This is a privately owned blog. It is not and has never been an official organ of any ecclesiastical organization.
"No one man, or group of men, can himself speak for the Church of Christ. It is nonetheless possible to speak from within the Church, in conformity with Orthodox tradition; and it is this that we shall attempt to do." Fr. Seraphim Rose Orthodox Word #1 Jan-Feb 1965 p. 17
Book Review: The Orthodox Way
Acquiring an Orthodox Mindset > Book & Movie Reviews
Book Review: The Orthodox Way
by Hieromonk Patapios
A Traditionalist Critique of The Orthodox Church
IN A PREVIOUS ISSUE of Orthodox Tradition (Vol. XVI, No. 1 ), we reviewed the new edition of The Orthodox Church, by Timothy Ware, now Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia (under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Great Britain), a countryman of mine and an Oxford scholar and Orthodox clergyman of deserved renown. We now feel it necessary to say something about another book by His Grace which has become, in many ways, a companion volume to the aforementioned book; viz., The Orthodox Way (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimirs Press, 1985), written while he was still an Archimandrite. Like its predecessor, it is a veritable curates egg.* Although we gladly admit that there is much of value in The Orthodox Way, it is nonetheless marred by some serious dogmatic errors. In our review of The Orthodox Church, we noted that "as the standard introduction to Orthodoxy, it is to be found in almost any academic or public library and certainly in any decent bookstore." The same is certainly true of The Orthodox Way, even though it has been reprinted far less often than the earlier work.
Now, let me say that neither of these books is simply an item that one can easily find in a bookstore or library. Each of them is frequently assigned as required reading for introductory courses on Eastern Orthodoxy in universities, colleges, and seminaries, and not just in the English-speaking world. Some years ago, when he was a visiting professor at the University of Uppsala, Archbishop Chrysostomos was told by one of the senior members of the Theological Institute that only three English-language texts had, at that time, been officially endorsed by the faculty for use in courses on Eastern Orthodoxy: The Orthodox Church and The Orthodox Way, by Bishop Kallistos, and On Prayer, by Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Sourozh. This same professor did not hesitate to inform His Eminence that The Orthodox Way was his personal favorite among these books. One would think that the excellent writings of Professor Constantine Cavarnos (which are uncompromisingly Orthodox in their content and many of which have appeared at least in Finnish translation), to cite but one example, might also have been selected as introductory texts; but evidently even back in the 1980s, they were either downplayed or for some reason deemed less useful.
Drinking from the wrong wells
In his introduction to The Orthodox Way, Bishop Kallistos makes some very astute observations about how Orthodoxy is, above all, a way of life and something that has to be experienced if it is to be understood to any degree. He admits that very little is said in his book about the Church, the communion of Saints, the sacraments (as he persists in calling the Mysteries), or liturgical worship, and hints that he might subsequently devote a separate book to these issues. This is all well and good, but how can one possibly accurately portray the Orthodox Faith and life without at least some extended attention of to matters of ecclesiology and worship? It is impossible for someone to be Orthodox if he does not belong to the Orthodox Church or partake of Her Mysteries on a regular basis. Indeed, in one of his few passing comments on ecclesiology, His Grace acknowledges that any traveller on "the Way" (an ancient name for Christianity) must be a member of the Church and that "the Orthodox tradition is intensely conscious of the ecclesial character of all true Christianity" (p. 143). He should, then, have taken this opportunity to make it clear that the Church in question is the Orthodox Church and that true Christianity is nothing other than Orthodoxy.
The author of the Book of Proverbs has this sage advice to offer: "Drink waters out of thine own vessels, and out of thine own springing wells. Let not waters out of thy fountain be spilt by thee, but let thy waters go into thy streets. Let them be only thine own, and let no stranger partake with thee" (5:15-17). One of the attractive features of The Orthodox Way is the selection of quotations at the beginning and end of each chapter, most of which are taken from liturgical and Patristic texts. One of them, an excerpt from a letter written at Pascha by an Orthodox Christian imprisoned in a Soviet gulag for his faith, never fails to move me. Among the other Orthodox authors cited, we find the following names: Iulia de Beausobre, Nicholas Berdyaev, Archpriest Sergius Bulgakov, Olivier Clment, Archpriest Alexander Elchaninov, Paul Evdokimov, Mother Maria of Normandy, Mother Maria (Skobtsova) of Paris, Vasilii Rozanov, Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann, and Father Dumitru Staniloae. All of these people were admittedly Orthodox in terms of their ecclesiastical allegiance, but some of them espoused (or espouse) ideas at odds, to one degree or another, with the spirit of Orthodoxy.
Let us see just how un-Orthodox some of these individuals are in their thinking. Olivier Clment has stated, among other things, that the Orthodox Church should affirm the "orthodoxy" not only of the first millennium of Latin Christianity, when it was still in communion with the Eastern Churches, but also of the second millennium, with all of its heresies and deviations from the pristine standard of Holy Orthodoxy.
As is well known, Father Sergius Bulgakov was condemned by both the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad for his heretical "Sophiology." He was also condemned in print by St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco and the Blessed Archbishop Seraphim (Sobolev) of Bogucharsk, the spiritual Father of the Old Calendar Orthodox Church of Bulgaria. An avid ecumenist, who advocated "intercommunion" with the Anglican members of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, Father Bulgakov went so far as to compose an "ecumenical" communion prayer for the Fellowships annual conferences. Here is an extract from it:
O Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, thou didst promise to abide with us always. Thou dost call all Christians to draw near and partake of thy Body and Blood. But our sin has divided us and we have no power to partake of thy holy eucharist together. We confess this our sin and we pray thee, forgive us and help us to serve the ways of reconciliation according to thy will. (See Militza Zernov, "Unity and Disunity Today," Sobornost, Vol. VIII, No. 1 , pp. 2327.)
At the annual conference of the Fellowship in 1987, which I myself attended, this curious prayer—which rightly places the responsibility for divisions in Christianity on human sin, but which likewise implies that dogmatic differences are of little moment—was read aloud during the Divine Liturgy, following the Slavic practice, in place of the customary "I believe, O Lord, and I confess..."!
With regard to Father Sergiuss speculations on Sophia (Wisdom), Archimandrite Luke of Jordanville recently pointed out that there are some significant similarities between Sophiology and New Age philosophy. The heretical notion that Sophia, the Wisdom of God, is a fourth Hypostasis of the Trinity and a female entity in effect "divides the simple essence of God into two principles—the male and the female" ("New Age Philosophy, Orthodox Thought, and Marriage," Orthodox Life, Vol. XLVII, No. 3 , p. 34). In its 1935 Ukaz condemning Bulgakovs errors, the Moscow Patriarchate notes that it is not a long step from this dualistic conception of God to a "deification of sex" as it was understood by "some of our secular writers such as V.V. Rozanov" (ibid. [emphasis ours]). Father Luke clarifies this intimation when he explains that, "If in God there is male and female and if in His image in man there is also male and female, one may conclude that if male and female unite in carnal relations they are reflecting the Divine" (ibid., p. 35). Rozanov, incidentally, was not only a precursor of Sophiology and the "sexualization" of Orthodox theology, but was also a virulent anti-Semite who hated the Old Testament and who, throughout his life, had a lovehate relationship with the Orthodox Church.
