Holiness through the Jesus Prayer as Depicted in The Way of a Pilgrim (Early Draft)

For my latest class on "Ascent to Holiness" I was given the task to choose an essay on an aspect of holiness. I chose the following broad topic: "Examine in detail a work of art or of literature, a drama, film or musical etc. that seems to you an exposition of holiness and explain why."

Methodological approach. I decided to choose the text The Way of a Pilgrim. I read, re-read, and carefully listened to the audio version. Line by line I took "relevant quotations" from the book that pointed to holiness. Having listened to course lectures delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov, Dr. George Bebawi, the late Archimandrite Ephrem Lash and numerous others, I looked for quotes that would 'fulfil' class definitions provided. What you read below is my first attempt at connecting notions of holiness with actual text from The Way of a Pilgrim. As I was analysing the "text", I also used Leximancer to identify the major thematic concepts of the book. The word "holy" appears 39 times and appears in the top 20 concepts of the book. I also analysed each of the "four tales" in like manner. Provided at the end of this paper are also pages of references I sought through to come to a clearer understanding of what holiness means. My next steps is to severely prune this essay back to explicit quotations that describe holiness and support them with direct references/sources on the advice of my tutor Fr. Alexander Tefft.

Note: What is holiness? Holiness is not doing "good works" or being "virtuous". Holiness is something that God possesses and we acquire from God as we are made in His image. How do we acquire this? By "abiding in Him", by calling on Him more and more to reside in our hearts. We love our enemies because we see God in them, we love His creations because He made them. 

Disclaimer: the below essay is an early draft of my first attempt. Note: all errors are my own. I am studying towards a Certificate.


Holiness through the Jesus Prayer as Depicted in The Way of a Pilgrim

Katina Michael

This paper uses the book titled The Way of a Pilgrim to describe the path to holiness through prayer. In this 19th-century work, first published in Kazan with the title “Candid Narratives of a Pilgrim to His Spiritual Father” found in an Athonite monastery, the narrator takes the reader on a pilgrim’s journey across Russia while practising the Jesus Prayer. It is not known whether the book is a literal or fictional account of one pilgrim’s journey but the book demonstrates the power of invoking the name of Jesus through the biblically-based prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). The authorship of The Way of a Pilgrim is unknown although the four tales seem to be based on the original work of Archimandrite Mikhail Kozlov (1826-1884), entitled The Seeker of Unceasing Prayer. The exhortation by Saint Paul the Apostle in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to “pray constantly” is a call toward unceasing prayer. In effect, it is a call to God to reside within our heart at all times through the Holy Spirit in a synergistic manner. For it is said by Saint Paul the Apostle: “we are God’s fellow workers” [i.e., Gk <<συνεργοί>>]. And again the Apostle states in James 4:8, if we “draw near to God”, He will draw near to us. Such is the striving toward a state of holiness, where we can open the door to God to reside within us, given we are made in His image. The Way of a Pilgrim demonstrates the importance of interior silence through the recitation of the Jesus Prayer guided by a spiritual father with the aim of uniting one’s mind and heart. The more we pray, the more God is able to work through us to effect change in our own hearts and that of those around us. The ultimate aim of unceasing prayer, as demonstrated in The Way of a Pilgrim, whether living a celibate or married life, is union with God, that is, theosis.

The Path to Holiness is Prayer

Holiness is not a state in which we can reach on our own accord, no matter how hard we try, no matter how many good works we do. Holiness is a mystery and it cannot simply be attained by the “learning of the schools”. It has unspeakable depths. The pilgrim is clear in stating, that “we must pray more often to God to teach us to pray without ceasing”. When our mind and heart is “continually yearning” and we have an “unappeasable desire” toward God, then it cannot be in a state of sin. It is “the testing of the harmony of your own will with the voice of God”. The misconception of many Christians lies in the belief that “good actions and all sorts of preliminary measures render us capable of prayer” when in fact the reverse is true, “prayer [is that] which bears fruit in good works and all the virtues”. Furthermore, we are told in The Way of a Pilgrim that while the Christian is compelled to perform good works, that without prayer these cannot be accomplished. “Without prayer he cannot find the way to the Lord, he cannot understand the truth, he cannot crucify the flesh with its passions and lusts, his heart cannot be enlightened with the light of Christ, he cannot be savingly united to God. None of those things can be effected unless they are preceded by constant prayer.”

A wise staretz (spiritual elder), tells the pilgrim that "the continuous interior prayer of Jesus is a constant uninterrupted calling upon the divine name of Jesus with the lips, in the spirit, in the heart, while forming a mental picture of His constant presence, and imploring His grace, during every occupation, at all times, in all places, even during sleep.” The prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” interlinks a person with God, and after some time, he/she “can no longer live without it”. The prayer takes root in the heart on its own accord, casting “all other thoughts aside”. The admonition is to “repeat the prayer of Jesus as often as possible”. Of course, at one level, The Way of a Pilgrim, sets conditions for the hesychast “to cut off from everything else” through the Jesus Prayer, and yet on another level the book also describes how all forms of prayer (e.g. the Lord’s Prayer) can also be recited within a family context. God calls all of His children to holiness, not just those predisposed to monasticism. And this of course is demonstrated in the sanctification of Saints who chose either the path of marriage or virginity. Our goal should be to be with God as often as possible, “to cleanse the soul from all sensuality”. But it is a constant striving, once the prayer has manifested in one’s heart, like a well-oiled machine it must be cared for and nurtured, if it will go on “working still longer”. The directive is to be awake in “prayer as often as you wish and as often as you can… without counting the number of times.” It is to “seek after God in the simplicity of a loving heart” and to allow Him to “lead you into the right path."

The effect of recollecting our Lord Jesus Christ so often is a feeling of unutterable peace within the soul. The pilgrim describes his feelings thus: “I felt absolute peace in my soul. During sleep I often dreamed that I was saying the prayer. And during the day if I happened to meet anyone, all men without exception were as dear to me as if they had been my nearest relations… All my ideas were quite calmed of their own accord… my heart began of itself to feel at times a certain warmth and pleasure. If I happened to go to church, the lengthy service of the monastery seemed short to me and no longer wearied me as it had in time past. My lonely hut seemed like a splendid palace…” The pilgrim emphasises the importance of the instruction of a staretz in the recitation of prayer. He describes his joyful prayer as a “slight pain” in his heart as he imagines himself in God’s merciful embrace: “I pictured myself, if only I could see Him, throwing myself at His feet and not letting them go from my embrace, kissing them tenderly, and thanking Him with tears for having of His love and grace allowed me to find so great a consolation in His Name, me, His unworthy and sinful creature!” The pilgrim, recognising his sinful nature as a fallen human, is given the grace by God to feel His presence within his heart. The pilgrim endures a transformative process uniting with God through the Holy Spirit while invoking the name of Jesus. We are reminded by Saint Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 6:19-20): “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

