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Article by Metropolitan Ephraim

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  • Fr. Panagiotes Carras
    AWAKE, SLEEPER! by Metropolitan Ephraim of Boston     After reading the short article, Will the Heterodox Be Saved? * by St. Philaret of New York, I felt
    Message 1 of 5 , Dec 7, 2009
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      AWAKE, SLEEPER!

      by Metropolitan Ephraim of Boston

       

       

      After reading the short article, "Will the Heterodox Be Saved?"* by St. Philaret of New York , I felt that the Saint had hit the nail on the head. In a few words, he said what needed to be said. I could only wish I had the same gift.

       

      Being prone to somewhat long-winded explanations, I started thinking about some things that I've read and heard during our monastic vigils and at the readings during our monastery meals, and I thought that others might want to hear them also, since they reinforce what Saint Philaret had to say in the above-mentioned article.

       

         Essentially, what Saint Philaret (and the Church Fathers) say is that, in order to judge mankind fairly, our Saviour will give every person who ever lived on earth the opportunity to espouse or reject His teaching. Whether this happens while the person is still living or in Hades ― whenever it happens ― he or she will have the opportunity to make that choice.

       

      This is what the Holy Scriptures and our Holy Tradition teach us (see our previous article, "Sheol Delenda Est!"). Whether all choose to believe and accept that message is a question we cannot answer, of course. But, in general, the Saints of the Church are generally optimistic about the success of the Christian message.

       

      Let us suppose the following scenario:

       

      If a Methodist's only encounter with the Orthodox Christian Faith is the ecumenistic version he hears at the Near East Festival held by the local new calendar "Orthodox" parish, has that Methodist actually encountered the true Orthodox Faith? So, suppose he dies the next day. Will our Saviour judge him as one who has encountered Orthodoxy and rejected it (together with the gambling and the belly dancer)? Or rather, will our Saviour say to him: "What you saw at the ecumenistic church was not the real McCoy. Here is what the Orthodox Christian Faith is actually all about. Now, do you accept it or reject it?"

       

      At that point, the person whom we know to have died as a Methodist might well exclaim, "My word! So that's what the Orthodox Christian Faith really believes! Well, of course, I do accept and espouse it. What I saw when I was still living on earth was a parody, so, of course, I rejected it, but this is completely different! Yes! I accept it with my whole heart!"

       

      Now, in the eyes of men, this man appears to have died after having rejected Orthodox Christianity. But is this actually the case?

      According to the teaching of the New Testament (I Peter 3:18-20), our Saviour preached to those spirits in Hades "who formerly had not obeyed…."

       

      So now, the person whom we, the living, saw departing this life as one who had "rejected" the Orthodox Christian Faith might actually be in the bosom of the Father, thanks to his acceptance of our Saviour's preaching.

       

      But wait. Did not our Saviour Himself say: "Amen, amen, I say unto you: Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God" (John 3:5), and also, "Amen, amen, I say unto you: Except ye eat the Flesh of the Son of man, and drink His Blood, ye have no life in you" (John 6:53)?

       

      Our Saviour Himself is telling us unequivocally that we must be baptized in order to enter the Kingdom of God, and that we must partake of His Body and Blood in order to have life in ourselves. These Holy Mysteries are found only in the One True Church .

       

      What now? What does this mean for those who were not baptized and did not partake of the Holy Mysteries in this life?

       

      Will all receive the same reward ― both those who lived and struggled in the Orthodox Christian Faith during their life, and those who believed only later?

       

      As usual, we must turn to our Saviour and the Saints for the answers.

       

      You will notice that in our translation of the Lord's Prayer, we do not say, "Our Father, Who art in Heaven," as everyone else does. Instead we say, "Who art in the Heavens." Elsewhere, in the Beatitudes, we say: "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of the Heavens," "Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of the Heavens," and also "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in the Heavens." There is a very important reason for these differences. First of all, the Greek word for "Heavens" is in the plural (See St. Basil, Hexaemeron, III:3). Furthermore, our Saviour tells us, "In my Father's house, there are many mansions. Were it not so, I should have told you, because I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2).

