Anathema of 1983, Atheism, Empirical Dogmatics, George S. Gabriel, Hesychasm, James L. Kelley, Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Noetic Faculty, Protopresbyter John Romanides, St. Gregory Palamas, St. Symeon the New Theologian
Heretics believe in a god whom they have created with their reason and imagination. The god in whom they believe is not the God of revelation, but of rational discovery and the process of speculative thought. This sort of god does not exist.
“The Fathers call heretics atheists as well. What do they mean by the word ‘atheist’? They mean that the god in whom they believe does not exist. He is non-existent. The Fathers of the Church understand this as the non-existence of the god in whom heretics and idolaters believe. This god does not exist. Which God exists? The God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob. In other words, the only God Who exists for the Fathers is the God Who appeared ‘to the Prophets, to the Apostles and to the saints of the Church’.”
When Western Christians believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds, as regards His existence, from the Son as well (filioque), and when the scholastic philosophers attempt to prove the existence of God by rational arguments, this means that they do not have personal experience of God, and such a god is non-existent.
“The Fathers of the Church have been telling us for centuries now that the god of the filioque or of scholastic theology does not exist. When Nietzsche came along and said that god is dead, he did well. What he says is right, because when Nietzsche says ‘god’, he means the god of metaphysics and the scholastic tradition of the Franks. That god does not exist. Many Europeans who accept that god does not exist follow this same line, that god is dead. Fine, we too should agree. Certainly this god in whom the Europeans have believed for years, this god does not exist. He is non-existent. They are right to denounce him. It is only when someone says that the God of the Orthodox does not exist that it should be disputed.”
Religion is concerned with human beings in this life, and enables them to face illnesses, troubles, worries, disasters, and wars. “In other words, that God may arrange everything according to man’s needs and desires.” It is also concerned, however, with the life to come, that justice may prevail, and man’s soul may return to happiness.
Thus religion is essential for human beings, so that harmony may prevail in nature and in human life.
“With the development of modern science, evidence has been found proving that there were religious cults which did not believe that there was life after death for everyone. There are other cults which simply did not regard faith in life after death as very important, because religion was the science of that era in which the powers of nature were deified, and they believed that the main task of religion was magic. When they analysed the powers of nature, they saw that there was a fundamental struggle in nature, not between classes but between gods. This struggle is waged between the gods of discord and the gods of concord.”
Many religious cults attempted to solve these problems.
“They understood that there was concord and discord in nature, and to establish a balance they believed that there was the god of death and the god of life; and usually fertility was worshipped as a goddess of fertility. In their religious ceremonies they had a depiction of the powers of nature, in which the goddesses of fertility triumphed and the good gods annihilated the power of the gods of death and discord. In this manner, through the magic of these ceremonies, they believed that they were also securing harmony in nature. Concord in nature resulted from the magical commands of the priests, so they could secure what they needed to live. This effort was not originally connected with life after death, but this religiousness existed in order to ensure the essentials in this life.”
After that, religion is considered necessary for the life to come, for life after death.
“I touched upon the question of whether religion amounts to teaching about this present life and teaching about the existence of God for the life to come, so that perfect justice may prevail. Because there ought to be a righteous God Who will undertake the final evaluation with regard to man’s final judgment, so that the unjust may be punished in Hell and good boys and girls may be rewarded in Paradise. Thus religion has to exist, so that justice may prevail and man’s longing for happiness may not remain unfulfilled.”
Both these reasons for the necessity of religion are based on psychological foundations. In addition, however, there are the metaphysical foundations for religion, as taught by Platonism, Neoplatonism and other ancient philosophical traditions. However, when metaphysics was refuted in the West, the religion associated with it was also refuted.
“One of the main characteristics of Karl Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and all those people is that they rejected metaphysics, because they identified religion with metaphysics.”
“The Marxists themselves say that religion has been discredited, since metaphysics has been discredited, because they have the idea that metaphysics forms the basis of religion. Now, if metaphysics is the basis of religion, why did monks oppose metaphysics? Perhaps they had different foundations?
Well, by opposing metaphysics today the communists think that they are demolishing religion. Whereas it might be suspected that, as the Church opposed Korais, perhaps Orthodoxy does not have metaphysical foundations, since we see that the Fathers opposed Aristotle, Plato and all the philosophers of their era. That too is indicative.”
It is clear that idolatry and metaphysics, which are religious traditions, identified what is uncreated with what is created.
“By the term ‘religion’ we mean every attempt to identify what is uncreated with what is created, particularly every attempt to identify representations of what is uncreated with the concepts and words of human thought. This is the basis of idol-worship.”
Religion also confuses man’s rational faculty with his noetic faculty, and regards them as identical. This creates a major problem, because when the noetic faculty is functioning correctly it keeps the blameless passions blameless and stops them changing into blameworthy passions. For instance, the blameless passion of hunger can be satisfied without becoming the blameworthy passion of greed. At the same time, the noetic faculty helps blameworthy passions (like greed) to turn into blameless ones (using what is necessary to live). When, however, the noetic faculty is not functioning naturally, man is dominated by the passions and this also has repercussions in his relationship with God.
