“Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief”: Two Kinds of Faith



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Patristic Theology Human beings can have two kinds of faith. The first kind of faith, which has its seat in the mind, is the reasonable faith of acceptance. In this case, a person rationally accepts something and believes in what he has accepted, but this faith does not justify him. When Holy Scripture says, “man is saved by faith alone,”42 it does not mean that he is saved merely by the faith of acceptance. There is, however, another kind of faith, the faith of the heart. It is referred to in this way because this kind of faith is not found in the human reason or intellect, but in the region of the heart (nous). This faith of the heart is a gift of God that you will not receive unless God decides to grant it. It is also called ‘inner faith,’ which is the kind of faith that the father of the young lunatic in the Gospel asked Christ to give him when he said, “Lord, help my unbelief.”43 Naturally, the father already believed with his reason, but he did not have that deep inner faith that is a gift of God. 

Inner faith is rooted in an [empirical] experience of grace. And since it is an experience of grace, what would this make inner faith as far as an Orthodox Christian is concerned? Inner faith is noetic prayer. When someone has noetic prayer in his heart, which means the prayer of the Holy Spirit in his heart, then he has inner faith. Through this kind of faith and by means of prayer, he beholds things that are invisible. When someone has this kind of vision, it is called theoria. Theoria, in fact, means vision.

As a rule, there are two ways for vision to take place. 

When a person has not yet attained to theosis, it is still possible for him to see by means of the prayer that the Holy Spirit is saying within his heart. After attaining to theosis, however, he can see by means of theosis, in which both this inner faith44 and hope are set aside, and only love for God remains (as a gift of God). This is what St. Paul means when he says, “But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.”45 When the perfect is come, faith and hope are done away, and only love remains. And this love is theosis. In theosis, knowledge comes to an end; prophecy is set aside; tongues, which are noetic prayer, cease; and only love remains. St. Paul says this in passages of great clarity and beauty. The Church Fathers in turn offer interpretations of these subjects that are indisputably correct.46

Protopresbyter John Romanides


42 Ephesians 2:8.

43 Mark 9:24.

44 i.e., prayer of the heart.

45 1 Corinthians 13:10 and 13:13. Since faith and hope have fulfilled their purpose and
 man has reached the point of seeing God, the source of his faith and hope, he now simply 
knows (becomes!) and loves the One Who is Love.

46 The entire Philokalia is concerned with these issues.




“Only the dead feel nothing…”



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Here I am again, writing against those who say they have the Spirit of God unconsciously, who think that they have Him in themselves as a result of divine Baptism and who, while they believe they have this treasure, yet recognize themselves as wholly deaf to Him. I am writing against those who, even while confessing they felt nothing whatever in their baptism, still imagine that the gift of God has indwelt and existed within their soul, unconsciously and insensibly, from that moment up to the present time. Nor are they the only ones, but I am also against those who say they have never had any perception of that gift in theoria or in revelation, but that they still receive it by faith and thought alone, not by experience, and hold it within themselves as a result of hearing the scriptures.

Only the dead feel nothing: a dialogue with his opponents

Let me begin with their own words and let us see what these men who are wise and experts, at least in their own eyes, have to say: ‘”As many of you as have been baptized into Christ,’ says Paul, ‘have put on Christ’ [Gal 3:27]. Well then? Are we not baptized, too? And if we are baptized, is it not then also clear that, as the Apostle says, we have put on Christ?” This is their first demonstration and proof.

So what might not we, but the Holy Spirit, say in reply to them? “Very well, you people, then tell us what this garment is. Christ?” “Yes,” they say. “Well then, is Christ something or—I speak as a fool to other fools—is He nothing?” “Of course,” they would say (if they have not gone completely insane), “He is something.” “If therefore you confess Him to be something, then say first of all what He is, so that you may teach yourselves thus to speak like believers, and not unbelievers.” “What else,” they say, “is Christ, if not perfect God truly become perfect man?” “Since you have confessed this, tell us also why God has become man. Certainly, as the divine Scriptures teach, together with those events which have occurred and daily occur (unless perhaps you ignore them by making yourselves willfully deaf), in order that He may make man god. By what means does He accomplish this? By the divinity or by the flesh?” “Obviously,” they say, “by divinity. For ‘It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is of no avail,’ says John [Jn 6:63].” “If then He first deified the flesh which He had assumed with His own divinity, and so quickened us all not by corruptible flesh but by that flesh which had been deified, it was so that we should no longer recognize Him as in any way merely man, but as one God perfect in two natures—for God is one—and the corruptible as swallowed up by incorruption, and the body not as destroyed by that which is bodiless but as wholly changed, remaining unconfused with yet ineffably permeated by and united in unmingled mingling with God Who is Three, so that one God in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit may be worshipped, the Trinity, neither as taking on any addition due to the Economy [Incarnation] nor any passion due to the body.”

