The Opponents of Eldership



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Prayer of the Optina Fathers:

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God! Deliver me from the seductions of the fast approaching Antichrist, who is evilly cunning and abominable to God. And deliver us from all his snares, and shelter our spiritual father (name), all of us, his spiritual children, and all the Christians who are close to us from his insidious nets in the secret desert of Thy salvation, and do not allow us, O Lord, to have the fear of the devil more than the fear of God, and do not let us fall away from Thee and Thy Holy Church, but grant us rather, O Lord, to suffer and die for Thy Holy Name and the Orthodox Faith, and not to deny Thee, and not to receive the seal of the accursed Antichrist, and not to worship him. Give us, O Lord, day and night, tears and weeping over our sins, and spare us, O Lord, in the day of Thy Terrible Judgement. Amen.

The wellspring of prayer is in everyone—it is tapped either by gradually delving deeper into oneself in accordance with the teachings of the Fathers, or instantaneously, thunderstruck by God’s piercing to the core of the soul.

Elder Leonid


IT IS NOT in vain that the Holy Fathers say that whoever is performing a task pleasing to God is sure to meet with temptation, and that every good deed is preceded or followed by temptation. The words of the Chronicler of the Kiev Caves that monastic institutions are built by the sweat and tears of prayer can be applied also to the introduction of eldership — the  foundation  of  monasticism — at the Optina Monastery. It was introduced and established here with many labors and sorrows. This is in keeping with the assurance of the Holy Fathers that the enemy of mankind harbors no love for the revelation of thoughts, not even the very sound of the words of such revelation, because he knows that by means of this all his snares and cunning are laid to waste. So it is not surprising that he does not hesitate raising opposition  to  this monastic path which is so hateful for him, employing various  snares.  Because  of the  introduction of eldership, he raised up a strong persecution against Fr. Leonid. The tools of this persecution were simple persons who did not know and did not understand the path of eldership.

Among the former brotherhood of Optina there were pious, kind monks; but each of them had lived according to his own understanding and had struggled as he was able. Their primary attention was focused on external labors and active virtues. But when Fr. Leonid settled in the Monastery with his disciples, then they began to hear of eldership and spiritual nourishment, of purifying the conscience and revealing thoughts, of cutting off one’s own desires and understanding, of inward activity; and all of this seemed to many of them to be some kind of new, unintelligible teaching, which some of them called outright heresy. The former brethren (especially those among them who because of their age had difficulty in changing the concepts with which they had passed the greater part of their lives) openly rose up against these novel innovations and began to regard the disciples of Fr. Leonid with distrust and dislike. In keeping with the directions of the Elder, his disciples humbled themselves in every possible way before these venerable old men, and for their part observed everything so as not to disturb the peace of the Monastery. But the dissatisfied monks were not happy with the new order of things. They began to turn to the diocesan authorities with various kinds of complaints, and finally managed to get the chancery to issue an ukase that four hieromonks of the older brotherhood, together with the abbot and treasurer, were to participate in the discussion of all the most important matters of the Monastery, and that without their common consent nothing concerning the general welfare of the Monastery was to be undertaken or put into effect. This was in 1830, one year after the Elder, Fr. Leonid, had settled at the Optina Monastery. However, the expectation of the opponents did not meet with success. When the Archpastor of Kaluga, at that time Bishop Gabriel, visited the Optina Monastery he showed very sympathetic attention to the Abbot, Fr. Moses, in the presence of the entire brotherhood and reprimanded the disgruntled brothers, ordering them to correct themselves. Though the unrest in the Monastery did not completely quiet down after this, nevertheless, by their long-suffering over the course of many years Fr. Moses and Fr. Leonid overcame these difficult circumstances, strengthening themselves with the good hope that through the help of the grace of God the affairs of the Monastery, in time, would come into better order.

“The most merciful God of peace,” Fr. Leonid wrote to Fr. Macarius in Ploshchansk Hermitage, “is powerful and almighty to turn the storm, unrest and temptation which He has permitted into quiet, fair weather and to usher in peace. Blessed be His name henceforth and for evermore. As is pleasing to His all-holy will, so may He govern us, His creation.” In fact, after some time the unrest in the Monastery did quiet down somewhat. Some of the dissatisfied brethren left the Monastery; more and more new disciples of the Elder arrived and his influence in the Optina Monastery grew stronger and stronger.

