Interpreting Holy Tradition through the Sciences of Astronomy and Medicine
Everything mentioned so far shows what the Orthodox tradition is and how it differs from non-Orthodox and other religious traditions. In this section we will examine this issue by taking examples from two sciences: astronomy and medicine.
First of all, it should be stressed once more that the Church’s tradition is the experience of the God-seeing saints, Prophets, Apostles and Fathers. They lived this experience by the revelation of God and conveyed it to their spiritual children, and it is recorded in their writings. Thus three factors are very closely linked: the saints who behold God, their illuminated nous, by means of which they share in the experience of revelation, and their writings, in which the experience is recorded in created words and concepts. The basic elements of the tradition are the glorified saints (glorified=Theosis), who are the bearers of the tradition.
“The Fathers of our Fathers in the Old Testament, the Prophets, had glorification (glorification=Theosis) without the human nature of Christ. Afterwards, the Apostles also had glorification, with the human nature of Christ. After Pentecost we have another kind of glorification, with the experiences that they have after glorification, because the same experience of Pentecost continues within the Church and has not come to an end. Given that the experience of Pentecost has not come to an end, the bishops, who have this experience, are led to the same experience and know what they are talking about.
Because of the continuity of this tradition, the Orthodox patristic tradition resembles modern biology, chemistry, astronomy and medical science. In this way the tradition of the Church is continued empirically. What experience, ultimately? The fact that cures continue and people are cured. People continue to learn the truth from astronomy, medical science, biology, in other words, from the experience of purification, the experience of illumination, which is the cure of the human personality, and the experience of glorification, which is the telescope and microscope of Orthodox theology. This is why we believe that we are on the right path and are still within the tradition.”
Those who behold God are like scientific astronomers, who examine the star-filled sky and discover stars that are invisible to the naked eye by using telescopes. Whatever they see they record in their writings. The saints do the same.
“We find this tradition dotted here and there throughout the writings of the Fathers, but mainly in the writings of St Symeon the New Theologian, all his disciples and among those referred to as hesychasts. What is this tradition? It is extremely simple, as simple as can be.”
It is divine vision of the uncreated energy of God and guiding people on the basis of this experience. The vision of the inexpressible reality takes place by means of a special organ, the nous, which is illumined by the Holy Spirit. Those who behold God are in the state of illumination. They reach the state of glorification, participate in the Light and see the Light. “In Your light we shall see light”. On this point they resemble astronomers who see stars that are invisible to the naked eye by using special instruments called telescopes. Also, anyone who wishes to confirm the observations of astronomers has to use the same instruments. This means that any Christian who wishes to verify the experience of the God-seeing saints has to acquire an illuminated nous.
“When there are doubts concerning astronomical writings, we take telescopes and by means of telescopes we confirm the correct interpretation of the books concerning astronomy. One looks, another looks, a third one looks and so it goes on. And all those who check with telescopes, radio telescopes etc, say, ‘Ah! That is what those notes mean. Did you see it when you looked through the telescope? That is the explanation.’
And the correct interpretation continues down the years, because there are people who see and know how to use telescopes and radio telescopes and the equipment with which they measure distance analogous with the speed of light — spectrographs, spectrograms — they even know how to measure material composition, they can even measure speed with them.”
This example shows that astronomers are closely linked with telescopes and writings. In the same way, doctors are closely associated with equipment and operating theatres and with curing people.
If, however, astronomers lose their telescopes and start to imagine stars or to speculate about them, they become astrologers. The same can happen to doctors, who, if they lose their equipment, become charlatans.
“If astronomers lose their telescopes and no longer know how to handle the various pieces of astronomical equipment, they are reduced to being astrologers instead of astronomers. And, given that they have become astrologers, and the others have become sham doctors and pseudo-biologists and so on, are those who are no longer able to handle the scientific equipment of Orthodox theology astronomer-theologians or astrologer-theologians?”
In other words, true theologians are those who see God, who are like astronomers. When, however, without their nous being illuminated, they theologise by using speculation and their imagination instead, they turn into speculative thinkers and scholastics. Subsequently, when the astronomer, who has turned into an astrologer because he does not have the right equipment but uses speculation, takes part in a conference of astronomers, his participation in the conference does not in itself convert him into a scientific astronomer.