       

      The Church Fathers teach that there are many degrees, many levels of His saving grace, that are given to each according to his worth. Each one will partake of God's glory according to his level of love for God and man, his devotion, faithfulness, purity, struggles for the Faith, etc. That, also, is why Saint Paul can speak of his being taken up to the "third Heaven" (II Cor. 12:2). In his First Epistle to the Corinthians (chap. 15), Saint Paul writes about the resurrection from the dead, and at one point, he says:

       

      There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory. So is it also with the resurrection of the dead.

      Likewise, one saint differs from another in glory.

       

      One valuable source for much of this information is our hymnology. However, there is one problem with our sacred hymnographers: they were too prolific! Saint Romanos the Melodist and Saint John of Damascus, for example, wrote so many hymns, our service books cannot contain them all.

       

      Another prolific hymnographer was Saint Ephraim the Syrian. In his Hymns on Paradise, written in the Syriac language, we find many insights into the state of the souls in the other life. Here are some of the Saint's inspired thoughts about the different "levels" and degrees that we are speaking about:

       

      When Adam sinned, God drove him from Paradise .

      But by His goodness He gave him a lower place outside her             boundary;

      He permitted him to make his dwelling at the foot of           Paradise .

      But because men continued to sin, they were driven from    there;

      Because they were no longer worthy to be neighbours to Paradise God commanded the ark to cast them out upon             mount Ararat.

                                                                              (Hymn One, stanza 10)

       

      I saw there also the arbours of the righteous,

      Dripping with spikenard, wafting forth fragrances,

      Garnished with fruits, crowned with blossoms.

      As the toil of each man, so also his arbour:

      One impoverished in its adornment, another radiant in its     beauty;

      One faint in its colours, another dazzling in its glory.

      Blessed is he that is worthy to inherit Thy Paradise!

                                                        (Hymn Five, stanza 6)

       

      There the eye of the spirit can behold in their beauty

      The desireable abodes of the righteous, who invite us

      To be their brethren, their companions, their members.

      O, my brethren, if only we should not be separated from

                  their company!

      O, if we could be their kindred, or at least their neighbours:

      If not within their dwellings, then at least round about their             arbours!

      Blest is He, Who by His Cross, opened the door of

           Paradise !                            

                                                                                   (Hymn Six, stanza 16)

       

      May my audacity stretch no further!

      But perhaps another will be found who will dare to say:

      "When the ignorant and the foolish, who sin unknowingly,

      Must undergo punishment as ones guilty,

      The Good places them at the foot of Paradise ,

      Where they graze in those blest grasses to find some small   morsel."

      Praise be to Thy justice which exalts the victorious!

                                                                                                                  (Hymn One, stanza 16)

       

       

      When He fashioned Paradise , He made there a diversity of beauty,

      For the splendor of one degree is greatly surpassed by the    next;

      And further, as one degree is higher than another.

      Thus He allocated the nether region to those below,

      The middle region to those of the middle degree, and the     summit to the most exalted.

      Blest is He, Who being pierced in His side, removed the      sword from Paradise !

       

      When the righteous ascend the degrees of Paradise to          receive their inheritance,

      Then each according to his toil shall be justly raised up,

      Being held to that degree of which he was deemed worthy.

      Her degrees offer room for all:

      Her floor for the repentant, her middle region for the

                  righteous,

      Her heights for the victorious, and her summit for the

                  Divine Majesty.

      Blest is He, Who being pierced in His side, removed the                  sword from Paradise !

                                                  (Hymn Two, stanzas 10 and 11*)

       

       

      So, from the Scriptures and the Saints, we learn that, both in salvation and in condemnation, our reward, as it were, will be "customized." Everyone will get what fits ― or, to paraphrase the Dismissal Hymn of the Feast of the Holy Transfiguration, what "each one can endure."  But again, according to the Scriptures and to the Saints, everyone will be given an opportunity, at some point, to hear the true message of the Gospel and to either accept or reject it. It will be a fair trial.