But there still remained a group of the monks who retained a hidden dissatisfaction for the Elder and were unable to watch the course of Fr. Leonid’s action peacefully. And so a new temptation began for the Elder.

Fr. V., a monk of the Skete, was moved with false zeal against Fr. Leonid because so many people came to him. He wrote reports to the Bishop on several occasions, presenting this traffic of crowds of people as something disgraceful and a disruption of the stillness of the Skete, even though the visitors did not come directly to the Skete but went to the apiary where Fr. Leonid’s cell stood. This place had its own separate entrance, and no one was bothered. Also, we should note that this monk who rebelled against Fr. Leonid acted in this manner at the prompting of the brothers who were discontent with the Abbot and the Elder. They took advantage of his simplicity and made use of it as an instrument for their own secret intentions.1 Almost all of these brothers later could find no peace in the Optina Monastery and wandered off to various monasteries. Some of them also suffered very grievous deaths.

Dissatisfied with the written reports of Fr. V., the new Bishop of Kaluga, Nicholas, first left them unnoticed. Then the opponents of the Elder finally put together a false complaint against the Elder and Fr. Moses, and they sent it to the Bishop as from some unknown person. Unseemly rumors were circulated about Fr. Moses among the people at that time, primarily by persons who did not know him at all, who had never seen him, or by persons who had heard exalted reports about the Elder (from those who had received spiritual benefit from him) but who did not believe such things and then came with their own preconceived notions and curiosity, saying scornfully: “Let’s go see what kind of saint this is they have over there.” It is quite natural that such persons, instead of being edified, were scandalized and spread degrading stories that others manipulated. Finally, there were also persons who confused the Sacrament of Confession with a life according to spiritual guidance, and therefore beheld with great indignation how the people flocked to the Elder-monk for spiritual counsel. This took place in the Kaluga Diocese at a time when, perhaps for all of Russia, this was something new. For many did not know what the ancient practice of the Church of Christ had been: that throughout Christian times the monastic elders who had advanced in spiritual life never refused to be spiritual guides for those who turned to them in faith.2

 Persons who had forgotten this — or it is better to say, people who did not know — and in general a great many who did not understand the spiritual activity of the Elder, spread unfavorable opinions about him. The Bishop, wanting to put an end to the rumors and perhaps concerned lest the spreading of unseemly rumors result in something unpleasant for himself, directed that Fr. Leonid be transferred from the apiary of the Skete to the Monastery and forbade lay persons of both sexes to see him. Fulfilling the wish of the Archpastor, the Elder instead was moved in November of 1835 to one of the cells inside the Skete because there was no cell in the Monastery that was free or convenient for him. But soon there came an insistent directive that, no matter what, Fr. Leonid was to be moved into the Monastery. This was on February 2, 1836. It was not without tears and lamentation that the brothers with him accompanied him from the Skete to the Monastery, like a family with one mind which was being deprived of their own father and guide. Nor was it any less grievous for the Abbot of the Monastery, Fr. Moses, and the Superior of the Skete, Fr. Anthony, to see that these measures were enforced. They were, as the saying goes, caught in a cross-fire. They had to submit to the will of the Bishop, while at the same time they understood what a spiritual loss would result. They knew that the Elder was innocent and that his life was equal to that of the angels. What can be said about those multitudes of devotees and spiritual children of the Elder, of those who possessed in him a ready resolution of their problems and doubts, a support in their needs, an experienced guide in spiritual warfare and predicaments, a ready consolation in their sorrows? Their grief defies description. But the Elder himself endured this persecution magnanimously and did not even consider himself persecuted. “Out of your unbounded devotion,” he wrote to one of his spiritual sons, “you are discouraged about my situation and by mistake consider me to be under persecution. . . . But I am certain that nothing can happen to me without God’s permission; and when it is pleasing to Him to send me something because of my sins, I have to accept it with submissive-ness, for we can never flee from His hand.” “If all were to speak of me with praise,” the Elder wrote to another person, “then woe to me, according to the words of the Savior Himself: Woe to you, when all men shall speak well of you . . . (Luke 6:26). Truly the Lord does everything for our benefit, and without Him not even a hair of our head can perish. As for those who are so fervent for my wretchedness and who find profit according to their faith, the Lord is not in need; and even now He can grant consolation to each person who is worthy and who seeks — both through the pastors appointed by the Holy Spirit and also, especially, through His hidden servants. But those who seek benefit and consolation in their sorrows and bewilderment have to be prepared with faith and with the intention of fulfilling all the commandments of the Lord and the regulations of the Church, and must seek with humility and accept advice with simplicity of heart. For my part I thank the Lord; I sense a calm in my conscience and am in no way burdened by my move.”