As for the other writers cited in Bishop Kallistos bibliography, with the exception of Father Staniloae, they were all associated, to a greater or lesser degree, with the liberal intelligentsia of the "Paris School," an association which adversely affects their presentation of Orthodoxy. Not wishing in any way to condemn them for their personal failings, we are, nonetheless, bound to observe that both Mother Maria of Paris and Iulia de Beausobre were somewhat eccentric in their understanding of Orthodoxy. To be sure, Mother Maria was selfless in her devotion to serving the destitute of Paris and died an heroic death in the Nazi concentration camp at Ravensbruck. However, by the admission of her own spiritual Father, Metropolitan Evlogy, she knew next to nothing about monasticism—indeed, she called herself a "secular monastic"—, and in one review of Father Sergei Hackels biography of her, she is characterized as a "rather scruffy, cigarette-smoking poet-nun" (see Sobornost, Vol. III, No. 2 , p. 246).
De Beausobre was married to Sir Lewis Namier, an English historian of Jewish descent who became an Anglican but who never converted to Orthodoxy. This latter marital irregularity aside, de Beausobre certainly held some rather bizarre opinions, as we can see from one of the passages quoted by Bishop Kallistos at the end of the third chapter of his book. In this passage, she argues that, since good and evil are inextricably bound up together on earth, "[e]vil must not be shunned, but first participated in and understood through participation, and then through understanding redeemed and transfigured" (p. 86). Has any Father of the Church ever taught such a thing? Father Staniloae, some of his fine articles on Trinitarian theology notwithstanding, was also actively involved in the ecumenical movement and, towards the end of his life, openly advocated, in the official journal of the Romanian Patriarchate, intercommunion between Orthodox and the heterodox. And Berdyaev, according to one source, expounded "a spiritual Christianity which has no need of doctrinal definitions," being indebted for some of his ideas to the likes of Bhme and Nietzsche (Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement, ed. Nicholas Lossky, Jos Miguez Bonino, John S. Pobee, Tom F. Stransky, Geoffrey Wainwright, and Pauline Webb [Geneva: WCC Publications, 1991], p. 93). The only authors in this list who could be considered genuinely Orthodox are Fathers Elchaninov and Schmemann, and even they had their shortcomings (regarding the latter, for example, see a brilliant article by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, "The Liturgical Theology of Father A. Schmemann," The Orthodox Word, Vol. VI, No. 6 [NovemberDecember 1970]).
Worse than all of this, however, and truly astonishing, is the fact that among the ostensibly Orthodox authors whom he cites in his book, His Grace includes Origen and Synesios of Cyrene. Origen was condemned as a heretic by the Fifth Œcumenical Synod for teaching the Platonic doctrine of the preexistence of souls and the doctrine of universal salvation, according to which the demons, and even Satan himself, will be purified at the end of the world. The Holy Synod had this to say in its First Anathema against Origen: "If anyone asserts the fabulous preexistence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration [apokatastasis] which follows from it: let him be anathema" (A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. XIV [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978], p. 318). Similarly, St. John of Damascus affirms that "the body and the soul were formed at the same time—not one before and the other afterwards, as the ravings of Origen would have it" ("Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith," II.12, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XCIV, col. 921A [emphasis ours]). Origen should not be cited as an Orthodox Father.
As for Synesios, although Consecrated Bishop of Pentapolis by Patriarch Theophilos of Alexandria, he was more a Platonist than a Christian. Indeed, he only agreed to be Consecrated on two conditions: "...that he should be permitted to continue his marriage, and should not be forced to abandon his philosophical opinions regarding the preexistence of the soul, the eternity of creation and the allegorical concept of the resurrection of the flesh" (Johannes Quasten, Patrology, Vol. III [Westminster, MD: Christian Classics, 1992], p. 107). In the passage from Synesios that His Grace cites, we read, among other things, that the Father is the power of the Son and that the Holy Spirit is the bond between the Father and the Son; Synesios also asks Christ to send the Father to his soul. According to Orthodox teaching, it is the Son Who is the power of the Father: "Christ the Power of God, and the Wisdom of God" (I Corinthians 1:24). Moreover, the idea that the Spirit constitutes some kind of bond between the other two Persons of the Trinity, while perhaps susceptible of an Orthodox interpretation, is rather peripheral to the mainstream of Patristic Triadology. Its incautious application is also one of the roots of the Filioque heresy. Finally, as St. John the Theologian tells us, it is the Father Who sends the Son, not vice-versa: "He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father Which hath sent Him" (St. John 5:23); "For I came down from Heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me" (St. John 6:38).
In order to avoid causing confusion, Bishop Kallistos would surely have done better to organize his bibliography differently and to have exercised greater caution in choosing his Patristic and theological sources. He could have divided it into ancient and modern authors, without prejudging whether such figures as Origen and Synesios are "Greek Fathers," as he characterizes them. While none of the authors cited in the "Non-Orthodox" section is Orthodox, not a few of those whom he classifies as "Orthodox" were in fact, as I have said, very dubious in their Orthodoxy, if not outright heretics. Origen and Synesios could perfectly well have been called "ecclesiastical writers," for that is precisely what they were; they were definitely not "Fathers."
Let us add, so as to dispel any appearance of bigotry towards things Western, that His Grace is not to be faulted in principle for quoting non-Orthodox sources, since these are in some cases appropriate for expressing a particular point, and in such a way as to make Orthodoxy more accessible to those raised in a Western milieu. George Bernard Shaw, William Blake, and T.S. Eliot, for example, are all familiar authors, whose words serve to convey some fairly difficult ideas in a succinct and appealing fashion. In Chapter Three, however, he seems to cite non-Orthodox sources rather more frequently, and not always to the point. Again, we are not opposed in principle to drawing upon writers outside the Orthodox tradition, since there are undoubtedly vestiges of the truth not only in other Christian confessions, but even in non-Christian religions. If we can allow, as the Church has always done, that pagan philosophers like Plato and Aristotle had some perception, albeit shadowy, of the eternal verities, then we can certainly extend this to thinkers outside our present-day circles. But once more, let us emphasize that His Grace has undertaken to write a book on the Orthodox, as opposed to the Christian or the Religious, Way, and not an essay in comparative religion. Interestingly enough, in a review of this book in Sobornost, Sister Benedicta Ward, in fact, wrote that she was "...tempted to suggest that the title of the book might have been The Christian Way," and this precisely because His Grace drew upon "the riches of the West" and used "the insight of other traditions," thereby giving The Orthodox Way "its special claim to be a book of spiritual authority and perception" (Vol. II, No. 1 , p. 207). Special claims aside, Wards comments are compelling.
