 – St Barsanuphios on Various Origenist Doctrines

Questions 606 – 607

Question 606


Forgive me for the sake of the Lord, Father who loves Mankind, for I am greatly afflicted. For I was reading in a dogmatic book and I see that my heart has been agitated; and I am afraid to declare this matter to you and I am unable to be silent because of the tempting thoughts (logismoi). What therefore do you order me to do, Father?


Since the Devil wishes to put you into an occupation which is not beneficial, say what you want and God will not give him a place.

Question 607


Concerning the Resurrection of the bodies of the saints, tell me whether they are raised in this body in which we now are, which body has bones and sinews, or in an ethereal and spherical body.[1] For they also say that in the Resurrection to come the body of the Lord will be of such a sort [i.e. ethereal and spherical], denying that he rose from the dead in our own body, which very body he received for the sake of our salvation from the Holy and Ever-Virgin Mary, She Who Gave Birth to God. And they say that this is what the Apostle says: ‘He will transform the body of our humility so that it become conformed to the body of his glory.’ And, again, they say that the Apostle said: ‘Flesh and blood is not able to inherit the Kingdom of God.’ They then say this: ‘It is not possible for this body to continue through the Ages because it is constituted of food and in the Age to come there is no eating and drinking.’

And again they say that concerning our Lord Jesus Christ the Apostle says: ‘When all things are subjected to him, then he also, the Son, will be subjected to him who subjected all things to him, so that God [sc. the Father] be all things in all.’ And again, pronouncing that which is said in Ecclesiastes—‘It has already come to pass in the Ages which have occurred before us.’—they construct the pre-existence [of souls] here. And they assure us that the saying in the Gospels—‘You will not depart from there until you have paid the last coin.’— [means that there] is an end to Hell.

Therefore, for the sake of the Lord clarify these things for me, Master, so that the Enemy not deceive me and from ignorance I fall into his wicked snares, for out of my foolishness I am shaken on all sides since I did not keep your holy words and I did not from the beginning distance myself from discussion concerning these things, for they constitute a great danger to the soul.

And pray for me, good Father, so that in future I sober up and keep my mind on tears for my sins; and forgive me that I dared to ask you these things but as [you are] one who knows everything, permit me to speak.


Brother, I wrote to you previously that the Devil has sown in you an untimely occupation; for your time is to weep and to mourn for your sins. However, so that I not leave you in tempting thoughts (logismoi), if you wish to learn about the Resurrection, if you believe in the Prophets, God has shown us how it will be through Ezekiel the Prophet: how bone was brought together with bone and joint with joint, and veins and skin and sinews and thus they were raised.

And the Apostle, knowing that we are raised in bodies [of flesh and blood] taught, saying: ‘For this corruptible [body] must be clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal [body] be clothed with immortality.’ Do not be deceived: the bodies are raised together with the bones and sinews and hair and thus they will be to the Age, but, however, more luminous and more glorious, according to the saying of the Lord who says: ‘Then the righteous will shine as the sun in the Kingdom of Heaven.’ This glory is added to the bodies, as if I should say that a man enters into the presence of the King a countryman and the King makes him a Field Marshall and he goes out glorified. Is it not the same thing? Has not the body been changed? Or, as a man who is a deacon suddenly ordained bishop and he is immediately found glorified, thus also here.

And what now? As they are now men in the body do they not become bearers of God (theophoroi)? And how did Moses see the Lord, and before him Abraham and Jacob and Stephen in the Acts of the Apostles, and the others? Perhaps they were bodiless? Thus it will be in the Resurrection: on the one hand, these bodies; on the other hand, incorruptible and immortal and more glorious. For this reason, concerning the human body the Apostle says: ‘It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory; a body which is earthly (psychikon) is sown, a body which is spiritual is raised.’ He says these things because many saints are not known to men but instead are dishonourable in their eyes; and when there they receive glory as an ordination, they will be made known to all, that they are spiritual men. For that reason he says: ‘A body which is earthly (psychikon) in the sight of men is sown, a body which is spiritual and glorious is raised,’ and all will be in wonder. This then the Apostle says: ‘He will transform the body of our humility so that it become conformed to the body of his glory.’ He makes the [bodies] luminous according to his own body, as the Apostle John said: ‘When he will be made manifest, then we will be similar to him.’ For the Son of God is Light and they will be sons of God, according to the Apostle, and sons of Light. It is in this sense that he says ‘he will transform’.

Concerning the fact that he says, ‘When all things are subjected to him, then he also, the Son, will be subjected to him who subjected all things to him, so that God [sc. the Father] be all things in all,’ first learn to whom he wrote these things, the Corinthians. At that time paganism (hellenismos) was at its acme and there was this custom among certain of the [pagan] Greeks: when the son of their king came of age, he rose up and slew his own father. And so that they not, accepting the proclamation of the Apostle, according to their custom also understand the same sort of thing concerning the Son of God, he exiled this society[2] from them, saying to them: ‘When all things are subjected to him, then he also, the Son, will be subjected to him who subjected all things to him, so that God [sc. the Father] be all things in all.’ But [this will occur] when his enemies come bound beneath his feet—he means the Devil and his hosts and those who follow the Devil’s intentions. For this reason therefore the Apostles said: ‘We do not yet see all things subjected to him.’ Until when? Until the angels come of God the Father, he who said: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’ He leads these enemies to the judgement of the Son of God: ‘For the Father judges no one; but he has given all judgement to the Son.’ And to learn how he will surrender the Kingdom to the God and Father, listen.