Union with God

The two books that the pilgrim carries with him throughout his journey are the Holy Bible and The Philokalia. The pilgrim is shocked by the amount of knowledge he gains from The Philokalia, supported also by the prayer of Jesus which the holy Fathers said was “a summary of the Gospels”. He noted, that his heart was kindled with a “desire for union with God by means of interior prayer”. In Psalm 82:6, we are told, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.” What greater glory could a human attain than this theosis? The pilgrim writes: “I began to see the meaning of such sayings as "the inner secret man of the heart," "true prayer worships in the spirit," "the kingdom is within us," "the intercession of the Holy Spirit with groanings that cannot be uttered," "abide in me," "give me thy heart," "to put on Christ," "the betrothal of the Spirit to our hearts," the cry from the depths of the heart, "Abba, Father," and so on”. It was in this way that the pilgrim observed all natural things around him as “delightful” and “marvellous” singing praise to God constantly: “[t]he trees, the grass, the birds, the earth, the air, the light”. And yet at the same time, all of these creations equally “witnessed to the love of God for man.” We see here deeply the mystery of God’s love which is revolving. God does not want us to do good works from the “fear of hell”, but from “love for Him and zeal for His service; He wants us to find our happiness in uniting ourselves with Him in a saving union of mind and heart.” In walking with name of Christ on our lips, in our thoughts, and our heart, ceaseless prayer helps maintain our path to holiness, bringing us closer to the meaning of the Cross and Resurrection, and the eschata (that is the last things).


The pilgrim describes feeling “overwhelmed with bliss” on the calling upon the name of Jesus. As he recites the prayer day and night, month after month in solitude, he becomes acutely aware of the meaning of the passage "[t]he kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21). The pilgrim states at this point, “[m]y soul was always giving thanks to God and my heart melted away with unceasing happiness.” Indeed, holiness is to allow the heart to “melt away”, doing away with negative recollections that weigh heavy on the heart. It is to love one’s enemy, to love all people as if members of the one family. The pilgrim writes that the rosary (i.e. prayer rope) can bring one to sanctity: “[w]hen the soul is made holy the body becomes holy also”. He explains, “[e]veryone has his own gift from God… [and that] [e]veryone does what he can, as he sees his own path, with the thought that God Himself shows him the way of his salvation”. The pilgrim cites St. Gregory of Thessalonika in conversation, in his love for others and his want to reveal to them to power of the invocation of the name of Jesus: “we are bound to reveal it and teach it to others, to everyone in general, religious and secular, learned and simple, men, women, and children, and to inspire them all with zeal for prayer without ceasing”. Over and over again, throughout The Way of a Pilgrim, the message is conveyed as to the sweetness of the boundless love for Jesus Christ one attains when they are praying constantly. The Jesus prayer we are told by the pilgrim is a “comfort”, makes his “heart bubble”, is “delightful”, is “consoling”, provides “tears of joy”, and such “gladness of heart” that he cannot find the words to express his feelings. To be united to God so closely through prayer must give such peace and innocence that is indescribable.

Some way through the Russian spiritual classic, we learn the reason why the pilgrim has chosen to live a wanderer’s life. The pilgrim recounts many a story that demonstrate his path to holiness. He is not mad at his brother for causing a malady in one of his arms so that he cannot work rendering him a “cripple”. He is not mad at his brother for burning down the home he and his wife shared. He is not mad at God for taking the “worthy and sensible” girl he had married prematurely. He is not mad with the townsfolk whom he helped so much but later accused him of wrongdoing with a young girl who was betrothed to another man. He is not mad with the men who robbed and struck him, even taking his knapsack, Holy Bible, copy of the Philokalia, and dry bread. In his interactions with others he showed great love, did not sin against them, and though he felt pained at times beyond what could be written for his treatment, he continued to love. To the men who had struck him “senseless” he gave 1 ruble and told them: “Repent and pray! Jesus Christ loves men; he will not forsake you.” In essence, the pilgrim becomes “Christ-like” and fulfils the highest aspects of love that lead one to holiness. He reflected in his narrative: “If thine enemy hunger, feed him," and Jesus Christ himself said, "Love your enemies," "And if any man will take away thy coat let him have thy cloak also." He not only believed in these New Testament commandments, but lived by them whole-heartedly.

While the narrator paints a picture of a solitary life (i.e., monastic life) that is underpinned by prayer and fasting for Jesus and complete preoccupation with Him and the Saints, the narrator by no means takes away from the propensity for holiness in a family setting. When he encounters two children on his way, they insist that the pilgrim must meet their mother, and later the mother insists the pilgrim must meet her husband who is a magistrate. She tells the pilgrim: “He [the magistrate] reverences every pilgrim as a messenger of God. If you go away he will be really grieved not to have seen you. Besides that, tomorrow is Sunday, and you will pray with us at the liturgy, and at the dinner table take your share with us in what God has sent.” The family lives by the Gospel and fulfils Matthew 25:34-39:

34 Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? 38 And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? 39 And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’

The pilgrim writes "I was astonished as I listened to what she said, and I asked myself whether I was talking with a human being or with a ghost of some sort.” The reader, likewise, is left feeling deep love and hope that there are people who actually exist like this. Indeed, the whole scene is reminiscent of Paradise. The pilgrim continues: “The more I saw and heard of all this, the more surprised I was, and I thanked God for letting me see these devout people.” The mother is symbolic of the Virgin Mary as she proclaims to the pilgrim that she does not rest. Holiness in this case is defined as being “fond of beggars, and brothers in Christ, and pilgrims.” Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov adds only “enemies” to this list under the instruction of Fr. Sophrony Sakharov who believed being Orthodox was plainly described as “loving your enemies”.

The mother in this scene recounts her mother’s blessing: “as her last will and testament she urged us to live as good Christians, to say our prayers fervently, and above all try to fulfill the greatest of God's commandments, that is, the love of one's neighbor, to feed and help our poor brothers in Christ in simplicity and humility, to bring up our children in the fear of the Lord, and to treat our serfs as our brothers. And that is how we have been living here by ourselves for the last ten years now, trying as best we could to carry out mother's last wishes. We have a guesthouse for beggars, and at the present moment there are living in it more than ten crippled and sick people.” Later, the pilgrim proclaims: “'You are in God's own paradise here… Here is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and His most holy mother, and the blessed saints! And there… are the divine, living, and everlasting words of their teaching.” It is reaffirmed by the pilgrim that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness, and that neither the monastic path or the married path is easy, but that God grants what is needed to each accordingly. He says to the family:

“Of course, for hermits they give special and higher methods, but for those who live in the world their writings show ways which truly lead to interior prayer.” And returning to the Jesus Prayer, he conveys to the family: “One must learn to call upon the name of God, more even than breathing—at all times, in all places, in every kind of occupation. The Apostle says, 'Pray without ceasing.' That is, he teaches men to have the remembrance of God in all times and places and circumstances. If you are making something, you must call to mind the Creator of all things; if you see the light, remember the Giver of it; if you see the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them, wonder and praise the Maker of them. If you put on your clothes, recall Whose gift they are and thank Him Who provides for your life. In short, let every action be a cause of your remembering and praising God, and lo! you will be praying without ceasing and therein your soul will always rejoice." There, you see, this way of ceaseless prayer is simple and easy and within the reach of everybody so long as he has some amount of human feeling.'”


