Saturday, 27 December 2008

Repentance 2

In Repentance 1, we looked at repentance from the point of view of the non-Orthodox Christian considering conversion to Orthodoxy. We suggested that in such a case the proper repentance was much more than is now sometimes thought to be appropriate. Now we take the argument one step further and look at the case of the Pentecostalist—the case of the Protestant who thinks he or she has an intimate personal spiritual experience of the Holy Spirit and is seeking merely to complete that experience with the Jesus Prayer or some other element of Orthodoxy, perhaps even by joining the Orthodox confession.

In a situation where someone wishes to begin a spiritual life in the Holy Spirit in the Orthodox Church, the normal sequence is spiritual preparation for Baptism followed by Baptism. This is a movement of conversion and repentance.

However, repentance is even more complicated in the case of Pentecostalists than it is in the case of ‘garden-variety’ Protestants. The Pentecostalist thinks that he has personal experience of various charisms of the Holy Spirit.

In some cases these supposed charisms seem, at least on the superficial level, to be accompanied by fruits which would be recognizably Christian. In other cases—we are thinking in particular of the Toronto Blessing—people get ‘drunk’ on the ‘Holy Spirit’: they tap-dance; they bark like dogs; they laugh on and on for days. Moreover, as we ourselves have noted, the supposed charisms are not always accompanied by what we would understand to be fruits of the Holy Spirit. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are those elements of our personal behaviour which distinguish the Christian as living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The supposed charisms are also sometimes accompanied by very odd interpretations of the Gospel—the so-called Prosperity Gospel; the Rapturist End-Times doctrine—and they are often mixed up with what are very clearly personal psychological elements (we are thinking here of a prophetess who prophesied to young man that he would marry her daughter).

Here we would like to remark on something that happened in the life of a Roman Catholic saint, John of the Cross. St John was approached by certain clerics and his counsel sought concerning a nun who thought she was experiencing rather advanced manifestations of the Holy Spirit. He advised that she be tested, and not a little. He remarked: Even a demon will put up with a certain amount of humiliation in order to keep up the pretence of holiness; let her be tested severely.

Essentially what we want to say is this: the Elders of the Pentecostalist churches have never accepted Orthodoxy. The Orthodox Church has never accepted Pentecostalism. Moreover, the rock services that accompany Pentecostalist outpourings are foreign to the mind of the Elders of the Orthodox Church, who see such music as demonic.

So what we would counsel in such a case of a Pentecostalist conversion to Orthodoxy is very deep conversion. What we have to go through is a very deep repentance. We have to empty ourselves completely, even from the supposed charisms of the Holy Spirit that we have experienced.

This is a very difficult matter. The person thinks that as a Pentecostalist he is experiencing something genuine. What can the Orthodox monk be on about saying that he has to give it all up to become Orthodox—and in the depths of his or her soul?

The problem in these cases is what the Orthodox call delusion (Gr: plani; Ru: prelest). This word has a spiritual denotation, not a psychological one. It means that the person is experiencing a spirit of error, not the Holy Spirit. In this case it should be understood that a spirit of spiritual error may sometimes tell the truth in order to deceive.

In such cases, the person usually doesn’t bother to go by to look at the new wine on offer at the Orthodox Church down the road. The old wine is good. After all, they’ve been drunk on the Holy Spirit.

What we are saying is this: an extra problem occurs with Evangelicals and Pentecostalists interested in Orthodoxy when there enters in a dimension of plani or prelest—spiritual delusion.

One of the characteristics of spiritual delusion is the persuasion that the deluded person has that he has experienced the Holy Spirit of the Living God in utter truth. In those rare cases that such a person develops an interest in Orthodoxy—say, via the Jesus Prayer and Hesychasm—then it is merely to pick up a few pointers. In these cases, a change of heart is impossible without the mercy of saints of the Orthodox Church who will pray for the person’s salvation.

But it is not impossible.

How can we know whether we are experiencing a spirit of truth or a spirit of error? In the particular case of the Pentecostalist, the thing to do is to examine in ourselves whether we are proud. Do we think we know it all? That we have experienced Truth? Can anyone talk to us in anything more than a superficial way or do we know everything? Do we get angry when we are contradicted? This is something for us to consider not in conversation with therapists and clerics—where we can fake it—but alone in the depths of our hearts. Repentance is a change of heart.

May God have mercy on the soul of every man and woman and bring them to knowledge of the truth in his Son Jesus Christ.

For those of us who celebrate Christmas with the new calendar, may God who in the Incarnation of his Son blessed all Mankind with the possibility of eternal life—the knowledge of the one true God and the Son whom he has sent—grant us to repent and come to new life in the Holy Spirit of the Living God.