The Son of God, having been incarnated, came to call and to sanctify through his holy blood a holy nation, a people set apart, a people zealous for good works, a royal priesthood. And understand that once his enemies have been subjected to him and he judges them, then he himself as a model of subjection will surrender the Kingdom, which he has taken care of—the holy people—to the God and Father, saying: ‘Behold! I and the children you gave me.’ And to learn the equality [of the Son and the Father]: the Father has given all judgement to the Son, and the Son has given those whom he called to the Father. And thus the word is fulfilled: ‘When all things are subjected to him, then he also, the Son, will be subjected to him who subjected all things to him, so that God [sc. the Father] be all things in all.’

Concerning the Ages about which the Ecclesiast[3] spoke, know that every time (chronos) of man is his Age (aion).[4] For this reason he did not say: ‘It has already come to pass in the Ages which have occurred before this world,’ but ‘in the Ages of this world, which [Ages] are before us.’ And if you wish to learn that the uneducated and the unsupported pervert the Scriptures and allegorize according to the teaching of the Devil, the Apostle said, ‘Foods are for the belly and the belly for foods, but God will abolish this and those,’ speaking concerning gluttony and indifference and prodigality, so that he did not abolish the foods and the belly from the vessels. Knowing, therefore, he who is saying these things, that he is speaking on account of the passions and that the Lord abolished these things from him and from those close to him, the Apostle began to say ‘neither will we be judged if we eat nor will we be justified if we do not eat.’

Concerning the future, thus God spoke, ‘Men will be equal to the angels, neither eating nor drinking, nor desiring,’ and nothing is impossible to him. He showed this through Moses for he [i.e. Moses] made a fast for forty days and forty nights; and he [i.e. God] who did this is able to make man to be this way for all the years of the Age. However, if one were to babble and say, ‘But afterwards he ate, and concerning the Saviour the same,’ he showed a partial example of the future things, just as in the case of the Resurrection, for he raised the dead, showing us through the Apostles that there will be a Resurrection. And if after that they died, we should not therefore distance ourselves from the Resurrection. But, however, he says: ‘Man will not live by bread alone, but by every word proceeding through the Spirit of God.’ What do you have to say to this, unless you wish to pervert it as also the remaining scriptures?

Concerning ‘Flesh and blood will not inherit the Kingdom of God, neither corruption incorruption,’ he calls ‘flesh and blood’ impurity and wickedness and the intentions [of the flesh]. And do you wish to learn that men become spiritual even being in the body? Hear the Lord saying to Nicodemus: ‘You must be born from above.’ Later, he said: ‘Through water and the Spirit’. ‘Being born of the Spirit, you are spiritual.’ And again he says: ‘Neither from bloods nor from the intention of a man, nor from the intention of the flesh, but from God were they born.’ And: ‘God is Spirit.’ If, then, still being here [on earth] they became spiritual, having been born of God, how will God be unable to make them spiritual there also?

Concerning ‘He will not go out from there until he renders up the last coin’, he said this signifying the Hell of those Ages. For from where will they render up? If a poor debtor is put into prison and he is ordered by the ruler not to get out until he pays up the debt which is owed, is it your judgement that he ever gets out? Things are not that way. Do not be deceived like a foolish man. No one makes progress there, but if someone has something there, he has it from here, whether good or rotten or enjoyable.

Well, leave this foolish talk and do not follow the demons and their teaching: once they lift up and once they throw down. Humble yourself before God, therefore, weeping for your sins and mourning for your passions. Keep in the mind the Scripture which says: ‘And now, Israel.’ And again: ‘And now I have begun.’ Pay attention to yourself.

Well, may God forgive you. Look where your heart inclines to investigate.

[1] This was a tenet of the Origenists.

[2] Thus the text. Probably a copyist’s error for ‘concept’.

[3] The Elder is now turning to the quotation proffered from Ecclesiastes (see above).

[4] This is unclear.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Orthodox Monasticism 26 – St Barsanuphios on St Gregory of Nyssa

Questions 604 –605

Question 604


Question of the same and of other brothers to the same Great Elder [Barsanuphios].

Those who believe these things concerning the pre-existence [of souls] do not shrink from saying of St Gregory the Theologian [of Nazianzus] that he himself also writes in his works an exposition concerning the pre-existence—in his homilies ‘On the Birth of the Lord’ and ‘On the Day of Easter’. They explain certain passages according to their own heart and overlook those things which there are clearly said concerning the first creation of Man, the creation of his soul and body, according to the tradition of the Church. For St Gregory speaks thus:

Wishing to demonstrate this, even one animal from both—I mean the invisible and the visible natures—the artisan Word creates Man; and from the material nature taking the already subsistent body and having placed a breath from himself in it, the Word knows an intelligent (noera) soul and image (icon) of God.

And in the passages which follow one will find many things spoken clearly and without any doubt to the hearer concerning Man, created from the already subsisting material and from the soul given by God. In these passages St Gregory also greatly praises the nature of Man and calls the salvation of the body and the soul a gift worthy of God—not, as they say, that the soul is clothed with the body for the sake of condemnation, being punished for its previous sins.[1] And in many other various writings of his, his intention is made clear, entirely clarifying this dogma.

