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Wednesday, 6 June 2018

On Truth and Love in the Writings of Saint John the Evangelist

By Saint Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894)

THE HOLY APOSTLE and Evangelist John the Theologian, the beloved disciple of the Lord, is above all an example and a teacher of love.  Love breathes through his Gospel; lessons about love fill his epistles, and his life serves as a striking example of love.

He expounded on all the mysteries of love – its source, its movement in deeds, and its culmination – and where it leads all that follow it, to the heights.  On this subject of love St. John is especially well known, and no matter who would begin to reflect upon love he would immediately bring to mind Saint John as the model of love and turn to him as to a teacher of love.

Now let us examine how contemporary wise men have made use of this teaching.  They possess a special kind of vain wisdom called “Indifferentism” by which they reason and say: Believe as you like, it makes no difference – just love everyone like brothers, be charitable to them, and have a good influence on them.  They point out that the Evangelist John the Theologian writes only about love.  For him love is light and life and all perfection.  According to his words the person who does not love walks in darkness, abides in death, and is a murderer.  It is well known that when St. John grew old and was unable to walk they carried him to church.  There he only admonished, “Brethren! let us love one another.”  So much did he value love.  They tell us that we also should love like that and only love, believing any way we wish.

I myself have had to listen to such “wisdom.”  Perhaps you have also had to listen to, or will hear, something similar to this.  Let us contrast their false teaching with the true teaching of St. John the Theologian, and then protect our thoughts from wavering from the fundamentals of Christian good sense into the vain wisdom of the “indifferent ones.”  These so-called “wise” people desire to build everything without God – their external welfare and their morality.  From this they strive wherever possible to craftily weave a school of thought where there is no need to talk about God.  And they beat their drums about love.  They tell us to love one another, and here there is no need to think about God.  It is especially on this point where the Holy Evangelist routs them.  

Although St John continuously, and exactingly reminds us to love one another, he also places love in such a close bound with God, with love for God and the knowledge of God, that it is impossible to separate them.  Behold where St. John’s love originates: Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  And he adds, Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another (I Jn 4:10, 11).  According to his reasoning, our mutual love must be built up by the action of faith in the Lord, Who came to save us, and consequently it is not alright to believe as you want.  Further he teaches, Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God (1 Jn 4:7).  If we love one another, God dwelleth in us … (I Jn 4:12).  God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him (I Jn 4:16).  You see, he does not say a word about love without speaking about God and the Saviour.  Love is from God, and leads to God.  Thus he who says that he loves his brother, and does not know and love God and the Saviour, is a liar and the truth is not in him (cf. 1 John 4:20, 2:4).  

Therefore it is possible to summarize the entire teaching of the Holy Evangelist on love in the following words: in order to love your neighbor you must love God, and in order to love God, you must, of course come to know Him within yourself and especially in His salvific activity on us.  We must know and believe.  What does the will of God consist of?  In faith and love: thus the commandment says: That we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another (1 Jn 3:23).  It does not only command us to love but to believe in the Lord, and in such a way that faith is the source of love.  If one were to gather into one all the places where Saint John the Evangelist speaks only of love, one could still not conform his teaching to the false reasoning: only love and believe as you want.
 
Besides his teaching on love he also speaks of faith, independent of the law of love.  Behold how he categorically rejects those who say, believe as you want.  What does he preach about from the very first verses: That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looketh upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us; That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ (I Jn 1:1-3)?  The most important point with St. John, and all the Apostles, is the teaching about communion with God though the Lord Jesus Christ, from which proceeds communion of the faithful with one another.  How can we have the one without the other?  Further St John asks the question: who is a liar?  and answers thus: Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?  He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.  Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father… Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God (I Jn 2:22, 23; 4:15).  The whole matter is summed up in confessing the Lord Jesus Christ to be the Son of God and to be God.  How then could one possibly say, “Believe any way you want”?

Then there follows the warning: Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.  Herein know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist (1 Jn 4:1-3).  He who says, “Believe as you want” does not confess Jesus Christ, for if he did confess Christ he would not speak thus.  Therefore he cannot be from God.  Where then is he from? – truly from the antichrist.

Finally, the Holy Evangelist describes the whole essence of Christianity thus: And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life (1 Jn 5:11-12).  Who possesses the Son of God?  Those who believe in His name.  Therefore he says, and writes: unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life … (1 Jn 5:13).  Consequently, he who does not believe in the Son of God does not have eternal life.  Could it possibly make no difference how one wants to believe?  No.  We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us light and understanding, that we may know the true God, and that we may be in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life (1 Jn 5:20).

These excerpts should be enough, I suppose, to show the “Indifferentists” that in vain do they seek to find support for their lie in the teaching of St. John the Theologian.  It is more than likely that they make such claims without having ever read St. John’s holy and divinely inspired writings, but rather quote him based on rumors about his overflowing love.  Let them even now find something else besides the above argument, to defend their teaching to us believers.  One word alone from the beloved disciple is sufficient to discredit their teaching and, without any doubt, to confirm our belief explicitly in that which was given to us by the Lord through the Holy Apostles and preserved by the Church.

I would only add the following consideration to the decisive words of the Apostle and Evangelist John.  Having estranged themselves in their minds from the Lord, these unbelievers grasp at acts of charity whose source and support are precisely love.  They act in this way only to be founded on something without the assurance that they have found a solid basis.  If only they had a clear understanding of how it is indeed possible for man to act in a fruitful way, they would never remain fixed on their teaching.  The essence of the matter is – that we are not in the proper state.  Therefore we cannot act in the right way.  In order for us to act in the correct way we must enter into the right state.  By our own powers we are not capable of doing this.  The Lord, having come to the earth, lifted up man to the right state.   He did not lead man into this state for His own sake but rather that man would accept from Him renewed humanness and thus gain the possibility of acting properly.  We obtain this state through Holy Baptism, for those who are baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  

From the time of Baptism we become one with the Lord and begin to live His life and act by His power.  Those who would claim love or the right action (for love is the fullness of the law) should first accept all the premises of Christianity in order to be able to walk rightly and deny their own falseness. This is impossible without faith, for faith is the root of Christianity and beginning of everything.  The Lord Himself says this: Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except ye abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me.  I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing.  If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned (Jn 15:4-6).