–Orthodox Monk

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Jus ad Bellum

We received a comment on our Sarah Palin 3 post on which we would like to make a few remarks.

The comment goes like this, slightly edited (for the original comment, see the post):

I have an idea for another post, perhaps only indirectly related but no less relevant. The post I have in mind would tackle the topic of jus ad bellum (a.k.a. ‘Just War Theory’).

A few questions which might be worth answering are:

1) Is there such thing as Just War Theory in Orthodoxy? I.e. do the Orthodox historically define preconditions wherein war may be engaged without commission of evil?

2) Related to #1, is there such a thing as “necessary evil” in Orthodoxy? I.e. is there a scenario where going to war will be evil, but not going to war is also evil, but the former is adjudged a lesser, but necessary evil?

We have never studied the law or theology of war systematically. Our comments are really informal.

The theory of the just war arose in the West as part of Scholastic theology. It left its Scholastic context behind in the work of certain secular legal scholars of the Renaissance who based themselves on the Scholastic tradition. The very systematic nature of the theory is peculiar to the Western Scholastic tradition as modified in the Renaissance. The separation of the law of war into jus ad bellum and jus in bello is, despite the Latin, a very recent innovation in the law of war.

Jus ad bellum deals with when going to war is justified. Jus in bello is the proper conduct of a belligerent once he is in a war. As we recall, there are 5 conditions for a just going to war, including such things as just cause and the possibility of winning. As we recall, killing your opponent’s civilians indiscriminately is contrary to the proper conduct of war.

In the little time we have been an Orthodox monk, we have never encountered the issue of the law of war in an Orthodox context. We have not seen the matter discussed in any patristic texts—although we have never searched to find out. The lives of saints, even of martial saints or saints who were soldiers before becoming monks, do not address the issue in any obviously recognizable way that we recall. We are thinking here of the lives of St Ioannikios the Great and St Peter the Athonite. There is one Byzantine saint who became a monk after deserting from the Byzantine army and who despite the fact that he had become a monk was obliged under the law to serve in the army for something like 10 years once he was caught. The Life records the events without commenting on the justice or not of the penalty. The modern Elders we are aware of never addressed the issue in the way it is being posed.

In general, our experience has been that there is an informal sense of justice on the part of the saints, and a recognition that some wars are just and some are not, and some rulers just and some not, but that there is not a developed legal or theological analysis of when a war is just or not, or when a ruler is just or not. The discernment is more informal, or spiritual, as you prefer.

Elder Paisios (1924 – 1994) served in the Greek army during the Greek Civil War and never regretted it. He never shot his rifle in anger (he was in communications) but he risked his life under fire to save a fellow soldier who had fallen. He has remarks in the books that are published of his sayings about the proper conduct of a soldier in war, but as far as we know he doesn’t address the issue of jus in bello in the way it is being posed.

The canons of the Orthodox Church do address the issue of when a soldier who has fought in a war can be ordained a priest.

With regard to the second question posed by our reader, we imagine that all Orthodox saints, not being militarists, would treat war as an evil. That being said, they would take it as given that there are some cases in which going to war is necessary—we are not aware of Orthodox saints who were what would today be described as pacifists. We do not think that they would accept any decision to go to war as justified just because a ruler made it, but it might depend on the particular saint how he handled the issue.

In this matter, we suspect that an Orthodox saint would direct you to the Old Testament, where there is considerable treatment of both jus ad bellum and jus in bello, although not according to modern ideas.

In general, we think that the whole law of war or theory of war apparatus is an artefact of the Western intellectual tradition. As such, it has no genuine Orthodox counterpart since the Orthodox tradition did not go through a similar development.

Sorry that’s the best we can do.

–Orthodox Monk

Can a Divorced Man Become an Orthodox Monk?

We have received an email from someone which goes as follows:


I was just wondering if you could give me your opinion on a question about entering into the monastic life.

If one was married in the past and had a child, and now the two are divorced and she re-married and he has not can he enter the monastic life? Become a monk?

Thanks for you time!!!

God Bless you!!

Here is our understanding of the matter.

We assume that you live in the United States. You are subject to U.S. civil and criminal law as a citizen of the state in which you live. Hence, whatever you do religiously, you are subject to the civil and criminal laws of your jurisdiction. The matter is the same, with the necessary changes, for whatever legal jurisdiction you live in.

Assuming that there is no impediment in regard to civil or criminal law—for example a court order concerning child support or some other matter—then according to the tradition of the Orthodox Church and Orthodox canon law (as far as we know; we are not an expert in Orthodox canon law), there is no impediment to your becoming a monk having been once married, having fathered a child and then having been divorced.