And concerning St Gregory [of Nyssa], the brother of [St] Basil the Great, they are gleeful, for they say that he said the same thing and that he speaks concerning the pre-existence [of souls], also misinterpreting certain passages of his. However, he clearly, in Chapter 30[2] of his treatise ‘On the Making of Man’, powerfully combats the dogma of the pre-existence and refutes it, as do the Blessed David, those in the circles of St John and St Athanasios, and all the remaining luminaries and teachers of the Church. This same St Gregory of Nyssa speaks clearly concerning the Restoration (apokatastasis) but not concerning this [proposition] that they espouse—Hell ceasing, Man is going to be restored (apokathistemi) to the [state] that he was in from the beginning, to being pure minds—; but St Gregory [merely] says this, that Hell will cease and come to an end.

Therefore, Father, say why such a man does not speak correctly as one would expect from a holy man who has been found worthy to speak from the Holy Spirit?

For certain of the Fathers and teachers also disagree concerning Paradise, not saying that it is sensible (aisthetos) [i.e. a material, perceptible reality], but intelligible (noetos) [i.e. a spiritual reality not perceptible to the senses]. And in [connection with] other chapters of Scripture it is possible to find the disagreement of certain persons [who are interpreting]. Therefore, we ask, clarify these things for us, Master, so that having been enlightened by you we glorify God and do not doubt our holy Fathers.


Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. Amen.

Brothers, it is opportune to say with the Apostle: ‘I have become foolish, but you have forced me.’ For I am also forced for your sakes to investigate those things which are beyond my measure and to speak those things which do not benefit my soul—not to say that they harm it. We have left Paul who says, ‘Let all wrath and temper and blasphemy be removed from you together with all vice.’ I myself say: ‘together with gluttony and fornication and avarice and the remaining passions’, concerning which we are obliged to mourn night and day and to cry unceasingly, so that through the multitude of our tears, the stain of all these things be washed away and we be able from soiled to become pure; from sinners, righteous; from dead men, living—and instead we pass our time in one word for which we are going to give an apologia. For he says: ‘You will give to each according to his works.’ And again: ‘We must present ourselves before the judgement seat of Christ so that we may each one obtain our reward for what we have done in the body, whether good or bad.’

Concerning these things we must be zealous, concerning the things over which our Fathers were zealous, those in the circle of Abba Pimen and their successors. This zeal has the practice of being accounted to be of no consequence, the practice of not measuring oneself, the practice of being reckoned as dust and ashes. The other zeal has the practice of considering oneself a gnostic (gnostikos), the characteristic of bringing one to pride, of accounting oneself to be of consequence and of measuring [oneself] in everything, of standing off from humility. Forgive me. Perhaps you are idle and for that reason you come into these things? If things are this way, go down into the market until the Master of the House comes and takes you on in his vineyard. If there were a thorn in your heart concerning that frightful meeting, you would not be occupied with these things. The Prophet forgot to eat his bread and we waste our time and are indifferent and fall from one thing into another? God does not demand from us these things, but sanctification, purification and humility.

But since I was not of a mind to leave you in the midst of tempting thoughts (logismoi), and I was oppressed to ask God to give me an answer of spiritual assurance concerning this, being constrained by both I chose oppression for myself so that I might free you from oppression, recalling him who says: ‘Bear the burdens of one another.’ And listen to the answer of spiritual assurance from God, which came to me three days before you wrote[3] your question. May all the Fathers, all the saints who have pleased God and the righteous men and the genuine servants of God, pray for me. But do not think that, even if they were saints, they were able to comprehend genuinely all the depths of God. For the Apostle says: ‘We know in part and we prophesy in part.’ And again: ‘To whom it is given through the Spirit’, the one thing and the other—and not all those things in one man but some things in one way and other things differently. However, the one and the same Spirit operates all things. Knowing the things of God, that they are incomprehensible, the Apostle cried, saying: ‘O the depth of the wealth and wisdom and knowledge (gnosis) of God! O how unsearchable his judgements and untraceable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has become his counsellor?’ And the rest.

Contriving, then, to become teachers of their own accord or being forced to come to this by men, they made very great progress, even beyond their teachers, and being filled with spiritual assurance composed new dogmas, at the same time, however, remaining in the possession of the traditions of their teachers, lessons that were not correct. And after these things, progressing and having become spiritual teachers, they did not ask God about their teachers, whether they spoke through the Holy Spirit; but, treating them as wise men and gnostics (gnostikos), they did not discern their words; and so the teachings of their teachers were mixed together in their own teachings; and they spoke at one time from the teachings that they learned from their teachers, and at another time from the genius of their own mind; and thus their words were written in their name. For receiving from others and progressing and being improved, they spoke through the Holy Spirit, if they were spiritually assured with something by it; and they spoke from the lessons of the teachers who were before them, not discerning the words, whether they were obliged through entreaty and prayer to be spiritually informed by God with assurance whether they were true. And the teachings were mixed together; and because they were spoken by them, they were written in their names.

When you hear from one of them that he heard from the Holy Spirit what he is saying, this is an answer of spiritual assurance and we are obliged to believe. When he speaks concerning those words and you do not find him saying this, then it is not from an answer of spiritual assurance but it is from the lessons of his first teachers; and paying attention to their knowledge (gnosis) and wisdom, he did not ask God concerning these things if they were true.