       

      So, because we have a God Who loves us, we are hopeful. For example, in the Praises for Sunday Matins for Plagal of First Tone (Fifth Tone, in the Slavonic usage), we find these words:

       

      O Lord, King of the ages and Creator of all, Thou didst accept crucifixion and burial in the flesh for us, that Thou mightest free us all from Hades. Thou art our God; beside Thee we know none other.

       

                  And also:

      …..And crying out to the stout-hearted myrrh-bearing women, [the angel] said: Do ye not see the lifelessness of the guards, the loosening of the seals, and the emptying of Hades."*

       

      But still, I would not want to be in the shoes of those who knowingly pervert the teachings of Christ and His Church, or who, to the end of their days, persecute and slay His servants.

       

      In his letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul tells the Christians there that they should live a life of virtue, and not the dissolute life of the pagans around them. Then he inserts a quotation into his text in order to make his point. He writes:

       

      Thus it says: "Awake, sleeper, and arise from among the dead, and Christ will enlighten thee."**

                                                                                                                  (Eph. 5:14)

       

      Saint Paul does not tell us where this quotation comes from. One thing is certain: it is found nowhere in the canonical Holy Scriptures. This has led some to believe that Saint Paul is here quoting the title, or perhaps a verse, from an early Christian hymn about our Saviour's descent into Hades.***

       

      If that is so, then the words of that text are most re-assuring.

       

      What men must do, then, is live in a way that will make them receptive to Christ's teaching.

       

      This is why the Saints teach us: "Judge no man before the time." "The time?" When is "the time"? The Final Judgement.

       

       

       

       

      An Additional Thought About This Subject

       

      This is not encouragement not to embrace the Orthodox Faith. The holy Apostle Peter says the righteous will scarcely be saved:  I Peter 4:18. We still need to work out our sal­vation in fear and trembling, and those who plan to plead ignorance will hear, God is not mocked," and that those who knew their Lord's will and did it not will be beaten with many stripes.

       

      "At His commandment is done whatsoever pleaseth Him; and none can hinder, when He will save."

      Wisdom of Sirach, 39:18



      * Orthodox Life, Vol. 34, No. 6, Nov. – Dec. 1984, pp. 33-35.

      * Copyright, Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Boston , MA .

      * Copyright, Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Brookline , MA .

      ** Some translations have "Christ will shine on thee."

      *** Theodoret, Commentarius in omnes B. Pauli Epistolas.



      Go to Orthodoxyinfo.org for a wide variety of articles on the Faith

    • criostoir1971
      His Eminence, Metropolitan Ephraim wrote: Essentially, what Saint Philaret (and the Church Fathers) say is that, in order to judge mankind fairly, our Saviour
      Message 2 of 5 , Dec 8, 2009
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        His Eminence, Metropolitan Ephraim wrote:

        "Essentially, what Saint Philaret (and the Church Fathers) say is that, in order to judge mankind fairly, our Saviour will give every person who ever lived on earth the opportunity to espouse or reject His teaching. Whether this happens while the person is still living or in Hades - whenever it happens - he or she will have the opportunity to make that choice."

        Excuse my ignorance, but by extrapolating that those who did not genuinely experience the true Church of Christ on earth must be given a chance to accept Christ in hades, doesn't this turn Orthodoxy into a form of universalism? I cannot imagine anyone rejecting Christ under those circumstances. With all due respect, isn't this an attempt to rationalize a mystery?

        In Christ,
        Chris
      • CD Rasmussen
        Chris, I am not writing to answer your question, that is for greater minds than mine. But, I am writing to say that I am glad you asked your question. I liked
        Message 3 of 5 , Dec 8, 2009
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          Chris,

          I am not writing to answer your question, that is for greater minds than mine. But, I am writing to say that I am glad you asked your question. I liked that you raised your voice when something did not make sense to you. Metropolitan Ephraim has always encouraged our queries.

