Daily Services What to Do?

September 22, 2015

We live in a busy world.  We would like to attend services more often but our obligations get in the way.  Sometimes our parishes do not offer daily services, let a lone that we would need to carry a small library with us in order to perform thePaisios service without a priest.  Saint Paisios of Mount Athos was not a priest and lived as a hermit; by himself.  Sometimes he had the service books to perform the services by himelf.  More often than not he did not have these books.  So what did he do???

In his life Elder Paisos of Mount Athos by Hieromonk Issac it describes that the saint used to perform the daily services on his broyanitsa (prayer rope).  Upon research this method has been used by those who had responsibilities in the monastery that took them away from the church services or those who were living the ascetical life as a hermit. The following is the method that has been used to perform these services on the broyanitsa.  This should never be used as a method to avoid going to church but a means to increase our constant contact with God.

  • Vespers: 600 prayers
  • Great Compline: 700 prayers
  • Small Compline: 400 prayers
  • Midnight Office (Nocturn): 600 prayers
  • Matins: 1500 prayers
  • The Hours: 1000 prayers (250 prayers for each of the four hours)

Cremation: A Message from St. Nikolai Velimirovic (written in 1956)

July 22, 2014

You ask me, why is the Orthodox Church against cremation. First of all, because it considers it violent. The Serbs still shudder with the crime of Sinan Pasha, who burned the dead body of St. Sava on Vrachar.

Do people burn dead horses, dogs, cats and monkeys? I have not heard of this. I have heard of and seen them buried. Why should the dead bodies of people who are the lords of all animals on earth endure violence? Would it not be in all respects much more reasonable to incinerate dead animals, especially in big cities, than people?Cremation 1

Second, because this pagan and barbaric habit disappeared from Europe thanks to Christian civilization two thousand years ago. Anyone who wants to reinstate it doesn’t do anything else, neither civilized nor modern nor new, but something ancient which has long expired.

In England, which one can hardly call uncivilized, this form of Neopaganism is very much hated by the people. To tell you a case: during the years of World War II a famous Yugoslav lost his mind. When asked before he died, he said his only desire was to have his body burned.

Our little Yugoslavian community watched as this man was reduced in the incinerator of Golders Green. When the dead body entered the burning furnace we began to tremble with horror. Then they shouted to us on the opposite side of the furnace, “wait a quarter of an hour to see your compatriot in the form of ashes”. We waited over an hour and were mystified why the fire struggled with the dead body, and we asked the stoker about this. He apologized saying the furnace was cold, “it is not heated every day, since rarely do volunteers get handed over to the fire”. Listening to this we were dissolved, unable to wait at the edge for our compatriot. And we know that in London over a thousand human beings die every day.Cremation 2

I am in America, I saw the graves of the great Presidents Wilson, Roosevelt, Lincoln and many other important persons. None of them are cremated. Now this surprised me, that among the descendants of Saint Sava there could be found those who are like-minded with Sinan Pasha!

But why create an issue that has already been solved? If we want to be loaded with unnecessary worries, then someday we could be troubled by the question on whether to kill our decrepit men and women as do some primitive tribes? And we will create clubs to propagate this “idea”! cremated_remains

Finally, what sense is there in fighting the cemeteries, particularly in this country where the cemetery serves as a national pride, as a source of inspiration, and if you will as the book of the state?

Peace to you and health from God.


VIDOVDAN

June 21, 2014

It should be emphasized that the Vidovdan commemorations are not celebrations of a Serbian military victory over the Turks, for the Serbs were not victorious in the Kosovo Battle. However, it is incorrect, and even malicious, to claim that at Vidovdan commemorations of the Serbs “celebrate their defeat in the Kosovo Battle.”
For Serbian people, the Battle of Kosovo has a specific meaning, as it symbolizes the ever going effort to achieve the freedom and independence. The battle did not mean the end of Serbian State that continued for almost another century after the battle, but it was the beginning of epic struggle for survival of our people that lasts to this day.

Kosovka_devojkaOn the eve of the epic battle St. Knez Lazar had a vision from God where he was to choose between a heavenly kingdom and an earthly kingdom. He choose the heavenly kingdom knowing that it would result in the martyrdom of himself and the Serbian people. Before going into battle and martyrdom all of the leaders and soldiers attended the Holy Liturgy and received Holy Communion.

The feast of Vidovdan is a renewal of the Kosovo Pledge for all Serbian people. This pledge is for us the choice once and for all our religious, cultural, ethical, and national identity. The Kosovo Pledge, has been handed down by all Serbian generations for more than 600 years. We as Serbs should live by this pledge.

The Kosovo Pledge-
Uncompromising faith in God, without which there is no genuine philanthropy;
Philanthropy, as a confirmation of professed faith in God;
Firm dedication to Christianity as it is confessed by the Orthodox Church;
Priority of the spiritual over the material;
Faithfulness to God, nation, and motherland;
Freedom as a precious value for which everything should be sacrificed, it should not be sacrificed for anything in the world;
Honesty, righteousness, and love for peace – virtues to be practiced by individuals as a basis for healthy social relationships;
Placing common interest above personal interests and readiness to sacrifice for those interests;
Compassion to be extended even to enemies;
National unity as a condition for our national existence.