Behold! You have heard all of my foolishness. Quiet down then and be occupied with God; and, ceasing from vain talk, pay attention to your passions, concerning which passions you will be required to give an account in the Day of Judgement. For concerning these things you will not be required: ‘Why did you not know these things or learn these others?’ Well, weep and mourn, trace the steps of our Fathers, Pimen and his successors, and run that you win the prize, in Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be the glory to the Ages. Amen.

Question 605


Father, you really are a guide of the blind, and a light in Christ to those who have been darkened, and the truth has been made clear to us through you. For we now find even in the books of the Elders[4] that there was a certain great Elder who used to speak from ignorance that the bread that we partake of is not the body of Christ but a symbol (antitypon), and if he had not asked God about it first, he would not have known the truth.

And another, he also a great Elder, thought that Christ is Melchizedek, and only when he asked God did God reveal [the truth] to him. But forgive me, Father, for the sake of the Lord. I am being daring asking about those things which are beyond me. But since through your saintliness our God has enlightened us in the way of truth, a way free of deception (aplani), I ask that [the matter] be made completely clear concerning this [issue], so that our mind and infirm heart[5] be purified through the discussion of these things. For what reason did God allow such men as these[6] to be deceived? Even if they did not ask, why was this [correction of their doctrinal errors] not given to them in grace for the sake of destroying the damage that would occur to their subsequent readers? For if even these saints were not impeded as concerns correct faith and virtue, yet even so those who like me are slack and negligent but who look toward these saints’ believability for the sake of [their own] faith are quite easily damaged severely here, not knowing the very things you said, that the saints were not able to comprehend the mysteries completely, and that they did not ask God for an answer of spiritual assurance whether these things were true.

Therefore, clarify this also for me, compassionate Father, as you stoop to my infirmity.


Child, God did not allow such men as these to be deceived for he who allows someone to be deceived is he who is asked concerning the way and does not speak the truth. They, then, did not ask God concerning this so that they might receive the truth from him. If, however, you say, ‘Why did God not prevent them by grace for the benefit of those reading those things after them,’ you could also say this concerning every sinner: ‘If God knew that, if he sinned, so-and-so would set an example for many, why did God not prevent him by grace so that many not be damaged through him?’ And life is found to be compelled for men. And what therefore prevents God from saving every man in this way?

For why—are there not sayings in Scripture that are a stumbling-block to the uneducated and to those who do not know the spiritual sense of Scripture? Are we therefore obliged to say: ‘Why did God not speak the spiritual sense of Scripture openly so that people might not be damaged, but instead God left to the saints of various times the work of interpreting the things sought?’ For this reason there are teachers and explainers, as the Apostle says.

Do not be deceived, then, concerning the men you asked about. For if they had asked God, they would have received. For he says: ‘Everyone who asks receives and he who seeks shall find.’ Just as God has made known the road of life through the Prophets and Apostles, thus each saint has spoken partially. And God has not spoken through one man only, but if this man has left something out then that man has spoken by the will of God. And God has acted thus in the case of the saints after those. And if the first say something doubtful, the last allegorize, so that God is always glorified through his saints—for he is the God of the first and the last. To him be the glory to the Ages. Amen.

[1] As we have seen, in the Origenist system the body is given to the mind on account of the sin of the mind in the ‘movement’.

[2] In today’s editions of ‘On the Making of Man’, Chapter 28.

[3] All questions and answers to St Barsanuphios were in writing. Abba Seridos, the Abbot of the monastery, brought the written questions to his cell, heard the answers orally from St Barsanuphios and wrote down those answers when he returned to his own cell. St Barsanuphios assured him that he did not need to take notes because God ensured that he remembered everything correctly.

[4] The questioner would be referring to the Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

[5] The questioner is not a heart patient. He means his inner spiritual centre.

[6] I.e. authors such as St Gregory of Nyssa.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007


‘Simon’, whoever he is, has sent us a comment on our post ‘Orthodox Monasticism 25 – Sts Barsanuphios and John on Evagrius’:

Dear Brother,

Can you please explain how we should understand these verses, in the light of the answers given in this post, regarding apokatastasis (the restoration of all things):

Matt. 17:11 And Jesus answered and said unto them. Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things.


Acts 3:19 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;

Acts 3:20 And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you:

Acts 3:21 Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.

There is one other passage that Simon could have brought forward:

Acts 1:6 Coming together, they asked him saying: ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?’

Acts 1:7 He, however, said to them: ‘It is not for you to know times and seasons which the Father has placed under his own authority,

Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and all of Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.’ (Our translation.)

There are two grammatically related words involved: apokatastasis and apokathistemi. The first is a noun and the second is a verb. In Greek they are ποκατάστασις and ποκαθίστημι. These are ordinary Greek words used in daily talk, even today. The noun’s basic meaning is: ‘restoration, re-establishment, return’. The verb’s basic meaning is: ‘re-establish, restore, reinstate’. These are the words used in the original of the above Scripture passages, the one where we see a noun in bold type, the other where we see a verb. ‘All things’ is merely the Greek for ‘everything’.

The words themselves don’t mean much. So what’s the fuss?