When someone begins to expound to you about love or fruitful action independent of true belief, tell him: Wait, first believe correctly.  By faith acquire all the salvific precepts of Christianity.  Through them be united with the Lord, make your life and strength depend on Him like you would on an injection for your health and then you will begin to act in a fruitful way.  It is a fact that the witness to a righteous life is fruitful activity in love, but, in order to attain it and to remain in it, one must accept all of God’s Truth with faith and pass through all of God’s sanctifying actions [on one’s self].  Only under these conditions, i.e., by abiding in True Love, may we grow up into Him in all things, Who is the head, even Christ (Eph. 4:15).  We could summarize thus: he who does not have the right Faith cannot enter into the proper state, and he who does not enter into the right state cannot properly act.  Now do you see how one cannot say: “Believe as you wish, only love”?

Faith is not only the image of the knowledge of God and of our relationship to Him; it also includes all the salvific institutions [not just the Church as establishment but all that is contained within the Church for salvation] given by God. These salvific institutions maintain active faith.  Our so-called wise men might not actually be opposed to Christian teaching, but, more than anything else, they are repulsed by Christian institutions.  Since these institutions are nothing more than faith in reality and in action, then their main sin is that they do not want to act in the spirit of the Faith.  One is only amazed at how these people so persistently expound about deeds and labours but remove themselves from activity in the realm of holy Faith.  There is something amiss here.  Surely they are acquainted with the laws of logical thought.  There is such duplicity here that one must assume that they are not in fact doers, but are acted upon – they are the tools of a foreign spirit, and such a spirit that is itself foreign to Truth.

Brethren, having understood this, let us guard ourselves from the evil reasoning of this world.  Only those who have never tasted the Truth can waver in it.  Let us fulfill with humility and in the spirit of truth all that our holy Faith demands.  Then we will have, and carry within, a witness which will bring to naught all false arguments from without.  May the Lord illumine us by His Truth.  Amen.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

An Explanation of the Icon of Pentecost


Fifty days after Pascha we celebrate the Great Feast of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came down on the apostles in the form of tongues of fire; ‘Pentecost’ is a Greek word meaning ‘fiftieth’. On Pentecost we celebrate not only the descent of the Holy Spirit but also the whole mystery of the Trinity.

The icon of Pentecost is not just a painting of the events in the room where the apostles received the Holy Spirit. We can see this clearly by the fact that St. Paul is shown on the icon; he was not even a Christian at the time of Pentecost. St. Paul is painted to demonstrate that the Holy Spirit came down on the whole Church and not just on the twelve apostles.

The twelve apostles sit on a horseshoe shaped bench indicating the unity and order in the Church (cf. 1 Cor. 14:40). This order is further demonstrated by the fact that the apostles are portrayed sitting calmly occupying places in accordance with their importance and age. Each, however, is painted in a different posture to signify the different gifts of the Holy Spirit that St. Paul describes: 

There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills (1. Cor. 12: 4-11).

The group of the apostles are painted in inverse perspective (the figures at the back of the icon are larger than those at the front). This is to show that the Church is not an ordinary organisation, but a divine-human organism: the Body of Christ.   

The top space on the bench is left unoccupied symbolizing Christ the Head of the Church which is His Body (cf. Col. 1:18). The Church, however, existed before Pentecost because the angels are members of the Church. This spiritual church became the physical Body of Christ when Christ took flesh of the Virgin Mary and became man. This is the reason why the Incarnation (when the Son of God put on flesh) is mentioned so often in the hymns of Pentecost. 

From the 17th century, particularly in Russian icons, the Mother of God began to be shown in this seat. In doing so, iconographers were probably trying to emphasize that the Mother of God was present at Pentecost (cf. Acts 1:14), but there is also a possibility that this practice started due to western influence.

The semicircle at the top of the icon represents the vault of heavens and the twelve rays coming from it represent the tongues of fire descending on the apostles. In some icons these rays reach down right on to the apostles’ heads. In others, a small tongue of fire is drawn within the halo on each apostle and the rays are cut short. Western religious pictures (right) of Pentecost usually depict flames or fire but this is not found in Orthodoxy.

At the time of Pentecost some of the people present thought that the apostles were drunk when they heard them speaking in foreign languages (cf. Acts 2:13). We should mention briefly that the Protestant charismatic practice of ‘speaking in tongues’ has nothing to do with Pentecost. These Protestants that utter nonsense words, grunts or animal noises believe that they are ‘speaking in tongues’ but they are not! ‘Speaking in tongues’ means speaking foreign languages.  This strange behaviour is not actually new at all – sects in the early centuries of Christianity did it too. It is either caused by mass hysteria, fakery, or some form of demonic activity. It has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit.

In ancient icons the watchers in the room were represented as people of different races dressed in their traditional national costume. Over them was written: ‘Peoples, Races and Tongues’ (cf. Rev. 7:9). In newer Orthodox Pentecost icons, this group of people are represented by the figure of the king at the bottom of the icon. The inscription above the man is ‘Cosmos’ which is a Greek word meaning ‘world’ or ‘universe’. In the sense that it is used in the Pentecost icon, ‘cosmos’ means ‘peoples of the world’. The black background behind this figure signifies the darkness of the world before the coming of the Holy Spirit. The figure is painted as an old man to signify that he had been made old by the sin of Adam. The crown represents sin which had ruled over the world, and the cloth containing the twelve scrolls represents the teaching of the apostles.