Repentance in the Epistles of St. Paul

December 28, 2012

What is Repentance for St. Paul?
Holy Scripture is the recorded history of man’s relationship with God. The main message of this history is that of repentance. Repentance is the message of the Old Testament in the Law of Moses and the proclamations of the Prophets. This is also the message of the forerunner of Christ St. John the Baptist. Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ proclaims this same message of repentance throughout His public ministry. St. Paul in his epistles to the early Christian communities instructs them in the same message: Repent.

St Paul and Christ“Repentance” in the English language is often understood as deep sorrow, compunction, or contrition for a past sin, wrongdoing, or regret for any past action. While this understanding is an aspect of the scriptural understanding of the word “repentance,” it is not a complete understanding of the word.

The Greek word from the New Testament that is translated as repentance is μετάνοια (metanoia). The understanding of μετάνοια in the Greek language is that of change; a change of heart, a change of mind, a change of being. St. Paul was not only a Hebrew but he also had Roman citizenship. As a Roman citizen St. Paul was fluent in the Greek language giving him a full understanding of the word μετάνοια. Μετάνοια is used sparingly in St. Paul’s epistles: Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:9-10; 2 Timothy 2:25; and Hebrews 6:1, 6:6 and 12:17.

In the Old Testament the concept of μετάνοια is expressed by the Hebrew words שׁוּב (shub), meaning to turn back or return, and נָחַם (nacham), meaning to regret or be sorry for. St. Paul was very familiar with this Old Testament concept of repentance. He was a Pharisee prior to his conversion and the son of a Pharisee. Gamaliel, a Pharisee doctor of Jewish Law and a leading authority in the Sanhedrin in the mid-1st century AD, was the teacher of St. Paul.

It is with this understanding of change or turning back toward God that St. Paul understands repentance from his life experience. In his epistles, St. Paul unites the understanding of repentance in the Hellenic world with that of the Hebraic world. This understanding may be seen in the following from his epistles:

God Waits For Our Repentance
God patiently awaits our repentance out of His love for us while respecting our free will to reject Him. The greatest gift that God gives us is time to change our ways and return to Him. St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans says the following about God waiting for our repentance. “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and long suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” ( Romans 2:4) It is God that waits and suffers for His wayward children, us, to return to our intended path of living in communion with Him by giving us the time to lead us to repentance. St. Cyprian in his treatise On the Advantage of Patience states the following regarding this verse “He (St. Paul) says that God’s judgment is just, because it is tardy, because it is long and greatly preferred, so that by the long patience of God man may be benefited for life eternal” [1] to further illustrate that delays His judgment to give us time to repent.

How Should One Repent?
In order to repent we must first realize that there is something is not right in our life; that we are not living up to what God had intended for us. St. Paul speaks to this in Hebrews 6:1 “Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.” St. Paul reminds us that repentance is an ongoing process it does not end with the realization that we are not in line with God’s intended life for us. St. John Chrysostom, in his commentary on this verse, brings out that the focus should be on the full restoration to a life with God when he says “‘let us go on unto perfection?’ Let us henceforth proceed (he means) even to the very roof, that is, let us have the best life. For as in the case of the letters the Alpha involves the whole, and as the foundation, the whole building, so also does full assurance concerning the Faith involve purity of life. And without this it is not possible to be a Christian, as without foundations there can be no building; nor skill in literature without the letters.”[2]

When we arrive at this realization of that there is something is not right in our life; or the setting of a foundation of repentance, sorrow for the wrong doing creeps in to motivate us to move forward in the process of repentance. St. Paul address this in 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 when he says “Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” St. John Chrysostom comments on this verse in the following way “…(St. Paul) praises of them…that the sorrow brought some gain. For a father also when he sees his son under the knife rejoices not that he is being pained, but that he is being cured; so also doth this man.”[3] St. Paul and St. John are pointing out that this is a joyful sorrow. It is not joyful that the person is suffering from their sin but they are being healed by taking action to return to a Godly life. St. John Chrysostom further states that “…the blessed Paul hath said he needs not to adduce (cite as an example) from other sources the proof of what he said, nor to bring forward those in the old histories who sorrowed, but he adduces the Corinthians themselves; and furnishes his proof from what they had done.”[4] In short we do not need any more example of the truth of this other then what has occurred in our own lives.

St. Paul shows us that it is possible to be sorrowful for sin but not repentant when he speaks of Esau in Hebrews 12:17: “For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.” St. John Chrysostom, in his commentary on this verse, makes this point even more clear when he says, “Judas also repented, but in an evil way: for he hanged himself. Esau too repented; as I said; or rather, he did not even repent; for his tears were not [tears] of repentance, but rather of pride and wrath.”[5] We must realize that our sorrow leads us back to God.

Instruction in Repentance
We must all be instructed in repentance as St. Paul instructs the young Bishop Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:25 with the following words: “in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth.” St. John Chrysostom further elaborates on this point by saying “…it is possible…to touch more effectually by gentleness… teach…those who are willing to be taught…From constant teaching, it often happens that the plow of the word, descending to the depth of the soul, roots out the evil passion that troubled it. For he that hears often will at length be affected.”[6] It is by gentle reminders that that we continue in our life in repentance.