In the first Scripture passage that Simon has brought forth, there is a reference to the role of the Prophet Elias (Elijah) in the coming of the Messiah. This is based on a prophecy of the Old Testament. The disciples are asking Jesus about the fulfilment of that messianic prophecy. Since Jesus is the Messiah, this is obviously relevant. The disciples say that according to the scholars of the Law, before the Messiah comes Elias must first come. Jesus answers that indeed Elias comes before the Messiah to restore all things in fulfilment of the messianic prophecy. He continues that Elias has already come and they—the rulers of the people—have done whatever they wanted with him; and moreover, the Son of Man will suffer from them in the same way. Then the passage finishes: ‘Then the disciples understood that he spoke to them of John the Baptist.’

Hence, here, St John the Baptist, the meaning of whose mission is treated in more depth by St John the Evangelist in his Gospel, restores all things: he prepares the Jewish people for the ministry of Jesus the Messiah. While the prophecy is messianic, it is not eschatological in the sense that Sts Barsanuphios and John are discussing the Origenist doctrine of the apokatastasis, which we will discuss below.

The next text that Simon puts forward is from Acts 3. Here, it is not a matter of preparation for the earthly ministry of Jesus, as in the case of the Prophet Elias, but of the Second Coming. It should be understood unequivocally that Sts Barsanuphios and John are not disputing the dogma of the Second Coming of Christ. After all, that is part of the Nicene Creed—not to mention the Bible! They are disputing a particular interpretation of the dogma of the Second Coming put forward first by Origen, then by Didymus the Blind and finally by Evagrius Ponticus, the same Evagrius whose ascetical doctrines we have been discussing.

In the case of the passage of Acts that we ourselves brought forward (Acts 1:6 ff.), it is a case of the Apostles’ having a rather crude understanding of the Second Coming as the restoration of a human Kingdom to Israel. They have not yet understood the deeper spiritual meaning of Christ’s messianic ministry.

The basic elements of the Origenist doctrine of the apokatastasis as encountered by St Barsanuphios’ interlocutor are outlined in Question 600. This Origenist doctrine can be summarized as follows:

In the beginning there was only God. Then God the Father created the minds. These minds are all the creatures with consciousness (mind) that ever were or ever will be. They include all the creatures we now know as angels, men or demons. In the beginning these minds were all equal and they all participated without distinction in the contemplation of God. But in a ‘movement’ initiated by the mind that would become the Devil, all the minds but one participated in an act of negligence, essentially turning themselves away from the contemplation of God. The one mind that did not participate in the ‘movement’ was the mind that would become the Christ. The mind that would become the Christ was a created mind that remained united to God the Word without disturbance while all the other minds fell.

God the Father gave the judgement of all the other minds over to the created mind called the Christ. Based on each mind’s negligence, in his judgement the Christ created for each mind a body and a world: thus some minds had less negligence and became angels; some had moderate negligence and became men; some had more negligence and became demons. Thus also the angelic, human and demonic worlds.

Now part of this system is that through a very complex cycle of rebirth the minds through their own free will and application to virtue, and with the help of the Providence of God, can improve themselves so as to be born in their next lifetime in a higher state. In the broad view, over many, many lifetimes, there are minds that are ascending and minds that are descending. These include angels, men and demons. That is why St Barsanuphios in Question 600 spends so much time saying things like: ‘Don’t be deceived: here we work; there we receive our reward.’ And, ‘What angel have you ever heard of making progress through his own application?’

There will eventually be the Second Coming of Christ, and things will change: the good will get better and the bad will be punished—but not forever. For through the help of Christ, after they have been purified, the bad—the demons, the bad men and so on—will return with all the others to the pristine state of the group of naked minds (without bodies and without worlds) contemplating God just like things were in the beginning. Hence the use of the term ‘apokatastasis’: the minds will be restored to their original state. It can be seen that just as the Second Coming of Christ is eschatological, so the ‘apokatastasis’ is eschatological—but it’s not the same eschatology.

Read St Barsanuphios’ answer in Question 600 again to see in sharper relief the system as he is describing it.

This doctrine was condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod in 553. The Anathemas (condemnations) of the Synod concerning Origenism contain a rather good outline of the system that they are condemning and they are well worth reading.

Here are two translations of the Anathemas:

Anathemas of the Fifth Ecumenical Synod in the Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers series (CCEL).

Anathemas of the Fifth Ecumenical Synod translated by Fr Theophanes (Constantine).

We will continue to discuss the historical framework of this matter in the next few posts. But first, in the next post we will provide more translations of answers by Sts Barsanuphios and John to questions about this matter.

Sunday, 15 July 2007


Robert’, whoever he is, has sent us a comment on our post Pentecostalism and the Orthodox Tradition of the Philokalia:

Growing up in a pentecostal church I have sat through similar experiences as described. Something in my spirit just didn't feel right about it-I felt anxious, uncomfortable. For the most part though the church was very good. They were very much biblically centered and taught the whole bible, not simply the new testament. Something you wrote bothered me a little though. You say that the holy spirit stays with us unless we deny Christ. I agree with that. But as an example you say "such as entering a non-orthodox faith." Are you saying that only Orthodox Christians are saved and will go to heaven? I agree there are some confused churches out there, but they still believe Jesus is the son of God who died to save them, isn't that what's most important?

We would like to engage with this comment but need to pose a few questions first.

Before that, however, we would ask Robert to read our nine posts from ‘Coercive Christianity’ through ‘Pentecostalism and the Orthodox Tradition of the Philokalia’ to ‘Wherein We Respond to Two Comments’. To give Robert a complete answer we would have to repeat material from those nine posts, which would be tedious.