“This is the major question from the scientific point of view: Can someone who has become an astrologer, because he does not know how to use astronomical equipment, consider that this weakness is compensated for by the fact that he attends conferences? If astronomers forget about astronomical equipment and simply preserve the books about astronomy and misinterpretations begin, will they interpret the books about astronomy correctly, because they have gathered at a conference? I am simply posing the question. Will the conference produce correct astronomy? Will it upgrade astrology to astronomy? Is it the conference that will achieve this? Or will it be a conference of astrologers?”
The same can be observed in respect of doctors who are unable to use their instruments and equipment or operating-theatres in order to treat the sick. They are unable to cure people, and cannot be regarded as doctors merely because they attend medical congresses.
“Doctors have inherited the equipment of medical science, all the tools for surgical operations, from the past. We have X-ray equipment, hospitals, operating theatres and so on. What if the doctors who know how to use all this equipment disappeared, and untrained women who dabbled in practical medicine came in from the villages? And if the state made these untrained women responsible for the Universities and they taught the students, as the students were involved in strikes and politics, and these untrained women ended up being accepted by medical science, then they would start to be dangerous.
Let us suppose that doctors have reached the point of no longer knowing how to use these tools, but use them at random. If the radiologist graduated from the University of Thessaloniki in 1870, so he does not know how to read X-rays and makes bad diagnoses, and the doctor performs bad surgical operations, and so on. So instead of people being cured, 90% die and 10% are cured. Whereas in America, France, England, Switzerland and Germany 60% are cured, in Greece 10% are cured. Well, if the Greek doctors have a conference will the success rate increase to 90% or 100%? What is the use of a conference of doctors who do not know medical science? What good does it do? Do you follow what I am trying to say?”
By analogy, the same happens with bishops who do not have the suitable equipment, an illuminated nous, when they participate in the Council. They cannot be real theologians and they are unable to know the tradition. They are not illuminated simply because they take part in a Council. Illumination comes first.
“As a researcher I raise a topic: This bishop has received his diploma, but would never have received it except that his Metropolitan continuously phoned up all his professors, and he received his diploma with five marks, whereas he deserved no marks at all. If he, together with seventy such bishops, gathers in a conference of bishops called a Council, will they make correct decisions? Because the Holy Spirit descended? Or is this a parallel situation with the situation in all the other positive sciences? What is the difference between theology and the other positive sciences? Do you follow my argument?
I am afraid that I am telling you things that are rather shocking. How can I put it? I am, however, obliged as a researcher and historian — because my own special subject is history — as a historian I am obliged, when I undertake historical research and find certain things, I am obliged to inform you.”
“From this point of view, if the Orthodox bishops, who are disciples of those theologians who are not followers of the patristic tradition, ever gather in a Council, will the fact that they are meeting together in a conference make them Fathers of the Church? And if we call the conference an Ecumenical Council, can it ever reach a correct decision?
Only if they copy Holy Scripture and the patristic texts to the letter, without adding a word of their own, only then is there any hope of them reaching an Orthodox decision, only then. If, however, they add words that are not in Holy Scripture and the patristic tradition, it is almost certain that they will produce a decision that is dogmatically incorrect. It is almost certain. Guaranteed! Guaranteed!”
Scientific astronomers have criteria in order to verify their conclusions. Of course there are books, but there are also telescopes that confirm their observations. The astrologers, who rely on speculation and imagination, have no criteria to separate which group of astrologers are genuine and which are not.
“If there is a group of astrologers, do they have the right to denounce another group of astrologers? Can one group say, ‘We are better astrologers than the others’, and the other group say, ‘We are better than you’, and someone else to say, ‘No, we are better than you’ and so on, and can the astrologers argue among themselves? With what criteria?
Can one say, ‘You know, I foresaw that Russia would go into Afghanistan.’ And the other replies, ‘What do you mean “I foresaw”, as the newspapers wrote that the President of Afghanistan invited the Russian troops. What sort of prophecy is that, as they said that he invited them? The fact that you say “sent” shows it cannot be a prophecy.’ And so on and so forth.”
This happens in Orthodox theology too. The God-seeing saints, like scientific astronomers, have secure criteria and, like true doctors, they have successes, because they use suitable instruments and are part of the Orthodox tradition. Heretics, by contrast, resemble astrologers who do not have secure criteria, as each one uses his own speculation, and they do not achieve success.
“From success you can see that something is working correctly.
Every science ought to have an aim, and whenever it successfully achieves its aim it is a proper science which has judgment and knows what it is talking about.
