|C.S. Lewis, in his preface to St Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, urges us to study the classics. He lamented how today (his “today,” but equally if not more importantly our own) people are more interested to read about the great figures of the past rather than the works themselves. He emphasized the need to return to the classic texts of the past, both to expose our own all-too-often hidden presuppositions and to open ourselves to ways of thinking other than our own. This cannot be done, he points out, by reading the works of our contemporaries, for they too share our assumptions. “The only palliative,” Lewis wrote, “is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can only be done by reading old books.”…When approached in this way, he concludes, we will find On the Incarnation to be a “masterpiece” and be astonished that “a master mind could, in the fourth century, have written deeply on such a subject with such classical simplicity.”|
|From the forward, written by Archpriest John Behr, D. Phil., to The Orthodox Way by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware.|
I recall a saying of the twentieth century that neither religion nor politics are to be discussed in polite company. Catholic himself, Lew Rockwell posted a link in his Political Theater blog on his website to an article about the Pope’s proposed revision of The Lord’s Prayer to change “And lead us not into temptation,” which spurred me to email correspondence with The Saker that was the genesis of this piece.
As followers of my writings know, although I am myself no authority, I’ve written about Russia and her relationship with Washington and the West. My interest in the Orthodox Faith was piqued by listening to a recording of sacred songs by Dimitri Hvorostovsky, The Bells of Dawn, discussed in my article “Zhuravli”, and learning from the liner notes of the album that in Russian sacred music, instruments are not allowed, just the human voice. In addition, a website, Russian Faith, posts several articles on the gradual resurgence of Christianity in formerly Communist Russia. (Please note that as The Saker explained to me, there is no “Russian Faith,” for there is only the Orthodox Faith.) One of the greatest conductors of the Twentieth Century, Yevgeny Mravinsky, was a “secret Christian” in the time of the Bolsheviks in the Soviet Union.
Perhaps best known for his writings as a (former) military analyst and historian, now posted to his website at TheSaker.is and as a frequent contributor to the Unz Review, The Saker has also written frequently and with in-depth knowledge about the Orthodox Christian Way. In addition, he has founded this website, Project HOP, History of the Orthodox Peoples, which has texts and information available on line, especially for those on a budget who cannot afford the referenced books.
In what has frequently been described, and rightly so I believe, as “post-Christian” America, Christians are under attack. In this extremely hostile environment, one would think despite differences in interpretation of scripture and ritual, Christians would try to learn more about one another and become mutually supportive, no matter their background. (Although I’ve never communicated with a “Christian Zionist” (which might be discussed here in the Orthodox Wiki as Dispensationalism) as in the mold of Mike Pompeo or vice-president Pence and suspect any such interaction would be for naught, yet if individuals reading my words have such beliefs, I want them to know I respect their exercise of free will but I am concerned that their misinterpretation of Scripture and trying to bring about “End Times” will lead to disaster, recently detailed by investigative journalist Whitney Webb to the point Mike Pompeo scared the CIA!
Again, in the spirit of reaching understanding and just for the joy of learning (How many Christians have studied or learned about Buddhism, for example?), I present my interview with the Saker. He has also kindly informed me about Orthodox religious texts, which will be cited below. (Please note these hyperlinks to Amazon.com to those books, and also the pictorial “widgets” to Amazon.com, might not display if the reader uses ad blocking software. I disable UBlock origin using the Brave Browser. I will also include below the title of what I believe are the best books for those who choose not to patronize Amazon and wish to support a local or more amenable retailer or check their local library for availability.
The single most important book, in my opinion, that The Saker introduced me to about Orthodox Theology is Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Fr. Michael Pomazansky (Author), Fr. Seraphim Rose (Translator) published by St. Herman Press. The second I recommend contains a new translation of the Septuagint and commentary, The Orthodox Study Bible, Hardcover: Ancient Christianity Speaks to Today’s World by St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, published by Thomas Nelson. Internet resources include Orthodox Wiki and less accurate translations of the Septuagint, including the Brenton Translation and E.C. Marsh’s translation.
Yvonne Lorenzo: Saker, let me ask about your background first, if you don’t mind discussing it. How did you come by your in-depth knowledge of Orthodox Christianity?
The Saker: I have written about myself here. My knowledge of the original Christianity came from the fact that my spiritual father was a Russian Orthodox Archbishop whom I considered as my real father from age seven to age twenty-seven when he passed away. Furthermore, since Geneva had a superb Orthodox cathedral with plenty of good experts, I learned how to read Church Slavonic, I often sang and read the Psalter in church during services. Finally, in 2016 I completed my Licentiate in Orthodox Theological Studies (a graduate degree in Patristics, really) from the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies at the Saint Gregory Palamas Monastery in Etna, CA. The truth is that whether formally or informally, I have been studying Orthodox Christianity pretty much most of my life.
This being said, I am just a rank-and-file sinful layman whose sincerity should not be confused with any authority to speak on these matters. I will share only my private opinions and understanding of these matters.
Yvonne Lorenzo: Let me provide a little of my own background, not out of a desire of obtaining dopamine inducing narcissism from using Social Media like Twitter or Facebook, but to explain my exposure to Christian teachings. I’d rather not get in depth into the details of my experience in Church as a child; suffice it to say that the particular priest (now long deceased) in religious classes had a fondness for describing in graphic detail the horrors of the torture the Apostles and Saints endured (being skinned alive was certainly memorable, if not factual), and he was a most unpleasant, cruel man in my dealings with him; he certainly didn’t believe “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” and I wouldn’t mind so much if I was his target, but it was my ill mother, while my father’s family were the ones with money and influence in the church, which I believe was the reason for his conduct.
Decades later, at the same church for a celebration that an aunt who was married to a late paternal uncle invited me and my brother to attend (and that priest was long since dead), an Archbishop was introduced in glowing terms due to his proximity to and friendship with prominent politicians and I recall in his speech at the end of the dinner, his describing how he pled with the Rockefellers for funds for Syrians (victims of the war), while evidently oblivious or willfully blind to the fact the elites in Washington with whom he cultivated his amicable relationships were the ones who initiated ISIS and the war on Syria.
In addition, I’ve noted that most Christians I’ve encountered in life are no different from anyone else. I don’t mean to come off as misanthropic, nevertheless. Of course, there are exceptions, but I’d describe these people as either “Churchians” or “Christian Pharisees” in that they observe various rituals, but they are all too often as vicious and treacherous as Darwinian atheists, that is, in their avarice, cruelty, greed, meanness and rudeness.