 The Bishop of Kaluga received from the secret police in Moscow an anonymous report in which various accusations were repeated at the same time against the Elder Fr. Leonid and also against the Abbot of Optina. Among other things it was reported that the Abbot showed a preference for those Elders living in the Skete over those living in the Monastery, that the Skete was bringing great harm to the Monastery in every way, and that if the Skete were not closed, then this ancient Monastery would fall into decline and destruction, and so forth. As a result of this report the Abbot of Optina had to submit his defense. Since Fr. Leonid had been tonsured to the great schema in a monastic cell environment without a directive from the chancery, the Bishop of Kaluga forbade him to wear the schema and also strictly repeated his order that the Elder receive no visitors.

 This prohibition was repeated more than once, and each time, submitting to the will of the Bishop, Fr. Leonid stopped receiving visitors. In fact, he himself was happy to have some rest from his labors as he was then 68 years old. “Concerning myself and my circumstances, I have the honor to inform you,” the Elder wrote to an acquaintance of his in 1836, “that I, glory be to the all-merciful Lord God, Who yet endures my sins, am still among the living and in the same cell, but my visits with those who come to the guest house to see me have been terminated. And if I may speak frankly to you, even if this were permitted, it seems that my weakness and frailty no longer possess the strength to satisfy those who are hungry, because my physical strength has been exhausted. In keeping with this situation of ours, I most respectfully request you:  do not cut off relations with the Monastery and explain, concerning my own position, that people should not expect to receive any kind of profit from my wretchedness through some pseudo-devotion. Here is what happened just yesterday: A certain person with good intentions, acquainted with the Abbot and my unworthiness, asked the Abbot that she be allowed to have a visit with me in his quarters, so that she could speak about what she needed. But I was too weak. Even though I fought to gather the strength to carry out this obedience and satisfy this person, I was unable to go; she left without being satisfied.” Sometimes the Elder, wishing to fulfill the will of the Bishop to refuse visitors, would depart for a time from the Optina Monastery to St. Tikhon’s. “Circumstances and the remarkable flocking of devoted people,” he wrote on another occasion to the same person, “scarcely allow me to remain, but I have to leave at least for a time. If the Lord wills and I remain alive, I have this intention. It is only now, glory be to the all-merciful Lord God, that the authorities have taken strict measures; the gates are locked and the doors are bolted shut. But is my rest going to last long? . . .” In fact, in spite of the desire of the Elder to fulfill the will of the authorities, he was not able to refuse guests for long. Individuals soon appeared coming to the Monastery to consult Fr. Leonid. After they were not permitted to see him they turned to the Abbot, explained their spiritual needs on account of which they had hoped to see the Elder and persuasively begged the Abbot not to deprive them of spiritual assistance. The Abbot, being a spiritual man himself, could not refuse such visitors having extreme needs, and sometimes personally brought them to the Elder. But when he did not make up his mind to do ι Ins, it sometimes happened that these visitors would appeal to (lie Bishop himself, and after being convinced by their Cearful petitions the Bishop would finally give permission for Fr. Leonid to receive them. After he had received the persons sent by the Bishop or those whom the Abbot had brought, Fr. Leonid would open his door for everyone on every occasion, saying that if he was not to receive anyone then he would receive no one at all, but if he was to receive one then he would receive all.

