Asceticism, Catechism, Church history, Empirical Dogmatics, FAQs, illumination, Incorrupt Relics, Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Protopresbyter John S. Romanides, Purification, The Spiritual Perfecting of Christians, Theosis
The purpose of the Church is not social, moral, philosophical or anything else, but pre-eminently soteriological and theological. This is especially obvious from the connection between Pascha Pentecost and the Feast of All Saints.
“What is the purpose of Orthodoxy? It is clear from the calendar of feasts. We have Pascha and we have Pentecost. Baptism in water takes place at Pascha Baptism in the Holy Spirit takes place at Pentecost. So until Pentecost the Holy Spirit visits the faithful. And what is the outcome? The Sunday of All Saints. In other words, that all Orthodox Christians may be numbered among the saints. The fruit of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost is the sanctification of man. This is the aim of Baptism.
Now only monks have this aim: it has become the calling of monks. Aren’t all human beings meant to become holy? Is it only for monks? What does this imply? Doesn’t everyone need to be cured? It is as though we had cancer and said that treatment was only needed for doctors, not for anyone else. What kind of medical science would accept the idea of treating only one group of people? Treatment is for everyone who is sick.”
The Gospel according to John, which is described as the ‘spiritual Gospel’, is read in Paschal season. It includes Christ’s high-priestly prayer, which refers to the vision of God’s glory, and to the Apostles’ acquiring unity between themselves within the glory of God. This became a reality on the day of Pentecost, and is also demonstrated by the Feast of All Saints, which is a fruit of Pentecost.
The aim that the Church had in view, the glorification and sanctification of man, is the original aim of the creation of the first-formed human beings. We see this from the fact that even small children can attain to holiness. From their birth they have an illumined nous, the noetic faculty functions, but it is obscured by darkness and the conditions of their surroundings.
Some people see the Church as a religion that satisfies their emotions and their mundane concerns. The Church, however, is not a religion.
“We have religious people who go to church, light a candle and pray that their daughters may marry rich husbands, or that their sons may find wives with good dowries. Is this the Church? That we should pray religiously for our vineyards? Yes, these are indeed religious matters, because God is interested in every phase of man’s life, isn’t He? So when we have problems we will certainly ask God to help us.”
Others see the purpose of the Church as being simply the salvation of the soul after death.
“Do you know what the major problem is nowadays? Orthodoxy has been identified with concern for the soul’s salvation after death. This is the problem. Because it has been identified with life after death and there are no longer any criteria for who is a member of the Church, for assessing whether someone has been cured or not, or whether someone is illuminated or not; the patristic criteria are no longer applied to people’s lives today.”
The Church forms a ‘commonwealth’ in which there are different laws from those that apply in worldly states.
“What is Orthodoxy? Certainly Orthodoxy is in communication with God. Orthodoxy worships God and participates in God’s glory. The Church is made up of human beings who are the Body of Christ, but are differentiated according to their various states. In Orthodoxy there is no democracy or absolute equality between the citizens of the Body of Christ. There is inequality. In fact, there is often great inequality.
This means that the commonwealth of the Church has no link with democracies or dictatorships or anything else. It is a charismatic community of human beings who make up the Body of Christ. Among them can be distinguished Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, bishops, priests, deacons and laypeople. Then the glorified, the illuminated, those being purified, and so on. We have very great variety.”
Also, there are no boundaries between the Church and the world. This means that the worldly mentality can enter the members of the Church. Some members may not respond to the activation of the grace of Baptism. In this context we should look at who are the members of Church, who are the members of the Body of Christ. All who are baptised and chrismated, who partake of the Body and Blood of Christ and have noetic prayer are members of the Church.
“According to the Fathers of the Church, all who are in this state are members of the Church. According to St John Chrysostom, for example, that uninformed one who says Amen’ is the layman of the Church. That is to say, all the others are not the laity. So what are they? They are the clergy. Because there are clergy and laity in the Church, aren’t there?
So the one who says Amen’, in Chapter 14 of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, Apostle Paul’s uninformed man, according to the Fathers of the Church is the layman, who is not with the others whom ‘God has appointed in the church: first apostles…’ up until ‘varieties of tongues’ (1 Cor. 12:28). He is outside, he is uninformed.”
Those who have received the Holy Spirit are members of the Church. This is clear from the passage from St Paul: “And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues” (1 Cor. 12:28).