A few artists place the Mother of God at the bottom of the icon instead of the King, but this is not Orthodox. On the most basic level, by replacing the symbol of the unenlightened nations with the Mother of God, these artists are intimating that the Theotokos who is ‘full of grace’ (Luke 1:28) is on the same level as unbaptized and unconverted idolaters.

Iconography has changed in style over the centuries. For example, although most iconographers today paint in the Byzantine style, this style was used very rarely in 19th century Greece and Russia. The idea of ‘correct’ iconography is therefore a myth because there are so many variations. St. Nicedemos the Hagiorite, for example, states that some older Pentecost icons had the Prophet Joel instead of the King Cosmos. This is because the Prophet Joel foretold the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost when he prophesied: ‘I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh’. This prophecy of Joel is read on Pentecost Vespers on Saturday evening.

Having said that, placing the Mother of God at the bottom of the icon is an innovation done to illustrate a modern theory rather than Scripture. Artists that do this have undoubtedly been influenced by the teachings of Sergius Bulgakov who believed that the Mother of God received spiritual rebirth at Pentecost. According to Bulgakov, ‘with Pentecost, the work of the Divine Motherhood can be considered completed.’ [1]

Bulgakov believed in Divine Motherhood because he also believed in Sophia. The ideas of Bulgakov are confused and confusing, but basically he believed in a fourth person of the Holy Trinity which he called ‘Wisdom’ or ‘Sophia’ that supports and animates the universe and is a meditatress between God and creation. He also believed that the Mother of God was the ‘full revelation of Sofia in a human being’ [2]  the ‘personal incarnation of the Church’ and the ‘focus of the whole creaturely world’. [3]

Orthodox theologians such as Saint Seraphim of Sofia and Saint John of Shanghai criticized Bulgakov for his views and asserted that he was in danger of confusing the Holy Spirit with the Mother of God. [4] Bulgakov was condemned by both parts of the Russian Church for his teaching on Sophia. Of course, there is no basis anywhere in the services of Pentecost for these heretical ideas. 

In this modernist icon the Mother of God holds twelve ‘seeds of the Word’ instead of twelve scrolls. According to the artists, the Mother of God transforms the teachings of the apostles represented by the scrolls into the seeds of faith. Can there be any doubt that the Mother of God in this icon represents Sophia?  

The Orthodox Church honours the Mother of God in the proper fashion and never confuses her with the Holy Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit, not an imaginary ’Sophia’ that transformed the apostles and enabled them to convert the unbelieving nations. This is why we chant the following Prokeimenon on Pentecost and on every feast of the apostles: ‘Their sound hath gone forth into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.’

The traditional Orthodox Pentecost icon illustrates the manifestation of the Church to the world and the coming of the Divine Spirit that united those who were formerly divided and made them wise with the knowledge of the Trinity. 

Let us not forget that the grace of the Holy Spirit poured out on the apostles at Pentecost is still being poured out on us today. This Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth that fills all things and is everywhere present, a treasury of good things, the Giver of life and, as Saint Seraphim of Sofia explains, our Comforter:

The Grace of the Holy Spirit in its various and wondrous manifestations gives birth within us to the bliss of the Kingdom of God. For this reason, it is our true Christian joy. Our Lord and Saviour did not call the Holy Spirit ‘The Comforter’ in vain. This very name informs us that only through the Holy Spirit are we able to have real consolation in all of our misfortunes and through His Grace to receive while still here (on earth) access to all of the joys of the Kingdom of God. [5]


[1] S. Bulgakov The Burning Bush (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Erdmans Publising Co. 2009) p.69 
[2] Ibid p.69
[3] The Burning Bush p.101
[4] Schemanun Seraphima (trans.) Saint Seraphim of Sofia (Etna: CTOS, 2008) p. 39
[5] Saint Seraphim of Sofia p.163

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Homily on the Samaritan Woman

By Saint John Chrysostom 

 


Whosoever drinks of this water shall thirst again. But whosoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life (John 4: 13-14).

Scripture often refers to the grace of the Spirit as ‘fire’ or ‘water’ demonstrating that these names do not describe the essence of the Spirit, but the energy; the Spirit, being simple and indivisible, cannot be made up of different essences. The Apostle John speaks of the first when he says: ‘He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with Fire’ (Matt 3:11). The second, Christ Himself declares when He says: ‘Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water’ (John 7:38). The Apostle John explains that here Christ is speaking of the Spirit which they should receive.

In talking with the woman, Christ calls the Spirit ‘water': ‘Whosoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.' He calls the Spirit ‘fire’ because of the energizing and warming property of grace, and its power of destroying transgressions. He also calls the Spirit by the name ‘water’ because of the cleansing wrought by it, and the refreshment which it gives to those souls which receive it. Water makes the willing soul like a garden filled with fruitful trees and allows the soul neither to feel despondency nor the plots of Satan; it quenches all the fiery darts of the wicked one.

Observe, I pray you, the wisdom of Christ in leading the woman gently. He did not say straightaway: 'If you knew who it is that says to you, give Me to drink’ but only after permitting her to call Him a Jew does He refute this accusation by saying ‘If you knew who it is that says to you, give me to drink, you would have asked of Him' (cf. John 4: 10). He thereby compels her to to mention the Patriarch and allows the woman her own opinion. When she goes on to object by saying ‘Are you greater than our father Jacob?’ He does not say ‘Yes, I am greater’ (this would appear to be boastful, because there was, as yet, no proof), but by what He goes on to say he proves He is greater.

Christ does not say simply ‘I will give you water’, but having first set aside that given by Jacob, He goes on to exalt that given by Him. In doing this, He desires to show from the nature of the gifts the great gulf and difference between the givers, and His own superiority to the Patriarch. If, says He, you admire Jacob because he gave you this water, what will you say if I give you Water far better than this? You yourself have confessed that I am greater than Jacob, by arguing against Me, and asking, 'Are you greater than Jacob, that you promise to give me better water?' If you receive that Water, certainly you will confess that I am greater. Do you see the upright judgment of the woman, giving her decision from facts concerning the Patriarch and Christ?