Since  he  acted  in this  manner Fr. Leonid was the victim of much criticism, and because of rumors even certain spiritual persons considered him to be self-willed and anxious to teach others. The persecution which was brought at that time against Fr. Leonid because of his ministering to suffering mankind is reminiscent of the ancient life of St. Abramius of Smolensk, about whom St. Demetrius of Rostov gives the following account: “Many persons, not only monks but also lay-folk, came from various places especially to him in order to hear from his lips a word of instruction profitable for their souls. But the devil who hates what is good, unable to endure the sight of such profit from the Saint of God, initiated persecution against him by arousing envy and hatred for him among certain of the monks. But the guileless servant of the Lord endured all this with meekness and humility. He did not stop his own work and continued to teach  and  console those who  came to him, through the grace of Christ. Finally, the abbot, provoked partially by the monks, partially by the invisible enemy, forbade the blessed one to teach, saying: ‘Here you are attracting everyone to  yourself and have grown proud  and vainglorious that you are educated and learned and better than we are; so stop teaching — I will answer for you before God.’ Then the abbot, after reprimanding Abramius, in anger drove away all those who had come to him for soul-profiting counsel and greatly insulted the servant of the Lord by stopping the wellspring of grace which flowed from his lips. In the end, with dishonor he expelled him from the monastery. Then the  servant of Christ Abramius went to Smolensk and lived in another monastery; but he did not abandon his work here either, because even more people began to come to him for spiritual instruction.”

 Likewise in  the  account of the life of Seraphim of Sarov,3 we read that on one occasion the Abbot Niphon, while revering the Elder for his ascetic labors, made it a point to inform him that the brotherhood, because of the strictness  of its asceticism,  did  not  approve  of Fr. Seraphim since he was receiving persons of both sexes and from every walk of life, albeit for edification unto salvation. The Abbot Niphon said this only because some of these brothers were scandalized, while  he himself deeply loved and respected the  Elder  Seraphim.  After listening to the words of the Abbot, the Elder fell at his feet and gave him a wise and salutary reply: that he not give himself over to false accusations in the future and that he not accept any word of the brothers   against   anyone  without  discretion.   “You  are  a pastor,” he said, “do not permit everyone to speak in vain, to distress you and those who are journeying into eternity. For your word is powerful and your staff, like a whip, is fearsome to all.” Abbot Niphon was moved by these words of the Elder and stated that he agreed that Fr. Seraphim not change his way of life and that he continue to receive everyone who came to him for profit of soul, as before.

In keeping with the example of St. Abramius and the blessed Elder Seraphim, and as a genuine performer of the commandments of Christ, Fr. Leonid did not pay attention to human interference. We think that had his opponents looked more closely at his activity, they would have thought differently about him. Let us recall what lay at the beginning of the persecution of Fr. Leonid and Fr. Theodore at Valaam. It began when Fr. Eudocimus (Euthymius), formerly the disciple of the abbot of Valaam, worn down by depression and despair and even contemplating suicide, turned to these Elders for help. Could they have refused him help because of some human reservations when he was in such a terrible plight? Now there were many such predicaments and they continued to occur. Apparently the opponents of Fr. Leonid never gave a single thought to what spiritual needs brought people to him for his advice. χ* On one occasion, Abbot Moses, walking about the monastery, saw an enormous crowd of people before the cell of the Elder; and at that time a strict order from Kaluga had recently been received that no one be permitted to see him. The Abbot entered the cell. “Fr. Leonid!” he said, “How can you receive people? You know the Bishop forbade you to receive anyone.” Instead of replying, the Elder, after letting the persons with whom he had been occupied depart, told his cell-attendants to bring in the cripple who at that time was lying at the door of his cell. They brought the man in and placed him before Fr. Leonid. The Abbot watched this with bewilderment. “Now,” Fr. Leonid began his reply, “look at this man. You see how all the members of his body are afflicted. The Lord punished him for sins of which he did not repent. He did this and this, and for all of that he is now suffering — he is alive in hell. He needs help. The Lord brought him to me for sincere repentance, so that I might rebuke and instruct him. Can I refuse to receive him? What do you say about that?”

 Listening to Fr. Leonid and looking at the suffering man before him, the Abbot shuddered. “But the Bishop,” he mumbled, “is threatening to send you away under arrest.” “So what? You can exile me to Siberia, you can build a bonfire, you can burn me at the stake, but I will still be the same Leonid. I don’t beckon anyone, but when a person comes of his own accord I cannot chase him away. Especially among the simple folk, there are many who are perishing out of ignorance and they need spiritual assistance. How can I disregard their clamor about their spiritual needs?”