          Neither Metropolitan Ephraim nor any of our clergy makes up their teachings as they go. No one can turn Orthodoxy into anything but the very truth that Our Saviour provides. To teach anything else is to put the teacher in peril working in opposition to the Holy Spirit. The fear of teaching falsehood is the essence of Orthodoxy and is never forgotten for a moment.

          So ...
          1) Keep asking questions.
          2) Remember that the faith is not what we want it to be. It is what God has given us and we must discover its depths.
          3) Approach the fathers not so much as to question what they say but to learn how they arrived at it.

          Please keep digging. There is no limit to this mine's depth.
          I look forward to the responses of others.

          Your brother in Christ,
          Constantine
        • Fr. Panagiotes Carras
          NOT A DRY EYE by Metropolitan Ephraim of Boston    Some years ago, when I was visiting Greece, I was invited to serve at a parish in the center of Athens. It
          Message 4 of 5 , Jan 12, 2010
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            NOT A DRY EYE

            by Metropolitan Ephraim of Boston

             

              Some years ago, when I was visiting Greece , I was invited to serve at a parish in the center of Athens . It was autumn, so the heat had abated somewhat and it was a beautiful, clear Sunday morning ― rare for Athens nowadays.

            We arrived at the church, which was already packed. The Service of Matins began and in due time we began the Divine Liturgy. Soon, after the Gospel had been read, it was time for the sermon, and, of course, since I was the guest of honor, the task of giving the homily fell on me.

            What could I, an American of Greek descent, born in California , possibly tell these people? These were the survivors of a devastating World War, which had wiped out one-tenth of the country's population. This catastrophe had been followed by a bloody civil war that lasted four more years, after the World War, which had lasted almost six years. Among the survivors in the congregation stood many who had been driven from their homes in Asia Minor only a few decades before, and had endured ruthless massacres at the hands of Attaturk's Moslem armies. Furthermore, they were survivors of yet more persecutions from their own new calendar compatriots. They had lost their clergy, relatives, friends, church buildings, monasteries and convents repeatedly. Innocent people imprisoned, beaten, killed. Churches bull-dozed or confiscated in "democratic" Greece .

            In contrast, I had been born and reared in sunny California : easy-going, laid-back, untroubled, zany, ostentatious, pleasure-loving California , the land of convertibles and sunglasses.

            It was as though we came from two different planets.

            But both the Athenians and I were Orthodox Christians, and so this is what I thought might touch their hearts.

            I told them that I was very grieved when I became a bishop. I was grieved because, not only was I unworthy of the priesthood, but I was also unsuited for the task. I knew something about translations and liturgical music. I did some gardening work at the monastery. But I knew nothing about church administration, or pastoral issues, or liturgical questions.

            But what grieved me the most ― I told the congregation ― was that I would miss the readings at our monastery's vigils and meals. There were sermons by the Church Fathers that are rarely, or perhaps even never, heard by our laity in the parishes.

            For example, who can describe Saint John Chrysostom's thrilling sermon for the feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul? Or the compunctionate and tear-jerking account by James the Deacon about Saint Nonnus the bishop and his first encounter with Pelagia, the beautiful prostitute, in fourth-century Antioch? Or the hilarious sixth-century "Catechism" by the Archdeacon Samuel, in the country of Georgia ? Or the mischievous and God-inspired pranks of Feophil, the Fool for Christ in Kiev ?

            So, for the benefit of the people in Athens ― these descendants of the people who had heard Saint Paul speak at Mars Hill near the Parthenon ― I told them that I would read them a portion of a homily by Saint Ephraim the Syrian, just to give them an idea of what I was talking about. This way, they would understand what they had been missing all these years, and why I was so grieved when I was pulled out of the monastery to become a bishop.

            I read a portion of Saint Ephraim's sermon for the feast of the Holy Transfiguration. As I have said elsewhere, after the Sermon on the Mount, this is probably the best sermon ever given anywhere.

            When I finished reading Saint Ephraim's words, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

             The tearful Syrian had touched the hearts of these war-weary Athenians.