Furthermore, when Bishop Kallistos cites the Talmud to the effect that the glory of God is man, and then goes on to quote the famous statement of St. Irenus of Lyons that "the glory of God is a living man," can he be sure that, despite their external similarity, the same intention lies behind both of these remarks (one clearly Christocentric and the other obviously not), or that they really mean the same thing? If he cannot be sure, then what is the relevance of the quotation from the Talmud? In a meditation for March 2 in his Prologue from Ochrid, the Blessed Bishop Nikolai of Zica asserts that there is no greater folly than for someone who calls himself a Christian "to go and glean miserable proofs of God and of eternal life from other faiths and philosophies," for "he who does not get gold from a rich man is not likely to have it from a poor one" (Birmingham: Lazarica Press, 1985; Part I, p. 239). Christianity, as Bishop Nikolai points out, is not a religion, but rather "Revelation, God's Revelation" (ibid.). Absolutely inexcusable, however, is the citation by His Grace, in Chapter Six (p. 152), from the Gospel of Truth on the subject of nepsis (sobriety or wakefulness): the "neptic" man is "like one who awakens from drunkenness, returning to himself.... He knows where he has come from and where he is going." And what is this "Gospel of Truth"? He neglects to inform his readers that it is a Gnostic text; indeed, "a meditation on the Gnostic gospel of salvation" (Encyclopedia of Early Christianity [New York: Garland, 1990], p. 373), probably the work of Valentinus (ibid., p. 923). Since he makes no mention of it at all in the bibliography, we are inclined to wonder whether he simply forgot that he had quoted from this work in the body of the text or deliberately refrained from indicating its heretical provenance. In either case, this should not appear under the aegis of Orthodox Patristic wisdom.
One is amazed by the complete absence in The Orthodox Way of references to, or quotations from, such beacons of Orthodoxy as St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite, St. Cosmas Aitolos, St. Nectarios of Aegina, the Blessed Justin (Popovich) of Chelije, St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, the Blessed Elder Philotheos (Zervakos) of Paros, Elder Hieronymos of Aegina, or Father Seraphim (Rose) of Platina, to name but a few of the more surprising omissions. It is particularly surprising that His Grace does not mention St. John of San Francisco. After all, when he was a layman in the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, he knew him personally, and he is certainly aware of St. Johns sanctity (see his article, "The Spiritual Father in Orthodox Christianity," in J. Garvey (ed.), Modern Spirituality: An Anthology [Springfield, IL: Templegate Publishers, 1985], p. 58). However, perhaps we should not be so surprised, given that all of these Saints were notable for their staunch opposition to ecumenism and modernism in Church life, both deviations to which the ecclesiastical jurisdiction to which His Grace belongs has fallen—and this with a loud crash.
The fundamental flaw in what Bishop Kallistos has undertaken by way of this book is that he does not appear content with what the Holy Fathers have handed down to us. In The Orthodox Church he urges us to "re-experience the meaning of Tradition in a manner that is exploratory, courageous, and full of imaginative creativity" (2nd ed. , p. 198). He has obviously taken this advice to heart in The Orthodox Way, as we shall subsequently see. But contrast this attitude to the profound humility of the approach taken by the Blessed Archbishop Theophan of Poltava (1940), who had this to say, in a sermon that he delivered on the Feast of Pentecost, about how one should look upon Tradition and the Churchs teachings:
The teaching of the Holy Trinity is the pinnacle of Christian theology. Therefore I do not presume to set forth this teaching in my own words, but I set it forth in the words of the holy and Godbearing theologians and great Fathers of the Church: Athanasius the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and Basil the Great. Mine are only the lips, but theirs the words and thoughts. They present the Divine meal, and I am only the servant of their Divine banquet. (Cited by Hieromonk Seraphim [Rose] in The Holy Fathers: Sure Guide to True Christianity [Etna, CA: West Coast Orthodox Supply, 1983], p. 16.)
Faith and doubt
The first chapter of The Orthodox Way, "God as Mystery," is very good on the whole. His Grace gives due emphasis to the apophatic way of theologizing, and explains very clearly the Essence-Energies distinction, without apologizing for it and without trying to find Western parallels for it. What he says about faith and doubt is not erroneous per se, but it does call for some clarifications. Quite rightly, he argues that to believe in God is to believe in a Person, since "God is not the conclusion to a process of reasoning, the solution to a mathematical problem" (p. 19). Just as there is a mysterious polarity between darkness and light in our knowledge of God, so there is a polarity between faith and doubt. Even if we have a childlike faith, we are all open to being assailed in various circumstances of life by doubts about those very teachings that we believe we have already accepted with certainty. Doubt is not, in and of itself, a sin. As Bishop Kallistos points out, it can be a creative force, if it leads us to a deeper faith. There are other kinds of positive doubt, too. One may—indeed should—have doubts about his own worthiness, and one may even doubt the mystery of the Incarnation as something incredible. Even the Theotokos and St. Joseph the Betrothed expressed feelings of doubt, the former about the possibility of a seedless conception and the latter about the cause of her pregnancy, as we read in the Akathistos to the Theotokos. Such doubt, however, is perhaps more akin to wonder than to disbelief.
Moreover, in both of the cases just cited, the doubts of the Mother of God and St. Joseph were resolved; and this is a point on which His Grace is not sufficiently clear in his discussion of faith and doubt. He also fails to note that doubt, while sometimes yielding positive results, can also quite often be demonic in origin and nature. Let us recall, for example, that in the Icon of the Nativity of Christ, the Devil is portrayed as an old shepherd who sows doubt and confusion in the mind of St. Joseph as he ponders on the meaning of the recent events in his life. The classic case of doubt in the New Testament is, of course, that of the Holy Apostle Thomas, who is commonly—though inaccurately—known as "Doubting Thomas." In a homily on the relevant passage of St. Johns Gospel, St. John Chrysostomos interprets Christs injunction to St. Thomas, "and be not faithless, but believing" (St. John 20:27), as a "sharp rebuke." He goes on to explain that the Apostles doubt "proceeded from unbelief," adding that this "...was before he had received the Spirit; after that, it was no longer so, but, for the future, they [i.e., the Apostles] were perfected" ("On the Gospel according to St. John," Homily 87.1, Patrologia Græca, Vol. LIX, col. 473). The Apostles were perfected at Pentecost, after which they went forth into all the earth to preach the Good News of Christ. Certain instances of doubt, then, are clearly worthy of chastisement and represent the unrestored man. Indeed, there is not so much as a hint in the life of St. Thomas that he ever subsequently experienced the kind of doubt recorded in the Fourth Gospel. And so it is with us who have received Holy Baptism. Prior to our illumination, we may have doubts about this or that aspect of the Faith. But once we have been Baptized, we must recognize that whatever uncertainties may come our way, they are most likely attempts by the Evil One to divert us from the "good part" that we have chosen. If we have doubts, we must bring these before our spiritual Father, seeking his aid in combatting them. Once we have put our hands to the plow, we must not allow ourselves to look back (St. Luke 9:62).