Abbot Moses could not say anything in reply and he left in silence, leaving the Elder to live and act as God Himself directed him.

In 1837, that is, in the year after Fr. Leonid was moved from the Skete to the Monastery, a member of the Holy Synod, His Eminence Metropolitan Philaret of Kiev, visited the Optina Monastery on his way to St. Petersburg accompanied by the Bishop of Kaluga, Nicholas. The Metropolitan demonstrated   his extremely  sympathetic  archpastoral approval both to the Optina Abbot,  Fr. Moses, and to the Elder, Fr. Leonid, whom, as was previously mentioned, he had known while in the White Bluff Hermitage. Moreover, he noted that Fr. Leonid was not wearing any of the apparel of the great schema, and in the presence of Bishop Nicholas the Metropolitan asked him, “Why aren’t you wearing the schema?” The Elder was silent. “You are a monk of the great schema,” the Metropolitan continued, “and you are supposed to wear the schema.” From that time to the end of his life Fr.   Leonid   wore  without  any  prohibition  as  previously, in   the   manner   of  the  Moldavian  monasteries,  the  great paraman  of the  schema (which  some persons mistakenly call analavos). The Kiev Archpastor also expressed his fatherly regard for the fathers of the Skete, which had been built in keeping  with   his   concepts   and   blessing.   “His  Eminence made us happy with his visit to our hermitage,” Fr. Leonid wrote to one of his spiritual sons, “and strengthened our souls with his special blessing. ‘Our benefactors’ seeing this were  completely disarmed,  and  now  it  seems they  have begun to learn a little humility. As to how delighted His Eminence was over seeing the Optina Monastery, I think that it is difficult to give a description.”

 The visit to the Optina Monastery by the Metropolitan of Kiev and the attention which he showed the Abbot of Optina and the Elder brought very beneficial results to the Monastery, for Bishop Nicholas began to attach less significance to the rumors of their detractors. The suppressed position of the Elder began to improve.

 Still in the summer of 1836, in order to give Fr. Leonid some respite, a devout landowner who lived in the Monastery, Alexei Ivanovich Zhelyabuzhsky, had built a special wooden building in which there were two cells: one for himself and one for the Elder. This unforgettable benefactor of the Optina Monastery was spiritually attached to Fr. Leonid and was also loved by him. They always read the Divine Scriptures together and performed the prayer rule, with the assistance of the cell-attendants of the Elder and the brothers who came to him to ask about their thoughts.

Optina Elders

After Fr. Leonid left the Skete for the Monastery, his spiritual bond with the fathers in the Skete was not broken. Fr. Macarius visited him daily. He would come for advice pertaining to his duties as spiritual father and would bring letters prepared for the Elder to sign, which had been written at the direction of the Elder and which they always signed together. Likewise the Superior of the Skete (until 1839), Fr. Anthony, also visited him frequently. He always had the most sincere and friendly relations with him and often profited from the frank conversations of the Elder. All the other brothers of the Skete, too, remained devoted to him with filial love as their spiritual instructor and ceased not from coming to him in the Monastery for the healing of their diseases of soul and the resolution of their problems. On his part, the Elder never ceased to show his love for the Skete and its brothers. On Saturdays and Sundays he always walked — and in the later years when he was too ill to walk he was driven — to the church services in the Skete. After the Liturgy he would usually stop by the cell of the Superior of the Skete, Fr. Anthony; and later Fr. Macarius and the rest of the brotherhood would gather there for spiritual converse with their spiritual instructor. Sometimes laymen from the nobility and merchants who had been at the Liturgy would also come by “for a cup of tea” with the Superior of the Skete; and when they found this spiritual discussion in progress, they joined in as listeners and participants, to their own spiritual benefit.

Fr. Leonid lived five years longer after moving from the Skete to the Monastery; and he continued to offer spiritual instruction to the brotherhood and visitors, recalling the words of the Savior: . . . Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out (John 6:37), and . . . Freely ye have received, freely give (Matt 10:8). Disregarding his deteriorating health the Elder never refused to receive anyone, and up to his blessed repose he showed an unflagging zeal to serve God in the person of suffering mankind. He was especially well-disposed to receive simple people, for the needs of the poor required immediate assistance and their mortal sorrows quick consolation. Many of them lived in the guest house for weeks at a time, waiting to see the Elder face to face. Some of them when they came to him could hardly utter a word from their pain of heart and could only express themselves with groans. Others possessed by demons would be dragged into the cell of the Elder by their sympathetic relatives or neighbors. Still others brought their children to receive his blessing.

