9 October 1955
I received your letter and you ask me to reply. You find the following words in the holy Apostle Paul incomprehensible: ‘We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him, who are called according to his purpose. And those whom He foreknew He also predestined . . . And those whom He predestined He also called; and those whom He called He also justified; and those whom He justified He also glorified.’ [Rom. 8:28-30].
I answer not by my own wisdom, but on the basis of the teaching of the Holy Fathers. The blessed Theophylactos says: ‘So first there is foreknowledge and then predestination. A person becomes called according to his foreknowledge, that is according to his own free will (because otherwise everyone would be saved because all are called), but free will is still necessary. And so, first foreknowledge, and then predestination.’
The Lord calls all, ‘Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden’ [Matt. 11:28], but He does not violate the free will given to us. For it depends on good will whether we strive for salvation and await grace, or desire evil and turn away from grace.
Realize, my friend, that our little mind is very limited and our heart is still encumbered with passions and we cannot understand the Divine purpose in Holy Scripture.
There are people who out of ignorance of the meaning of Scripture maintain the preposterous teaching that some are absolutely predestined to salvation and others to destruction; as if our most gracious God wanted anyone to perish.
Once while fasting and praying St Anthony the Great asked God to reveal to him why some die in their youth and others in old age, why some live a pious life and are poor, while others live a wicked life and prosper. He heard a voice: ‘Anthony, keep your attention on yourself, and do not pry into the judgements of God; it is not good for you’.
Now can man really comprehend God’s judgements? Why some people are blind from birth, others crippled, others idiots, and much else; there is a very great deal that is incomprehensible to us. Heresies, sects and schisms have arisen from wrong understanding of Holy Scripture and are based on pride and self-suggestion. In the Orthodox Faith the authorities are the Ecumenical Councils and the teaching of the Holy Fathers.
So, friend, this is how I advise you to read the Holy Bible: first pray to God to open your mind to understand the Scripture. What you understand try to carry it out, and what you do not understand, let it go. That is the advice of the Holy Fathers. Holy Scripture is not to be read for knowledge, but for the salvation of one’s soul. Searching into the incomprehensible is connected with pride.
—Elder John of New Valaamo. Letters from a Russian Monk.