Now the question we have for Robert is this: You write: ‘Growing up in a pentecostal church I have sat through similar experiences as described.’ We are not sure what you mean by ‘similar experiences’. Surely the ‘rock worship’ you would have experienced. However, we wonder if you mean something else in addition. Moreover, if you read the nine posts we have indicated, we would be interested to what extent what we are describing in those nine posts resonates with (echoes) what you experienced. That way, we will have some idea whether we ourselves are talking through our hat or not.

Next, we are curious about the sense of anxiety you felt in the Pentecostal church you attended. Was this in general? Or was it on specific occasions?

Now we would like to respond to your questions. We remarked that as you put it ‘the Holy Spirit stays with us unless we deny Christ’. You then proceed on the basis of our having qualified ‘deny Christ’ by ‘such as entering a non-Orthodox faith’ to ask if in our view non-Orthodox Christians are saved. This is not the same thing. These are two different issues.

Let us take the issue of denying Christ first.

We once spoke to a convert to Orthodoxy from another Christian church. He had been speaking with an Elder about some difficulties he had experienced with his conversion. The Elder remarked: ‘Your motivations for joining the Orthodox Church were not pure but you would be better off dying than returning to the church that you came from.’ The issue was that although the fellow did not make a ‘clean conversion’ to Orthodoxy, he did in fact convert; and to return to where he had been would be a denial of Christ: he had received the Holy Spirit in becoming Orthodox (he told me another Elder with the charism of discernment had positively verified that) and he would have lost the Holy Spirit in returning to where he had been.

Now let us take the case of someone who has been born and baptized Orthodox and becomes, say, Pentecostal. We ourselves have heard a well-known Elder say that in such a case—where the Elder was discussing a specific person and it was understood that the person had been rebaptized by the Pentecostals—that since the person had received the Holy Spirit in Orthodox Baptism, the second baptism was a sacrilege—an insult to God—and that the person in such a case receives a demon. That is not to say that everyone who is baptized into the Pentecostal Church receives a demon. That is a different issue. See below.

We ourselves have seen a case where an Orthodox elected to be rebaptized into an Evangelical church. He seemed to have a stupid, stubborn spirit, although he himself, since he had advanced degrees, must have had a high IQ.

Now let us take the case of a member of the Orthodox Church who becomes Muslim. In the many centuries of rule over the Orthodox Greeks by the Muslim Turks there were many such cases of conversion. The vast majority of such converts remained Muslim. Some returned to Orthodoxy. Most of the New Martyrs were such Orthodox converts to Islam who later repented of their conversion. However, some New Martyrs were in fact Orthodox who had never converted to Islam but had a zeal for martyrdom out of love for Christ.

The Orthodox converts to Islam were received back into the Orthodox Church through a life confession and Chrismation. Chrismation was administered precisely because they had denied Christ in becoming a Muslim (accepting Jesus as a prophet is denial). Chrismation restored the Holy Spirit to them.

In some but not all cases, it was pointed out to these people that the norm for people who have denied Christ is to return to the place where they have denied Christ and to confess Christ. It should be understood that in Islam, the penalty for apostasy—which is how Islam sees a return from Islam to Orthodoxy—is death. Hence, for an Orthodox convert to Islam to go to a Muslim place to confess Christ is to court martyrdom.

In some cases these returnees to Orthodoxy had such a zeal to confess Christ anyway.

In many cases these persons were prepared for martyrdom on Mt Athos—often becoming monks of the Great Schema just before their martyrdom.

In their zeal, these New Martyrs often had to provoke the Muslim judge a little to secure their martyrdom: the judges were often a little slack and uninterested in applying strict Sharia Law.

Normally (and we think virtually always), Orthodox who converted to Islam were denied communion until their death bed. It should then be clear why in the lives of the New Martyrs we often read about how their communion was assured just before the commencement of their martyrdom: because they had denied Christ they were denied communion until their deathbed, or in their case, until the eve of their martyrdom.

It should be understood from the above just how seriously the Orthodox Church takes these things.

Now today not many Orthodox become Muslim. But some take up Transcendental Meditation; others become disciples of Tibetan Lamas. While things in the West are slack, it should be understood that what we have described above is the norm for Orthodox converts to other religions—although we imagine that if an Orthodox who repented of having become the Buddhist disciple of a Tibetan lama were to go to the place where he had become the lama’s disciple in order to confess Christ, the lama would shrug his shoulders and walk away. (This is not to diminish the Chinese Martyrs in the Boxer Rebellion.) For the most part, Buddhism does not punish apostasy by death but by indifference.

Now we have covered the cases of the conversion of an Orthodox to a non-Orthodox Christian religion and to a non-Christian religion.

What about the issue of whether Pentecostals or Roman Catholics or Protestants go to Heaven—assuming they didn’t start off Orthodox?

We don’t know.

Generally, the Orthodox avoid the complex analysis of the Roman Catholic Church about degrees of ignorance and degrees of culpability, leaving it to God to decide what to do with people who die outside the Church.

We do know the following however. The Orthodox Church is an ark of salvation.

The issue now is the question that Robert has posed:

I agree there are some confused churches out there, but they still believe Jesus is the son of God who died to save them, isn't that what's most important?