“God puts in the Church, first Apostles, second Prophets, third teachers, and so on, and the list ends with ‘varieties of tongues’. God appointed in the Church. Because in the early Church someone to whom the Holy Spirit had come and in whom He dwelt was regarded as a member of the Church. And the sign that the Holy Spirit dwelt in someone was speaking in tongues. This was the chrism: that the Holy Spirit spoke within the man and prayed in him.”
Anyone who does not have the Holy Spirit is not connected with Christ, does not know Christ and goes as far as to deny Christ.
“This is why in the early Church when someone denied Christ it was a sign that he was not in a state of illumination, so he was not a member of the Church. The Apostle Paul says, ‘God has appointed these in the church:first apostles…’ and ends with ‘varieties of tongues’. Anyone who is not a temple of the Holy Spirit is not a member of the Church, and the proof that he is not a member of the Church is that he denies Christ.
In the early Church, therefore, those who denied Christ were not allowed to take Holy Communion, except on their deathbed. Why was that? Not because the Church is harsh, but because someone who denied Christ was not in a state of illumination. It was not a punishment. It was a recognition of the fact that he was not illuminated, so he could not take Holy Communion.”
The Fathers’ basic teaching about the Church is that it is described as a therapeutic centre, a hospital. It cures human beings of the deep wound caused by their Fall.
“Let us imagine that the Church ever since its foundation has been a clinic, a hospital, which people enter to be treated, and this treatment was purification of the nous, then illumination of the nous, then the glorification of man, so that he may reach a natural condition. Man’s natural condition is to love without self-interest, to have the love that ‘does not seek its own’ (1 Cor. 13:5).”
“In order to evaluate and identify the subject of theology in Greece and the state of the Church, one could characterise the early Church as a large hospital which treats those who are ill. The director of this hospital is called a bishop, and the doctors are called priests and deacons. The deacons and deaconesses are, we could say, nursing staff. The priests are the doctors. The bishop is the president of the presbyterate, of the hospital, of the parish.
The hospital is the parish. In it are those being treated and spiritual physicians. That is the hospital. There is a tradition that we have an excellent hospital. We have all the means to treat people, great success in treatment, and very few leave the hospital without being cured. And there is a medical school within the hospital. Just as in the large hospitals in America, there is usually a medical school inside the hospital. There is a medical school that produces the doctors.
For some reason this medical science gradually collapsed, and whereas the percentage of those cured in the first years of the hospital was 80-85% cured of all illnesses, with the passage of time this percentage begins to fall. From 85% it falls to, say, 75%, 55%, 50%, and afterwards we reach 30% and so on. This means that medical science is not in a good state. Medical science is not carrying on as it should; there is no tradition to keep it correct, because some useless doctors have come in without adequate knowledge. They restricted themselves to the little they knew, they did not increase their accuracy, and they became rather slapdash.
So 30% of them say that things are not going well now. They said: ‘Why don’t we go and create another hospital, an annex?’ And they do just that. This is monasticism. Do you understand? When the parishes collapsed, those who had praxis, purification, illumination and glorification, that is to say, noetic prayer, the prayer-rope, the whole ascetic teaching, left the parishes and monasticism flourished.
Of course, there is no way in which the Protestants can accept that monasticism is biblical, that monasticism originated from Holy Scripture. For them monasticism is a cancer that appears in the Church. Monasticism is a cancer, not something genuine that belongs to Christianity. Thus all Protestants are against monasticism.
Now various movements have begun, and the Americans have gone as far as monasteries. They are returning to the idea that they really ought to have monks and nuns. But in England there are some monks, and some of our own people were at a reception, and as soon as they arrived, they began watching the monks dancing ‘rock and roll’. So one is entitled to suspect that perhaps on that subject something is going wrong, for them to be dancing ‘rock and roll’.
Well, this building that is called a hospital has a little annex called a monastery. Nearly everyone that enters the Monastery is cured, whereas in the big building 80% are still not cured. Before 80% were cured, now 80% are no longer cured.”
“We have a hospital, all the annexes and all the equipment, everything that is needed for the smooth running of the hospital and for people to be treated. But we have a director of the hospital who does not know what these things are for. We have doctors in the hospital who do not know what’s what, and we have reached the point of returning to the era of St Symeon the New Theologian.