The Jews did not act in this way. When they even saw Christ casting out demons, not only did they not call Him greater than the Patriarch but even said that He had a demon. Not so this woman: she forms her opinion in the way Christ wants, from the demonstration given by His works. For by these He justifies Himself, saying: ‘If I do not the works of My Father, believe Me not; but if I do, if you believe not Me, believe the works’ (John 10: 37, 38). In this way the woman is led to faith.

Christ, having heard the question ‘Are you greater than our father Jacob?’ passes over Jacob and speaks concerning the water saying: 'Whosoever shall drink of this water, shall thirst again.' He makes this comparison, not diminishing the one but showing the excellence of the other. He does not say that that this water is nothing, or that it is inferior and contemptible, but simply declares the facts of nature when He says: ‘Whosoever shall drink of this water shall thirst again; but whosoever shall drink of the Water which I shall give him, shall never thirst’. The woman had heard already of this living Water (John 4:10), but had not known its meaning. After all, the water that bubbles up continuously from underground springs appears to be living water, and she thought that this was the water Christ meant. This is the reason that He explains more clearly by comparison the superiority of the Water which He would give.

What then does He say? ‘Whosoever shall drink of the Water that I shall give him, shall never thirst.’ This, and what was said next, showed the superiority, for material water possesses none of these qualities. And what is it that follows? ‘It shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.’ For just as someone that has a well within him could never be thirsty, so neither can someone who has this Water.

The woman straightway believed, showing herself much wiser than Nicodemus and not only wiser, but more manly. For though he heard ten thousand such things he did not invite anyone else to hear them, nor did he speak of them openly, but she proved to be an Apostle, preaching the Gospel to all and calling them to Jesus, drawing a whole city forth to Him. Nicodemus when he had heard said: ‘How can these things be?’ Even when Christ illustrated his words with the clear example of the wind (cf. John 3:5), even then he did not receive the Word. Not so this woman. At first she doubted, but afterwards receiving the Word not by any regular demonstration, but in the form of an assertion, she straightway hastened to embrace it. For when Christ said ‘It shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting Life’, immediately the woman says ‘Give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come here to draw’.

Do you see how little by little she is led up to the highest doctrines? First she thought Him some Jew who was transgressing the Law; then when He had repelled that accusation, (for it was necessary that the person who was to teach her such things should not be suspected) having heard of living water, she supposed that these words concerned material water. Afterwards, having learned that the words were spiritual, she believed that the water could remove the necessity caused by thirst, but knew not yet what this could be; she still doubted, deeming it indeed to be above material things, but not being certain. She gained a clearer insight, but still did not understand everything. She now views him as superior to Jacob by saying ‘Give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come here to draw.' In effect she says, ‘I do not need this well if I receive that water from you’. Do you see how she sets Him before the Patriarch? This is the act of a fairly-judging soul. She had shown the high opinion she had of Jacob, but when she saw One better than he, she was not held back by her former opinion. That this woman is not gullible is clear from the way she did not receive what was said carelessly. How can she be said to have done so, when she questioned with such exactness? Neither was she disobedient or argumentative and this is shown by the way that she asked Christ for the water.

In contrast, when Christ said to the Jews:‘Whosoever shall eat of My flesh shall never hunger, and he that believes in Me shall never thirst' (John 6:35) not only did they not believe in Him, but they were offended. This woman showed no such feeling but remains there and questions further. To the Jews Christ said ‘He that believes in Me shall never thirst’, but He speaks to the woman in a more unusual way: ‘He that drinks of this Water shall never thirst’. This is because the promise referred to spiritual and unseen things. Even after having raised her mind by His promises, He still uses sensory expressions because she could not as yet understand the exact expression of spiritual things. If He had He said, ‘If you believe in Me you shall not thirst', she would not have understood His saying, not knowing who it was speaking to her, or even of what kind of thirst He was speaking of. Why then, did He not do this in the case of the Jews? Because they had seen many signs, but she had seen no sign, but heard these words first. For which reason He afterwards reveals His power by prophecy, and does not directly introduce His reproof.

See the great wisdom of the woman! How meekly does she receive the reproof! Some may say, why shouldn’t she receive it meekly? But tell me, why should she? Did He not often reprove the Jews also, and with greater reproofs than these? Realizing the hidden thoughts of the heart is different from revealing things that were done in secret. The first are known only to God and to the person who has them in his heart; the second are known to both the hearer and to the sharers of his secret. Still, when reproved they did not bear it patiently. When He said ‘Why do you seek to kill me?’ (John 7:19), they not only did not admire as the woman did, but even mocked and insulted Him. Whilst they had a demonstration from the other miracles, she had only heard this speech. Still they not only did not admire, but even insulted Him, saying: ‘You have a demon, who seeks to kill you?’ (John 7:20) She not only does not insult but admires and is astonished at Him, and supposes Him to be a Prophet.
Yet truly this rebuke touched the woman more than the other rebukes touched the Jews because her fault was hers alone, theirs was a general one; we are not stung so much by a general rebuke as we are by a personal one. The Jews had an objective in view when they sought to kill Christ, but that which the woman had done was considered by all to be wicked; yet was she not indignant, but was astonished and wondered. And Christ did this very same thing in the case of Nathanael. He did not at first introduce the prophecy, nor say 'I saw you under the fig-tree' (cf. John 1:48) but only after Nathanael said ‘Whence do you know me?’ did He introduce it.

Christ at first hid his signs and prophecies from those people who later became near to Him so that they might be drawn closer by seeing what was done, and that He might escape the suspicion of vainglory. He does this here also. To have said to her straightaway ‘You have no husband’ would have seemed harsh and unnecessary, but to respond to her and then to set her right on all these points was fitting, and softened the disposition of the hearer.