The Orthodox Church is a confessional Church: Before we are baptized we are made catechumens. Part of the service to become a catechumen is the renunciation of the Devil and the joining of the person to Christ of his own free will. This is very similar to accepting Jesus as your Lord and Saviour as it is found among the Evangelicals. However, in the Orthodox Church, the person becoming a catechumen MUST as part of the service confess the Nicene Creed as it has come down to us in the Orthodox Church. There is no other way to be baptized. Hence, from an Orthodox point of view, the assertion that Jesus is the Son of God who died to save us is not a complete confession of faith. To become Orthodox we must confess the whole Nicene Creed, and in the case of the educated even the content of the Seven Ecumenical Synods. Moreover, as part of the service of becoming a catechumen, the Orthodox priest reads prayers of exorcism over the person and then prayers for his blessing. Thus the service of becoming a catechumen is not only an individual election but also a spiritual act of the Church.

When we look at various manifestations of Evangelical and Pentecostalist (the two seem to be converging in some measure) belief and worship, we have to look at this statement in the Gospel: ‘Not all who say unto me Lord Lord will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but those who do the will of my Father.’ In other words, we do not really know what the founders of the ‘Toronto Blessing’ believe but we imagine they might believe that Jesus is the Son of God (although then again they might not understand that in the same way that the Orthodox or even other Pentecostals understand it). Moreover, Mormons believe in Jesus but patently they do not understand things in the same way the Orthodox do, or even Protestants. A bare belief in the Lordship of Christ is not in itself a guarantee that a person is on the right road: he must do the will of the Father. The Orthodox Church understands that as conforming oneself to the teachings (the ‘Tradition’) of the Orthodox Church—notably through accepting the Nicene Creed and the Seven Ecumenical Synods, although there is a further spiritual dimension that is hard to convey.

What we are saying is that it is not enough to confess that Jesus is the Son of God. There is more to being Orthodox and more to being saved—as is evidenced even by the Gospel passage itself.

Moreover, we are also saying that in the Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, there are indications of a spirit of deception in at least some cases: the ‘Toronto Blessing’ for example. And this despite the fact that the people involved might confess Jesus to be the Son of God, although perhaps without understanding that as the Orthodox would understand it. In other words, confession that Jesus is the Son of God is not a guarantee that you have the Holy Spirit.

In the nine posts that we have recommended above, we discussed the ‘Toronto Blessing’. We discussed the rock worship of the New Life Church. In ‘Wherein We Respond to Two Comments’, we engaged with Steve Hayes’ defence of the charismatic Iviyo Movement in the Anglican Church in Africa. Although we never got an answer from Mr Hayes, we would again pose the question:

The problem of demonic deception is what is also in issue in Mr Hayes’ discussion of the African Pentecostalist/charismatic movements. He especially remarks: ‘The founders of the Iviyo movement, Bishop Alpheus Zulu and Canon Philip Mbatha, were not, as "Orthodox Monk" implies, demonised’—i.e. possessed by demons. How would we know, Mr Hayes?

The issue is how we know precisely what spirit is moving the church or charismatic movement we belong to. What we are saying is that discernment of the spirit moving a group is not the private judgement of this or that person but a judgement of the Church based on Tradition.

And so it is with all of these various manifestations: it is the Church that judges what is the Holy Spirit and what is not.

It’s a mixed bag. Only the Orthodox believe as the Orthodox believe. Other churches believe other things.

Is the Orthodox Church the truth? As we have pointed out, it is a closed book to Westerners: they see empty ritual where we see the vivifying presence of the Holy Spirit. However, once a person is baptized into the Orthodox Church and has received the Holy Spirit, then he too lives the vivifying presence of God.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Orthodox Monasticism 25 – Sts Barsanuphios and John on Evagrius

Questions 600 – 603

Question 600


A brother asked the holy Elder, Abba Barsanuphios, saying: I do not know, Father, how I fell upon the books of Origen and Didymus and upon the gnostic [works] of Evagrius and upon the [gnostic works] of his disciples; and they say that the souls of men were not created with the bodies, but existed before the bodies, being naked minds, that is, bodiless. Similarly, the angels also were naked minds and the demons naked minds. And on the one hand, men, transgressing, were condemned to this body; the angels on the other hand, keeping themselves, have become angels; and as many other things of this sort as they say. And again, that it is necessary that the Hell which is to come have an end and that men, angels and demons will be restored as they were, naked minds, which they call ‘Restoration (apokatastasis)’.

Since, then, my soul is crushed, falling into ambivalence of soul as concerns whether these things are true or not, I beseech you, Master, teach me the truth, so that I might thus guard myself and not be destroyed; for moreover none of these things is stated in Holy Scripture; just as Origen himself confirms in his commentary on the Epistle of Titus, that it is a tradition neither of the Apostles nor of the Church that the soul is older than the creation of the body, characterizing him who says this as heretical. But Evagrius also bears witness in his [Kephalaia] Gnostica that concerning these things no one has made anything known, neither has the Holy Spirit itself explained. For in the 64th Chapter of the 2nd Century of his [Kephalaia] Gnostica he has: ‘Concerning the first things, there is no one who makes known; concerning the second things he who was in Horeb has explained.’ And again in the 69th Chapter of the same Century, he speaks thus: ‘The Holy Spirit has explained neither the first division of the rational beings nor the first substance of the bodies.’ That there is neither a ‘Restoration (apokatastasis)’ nor an end to Hell, the Lord himself has made clear in the Gospels, saying ‘they will depart to eternal hell.’ And again: ‘Their worm will not die and the fire will not be extinguished.’ Neither the Apostles having transmitted [these things] nor the Holy Spirit explaining [these things], just as they themselves bare witness, and the Gospels speaking contrarily, whence, then, Master, have they exhibited these things?