Let us reiterate: we are not condemning all doubt as sinful, but simply observing that doubt can have evil origins, too, and can often be ruinous to ones faith, if it is not checked and scrutinized. Overlooking the negative side of doubt, as well as the spiritual turmoil to which it gives rise, Bishop Kallistos ends his brief section on doubt by quoting two heterodox writers, one an Anglican and the other a Roman Catholic—namely, Bishop John Robinson and Father Thomas Merton. Robinson, the author of a once-notorious book, Honest to God (and many others like it), in which he challenged many aspects of traditional Christian doctrine and ethics, is scarcely a reliable guide to any area of theology, and certainly does not belong in a book entitled The Orthodox Way. For his part, Father Merton was a deeply troubled man who came to entertain many serious doubts about his own monastic vocation and who died in circumstances that are still as highly mysterious as they were tragic. He, likewise, is not the kind of source that Bishop Kallistos should be citing in a book about Orthodox Christianity. He might better have handled the issue of faith and doubt with reference to the Patristic witness. This would have been a great deal more edifying than the half-baked ideas of Robinson and Merton. And it would have been a course less dangerous and misleading than the one which His Grace took.
A kinder, gentler Devil?
Chapter Two, "God as Trinity," and Chapter Three, "God as Creator," are among the best parts of The Orthodox Way. We are thankful to report that there is very little in them that is open to question. Bishop Kallistos gives a lucid presentation of the doctrine of the Trinity, unequivocally rejecting the Latin heresy of the Filioque, something which, unfortunately, he singularly fails to do, as I have pointed out, in the new edition of The Orthodox Church. He also makes no apologies for the masculine language used by the Church to characterize the Hypostases of the Trinity, arguing cogently that such language has been revealed to us both in Scripture and Tradition, and that if we were to alter the opening clause of the Lord's Prayer, "Our Father, Which art in the Heavens," to "Our Mother, Which art in the Heavens," we would be "replacing Christianity with a new kind of religion." "A Mother Goddess," he continues, "is not the Lord of the Christian Church" (p. 43). Except for the curious citation from Synesios of Cyrene, which we have already mentioned, he relies almost entirely on the Greek Fathers for his exposition of Trinitarian theology. So far, so good.
From what tainted well, however, did His Grace draw the idea that the Devil—the very author of evil and father of lies—is perhaps "not as black as he is usually painted" (p. 74)? Having stated, quite correctly, that according to Orthodox teaching there was a twofold fall, first of the Angels and subsequently of mankind, he postulates that Satan—and, by implication, his minions, the demons—has "a direct relationship with God, of which we know nothing at all and about which it is not wise for us to speculate" (ibid.). It would be far wiser for us not even to mention such a curious and bizarre idea, especially when we have no grounds for holding it in the first place. If we know nothing about such a relationship, how do we know that it exists at all? Moreover, where, in any recognized and right-believing Patristic source, can one find any support for such troubling and frightful speculation?
Bishop Kallistos does cite the opening chapters of the Book of Job as evidence of this "relationship" between God and Satan, presumably because the Devil is portrayed as standing together with the Angels in the presence of God. In the extant fragments of his commentary on Job, however, St. John Chrysostomos explains that the Devil is in no way on a par with the Angels, in the first two chapters of this book. He is simply a servant of God, who answers to God and who is able to tempt mankind only to the extent that God allows him. His relationship is not special, but one of subservience and one clearly inferior to that of the Angels. Unlike the Angels, he does not dwell in Heaven and certainly does not stand beside the Throne of God's majesty. Indeed, St. John observes that Heaven is inaccessible (abaton) to Satan and that, after his fall from God, he was condemned to a perpetual and humiliating nomadic existence (see Patrologia Græca, Vol. LXIV, cols. 521-525).
A suffering God?
At the end of the third chapter of his book, Bishop Kallistos ventures once again into the realm of speculation, and in such a way, sadly, as to invite serious misgivings about the extent to which he is willing to waver from the established witness of the Church. One must regret lapses in fidelity even in the face of a contemporary preoccupation with creativity. He asks whether our sin causes sorrow "to the heart of God" and whether He suffers when we suffer. The Fathers, he goes on, in their desire to safeguard the Divine transcendence, insisted that God is impassible, that is, that He is not subject to change or emotion. As God-Man, Christ also, of course, His Grace avers, suffers—but in His humanity and not in His Divinity. He then comments: "Without denying the Patristic teaching, should we not also say something more than this?" (p. 82). The second clause in this sentence is alarming, to say the least. Why should we try to say more than the Holy Fathers? Is this a traditional Orthodox pursuit? Is it prudent? Or is it a formula for deviation from the Royal Path of Patristic truth, believing ourselves to exceed the Patristic consensus in wisdom? From what sorts of wells are we to imbibe this "something more"? In support of the "something more" that he has to say about God's suffering for man, Bishop Kallistos quotes the following statement from The Book of the Poor in Spirit, a German mystical treatise from the fourteenth century: "Love makes others sufferings its own." He reasons that if this is true of human love—as, indeed, it is—, then it must be even more true of God's love, such that our misery "causes grief to God" and the "tears of God are joined to those of man" (ibid.).
His Grace admits that we should be cautious about ascribing human feelings to God "in a crude or unqualified way." But in saying that God sheds tears or experiences grief over our unhappiness, he is surely guilty of gross anthropomorphism and—worse still—of confusing What is Uncreated with what is created. As St. Gregory Palamas so succinctly observes, "Every created nature is far removed from and completely foreign to the Divine nature. For if God is nature, other things are not nature, just as He is not a being if all other things are beings. And if He is a being, then all other things are not beings" ("Topics of Natural and Theological Science and on the Moral and Ascetic Life: One Hundred and Fifty Texts," 78, in The Philokalia, Vol. IV, trans. G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware [London: Faber and Faber, 1995], p. 382). The Fathers, beyond whose reliable testimony Bishop Kallistos desires to go, are unambiguous in affirming that God is not subject to passion or suffering. Here are just a few representative quotations:
(1) "We...have now, through Jesus Christ, learned to despise [the gods of Greek mythology], though we be threatened with death for it, and have dedicated ourselves to the unbegotten and impassible God" (St. Justin Martyr, "First Apology," 25.2, The AnteNicene Fathers, Vol. I [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978], p. 171).