The Elder at those times was like a great tree covered with abundant fruit to which everyone stretched forth his gaze and hands, so that it was difficult to make one’s way through the crowd in order to see him. In such instances he would say, “God Himself helps those coming to me who receive benefit.”

Seeing Fr. Leonid in such a crowd of people, some of his visitors expressed a kind of dissatisfaction with the Elder, probably considering that spending his time with the simple folk was not all that important, and perhaps useless or even inappropriate. But the Elder had a way of making such persons understand.

 Once the Optina Monastery was visited by the Dean of the city of Belev, the venerable Archpriest John Glagolev, who loved and revered Fr. Leonid and who was likewise respected by the Elder. When he came to the Elder, Fr. John found him surrounded by peasants. “Are you really that eager to spend time with peasant women?” he said with his characteristic simplicity. “What can I do, Fr. John. You’re right — this isn’t our business,” the Elder replied, “but tell me, how do you confess them? You ask them two or three words, and that’s the end of the confession. But if you were to put yourself in their position, if you would delve into their plight, would sort out whatever is on their soul, would give them worthwhile advice, would console them in their grief. … Do you do all that? Of course not, you don’t have time to spend a while with them. Well then, if we do not receive them, where would they go with their grief?” Put to shame, the Archpriest admitted that his words to the Elder had been inconsiderate.

 “Once,” wrote Hieromonk Α., “I passed through Kozelsk on my way to the Smolensk Province. Along the way, in the isolated villages when the villagers learned that I was coming from Kozelsk, they kept rushing to interrupt me and find out something about Fr. Leonid. To my question as to how they knew about him, they would reply: ‘O come now, Father, how can we not know Fr. Leonid? He is more than a father for us poor ignorant folk. Without him we would all be complete orphans!’ Such is a monument that is far more enduring than one of marble and granite!”


1. Among those who initiated complaints against the Elder and provoked this simple monk to such actions were certain persons sent by the chancery under epitimia (under a spiritual correction/remedy) to the Monastery for correction.

2. Of the great desert dwellers and monastic fathers, only a few, following the example of Arsenius the Great and Theodore of Pherme, fled as much as they were able from the duty of instructing others and turned away (only in part, not entirely) from those who came to them for spiritual counsel. The greater part of the Holy Fathers followed the example of the founder of monasticism, Anthony the Great, who, after spending 35 years in ascetic labors and stillness, afterwards became, as Athanasius the Great expressed it, the good physician of all Egypt — that is, a spiritual guide and instructor for all monks and laymen who turned to him. Even the holy stylites after prolonged withdrawal from the world and extended asceticism in solitude, devoted the end of their lives to ministering to suffering mankind, not turning away anyone who turned to them for spiritual healing.

In the monasteries of Egypt not only the monks and clergy who came were received, but also laymen and women; and there were special hostels built for them. According to the rule of Pachomius the Great, the founder of coenobitic monasticism, special care should be taken for women as they are weaker and have a greater need of spiritual nourishment. Also, Pachomius the Great, not far from the monastery in Tabennesi, built a convent for women which was governed by his sister and was under his own personal guidance. Basil the Great did the same.

St. Isidore of Pelusium, zealous for the welfare of the Orthodox Church and the spiritual benefit of all Christians, wrote instructive letters (according to Nicephorus Callistus, almost 10,000 of them) to persons of every rank and occupation, from the emperor to simple soldiers, from patriarchs and bishops to readers and simple monks.