“In its natural state, the noetic faculty regulates such passions as hunger, thirst, sleep and the instinct for survival, that is to say, self-preservation, so that they are blameless. In its sick state, these passions become blameworthy. They, together with uncontrolled imagination, create magical religions for bridling the elements of nature, or even for the salvation of the soul from matter in the state of happiness, or for happiness of both body and soul.”
“The concepts of the brain, which all derive from the surroundings, become concepts of the noetic faculty that is always rooted in the heart. Thus someone who has passions becomes a slave of his surroundings. As a result, he confuses certain concepts that originate from the environment with his god or gods.”
It is clear from all this that religions are closely connected with magic, as propitiation of God, and with superstition, as the identification of God with creation, a belief shared by pantheism. But they are also closely connected with mysticism – the return of the soul, which is immortal by nature, to the uncreated world of ideas from which it fell. All three of these (magic, superstition, mysticism) are spiritual illnesses, as they are faith in a non-existent god. The entire effort of the Prophets, Apostles and saints is concentrated on this point.
“The Patriarchs and Prophets of the Old Testament, the Apostles and Prophets of the New Testament, and their successors are very familiar with the disease of religion and the Physician Who cures it, in other words, the Lord (Yahweh) of Glory. He is the Physician of our souls and bodies. He cured this disease in His friends and faithful before His incarnation and as God-man He continues to cure it.”
Thus the Church is not a religion: it does not believe in a non-existent god or use magic, superstition and mysticism. It is the Body of the God-man Christ. What distinguishes the Church from magic, superstition and mysticism is the Mysteries (Sacraments) – Baptism, Chrismation and the Divine Eucharist – in association with purification, illumination and glorification, which are a specific therapeutic practice. With this methodology the noetic faculty is not confused with the rational faculty; the nous is not influenced by the passions and the surroundings; and the uncreated is not identified with the created.
“The methodology that an Orthodox Christian follows is very different from the methodology followed by the adherent of any other religion. Now this may be emotionally shocking, because we have become accustomed to describing Marxists as atheists, and we do not describe anyone else as an atheist.”
As has been stressed, on the basis of purely theological presuppositions, the followers of religions and heretics are described by the Fathers as atheists, because they believe in and worship a god who does not exist. This does not happen in the Orthodox Church.
“I think that, in order to see these questions in the correct perspective, we must get rid of the idea that Orthodoxy is a religion like other religions. Orthodoxy is not a religion.”
Of course, it is possible to observe some external features in the Orthodox Church that also exist in other religions, but there is a great difference in the methodology for acquiring knowledge of God.
“Orthodoxy is not only a religion. Certainly, from one point of view, Orthodoxy is not a religion at all. I would say that it is not only a religion. At least, it is not a religion identified with superstition.”
“I personally believe that Orthodoxy is directly linked with psychiatry, psychology, medicine, biology and chemistry, with all the positive sciences in general. The worst thing that has happened to Greek Orthodoxy, and perhaps to all the Orthodox Churches, is this orientation of neo-Hellenism and modern Greek theology – this orientation, this ridiculous orientation – towards ancient Greek philosophy and any kind of philosophy. Theology should have been adapted to the positive sciences and should have used the Orthodox patristic perception of man, which is, of course, the biblical perception of man.”
Unfortunately, after the liberation of Greece and the formation of the Greek state, the Church was changed into an ‘ethical religion’, which is useful for the state, because it brings equilibrium to society, and which itself needs the state. This explains the persecution of monasticism, which lived the therapeutic method, purification, illumination and glorification.
“In the years following the Greek revolution, there was persecution of monasticism: monks were the cause of all the nation’s misfortunes. Constantinople fell due to monks. On account of monks the army was destroyed, the state disintegrated, we became illiterate and we are not now Europeans. Monks are to blame for everything.
Here we lived under the Turks, fighting together against a terrible enemy, who could have wiped us out on the slightest pretext at any time, but we survived for so many centuries. And so we reached the point where we almost need the support of the state to prop up the Church.
When one looks at the early Church, one sees that the clergy at that time was more like a group of doctors than a group of modern clergy. If one were to take a modern Orthodox cleric and compare him with a priest of ancient times or a bishop of the early Church, and if one were to take a psychiatrist and compare him with the cleric of old, one would see more similarity between the modern psychiatrist and the bishop or priest of the early Church than between the modern cleric and the cleric of ancient times. Not from the point of view of faith, but from the point of view of method.”
The Orthodox Church, therefore, believes in the God of the Prophets, Apostles and saints. It is the Body of Christ and sanctifies its members. Christians are taught and helped by Christ to discard magic, superstition and mysticism, to reject idols and idol-worship, and to share to varying degrees in the uncreated energy of God. Thus Christians are not “without God (literally: ‘atheists’) in the world” (Eph. 2:12), but are crucified with regard to passions, and acquire knowledge of the true God.
—Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Empirical Dogmatics