If any of us should fall away from this life of repentance St. Paul instructs us in Hebrews 6:6 with the following: “if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.” St. John Chrysostom further instructs: “For behold the love of God to man! We ought on every ground to have been punished at the first; in that having received the natural law, and enjoyed innumerable blessings, we have not acknowledged our Master, and have lived an unclean life. … Again we fell away, and not even so does He punish us, but has given medicine of repentance, which is sufficient to put away and blot out all our sins.”[7] St. Paul and St. John do not deny that it is a terrible thing to fall away from a way of life that returns us to God and what He intended for us, but, they point out that through applying the medicine of repentance it is possible to turn yet again to God in His mercy because of His love for us.

Summary
For St. Paul repentance is about a return of man to God. This entails a realization of man’s separation from God and the deep sorrow that comes from that realization. That realization is a joyful event because it is at that point the beginning of the healing of the whole man, body and soul, occurs. St. Paul identifies the healing of repentance as continuous with profound struggle.

End Notes
[1] Royster, Archbishop Dimitri; St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, A Pastoral Commentary; St. Vladimir’s Press; Crestwood, NY; 2008; p. 52
[2] St. John Chrysostom; “Homily on Hebrews 6:1-3”, NICENE AND POST-NICENE FATHERSOF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, SERIES 1 VOLUME XIV; edited by Philip Schaff; WM. B. EERDMANS PUBLISHING COMPANY; Grand Rapids, MI; 1889; p. 766
[3] St. John Chrysostom; “Homily XV”, NICENE AND POST-NICENE FATHERSOF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, SERIES 1 VOLUME XII; edited by Philip Schaff; WM. B. EERDMANS PUBLISHING COMPANY; Grand Rapids, MI; 1889; p.615.
[4] St. John Chrysostom; “Homily XV”, NICENE AND POST-NICENE FATHERSOF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, SERIES 1 VOLUME XII; edited by Philip Schaff; WM. B. EERDMANS PUBLISHING COMPANY; Grand Rapids, MI; 1889; p.617
[5] St. John Chrysostom; “Homily on Hebrews 12:14”, NICENE AND POST-NICENE FATHERSOF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, SERIES 1 VOLUME XIV; edited by Philip Schaff; WM. B. EERDMANS PUBLISHING COMPANY; Grand Rapids, MI; 1889 p.952
[6] St. John Chrysostom; “Homily on 2 Timothy 2:20,21”, NICENE AND POST-NICENE FATHERSOF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, SERIES 1 VOLUME XIII; edited by Philip Schaff; WM. B. EERDMANS PUBLISHING COMPANY; Grand Rapids, MI; 1889; p.866.
[7] St. John Chrysostom; “Homily on Hebrews 6:1-3”, NICENE AND POST-NICENE FATHERSOF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, SERIES 1 VOLUME XIV; edited by Philip Schaff; WM. B. EERDMANS PUBLISHING COMPANY; Grand Rapids, MI; 1889; p 770.

All quotes from the Epistles of St. Paul were taken from The Orthodox Study Bible: Ancient Christianity Speaks to Today’s World, Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition


The Taxation of Souls

August 4, 2012

I have had numerous requests for a copy of this paper as a result of I have decided to post it here.

Introduction

“When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.” – Matthew 25:31-33 [1]

This portion of the Gospel reflects a fundamental eschatological doctrine of the Church; all men will be judged as a result of the ways that they conducted their lives. In the Church’s doctrine there are doctrines regarding the judgment of man. The first is the Universal Judgment and the second is the Particular Judgment.

The Universal Judgment is the one that is referred to in the Gospel quote above. This judgment occurs at the Second Coming of Christ for the living and the dead, for the righteous, penitent and sinner. This judgment is final and definitive. It determines whether the person, both body and soul, will receive eternal blessedness or eternal torment.

The Particular Judgment occurs after the separation of the soul from the body at death. This doctrine states that soul will receive a judgment based on the life of the person to provide it with a foretaste of eternal blessedness or eternal torment based on the life of the person. One of the key passages of Holy Scripture that supports this doctrine is that of Christ’s parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus; Luke 16:19-31.

Fr. Michael Pomazansky in his book Orthodox Dogmatic Theology says the following about the Particular Judgment. “Based on …indications of Sacred Scripture, from antiquity the Holy Fathers of the Church have depicted the path of the soul after its separation from the body as a path through spiritual expanses, where dark powers seek to devour those who are weak spiritually, and therefore one is in special need of being defended by the heavenly angels and supported by prayer on the part of the living members of the Church. Among the ancient Fathers the following speak of this: Sts. Ephraim the Syrian, Athanasius the Great, Macarius the Great, Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, and others.” [2]

The Church uses various terminologies to describe the process of the Particular Judgment. Some of these terms are:
• The Accounting of Souls
• The Taxation of Souls
• Custom or Toll Houses

In order to understand this type of terminology one must remember that the Church is describing a spiritual reality using human experience and terminology. There are always limitations associated when this type of terminology is used. In order for someone to properly understand this type of terminology they must a common understanding of the terminology. Without this understanding that a spiritual reality is hidden under sensuous terms with their limitations one can easily be misled by what is being expressed.

Condition of the Soul Upon its Separation from the Body

When the soul separates from the body at death it is in pain because it was not created to be separated from the body. The soul is immortal. The body was created to be immortal but as a consequence of the Ancestral Sin [3] the body is no longer immortal; it dies.