Why am I saying all this? So that by knowing beforehand what you have confessed to as a result of my questioning, you should not out of ignorance turn aside from the straight path of these thoughts and so be to blame both for effort on our part, and a greater condemnation for your own soul. I will therefore recall for you once again in brief what I have said so that what I am about to say will be quite clear. Christ thus exists. And what is He? True God truly become perfect man. For this reason He became man which before He was not, in order to make man a god which he had never been before. Since He is not divisible, He has deified and made us god by His divinity, and not by His flesh alone. Now pay attention and answer my questions thoughtfully. If the baptized have put on Christ, what is it that they have put on? God. He then who has put on God, will he not recognize with his nous and see what he has clothed himself with? The man who has clothed his naked body feels the garment that he sees, but the man who is naked in soul will not know that he has put on God? If he who is clothed with God does not perceive Him, what has he put on in fact? According to you, God would be nothing at all. For, if He were something, those putting Him on would know it. When we put nothing on, we feel nothing, but whenever we are clothed by ourselves or by others, so long as our sense are intact, we are quite aware of it. Only the dead feel nothing when they are clothed, and I am very much afraid that those who say such things are the ones who are really and truly dead and naked. So, the question is resolved.

The Christian is called to see God in this life

Then they say: “Paul commands that we ‘Quench not the Spirit’ [I Thess 5:19].” They reveal their own ignorance by quoting this when they have not understood the sense of the Apostle’s words. When someone says to another; “Do not put out the lamp,” he is not talking about a lamp which has already been extinguished, but about one which is still burning and emitting light. Once again, we have raised an objection to them here.

What then? Do you people then see the Spirit wholly within yourselves, burning and shining as is proper to Him? Not only do they not reply to this, but their faces immediately change expression and turn away. They start to make trouble, as if they had heard a blasphemy. Then, with a show of honoring their interrogator and pretending to be meek, they reply (not without sharpness): “And who would ever dare say they saw Him or could see Him at all? You must stop this! Scripture says: ‘No one has ever seen God’ [Jn 1:18].” O! what darkness! So tell us, who said what follows? “The only-begotten,” the same text adds, “Who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known” [Jn 1:18]. You speak truly but, though your witness is true, it is in despite of your own soul. If I could show you the same Son of God telling you that this is possible, what would you say then? Because He does say: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” [Jn 14:9], and He did not say this meaning the [physical] sight of His flesh, but the revelation of His divinity. If we were to suppose that this was said in reference to His body, then those who crucified Him also saw the Father, and there would be no difference or preference between believers and unbelievers, but everyone would evidently have arrived equally—and will arrive—at the desired beatitude. But this is not so, not at all, as He makes quite clear in His discussions with the Jews when He says: “If you had known Me, you would have know my Father also” [Jn 14:7].

That it is possible for us to look upon God, insofar as men are able to see at all, listen once more to Christ, the Son of God Himself, when He says: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” [Mt 5:8]. So what do you have to say to that? I am aware, however, that the man who does not believe in the good things which he has in his very hands and makes no attempt to seize them will take refuge in the future, and so will reply: “Yes, certainly the pure in heart will see God, but this will happen only in the future, not in the present age.” My dear friend, just why or how will this happen? If He said that God will be seen by purity of heart, then clearly when this purity comes to pass the vision will follow in consequence. And, if you had ever purified your heart, you would know that what is said is true, but, since you have not taken this to heart nor believed that it was true, you have accordingly also despised that purity and completely failed to obtain the vision. For if the purification takes place in this life, then so does the vision. On the other hand, if you should say that the seeing is for after death, then you certainly posit the purification as also after death, and thus it will turn out that you will never see God since after death there will be no work for you by which you might find purification.

However, what else does the Lord say? “He who loves Me will keep My commandments, and I will love him and manifest Myself to Him” [Jn 14:21]. So when will this manifestation occur? In this life or the future one? It is clear that He means the present life. For wherever the commandments are kept exactly, there, too, is the manifestation of the Savior, and it is after the manifestation that perfect love comes to pass in us. If the latter does not occur, then we are able neither to believe in, nor love Him as we ought, since it is written: “[Can] he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, love God Whom he has not seen” [I Jn 4:20]? In no way!