Some might question the reason for saying ‘Go, call your husband’. This discussion concerned a gift and grace surpassing mortal nature. The woman was pressing to receive it. Christ says ‘Call your husband’, showing that he also must share in these things; but she, eager to receive the gift, and concealing the shamefulness of the circumstances, and supposing that she was conversing with a man, said: ‘I have no husband.’ Christ having heard this, at the right time, introduces His reproof, mentioning accurately both points. He numbered all her former husbands, and reproved her for the man she would now seek to hide.

What did the woman do? She was not annoyed, nor did she leave Him and run away, nor feel insulted, but rather admired Him, and persevered the more. ‘I perceive,' says she, 'that You are a Prophet.' See her prudence! She did not straightway run to Him, but still considers Him and marvels at Him. The phrase ‘I perceive’ means ‘You appear to me to be a Prophet.’ After having suspected this, she asks Him nothing concerning this life, bodily health, possessions, or wealth, but at once concerning doctrines. What then does she say?

‘Our fathers worshipped in this mountain (meaning Abraham and his family, for there he led up his son), and how say you that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship?’ Do you see how much more elevated in mind she has become? She who was anxious that she might not thirst, now asks questions concerning doctrines. What then does Christ say? He does not resolve the question (for He was not come to answer needless questions), but leads the woman on to a greater height. He does not converse with her on these matters, until she has confessed that He was a Prophet, so that afterwards she might hear His Word with abundant belief; for having been persuaded of this, she could no longer doubt concerning what should be said to her.

On hearing this we should be ashamed and blush. A Samaritan woman who had had five husbands was so eager concerning doctrines that neither the time of day, nor her having come for another purpose, nor anything else, distracted her from enquiring about such matters. On the other hand, not only do we not enquire concerning doctrines, but are careless and indifferent to them. Therefore everything is neglected. For which of you when in his house takes some Christian book in hand and goes over its contents, and searches the Scriptures? No-one can say that he does so. All our houses have a draughtboard and dice, but most have no books. Even those that have books have the same frame of mind as those who have none. They tie up their books and keep them in cases; they admire the fineness of the parchment and the beauty of the letters, but do not read the books themselves. For they have not bought them to obtain benefit from their content, but to show their wealth and pride. Such is the excess of vainglory. I do not hear any one boast that he knows the contents, but only that he has a book written in letters of gold. And what gain, tell me, is this?

The Scriptures were given not just that we might possess the books, but that we might engrave them on our hearts. For this kind of possession, the keeping the commandments merely in letter, belongs to Jewish tradition. This law was not given to us, but one written in the fleshy tablets of our hearts (cf. 2 Cor. 3:3). In saying this, I am not preventing you from owning Bibles! On the contrary, I exhort and earnestly pray that you do this, but also to absorb the letter and meaning into your souls that they may be purified by the writings.

For if the devil will not dare to approach a house where a Gospel is lying, much less will any evil spirit, or any sinful nature, ever touch or enter a soul which bears about with it such sentiments as it contains. Sanctify then your soul, sanctify your body, by having these ever in your heart and on your tongue. For if foul speech defiles and invites demons, it is clear that spiritual reading sanctifies and draws down the grace of the Spirit.

The Scriptures are a divine gift. Let us then apply to ourselves and to the passions of our souls the remedies derived reading them. For if we understand what we read, we shall also hear it with eagerness. I am always saying this, and I will not cease to say it. Is it not strange that those who sit by the market can tell the names, families, and cities of charioteers, and dancers, and the kinds of power possessed by each; they can give an exact account of the good or bad qualities of the horses, but those who come here know nothing of what is done here, but are unaware even of the names of the sacred Books? If you pursue those worldly things for pleasure, I will show you that here is greater pleasure. Which is sweeter, which more marvellous, to see a man wrestling with a man or to see a man contesting with a demon? To see a mortal body in combat with an incorporeal power and one of the human race emerging victorious?

Let us mediate on those wrestlings which are profitable for us to imitate, and through which we are crowned. Let us not emulate those which bring shame to those who imitate them. If you behold the one kind of contest, you behold it with demons; the other, with Angels and Archangels, and the Lord of Archangels. Say now, if you were allowed to sit with governors and kings, and to see and enjoy the spectacle, would you consider it a great honour? Here when you are a spectator in company with the King of Angels, when you see the devil cast out, powerless, even though he still strives to defeat us, why do you not run after and strive for a sight such as this? How can we achieve this? By keeping the Bible in your hands you will see the contestants, the long races, the struggles and the skill of the saints. By beholding these things you shall learn also how to wrestle yourself, and shall escape the traps of the demons. The performances of the heathen are assemblies of demons, not theatres of men. Wherefore I exhort you to abstain from these satanic assemblies; for if it is not lawful to enter into an idol's house, much less to Satan's festival.

I shall not stop saying these things and boring you, until I see some change; for to say these things, as says Paul, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is a safeguard (Philippians 3:1). Do not be offended at my exhortation. If any one ought to be offended, it is I who often speak and am not heard, not you who are always hearing and always disobeying. God grant that you may not always remain liable to this accusation, but that freed from this shame you be deemed worthy to enjoy the spiritual spectacle, and the glory which is to come, through the grace and loving kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom to the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

The Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women

On the Second Sunday after Pascha we commemorate the myrrh-bearing women who came to anoint Christ’s body very early in the morning of the Resurrection. We heard this account (Mark 16:1-8) read at the beginning of the Paschal matins:
And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: He is risen; He is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell His disciples and Peter that He goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see Him, as He said unto you. And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.

Last Sunday we commemorated the touching of the Saviour by the Apostle Thomas which occurred eight days after the Resurrection. Thomas Sunday falls on the Sunday after Pascha, but on Myrrh-bearers’ Sunday we go ‘back in time’ to commemorate events that occurred on the actual morning of the Resurrection.