The pilgrim continues to say that interior prayer has shed more light on the mystery of God than anything else and that it can be “done by anyone”. That “[i]t costs nothing but the effort to sink down in silence into the depths of one's heart and call more and more upon the radiant name of Jesus.” In a critical passage, the pilgrim comes close to defining and explaining what holiness is- a deep relationship with God. It is worth quoting this passage in full:

“Everyone who does that [interior prayer] feels at once the inward light, everything becomes understandable to him, he even catches sight in this light of some of the mysteries of the kingdom of God. And what depth and light there is in the mystery of a man coming to know that he has this power to plumb the depths of his own being, to see himself from within, to find delight in self- knowledge, to take pity on himself and shed tears of gladness over his fall and his spoiled will! To show good sense in dealing with things and to talk with people is no hard matter and lies within anyone's power, for the mind and the heart were there before learning and human wisdom… The trouble is that we live far from ourselves and have but little wish to get any nearer to ourselves. Indeed we are running away all the time to avoid coming face to face with our real selves, and we barter the truth for trifles. We think, "I would very gladly take an interest in spiritual things, and in prayer, but I have no time, the fuss and cares of life give no chance for such a thing."

The pilgrim cites the saying of Saint Nicetas Stethatus in The Philokalia who wrote: “The nature of things is judged by the inward disposition of the soul,' that is, a man gets his ideas about his neighbors from what he himself is. And he goes on to say, 'He who has attained to true prayer and love has no sense of the differences between things: he does not distinguish the righteous man from the sinner, but loves them all equally and judges no man, as God causes His sun to shine and His rain to fall on the just and the unjust.'” In like manner, Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia in The Orthodox Way pointed to holiness as the “calling out of an individual from their sinfulness, into the true selves that God intends for them to be as they participate fully in their eschatological destination: God’s own self” (Kangas 2014). Dying to the world through the prayer of the heart, the pilgrim doubts that there would be a “happier person on earth” and whether there “could be greater and fuller happiness in the kingdom of heaven.” The state of holiness he has attained, not only provides light for his own soul but for “the whole outside world” as well. He felt, “[e]verything drew me to love and thank God: people, trees, plants, and animals. I saw them all as my kinsfolk; I found on all of them the magic of the name of Jesus… Sometimes I felt as joyful as if I had been made czar.”

The pilgrim places great emphasis on holy prayers aided by the Holy Spirit that are pleasing to God. The pilgrim recollects throughout his journey the words of Christ: “Abide in Me, and I in you” (John 15:4). He writes that:

“every intention, every impulse, even every thought which is directed to His glory and our own salvation is of value in His sight. For all these the boundless loving kindness of God gives bountiful rewards. The love of God gives grace a thousand fold more than human actions deserve. If you give Him the merest mite, He will pay you back with gold. If you but purpose to go to the Father, He will come out to meet you. You say but a word, short and unfeeling— 'Receive me, have mercy on me'—and He falls on your neck and kisses you. That is what the love of the heavenly Father is like toward us, unworthy as we are. And simply because of this love He rejoices in every gesture we make toward salvation, however small. It looks like this to you: What glory is there for God, what advantage for you, if you pray a little and then your thoughts wander again, or if you do some small good deed, such as reading a prayer, making five or ten acts of reverence, or giving a heartfelt sigh and calling upon the name of Jesus, or attending to some good thought, or setting yourself to some spiritual reading, or abstaining from some food, or bearing an affront in silence—all that seems to you not enough for your full salvation and a fruitless thing to do. No! None of these small acts is in vain; it will be taken into account by the all-seeing eye of God and receive a hundredfold reward, not only in eternity, but in this life.”

Furthermore the pilgrim continues:

"Truly boundless is the love of God for us sinners. Is it not marvelous that so small an action—yes, just taking his rosary out of his pocket and carrying it in his hand and calling once upon the name of God—should give a man his life, and that in the scales of judgment upon men one short moment of calling upon Jesus Christ should outweigh many hours of sloth? In truth, here is the repayment of the tiny mite with gold. Do you see, brother, how powerful prayer is and how mighty the name of Jesus when we call upon it?”


The Way of a Pilgrim urges the reader to be united to God through prayer. It is the calling especially to unceasing prayer that asks God to light up our hearts and to warm them toward a path to holiness which encompasses love not only for God Himself, but all of His creations. The more we pray, through the recitation of prayer, whether it be the Jesus Prayer or the Lord’s Prayer, under the instruction of our spiritual father, the more we will ignite the fulfilment of God’s commandments as delivered in the New Testament. God promises that if we “come” to Him and “follow Him”, we will receive “treasures in Heaven” (Luke 18:22). We can follow Him through our interior prayer, whether we are celibate or married, whether we recite the prayer of the heart with our lips or inwardly, whatever the means, we should seek to be with Him as often as possible. While it is paradoxical to ask the source of love and life, God, to grant in us a prayerful heart, because He becomes both the power and source of love and its preoccupation, it is He who gives life to all other actions: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:3). Indeed, I can pray more when I ask Christ to have mercy on me, and He will give me the strength to love my enemies, love my neighbour, and love myself. This revolving action becomes a constant pursuit of love- God toward His creation, a person toward God and his fellow neighbour. Prayer becomes self-actuating and self-propelling, it is co-working in synergy toward holiness. Holiness in man does not mean perfection, but attests to the constant striving toward the love of God through the Holy Spirit, the minimization of sin, toward transformation to living a divine life in Christ.


Thematic Concept Map 1. The Way of a Pilgrim (all four tales)

Thematic Concept Map 1. The Way of a Pilgrim (all four tales)

Thematic Concept Map Tale 1 of the Way of a Pilgrim

Thematic Concept Map Tale 1 of the Way of a Pilgrim

Thematic Concept Map Tale 2 of the Way of a Pilgrim

Thematic Concept Map Tale 2 of the Way of a Pilgrim

Thematic Concept Map Tale 3 of the Way of a Pilgrim

Thematic Concept Map Tale 3 of the Way of a Pilgrim

Thematic Concept Map Tale 4 of the Way of a Pilgrim

Thematic Concept Map Tale 4 of the Way of a Pilgrim

Ranked Concept List


















































CF105 - Ascent to Holiness Topics

Topic 1 - Holiness in the Old and New Testaments by Revd. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov

Elder Sophrony of Essex: We Shall See Him As He Is (Chapter 13)

Archimandrite Zacharias Christ Our Way and Our Life (Chapt. 1)

Achimandrite Zacharias The Hidden Man of the Heart (Chapter 6)

Panagiotis Nellas Why did God Became Man?