On the other hand, I’ve found Christians who were devout, no matter their particular faith—Orthodox, Catholic, Pentecostal, for example—who could be especially kind and generous, compassionate and the like. I recall you yourself writing that secular Jews were kinder to you than Christians. From a historical framework, the only time Western Christians truly followed the Way of Jesus Christ—in my opinion—were those few martyred individuals in World War One, who during the Christmas Truce stopped killing each other.
And in relatively recent history, if the majority of Germans were true Christians, I believe they’d never have followed Hitler or willingly committed atrocities, not only against Jews, but against brother Christians in Greece, Russia, and other nations they invaded and occupied. Classical Greek scholar Edith Hamilton has written that Christians in their conduct “have failed the world.” I’d appreciate your perspective on my observations and your thoughts, as an Orthodox Christian, what does it mean to be Christian truly, that is to be a follower of “The Way” of Jesus Christ? Of course I understand you have to simplify for reasons of time and space; I’m sure whole books are available on the topic, but I propose getting to the core, which I suspect has simplicity at its heart.
The Saker: Yes, [regarding the kindness of secular Jews] that is absolutely true. I don’t think that way and I don’t use racial/ethnic categories myself, but if I had to say which ethnicity/tribe has been most kind to me in my life, I would certainly reply “secular Jews” who, at least in my strictly personal experience, have not only been kind, but also very generous!
As a fatherless kid, I was pretty poor and my mother had a very hard time buying me stuff. I had a close personal friend who was not only 1-2 years older than me, but also a few centimeters taller. So he would always give me his used stuff, including used bicycles, diving suits, records, CDs, guitars, etc. His small family (mom, grandma and him) was small for a very specific reason: all the rest of his family (Jews from Holland) was murdered by the Nazis. Fifteen people if I remember correctly.
After that, this ultra-religious family become hardcore atheistic since they could not imagine that God would allow such people (simple, innocent and deeply pious) to be murdered en masse. Honestly, I have no idea where the notion that Jews are greedy came from. Possibly envy. In my experience Jews are very “money aware” and skilled at making money (I wish I had that skill!), but they are also typically very generous. At least I never met a greedy Jew in my 55 years of life on this planet, and I’ve met A LOT of Jews in my life. Furthermore, my childhood pattern was repeated over and over again: Jews were very often kind and generous towards me (and my family members) and in some of the darkest hours of my life, secular Jews showed my far more kindness than my supposed Christian brothers. The same goes for Muslims, by the way. I am sad to say this, but the truth is the truth, even if it shames me.
Now I think of these secular Jews as my “good Samaritans”.
As for Christians, the real ones are typically rather poor. I cannot explain why this is the case here, but I will recommend these two books on anybody wanting to understand the real, original, pre-usury times Christian views on wealth:
These are small booklets, written in modern English, an “easy read” by any standard, and if you read them you will immediately realize that what [the] so-called “Christians” are saying, doing and even teaching today has nothing in common with the original Christianity.
As for the (very few) rich AND pious Orthodox Christians, they are just as generous as the Orthodox poor. Wealth is not always bad, it can be God-pleasing, but as we know from the Gospels, it is almost impossible for a wealthy person to be saved, yet all things are possible to God.
See what Saint Basil the Great wrote to those with wealth: “Oh mortal, recognize your Benefactor! Consider yourself, who you are, what resources have been entrusted to you, from whom you received them, and why you received more than others. You have been made a minister of God’s goodness, a steward of your fellow servants. Do not suppose that all this was furnished for your own gullet! Resolve to treat the things in your possession as belonging to others“.
What is certain, however, is that Christ’s Kingdom is NOT of this world and we, Christians, are called to live in the world, but not be of the world:
“For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” Christ even told us that, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.”
Modern “post-Christian pseudo-Christians” do not understand that. They somehow manage to delude themselves with the notion that capitalism can be compatible with Christianity. Truly, it is “either, or”. As Christ Himself said, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt 6:24). Ask yourself, what is capitalism at its core, as a worldview? Simply put, it is an worldview and ideology which claims that the sum of our greeds will result in an optimally organized society. What folly! Imagine what Christ or the Fathers would have to say about such demonically inspired nonsense!
Some modern self-described Christians think that Christ’s True Church must be the one with most members or most money. Other modern “post-Christian/pseudo-Christians” believe that Christ’s Church is the one with the holy places (cathedrals, beautiful churches, monasteries), or the one which the regime in power happens to find politically more useful. This is how many of our clueless contemporaries think. The Apostles and the Fathers knew better. And there are still a few relatively small traditionalist Orthodox communities which live by these ancient but truly Christian rules. But you are unlikely to find them where the Powers That Be are.
You wrote “I’ve noted that most Christians I’ve encountered in life are no different from anyone else” and you are absolutely correct. The Church is not and has never been an “exclusive club for saints.” Quite the opposite: the Church is a hospital for sinners! There is no over-stressing the importance of this fact. Let me repeat, the Church is a hospital for sinners and you could even say that if you are a sinner, you qualify! Yes, of course, there are also “saints” in this Church, you can think of them as the “treating physicians” who having found the “cure” (theosis) now help other heals. I strongly recommend that anybody not knowing what “theosis” is carefully read this article: http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/theosis.aspx. (It is available in 10 different languages!)
Saint Athanasius of Alexandria taught that “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God” (by uniting with God’s uncreated energies, not His Essence!). He was just summarizing a very ancient Patristic teaching on “theosis” which all the other major saints (Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Saint Maximos the Confessor, Saint Gregory Palamas, etc.) fully agreed with this teaching and expanded upon it. It is not easy to find good sources on Christian ecclesiology online, especially in English, but here is what I found: (in no special order):
- Saint Cyprian of Cartage “On the Unity of the Church”
- Saint Metropolitan Philaret “Will the Heterodox Be Saved?“
- Metropolitan Cyprian of Oropos and Fili “And Who Is My Neighbor?“
- Alexei Khomiakov “The Church is One”
- Archbishop Hilarion (Troitsky) “Christianity or the Church”
- Right Reverend Photios, Bishop of Triaditza, “Orthodox Unity Today”
- Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky “On the Church”
- St. Justin (Popovich) “The Attributes of the Church”
- Dr. Alexander Kalomiros “Orthodox Ecclesiology”
- Saint John Chrysostom “The Character and Temptations of a Bishop”
- Archpriest Georges Florovsky “The Catholicty of the Church”
- Archpriest Georges Florovsky “The Limits of the Church”
- Archpriest Georges Florovsky “On Church and Tradition”
- Hieromonk Seraphim Rose “The Royal Path: True Orthodoxy in an Age of Apostasy“
- Bishop Artemije of Raška and Prizren “Deification as the End and Fulfillment of Salvation According to St. Maximos the Confessor“
Finally, there is a wealth of excellent article on this website: https://www.fatheralexander.org/page6.htm and a very authentic and traditional “Confession of Faith of Genuine Orthodox Christian” here: https://www.hsir.org/pdfs/2015/10/29/E20151029aOmologiaPisteos/E20151029aOmologiaPisteos.pdf
The above is a mix of very different authors and texts, but between them, you have a good primer for the study of Christian ecclesiology (along with a few names of good modern theologians).