The myrrh-bearers are those women disciples of Christ who stood with His Mother at the time of the crucifixion and came to anoint Christ’s body with sweet-smelling spices. Myrrh is the fragrant dried resin of a tree that is produced in a similar way to frankincense; the tree is slashed and the trees bleed the liquid resin which is then dried in the sun. In Orthodoxy, myrrh is not burnt as incense but it is used in preparing the sacred Chrism.

The myrrh-bearing women were the first witnesses to the bodily resurrection of Christ. On this Sunday, we also commemorate Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemos the secret disciple because they prepared Christ’s body for burial and laid it in a new tomb.

We do not know all the names of the myrrh-bearers but of those whose names are known, the first is the Theotokos who many of the Fathers tell us is the ‘Mother of James and Joses’ mentioned in the Matthew 27:56 and Mark 15:40. These two men were the sons of Saint Joseph the Betrothed by a previous marriage so the Theotokos is their stepmother. The Orthodox Church has always taught that the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, was a virgin before, during and after childbirth so she is not, of course, the biological mother of James and Joses.

Saint Gregory Palamas, in his homily for this Sunday, teaches that it was the Archangel Gabriel that announced the Resurrection of Christ to the Mother of God, just as he had proclaimed to her the good tidings of the Annunciation:

When the Theotokos, together with Mary Magdalene, heard the Good News of the resurrection from the angel, only she understood the meaning of the words. In the same way now when, in the company of the other women, she met her Son and God, she was the first of them all to see and recognize the risen Lord, and falling down before Him she grasped His feet and became His apostle to the apostles.[1]

The Fathers teach us the myrrh-bearers were apostles to the apostles; the word ‘apostle’ means ‘messenger’ or ‘one who is sent forth’. The myrrh-bearers therefore were sent forth by the angel (Mark 16:7) to preach the good news of his Resurrection to the apostles as we hear in the hymns of the Pentecostarion:

Rising up early and coming with earnestness unto Thy tomb, the myrrh-bearers sought for Thee so as to anoint Thine immaculate Body, O Christ. And having been informed by the words of the Angel, they preached to the Apostles the tokens of joy: that the Author of our salvation is risen, having despoiled death and granting the world eternal life and great mercy.[2]

The other myrrh-bearers whose names have come down to us are Saint Mary Magdalene; Mary the wife of Clopas; Joanna, wife of Chouza; Salome the mother of the sons of Zebedee; Mary and Martha the sisters of Lazarus; and Susanna.

The fact that the myrrh-bearers have a Sunday dedicated to them is significant for a number of reasons. Christ is referred to as the New Adam because by His incarnation He renewed and recreated Adam’s nature. Christ appeared first to women because it was fitting that just as Eve was the first person to see Adam, so a woman should be the first to see the risen Christ, the New Adam. Saint Ambrose of Milan also refers to Eve when he says: ‘because death had before issued through the mouth of a woman, life is restored through the mouth of a woman’ (cf. John 20:18).

The fact that the women came to anoint Christ’s body, but found the tomb empty is also significant especially in our time when many western Christians do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ. The myrrh-bearers fully expected to find Christ’s Body still in the tomb which is why they brought with them myrrh and sweet-smelling spices. On not finding Christ’s body in the tomb they became the first witnesses of Christ’s bodily resurrection.

The dedication of the myrrh-bearers is also an example for us. When Christ was betrayed we hear in the Gospel that ‘all his disciples forsook him and fled' (Mark 14:50). The Apostle Peter actually denied Christ three times when questioned. In contrast, the women disciples remained with Christ during his crucifixion together with the Theotokos and the Apostle John the Theologian.

The actions of the myrrh-bearing women are an example for us, particularly when we desire to approach the Holy Mysteries. The Venerable Bede teaches:

The spices which the women bring signify the scent of virtue, and the sweetness of prayers through which we ought to approach the Altar. The rolling back of the stone alludes to the revealing of the Holy Mysteries which were concealed by the veil of the letter of the law written on stone; this covering has now been taken away, the dead body of the Lord is not found, but the living body is preached… Let us then, following the example of the devout women, whenever we approach the Heavenly Mysteries, either because of the presence of the angels or from reverence to the Sacred Offering, bow our faces to the earth with humility recollecting that we are but dust and ashes.

We hear in the hymns of the Church that the myrrh-bearers followed in Christ’s steps with zeal and did not abandon Him even after His death on the Cross. Let us therefore emulate their faith and zeal pouring forth tears of repentance as they did tears of grief; let us pray that with them we might be counted worthy of the endless joy of the Resurrection in the Kingdom of Heaven.

[1] Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies (Dalton: Mount Thabor Publishing, 2014) p. 148-14
[2] The Pentecostarion (Brookline: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1990) p.107

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

The Relationship Between Old and New Testament Pascha

By Bishop Alexander of Buenos Aires


The Old Testament Law, according to the words of the holy Apostle Paul, was a "children's guide to Christ" and "a shadow of good things to come" (Gal. 3:24, Heb. 10:1); in other words, the purpose of the Old Law was to prepare the Israelite people for the coming of the Messiah. Therefore, as the Old Testament prophecies for the most part speak of the Messiah, so the most important events were foreshadowings of New Testament events, referring to the life of the Saviour and of the Christian Church. 

In this regard the Old Testament feast of Pascha (Passover) has a particularly important significance. This feast was inaugurated at the time of the Prophet Moses (1,300 B.C), on the occasion of the deliverance through their Angel of the Israelite firstborn from destruction and of the saving of the Jewish peoples from slavery in Egypt. From Moses' time, the Jews counted the feast of Pascha as especially holy.

Thus, the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ suffered, died on the Cross and rose from the dead during the festal days of Passover constitutes an indication from God concerning the deep, internal bond between these two great events. The Apostles pointed out this connection in their epistles, and especially the Apostle Paul in the Epistle to the Hebrews, saying that the Old Testament events which are commemorated by the festival of the Jewish Passover, indicated aforetime the spiritual rebirth of mankind, which would come about as a result of the Resurrection of Christ. So that we can see the bond between the two Paschas, let us set the events of the Old and the New Covenants in parallel.