There is no envy among saints. All are called to share the experience of St. Paul

Thus he who is unable to love is obviously unable to believe either. Listen also to Paul saying the same thing: “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” [I Cor 13:13]. If faith is yoked with hope, and hope consequent upon love, he who does not love does not possess hope, and, being without hope, he is also clearly devoid of faith. For how could love possibly be present when its causes are absent? As the roof of a house will not stand without foundations, neither is it possible to find the love of God in a human soul which is without faith and a sure hope. Nor will he who does not have love be edified by any of the remaining virtues, or be at all profited without it, just as Paul himself also bears witness in his writing. And on seeing God beginning with this life, listen to him again when he says: “Now I see in a mirror and dimly, but then face to face,” and once more: “Now I know in part, but then I shall know even as I have been known” [I Cor 13:12]. “But,” says my interlocutor, “that was Paul!” Well, was not Paul a human being in every respect, a fellow servant, and like us in his passions? “But who is Paul’s equal, you proud and shameless fellow,” he says, “that you should equate him with us men?” To which people Paul himself—and not we—cries out with a loud voice and says the following: “Christ came to save sinners”—listen well!—”of whom I am first” [I Tim 1:15]. He is thus the first of the sinners who are being saved. You should become the second, or third, or tenth. Become, if you like, a fellow soul with the thousands or ten thousands, and you will have ranked yourself with Paul. You will also do him honor, as he says himself: “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ” [I Cor 11:1]; and again: “I wish that all were as I am myself [I Cor 7:7].

So if you want to praise Paul or honor him, imitate him; and whatever he is, you should also become such by faith, and then you will honor him while he in turn will welcome you and reckon you worthy of the same glory and crown of boasting as he, because you will have been convinced by his words and followed him, and will have become yourself his imitator and his equal. But if you say that it dishonors Paul for another to become his equal, and for this reason you hold your salvation in contempt and neglect it, then know that he will reject you as having reasoned wrongly and will thus himself abominate you. Would you like me to show you then that you will honor him still more greatly, and make him rejoice, and glorify him, if you are able to become greater than he and still more akin to God? Listen to him advancing this idea and saying: “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of brethren, my kinsmen by race” [Rom 9:3]. He is perfectly ready to be cut off from Christ in order that you be saved, and you say that he will think it a dishonor if I should want and strive to become such as he? No, my brother, there is no envy in God’s holy ones. Among them there is neither lust nor appetite for precedence or superior glory. For the saints and those who generation after generation show themselves friends and prophets of God there is a single precedence of seating and preference of position, and glory, and rest, and delight: to see God. Those who see Him are delivered from any kind of curiosity. They neither look nor turn toward anything in this life, nor to any others among men, nor are they able even to conceive of anything incongruous, but have instead been liberated from everything that is relative. So, too, do they abide, forever unchanging and unmoved with respect to evil.

Hearsay is not enough. The saints describe what they have seen

However, now I will ask you something and you will answer me intelligently. Those who have written about these matters, from where do they get their knowledge? And he who writes now, whence does he know? Tell me, so that I not give you again the impression of talking vaingloriously, whose are these words? Take careful counsel and surely you will come to some conclusion and deliver me from disputations. “They come from a man, certainly,” he says. O my! The vision does not come to you by hearing, does it? Rather, you remain one who hears and sees nothing at all. You say these words come from a man? If they do, then you are obliged to say how they do, since a man is incapable of knowing or expressing not only someone else’s reasonings and moods, but even the impulses and states of an animal’s being. With regard to the inner state of a soul, “What person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is within him?” [I Cor 2:11]. And if it is difficult for one man to know well the impulses and conditions of another man, and even of irrational animals, where or how is it possible for anyone to know what is from God, I mean, the change and condition which is effected in the saints as a result of the vision of Him, not to speak for now of the activity which accomplishes it? But in particular, if the words are a man’s then clearly so are the concepts. With respect to these matters, however, the concept ought not to be called a concept, but instead a vision of what truly exists, because we speak from that vision, and one ought rather to call what is said an account of things which have been seen. A concept or thought, on the other hand, is properly spoken of as concerning something non-existent, or as a purpose which is born of the mind’s intention, such as to do something good or bad which we have not yet actually done, and from the thought one is led to action such that the thought becomes the principle of our future deed, as in: “First God conceives the angelic and heavenly powers, and the thought was deed.”1

Consider, then, that all our words and explanations concerning these matters are not about some non-existent and uncertain things, but instead concern what has already taken place, and will take place in the future, and that they derive from the vision of these things. Someone who explains something about, for example, a house or a city or a place and its arrangement and condition, or again, about some theater and what goes on inside it, is obliged first of all to have seen the places and have learned well about them, and then afterwards to speak carefully and accurately about what he wants to cover. If he were not to have seen it beforehand, then what in fact could he really say about it? What notion regarding something he had not seen at all could he otherwise provide for his account? Tell me, what consideration or cleverness or learning, and what wisdom, thought, notion or rationale could he reasonably find to discourse on something he does not know? To say anything about matters which one knows nothing about or has not seen is obviously unreasonable and ill-bred. Therefore if no one is able to talk or lecture about visible and earthly things unless he has been an eyewitness to them, how, O my brothers, could anyone be empowered to talk or lecture about God and the things of God, or even the saints and servants of God, and the nature of that relationship which the latter have with God, and about what sort of vision of God it is which comes ineffably to pass in them? It is that vision which spiritually introduces into their hearts an inexpressible activity, concerning which human speech does not allow one to say anything more unless one has first been enlightened with the light of knowledge, in accordance with the tenor of the commandment [cf. Hos 10:12].