The Church’s Dogma concerning the soul when it parts the body is that it is immortal and conscious; the soul is alive. [4] One of the key passages supporting this dogma is Christ’s parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus; Luke 16:19-31. Other Scriptural references that support this doctrine are the following:

“For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.” (Matt 22:32 and Luke 20:38)

“Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ has showed me. Moreover I will endeavor that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance.” (2 Peter 1:14-15)

“For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.” (2 Cor 5:1-4)

“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.” (2 Tim 4:6)

There are those have been spreading a teaching that the soul upon its separation from the body enters into a “state of sleep” until the Universal Judgment. This teaching is inconsistent with the teachings of the Church mentioned above. The Holy Synod of Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia declared this teaching to be heretical in it’s decision that resulted in the defrocking of Deacon Lev Puhalo one of the chief proponents of this teaching; he is currently known as Archbishop Lazar Puhalo retired bishop of the Orthodox Church in America (formerly the Russian Metropolia). [5]

Forgiveness of Sins

The Lord said to his disciples “Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt 16:19 and 18:18) With this statement Christ gave his disciples the power to forgive sins which has based down through Apostolic Succession to the priests of today.

The teaching of the Church is that when sins are forgiven through the Holy Mystery of Confession they are removed, it is as if the sin never occurred, with the proper repentance of the individual confessing the sin. Any epitimia (imperfect translation penance) that is given by the confessor is viewed a medicine or therapy for the person; not as a punishment as it is understood in Roman Catholic Theology. [6]

The sins of the unrepentant sinner are never forgiven they are bound here on earth and shall not be released in the life to come.

Sins of the person that have not had the proper repentance are open to God’s mercy depending on the state or disposition of the person at the time of death toward repenting of the sin or sins. An indicator of the state of repentance that the individual is in can be seen by the works of the person. As Saint James said “a man may say, You have faith, and I have works: show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18) These are the sins that the customs demons will vigorously attack and the angels will account for the state of the soul by its works to show that it was moving toward God and not away from Him. Thus, the angels make the case at the Particular Judgment that the soul has the possibility of receiving God’s mercy at the Universal Judgment.

Tax Collectors

The common image from the terms the Accounting of Souls, the Taxation of Souls and Custom or Toll Houses is that of demons that demand a tax or duty form the soul as it passes to its appointed place to await the Universal Judgment.

Whenever goods are transported across borders a duty or tax is placed on them. If the duty or tax cannot be paid then the goods are seized by the taxing authority. This image from commerce is what the Church is using to describe the souls transit from the body to its appointed place to await the Universal Judgment.

The image of the tax collector is one that takes away from or burdens a person’s life . People try to minimize their tax burden through various means while the tax collector is seen as someone that tries to maximize an individual’s tax and or one that is collecting taxes that are not owed. In tax issues a person is defended by accountants and lawyers to come to agreement on what is owed or not owed. This is a natural societal conflict that is used to show the interaction of the customs demons and the soul with the angels as its defenders during the Particular Judgment.

People in general have low opinions of tax collectors today however they were significantly lower in the past. One can clearly see this in the Gospel when Christ is maligned with the phrase He is “a friend with publicans (tax collectors) and sinners.” (Matt 11:19)

In the Roman Empire those who collected the tax were split into two the publicans or confiscators and tax collectors. The publicans were the more powerful and wealthy class. Publicans bought the taxes of others. Tax collectors on the other hand were salaried employees of the publicans that actually collected the taxes. The goal of these two groups were to make a profit on the taxes they of others that they bought. They used whatever means that was necessary to collect the tax and make a profit. They at times collected on previously paid taxes and taxes that the individual did not owe. [7]

Metropolitan Hiertheos (Vlachos) provides the following quotes to illustrate how corrupt this system of tax collection was:

“Plato said that tax collectors were oppressive, not so much when they collected duties from visible imports, ‘but when in looking for what was hidden they meddled in other peoples equipment and freight.’”

“Theocritus was asked what were the fiercest beasts, he answered: ‘in the mountains, bears and lions, and in the cities, tax collectors and sycophants.’” [8]

The Gospel also identifies the corruption of this manner of collecting taxes with His interaction with the Chief Publican Zacchaeus. (Luke 19:1-9). We can see from this interaction that he got very rich through the collection of taxes that he was able to give half of household to the poor and restore those he defrauded four times.

Probably the closest things that we have today to this method of tax collection are debt collectors, loan sharks, those that run protection rackets and those that reposess property to collect on a debt. However, today’s laws still curtail the efforts of those that conduct these enterprises. While the empire’s tax collectors had little to no boundaries for the collection of tax debts.

The attributes of these types of collectors of taxes must be assigned to the customs demons that the soul encounters upon leaving the body. The attributes are:

• Identifying sins that have not been completely repented of by the soul
• Claiming the unrepentant soul
• Claiming rights to a soul that was in the process of repenting of sins
• Trying to acquire the souls that had repented of their sins
• Attempting to search to soul for sins that they were not aware of to accuse the soul or to use the information against another soul.

The goal of the custom demons is to take souls away from God by whatever means they can employ whether justly or unjustly like the collection of taxes described above. However, the soul has the angels accompanying it to defend it from the charges that are made against it by the custom demons.

The angels that are protecting the soul show how the soul repented of a sin or how the works of the person were to be considered to show the intention of repentance that is worthy of God’s mercy.