            This is the portion of Saint Ephraim's sermon that I read to the people:

             

             On the Holy Transfiguration
            by Saint Ephraim the Syrian (+363)

            The events of Christ's life, and His own divine powers, teach those who can learn that He is true God, and His sufferings openly proclaim Him true man.

            For if He were not flesh, for what reason did Mary bring Him forth? And if He was not God, who then did Gabriel call Lord?

            If He was not flesh, who then lay in the manger? If He was not God, to whom did the angels coming to earth give glory?

            If He was not man, who was wrapped in swaddling clothes? If He was not God, whom then did the Shepherds adore?

            If He was not man, whom did Joseph circumcise? And if He was not God, in whose honour did a new star appear in the heavens?

            If He was not man, whom did Mary nourish at the breast? And if He were not God, to whom did the Magi offer gifts?

            If He was not man, whom did Symeon take in His arms? And if He was not God, to whom did Symeon say: Dismiss me in peace?

            If He was not man, whom did Joseph take and flee with him into Egypt ? And if He was not God, in whom was the prophecy fulfilled: Out of Egypt have I called my son? ( Mt. ii. 15; Num. xxiv. 2-9).

            If He was not man, whom did John baptize? And if He was not God, of whom did the Father from Heaven say: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased? ( Mt. iii. 17).

            If He was not man, who fasted and hungered in the desert? And if He was not God, to whom did the angels minister?

            If He was not man, who was invited to the wedding feast at Cana of Galilee? And if He was not God, who changed the water into wine?

            If He was not man, in whose hands were the loaves of bread placed? And if He were not God, who fed and filled from five barley loaves and two fishes the multitude in the desert, five thousand men, not counting the women and children?

            If He was not a man, who slept in the boat? And if He were not God, who was it that rebuked the winds and the sea, and calmed them?

            If He was not man, who was it that ate with Simon the Pharisee? And if He were not God, who forgave the woman her sins?

            If He was not a man, who sat by the well weary from the journey? And if He was not God, who gave the Samaritan woman the water of life; and who rebuked her, she that already had five husbands?

            If He was not of our flesh, who wore the garments of a man? And if He were not God, who then was it that wrought signs and wonders?

            If He was not a man, who spat upon the earth, and made mud from the clay? And if He were not God, who caused eyes to see that were made from clay? (Jn. ix).

            If He was not man, who wept at the tomb of Lazarus? And if He were not God, who by his command alone called forth him that was four days dead?

            If He was not a man, who was it that sat upon an ass's colt? And if He were not God, before whom did the crowd march to give Him glory?

            If He was not a man, whom did the Jews make prisoner? And if He were not God, who commanded the earth, and it threw them flat to the ground?

            If He was not a man, who was beaten with blows? And if He were not God, who healed the ear which Peter had cut off, and who restored it to its place?

            If He was not a man, whose face was spat upon? And if He were not God, who breathed the Holy Spirit upon the faces of the Apostles? (Jn. xx. 22).

            If He was not a man, who was it stood before Pilate at the judgment seat? And if He were not God, who caused the wife of Pilate to suffer many things in a dream?

            If He was not a man, upon whose garments did the soldiers cast lots, dividing them amongst them? And if He were not God, for what reason did the sun grow dark above the Cross?

            If He was not a man, who was it that hung upon a cross? And if He were not God, who moved the earth upon its foundations?

            If He was not a man, whose hands were pierced by the nails? And if He were not God, how was the veil of the temple rent in twain, and the rocks split asunder, and the graves opened?

            If He was not a man, who cried out: My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me? And if He were not God, who said: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do?

            If He was not man, who hung with thieves upon a cross? And if He were not God, for what cause did He say: This day thou shalt be with me in paradise?

            If He was not a man, whose side was opened by a lance, and there came out blood and water? (Jn. xix. 34). And if He were not God, who hath shattered the gates of Sheol and brake the bars of iron? (Ps. cvi. 16). And by whose command did the dead that slept in their graves come forth?