Professor Georgios Mantzarides The Deification of Man (Chapter 1)

Lossky The Theological Notion of the Human Person

Archimandrite George of St Gregoriou Monastery, Mt Athos, on Theosis

Fr George Florovsky The Ascetic Ideal and New Testament

Rev. John Chrysavgis: Obedience and Authority: Dimensions of a Hierarchical Church

Topic 2 - On Discernment by Dr George Bebawi


Dr George Bebawi- On Discernment (the paper from his Lecture)

St John of Climacus: The Ladder of Divine Ascent (Step 26: On discernment of thoughts, passions and virtues; on expert discernment)

Archbishop Sergius The Spiritual Life in the World

Pope St. Gregory the Great (+605), Menstruation and Holy Communion

Topic 3 - True and False Holiness by Revd Dr Fraser Watts

The Essence of Prayer- God and Man (Chapter 4) by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Fr Demetrios Constantelos- The Human Being- A mask or a person?

J. Moran- Orthodoxy and Modern Depth Psychology- Chapter 8 in Walker and Carras, eds., Living Orthodoxy (St Vladimir's Press, 1999)

Topic 4 - The Holy Man in Late Antiquity by Revd Professor Andrew Louth

Peter Brown The Rise and Function of Holy Man in Late Antiquity

Stofferahn The Power, the Body, the Holy

Paul Ferderer Uncertain Transformation

Prof. Fr Andrew Louth: The Place of Theosis in Orthodox Theology in Christensen and Wittung: Partakers of the Divine Nature (pp. 32-44)

St Jerome: The Life of Paulus the First Hermit

St Pafnoutios: St Onnoprhios the Anchorite

Palladius: The Lausiac History (a compilation from the life of the early anchorite and other desert fathers)

Zosimus: Concerning the Life of the Blessed

Topic 5 - Holiness in East and West by Dr George Bebawi

Transcript of Dr George Bebawi's Lecture on Holiness in East and West

St Gregory Palamas: One Hundred and Fifty Texts (from the Philokalia in English translation, Vol. 4)

Dr George Bebawi's Handout 1: Cyril and the Cappadocians on Holiness

Dr George Bebawi's Handout 2: Chrestos Yannaras on Uncreated Energies

St Gregory Palamas, Triads (English translation with an introduction by J. Meyendorf) Paulist Press, 1983 (Google Books, read esp. pp. 32-40)

Professor Panagiotis Chrestou: Double Knowledge according to St Gregory Palamas

Deacon Professor Matthew Steenberg, Knowledge, Prayer and Vision in St Gregory Palamas

Philip Sherrard From Theology to Philosophy in the Latin West

Professor Chrestos Yannaras The Historical and Social Dimensions of the Church's Ethos

Professor Chrestos Yannaras Orthodoxy and the West

St Mark the Ascetic On Those who Think They Are Made Righteous by Works

Metropolitan Ierotheos of Nafpaktos Orthodox Spirituality

Topic 6 - Holiness in Song: St Ephrem the Syrian’ by Dr Sebastian Brock

St Ephrem the Syrian- Hymns (Google Books)

Sebastian Brock- St Ephraem- Hymns on Paradise (Google Books)

Topic 7 - Holiness in Eastern Religion: an Orthodox Perspective by Dr Christine Mangala

Dr Christine-Mangala Frost: List of Differences between New Age religions and Christianity

Dr. Christine Frost- Visual Aids for her Lecture

Dr Christine-Mangala Frost Interview at Ancient Faith Radio on whether Yoga and Orthodox Christianity are compatible

Elder Sophrony of Essex Jesus Prayer

Fr Basil Sakkas Do we have the same God that Non-Christians Have? from Fr. Seraphim Rose's Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future

St John of Karpathos For the encouragement of the monks in India

Dionysios Farasiotes: The Jesus Prayer and the Hindu Mantra

Topic 8 - Experiencing Holiness: St Macarius by Dr Marcus Plested

Dr Marcus Plested- The Macarian Legacy (Google Books) pp. 31-35, 38-41

A Testimony to Christianity as Transfiguration: The Macarian Homilies and Orthodox Spirituality by Alexander Golitzin

Andrei Orlov and Alexander Golitzin: "Many Lamps are Lightened from the One": Paradigms of the Transformational Vision in Macarian Homilies"

Fifty Spiritual Homilies of St. Macarius the Egyptian

Macarius, Homilies 1-5

Selections from Evergetinos (with stories from the Desert Fathers and Makarios)

Topic 9 - Professor David Frost: Shakespeare and Nous: Holy Fools in King Lear

Prof. David Frost- The text from his Lecture

Bishop Alexander - On Saints

St Diadochos of Photiki- Gnostic Chapters

Topic 10 - What is a Saint? by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

Excerpts from the Orthodox Way by Metropolitan Kallistos

Metropolitan Kallistos on St John of Kronstadt

Metropolitan Kallistos on the Passions

Metropolitan Kallistos: Through Creation to the Creator

Professor Stanley Harakas Orthodox Christian Beliefs (On Saints)

P. Evdokimov: Holiness in the Orthodox tradition- in Man's Concern with Holiness (ed. by M. Chavchavadze)

Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky: The Glorification of Saints

Coniaris What we believe about the Saints

Fr George Florovsky On the Veneration of Saints

The Life of St Mary of Egypt

Topic 11 - Sober Drunkenness: Holiness in the Liturgy’ by Archimandrite Ephrem Lash

Fr. A. Schmemann Theology and Eucharist

St Nicholaos Cabasilas A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy (esp. pp. 96-108)

Fr Pavlos Koumarianos Symbol and Reality in Divine Liturgy

Topic 12

Summer Course on the Ascent to Holiness: A Critical Perspective by Rev. Dr. Alexander Tefft

Topic 14 - Optional Resources

Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex on St Silouan the Athonite

Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex: Movement of the Prayer in the Heart and Monasticism as the Gift of the Holy Spirit

Archimandrite Symeon of Essex on The Mystery of the Human Person

Dcn Prof. Matthew Steenberg: Monasticism and Saints of Holy Mount Athos

Sister Nona- Beginnings of Monasticism in the Greek World

Dr Mary Cunningham- Monasticism in the Byzantine World- Theodore Stoudite

Hieromonk Justin- The Life in Christ is a Mystery- Monasticism in Mt Sinai

St Nicholaos Cabasilas: The Life in Christ (Google Books)