But, that we may lead you to the light in every respect, when you hear “light of knowledge,” do not imagine that this is mere knowledge of what is said and no light at all. The prophet did not say an “account” or “lecture about light,” but “light of knowledge” and “of knowledge light” [Hos 10:12]. There is no other way for anyone to know about God unless it is by means of the theoria of the light which is sent by Him. It is just as in the case of someone who is telling some others about some man or city. He first talks to them about what he has seen and heard. His listeners, who have not seen either the man or city about which they are hearing, cannot by merely hearing about them know them in the same way as the man who has actually seen them and is telling them about it. It is just the same with regard to the Jerusalem on high and the invisible God Who dwells within it, or concerning the unapproachable glory of His countenance, or about the energy ;and power of His all-Holy Spirit—in other words, His light. No one can say anything unless he has first seen the light with the eyes of his soul and knows precisely its illuminations and activities as they occur within himself. But if in the Holy Scripture he should hear something from those who speak of seeing God, then it is uniquely through the Holy Spirit that he is taught about these things. Thus neither again is he able to say that “I am come to knowledge of God by this act of hearing alone.” For how can he have received knowledge of what he has not seen? If seeing alone does not suffice to cause in us complete knowledge of what is seen, how could merely hearing bring about the knowledge of God in us? God is light and the vision of Him is as light. Thus, in the vision of the light there is knowledge first of all that God is, just as in the case of a man there is first hearing about him, then sight of him, and with the sight of him the knowledge that the man about whom one has heard does in fact exist. Nor does the matter stop here. While someone may tell you about a man, when you see him you are unable to know for sure who he is and be assured that this is he about whom you have learned by mere hearing. Instead, your soul is divided by doubt, and either you ask him himself or someone who knows him, and so learn for certain that this indeed is he.

Saint Symeon’s own experience and its confirmation by his elder2

This, invariably, is just what occurs concerning the invisible God. Whenever someone sees Him revealed, he sees light. While on the one hand he is amazed at what he has seen, on the other he does not know immediately who it is who has appeared, yet he dares not ask Him. And how could he? He is unable even to lift up his eyes and look on that grandeur. With fear and trembling he looks instead, as it were, at his own feet, knowing fully only that it is Someone Who has appeared before his face. And if there happens to be some other man who has told him beforehand about such things, as having known God from before, he goes to this man and says: “I have seen.” And the other says: “What did you see, child?” “Light, O my father, so sweet, sweet! So much so, father, that my reason has not the strength to tell you.” And, while he is saying this, his heart leaps and pounds, and catches on fire with longing for what he has seen. Then, with many warm tears, he begins to say again: “That light, father, appeared to me. The walls of my cell immediately vanished and the world disappeared, fleeing I think from before His face, and I remained alone in the presence alone”3 of the light. And I do not know, father, if this my body was there, too. I do not know if I was outside of it. For awhile I did not know that I carry and am clothed with a body. And such great joy was in me and is with me now, great love and longing both, that I was moved to streams of tears like rivers, just like now as you see.” The other then answers and says: “It is He, child.” And, at this word, he sees Him again and, little by little, comes to be completely purified and, purified, grows bold and asks that One Himself, and says: “My God, is it You?” And He answers and says: “Yes, I am He, God, Who for your sake became man; and behold, I have made you, as you see, and shall make you, god.”

The taste of future blessings brings understanding

When he has spent time in contrition, in weeping, in prostrations, and in humbling himself, he begins little by little to know the things of God, and it is when he has reached this point that he learns “His will, which is holy and acceptable and perfect” [Rom 12:2]. To repeat myself, if he were not to have seen Him, neither would he be able to know Him; and unless he knows Him, how would he be able to know His holy will? If such is impossible with respect to human beings, it applies all the more to God. Thus, while progressing and becoming still more conformed to God, he knows from what God does in him what He also did with all the saints who preceded him, and what He is going to do with those who come after. He is taught about the crowns and rewards which are to come. On the one hand, he is initiated by God Himself, in that he clearly perceives that these things are beyond nous and reason and thought, while on the other, he also understands clearly what state he and those with him will have after the resurrection. No, he does not enjoy these things in the present life, even if some people have maliciously represented us as saying as much. Since, in supposing ourselves to be enjoying everything here-below, we would then—according to those others—be denying the resurrection itself, the judgement and retribution, and willfully throwing away our hope of things to come. But we think and say no such thing. Rather, we vehemently anathematize those people who do say it. Therefore, while we do confess and say that we already enjoy in some measure the pledge of those good things while still in this life, we hope to receive the whole after death, as it is written: “Now,” he says, “I know in part, but when the whole shall come, then that which is partial shall be done away” [cf. I Cor 13:10 and 12]; and elsewhere: “We are God’s children now, and it does not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him” [I Jn 3:2].