Expressions of the Particular Judgment

There are numerous expressions and teachings regarding how the Particular Judgment occurs by various Holy Fathers of the Church. [9] The basic components of their teachings are that the soul will come under a more intense attack by the demons when it parts from the body then it ever endured while the body and soul were united. The Holy Angels will defend the soul from these attacks. The results of the battle over the soul will determine receive eternal blessedness or eternal torment.

One of the most popular and known expressions that identifies the process of the Particular Judgment is the revelation in the life of St. Basil the New of St. Theodora’s passage through the “toll houses” after her death. [10]

In this revelation the “toll houses” or “custom houses” present various categories of sin. The custom demons attack the soul accusing it of various sins in order to obtain the soul justly or unjustly. The Holy Angels defend the soul by identifying that the soul repented of the accusations or using the souls good deeds to demonstrate that the soul is worthy of God’s mercy.

The twenty toll houses identified in this revelation are:

• Sins of the Tongue
• Lying
• Slander
• Gluttony
• Laziness
• Theft
• Covetousness
• Usury
• Injustice
• Envy
• Pride
• Anger and Rage
• Remembering Evil
• Murder or causing Injury to Others
• Magic
• Lust
• Adultery
• Sodomy
• Heresy
• Unmercifulness

Fr. Dr. Thomas Hopko pointed out in a talk about Life and Death that “toll houses” must be understood symbolically as test one must pass through to see if the soul hangs on to its sin. He also points out that the soul must pass through the “toll houses” to do what Jesus did; that is conquer devils, resist temptation, and thereby destroy death. [11]

Metropolitan Dr. Kallistos Ware made the following observation about “toll houses” in an article in the journal Sobernost in 1981 “It is the normal teaching in the Orthodox Church that, during the period immediately following death, the soul, accompanied by the guardian angel, passes through a series of twenty-two telonia, celestial toll or custom houses.. This teaching about the toll houses has early origins; while not a dogma of the Church, is far more than mere legend or pious opinion. In picture language and symbolical terms it expresses truths about a state that is no longer subject to the categories of time and space.” [12]

In addition to these quotes Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos supports a similar position on the taxation of souls in his book Life After Death. [13]

These quotes validate that that the teachings on “toll houses” are the consistent teaching of the Church. The teaching on “toll houses” is consistent from the Holy Fathers; the Saints including modern saints like St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco and St. Nikolaj of Žicha; and prominent respected modern Orthodox Theologians.

The Controversy

There are groups within the Church that oppose the teaching of the taxation of souls or “toll houses.” There appears to be two opposition groups; one that believes that this teaching is akin to the Roman Catholic teaching on Purgatory, the other group sees this as a heretical teaching that is based on gnostic writings.

For those that adhere to the understanding that the taxation of souls is an Orthodox version of Purgatory Fr. Dr, Thomas Hopko provides the following response:

“The crazy teachings are that when you die you have to be punished for the things that you do and go through each of these tool-booths in order to get punished by the demons for that particular sin. So you go through the tollbooth of lust to get punished for your lust, you go through the tollbooth of greed to be punished for your greed, you go through the tollbooth of anger to be punished for anger, and so on until you are punished enough and make it.

In the western church, even before the Reformation, there was a teaching that if you pray for these people you can get some of the punishment off. It was called temporal punishment due to your sin and those were called were called indulgences and then you could actually go to church to light a candle, say a prayer or give some money to get the time off from the punishment. This was called the “purgatorium” (or the “purgatory”) connected with the doctrine of punishment and inflicted pain that had to be done away with. This is not our Orthodox teaching.” [14]

The second group that states that the teaching on the taxation of souls is based in Gnostic teaching and sources. This group was unknown until the Deacon Lev Puhalo, now known as Archbishop Lazar Puhalo retired bishop of the Orthodox Church in America (formerly the Russian Metropolia), gave it voice round the time of the publication of Fr. Seraphim Rose’s book The Soul After Death [15].

Fr. Seraphim’s book provides an explanation of the traditional teaching of the Church on “toll houses” as well as other issues such as out of body and near death experiences. Fr. Seraphim stresses that the teaching of Church on “toll houses” is to be understood symbolically. [16]

Archbishop Lazar sees the teaching of the Church on the taxation of souls as gnostic through its similarity to various gnostic writings. Some of these writing are the Egyptian and Tibetan Books of the Dead, the Zoroastrianism of the Persians, and the writing of various Christian Gnostic sects such as the Bogomils and the Manicheans. Two of Puhalo’s chief supporters in these arguments are the V. Rev. Dr. Michael Azkoul and Irene Matta MTh providing the same or similar arguments as Puhalo. [17]

What Archbishop Lazar and his supporters fail to mention is the Church traditionally has drawn on sources outside Herself to define and explain her teaching. A good example of this how the Holy Fathers of the Church took the teachings and language of the ancient philosophers, such as Plato and Plotinus, redefining them to teach the Christian faith. Additionally they fail to mention that heresies are for the most part the true teachings of the Church with the exception of one or more elements in a very subtle manner. Thus, just because a writing comes from a heretical sect it does not mean that the writing does not contain elements of the true teaching of the Church. However the writings of heretical sects must be approached with caution when being read to guard against falling into heresy.