St Gregory Palamas: The Triads (Google Books)

John Meyendorff: St Gregory Palamas and Orthodox Spirituality (Google Books)

Staniloae et al.: The Experience of God (Google Books)

Metropolitan John of Pergamon (Zizioulas): Being as Communion (esp. Chapter 3- Google Books)

Christensen and Wittung: Partakers of the Divine Nature (Google Books)

St John of Climacus: The Ladder of Divine Ascent (Google Books)

Mamalakis on Marriage as a Path to Holliness (Ancient Faith Radio recording)

St Gregory of Nyssa: The Making of Man

St Gregory Palamas: Calling Everything Near Him

St Nicholaos Cabasilas: The Old and the New Adam

St Maximus the Confessor: The Spirit is in Everything

St Cyril of Alexandria: Becoming Temples of God

The Power of Repentance: A collection of sayings from the Church Fathers

Monastery of St Gregorios, Mt Athos: Key Orthodox Theology Terms in English and Greek

Archimandrite Ephrem- The works of St Theodore the Stoudite

Archimandrite Ephrem- The works of St Ephrem the Syrian

Professor Panagiotis Chrestou- Double Knowledge

Professor Panagiotis Chrestou- On St. Maximus- Infinity of Man

Peter Chopelas- The Uncreated Energies

St Gregory Palamas- Homily on the Holy Transfiguration

Metropolitan Paul- Monasticism in St Gregory Palamas

Professor Tselengides- St Gregory Palamas- Hysechasm- Life in the Holy Spirit

Collection of translated works of St Ephrem the Syrian into English at St Pachomius Library

Bishop Alexander: On the Virtue of Humility

The Life of our Holy Mother Mary of Egypt

Bishop Alexander: Lives of the Saints

Bishop Alexander: Elder Paisios of Mt Athos; Life and Teachings

St John of Klimacus: On Vainglory (from the Ladder of Divine Ascent)

Fr John Romanides- The Sickness of Religion and Its Cure

Archmindrite Georgios of St Gregoriou Monastery, Mt Athos: The Neptic and Hesychastic Character of Athonite Monasticism

Fr John Romanides- Original Sin according to St Paul

Fr John Romanides- Christ, the Life of the World

Fr John Romanides- Yaweh of Glory- Augustine and Barlaam

St Seraphim of Sarov- On Acquisition of the Holy Spirit

Kallistos Katafygiotis- On the Union with God

Professor Coniaris- What is a Saint?

Veniamin- Theosis in Sophrony of Essex

Prof. Georgios Mantzarides on Monasticism (from the book: Images of Athos by Monk Chariton)

Professor David Bradshaw Drawing the Mind to the Heart

Paul Evdokimov Holiness, in In the World of the Church: A Paul Evdokimov Reader (Google Books)

Fr George Metallinos Heaven and Hell

R. Pevear: Dostoyevsky's View of Evil

Fr John Breck The Role of Conscience

Mother Maria Rule Saints and Spirit-Bearers

Topic Lecture 9 - Language of the Person, Hypostasis in the Gospel of John

These notes are assembled after listening to the lecture delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. Disclaimer: Any errors are completely my own as I intertwine the lecture material with my own reflections and additional source material.


We spoke about Christology of relationship about theology of relationship and how important it is. The question now about translation at the beginning of the gospel of John. What does it mean when John writes “pros ton Theon”? There is much speculation but the word “pros” meaning in Greek “towards”. In the authorised version of the Gospel of John the translation stands as: “and the Word was with God”. But the actual translation of this proposition is “towards”. And many have noted, that this is exactly what John means. The Logos all of Christ’s being was towards God the Father. And this is a formula of love. This being towards the other is the true realisation of, not only divine person, but also the human person. So really what we have here is the notion, “and the Word was towards God”. And perhaps in the English language, that cannot be said, because it implies movement. And this principle of Christology being, towards God, is spelt out in the rest of the gospel. And if you look at any authentic relationship in the gospel it is always “pros ton allon”, towards the other. But as humans, we find a relationship towards others, through our love towards others, in self-sacrifice for another.

And if you notice, all the holy gifts in our church they are given, whatever you might name, priesthood, any other sacraments, they are given as a service to other people. The priest for example, cannot confess himself. He only has this authority towards service of another. So this is a principle that is a product of John’s Gospel. So perhaps, if we translate the word Logos, in principle there was this principle of love towards God in the beginning. 

Q&A. When do we know if the great “I am” is intended versus an everyday “I am”? For example, in John’s Gospel when the disciples are in the boat and the Lord retorts in chapter 3: “do not worry I am”, how are we to understand this I am? In John’s Gospel, you will find different ways that this saying is used at times, Christ says “I am a good Shepherd”. But here it is obviously a different I am, to the “I am” of Sinai. But there are definitely uses of “I am” without predicate. These definitely imply, this Sinai revelation, “I am that I am”. In Greek language, you may know that you do not need to use the pronoun “I am”, you simply say where you may be, for example: “I am home”, could simply be “home”. So it is indeed an emphatic use of the term “I am” with Sinaitic roots in Exodus.

In the Gospel of John, things are not as straightforward, as other writings. He operates at a level that we cannot presuppose intense at times, in order to analyse logically. In the Gospel affects us in various ways, in various levels. When we consider for example symbolic actions of Christ’s actions, in the fourth Gospel, John has many levels of appeal to his reader. And one of his techniques, is to play on these associations. To member in Exodus: where God says, “I am I am”. In the Gospel of Matthew, it would be a direct quotation so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But John, does not write like this. He wishes to maintain, a level of mystery, which is important, for the depth of Christian message. Because once you have no mystery, and everything is clear, our text may lose its power, and depth.

Hypostatic language

And speaking about mystery, and things that are not set, or not written, we should move to the next topic. If we compare, our Christian new Testament, or our Gospels to any other religious book, be it the Quran, or the Old Testament, perhaps your notice, that it is much much smaller in size. In this respect, Christian scripture is unique. In fact it offers very little instructions for us to do, in our everyday life. There is no instruction for our codex of behaviour. But if you take for example the old Testament law, the whole day of an Israelite, is prescribed to morning to end. It is like a 24-hour manual, what to do and how to. And this idea, of what to do and how to do it is the focus of the old Testament. But the new Testament starts very differently. Yes of course, there are some parallels, but it doesn’t constitute the core, the focus of the new Testament. And furthermore if you compare the fourth Gospel with the synoptic gospels one thing immediately strikes us, that there are hardly any that could be subsumed even remotely in a consistent ethical teaching of Christ.