Yvonne Lorenzo: Regarding my studies of the Bible at a liberal arts university now over forty-five years ago, I recall the Professor stating the text of the Hebrew “Old Covenant,” as he described it, made no mention of a virgin regarding the “virgin birth,” but instead referenced a young girl and how Jesus when saying during the loaves and fishes to “eat of my flesh” wanted to make the Jews vomit—along those lines. In addition, the assumption also was taught that the resurrection was added later, as were the prophecies of the destruction of the temple and I recall an odd remark, that the Pharisees were anachronistic, being from a later era. To the contrary, you made me aware of the Septuagint that contradicts the “scholarship” I was introduced to; and I found this excellent article posted on the website Russian Faith (although you informed me “Russian faith” is a misnomer; there is only the Orthodox Faith) titled “Russian Bibles Are Very Different from American Ones. Here’s Why”. Below is an important excerpt from that article, which also provided evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls:
Your response was to my posting on your website of an English translation of the Second Psalm which was my own response to a comment by a Russian who cited it on a piece on your site on the depravity of the elites; I used the New International Version, not as beautiful as the King James but perhaps more comprehensible to readers in the Twenty-first century. I have become aware of a more modern translation of Septuagint by Oxford University Press in “modern language” and although the British to me—at least in their power circles and government—are unreliable, from my review I think the scholarship presented is sound (they use the word “Annointed” in the Second Psalm and that means the Messiah). I will post after we finish our conversations the King James version, The New International version, and the Septuagint translations by Sir Lancelot C.L. Brenton of the Second Psalm, which you sent me, and finally Oxford’s N.E.T.S. Please elaborate for our readers.
The Saker: I’ve discussed the Septuagint on my website and I quote:
In answer to whether the Scripture was corrupted: Yes and no. Yes it was, but never successfully. Let me explain why.
First, if you accept that God did communicate with mankind by means of prophecy and that the prophets did put down the prophecies which they received, you would wonder why then God would let men distort or otherwise corrupt the message He sent us. Of course, all man can err, we are all sinful, and either by mistake or deliberately man have corrupted the Scripture, no question here, the pertinent question is rather could these men have gotten away with that?
In the Third book of Esdras we have an interesting episode. Esdras tells God that the Scripture has been burned and asks, “If then I have found favor before thee, send the Holy Spirit into me, and I will write everything that has happened in the world from the beginning, the things which were written in thy law, that men may be able to find the path, and that those who wish to live in the last days may live.”
To which God replies “Go and gather the people, and tell them not to seek you for forty days. But prepare for yourself many writing tablets, and take with you Sarea, Dabria, Selemia, Ethanus, and As′iel—these five, because they are trained to write rapidly; and you shall come here, and I will light in your heart the lamp of understanding, which shall not be put out until what you are about to write is finished.”
And, sure enough, Esdras tells us, “So I took the five men, as he commanded me, and we proceeded to the field, and remained there. And on the next day, behold, a voice called me, saying, “Ezra, open your mouth and drink what I give you to drink.” Then I opened my mouth, and behold, a full cup was offered to me; it was full of something like water, but its color was like fire. And I took it and drank; and when I had drunk it, my heart poured forth understanding, and wisdom increased in my breast, for my spirit retained its memory; and my mouth was opened, and was no longer closed. And the Most High gave understanding to the five men, and by turns they wrote what was dictated, in characters which they did not know. They sat forty days, and wrote during the daytime, and ate their bread at night. As for me, I spoke in the daytime and was not silent at night. So during the forty days ninety-four books were written. And when the forty days were ended, the Most High spoke to me, saying, “Make public the twenty-four books that you wrote first and let the worthy and the unworthy read them; but keep the seventy that were written last, in order to give them to the wise among your people. For in them is the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the river of knowledge.” And I did so.
Sorry for the long quote, but I want to illustrate a point: when needed, God can command his faithful to restore even the full Scripture provided a) that they are worthy to receive the guidance of the Holy Spirit and b) that they receive the “drink like fire” which God gives them (note that this book was written long before the times of Christ!). What is certain is that the notion that God would grant a revelation through His prophets and then allow that revelation to remain corrupted for centuries is rather ludicrous.
There was, indeed, one grievous attempt at falsifying the Scripture. It occurred after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. At that time, the Jewish people were separated into two sects: those who believed that Christ was the Messiah and those who did not. The former become known as Christians, while the latter—mostly Pharisees—created their own group which developed a new spirituality which switched focus from the Old Testament to the Talmud, from the Temple to assemblies (synagogues), from priests to rabbis and from the original Scripture to a new “corrected” text. This texts had the official imprimatur of the rabbis who declared that it has been corrected by their sages, the scribes and scholars. Needless to say, what they really did is cut out or alter those parts of the Scripture which were inconvenient to them. At the time there was a great deal of hostility between the two groups and disputations centered around the Scripture, of course. The issue at hand was simple: did the prophesies about the Messiah in the scripture match what actually happened in the life of Christ or not? Could the followers of Christ prove their case by using the Scripture? Well, the “guardians of the tradition”, or “Masoretes” as they became known, “corrected” the Scripture as much as possible to produce a forgery known today as the “Masoretic text” (abbreviated MT).
Christians immediately saw through that and denounced the text as a fake. One of the earliest documents we have showing that Christians at the time were fully aware that the Jews produced a forgery is the “Dialog with Trypho” in which Saint Justin Martyr (2nd century) explicitly makes that accusation. The latter Fathers have also confirmed that.
You might wonder which text is the original and what happened to it. We only have parts of the original Hebrew “Old Testament” (which is, of course, not what they called it). Following the conquests of Alexander the Great much of what is today the Middle-East was “Hellenized” and the language of the elites and the international language of the time was Greek. About two centuries before the birth of Christ, at the request of the local (Greek) ruler, Ptolemy II Philadelphius, a translation into Greek of the Hebrew text was made for the famous Library of Alexandria by 70 translators from the twelve tribes of Israel. This text is called the Septuagint (abbreviated LXX) in memory of these seventy translators. This is the only text ever considered authoritative by the [Orthodox] Church. Following the Latin schism, the LXX was almost forgotten in western Europe where the Latin Church used a translation made by Saint Jerome called the Vulgate. Because the Latins believed that only the “learned” clergy should read the Scripture and then teach and explain it to the “simple” folks, this text was not very widely circulated.