Proceeding with our inquiry by way of question and answer, let us as it were ask the man who just wrote what we saw above: “O friend and beloved of Christ, where from do you know that you will be like Him? Tell us, from where?” “From the Spirit,” he says, “Whom He has given us. It is from Him that we know that we are children of God and that God Himself is within us, since He Himself also said these things to me in a mystical voice.” Now, let us return to our subject.

Through the Holy Spirit the saints become eyewitnesses of the world to come.4

We said above that it is right to call those things our thoughts or concepts whenever a notion concerning something good is formed in our mind, as for example that I should acquire something or do good or evil to someone, but that we call it an explanation and not a thought or concept when it concerns something which has already occurred or which we have seen. Then we asked the following: how can someone talk about some object, or cities, or theaters, or people whom he has not seen, or describe their appearance, or form, or place? And, if he were to talk about it anyway, his listeners would rightly call him a teller of fairy tales. The prophets and apostles, therefore, who have spoken about the Day of the Lord and His dreadful and glorious coming again, and said that it will be like a thief in the night or like the birth-pangs of a woman in labor—where did they learn these things? It was obviously either from having heard them from someone else, or from having become eyewitnesses of that Day. If they had not seen it, or not heard someone else telling about it, how could they have said anything? If then they heard about it—since I am not yet saying that they saw it and then spoke of it, but just that they heard of it—tell me, from whom did they hear it? You know it all, so tell me, from where did they learn of it? But, if you do not know what to say, then listen and know that they learned it from the Holy Spirit, just as, indeed, the Lord said to them: 

But when the Counselor comes [Jn 15:26] …the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and will bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you [Jn 14:26].

And that the Holy Spirit, when He had descended upon the Apostles, said and taught them the things which Christ had not yet said to them, the same Evangelist says:

I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take what is Mine and declare it to you [Jn 16:12-14].

You have learned from what source they were taught who wrote about that Day and the manifestation of the Lord, and about what is stored up and going to happen to the sinners and the righteous. Thus, illumined by the Holy Spirit, they at once saw and wrote about all the rest of those things which we do not see. 

But answer this question: What is the Holy Spirit? “God,” you say, “we confess Him as true God from true God.” Thus, as you see and in accordance with the dogmas of the Church, you say that He is God. So, too, by both saying and thinking that He is true God proceeding from true God, you establish that those who have the Holy Spirit have confessedly God dwelling always within themselves, just as Christ said to the Apostles:

If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever [Jn 14:15-16].

So, now you have learned that He both abides and dwells within them for ages without end, since to say “be with you forever” indicates that He is everlastingly and unendingly with them and, both in the present and in the age to come, is inseparable from them. And, that both the divine Apostles and all who have been made worthy of receiving Him have seen the Holy Spirit, listen to what follows:

The Spirit of truth, Whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; you know Him, for He dwells within you, and will be in you [Jn 14:17].

And that you may know that those who love Him and keep His commandments also see Christ, listen to same Lord Himself when He says:

He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him [Jn 14:21].

Let it therefore be known to every Christian that Christ does not lie, that He is true God and confessedly manifests Himself to those who show their love for Him by keeping His commandments, as He Himself says, and that through His manifestation the Holy Spirit is given to them, and that, through the Holy Spirit, the Father Himself in turn abides with them inseparably. Such as they are, the saints say nothing of themselves. Whoever does say that they say anything of themselves says that it is possible for a man to know, by the same method, what is proper both to men and to God. Or, if this is not the case, then he is instead obviously calling liars and tellers of fairy stories those who speak by the Holy Spirit. He says that they are not taught by Him, but teach others by way of their own reasoning about what they have neither seen nor heard. To the contrary, we must realize that if these are in accord and speak with the God-bearing fathers who have gone before,5 then clearly they, too, speak in the same Spirit, and that those who disbelieve them, and even slander them, sin against the One Who speaks through them.