The fourth Gospel offers us very little, in fact, a kind of instruction in codex of behaviour, in what we should do in our daily life. And if you look at the synoptic gospels, and compare the fourth Gospel with the Synoptics, you will see that for example in Matthew you do find chapters where Christ expounds the way people ought to be, and the way they should behave, because for Matthew, Christ’s teaching was important linking back to the old Testament, that even resembled old Testament law. In chapter 9 in Matthew for instance we hear that Jesus speaks about, “bless it are the poor”, the meek, the merciful, the good heart, and there are some kind of ethical instructions here. In Matthew, we also hear “thou shall not kill… But I say to you whoever is angry…” There are specific amendments.  But when we come to John’s Gospel, there are none of these commandments of Christ. In fact, very few. And they seem to concentrate about one theme, love and faith. None of such formulations found in Matthew shall find John. In John there are no instructions for daily life.

Also we do find, occasional parables in John’s Gospel. Of course, Christ taught in parables. But all of them are of a completely different nature. They do not function as allegorical encoding of his teaching, at least for the synoptic gospels, but as short illustrations, to his message. So it looks like in the fourth Gospel we have a shift of concern. Instead, there are stories about Christ, his miracles, he signs, his dialogues with the Jews, and finally the Last Supper where we see three chapters dedicated to this toward the crucifixion. It seems to be all about Christ, and not about how and what to do. In John we do not have any of that. So, can we say that, that John presents us with a different kind of spirituality? Does it pass over in silence, ethics that Christ wished to teach the crowds, in the other Gospels?

So why the difference? What can we make of it? Is this a radically different form of Christianity? Course, one possibility is that Matthew had recorded all of these things in his gospel, and if John had seen and read this Gospel, then there wouldn’t have been any need to repeat. However, some scholars believe that John had not read the Gospel of Matthew before he wrote his gospel. So what other reasons can we summate? So we need to remember, that none of the other evangelists, felt the need to write down every single detail that he witnessed of Christ’s teaching, or life. There is something more to this. And we will see, that there are sayings of Christ that are recorded in the Gospel, that reappear later in the Pauline epistles, and also in our church services. For example, in the service the blessing of myrh and oil, we find the commandment of Christ, which is not recorded anywhere apart from the service. And Christ says: “Whosoever falls and raises himself will be saved.” And you won’t find such a saying in none of the Gospels. It appears only there.

None of the evangelists has in mind to record an exhaustive teaching of Christ’s words. In John, we find the very essence of Christian spirituality. If you compare the new Testament with the old Testament, you will find that especially the Leviticus priestly code, it is obsessed with flesh, the physical parts of the human being. All these rites of purification, the type of food you’re supposed to eat the type of clothes you’re supposed to wear, the customs to purify your physical existence, this is very much in focus of the Leviticus code. And even the very mark of the old covenant is circumcision. It is very much to do with human flesh. So we can say in the old Testament, man was addressed, and treated by God above all as flesh, as mortal. But in the new Testament, we witness a completely new phenomenon. Consider Dr Zhivago, a novel by Pasternak (?), where he writes about, what is different in Christianity? What is the main contribution of Christianity, for the history of civilisation? And one of the expository dialogues, Pasternak says, before Christ there was no notion of person. He said, there was a history of anonymous masses, suffering unrecorded, and then Christ comes and gives place and name to each of these little sufferers, and that is how the concept of person was born. And indeed we may say that, the new Testament deals with the new category of the human person in the new Testament addresses man, above all as person. That’s why you won’t find this of session, with flesh, as refined in the old Testament. Christ says, it is not where you eat that if I was you, but will proceeds out of you from your person holds, from your heart. And indeed a person becomes like a point of departure, for new Testament ethics. For example, you remember this example, “the Sabbath is for man, and man not for the Sabbath.” And recall the story of the widow casting two mites, Christ said that she contributed more than anyone else, because she gave all that she had. So the person becomes a measure of righteousness.

And John takes the spiritual dimension, man not as flesh, but as person, as spirit. He takes this personal, spiritual dimension to the extreme. And he explains the new type of being to Nicodemus. Christ says in chapter 3, ”what is one of the flesh is of the flesh, but what is born of the spirit is spirit” “ the spirit that makes life flesh profits nothing” (?). So, this marks a radical departure from the old Testament flesh type of righteousness. Instead, of flesh, John shifts our attention to the domain of spirit. And Johannine writings, in fact promotes the ultimate essence of this spiritual righteousness.

And I do not believe we should press the differences between the Gospel of John and the Synoptics. Yes, we do not find, in John’s Gospel the same set of commandments, but in fact they have the same message. Even if all of Christ’s commandments, were lost, and were not recorded but if we would learn about his life, his example, it would still be enough for us to see in Christ’s fulfilment of all his commandments to which he had given to us in his person. And this idea of commandment, being encoded, in Christ’s person, as an example, is very much present in John’s Gospel. Simply by presenting Christ in his life, his actions, and his relationship, John communicates much more than just a set of commandments and down on paper. Christ said, in chapter 13, “I have given you an example that you should do as I have done to you”, so Christ sets himself as an example. He is exactly the word of God, the Logos became flesh, the word of God, the Torah that became flesh. He is presented to us as our living commandment.

And in this respect let us consider John 14:31, the idea of person becoming a commandment: “but the world might know that I love the Father, the father has given me commandment, even so I do”. This notion commandments, is in singular. What kind of commandment with the father give Christ? So Christ, lived by the father, he does everything according to the father, he does everything in the name of the Father, father becomes the focus of his existential concern and expression. Thus, the father, becomes a living commandment for Christ: what he hears from the father, he does is the father does. There is a dynamic dimension to this idea of Christ as a commandment. It is not something which was once said, and finished. No, Christ looks up to the father and acts and lives according to his will. “I lived by the father”, Christ says.

And as the father becomes a living commandment Christ, Christ becomes a living commandment for us. In fact, if you think, Christ he left us his commandment, “this is my commandment to love one another as I have loved you”. But what definition can you give to this commandment of love? How can you prescribe what we should do when you love another person? Is it possible to give a definition of life? So perhaps in a family relationship, if I were to list down all the things that are done as an expression of love e.g. if a spouse is the washing up et cetera you could not possibly exhaust all the things that are done in love. You cannot give a definite list of all the things that are done to manifest love in a relationship. Descriptions don’t help us. So the only way you can teach how to love is by example. And that is why, Christ is set for us as a living example, is a living commandment. And by his example, we learn, what it means to love another person. And not only for Christ, but interpersonal relationship with the Trinity. It is an eternal cycle of love, “perixorisis” within the Trinity. And this is something that John wishes to be projected, on a human plane.