In contrast, Luther wanted each Christian to have access to the Scripture. Luther, who was opposed to the Latin clericalism and who suspected that the Latins might have corrupted the text, decided to base his teaching on what he apparently sincerely believed was the “original” Hebrew text, the Masoretic forgery. As a result, the vast majority of Bibles available in the Western World are based on a text deliberately forged by Christ-hating rabbis, including the (otherwise beautifully written) King James Version. More recently, newer “corrected” versions of the MT have been made, but there is still only one, rather bad, translation of the LXX in English, the so-called “Brenton translation” (I hear that a new one is being worked on). But until very recently, the West was simply too proud and too ignorant of Patristic thought to remember that only the LXX was the true text of the Old Testament.
I am going into all these details to illustrate a point: yes, Holy Writ can, and has been, corrupted both deliberately (Masoretes) or by ignorance (western Bibles). But God never allows the original true text to simply vanish.
I would also note that what the rabbis attempted is first and foremost a substitution: LXX by MT. They never claimed that the MT was the LXX. In fact, some Jewish holidays (such as Hanukkah) have no scriptural basis in the MT but only in the LXX (in the book of Maccabees in this case). Unlike the West, the Jews never forgot about the LXX—they simply did not want to grant it authoritative status, for quite obvious reasons.
There are some sources which claim that an attempt to corrupt the LXX was also made by Jews, but I have seen no good evidence of that. For one thing, the LXX was simply too widely circulated (not as one text, but as a collection of books) to suddenly substitute another text. Really, the creation of the MT was for “internal consumption” and to beat back Christian polemicists.
So here is my main point: there is zero historical evidence to attest to the corruption of the original Holy Scripture. The only known case is the one I outlined above. We also know from the Scripture itself that God would never deprive his faithful from His Word, the example of Esdras (aka Ezra) above also shows that. Furthermore, simple logic suggests to us that it is impossible to corrupt a text which is both 1) widely circulated and 2) very closely analyzed and held [as] sacred.
Let me conclude here by saying that I personally believe that the Prophet Muhammad did hear about the Masoretic forgery and that this inspired him to look at the Christian Scripture with a strong suspicion that the text had been forged. Obviously, like Luther, he was not aware of the LXX. It is also possible that Muhammad might have had another reason to declare that the Christian scripture was corrupted: the so-called Old Testament has absolutely no prophecy speaking of any figure like Muhammad, this is why some Muslim scholars have had to declare that the “Comforter” mentioned by Christ to His disciples was a reference to Muhammad and not to the Holy Spirit, an interpretation which even a superficial reading of the New Testament immediately invalidates and which not a single Church Father or theologian between the first and seventh century endorsed.
Whatever may be the case, the Muslim theory that the Scripture has been successfully corrupted is both illogical and a-historical. One can, of course, choose to believe it, especially if one accepts that everything, including the historical record, has been forged, corrupted or lost, but at least to me faith and common sense should not contradict each other.
I think that it is undeniable that Christianity grew out of the religion of the Jewish people before the birth of Christ. Christ Himself constantly makes references to the books the Church has united into one volume called the “Old Testament”. If the topic is of interest to you, see all the texts on this page, especially this one and this one. In contrast, Islam has no other scriptural basis than itself or, rather, the book it produced: the Quran. We are dealing with a typical circular validation, a logical fallacy.
In conclusion, I want to say that a closer look at history shows that the notion of “Judaeo-Christian” is simply at least as nonsensical as speaking of a White-Black or a Dry-Wet. As for the so-called “Abrahamic religions” they truly have nothing in common. Modern Judaism is really nothing else but an “anti-Christianity” while Islam is a faith which appeared ex-nihilo and has no basis in either Jewish or Christian scripture or oral tradition.
I hope that I have not offended anybody here, especially not my Muslim friends and readers, but I felt that it was important to lay out here the original Christian understanding of these issues. As any other Orthodox Christian, I strongly feel that it is my personal obligation to preserve that which has been passed on to me (the “corporate memory and awareness” of the Church, if you want) and to share it with others if or when it is appropriate. As (I hope) intelligent and considerate people, we can “agree to disagree”, but to do that, you need to be made aware of the nature of what we might disagree on, right?
Yvonne Lorenzo: The popular personality Jordan B. Peterson writes in his multi-million copy selling book 12 Rules for Life about Scripture. I don’t know if he’s ever read even any work of scholarship, much less an Orthodox one. He differentiates between the Old Testament God, whom he describes as “harsh, judgmental, unpredictable, and dangerous” and as a person who doesn’t care what people think. “It was the realists who created, or noticed, the Old Testament God.” The “New Testament God” he describes as “master craftsman and benevolent father. He wants nothing for us but the best. He is all-loving and all forgiving. Sure, He’ll send you to Hell if you misbehave badly enough.” In addition, he writes, “Who but the most naïve among us could posit than an all-good, merciful Being ruled this so-terrible world.” Regarding the Fall, he wrote, “The Biblical narrative of Paradise and the Fall is one such story, fabricated by our collective imagination, working over the centuries…After much contemplation, struggling humanity learns that God’s favour could be gained, and his wrath averted, through proper sacrifice—and that bloody murder might be motivated among those unwilling or unable to succeed in this matter.”
Even Moody’s commentary on The Bible using the Masoretic text of Genesis points out Petersen’s grave errors; I refer to his writing because he has a following on YouTube numbered in millions and I’m sure more people in America have read his book discussing Christianity than studied the Bible.
On a personal level, when I’ve written about Christian matters on LewRockwell.com, I’ve received angry emails, one of which stated in effect that only a monstrous god would demand the blood sacrifice of his son as payment for his wrath. Please address not only the Fall but the Orthodox perspective on these key issues, which I realize are critical: human nature, indeed the world itself, Nature itself, is not what it was supposed to be. I’ve also read Surprised by Christ: My Journey From Judaism to Orthodox Christianity by Rev. James A. Bernstein who discussed these matters from an Orthodox perspective.
The Saker: This silly notion is what is left over from the western scholasticism. To make a very long story short, Augustine of Hippo (4th century) had, among very good and valid ideas, a mistaken notion about the dogma of the Original Sin. His mistakes were picked up and further developed by Anselm of Canterbury (12th century) and by Thomas Aquinas (13th century). As a result, the West acquired a completely legalistic notion of the dogma of redemption which can roughly be summarized like so:
“Man offended God, so God punished man, but the suffering of man as a result of the Original Sin was not good enough to appease God’s anger. But when His Son was crucified for the sins of man, then God was satisfied because the sufferer had an equal “value” as the offended party, God Himself—that is Christ.”