(2) "According to Scripture God sleeps and is awake, is angry, walks, has the Cherubim for His Throne. And yet when did He become liable to passion, and have you ever heard that God has a body? This then is, though not really fact, a figure of speech. For we have given names according to our own comprehension from our own attributes to those of God" (St. Gregory the Theologian, "Fifth Theological Oration," 31.22, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XXXVI, col. 157B).
(3) "God also is said to be jealous, not that anyone should suppose passion (for the Godhead is impassible [apathes to Theion]), but that all may know that He does all things from no other regard than their sakes over whom He is jealous; not that He Himself may gain anything, but that He may save them" (St. John Chrysostomos, "Homilies on II Corinthians," 23.1, Patrologia Græca, Vol. LXI, col. 553).
(4) "It is of Him Who was made flesh that he here speaks, and it was said for the full assurance of the hearers, and on account of their weakness. That is (he would say), He went through the very experience of the things which we have suffered; now He is not ignorant of our sufferings; not only does He know them as God, but as man, also, He has known them, by the trial wherewith He was tried; He suffered much, He knows how to sympathize. And yet God is incapable of suffering [apathes]: but he describes here what belongs to the Incarnation, as if he had said, Even the very flesh of Christ suffered many terrible things. He knows what tribulation is; He knows what temptation is, not less than we who have suffered, for He Himself also has suffered" (St. John Chrysostomos, "Homilies on Hebrews," 5.2, Patrologia Græca, Vol. LXIII, col. 48; commenting on the verse: "For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted"[Hebrews 2:18]).
(5) "For [God] does not simply provide for us, but He does so by loving us, and by loving us exceedingly, with a love that is infinite, a love that is passionless [apathe], but most fervent and intense" (St. John Chrysostomos, "Address To Those Who Have Been Scandalized," 6, Patrologia Græca, Vol. LII, col. 488).
(6) "Since God is good, He is the Author of all good and is not subject to malice or to any passion. For malice is far removed from the Divine Nature, which is the impassible and only good" (St. John of Damascus, "Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith," I.1, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XCIV, col. 792A; cf. ibid., I.8, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XCIV, col. 808C).
To the foregoing quotations we may add a splendid passage from the treatise On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life by St. Anthony the Great, in which he affirms that God is impassible and explains how, given this impassibility, it is possible to speak of God as being angry with sinners without attributing passion to Him: God does not literally become angry with us, "but it is our own sins that prevent God from shining within us and expose us to demons who torture us" (150, in Philokalia, Vol. I [Athens: Astir, 1974], p. 24). (This text, incidentally, was relegated to an appendix in the now standard English version of the Philokalia—of which Bishop Kallistos is one of the primary translators—, on the curious assumption that it is not the work of St. Anthony, nor even of a Christian author, but rather a cento of philosophical sayings drawn largely from the Stoic tradition.)
In all of these citations, we see that the attribution of human emotions to God, whether of a negative kind or borne of sympathy for human suffering, is foreign to Orthodox theology. The impassive nature of the Godhead does not suggest insensitivity, of course, but moves us away from imagining that mere human emotions or sentimentality are adequate to grasp or express the expansive, transcendent aspects of the Godhead, including Divine Love. We must not trifle with Patristic wisdom in the service of a desire to "humanize" God.
Did the Logos assume fallen human nature?
Chapters Five and Six, in which the author deals with God as Spirit and God as prayer, are both generally fine. It is in the fourth chapter, however, that he commits several frightful theological blunders and, once again, departs from the exactitude of Patristic thinking. One must question the prudence of presenting an impeccably Orthodox account of the Holy Trinity, while in this chapter departing significantly from a correct exposition of Orthodox Christology. In this regard, His Grace indeed succumbs to ideas and speculation that many Orthodox would find as innovative as those which eventually led the Monophysites and Nestorians from orthodoxy to wrong belief.
In a section entitled "Salvation as Sharing," Bishop Kallistos begins his discourse by defining salvation in terms of sharing, solidarity, and identification; paraphrasing the classic dictum of St. Athanasios, he states that Christ "became what we are, so as to make us what he is" (p. 97). He interprets salvation as participation in God's glory, that is, as deification. Up to this point, there is absolutely nothing objectionable in what he says. Next, he observes, again quite correctly, that the Logos had to assume not only human flesh, but also a human soul, if precisely because Adams sin was spiritual rather than physical in origin. Citing St. Gregory the Theologians cardinal soteriological principle, that what is unassumed is unhealed (Epistle 101, "To Cledonios," Patrologia Græca, Vol. XXXVII, col. 181C), he argues that Christ had to assume our humanity in its entirety in order to heal us. "If we believe that Christ has brought us a total salvation, then it follows that he has assumed everything" (p. 99 [emphasis in the text]).
It is here that problems start to emerge. Does "everything" include sin? His Grace seems to reject such an idea, for he quotes a crucial verse from the Epistle to the Hebrews: "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (4:15). Nonetheless, immediately before this, he asserts that Christ "assumed not just unfallen, but fallen human nature" (ibid. [emphasis in the text]). Now, does he mean by this that Christ assumed not only unfallen, but also fallen human nature—which sounds like a contradiction in terms—, or that He assumed not unfallen, but rather fallen human nature? Given the ensuing argument, he seems to want to have it both ways.
Needless to say, we are dealing with an extremely complex and delicate theological issue, on which all of the major Fathers wrote at great length and in great detail. It is both noticeable and disturbing that Bishop Kallistos does not cite any Patristic evidence for his ideas. He gives us a clue that he is heading into uncharted territory when he says that "many have been reluctant to say...openly" (ibid.) that the Logos assumed fallen, rather than, or as well as, unfallen, human nature. It is not clear whom he means by "many," nor does he divulge the identity of the few who presumably have said this openly.
His Grace correctly points out the Christ was not Himself sinful, but goes on to maintain that "in his solidarity with fallen man he accepts to the full the consequences of Adams sin" (ibid.). Now by "consequences" he understands not only the physical kind, such as weariness, bodily pain, and, eventually, death, but also the moral variety, "the loneliness, the alienation, the inward conflict" (ibid., p. 100). But alienation from whom or from what? From God? In the next section, he goes so far as to say, on the basis of Christs words on the Cross, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (St. Matthew 27:46), that Jesus truly experienced "the spiritual death of separation from God" (ibid., p. 106). As we shall see, this is wholly at odds with Orthodox teaching, and all the more astounding for the fact that it comes from the pen of an Orthodox Hierarch and a renowned Patristic scholar. That our Lord experienced some degree of loneliness is undeniable. Perhaps the best example of this is the episode in the garden of Gethsemane, where He chided the three chief Apostles for their inability to stay awake: "And He cometh unto the Disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with Me one hour?" (St. Matthew 26:40). We can hardly begin to imagine what Christ underwent during those anxious moments, when He permitted His human will to give expression to its feelings of weakness in the midst of the unfolding drama of His Passion: "O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt" (St. Matthew 26:39). This kind of loneliness is not only perfectly understandable, but it is, more importantly, innocent; it is not sinful. There is another kind of loneliness, however, which is either sinful, or which at least has the potential to become sinful; and that is when someone who makes no effort to interact with other human beings indulges in self-pity over what he perceives as abandonment by his fellow men. Christ did not experience this kind of loneliness. He deliberately sought solitude so that He could devote Himself to prayer, away from the crowds that habitually followed Him wherever He went.