And this idea of person as a commandment, is also in the synoptic gospels. The story of the young men who comes to cries what shall I do to inherit eternal life. And Christ says to him, do you know the oldest commandments, then he said to him one thing which you lack, “sell every thing that you have, and follow me”. Possibly, it would be enough just to follow Christ. Another example, Matthew chapter 11:29 “learn of me for I am meek and lowly of heart”. Christ sets himself as an example. But we can say that the whole of John’s Gospel is this formula “learn of me”. Christ is primordial hypostatic paradigm. And this is presented to us dynamically not statically, in his actions, in his words, in his deeds, in his reactions and his relations. And he for us to follow and imitate him. There is no in fact difference in message between John and the synoptic gospels, concerning teaching, concerning the commandments of Christ. Christ, in John’s Gospel, fulfils all these commandments which he was given in the synoptic gospels. Christ himself fulfils them in John’s Gospel.

When we look, at the sermon on the Mount, and we hear the words “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, of course Christ is speaking about himself, given he could do nothing without the father, and would do nothing without the father. If you take, “blessed that they that mourn”, we do know that Christ was moved to tears on occasion.” And then, “Blessed are the meek”. And Christ was meek, he even washed the disciple’s feet at the Last Supper. And the same occurs throughout the whole sermon, “blessed are those who hunger and thirst”, and again Christ is found hungry “give me something to eat” and later thirsting on the cross. “Blessed are the merciful”, of course Christ fulfils his own commandments when they bring to him the woman who has been accused of adultery, and shows mercy. “Blessed are the peacemakers”… This is a recurring theme, where Christ says “peace unto you”. Whenever Christ appeared he would spread peace around him. And back in Matthew we hear, “Blessed are the persecuted…”, v15, “let your light shine on men… Glorify your Father in heaven”… And everything is done by Christ for his father’s glory.

John. “Be reconciled with your enemies”; Christ constantly invites the Jews to reconcile with him, but they do not. “Do not resist evil”. Remember, when the mob come to take him away, and he commends them “whatever you do, do it quickly” (John 13:27). “Therefore, be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”. And Christ himself fulfilled this commandment to the absolute extent possible, people who saw him, saw the father. We could study the synoptic gospels in the same way, and see how Christ fulfilled all the commandments, sometimes directly, and at other times indirectly. John sets him as an example for us to follow.

So the way of salvation, leads to life, according to Matthew’s Gospel. The way in John’s Gospel, is not what, but who. He is Christ himself, “I am the way”. It is a dynamic commandment, that is in the living Christ. If we look, at the whole, sayings of Christ in John’s Gospel, this idea of “follow me”, “come after me” is dominant. The Gospel begins, with this idea following Christ, and it ends with this idea of following Christ. Chapter 1 the idea is used three times, “they followed Jesus”, and we now know for John it was a theological notion to follow Jesus, and to follow his example. “And he said to Philip, follow me…” So it is the very first commandment that Christ gives in the Gospel of John. Again it comes up in many chapters, ch 8: “who follows me shall not walk in darkness”. Ch 10: “the good Shepherd… And he goes before them”, and the sheep follow him. What is interesting and unusual about this presentation about a good Shepherd. It is in the ordering, and usually the sheep go before the Shepherd. The shepherds go behind the flock showing direction from behind… But sometimes in the Middle East if the sheep know the Shepherd, the shepherd will go sometimes a little bit ahead and the sheep will follow. And Christ said in chapter 12: “anyone who serves me, let him follow me.” This following of Christ, is precisely the way of salvation. “Where I am, there also my servants shall be”. It is not speaking about geography, he is speaking about a mode of being, divine being.

Now, following Christ in geographical terms doesn’t mean they will be saved many followed Christ right down to the crucifixion and were part responsible for what occurred. There was a crowd who constantly followed Christ in geographical terms, but nevertheless turned against him. And indeed, once you start to live the gospel in your own life, you will notice, you will find yourself exactly in these types of experiences that Christ had in the gospel. Once you start to follow him in this way you will find situations like this that are very familiar.

This language of hypostatic paradigms, is very effective. If you look at a modern culture, young kids they are very much into their own idols, their heroes their worldly icons, you can teach a kid what he should do and what you shouldn’t do but once he says a movie, or is fascinated by some kind of image all your teaching is gone in an instance. He will imitate the hero, just after one hour. And that is the language of hypostatic paradigms that works it is far more powerful than just words.

It is remarkable that the Gospel actually ends with this dynamic idea of following Christ, or perhaps dozen and because it is open ending. We hear about Peter, following Christ, and the beloved disciple joining them. So the Gospel actually joins with this idea of following Christ.

Hypostatic paradigm

It is crucial, because of the language and early because Christ is represented in this way to us, as an example as a paradigm, it is also the language of John, of righteousness and sin. They are exemplified, they are not spelled-out for us, what is seen, but they are at exemplified in his example is. Most of the heroes of the gospel you will see, they are shown to us in their relationship with Christ. They are examples of relationship with Christ. They are some who love Christ like Lazarus, like Martha and Mary, who will end up in the resurrection but there are also those who reject Christ and lose their salvation, like becoming Christ enemies, and we notice an interesting trend in all the Gospels, but especially in John. But after the resurrection of Christ, know one of the enemies of Christ is mentioned, only the ones who loved him, Mary, his mother, his beloved disciple, Nicodemus. Positive examples survive to the next life, after the depiction of the resurrection.

Q&A. Imitating Christ sounds like sublime ethics, but how can the average person begin? It sounds too difficult? It is a positive experience, that comes not from reading the gospel and following every commandment etc. It involves a personal knowledge of Christ, and desire of communion with Him. That is what we do in the Liturgy, we prepare and come closer to him through the Holy Eucharist. And not just partaking in the body and blood of Christ in the physical sense but also in the spiritual sense. We try to participate in the Spirit of Christ, not just in his flesh and body in bread and wine, but also in his spirit- there is also spiritual communion. Once a person goes to Church, regularly participates in the life of the Church, the following happens defacto, because in one way or another, our ecclesiastical tradition has provided, all necessary means for our following Christ, by itself but also in our life and liturgical service.

Q&A. If you try to take ethical rules out of the New Testament like there were in the Old Testament, you cannot do it. Fr Sophrony once said, “when he was on Mt Athos, for him the Gospel looked like Utopia. It was impossible to fulfil. That is why he valued very much his encounter to Silouan the Athonite who gave him an answer, how to understand this paradox in this life. We are given an example of divine life in Christ’s commandments… perfect as our heavenly father is perfect. And the answer of Silouan is this revelation of Christ: “keep your mind in hell, and despair not”. This is the paradox of Christian ethics. Someone published a book in Russia, on how to be pious. They just singled out all of these commandments of “teachings of Christ”, and of course, it wasn’t even the teaching of Christ without His example, and without a personal relationship with him. It is a very complex experience.