However, the question would arise of the status of your marriage in the eyes of the Orthodox Church. This is especially true if you originally married in the Orthodox Church but obtained a civil divorce. Historically, the Orthodox Church has treated the monastic tonsure as dissolving an existent marriage, and without the consent of the spouse, but it is doubtful whether today any Orthodox jurisdiction would apply this principle without an investigation of the particular situation. This is a matter you would have to discuss with the senior members of the Orthodox jurisdiction to which you presently belong.

There is also the question of the welfare of the child—whether you have any legal or spiritual responsibility that would interfere with your becoming a monk in a particular monastery. This is again something you would have to discuss with the senior members of your Orthodox jurisdiction.

The next problem is that to become a monk in the Orthodox Church, you have to become a monk in a specific monastery--there is no such thing as an Orthodox monk of nowhere in particular. But that means that the superior of the monastery and possibly the council of senior monks of the monastery would have to be satisfied with your bona fides. They would make their own assessment of you and your marital history. Normally, a monastery is not obliged to accept any particular postulant so this will be an assessment independent of whatever the senior members of your jurisdiction decide. However, if the senior members of your jurisdiction have decided that you have an impediment then the monastery would normally acquiesce and refuse you. This phase of personal assessment will vary from monastery to monastery and jurisdiction to jurisdiction and country to country. We could only suggest that you discuss the matter with the superior of the monastery which you are interested in entering.

Finally, both the senior members of your Orthodox jurisdiction and the monastic superior together with the senior members of the monastery will want to assess the significance of your marital history for your personal psychological and spiritual condition with regard to the possibility of your entering the monastic life and of remaining in that state until death. There is no dispensation from vows in the Orthodox Church.

Hence, there is no theoretical impediment to your becoming a monk per se, but both the ruling bishop and the monastic superior would have to judge the merits of your particular case before you could receive permission.

–Orthodox Monk

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Repentance 1

We are sure that everyone knows that the English word repentance corresponds to the Greek word metanoia, μετάνοια, and that the Greek word means a ‘change of mind’. However, if we look at what the word nous, νος, really means, it might be more accurate to say that repentance means a ‘change of spirit’. We might go even further and say: a ‘change of heart’.

In the next few posts, we would like to discuss how we think people should repent. We want to take ‘spiritual snapshots’ from many different vantage points so that the reader might get some idea of the spiritual lay of the land. This is difficult and why we have delayed.

In a discussion with a young Romanian-American reader (Orthodox Monasticism 15D – Our Response Part 1 and Orthodox Monasticism 15D – Our Response Part 2) we discussed the Parable of the Prodigal Son. There we asserted that every soul had to reach the stage of the Jew in the parable herding pigs before it could truly repent. That is one snapshot of repentance.

Let us however turn to something closer to the ‘political posts’ we have made recently. How does a non-Orthodox, especially an Evangelical or Pentecostalist Protestant involved in right-wing Christianity, repent?

We received an email about a month ago:

I am discerning becoming Orthodox and would like to learn more about Orthodoxy and the worship services. Your help would be greatly appreciated.

We replied in part:

[We] wish you well in your search for Orthodoxy.

Orthodoxy is a matter of transformation: not of solving theological issues but of becoming a new creation. This is often a problem for Protestants with an Evangelical background because they think they have already been transformed and are merely seeking to bring the transformation to completion. In general it is even true for those who have made a personal conversion to Catholicism: in all these cases the person cannot comprehend that what is involved is a new creation, not an adjustment of what was previously there.

To put this into context, consider this saying of Our Lord:

And no one puts new wine into old wine-skins. Otherwise, the new wine will split the wine-skins and it will be spilled and the wine-skins are lost. But new wine must be put into new wine-skins. And no one drinking old wants new. For he says: ‘The old is good.’

(Luke 5, 37 – 9)

Essentially what we are saying, then, is that Orthodoxy is new wine. ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good.’ Persons with a previous religious commitment have drunk the old wine. They do not want the new wine that is the Holy Spirit found in the Orthodox Church. They encounter some deficiencies in the old wine of their previous religious commitment—a lack of a sense of completeness, say—and they think to complete the old wine with the new wine of the Orthodox Church, without however making a complete conversion to Orthodoxy, without undergoing a change of spirit or change of heart from their old religious commitment. They merely supplement their old wine with a dollop of the new, and this even if they make a formal conversion to the Orthodox Church.

We do not think that those Orthodox jurisdictions that facilitate this sort of conversion are doing these persons a favour: these persons make a ‘half-conversion’ to Orthodoxy while retaining the mind-set (nous) of their previous religious commitment.

This leads to two problems. On the one hand, these persons bring into Orthodoxy points of view that are historically foreign to the Orthodox Church, causing problems for the others around them. This is especially true when the persons have been involved in right-wing Christianity. On the other hand these persons have themselves been short-changed: they have not received the spiritual regeneration that is the heart of Orthodoxy.