            If He was not a man, whom did the Apostles behold in the Upper Room? And if He was not God, in what manner did He enter, the doors being closed!

            If He was not a man, in whose hand did Thomas feel the wounds of the nails and the lance? And if He was not God, to whom did Thomas cry out saying: My Lord and My God?

            If He was not a man, who ate food by the sea of Tiberias ? And if He were not God, at whose command was the net filled with fishes?

            If He was not man, whom did the Apostles and the Angels see received into the Heavens? If He was not God, to whom were the Heavens opened, whom did the powers adore in fear and trembling, and to whom had the Father said: Sit thou at my right hand?

            This is the reason the chaste John, who leaned upon that burning Breast, confirming the voices of the prophets, and discoursing of the divinity, teaches us in His Gospel, saying: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made by Him: and without Him was made nothing that was made. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us; Who is God the Word from God, and the Only-begotten Son of the Father, Who is consubstantial with the Father, Who is, from Him Who is: the Word before all ages: ineffably and before all ages begotten of the Father without a mother; the Same in these last days is born without a father. God Incarnate, from a daughter of men, from the Virgin Mary; taking flesh from Her, and from Her made man, which He was not, remaining God, which He was, that He might redeem the world. Amen.*

             

             

            *The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers Volume two pp. 49-51.

            Translated and edited by M.F. Toal, D.D., Copyright © 1996

            Preservation Press, Inc Swedesboro , NJ 08085

            ___________________________

            Go to Orthodoxyinfo.org for a wide variety of articles on the Faith

          • Fr. Panagiotes Carras
            THE RULES by Metropolitan Ephraim of Boston          It was Autumn in 1987, and we were in a tourist bus heading for the shrine of Saint John the
            Message 5 of 5 , Jan 22, 2010
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              THE RULES

              by Metropolitan Ephraim of Boston

               

                     It was Autumn in 1987, and we were in a tourist bus heading for the shrine of Saint John the Russian on the island of Euboia , Greece . Euboia is a very large island, about 100 miles long, lying off the coast of Attica, and washed by the deep blue waters of the Aegean Sea .

                     We had just arrived from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and now were visiting some holy sites in Greece .

                     Our bus driver, George (I will never forget his name), was at the wheel, and we were approaching an intersection, where the bus came to a stop. Everyone who was on the left side in the bus could clearly see the two traffic signs that were on their side. One sign said: ONE WAY ― DO NOT ENTER. The other read: NO BUSES ALLOWED.

                     After a momentary pause at the intersection, George began making a left turn the wrong way into the one-way street. Everybody on the left side of the bus erupted into a shout, "George, what are you doing?! This is a one way street! And it says, 'No buses allowed'!!

                     George reassuringly lifted his arm, and calmly said, "Fathers! Relax!! In Greece , all these laws are optional!"

                     (Which makes you wonder: how can anyone govern these people??)

               

              ― o ― o ― o ― o ― o ― o ―

               

                     Rules, rules, rules. Rules are everywhere and can't be avoided. We need them, because if we didn't have them, there would be chaos everywhere. We would destroy ourselves in a flash if we didn't have the rules, regulations, admonitions, instructions, warnings, legislations, guidelines, commandments, holy canons, and the like to keep us in line, to teach us how to behave ourselves:

                          The Ten Commandments

                          The Scriptural precepts:

                                      "Love your enemies." "Do good to them that persecute you." Pray                                              unceasingly." "Keep the Sabbath." "Keep the traditions."

                                      Do this, do that, don't do this, don't do that.

                          Even nature has rules for itself:

                                      A virgin cannot give birth to a child.

                                      The mother of a child cannot be a virgin.

                                      Without a flotation device, a man cannot walk on the

                                                  surface of the water.

                                      The dead cannot come to life again.

                                      Etc., etc., etc.