An Exhortation to pray for the gift of the Spirit, and a 

warning not to presume to leadership without Him

You have thus learned, beloved, that the Kingdom of God is within you; that, if you desire it, all the eternal good things are also in your hands. Therefore hurry and see, and receive, and hold within yourself the good things which are stored up, and take care lest, by thinking you possess them already, you be deprived of all of them. Weep and make prostrations. As the blind man once said, so should you say even now: “Have mercy on me, Son of David, and open the eyes of my soul, so that I may see the light of the world, even You, Who are God, and may become, even I, a son of the day; and so that You may not abandon me, O Good One, as unworthy and without a share in Your divinity. Lord, manifest Yourself to me, so that I may know that You have loved me as one who has kept, Master, Your divine commandments. O Merciful One, send the Comforter even to me, so that He may teach me the things concerning You; and, O God of all, declare what is Yours to me. Illumine me with the true light, O Compassionate One, so that I may see the glory which You had with Your Father before the world was made. Abide even in me, as You have said, so that I, too, may become worthy of abiding in You, and may then consciously enter into You and consciously possess You within myself. O Invisible One, take form in me so that, beholding Your impossible beauty, I may be clothed, O Heavenly One, with Your image and forget all things visible. Compassionate One, give me that glory which the Father gave You, so that I may, as all of Your servants, become god by grace and be ever with You, now and always and for ages without end. Amen.”

Yes, my dear friend, believe and be persuaded that this is so and that this is our faith. Believe it, brother. This is what it is to be regenerated and renewed and live that life which is in Christ. Do you not hear Basil the Great saying in his exhortation for the feast of lights: “Do you not, O man, long to see yourself become a young man from one who was old”6 And Paul says: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, all things are become new” [II Cor 5:17]. What does he mean then by saying “all things?” Tell me, you, tell me! Is it heaven which has been changed? The earth? Is it rather the sun, or stars, or sea, or any visible thing which has become new and fresh? But you cannot say that, since it is to and about us that this is written. For being dead, we were raised up to life; corruptible, we are made over into incorruption; mortal, and we are changed over into immortality; earthly, and we are become heavenly; fleshly and possessing our birth from the flesh, we are become spiritual, are reborn and created anew by the Holy Spirit.

Brothers, this is the new creation in Christ. This is what is accomplished and takes place daily in the true faithful and chosen ones. While yet in the body, as we have often said, they become conscious partakers, in part, of all these things. Nor is this all, but, indeed, after death they hope to inherit these things completely and assuredly. I mean that then they will enter completely into the fullness of those good things in which they even now commune. For, if we always teach that we eat and drink Christ, are clothed with and see Him and are seen by Him, and know also that we have Him in us and in turn that we abide in Him, that while He dwells in us we also dwell in Him, that is, that He is become our house as we in turn have become His, and then that we are also His sons while He becomes our father, and that He is light shining in darkness and we say that we see Him—as, according to Scripture, “The people who sat in darkness saw a great light” [Is 9:2]—if we then say that all this and the rest that we have said, all of which is clearly taught in holy Scripture as occurring in us even during this present life, does not in fact occur in us, or that if it does, it does so “mystically and imperceptibly” in such a way that we know nothing about it, then how are we different from the dead?

God forbid that by giving yourselves to such unbelief you go down to the depths of damnation. Rather, even if you had no hope until now of acquiring any perception of such things and for that reason asked for nothing, then be completely assured by this work before you. Believe first of all that these things are true and in accordance with the holy Scriptures and, by studying the latter thoroughly, know that here, already, the seal of the Holy Spirit is given to those who believe. And, having believed, pursue it so that you may obtain it; fight for it, but not like someone who merely bats at the air. “Ask,” for this “and it will be given you; knock, and it will be opened to you” [Mt 7:7], either in this world or in the world to come. Meanwhile, learn; meanwhile, repent, submit yourself, fast, weep, pray. Then, by these means and others like them: run, fight, pursue, seek, knock, ask, and incline toward nothing else until you have obtained it; until you seize it by the hand; until you take it; until it is opened to you and you enter within; until you hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much” [Mt 25:21 ]; until you have become children of the light and of the day. But take care lest, before you have seen and received and experienced these things, you fool yourselves into thinking that you are something who are nothing, such that, having fallen away in your conscience, you suppose yourselves to be spiritual before you have received the Holy Spirit and for this reason rush foolishly to give yourselves up instead to alien thoughts, and advance to abbacies and governerships, and dare to take on the priesthood without fear, and devote yourselves shamelessly and through endless plotting to the acquisition of metropolitanates and episcopates in order to shepherd the Lord’s people. I beg you instead, pay attention to yourselves. Keep in mind what is above and seek it, long for it, and pay mind to nothing earthly before you have received those good things.

Yes, I indeed pray your charity,7 let us hold in contempt everything visible. Let us shake off from ourselves everything which is merely human. Let us abominate everything impassioned and injurious, so that we may attain to the good things of this present life and of the one to come, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to Whom is due all glory, honor, and worship, together with the Father Who is without beginning, and the all-Holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, the one unique and thrice-holy light, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.