In the Old Testament, we have the sacrifice of the spotless paschal lamb and the anointing with its blood of the lintels of the doors of the houses, where the Israelites lived, as a consequence of which the Angel passed over these houses and the Jewish firstborn were saved (it is from this that we have the word Passover, which derives from "to pass over," Exodus, chapter 12); in the New Covenant, we have the sacrifice on the Cross of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, by Whose blood, the new firstborn, the Christians, are saved (1 Peter 1:19). In the Old: the miraculous crossing by the Jews of the Red Sea and their deliverance from slavery in Egypt; in the New: Baptism in water and deliverance from slavery to the devil. Furthermore, in the Old Testament: the granting on the fiftieth day after the exodus from Egypt of the Law on Mount Sinai and the conclusion of a covenant (a bond) between God and the Chosen People; in the New: the descent of the Holy Spirit on the fiftieth day after Pascha and the establishment of a new covenant between God and the faithful. In the Old: the miraculous provision of food by God as manna. In the New: the eating of the Heavenly Bread, the Body and Blood of Christ. In the Old Testament: the forty year wandering in the wilderness and the various experiences through which the Jewish people were strengthened in their faith in God; in the New Testament: the experiences which the Christian meets in his life and which strengthen him in faith and in the virtues. In the Old: the raising up of the bronze serpent, glancing upon which the Jews were saved from snake bite; in the New: by the power of the Cross we are delivered from the pangs inflicted by the spiritual snake, the devil. Finally, in the Old Testament: the Jews' taking possession of the Land of Promise; in the New Testament: the promise to the faithful of a new heavens and a new earth, wherein righteousness abides (2 Peter 3:13).

From this comparison of the paschal events, we see how the events of the Old Testament Passover foretold great spiritual changes in the life of mankind. The beginning of these saving events was laid by the death upon the Cross and by the Resurrection from the dead of the Saviour of the world.

Therefore, the Apostles, celebrating the new Pascha, cried out: "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us!" (1 Cor. 5:7).

This translation appeared in The Shepherd, Volume XX, April 2000

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Sunday of Saint John Climacus


On the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent we commemorate Saint John Climacus. Saint John lived in sixth century Egypt and entered the monastic life as a teenager spending nineteen years in obedience to the Elder Martyrius. He was then given a blessing to live in solitude and lived forty years as a hermit Saint John’s solitary life ended when he was chosen to become abbot of the monastery at Mount Sinai. It was there that Saint John wrote his famous book The Ladder of Divine Ascent which consists of thirty steps – each step being a homily on a particular aspect of the spiritual life. St. John is named ‘of the Ladder’ or ‘Climacus’ (a Latinisation of the Greek word for ‘ladder’) after his important work.

The Ladder was written as a guide for monastics, but it is not a rulebook only applicable to monks. In fact, it is not a rulebook at all!  St. John uses practical examples to illustrate his points and explores the psychology of the spiritual life in a way that is easily readable for both monastics and laypeople.

As traditional Orthodox Christians we understand the importance of trying to live the ascetical life; struggling against the passions by asceticism (lit. ‘training’) is essential if we want to consider ourselves to be Genuine Orthodox Christians. Christ Himself says: ‘Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?’ (Matt. 6:25) Saint Philaret of New York explains:

People forget that the path of Christianity is indeed an ascetical labour. Last Sunday we heard how the Lord said: ‘He that would come after Me, let him take up his cross, deny himself and follow Me.’ The Lord said this with the greatest emphasis. Therefore, the Christian must be one who takes up his cross, and his life, likewise, must be an ascetic labour of bearing that cross. Whatever the outward circumstances of his life, be he monk, or layman, it is no consequence. In either case, if he does not force himself to mount upwards, then, of a certainty, he will fall lower and lower.[1]

The Sunday of the Cross, that Saint Philaret refers to above, falls between the commemoration of two great monastic saints: Saint Gregory Palamas and Saint John of the Ladder. Both these saints were great ascetics from their youth and although they lived many centuries apart, they both struggled in similar fashion and both stressed the necessity of asceticism and unceasing prayer in order to achieve vision of God. We hear this in the sessional hymn to Saint John sung after Ode Three in Matins:

Shining with the glory of the virtues, thou hast made thine abode in heaven, and in holiness thou hast ascended to the boundless depths of divine vision. Thou hast exposed to mockery all the snares of the demons, protecting mankind from their cruel violence. Now, O John, thou blest ladder of the virtues, thou intercedest that thy servants may all be saved.

The divine vision referred to above is the enlightenment of the highest part of the soul (nous) through which we attain spiritual knowledge. The Greek word theoria that we have translated as ‘divine vision’ is often translated as ‘contemplation’. 

There are different stages of divine vision and the theology involved is quite complicated. Simply put, in order for the nous to be illumined by divine vision, it must be purified by keeping the Gospel Commandments. Most of us are still struggling against the sins and passions and we are very far from illumination – let alone the higher aspects of divine vision. For this reason Saint John, in The Ladder of Divine Ascent, gives a lot of guidance on how to overcome sins and passions because without purifying ourselves from lust, anger, hatred, greed and the rest of the passions we can never ascend to divine vision. This principle is summarized in the saying of Saint Isaac the Syrian: ‘purity sees God’.

The first step in The Ladder is entitled  ‘on renunciation of the world’. Lay people are not required to renounce the world but they should struggle against covetousness and renounce worldy ways of thinking. Saint John Climacus teaches that by despising material possessions a layperson will be delivered from quarrels; a covetous monk, on the other hand, will ‘fight to death for a needle’.[2] He continues:

Some people living carelessly in the world have asked me: ‘We have wives and are beset with social cares, and how can we lead the solitary life?’ I replied to them: ‘Do all the good you can; do not speak evil of anyone; do not steal from anyone; do not lie to anyone; do not be arrogant towards anyone; do not hate anyone; do not be absent from the divine services; be compassionate to the needy; do not offend anyone; do not wreck another man’s domestic happiness and be content with what your own wives can give you. If you behave in this way, you will not be far from the Kingdom of Heaven. [3]

The Ladder is much more than a manual for monks; Saint John’s insight into human behaviour and the spiritual life is invaluable. The Ladder not only gives us an insight into our true spiritual state but also sets out the treatment needed in order to progress in the spiritual life.