This obsession with the suffering of Christ and the suffering of man (on earth or in the so-called “purgatory” also invented by Western theologians) is typical of Western Christianity.
The East has a mystical understanding of the Dogma of Redemption which can again, very roughly, be summarized as such:
As a consequence of Adam’s original sin, suffering and death have entered the previously perfect soul of man who, being the nexus between the material world and spiritual world also ‘infected’ all of Creation with decay, suffering and death. Christ ‘emptied Himself’ to become God-Man, the theanthropos, and fully assumed man’s nature. Thus, while through the actions of the First Adam mankind lapsed, through the actions of the Second Adam mankind can be saved. On the Holy and Life-giving Cross, Christ even though He Himself was sinless, voluntarily took upon Himself the two most horrible consequences of Adam’s sin, suffering and death, and then He defeated ‘death by death.’ Thus by His Resurrection Christ made it possible for the new and renewed man to become a ‘little Christ’ by uniting with the uncreated energies of God.
I apologize for the summary/simplification above, but to explain this dogma fully and correctly a full lecture would be necessary.
So no, God is not a bloodthirsty God and all the blood sacrifices in the Old Testament are but a mystical prefiguration of the Eucharist.
Of course, the God of the Orthodox/Haredi Jews is a hateful, vengeful, racist and generally maniacal God. But we all know what Saint John wrote about the “Synagogue of Satan” composed of Jews who pretend to be Jews, but whose father is the devil.
Yvonne Lorenzo: LewRockwell.com recently published this piece on the evil of the so-called “elites” titled “Jeffrey Epstein and the Spectacle of Secrecy,” in which its author, Edward Curtin, writes the following:
His conclusion is more, to me, of an amorphous conception “humanist” perspective of coping with evil. I’ve written on the “Occult Elite” as well in “Epstein & Q-Anon: A Match Made in Cyberspace.” How does an Orthodox Christian respond to the “powers” in this world? Do you have advice?
The Saker: Yes, and the first most obvious piece of advice is “do NOT ask for my opinion” or, for that matter, the opinion of anybody currently living (there are exceptions, but most people are unaware of them). Can you guess what you could have asked instead? What would THE FATHERS advise us in our situation? That would make it an “Orthodox question.” What would the Fathers say? They would urge you to immerse yourself in the following:
- The writings of the Church Fathers (this is absolutely crucial!!!) starting with the Philocalia (which you can download by clicking here: Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3 and Volume 4.
- The Lives of the Saints, including Western saints, and the real thing (also see here) of course, not the syrupy nonsense written by the Latins (including the liturgical canons associated with their feast days!)
- Books on the history of the Churches (except those written by modern historians and “theologians” which, with a few notable exceptions, are typically worthless since their authors are much more concerned with making a name for themselves in western academia rather than with conveying through their books the true Orthodox mindset or “spirit of the Fathers” (phronema ton pateron) or, for that matter, the “consensus of the Fathers” which expresses the “general conscience of the Church” (he genike syneidesis tes ekklesias). Stay away from those “brilliant” “theologians”!)
Specifically, they would remind you that the Prophets, Christ, the Apostles, the Fathers and the Church all gave us a very big body of revealed knowledge about the End Times. They all warned about mass apostasy, about materialism, about persecutions, about heresies, about the “stars falling from the heavens” (which the Fathers understood as referring to apostatizing bishops and not as an astronomical event!). They will all tell you that the True Church of Christ will be persecuted and will shrink to a very small, but very spiritually strong, entity. They finally tell you that Evil will prevail and that only the Second Coming will defeat the Antichrist (a belief we share with the Muslims, by the way!).
A decade ago or more, one Russian theologian wrote a rather controversial article he entitled “The ecclesiology of a retreating Church.” His article was all in all okay, but the title I find especially brilliant. Yes, we Christians love life, and we don’t seek death (even if we are told to be ready to accept it joyfully and gratefully should we become martyred by the theomachs [enemies of God, all the many categories included] or should we give up our lives in defense of others). But neither are we under any illusion about what “the world” has in store for us. After all, in order to “imitate Christ” we have to also accept Golgotha, should that end be God’s will for us.
Yvonne Lorenzo: I’d like to ask you for the Orthodox interpretation of (King James Translation) Romans 13:
A commentator and writer named The Bionic Mosquito wrote in “Christians and Government” that if we interpret these authorities as government, “then I am sure that what Paul meant by this was that Mary and Joseph should have turned the newborn Jesus into Herod’s grasp.”
He also wrote:
Please provide the Orthodox interpretation of Romans 13.
The Saker: First, I think the first step is to ignore what insects (bionic or not) have to say about the Scripture and turn, where else, to the Fathers (especially those insects who refer to the holy, glorious, all-laudable Apostle Paul simply as “Paul” as if talking about a buddy of theirs).
In addition, Romans 13:1-7 states:
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.
Romans is one of the most complex books of the Bible and a full discussion of Patristic commentaries on Romans should be a semester long seminar. The systematic thing to do would be to collect as many Patristic commentaries as possible, then see not only the letter of these commentaries, but also the spirit. We cannot do that here, so all I can offer is a few very simplified and summarized thoughts on this topic.
The first thing we need to remember here is Christ’s words: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matt 22:21). This makes sense, since we know that Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world. However, what is in this world are the Church and the members of that Church. The second thing we can clearly note is that, using the terminology of modern-day libertarians, Christ and the original Church were most definitely “statists” meaning that they believed not only that having a state is acceptable, they believed that is was fundamentally needed. The Fathers believed that the state, as such, is a God-ordained element of a healthy human society. In fact, they saw that the state can even play the role of the “restrainer” or “the one who restrains” meaning that the state is what stands between chaos and order or even that the state can create the conditions in which the Church can safely and freely exist or even be protected. Of course, each case is different and the Church, which is a living organism, assesses the posture on a case by case basis.
The Church does not promote one political order over another. Still, there are roughly three main possible categories of state:
1) The state with an Orthodox ruler/government which proactively protects the Church and tries to create as truly a Christian society as possible. No, this is NOT a “theocracy” or some kind of “Caesaropapism” (these are categories mostly used by clueless modern wannabe “theologians”). Typically, this would be monarchy. But not just any monarchy (monarchies are like democracies or people’s republics — they come in all sorts of flavors) it would have to be a truly Christian monarchy (a minority in history) which would create the conditions of a “symphony” between the state and the Church.
2) A state in which state and Church are completely separated. Well, if they are truly separated, then this is still acceptable to a Christian who has the direct obligation to respect the laws of the state he/she lives under. However, in many (most?) cases the state which is supposed to be totally separated from the Church ends up actively promoting anti-Christian ideas and values. Even in this case, the Christian cannot defy the state or breaks its laws (at least not without a very strong and compelling argument).