3. At the time this book was written St. Seraphim had not yet officially been glorified by the Church. —Trans.


Synaxis of the Saints of Optina – Commemorated October 23/10 (Greek Calendar)


The Authentic Nature and Goals of Orthodox Christianity


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The Authentic Nature and Goals of Orthodox Christianity*

by Archbishop Chrysostomos

Metropolitan ChrysostomosIN EASTERN ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY, a mere affirmation of belief in and a commitment to Christ, brought to fruition in an indispensable set of doctrines, are not the sine qua non of authentic Christian confession. While Orthodox Baptism, or the entrance rite of an individual into Christian life, does entail a statement of intellectual belief by the recitation of the Symbol of Faith (the Creed) and a set of fixed doctrinal beliefs, this is affirmed by a member of the community: the sponsor or Godparent (and the candidate, if an adult). But it is ultimately the Mystery (the more plenitudinous Eastern Christian word for a Sacrament) of Baptism, or φωτισμός (photismos, the Greek word for enlightenment), that activates the spiritual [noetic] faculty, opening it to the Truth of the Faith, which is expressed and symbolized in the credal statements (hence, the Symbol of Faith) and doctrines of the Church. It is, from an Orthodox perspective, not a mere intellectual commitment — however emotionally striking and fulfilling in content — and correct confession and doctrinal firmness alone that lead to Christian life; rather, a mystical experience of that life — an ontological encounter with the Divine in the cleansing and restoring waters of Baptism — unveils what is captured, but not contained, in dogma and in Scripture. Scripture and dogma, however precious and indispensable to Christian life, do not themselves contain the glory of God; they perfectly and infallibly describe that glory. It is from the Word Himself that glory and Grace are conveyed and revealed to the believer, and in dogma and theology that such revelation is taught, in the hermeneutic witness of the Church, and preserved.

According to the Eastern Christian Divines, an individual establishes, in experiencing the mysterium tremendum et fascinans of Divine Revelation (which is cultivated and reinforced in Grace by way of the Mysteries), a relationship with the Archetype of the human being restored to what he or she was created to be. One finds true personhood, according to the numinous teachings of the Eastern Church, in the Theanthropic Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Perfect God and Perfect Man. In mystical union with the God-Man, the fallen person is transformed, becoming a novus homo in the household of God, a small “Jesus Christ” within Jesus Christ. For the Orthodox believer, Christianity is, above all else, a transformative experience of Truth, an ontological and noumenal encounter with God that brings together, as the fourth-century Church Father, St. Athanasios of Alexandria, expressed it, what Christ taught, what the Apostles preached, and what the Fathers preserved. Here we have the content of Truth revealed; while conveyed in word and thought, the Truth is lived and preserved in vivid Tradition, which constitutes the catholic (universal) and authentic life and activity of the Christian community. Even theology, as an ever-present axiom in Orthodox Christianity affirms, is not a sufficient thing in its intellectual form; to be true and genuine, theology must always be lived, or experienced.

Without a correct understanding [Confession] of the Messianic promise, expressed in the Eastern Church in both Orthodoxy, or correct doctrine, and Orthopraxy, or a life dedicated to the reacquisition of the divinity of man by union with God in the correct observance of the Faith, the human condition, according to the Greek Fathers, becomes a vain, relentless struggle between an inner desire for theosis (deification) and the fruitless pursuit of a meaningless world in which an immense chasm separates men and women from God. An existential tension thus marks our human lives, as existence defies ontology, imperfection prevails against perfection, and the human will and the Divine Will come into parlous conflict. We are torn between two worlds, one tangible and fanciful and the other hidden but intuitively real. Having sinned, having missed the mark, we pursue the delusions of the human will (a freedom guaranteed to us by the Creator), crushed by the poverty of what we have become and by the weighty depravity and tragedy of human life. Yet, when we encounter Christ, the Archetype of Perfect Man, the Creator in the form of His creation, within our hearts, He beckons us to union with Him and a return to what we were created to be. Bolstered, enlivened, inspired, and given hope by Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy, we rediscover what we truly are. This anagnorisis is the essence of the inner life: the hint within our souls of what can be; the fleeting perception of God that is the mystery of noetic vision; and the spiritual force that binds us to what is foolishness to the world and releases us from the folly of mundane wisdom. We experience the paradox of seeking in witless existence an ineffable God, suspended in the eschatological now, sensing internally what is already present and known but externally unseen, arcane, and distant.

* This short discussion of Orthodox Christianity is taken from Archbishop Chrysostomos’ latest monograph, The Orthodox Elements in Emily Dickinson’s Spirituality and Mysticism, published in the Monographic Supplement Series of Orthodox Tradition. [See the CTOS site for further details.]

Source: Orthodox Tradition (pages 41-43) Volume XXIX, Number 3

St. Ieronymos of Aegina