Bishop Kallistos assertion that Christ experienced "inward conflict" is without any foundation in the New Testament. Worse still, it is something that we encounter in the blasphemous novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ, which aroused such a furor in the late 1980s, when a film based on the novel was released to an international audience. Among the scenes that caused the greatest offense to traditional Christians, Orthodox or otherwise, were those in which Jesus was portrayed as undergoing sexual temptations and entertaining serious doubts about His Messianic calling. Some of the same ideas were espoused by the heretic Theodore of Mopsuestia, whose name was frequently raised in theological circles in connection with the aforementioned film. According to Father Georges Florovsky, Theodore taught that Christ "struggled trying to overcome passion and even lust," in which He was "assisted by the Spirit with Its "moral influences." The Spirit "illuminated Him and strengthened His will in order to destroy sin in the flesh, to curb its lust with a light and noble force." Only in death did Christ attain "perfect purity and unalterability of thoughts." (See The Byzantine Fathers of the Fifth Century [Vaduz: Bchervertriebsanstalt, 1987], p. 208.)
It is strange that a theologian of Bishop Kallistos stature should not make any mention, in this regard, of the perfectly Orthodox view set forth by St. John of Damascus: that in assuming human nature, the Logos also freely assumed what St. John calls the "unblameworthy passions," such as "hunger, thirst, weariness, labor, tears, decay, shrinking from death, fear, agony with the bloody sweat, succor at the hands of Angels because of the weakness of nature, and other such like passions which belong by nature to every man" ("Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith" III.20, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XCIV, col. 1081AB). St. John says nothing here about inner conflicts or alienation, let alone alienation from God. At the end of this chapter, the Saint explains, further, that these "innocent" or natural passions were according to nature and above nature in Christ: according to nature, "when He permitted the flesh to suffer what was proper to it," but above nature "because that which was natural did not in the Lord assume command over the will. For no compulsion is contemplated in Him but all is voluntary. For it was with His will that He hungered and thirsted and feared and died" (ibid., Patrologia Græca, Vol. XCIV, col. 1084A). This idea is also to be found in an epistle by St. Cyril of Alexandria, in which he points out that Christ allowed Himself to experience hunger, weariness, sleep, and sorrow in order to give assurance of His humanity, just as He also performed miracles, raised the dead, and rebuked the winds and the sea in order to demonstrate His Divinity (Epistle 45, "To Bishop Succensus," Patrologia Græca, Vol. LXXVII, col. 236A).
A very difficult question is raised by this useful distinction: Is the assumption by our Lord of the unblameworthy passions consistent with His assumption of unfallen human nature? To be sure, no such problem arises for those who believe, as Bishop Kallistos apparently also believes, that He assumed fallen human nature. These passions are clearly one of the physical consequences of Adams sin, and as such, they were unknown to our first parents prior to their expulsion from Paradise. Moreover, as His Grace argues, had Christ assumed pre-lapsarian human nature, "then he would not have been touched with the feeling of our infirmities, nor would he have been tempted in everything exactly as we are. And in that case he would not be our Saviour" (The Orthodox Way, op. cit., p. 100 [emphasis in the text]).
In our century, however, in keeping with the Patristic witness, at least two prominent Orthodox theologians have vehemently maintained that Christ assumed our unfallen human nature, that of pre-lapsarian man. Father Florovsky, for example, asserts that "in the Incarnation the Word assumes the original human nature, innocent and free from original sin, without any stain." "This," he continues, "does not violate the fullness of nature, nor does it affect the Saviours likeness to us sinful people. For sin does not belong to human nature, but is a parasitic and abnormal growth" (Creation and Redemption [Belmont, MA: Nordland, 1976], pp. 97-98). Further on in the same paragraph, he reiterates this point: "In the Incarnation the Word assumes the first-formed human nature, created in the image of God, and thereby the image of God is again reestablished in man" (ibid.). Vladimir Lossky, for his part, following St. Maximos the Confessor (Questions to Thalassios, 21), states that our Lord's humanity "had the immortal and incorruptible character of the nature of Adam before he sinned, but Christ submitted it voluntarily to the condition of our fallen nature" (The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church [Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimirs Seminary Press, 1976], p. 142). Like St. John of Damascus, Lossky emphasizes that Christ voluntarily experienced the infirmities of our post-lapsarian nature; He did not assume an infirm nature. By His human will, Christ "accepted what was contrary to incorruptible and deified humanity"—that is, the unblameworthy passions (ibid., p. 148). There is, therefore, no contradiction between the assumption by Christ of unfallen human nature and His acceptance of the physical consequences of our fallenness. And thus Bishop Kallistos thoughts on this matter derive from a false theological dilemma and wander from the Patristic path.
A Godforsaken God-Man?
There are two other serious errors in Chapter Four of this book, and it is with a refutation of these that we will conclude our review of The Orthodox Way. We have already mentioned the verse from St. Matthews Gospel, in which Christ asks His Father why He has forsaken Him. Before citing this verse, Bishop Kallistos distinguishes two kinds of death: physical death, which involves the soul being separated from the body, and spiritual death, which involves the soul being separated from God. Now, it is quite obvious that Christ voluntarily took the first kind of death upon Himself. But did He suffer the second kind of death as well?
Noting that the Gospels do not tell us much about Christs inward suffering, His Grace provides the reader with two "glimpses" into the anguish that Christ endured before and during His Crucifixion. First, regarding the agony in Gethsemane, His Grace quotes the eighteenth-century Anglican divine, William Law, to the effect that our Lord experienced "the anguishing terrors of a lost soul..., the reality of eternal death" (p. 105). Such a statement is absolutely incredible, not to say blasphemous, implying, as it does, that Christ fell into a state of total despair. Since despair is a sin, the implication is that Christ was not free from that sin! Bishop Kallistos, building on this astonishing passage, goes so far as to say that Jesus identified Himself "with all the despair and mental pain of humanity" (ibid.). Secondly, and worse still, he interprets the cry, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (St. Matthew 27:46), as "the extreme point of Christs desolation, when he feels abandoned not only by men but by God" (p. 106). His Grace admits that "we cannot begin to explain how it is possible for one who is himself the living God to lose awareness of the divine presence," but he nonetheless insists that when Christ uttered these words, "Jesus is truly experiencing the spiritual death of separation from God...; for our sakes he accepts even the loss of God" (p. 106). One is left speechless, despite the fact that few, if any, have commented on this remarkable flaw in Bishop Kallistos theology.