1 Gregory of Nazianzēnos, Or. 38.9, PG 36.320.

2 See C 16.78-144 (deC, 200-202), as well as our Introduction, Part I, in vol. III.

3 The double “alone,” “alone to the Alone,” is a borrowing from Plotinus (Enneads VI.7,34), though almost certainly not a direct one but via the tradition of spiritual writings where it had become a commonplace. On the frequency of this expression in Symeon’s works, see our Introduction, Part II, in vol. III.

4 See Discourse X, vol.1, pp. 141-170.

5 Note that Symeon lays down the harmony of one’s experience with the tradition as an essential criterion for distinguishing the true from the false charismatic.

6 PG 31.432D.

7 See note 2 above. 



Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy one me !


The Anti-Heretical and Therapeutic Purpose of Dogma


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Empirical Dogmatics Vol 1_frontIt was pointed out earlier that dogmas are a formulation of the experience of the saints and lead to the experience of revelation. They are a record of experience and a guide to experience. This also reveals that the purpose of dogmas, which we shall examine further in this section, is dealing with heresies and guiding the faithful.

“The dogmas of the Church are the axioms that originate from this experience of purification, illumination and glorification. Dogmas are not the outcome of conjectures, as Western theologians, historians of dogma and our own people who follow them, believe.

Dogmas did not result from the speculative endeavour of clever theologians indulging in philosophy. Dogmas are formulations of the teaching of the Church, produced by the Fathers of the Church to protect it from heresies. Because every time a dogma was formulated, it was done in order to counter a specific heresy.

The Church never gathered to formulate dogma for the sake of the conjectural expertise of theologians, who sit in their university chairs speculating on the basis of philosophy, sociology and so on. No such thing has ever happened. All the Ecumenical and Local Synods, whenever they were engaged in drawing up dogma, were always opposing a particular heresy.

This is the precise historical reality. From the point of view of the patristic tradition, the formulation of dogma against heresy was an expression of the mystical experience of the Church. Because heresy was opposed to the life of the Church and contrary to the experience of the Church. What is this experience? It is purification, illumination and glorification. Orthodoxy is anything that accords with this experience.”

The Ecumenical Synods were convened in order to counter heresy and heretics, but at the same time to catechise the faithful, in order to protect them from heresy. Their purpose was also to cure people, so that they might acquire unceasing prayer and reach glorification. In this context we can see the value of dogmas.

“The strange thing is that, on account of the Arian heresy — because of the nature of Arian teaching — the Orthodox Church was compelled to introduce a new terminology into the formulation of dogmas, to word dogmas correctly, so that Christians would not stray into heresies and risk their salvation.”

“The holy Fathers, from the therapeutic point of view, were trying to find a common terminology. Essentially, from the point of view of the internal structure of the Church, which means purification, illumination, glorification, sacramental life and so on, there was no need for this formulation. But the formulation was necessary for catechetical purposes, and so the faithful could be protected from heretics and know who the correct teachers were, and be able to find treatment. This treatment did not exist among the heretics.”

It is clear that, as well as dealing with heretics, the terminology also contributes to curing people — the faithful — so “dogma is dogmatic treatment”. It has “therapeutic significance”. This being the case, the criteria of Orthodox theology “are not conventionally dogmatic, but therapeutic”.

“Now, the therapeutic part is the most important of all, because if someone does not pass through the treatment, the fact that he accepts the dogmas is of no significance, according to the Fathers. The purpose of the dogmas is to be used as medicines for man’s cure.

Dogma is a medicine. The strange thing is that, just as in the experience of glorification even Holy Scripture comes to an end, together with all concepts and words, so dogma too is abolished in the experience of glorification. What is a dogma? Is it not concept and word? Dogmas are concepts and words. They are no different from Holy Scripture and from all the thoughts in general that we have about God.

This raises the whole issue of how dogmas developed in the Orthodox Church. Was it because the Fathers wanted to understand nature philosophically, or did dogmas develop negatively, against heresies?

If you consider dogmas — and we shall consider them, if you want us to follow the whole subject from one Ecumenical Council to the next — you will see that every time the Church made one of its teachings into a dogma, it did so, not in an effort to understand the faith, but to rid the Church of heretics who were distorting the faith. The paradox is that it was the heretics who were attempting to understand the faith philosophically, not the Fathers.”

The dogmas also orientate us correctly towards the experience of glorification.

“Subsequently, we ought to be aware of the purpose of dogma in the patristic tradition, which is to help man with the concepts he has about God. These dogmatic concepts help him on the path of purification and illumination. And when he reaches glorification, the dogma, of course, comes to an end and he has before him the mystery of the Holy Trinity.”