I pose the question: Is theology the only science in which anyone can pick up Bultmann and Cullmann and say whatever he likes without any check? Should there not be some control in theological matters? Should anyone be able to say whatever he likes? He cannot say anything he likes. There ought to be some sort of check. Should it be the same as in every other religion, where everyone believes according to his imagination?
If there is to be a scientific check on Orthodox theology, as there is in other positive sciences, the details should be described and put into practice, so that there will be sound foundations for the Orthodox tradition, as part of today’s world. If such foundations do not exist, and the assertions of the Orthodox cannot be checked, then it is imagination. Because when someone cannot get through the test, there is no tangible sign, nothing to show that the teaching of the Orthodox Church is correct. In such a case, what is the difference between Orthodox theology and the other religions in the world? Just as an Orthodox Christian thinks that he has the right to deny the authenticity of the various religions, in the same way, the other religions have the right to do the same from a scientific point of view.”
The teaching of the Church is true, because it is successful, since it leads people to glorification, sanctity, and the confirmation of this experience is the sacred relics. This is where the value of the Orthodox tradition lies.
“If there is no scientific means of checking the teachings of the Orthodox Church, then one wonders how Orthodox theology differs from other religions? What is the difference?
If we suppose that the aim of theology is to produce sacred relics which have characteristics a, b and c, and we say, ‘Fine, we have produced all these relics. Come here. Here is the Church. Look, the relics have these characteristics. Let’s go to another Church. If the other Church has sacred relics as well, what is happening? It means that they have something similar.
If the aim of Orthodox theology is to make saints, someone can say to us, ‘Yes, Orthodox theology produces saints, but surely heretical theories produce saints as well?'”
When correct methodology does not exist and speculation prevails instead, and when correct theology does not exist, therapeutic results are not achieved.
The value of the Orthodox tradition lies in the fact that it sanctifies man by uniting him with the God-man Christ, using Orthodox methodology. The Papal Christians recommend their followers to do good works in order to see God and be saved, so they have rejected the neptic-hesychastic tradition. The Protestants feel regenerated by God, so they do not have a therapeutic method. The Orthodox know that they need to be cured starting in this life by the grace of God and with their own corroboration, so that they may encounter God in a state of being cured, and this encounter may be Paradise for them, not Hell. This is what being cured means. In the Orthodox Church man reaches glorification and his body becomes a sacred relic, something that is not observed in other Confessions and religions. This confirms the truth of the Orthodox faith.
“I want to emphasise the fact that every science is judged by the end result, not just by the means. Because if a doctor appears and begins to carry out surgical operations, and other doctors follow the traditions, and he begins to do a surgical operation, the others say, ‘But he will kill the patient by doing that. What is he doing? We have never seen anyone doing an operation in that way before,’ and people are indignant, because they know that surgical operations are not usually performed in that manner, but are done differently. However, they see that he cures the patient. Then he repeats the same method once again. When they see good results produced five or six times, will the doctors continue to say that the method is no good? Then the doctors will not say that it is not a good method. Because if it were not a good method, how would it achieve so many successes?”
In the Orthodox tradition those who see God — the Prophets, Apostles and saints — are closely associated with their illuminated nous and their divinely inspired writings. That is why people are cured. There are successful cures, people continue to be sanctified, to reach illumination and glorification. Also, the interpretation of divinely inspired writings requires divinely inspired commentators, who have the same illuminated nous and the same tradition as the divinely inspired writers of Holy Scripture and the patristic books.
In the Orthodox Church we have both God-seeing saints, whose nous is illumined, and writings, so Holy Scripture is linked with Holy Tradition. When the ‘astronomers’ (God-seers) and the ‘telescopes’ (illuminated nous and glorification) are lost, the writings are also misinterpreted. Then the astronomers turn into astrologers who speculate, and their conference becomes a conference of astrologers instead of astronomers.
The conclusion is that revelation is the manifestation of the Word to human beings, unincarnate in the Old Testament, incarnate in the New Testament. The Prophets, Apostles and saints are bearers of the revelation, the empirical theologians who behold God. The books of the Old and New Testaments, together with the writings of the Fathers, the dogmas and the whole life of the Church, are the living monuments of the revelation. Purification, illumination and glorification are the essence of the Orthodox tradition, which leads man to glorification, to participation in the mystery of Pentecost.