                     In his interpretation of the Gospel of Saint Luke 13:10-17, Saint Cyril of Alexandria asks: Who are all these rules for? ― for God or for man? If the rules are for God, then, woe unto us!, says Saint Cyril. If, for example, God were to observe the Sabbath, and His providence and care for creation were to stop and "take a break" on that day, what would happen to everything? The earth would stop rotating on its axis, the atmosphere would dissipate, the oceans would evaporate, worlds would collide. It would be a disaster.

                     However, thank God, the rules are for us, not God. God makes the rules. The rules may be strictly applied, or superseded later by better rules, as people mature. The rules may be suspended for a time, if need be. They may be relaxed or changed, depending on the circumstance. God, Who knows and sees all things far better than we do, knows when to apply the pressure, and when to relieve it. Just because He gave some of us the power to bind and to loose does not mean that He relinquished that power. He is the Head of the Church, not we, nor the pope of Rome .

                     In connection with all this, Saint John of Damascus writes:

               

              "We wish to show you that the supremely good God is overcome by His love for mankind. For example, He says, 'Nineve shall be destroyed,' yet it was not destroyed, because His goodness overcame His justice [Jonas 3:4]. Also, as regards Hezekias, He said, "Set your household in order, because you are going to die, and shall not live," yet, he did not die [IV Kingdoms 20: 1-6]. Also, to Ahab, He said, "I shall bring on evil"; yet, He did not do it, but said, "Do you see how Ahab was pierced with sorrow? Because of this, I will not bring on the evil in his days [III Kingdoms 20: 25-27]." Once again, His goodness prevailed over His decision [to punish], as indeed happened in very many other instances, and His love for mankind will always prevail until the Last Judgment, at which time the end of this festival* will come, and there will no longer be an occasion for succour..."

                                           (Concerning Those That Have Reposed in Faith, 14,                       St. John of Damascus )

               

                     In similar fashion, one can only hope that the Scriptural admonitions concerning "the strait gate" (Luke 13:24), and "Many are called, but few are chosen" (Matt. 222:14), and the like, will fall into the same category as God's warnings which Saint John of Damascus mentions above. But all this, of course, depends solely on God's mercy and our repentance.

                     So, according to what the wise Damascene tells us, God sets the rules, and He can also abrogate them, as He sees fit. God alone knows the heart of every human being that has ever lived on earth. So, given the fact that He alone has this knowledge, and we do not, only He is in a position to judge each person fairly.

                     In the meantime, we need the rules. We need to observe the commandments, we need to obey His teachings, to keep the traditions we have received, whether by word or by writing, we need to keep the holy fasts and the holy canons and the laws of God, because if we fail to do so, we will bring harm upon ourselves. But God has no need of rules, or of Sabbaths, or of fasts, or canons, and the like. He is in charge. He sets the rules for us, because we are His rowdy children.

                     At this point in time, we can only hope that His love for us will prevail over His justice. That is why, in the Divine Liturgy, and in all our services, we repeat again and again:

              "Lord, have mercy."

                     For now, we must keep, and hold on to all the rules.

                     Some years ago, one of the monks from Holy Transfiguration Monastery was driving me to Saint Mark's Cathedral in Roslindale , Massachusetts . It was a Sunday morning, so there were virtually no cars on the road. We came to a stop light at an intersection. I looked to the left. I looked to the right. No cars anywhere. I remembered George our bus driver and his "optional laws" back in Greece .  So, paraphrasing the Gospel passage, I said to my driver:

                     "'The law was made for man, not man for the law', Mark 2, verse 27. There are no cars, so you can go through the light."

                     Pointing to the red light, my monk-driver responded:

                     "'Be still, and know that I am God,' Psalm 45, verse 10."

                     So, the laws are for man.

                     Furthermore, it is God's prerogative to be just, and it is also His prerogative to allow His divine justice to be overcome by His love for mankind and His "great mercy," as our hymnology tells us time and again.

                     Our duty is to obey the rules, and hope (and pray ― as we always do) for God's mercy.

               



              * "Festival." St. John writes this, perhaps ironically, meaning the period of time before the Final and dread Judgment Day.


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