Have the mercy of compassion, Father, with my infirmity and make evident to me what these dogmas are.


Brother, alas and alack to our generation! What did we leave and what do we investigate and in what are we zealous; in what do we grow dull! We have left the straight roads and want to tread the crooked, so that the scriptural word be fulfilled in us: ‘Woe to those who abandon the straight roads so as to travel on crooked roads.’ In truth, brother, I have left off mourning for myself and mourn for you where you have fallen; and the tears for my sins and weep for you as for my own child. The Heavens tremble, what men greatly occupy themselves with; the earth is shaken, how they wish to trace the incomprehensible. These are dogmas of the [pagan] Greeks; these are the vain theories of men conceited that they are something; these are the words of idle men; these things deception (plani) has born; for it says: ‘Saying that they are wise, they have become fools.’

And if you want to learn, be attentive. Jesus Christ, our Lord, our Light, our King, says: ‘From their fruits you shall know them.’ What fruit do they have then? Pride, contempt, slackness, negligence, scandal, alienation from the Law—rather, then, from God the Lawgiver—a dwelling-place of demons and of the Devil who rules over them. These things do not lead those who believe in them to the light but to darkness; these things do not exhort to the fear of God but rather to the progress which is according to the Devil. These things do not save from the mud but drown in the mud; these things are the weeds that the enemy sowed in the field of the Master of the House; these things are the thorns which sprout in the ground which has been cursed by the Master God; all a lie; all darkness; all alienation from God. Flee these things brother; let not their word be established in your heart: they dry up tears, they blind the heart; and, to sum up, they destroy the men who pay attention to them. Do not stand in these things; do not study them; they are full of bitterness and they bear fruit unto death.

As for the knowledge (gnosis) of the things to come, do not be deceived: What you sow here you reap there. It is not possible for anyone to make progress after the departure from the things here. God does not tire himself in creating man and his soul together.

As for the Heavenly orders [of angels], Holy Scripture refutes [them], saying everything: ‘He spoke and they came to be; he gave an order and they were created; he established them to the Age and to the Age of Ages.’ And those things which God has established—are they changed? For according to the Scripture with Him there is no change.

For where have you found that the zeal of such-and-such an angel has led him to advancement? Brother, here labour, there reward; here athletic combat, there crowns. Brother, if you wish to be saved, do not apply yourself to these things; for I bear witness to you before God that you have fallen into a cesspit of the Devil and into utter death. Well, put a distance between yourself and these things and follow in the footsteps of the Fathers: acquire for yourself humility and obedience, tears, ascesis, monastic poverty, the practice of being reckoned as inconsequential, and as many of these sorts of things as there are and you find in their words and lives. Bear fruit worthy of repentance and do not pay attention to me who speak but do not do; but pray that I also come at some time to a deep knowledge (epignosis) of the truth, to the glory of the Holy Trinity, now and to the Ages. Amen.

Question 601

The same brother asked the other Elder, Abba John.


This wisdom is not from on high, but earthly (psychike), demonic. It is the teaching of the Devil; it leads those who pay attention to it to eternal Hell. He who delves into it becomes a heretic. He who believes it has fallen from the truth. He who assents to it is an alien to the way of God. The labourers of Christ did not teach these things. Those who accept the word of truth do not accept these things.

Quickly break off from those things, brother. Do not burn your heart with the fire of the Devil. Do not sow thorns in the earth instead of wheat, and instead of life you receive death. And why do I speak many words? Not instead of Christ the Devil. Do not spend time in those things and be saved as Lot from Sodom, through the prayers of the Saints. Amen.

Question 602


Of the same.

Must we not therefore read the works of Evagrius?


On the one hand, do not accept the dogmas of this sort; on the other hand, read, if you wish, the works of Evagrius which are for the benefit of the soul, in accordance with the Parable in the Gospel concerning the net, as it is written: ‘The good fish they put into the baskets but the rotten ones they threw out.’ Do you likewise too.

Question 603


The same brother, he who had asked these things, doubted in himself, reflecting and saying: ‘And how is it that some of the Fathers today accept these things and we take them to be good monks who have a care to themselves? And after some days it happened that the same brother asked the Great Elder [Barsanuphios] to say a prayer on his behalf. And then the Elder of himself declared to him the reflection of his heart, so that the brother was in wonder and astonishment. The answer goes this way:


Since you said and reflected, ‘Why do some of the Fathers accept the gnostic [works]1 of Evagrius?’ Some of the brothers, as gnostic (gnostikoi), accept these things and did not ask God if they were true; and God has left them in their own knowledge (gnosis) concerning these things. However, it is neither mine nor yours to seek these things but our time is to investigate our passions, and to weep and to mourn.

1The text has ‘gnostika’. In Question 600, the questioner, using the same word, is clearly referring the second time he uses this term to the Kephalaia Gnostica (he gives chapter and century for two passages which are actually there). Here it is not so clear that St Barasanuphios is referring specifically to the Kephalaia Gnostica and not to the gnostic writings of Evagrius in general, just as it is not clear the first time the questioner uses the term in Question 600 whether he is referring specifically to the Kephalaia Gnostica or to Evagrius’ gnostic writings in general.