3) And then there is the state of “enemies of God,” militant atheists which persecute the Church and all true Christians. Enemies of the Church are referred to as “theomachs” (in Greek) or “bogobortsy” in Russian. The best example I can think of is the Bolshevik state which seized power from the short-lived Masonic Kerensky “democracy” (in reality: total, abject chaos) and immediately embarked on a massive, truly genocidal, persecution of all religions but especially the Russian Orthodox Church which the Bolsheviks (mostly rabidly Russophobic atheistic Jews) hated with a burning, truly demonic passion. This kind of state is not a state which the Orthodox Christian “may” obey. This is the kind of state which the Orthodox Christian is obligated to oppose, even at the risk of his/her life because doing anything else would be an act of apostasy, especially if the lapsed Christian begins actively supporting that teomachic state.
I will use the example of the Bolshevik state to illustrate this point.
When the Bolsheviks took power, the Russian Orthodox Church split into roughly 4 groups:
1) Those who openly rejected the submission of the Russian Orthodox Church to the Bolshevik state. They are often referred to by the name of their leader, Metropolitan Joseph or Petrograd: the “Josephites.”
2) Those who did not openly reject the submission of the Russian Orthodox Church to the Bolsheviks state but who practiced their faith clandestinely. They are often called the “Catacomb Church.”
3) Those who decided to flee from these persecutions and go into exile. They were called the “Russian Orthodox Church in Exile.” See here for a summary history.
4) Those who decided to accept the submission of the Russian Orthodox Church to the Bolshevik’s state because they believed that by collaborating with the state, the bishops and priests were actually “saving the Church” from total destruction. These folks often explain that the clergymen who did agree to collaborate with the theomachs by denouncing true Christians to the Soviet secret police, by saying that the Christian Church and theomachic state are in full solidarity with each other and by saying that the only people the state persecutes are class enemies and counter-revolutionaries. These are often referred to by the name of their leader, Metropolitan Sergius: the “Sergianists.”
[Note: Since the Communist regime collapsed in Russia, Sergianism per se has been mostly replaced with its ugly offspring Neo-Sergianism. The difference between the two is that under the Bolsheviks, Christians were forced to submit to the state and declare their full union with it. Nowadays, the Neo-Sergianists do voluntarily submit themselves to the secular authorities to seek their support (in the form of money, riot police making sure that they control all the main historical cathedrals, churches, monasteries, etc, and, most importantly, to bestow upon them the illusion of legitimacy. This is true not only in post-Communist countries, but also in the rest of the world. I discuss this issue in more details in my articles “Why Orthodox Churches are still used as pawns in political games“, “A negative view of Christianity and religion in general” and “The abomination of desolation standing in the holy place“]
Finally, all those who were massacred or persecuted by the Bolsheviks are referred to as “The New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia.” This is a image of this icon of these new saints:
The stances taken by the three first groups are all equally pious options. The proof of that statement is that the first three groups all remained in communion with each other and rejected the communion with the Sergianists even when threatened with torture and death! The stance of the forth group is, however, diametrically opposed to original, Patristic, theology. Let me give you one small example:
During the 3rd century AD, the Decian Persecution demanded that “everyone in the Roman Empire” (except for Jews, who were exempted; in fact, they often egged on the Romans to persecuted the Christians they hated so much) perform a sacrifice to the Roman gods and the well-being of the Emperor. The edict ordered that the sacrifices be performed in the presence of a Roman magistrate, and a signed and witnessed certificate be issued to that effect. Some Christians lapsed and agreed to perform the sacrifice. Others did not do that, but secured documents (called libelli) which certified that they had done so (see here for a pretty decent summary of this situation). Well, even the latter were considered “lapsed” by the Church and one of the Church’s most remarkable hierarchs: Saint Cyprian of Carthage. They were eventually re-united with the Church, but only after their public confession and condemnation of their actions!
Twenty-seven centuries later, the same truth was reaffirmed in the beautiful Service to the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia written by His Eminence Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev) of San Francisco, who was the first ruling bishop of the Western American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. He served as bishop of San Francisco for thirty two years. He was the last bishop of the Russian Church who was born and raised in pre-revolutionary Russia (source). In one of the stichera of this service we can read:
“People do not save the Church, and collaboration with Her enemies yields no benefits, but it is the Church which saves people by the power of Christ, as your spiritual feat has shown. Oh steadfast New Martyrs of Russia, you who are truly the glory of the Church, fervently pray for Her that God may keep Her steadfast” (my own, rough, translation from Church Slavonic).
Keep in mind that the pagan Romans usually did NOT ask Christians to give up their faith. They “only” asked that the Christians “respect” the pagan gods. Yet that is clearly an apostasy, at least in the teachings and ethos of the Fathers.
The Bolsheviks, in contrast, demanded much more: not only did you have to commit a clear apostasy, they also wanted Christians to submit to an illegitimate (lapsed) bishop, they wanted Christians to prove their loyalty by denouncing others, they demanded that priests break the secrecy of confession and denounce true Christians to the Secret Police, etc. Compared to Lenin, Trotsky and their gang of Russophobic murderers, the Roman pagans were rather minimalists in their demand. Yet the Bolsheviks clearly demanded something which belongs to God (spiritual matters) and the Sergainists agreed to hand it over to their Bolshevik Caesars.
For an Orthodox Christian, there cannot be any obedience outside the obedience to God. For details, see my essay “Obedience in Christianity: a reply to an important question.” Let me just clarify some terminology: when a Christian agreed to even sparkle a few charcoals on a pagan god’s fire, or just gets a piece of paper saying that he did that, it already makes him a “lapsed” person. If a Christian joins an illegal (by canon law) bishop, he becomes a “schismatic.” If he develops a theological justification for that lapse or schism he becomes a “heretic.” These words are not slurs or insults, at least not in the context of a theological discussion: they are diagnostic concepts.
The bottom line is this: there is no need whatsoever to reinvent any “theological wheel.” Truly, there is nothing new under the sun, and most definitely not persecutions and heresies. The latter have always existed in the past two thousand years. So when something happens, we don’t need to think long and hard about what we or, worse, consider what modern theologian X has to say about it. All we need to do is see what Christ, the Apostles and the Fathers have always been saying about that. If we do that, intensively, we might shed the secular and scholastic mindset of our times and replace it with the “spirit of the Fathers.”
Yvonne Lorenzo: Although Andrei Martyanov, the Russian military analyst and historian is not a believer, he wrote this piece, “A Dramatic And, Sadly, Expected Data,” in which he discusses the increased suicide rate in the United States, its highest since World War II. He writes, and with sympathy for the victims, since he lives and works in America:
As an Orthodox Christian, please explain “Душевнобольной” from your perspective, the causes and perhaps a solution, if there is any.