About the agony in the garden of Gethsemane, we will observe only that His Grace has once again been drinking from a poisoned well, whereas he could so easily have treated us to the sublime exegesis of this tremendously difficult passage by St. Maximos the Confessor. It is quite probable that William Law, who, as a Non-Juror, would have been much more receptive to Orthodox theology than most of his coreligionists, had some good ideas, but when there is such a wealth of Patristic sources from which he could have drawn, and with which he is certainly familiar, why does Bishop Kallistos not make use of these? Let us see what some of the Orthodox Fathers have said about our Lord's cry from the Cross. They do not support at all the notions presented in The Orthodox Way.
(1) "And that the words Why hast Thou forsaken Me? are His...(though He suffered nothing, for the Word was impassible), is notwithstanding declared by the Evangelists; since the Lord became man, and these things are done and said as from a man, that He might Himself lighten these very sufferings of the flesh, and free it from them. Whence neither can the Lord be forsaken by the Father, Who is ever in the Father, both before He spoke, and when He uttered this cry. Nor is it lawful to say that the Lord was in terror, at Whom the gatekeepers of Hades shuddered and set open Hades, and the graves did gape, and many bodies of the saints arose and appeared to their own people" (St. Athanasios the Great, "Discourses against the Arians," III.29, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. IV [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978], p. 424).
(2) "Yet, I suppose, you [Arians who argued that the Logos was not coeternal with the Father, on the ground He displayed signs of weakness] will arm yourselves also for your godless contention with these words of the Lord, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? Perhaps you think that after the disgrace of the Cross, the favour of His Fathers help departed from Him, and hence His cry that He was left alone in His weakness. But if you regard the contempt, the weakness, the cross of Christ as a disgrace, you should remember His words, Verily I say unto you, From henceforth ye shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of Heaven" (St. Hilary of Poitiers, "On the Trinity," X.31, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. IX [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978], p. 190).
(3) "And thus, He Who subjects presents to God that which He has subjected, making our condition His own. Of the same kind, it appears to me, is the expression, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? It was not He who was forsaken either by the Father, or by His own Godhead, as some have thought, as if It were afraid of the Passion, and therefore withdrew Itself from Him in His sufferings (for who compelled Him either to be born on earth at all, or to be lifted up on the Cross?). But as I said, He was in His own Person representing us. For we were the forsaken and despised before, but now by the Sufferings of Him Who could not suffer, we were taken up and saved. Similarly, He makes His own our folly and our transgressions; and says what follows in the Psalm, for it is very evident that the Twenty-first Psalm refers to Christ" (St. Gregory the Theologian, "Fourth Theological Oration," 30.5, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XXXVI, col. 109A).
(4) "He saith, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that unto His last breath they might see that He honors His Father, and is no adversary of God. Wherefore also He uttered a certain cry from the Prophet, even to His last hour bearing witness to the Old Testament, and not simply a cry from the Prophet, but also in Hebrew, so as to be plain and intelligible to them, and by all things, He shows how He is of one mind with Him that begat Him" (St. John Chrysostomos, "Homilies on St. Matthew," 88.1, Patrologia Græca, Vol. LVIII, col. 776).
(5) "The cry My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? is the utterance of Adam, who trampled on the commandment given to him and disregarded God's Law; thus did God abandon human nature, which had become accursed. When the Only-begotten Word of God came to restore fallen man, the abandonment entailed by that curse and corruption had to come to an end. My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? is the voice of Him Who destroyed our forsakenness, as if He were imploring the Father to be gracious to mankind. When, as man, He asks for something, it is for us; as God, He was in need of nothing" (St. Cyril of Alexandria, "Second Oration to the Empresses on the True Faith," 18, Patrologia Græca, Vol. LXXVI, col. 1357A.) Elsewhere, St. Cyril interprets this verse as proof that Christ was truly man ("Thesaurus Concerning the Holy and Consubstantial Trinity," 24, Patrologia Græca, Vol. LXXV, col. 397D) and portrays Christ as the Second Adam, Who cleansed human nature of the corruption to which it became subject through Adams fall into disobedience and Who restored it to its pristine purity and dignity ("That Christ Is One," Patrologia Græca, Vol. LXXV, cols. 1325C-1328A).
(6) "Christs cry of Forsaken on the Cross was to teach us the insufficiency of the human nature without the Divine. Hence it is that the Lord Jesus Christ, our Head, representing all the members of His body in Himself and speaking for those whom He was redeeming in the punishment of the Cross, uttered that cry which He had once uttered in the Psalm, O God, My God, look upon Me; why hast Thou forsaken Me? That cry, dearly-beloved, is a lesson, not a complaint. For since in Christ there is one Person of God and man, and He could not have been forsaken by Him from Whom He could not be separated, it is on behalf of us, trembling and weak ones, that He asks why the flesh that is afraid to suffer has not been heard" (St. Leo the Great, "Homily," 67.7, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. XII [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978], p. 179).
(7) "Further, these words, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? He said as making our personality His own. For neither would God be regarded with us as His Father, unless one were to discriminate with subtle imaginings of the mind between that which is seen and that which is thought, nor was He ever forsaken by His Divinity: nay, it was we who were forsaken and disregarded. So that it was as appropriating our personality that He offered these prayers" (St. John of Damascus, "Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith," III.24, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XCIV, col. 1093A).
From these citations it is quite clear that the Fathers all view Christs apparent despair as an example of the oikonomia that characterizes the entire Incarnation. That is to say, Christ quoted this verse from Psalm 21 for our benefit, to show that He was truly man, that it was none other than He about Whom the Prophets had spoken, and to demonstrate His genuine solidarity with the wretched plight of fallen humanity. There is not even a hint in any of these sources that Christ, as God, experienced the loss of God. At best, Bishop Kallistos is simply being careless when he claims that, "Jesus is truly experiencing the spiritual death of separation from God," and that, "for our sakes he accepts even the loss of God." If one is to make bold statements of this kind, it is better to say, as did St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, that, "so as to feel the full weight of the consequences of sin, the Son of God would voluntarily allow His human nature to feel even the horror of separation from God" ("What Did Christ Pray About in the Garden of Gethsemane?" Living Orthodoxy, Vol. XV, No. 3 [May-June 1993], p. 6 [emphasis ours]). This is far more in line with the Patristic consensus than the dubious speculations advanced by Bishop Kallistos.