This means that no one can look at dogma apart from the path leading to illumination and glorification.

“We formulate dogmas about God, which do not express God but are signposts towards illumination and glorification. A guide towards glorification. If dogmas are taken out of the context of worship and asceticism, they make no sense. Separate the dogma of the Holy Trinity from worship and the experience of illumination and glorification, and from the rational point of view it is complete nonsense. It tells us nothing. From the philosophical viewpoint it is completely untenable. Why? Because the Fathers do not begin by thinking. They begin from that specific Person Who appeared to the Prophets. The Angel, Who is called God, appears in the burning bush. He is Christ.”

Every science and every social achievement needs to be examined to see how successful it is and what results it produces. The dogmas of the Church ought to be examined in the same way. Dogmas are successful when they lead people to purification, illumination and glorification.

“What is the criterion for Orthodox theology? Success. Of what use is Orthodox dogma to us, if it does not lead anyone to purification and illumination?

There are some [the Matthewites] fanatics here in Greece* who have no idea about purification and illumination. All day long they bark like dogs in support of Orthodox dogmas and against heresies. What can we do with an Orthodox Christian like that? He is narrow-minded and has no idea about curative treatment. [Note: this same ^statement can be said of the Ecumenists!]

So what is the criterion for this individual? Can I accept as a criterion simply a blind devotion to Orthodoxy, or should I have the success of Orthodoxy as my criterion? And what is this success, other than purification and illumination?”

The same can be observed when people are conservative and accept the dogmas, but do not regard them as therapeutic means. They do not see the relationship between dogma and treatment. In fact they turn revelational life into social life.

“Some important theologians have appeared nowadays in Greece, influenced by foreigners, who attempt to translate the Gospel message, Christianity and even Orthodoxy, into social Christianity, with social action as its main concern. There are some Orthodox among them, who remain outwardly faithful to the tradition. They accept all the dogmas. In some cases they are very conservative. But they no longer regard the dogmas as therapeutic means. Dogmas no longer have any connection with treatment.

They think that the dogmas exist to be put in a cupboard and taken out occasionally to be venerated, on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, when we celebrate one of the Ecumenical Synods or one of the great Fathers of the Church. Then we take out the dogmas, dust them, and present them liturgically. The Church really does have fine services, and we honour the dogmas. And as soon as the veneration comes to an end, we put them back in the cupboard to gather dust again, so that we can take them out again next year, dust them once more and venerate them again.

They see no connection between dogma and treatment. We have reached the point that a certain Archbishop, not from the Church of Greece, told us at a conference that Arius was a saint! We sat there with our mouths open. He said, ‘He was a holy man, but he went wrong on dogmatic issues. All the same, he was a saint.’ Obviously he identified sanctity with the fact that Arius was probably a good man.”

To help us to understand the purpose of dogma, the quotation from St Gregory the Theologian is worth noting: “It is impossible to express God and even more impossible to conceive Him.”

“We have frequently emphasised that the purpose of words and concepts in the Orthodox tradition is never the rational understanding of dogma. We have words and concepts about God, the Holy Trinity, the incarnation and so on. The purpose of these words cannot be understanding, in the sense of rational conception. The Fathers stress that it is ‘even more impossible to conceive Him’. Because it is ‘even more impossible to conceive Him,’ the purpose of the concept cannot be understanding. And ‘it is impossible to express’. So when we give expression to God in words, these words are those that cannot express God. ‘It is impossible to express God and even more impossible to conceive Him.’

Taking account of this saying of Gregory the Theologian, what is the purpose of these words and concepts? Why ‘express’ and ‘conceive’? Concepts and words. The aim is not understanding, since God is beyond man’s conceiving and expression. The purpose of the words and concepts is union with God, Who is beyond words and concepts. Actual union.”

If we do not regard dogmas from this perspective, if we do not strive to experience them, then the dogmas are not actually fulfilling their purpose and they become ‘heresy’.

“The terminology should always keep the potential for purification, illumination and so on. Because without purification and illumination, salvation does not exist. This is salvation: purification and illumination. We think now that salvation means believing Orthodox dogmas. We are like idolaters who take the dogmas, put them in the cupboard and sit there prostrating ourselves before the dogmas, which we do not live in our lives.

Dogma is not to be believed. Dogma is to be experienced. Because dogma without experience is heresy. The worst heresy is for people to sit at their desks and assume that they can reflect [contemplate] deeply and think great thoughts about dogmatic issues. That is the greatest stupidity. As a methodology it is completely untenable. Only someone who is completely naive, who has no idea at all of academic methodology, could accept such things.”

[*it was in 1980’s when this was said by Protopresbyter John Romanides]

St. Chrysostomos the New Confessor

St. Chrysostomos the New Confessor