One final observation about the writing of Archbishop Lazar is that he dismisses the writings of the Holy Fathers, such as the writings of Sts. Athanasius the Great, Macarius the Great, as gnostic forgeries with very little proof or outside supporting evidence that these documents are forgeries.

Pastoral Approach

There are groups within parishes that the issue of the taxation of souls can become an issue. The one thing in common that these groups will hold is that they read Orthodox Christian Literature for a variety of reasons. If they become aware of the conflict that exists regarding this teaching it may upset the balance and harmony of the parish.

The primary thing the parish priest should do in explaining the Church’s traditional teaching regarding the taxation of souls. The priest should avoid entering into speculation regarding the controversies that have recently developed or provide his own personal opinions on the topic to his parishioners. This is in line with Canon 19 of the Quinisext Council that states “if any controversy in regard to the Scripture shall be raised, let them not interpret it otherwise than as the lights and doctors of the Church in their writings … lest through their lack of skill they may have departed from what was fitting.” [18] The canon applies to this situation because it teaches that the clergy of the Church should not speculate on their own regarding controversial topics but only teach that which has been consistently taught by the Holy Fathers.

The next thing that should be done is shore up the traditional teaching of the Church with the Scriptural quotes referenced in this paper regarding the doctrine of the Particular Judgment.

The final point to make is that this teaching is referenced in the services and prayers of the Church. The following are examples of how the taxation of souls is referenced in services of the Church:

Numerous references in the Osmoglasnik of St. John Damascene

“The prince of the air, the oppressor, the tyrant who standeth on the dread paths, the relentless accountant thereof, do thou vouchsafe me who am departing from the earth to pass [O Theotokos]” (Canon for the Parting of the Soul from the Ode IV, troparia 4; also Ode VIII, troparion 2).

“He guarded us at our departure from this life from the snares of the evil one and his grievous toll-houses of the air, that we may stand uncondemned before the throne of the Lord of Glory.” (Final prayer in the Akathist of St. George)

“And at the terrible hour of death, be not far from me, my good guardian, driving away the demons of darkness, who have the power to terrify my trembling soul; defend me from their net, when I shall pass through the aerial toll-houses, in order that, being guarded by thee, I may attain the desired paradise,….” ( Prayer to the Guardian Angel from the Canons for Holy Communion)

End Notes

1. Theophilos, version 3.16, Bible King James Version all other scriptural quotes are from this software.

2. Pomazansky, Fr. Michael; Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, translated by Hieromonk Seraphim Rose, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood Platina, CA, 1994; pp. 333-334.

3. This refers to the sin of Adam and the consequences of that sin and not inherited guilt that is taught in Western Christianity. For a complete explanation see The Ancestral Sin by Fr. John Romanides, translated by George S. Gabrriel, Zephyr Publishing, Ridgewood, NJ, 1998.

4. Ibid pp.138-140 and Orthodox Dogmatic Theology p.332

5. Extract from the Minutes of the Session of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia; 19 November/2 December, 1980; http://orthodoxinfo.com/death/tollhouse_debate.aspx

6. Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, pp. 286-288.

7. Hiertheos. Metropolitan of Nafpaktos; translated by Esther Willams; Life after Death; Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, Levadia, Hellas, 1996; p.63

8. Ibid; p.63; Metropolitan Heirthos does not provide any reference to a source for these quotes.

9. Reviewing the material in the Bibliography will assist the reader in finding the primary references to the Holy Fathers regarding the Particular Judgment.

10. A compete recounting of this revelation can be found in Eternal Mysteries Beyond The Grave; compiled by Archimandrite Panteleimon; Print Shop of St. Job of Pochaev; Holy Trinity Monastery; Jordanville, NY; 1968; pp. 70- 87

11. Transcript of a talk given by Fr. Thomas Hopko in Brisbane Australia October 1999 on” Life after death… Mysteries beyond the grave”; http://www.orthodoxchristian.info/pages/afterdeath.htm

12. Ware, Metropolitan Kallistos; “One Body in Christ: Death and the Communion of Saints;” Sobernost Vol. 3 Issue 2; 1981 pp. 182-183. It should be noted that there are different traditions regarding the number of “toll houses.” The numbers of “toll houses” either numbers 20 or 22 based on tradition.

13. Hiertheos. Life after Death; pp 62-80

14. Transcript of a talk given by Fr. Thomas Hopko in Brisbane Australia; October 1999

15.This was the second issue of Lev Puhalo’s teaching on death that was condemned in the previously mentioned extract from the Minutes of the Session of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia that ultimately led to his being defrocked for his failure to recant his teachings on death. There appears to be an element of conflict on this issue between Puhalo and Fr. Seraphim Rose that seems to fuel Puhalo’s writings on this subject.

16. Rose, Fr. Seraphim; The Soul After Death; The St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood; Platina, CA; 1980

17. See their books in the Bibliography.

18. Ford, David Phd; “Handouts for The Byzantine Church (Church History II); St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary; South Canaan, PA; Spring Semester 2011; pp. 3-4 quoting the Canons of the Quinisext Council from NPNF 2,XIV, pp. 359-408.