The monks created a hospital alongside the original one, but afterwards they won back the Hierarchy and we entered the period of Turkish domination with the Hierarchy regained by reason of hesychasm, which reintroduced into the Church the bishop and clergy as spiritual physicians, who know how to diagnose and to cure. This sort of bishop returned to the Church with the revival of monasticism due to St Symeon the New Theologian.”
“The important thing, however, is that, if one examines the early Church and the clergy, the relations between bishops, priests, deacons and laity, one immediately finds something strange: that early Orthodox theology very closely resembles contemporary psychiatry. What is the aim of theology and psychiatry? It is to cure people. And people are cured by a specific method.”
“The Church, if left to itself, does its work. And what is its work? To cure people of the state they are in, to bring them through purification to illumination. This is the task of the Church: to bring light to the world.”
The teaching that the Church is a spiritual hospital is linked with the other teaching, that the clergy are spiritual physicians who carry out diagnosis and treatment. At times the clergy took on other duties as well, particularly during the period of Turkish domination, when the bishops also took on the duties of leaders of the Greek community. They were clearly aware, however, of the task of the clergy.
“There is a link between the Church and the community, just as there is between doctors and the community. Let us suppose that the clergy is an association of doctors who are concerned with diagnosis and treatment. When that doctor, whom we shall call ‘the bishop’, also takes on duties of a political nature, we will not say that he stops being a doctor. He is now a political leader as well.
He carries out political duties, and it is not permissible for medical science to be confused with politics. When this individual works as a doctor, he works as a doctor. He treats the sick. When, however, he carries out the duties of a politician, we all know that he is acting as a politician, and we do not confuse the duties of a doctor with those of a politician.”
“The Church has diagnosis and treatment. You have to do this, that and the other in order to be cured. Why is treatment needed? Because you will see the glory of God, and if you have not undergone a change in your personality, so that selfish love is changed into unselfish love, if your heart is hardened, instead of seeing God as glory you will seen Him as a consuming fire, outer darkness and so on. Do you understand?
We shall all see God, but one will see Him in one way and the other in another way. If you are not cured, you will see Him in this way, and the Day of Judgment dawns, and one thing and another… Repentance, what is repentance? Repentance means changing the nous. The nous must change, must be cleansed and so on.”
Unfortunately, in many phases of the historical life of the Church, its therapeutic character was lost, and this is secularisation.
“Instead of being a therapeutic centre, the Church has ended up being a place of magical ceremonies. And Orthodoxy, devoid of this therapeutic aspect and method, which is purification, illumination and glorification, is in danger of ending up as nothing but superstition.
The only thing that saves us is all our ceremonial, which was inherited from people who were in a state of illumination or glorification. So our liturgical books are completely all right, the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils are completely all right, the mould is all right, but its filling, the inner life of the Church, is something that needs to be studied.”
“This is the work of the Church. But the way the Church has developed, instead of being a group of spiritual Fathers, like a hospital that has, say, fifty doctors, two thousand years have passed and the hospital is without doctors, but those who are unable to cure anything are called doctors. We are in danger of reaching this point, and the only thing that will save us is returning to the Fathers of the Church.”
The success of the Church is usually seen in terms of its relationship with the world and its surroundings. That too is one aspect of the Church’s struggle.
“On this journey the Church encounters historical events, which are not of an internal ecclesiastical form or character, but are the Church’s struggle with the structure of society. We have a social structure. We not only have the ecclesiastical structure but the social structure as well.”
The success of the Church, however, lies in the extent to which it sanctifies man.
“The basic criterion for whether or not the Church is in a good state is success. If we have thousands of glorified people in a century, the Church is doing well. If we have a shortage, then something is going wrong. This is how one ought to judge the history of the Church. In eras when there are large numbers of people who have been cured, that is to say, illumined, the Church is in a good state.
Whether we are under persecution or whether Constantinople has fallen is not the criterion. The criterion in how many reach illumination and glorification, regardless of the state of the nation. In neo-Hellenism we have learnt to judge the success of the Church by the success of the state. The success of the state is identified with the success of the Church. From the patristic point of view, the state may be absolutely successful, and the Church may fail absolutely. We cannot judge medical science on the basis of how the national economy is doing. Modern Greeks, however, have identified the fortunes of the Church with the fortune of the state. They attempt to explain the destruction of the Byzantine Empire by holding the Church responsible.”