[1] Saint John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent (trans. Holy Transfiguration Monastery) (Brookline: HTM, 1991) p. xxxii
[2] The Ladder of Divine Ascent p. 123
[3] The Ladder of Divine Ascent p. 9

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Sunday of Saint Gregory Palamas


On the Second Sunday of Great Lent we commemorate Saint Gregory Palamas, the Archbishop of Thessalonica. Saint Gregory Palamas is particularly renowned for his defence of traditional Orthodox monasticism and the Church's teaching concerning grace against the attacks of Barlaam and Acindynus. The heresies promoted by these two men led to the Orthodox Church condemning their teachings at various councils in the middle of the fourteenth century. This dispute is called the hesychastic controversy by historians. The word ‘hesychasm’ comes from the Greek word for ‘quiet’ or ‘silence’.

The original Greek texts dealing with this subject are very complicated but, simply put, both Barlaam and Acindynus taught that the grace of God is created and also objected to the spiritual practices of Orthodox monasticism. These opponents of Saint Gregory were heavily influenced by Roman Catholic teachings concerning grace. Indeed, following his condemnation at the Orthodox council of 1341, Barlaam converted to Roman Catholicism and was made a bishop. Barlaam is not a particularly famous historical figure, his most memorable contribution was to coin the phrase ‘navel gazing’ which he used to mock the monks of the Holy Mountain.

Saint Gregory, himself a monk of the Holy Mountain, vigorously defended traditional Orthodox monasticism and in particular the importance of physical and mental stillness in prayer. This physical stillness was what Barlaam attacked with his accusation of 'navel gazing'. 

Saint Gregory, in accordance with the earlier Church Fathers, taught that these practices of prayer, stillness and the guarding of the thoughts lead to union with God through partaking in His uncreated energies. The aim of the Christian life to become gods by grace – the transformation that the saints have undergone.

Saint Gregory, expressing clearly the mind of the Church, taught that grace is uncreated and is the uncreated energies of God. Barlaam and Acindynus, on the other hand, taught that grace was created energy, a position that ultimately leads to complete atheism because a created energy is clear evidence of a created essence. In other words, a belief in created grace necessitates a belief in a created God.

In contrast, the Church Fathers have always taught that God is God is unknowable and unapproachable in His essence or ‘God-ness'. However, it’s possible to see God by the energies that come from God. These energies are not small pieces of God or little packets of holiness that God makes for us; these energies are God and are uncreated because God is uncreated. These uncreated energies of God are called grace. God’s energies are not limited by time or space; He acts through His energies to support His creation.

As an illustration we can think about the sun; its rays shine and we feel them and see them. However, the sun’s rays are not small suns that are thrown at us from the sky ­– the sun doesn’t become less hot, or less bright, when it shines on us! We know that the sun we feel on our skin is simply energy from the sun. We are partaking of the energy of the sun but we are not actually feeling the sun itself in its essence or ‘sun-ness.’ If we felt even 1% of the sun’s essence we would be destroyed by the heat! So we can say that the sun’s essence is unapproachable, but its energies are approachable.

However this analogy with the sun is not quite correct because God’s energies are not ‘God-waves’  – they are God. They are, however, not God’s essence but his energies. In contrast, the energy that comes from the sun is not ‘sun’, but the light and energy of the sun.

In summary, God’s energies are God, but they are not His essence. God’s essence is beyond all names, manifestation and participation. God's energies, on the other hand, are divine, uncreated and communicable; if they were not, they would not be God Himself, and would be unable to deify us and unite us with Him.

Saint Gregory Palamas often used the example of the light that the Apostles saw on Mount Tabor when Christ was transfigured to illustrate the uncreated nature of God’s energies. The Light on Tabor was God’s energy appearing as Light – this Light is therefore uncreated because God’s essence is uncreated.

Barlaam, on the other hand, believed the Light of Transfiguration to be created, and considered it inferior to the reasoning and logical thoughts of the philosophers. He thought that the ancient philosophers were superior to the Prophets and Apostles because grace (being created in his opinion) is always inferior to knowledge and learning. The correct Orthodox teaching of Saint Gregory Palamas is summarized in the Ikos read during matins on the Second Sunday of Great Lent:

Thou wast seen on earth as an angelic messenger, proclaiming unto mortal men the mysteries of God. Endowed with a human mind and flesh, yet speaking with the voice of the bodiless powers, thou didst astonish us, O herald of God, and didst persuade us to cry to thee such things as these:

Rejoice, thou through whom darkness is dispelled. Rejoice, thou through whom the light hath returned.
Rejoice, messenger of the uncreated Godhead. Rejoice, reprover of created folly.
Rejoice, thou who didst teach the unattainable height of God's nature. Rejoice, thou who didst teach that His energies are a depth hard to contemplate.
Rejoice, thou who didst proclaim God’s glory. Rejoice, thou who didst expose the opinions of evildoers.
Rejoice, thou luminary that hast shown us the Sun. Rejoice, wine bowl filled with nectar.
Rejoice, thou through whom the truth hath shone forth. Rejoice, thou through whom falsehood was darkened.
Rejoice, O herald of grace!

Saint Gregory was present at the councils of 1341 and 1347 which condemned the belief that grace is created. The opponents of Saint Gregory continued their attacks on him, but his Orthodox theology was confirmed once and for all at a synod in Constantinople in 1351. Saint Gregory reposed in peace in 1359.