Bibliography

Books

Archimandrite Panteleimon
Eternal Mysteries Beyond The Grave, ; Print Shop of St. Job of Pochaev; Holy Trinity Monastery; Jordanville, NY; 1968

V. Rev Dr. Michael Azkoul and Irene Matta, MTh
The Toll House Myth: The neo- Gnossicism of Fr. Seraphim Rose, Synaxis Press, Dewdney, BC, Canada

Constantine Callinicos
Beyond the Grave, translated byRev geoge Demopoulos and Leslie Jerome Newville, Christian Orthodox Editions, Scranton PA, 1969

Father Michael Pomazansky
Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, translated by Hieromonk Seraphim Rose, St. Heraman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, CA, 1994

Ivan N. Ostroumoff
The history of the Council of Florence, translated by Basil Popoff, Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Boston MA, 1971

Lazar Puhalo
The Soul, The Body, And Death, Synaxis Press, Dewdney, BC, Canada, 1980
The Tale of the Elder Basil “The New” and the Theodora Myth, Synaxis Press, Dewdney, BC, Canada, 1992

Father John Romanides
The Ancestral Sin, translated by George S. Gabrriel, Zephyr Publishing, Ridgewood, NJ, 1998.
An Outline of Orthodox Patristic Dogmatics, translated by Fr. George Dion Dragas, Orthodox Research Institute, Rollinsford, NH, 2004.

Father Seraphim Rose
The soul after Death, St. Heraman of Alaska Brotherhood Platina, CA, 1977

Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos)
Orthodox Psychotherapy – The Science of the Fathers, translated by Ester Williams, Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, Levadia, Hellas, 2006
Life After Death, , translated by Ester Williams, Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, Levadia, Hellas, 1996
The person in the Orthodox Tradition, , translated by Ester Williams, Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, Levadia, Hellas, 2002

Nikolas P. Vassiliadis
The Mystery of Death, The Orthodox Brotherhood of Theologians, Athens 1997

Hand outs/ Articles

Ford, David
“Handouts for The Byzantine Church (Church History II); St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary; South Canaan, PA; Spring Semester 2011

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware
“One Body in Christ: Death and the Communion of Saints;”, Sobernost Vol. 3 Issue 2; 1981

Web Sites

http://www.orthodoxchristian.info
orthodoxwiki.org
http://orthodoxinfo.com
http://en.wikipedia.org

Software

Theophilos, version 3.16, Bible Stephanus Textus Receptus, King James Version
New Advent – CD ROM Edition 2


Seventh Sunday After Pentecost 2012

July 26, 2012

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit

Your Grace, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ;

There once was a man that visited a village in the mountains. The setting was pristine; a clear mountain stream was going through the village. There was clear mountain air, green fields, the wild flowers in bloom, the snow capped mountains were in the background. In the village all of the houses were well cared for with fresh paint and very ornate trim work. This village was a gorgeous sight to behold. The man thought the people here must be very good people by looking at the way they cared for their village and its surroundings.

The man thought he would spend the night there. He thought he would give a precious gift to the people of the village and a special gift for the person he stayed with that night on the next day. He came to one house and knocked on the door. The person inside told him to go away without opening door. The man came to another house. This time when the door was opened the stench from inside drove him away. He excused himself and went on to the next house. This time he said no matter what he was going to enter and stay at that house. Well, while he was in the house the smell, the bugs and filth that was inside finally drove him out. The man left the beautiful village without ever giving his special gift.

This story is very representative of our relationship with our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. People look at us, seeing on the outside what appears to be good and righteous people. However our Lord knows something different. He sees our inside. He sees the sins that we have found a way to keep hidden from everyone else. Then we wonder why the Lord doesn’t work miracles in our lives like He worked in the Holy Scriptures and those recorded in the early Church. The reason more often than not, that we don’t experience miracles has to do with our sin and our lack of faith.

Today’s scripture readings deal directly with two points; our sin and lack of faith.

In the Apostle reading of St. Paul calls upon the Romans that the strong or the righteous live lives that will be an example for or edify the weak, that all may be of one mouth and mind glorifying Christ Jesus and the Father.

The Holy Gospel tells us of two separate healings by Jesus. The first healing is of two blind men that cry out to him. Jesus asks them if they believe before he heals them.

The second healing is of a demon possessed man who is brought to him for healing. This time our Lord sees the faith of those bringing the man to Him. He doesn’t ask for any other confession of faith, than the faith of those bringing the man, before He heals the man. Wwe also see in the Gospel that there are others that reject these healings.

The Lord gives all men a special gift if they are willing to accept it; as he did for those in the Gospel. However there are those that will always reject the gift; like the Pharisees that accuse Him of casting out demons by the prince of demons. They are like the people that wouldn’t answer the door or those whose houses were beautiful on the outside and filled with stench and filthiness on the inside in the village.

There is a condition to receiving the gift of healing or salvation from God. The condition is faith. We must believe in God. We must acknowledge the fact that we need Him for our very survival; that we need Him more than our career, family, friends and all other things. As it says in the Gospel of St. Matthew “He that loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me,” (Matthew 10:37). This is what it truly means to believe in God. It does not mean these other things are not important but, God comes First!!!!! Then, everything else.

The gift of healing is the restoration of our being to all that it was ever meant to be. It is the healing and restoration from the consequences of death and corruption that entered into the world by the ancestral sin of Adam. The healing may be for physical or spiritual ills according to what is need for our salvation or glorification in God. For this to be accomplished we must first free ourselves from our sin. As we saw in the story of the village that God cannot live in a dirty dwelling place and impart His gifts, no matter how hard He tries.