The Saker: Yet another very complex and interesting question requiring a lengthy reply. The good news is that this reply was already given, and by somebody eminently qualified: the late and the Most Reverend Chrysostomos, Metropolitan Emeritus of Etna, CA, who, amongst his many academic titles and awards also completed an M.A. and PhD. in Psychology at Princeton University, where he taught for three years as a Preceptor (assistant instructor) in the psychology department. He later went on from Princeton to accept a professorship at the University of California, Riverside. I highly recommend his book “A Guide to Orthodox Psychotherapy: The Science, Theology, and Spiritual Practice Behind It and Its Clinical Applications.” Another interesting couple of books are “The Theology of Illness” and “Mental Disorders & Spiritual Healing: Teachings from the Early Christian East” by Jean-Claude Larchet.
All I will say here is that the notion of completely separate body, mind and soul is not a Patristic one. Yes, the Fathers use these categories, just like they used ancient Greek philosophical categories, but they always re-defined/re-interpreted them; thus you cannot just snatch some quote from Saint X and Saint Z and say that, indeed, body, mind and soul are completely separated. In fact, the original vocabulary of the Platonists and has been deeply re-worked and transformed in the Patristic context. This is why it is also so silly to declare that Church Father X or Y are “Neo-Platonists”: yes, the words they use are the same, but their meanings have been profoundly reworked.
To truly understand disease and its role in our lives you need to familiarize yourself with the basics of Patristic dogmatic anthropology.
I am sorry, but this is the best answer I can give without going into a lecture.
Yvonne Lorenzo: Regarding satanists, I’ve read how when doing evil something demonic takes place; if we can trust a repentant satanist murderer, his testimony was that in killing he felt united to what I’d call demonic or the devil, another consciousness and felt power, not just what you said about “forbidden fruit”, that is to stay there is an alternated consciousness and receiving of the demonic. Given what Orthodoxy states about the nature of man being changed after the “fall” what are your thoughts?
The Saker: My thoughts on that is this: God is merciful and “He does not want the death of the sinner“, right?
So while satanists will try to kill, defile and destroy everything, God restrains them and only allows the suffering which we can bear and which we need for our own spiritual growth. Yes, the End Times are inevitable, but our resistance to Evil and our prayers can delay that, maybe by many, many years. So maybe mankind will fry in a nuclear holocaust very soon and maybe not; maybe through the intercession of the Mother of God and the saints, He will allow us to live in relative peace for a while. It is all in His will.
I want to add the following: there is NO sin, NO crime, NO evil deed which would truly irrevocably separate you from God. Many of the greatest saints in history began their lives in terrible sins, including one of my most revered saints, Saint Mary of Egypt whose life you can read here (I *highly* recommend this text!). Furthermore, we know from the Psalter that “Sacrifice to God is a broken spirit: a broken and humbled heart God will not despise” (Ps. 50:17 LXX). Thus any and all truly repentant sinners will be forgiven and, if they ask to be reunited with the Church, they will be accepted. Finally, while there are sins which would prevent a person from joining the clergy, even the worst of sinners can become a monastic since, by definition, a monastic is somebody who repents and seeks to emulate the existence of the angels.
Yvonne Lorenzo: What does it mean to be Christian, that is to follow the Way of Jesus Christ?
The Saker: Well, in modern parlance, anybody calling himself a Christian is a Christian. Fair enough for our post-Christian society. But originally, a Christian was a person who a) had a Patristic understanding criterion of truth and b) who was united with the Church. Let’s take them one by one.
What is the Patristic criterion of truth? It is well summarized in the following three quotes:
The faith “which the Lord gave, was preached by the Apostles, and was preserved by the Fathers. On this was the Church founded; and if anyone departs from this, he neither is nor any longer ought to be called a Christian” (St. Athanasius)
and (literally, as an addition, in the sense of the mathematical sign “plus”)
That “which has been believed everywhere, always and by all” (St. Vicent of Lerins).
and (literally, as an addition, in the sense of the mathematical sign “plus”)
“As the Prophets saw, as the Apostles taught, as the Church has received, as the teachers expressed in dogmas, as the whole world has agreed, as the grace has illuminated” (Synodikon of Orthodoxy)
The first quote explains that every truly Christian teaching has to be “upward-compatible” with what was taught by Christ, the Apostles and the Fathers.
The second quote explains that every truly Christian teaching has to be “upward-compatible” with that which was accepted by all Orthodox Christians (geographical criterion: all over the world, in all the regions, by all local Orthodox Churches) and by everybody (personal criterion: truly by everybody, not just clergy, even the laity).
The third quote adds a crucial criterion: the truth is received through illumination, not scholastic theorizing.
Furthermore, unity in the original Christian ecclesiology is not achieved by overlooking differences, finding commonalities or by simply communing from the same Cup with no regards to “obscure theological topics” (to use a modern expression). For us, FIRST comes the unity in faith (doxa) and practices, only AFTER that can the unity at the Cup of our Lord be fully celebrated.
In Western denominations, it is the polar opposite: all of them are poisoned by scholasticism and all of them place the so-called “inter-communion” before a real unity of faith.
I want to add something extremely important here: there is one more meaning of the word “Christian”: that is a person who, while not united to the Church, seeks with all his might to live according to the precept of Christ and His Apostles. These are people who know almost nothing about the original, One Church of Christ, who often have completely erroneous ideas about what the Church really is or what Christ really taught, but by no fault of their own. By the way, such righteous people can be found in all religions. I would like to share with you a recent example of such true Christian love and desire to truly follow Christ and His teaching in the following video which shows the brother of a murdered victim forgive and even declare his (Christian) love for the woman who pulled the trigger. See for yourself and, while watching, ask yourself what Christ would have to say to this young man:
So, okay, this man is not a traditionalist Orthodox Christian, but he sure puts a lot of us, including myself, to shame!
While theology is important, even crucial (a sick person needs the *correct* medicine!), Christ did not ask us to become theologians, instead, He said:
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. (Matt: 25:34-46)
These are frightening words for those Orthodox Christians who mistake the holiness and perfection of the Church with their own and whose hearts are sometimes much harder than the hearts of righteous non-Orthodox people.
Finally, even theology, the real thing, not the scholastic substitute invented in the West, is inseparable from true love and righteousness. Do you know what the original Church considered to be a real theologian? The answer can be found in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8).