“One has to bear these things in mind, because nowadays the history of the Church is usually reduced to a history of exciting events, such as Ecumenical Councils, scandals involving a Pope of Rome, wars and persecutions. The real history of the Church is the energy of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the faithful, and the fact that the faithful pass from one stage of perfection to another. This is the history of the Church.
The great festival of the Church is the calendar of saints, the calendar of feasts, when we celebrate the memory of the saints, because every saint of the Church represents the triumph of faith over the powers of the devil.
Apart from the fact that through the Mysteries (Sacraments) we all share together in the Body of Christ and are all on our way to the Day of Judgment, we undertake this struggle to be right with God on the Day of Judgment.
On the Church’s journey, its great triumphs are when human beings become saints. For that reason, after the Body and Blood of Christ, we have the icons of Christ, the All-Holy Virgin and so on, but also the holy relics. These are the signs that provide proof that the Church is on the right path, because it has these people as leaders and spiritual guides.
The purpose of the Church is to make holy relics. It has no other aim. Holy relics include the whole dogmatic structure of the Church.”
The success of the Church is not, therefore, identified with the success of the state. There are other specifications that determine the success of the Church. When we speak about the Church’s success we mean that there are neptic and hesychastic Fathers who cure Christians.
“This is spirituality. We call it ‘spirituality’, which is a modern term. Spirituality and such things do not exist in the Fathers of the Church.
Now another strange terminology is being created. We say ‘neptic Fathers of the Church’. Why do we talk about neptic Fathers of the Church? All Christians in the early Church were neptic, because if you were not spiritually vigilant, how could you become a temple of the Holy Spirit? How would you attain to ‘varieties of tongues’! These ‘varieties of tongues’ were the first stage of being a member of the Church.”
There are clear tokens of the success of the Church and these, as we mentioned earlier, are the sacred relics that show the realisation of the Church’s purpose.
“The experience of glorification includes the whole human being, the body as well as the soul. After someone has departed to the Lord, we know from the relics that he was glorified, and he is automatically numbered among saints of the Church.
We do not have a tradition, like the Papal Christians, of making saints, but God reveals the saints to us, usually by means of their relics and miracles.”
The existence of sacred relics is proof that the Church is on the right path and fulfilling its purpose, which is the sanctification of human beings. The sacred relics are a reality that demonstrates victory over death. Because the human body is a collection of cells that disintegrates at death. When, however, someone’s body remains incorrupt, it means that there is a superior force that does not allow it to disintegrate. This force is the energy of the uncreated grace of God. This fact ought to be studied from a theological point of view, but also from a biological point of view.
“What are the sacred relics? Are they not a chemical reality? They are a reality. Why is there no explanation? Why can we not find a biological or medical explanation for this issue? There is no explanation. Isn’t this holy relic made up of cells? It is made up of cells and there is no decomposition.
Why is there no decomposition, as the body is made up of cells, the whole body is a system of cells? Well, since the cells undergo disintegration, for that reason the body disappears and becomes dust. So what has happened to the relic? It has undergone a suspension of disintegration of its cells, so it is in this condition.
Is this not an issue for a biologist or a chemist? Unfortunately in Greece, as the doctors suffer from complexes, the only ones who have taken an interest in these matters are those who are opposed. They made a start and then they abandoned the subject.”
There are whole bodies of saints which are incorrupt, like that of St Spyridon. The subject of incorrupt relics is a theological fact.
“The holy relic of St Spyridon, which is preserved intact, is a suspension of the disintegration of the cell system. The fact that there is skin and everything else means that the cell system has not disintegrated. That is what it means.
Why has it not disintegrated? Why does the sacred relic have this fragrance? I am amazed that biologists in Greece have not taken an interest in the matter. Those who have shown interest have done so only to ridicule the relics, not to make an objective study.”
Thus the purpose of the Church, which is the salvation of its members, continues after death. For that reason the Church always prays for its members, because even after death there is a development in salvation, that is to say, there is continuous ascent in participation in God’s grace, provided the Christian, through repentance, is in the perspective of purification and illumination of the nous.
—Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos. “Empirical Dogmatics of The Orthodox Catholic Church. According to the Spoken Teaching of Father John Romanides.” Volume 2. 2013.