We must do something to clean up our lives because God will not do it for us because He respects our free will to reject Him.

The only way we can clean up our lives and receive forgiveness of our sins is through Confession. As our Lord told us “Truly I say unto you, Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18) Confession is where we can openly an honestly clean our house so that we can receive God into our being and receive His gifts.

The season of the Dormition Fast is coming upon us in a few short weeks. We should each prepare our confession to clean the house of our souls and receive the Precious and Holy Body and Blood of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ in order to be healed of all of your physical and spiritual ailments according to what is needed for our salvation.

O Lord our God we cry out to You, as the blind men and those that brought the demonic possessed man, to dwell in us so that we may receive Your gift of healing of all of our physical and spiritual ills for our salvation and not be like the Pharisees or those in the beautiful village that rejected Your healing salvation.

Amen.

Delivered by Fr. Milan Medakovic St. George Serbian Orthodox Church in Midland, PA; the Seventh Sunday After Pentecost 2012.


Fourth Sunday After Pentecost 2012

July 1, 2012

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ we heard the Lord say “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.” (Matthew 8:10) Our Lord says this in response to the Centurion saying “but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goes; and to another, Come, and he comes; and to my servant, Do this, and he does it.” (Matthew 8:8-9)

What is this faith that our Lord God is marveling at? Is it a belief or is it something more? In order to answer these questions we must examine the words belief and faith.

Belief is a word that expresses a concept of understanding. In a very real sense one could say that an unproven idea is a belief. A theory is a great example of a belief.

Faith on the other hand implies something that is known or proven. When I set the alarm clock at night I have faith that it will alarm in the morning at the time for which I set it. I have this faith because every time that I did this in the past it alarmed at the time for which it was set.

This is how are faith in God should be. We have faith in God because we have experienced Him; we have come to know Him through our relationship with Jesus, God incarnate. It is through this relationship that we obtain salvation. We confess our faith in this salvific relationship in the Creed or the Symbol of Faith.

It is interesting that the first words of the Creed have been translated into English as “I believe in…” in the Slavonic text these first words are “Vjeruju vo” or “Verujem u” in Serbian. In both cases the root word is “Vera” or faith. The first words of the Creed could be translated as I have faith in…We have faith in the God revealed and experienced in the Holy Trinity as expressed in this Creed, in history and our living experience of Him.

One of the most concrete ways that we experience God is through prayer. Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ tells us “whatsoever you shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13) Many of us question our faith because sometimes the things we ask for in prayer we do not receive. This is because God knows what we need. The answer to our prayers maybe “No, that is not good for you” or “not at this time, wait” or we may receive what we ask for in the manner we ask or in a different way. When we don’t get what we ask for our faith sometimes wavers because we forget what we say in the Lord’s Prayer “Your will be done.” (Matthew 6:10) Unwavering faith has nothing to do with our will. Unwavering faith has to do with seeking God’s will in all things.

An example of unwavering faith in the face of great adversity is seen in the Holy Prophet Job. Job lost his family, his lands and his health but remained faithful to God. Even his wife told him to “curse God, and die.” (Job 2:9) Job’s response to all his suffering was “shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10) Job did not want to experience the difficulties he had in his life. However he had faith that God would give him what he needs. Job surrendered his will to God’s will or Job emptied himself so that God could fill Job with Himself.

This self-empting is what we see in God in the person of Jesus Christ; especially at His passion. The person of Jesus shows that when we cut off our will or empty ourselves we become obedient to God. Jesus the God-Man is obedient to the will of God while Adam was disobedient exerting his will over God’s will bring the consequences of death and corruption into the world. Christ’s obedience to His Father brings us back to life and restores our natural relationship with God.

Thus, when the centurion speaks about obedience of those that report to him he equates that obedience to the obedience of all of creation to Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. The centurion says that I not only believe that my servant will be healed but, I know from the experience of You that he will be healed. The Centurion has faith because he knows how faith and obedience are related by others fulfilling his will and by being obedient himself fulfilling the will of others, as “one under authority” as it says in the Gospel (Matthew 8:9).

Christ marvels at this because the centurion is able to understand the relationship between obedience and faith; that obedience is and faith are about fulfilling the command or will of another. That faith and obedience are about freedom. When we fulfill the will of God we come free. We become free from death and corruption. When we turn our will and our life over to God He gives it back to us transformed. It is transformed because we no longer need to make choices about what is the right thing to do in any situation; we are set free. This is what it means to have great faith.

Saint Bishop Nikolaj Velimirovic explains this wonder of great faith inhe following manner “Christ did not marvel at the beauty of the sea of Galilee, for what is such beauty compared with the beauty of the kingdom of heaven….Neither did He ever marvel at great human wisdom, wealth or strength; for all is nothing compared with the wisdom, wealth and might that are familiar to Him in the Kingdom of God….The great faith of one man is to be marveled at. It is the greatest and most beautiful thing on earth, for by faith a slave becomes free, a hireling becomes a son of God and a mortal man becomes immortal.”

So, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ let us have great faith obtaining freedom and life everlasting by surrendering our self will to God’s will by being obedient to His commandments. Amen

Delivered by Fr. Milan Medakovic at St. Archangel Michael Serbian Orthodox Church on the 4th Sunday after Pentecost 2012.


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