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[hocna] THE GREAT WAGER

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  • Peter Carras
    The Great Wager Between Believers and Unbelievers By Photios Kontoglou From his book Mystical Flowers, Athens, 1977. On Pascha Monday, in the evening after
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 27, 1999
      The Great Wager Between Believers and Unbelievers

      By Photios Kontoglou
      From his book Mystical Flowers, Athens, 1977.

      On Pascha Monday, in the evening after midnight, before fore lying down
      to sleep I went out
      into the little garden behind my house. The sky was dark and covered
      with stars. I seemed to see
      it for the first time, and a distant psalmody seemed to descend from
      it. My lips murmured, very
      softly: "Exalt ye the Lord our God, and worship the footstool of His
      feet." A holy man once told
      me that during these hours the heavens are opened. The air exhaled a
      fragrance of the flowers
      and herbs I had planted. "Heaven and earth are filled with the glory of
      the Lord."

      I could well have remained there alone until break of day. I was as if
      without a body and without
      any bond to the earth. But fearing that my absence would disturb those
      with me in the house, I
      returned and lay down.

      Sleep had not really taken possession of me; I do not know whether I
      was awake or asleep,
      when suddenly a strange man rose up before me. He was as pale as a dead
      man. His eyes were
      as if open, and he looked at me in terror. His face was like a mask,
      like a mummy's. His
      glistening, dark yellow skin was stretched tight over his dead man's
      head with all its cavities. He
      was as if panting. In one hand he held some kind of bizarre object
      which I could not make out;
      the other hand was clutching his breast as if he were suffering.

      This creature filled me with terror. I looked at him and he looked at
      me without speaking, as if
      he were waiting for me to recognize him, strange as he was. And a voice
      said to me: "It is
      so-and-so!" And I recognized him immediately. Then he opened his mouth
      and sighed. His
      voice came from far away; it came up as from a deep well.

      He was in great agony, and I suffered for him. His hands, his feet, his
      eyes—everything showed
      that he was suffering. In my despair I was going to help him, but he
      gave me a sign with his
      hand to stop. He began to groan in such a way that I froze. Then he
      said to me: "I have not
      come; I have been sent. I shake without stop; I am dizzy. Pray God to
      have pity on me. I want
      to die but I cannot. Alas! Everything you told me before is true. Do
      you remember how, several
      days before my death, you came to see me and spoke about religion?
      There were two other
      friends with me, unbelievers like myself. You spoke, and they mocked.
      When you left, they
      said: 'What a pity! He is intelligent and he believes the stupid things
      old women believe!'

      "Another time, and other times too, I told you: 'Dear Photios, save up
      money, or else you will
      die a pauper. Look at my riches, and I want more of them.' You told me
      then: 'Have you signed a
      pact with death, that you can live as many years as you want and enjoy
      a happy old age?'

      "And I replied: 'You will see to what an age I will live Now I am 75; 1
      will live past a hundred.
      My children are free from want. My son earns a lot of money, and I have
      married my daughter
      to a rich Ethiopian. My wife and I have more money than we need. I am
      not like you who listen
      to what the priests say: "A Christian ending to our life ..." and the
      rest. What have you to gain
      from a Christian ending? Better a full pocket and no worries ... Give
      alms? Why did your so
      merciful God create paupers? Why should I feed them? And they ask you,
      in order to go to
      Paradise, to feed idlers! Do you want to talk about Paradise? You know
      that I am the son of a
      priest and that I know well all these tricks. That those who have no
      brains believe them is well
      enough, but you who have a mind have gone astray. If you continue to
      live as you arc doing,
      you will die before me, and you will be responsible for those you have
      led astray. As a
      physician I tell you and affirm that I will live a hundred and ten
      years ...'"

      After saying all this, he turned this way and that as if he were on a
      grill. I heard his groans: "Ah!
      Ouch! Oh! Oh!" He was silent for a moment, and then continued: "This is
      what I said, and in a
      few days I was dead! I was dead, and I lost the wager! What confusion
      was mine, what horror!
      Lost, I descended into the abyss. What suffering I have had up to now,
      what agony! Everything
      you told me was true. You have won the wager!

      "When I was in the world where you are now, I was an intellectual, I
      was a physician. I had
      learned how to speak and to be listened to, to mock religion, to
      discuss whatever falls under the
      senses. And now I see that everything I called stories, myths, paper
      lanterns—is true. The agony
      which I am experiencing now—this is what is true, this is the worm that
      never sleeps, this is the
      gnashing of teeth."

      After having spoken thus, he disappeared. I still heard his groans,
      which gradually faded away.
      Sleep had begun to take possession of me, when I felt an icy hand touch
      me. I opened my eyes
      and saw him again before me. This time he was more horrible and smaller
      in body. He had
      become like a nursing infant, with a large old man's head which he was
      shaking.

      "In a short time the day will break, and those who have sent me will
      come to seek me!"

      "Who are they?"

      He spoke some confused words which I could not make out. Then he added:
      "There where I
      am, there are also many who mock you and your faith. Now they
      understand that their spiritual
      darts have not gone beyond the cemetery. There are both those you have
      done good to, and
      those who have slandered you. The more you forgive them, the more they
      detest you. Man is
      evil. Instead of rejoicing him, kindness makes him bitter, because it
      makes him feel his defeat.
      The state of these latter is worse than mine. They cannot leave their
      dark prison to come and
      find you as I have done. They are severely tormented, lashed by the
      whip of God's love, as one
      of the Saints has said [St. Isaac the Syrian]. The world is something
      else entirely from what we
      see! Our intellect shows it to us in reverse. Now we understand that
      our intellect was only
      stupid, our conversations were spiteful meanness, our joys were lies
      and illusions.

      "You, who bear God in your hearts, Whose word is Truth, the only
      Truth—you have won the
      great wager between believers and unbelievers. This wager I have lost.
      I tremble, I sigh, and I
      find no rest. In truth, there is no repentance in hell. Woe to those
      who walk as I did when I was
      on earth. Our flesh was drunk and mocked those who believed in God and
      eternal life; almost
      everyone applauded us. They treated you as mad, as imbeciles. And the
      more you accept our
      mockeries, the more our rage increases.

      "Now I see how much the conduct of evil men grieved you. How could you
      bear with such
      patience the poisoned darts which issued from our lips which treated
      you as hypocrites,
      mockers of God, and deceivers of the people. If these evil men who are
      still on earth would see
      where I am, if only they were in my place, they would tremble for
      everything they are doing. I
      would like to appear to them and tell them to change their path, but I
      do not have the permission
      to do so, just as the rich man did not have it when he begged Abraham
      to send Lazarus the
      pauper. Lazarus was not sent, so that those who sinned might be worthy
      of punishment and
      those who went on the ways of God might be worthy of salvation.

      "He that is unrighteous, let him do unrighteousness yet more; and he
      that is filthy, let him he
      made filthy yet more. And he that is righteous, let him do
      righteousness yet more; and he that
      is holy, let him be made holy yet more" (Apoc. 22:11).

      With these words he disappeared.
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