Hell as the total absence of God
Finally, we must address some comments that His Grace makes immediately upon offering his Christological reflections. He asks whether the phrase in the Apostles Creed (recognized as being of authentic provenance by the Orthodox Church, but never used by Her liturgically), "He descended into hell," means only that Christ went to preach to the departed spirits between Great Friday evening and Pascha morning, as St. Peter relates (I St. Peter 3:19). "Surely it also has a deeper sense" (p. 106). Does he mean that the interpretation given by St. Peter—and, of course, by the Fathers, too—is insufficient? If so, where does all of this "creative" theologizing end? With such thinking, one can very easily, and with good intention, eventually find himself outside the secure boundaries which the Holy Fathers, in their wisdom, established for us.
Without a single citation from the Fathers, His Grace baldly asserts that Hell is "the place where God is not" (ibid. [emphasis in the text]). He then notes, parenthetically, that "God is everywhere!" If God is everywhere, as the doctrine of Divine omnipresence entails, then how can there be any place from which He is absent? And yet, Bishop Kallistos reasons, if Christ descended into Hell, He must have descended into the depths of the absence of God. There are problems, here, not only with regard to an Orthodox understanding of Heaven and Hell, but also in terms of His Graces misuse of terminology; that is, as we shall see, his failure to distinguish between Hell as a place of torment for unrepentant sinners and Hades as the place where death prevailed over man before the Resurrection. These words are used interchangeably, we admit, and the distinction to which we have referred is a subtle one; however, it is one essential to any response to the innovative and theologically troublesome idea that Christ, descending into Hades, supposedly went to a place from which God was absent.
Now, St. John of Damascus explains God's omnipresence in this way: "God, then, being immaterial and uncircumscribed, has not place. For He is His own place, filling all things and being above all things, and Himself maintaining all things" ("Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith," I.13, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XCIV, col. 852A). Are we, therefore, to suppose that God is in Hell in the same way that He is in Heaven? But is God in Heaven as opposed to some other place? Problems inevitably arise when we understand noumenal realities too literally. We are not denying that, in a certain sense, both Heaven and Hell are places. They are not simply states of mind or soul, as heterodox theologians commonly aver today. In fact, Constantine Cavarnos furnishes abundant proof of this from Holy Scripture and the hymnography of the Church (see The Future Life According to Orthodox Teaching [Etna, CA: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1985], pp. 34-35). However, Heaven and Hell are also ways in which souls relate to God. According to Father Florovsky, Hell is, aside from a place, "...a spiritual mode of existence, determined by the personal character of each soul" ("On the Tree of the Cross," St. Vladimirs Seminary Quarterly, Vol. I, Nos. 34 , p. 20). Father John Romanides explains this idea:
In the Orthodox Tradition, both the just and the unjust will have the vision of God in His uncreated glory, with the difference that for the unjust this same uncreated glory of God will be the eternal fires of hell. God is light for those who learn to love Him and a consuming fire for those who will not ("Remarks of an Orthodox Christian on Religious Freedom," The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Vol. VIII [Summer 1962Winter 196263], p. 130).
Towards the end of his book, Bishop Kallistos shows that he is fully aware of the arguments of Fathers Florovsky and Romanides. He admits that God, out of His love for mankind, is, in some sense, with those who choose to remain in Hell. This is something that he could easily have made clear when discussing the Descent into Hades (not Hell, as he erroneously states). He is surely familiar with the teaching of St. John of Damascus on this subject, namely that Christs soul, "when it was deified, descended into Hades, in order that...He might bring light to those who sit under the earth in darkness and the shadow of death" ("Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith," III.29, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XCIV, col. 1101A). His Grace is, of course, far from being the only theologian who confuses the Hell of torment and the Hades into which Christ descended in his salvific and life-giving death. Nonetheless, Father Florovsky pointedly remarks that: "It is hardly possible to identify that Hell, or Hades, or the subterranean abodes to which the Lord descended, with the hell of sufferings for the sinners and the wicked." It is inconceivable, he continues, that "the souls of the unrepentant sinners, and the Prophets of the Old Dispensation, who spake by the Holy Spirit and preached the coming Messiah, and St. John the Baptist himself, were in the same hell." ("On the Tree of the Cross," op. cit., p. 20). It is not only inconceivable, but also blasphemous to suppose that the holy Patriarch Abraham, whose faith "was counted unto him for righteousness" (Romans 4:3), and in whose bosom Lazarus reposed (St. Luke 16:23), endured the torments of the damned while under the shadow of the dominion of death.
As Father Georges puts it, "The descent of Christ into Hell [or Hades] is the manifestation of Life amid the hopelessness of death[;] it is the victory over death" (ibid., p. 21). It is definitely not "the taking upon Himself by Christ of the hellish torments of God-forsakeness, " as Calvin and certain other Reformers taught (ibid.). Bishop Kallistos does not express this idea in so many words, but if Christ descended into the depths of the absence of God, having previously experienced the loss of God and spiritual death on the Cross, as he contends, then is His Grace not in danger of departing from Orthodox teaching? Interestingly enough, incidentally, even Calvins teaching on this aspect of Soteriology was condemned by most of his contemporaries, both Protestant and Catholic, as a "new, unheard-of heresy."
In spite of all that we have said, The Orthodox Way is, on the whole, a valuable book. If we have expressed ourselves somewhat harshly in places, it is only out of concern both for the author and for his readers. Bishop Kallistos is, to quote my review of The Orthodox Church, "a Christian gentleman of the highest caliber and an Orthodox scholar who has done much to make our Faith better known in the West" (p. 39); and I stand by this judgment. It is precisely for this reason, however, that I find it painful to see a man so eminently well-equipped to write excellent books and articles on Orthodoxy making careless lapses on elementary points of theology— and especially when they smack of the odious influence of the religious relativism so beloved of the ecumenism in which his ecclesiastical jurisdiction is mired. Should His Grace choose to share his more adventurous speculations with colleagues over a glass of port in the Senior Common Room, no one can object. But one must be more cautious, and especially if he is a Shepherd of the flock, when presenting a popular account of the Faith for Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike, lest he "offend one of these little ones which believe in" Christ; "for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh!" (St. Matthew 18:6-7). We can, and do, expect more of an author to whom we are forever indebted for his superb and pioneering contributions to an understanding of Orthodox theology in the West, including such liturgical classics as the Festal Menaion and the Lenten Triodion.
* The reference here is to a well-known illustration from the British satirical weekly, Punch. It portrays a skittish curate having breakfast with his bishop. Asked by the Bishop whether he liked his egg, which had gone bad, he nervously blurted out, stammering in his terror, "Parts of it are excellent." Editor.
From Orthodox Tradition, Vol. XVI, Nos. 3&4, pp. 30-51.