From the original Christian point of view, sinning is NOT about “angering” or “offending” God. Sinning simply means “missing the target”, “not realizing your full potential” to use a modern expression. We know that God “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Gen 1:26). The “image” here means that we were created with the potential to become perfect, Christ-like. The word “likeness” refers to our actual condition. When we sin, we keep that potential, that image, but we lose our likeness. Thus, when we sin, we only hurt ourselves and others, never God. Most importantly, when we sin we darken our inner “heart” and that makes it impossible for us to realize our full potential or even to have a correct perception of vital spiritual issues.
The Fathers were superb theologians, that is true, some of them were amongst the most brilliant theologians and philosophers which ever lived (I think of Saint Maximos the Confessor or Saint Gregory Palamas). Yet, first and foremost they were SAINTS!
This is why modern (pseudo-)theology is so vapid, arrogant and, frankly, ridiculous: it is almost always the product of maybe well-intended, but completely clueless people. Of sure, they got their PhDs in “divinity studies”, but their hearts are clouded by sin and heresy, and they truly like the citizens Nineveh: they can’t tell their right and left hands apart (Jonah 4:11)!
True theology comes from a clean heart and from the illumination which a person which such a heart receives, not from original, novel or otherwise book-selling intellectual speculations. As one of my priest friends like to say, “the Fathers were not sipping cognac or smoking cigars while theologizing: they were praying, especially the Jesus Prayer, and they were humbly repenting for their sins” (even if they had very few, in fact, the less sins a person carries, the more he/she becomes of them).
True Christianity was always found first and foremost in monasteries, not secular learning institutions, and this is still true today.
By the way, you said, “I’ve also read Surprised by Christ: My Journey From Judaism to Orthodox Christianity by Rev. James A. Bernstein who discussed these matters from an Orthodox perspective.” I have not read this book, but I HIGHLY recommend this short essay of his: Which Came First: The Church or the New Testament?
Yvonne Lorenzo: Finally, a question regarding Russian history. With such a strong Orthodox heritage, who was responsible for the murder of Christians in the Russian revolution and also for the Gulags?
The Saker: Short answer: mostly Bolshevik Jews, at least until Stalin’s purges of the Party.
Longer answer: yes, originally, most top commanders of the Soviet Secret Police (called ChK) were Jews. But a lot of the rank and file came from other nationalities. I don’t think that Bolsheviks had a national consciousness. In that they were just like transnational capitalists. Sure, the first generation of Bolshevik Jews did have a specific identity, but in most cases their ideology was not specifically Jewish. All they inherited from the Rabbis was their sense of racial superiority and rabid hatred for everything Christian, especially Orthodox Christians. But beyond that, they were more secular Marxists than Talmudists. On the issue of why such an orgy of evil took place after the 1917 Revolution, I want to quote Alexander Solzhenitsyn: (source)
This is all very important, every word.
The theological answer with three scriptural quotations:
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12), “My name is Legion: for we are many.” (Mark 5:9)
And “Trust not in princes, nor in the children of men, in whom there is no safety. His breath shall go forth, and he shall return to his earth; in that day all his thoughts shall perish.” (Psalm 145:3-4 according to the LXX).
It is not about “groups” (races, classes, denominations, etc.) it is always, always, a struggle against demonic powers, irrespective of what ideology or leader the demons will use for their own purposes.
This was true 2000 years ago, and it is still true today.
I would like to add one more thing: I have tried to answer your questions as best I can, but if in any of my replies I have erred from the Truth, I repent for it and ask for forgiveness.
Yvonne Lorenzo makes her home in New England in a house full to bursting with books, including works on classical Greece and theological works. Her interests include gardening, mythology, ancient history, The Electric Universe, and classical music, especially the compositions of Handel, Mozart, Bach, Haydn, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Mahler, and the Bel Canto repertoire. She is the author Son of Thunder and The Cloak of Freya.
The Second Psalm in four translations:
Note that the Septuagint translations clearly reference “The Christ” or “The Annointed” and “My Son.”
1 Why do the nations conspire[a]
and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
3 “Let us break their chains
and throw off their shackles.”
4 The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord scoffs at them.
5 He rebukes them in his anger
and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
6 “I have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.”
7 I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:
He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have become your father.
8 Ask me,
and I will make the nations your inheritance,
the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You will break them with a rod of iron[b];
you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”
10 Therefore, you kings, be wise;
be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear
and celebrate his rule with trembling.
12 Kiss his son, or he will be angry
and your way will lead to your destruction,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
[a] Psalm 2:1 Hebrew; Septuagint rage
[b] Psalm 2:9 Or will rule them with an iron scepter (see Septuagint and Syriac)
1 Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying,
3 Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.
4 He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.
5 Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.
6 Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.
7 I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.
8 Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.
9 Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.
10 Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.
11 Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.
Septuagint translation by Sir Lancelot C.L. Bretton:
1 Wherefore did the heathen rage, and the nations imagine vain things?
2 The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers gathered themselves together, against the Lord, and against his Christ; (emphasis added)
3 saying, Let us break through their bonds, and cast away their yoke from us.
4 He that dwells in the heavens shall laugh them to scorn, and the Lord shall mock them.
5 Then shall he speak to them in his anger, and trouble them in his fury.
6 But I have been made king by him on Sion his holy mountain,
7 declaring the ordinance of the Lord: the Lord said to me, Thou art my Son, to-day have I begotten thee.
8 Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the ends of the earth for thy possession.
9 Thou shalt rule them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces as a potter’s vessel.
10 Now therefore understand, ye kings: be instructed, all ye that judge the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice in him with trembling.
12 † Accept correction, lest at any time the Lord be angry, and ye should perish from the righteous way: whensoever his wrath shall be suddenly kindled, blessed are all they that trust in him.
N.E.T.S. Translation taken from A New English Translation of the Septuagint © 2007 by the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies, Inc. Used by permission of Oxford University Press, all rights reserved.
1 Why did nations grow insolent, and peoples contemplate vain things?
2 The kings of the earth stood side by side, and the rulers gathered together, against the Lord and against his anointed,
3 “Let us burst their bonds asunder and cast their yoke from us.”
4 He who resides in the heavens will laugh at them, and the Lord will mock them.
5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and in his anger he will trouble them.
6 “But I was established king by him, on Sion, his holy mountain,
7 by proclaiming the Lord’s ordinance: The Lord said to me, ‘My son you are; today I have begotten you. [Emphasis added]
8 Ask of me, and I will give you nations as your heritage, and as your possession the ends of the
9 earth. You shall shepherd them with an iron rod; like a potter’s vessel you will shatter them.’
10 And now, O kings, be sensible; be instructed, all you who judge the earth.
11 Be subject to the Lord with fear, and rejoice in him with trembling.
12 Seize upon instruction, lest the Lord be angry, and you will perish from the righteous way, when his anger quickly blazes out. Happy are all who trust in him.
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