This idea of hypostatic paradigms which teaches us Christian ethics

If you notice, every character in John’s Gospel has a representative trait. In every dialogue, which is recorded in the Gospel, there is an opening of the dialogue, and then the dialogue runs into from a particular character to the universal. This is a remarkable thing, this flexible movement between the individual, and then this individual becomes representative of the group. So John gives us an indication that what he wants to see us, in every character, is a type of person, type of relationship with Christ. Father Sophrony like to employ the same principle in the monastery, he would often say, if you learn to live in peace and love in the monastery with one father, then you will learn to live in peace and love with millions of people in the world. This is a good example of the idea how every person represents a type of people that we might live by, and once we learn to live in peace with that person then you are able to live in peace and concord with all people. And we see that in John we have this existential presentation both of sin and righteousness for these characters.

Let us examine a few examples. John 3:1, we hear that a Pharisee a ruler of the Jews comes to Christ. And that once John sets him as a paradigm, represents a type of attitude to Christ faith that doesn’t have roots. And he switches dialogue into plural. Begins to speak on behalf of certain groups, and if you look at verse two, “Rabbi, you know that you come from God”. Immediately Christ also switches into plural, in verse 11. He says: “I say to you, we know… You don’t receive our witness”. Why would Christ speak in plural?  Well, I think John wants us to see in every person and example, paradigm, a type.  And indeed, we see how John moves from particular individual dialogue into universal, it becomes parabolic in its character. In fact in itself this dialogue becomes a parable.

By the end of the discourse, their meeting becomes a microcosm of encounter between Jesus and the world, the universal truth is exposed, man is born by water and spirit. Towards the end of the dialogue, we see how he moves to these universal themes. He speaks about condemnation, and the light that has come to the world, it of darkness rather than light, takes off on this universal domain. One of the authors called his commentary on John, ”the maverick gospel”. He says, John like an eagle takes off from the ground, and then he sores in heaven on this pan-universal scale.

Yes, Nicodemus, provides us an interesting example, paradigm. He is rather confused about Christ. Perhaps his faith is not strong enough that he can follow Christ. Perhaps many people would find familiar these same kind of spiritual problems. Nicodemus is mentioned again in chapter 7. Remember he’s the one that tried to defend Christ against the Jews - he said, “does our law judge the man before it hears him and knows what he does?” And indeed, out of reverence Nicodemus comes to Christ’s tomb at the end of the Gospel, chapter 19: “… And he brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, to anoint Christ”. But John gives us a very profound psychological analysis of what really happened to Nicodemus, why he followed Christ. John in chapter 12 after he speaks about Pharisees, he says: “out of the rulers many did believe in him because of the Pharisees they did not confess Leicester should be put out of the synagogue, for they love the glory of man more than the glory of God.” So Nicodemus is given to us as an example of one who was afraid to follow Christ. Many of the rulers out of fear, didn’t confess Christ because they were afraid to be put out the synagogue. Does this phrase remind you of anything from the synoptic gospels? There was a rich man who could not follow Christ because of his treasures on earth. But of course, the parable of the sower, this world, the temptations, and riches of this world, that is the faith that has no roots. This is not the seed that fell on stony ground it had no deep roots. And what we have here is a similar teaching, that Christ gives us in Nicodemus, but it is like a parable in the synoptic gospels. This is the same message, but in a different form, communicated to us in this language of hypostatic paradigms. So the message of the hypostatic parables in John’s Gospel and the message in the Synoptics is the same.

Let us see how the same principle works in other characters. The very next chapter, chapter 4 where Christ meets the Samaritan woman. Again, we have this leap from individual particular to representative in the broader spectrum. Again, a change from singular into plural. Remember Christ begins his dialogue with the Samaritan woman, and then he addresses her in singular but later by verse 22 he begins to speak in plural: “you worship, what you do not know…” We see again, Christ switches into this plural. So in essence, she becomes a representative a certain group of people, the Samaritans. Another dynamic portrait, a hypostatic paradigm, another person who came to believe in Christ. It had she come to believe? And many of Christ’s teachings according to the synoptic gospel, reveals itself in a different way, the Christ talking about marriage et cetera. He discusses, the question of marriage with the Samaritan woman, and he says to her: “five men that you are with…” Because Christ speaks against adultery here. He is teaching here about how to pray, “worship of God in spirit and in truth”. In one way or another, all the synoptic messages and teachings, are to be found also in the Gospel of John, but through a different style of writing.

Why did Christ speak in parables?

And why does John, speak in this way using hypostatic paradigms? Why doesn’t he want to give us the direct commandment of Christ? Such as, do this or do that. Why this Christ speaking parables? Why does John use the same language, parabolic language, for this hypostatic paradigms? Why do you think this is the case? If we compare, the language of Christ, the way he gives his commandments, his teachings, with that of the old Testament you will find that he doesn’t use imperative very often. Occasionally he does, been the old Testament commandments, they always use imperative is: “thou shall not”. But English poet W.H. Auden once said, “you can’t tell people what to do, you can tell them a parable”. And this is very much what Christ employs when he speaks in parables. Because as I said earlier we’re dealing in the New Testament with the spiritual history of mankind, of the human person. Person whose freedom, God is eager to preserve. That is why he doesn’t impose himself, but he represents truth in this parabolic language. So that person, is free to make a choice on whether or not to follow Christ. And this is perhaps why we can translate “I speaking parables, so seeing they have the opportunity not to see, and hearing they have an opportunity not to hear.” That is why Christ speaks in parables. He leaves us to be free. The same goes with hypostatic language, and paradigms, in John’s Gospel. We are left free to decide for ourselves who we can associate ourselves with in the Gospel. The beloved disciple, perhaps Judas, perhaps Mary Magdalen, and this is how this language of paradigms works.

Q&A. There is a book by Jonah he actually mentions that, if Christ did wish to communicate this idea of deliberately blinding people he would have used the Isaiah quotation in full, but he did not. In Isaiah there is some very strong language where God wishes for this people to be blinded. But Christ omits the most important part of that quotation.

Man is a fact for God himself. Once you remove human freedom, you no longer have human beings. That is why there was a restoration of the fallen Adam into this freedom. This freedom that Christ brought to mankind, which lets humans be free. This gives them the choice of whether they wish to follow Christ not, it is a personal choice which God does not want to interfere with. And this is a choice that we make in the very depths of our heart. And the language that is employed by St Peter afterwards, it is the same language of non-coercion. He says: “I am going fishing” and the apostles replied: “we will go with you”. He did not impose, “we shall all go fishing”. This is the basis of our orthodox ecclesiology. Like Komakhov (?) wrote, “Christ bequeathed his truth, not to power, but to love”. Instead of legal authority we would possibly find perhaps in some other confessions, a legalistic understanding of authority. In the orthodox understanding of authority, this an authority of love above all not of power. And we venerate Christ, not for his power but for his love.

The Paradigm of Peter

We read passages where Peter is mentioned. And we can think what the evangelists wishes to communicate to us. If we considered the whole spiritual career of Peter, was following Christ from the beginning to the end, even to the point of his death. And in fact Christ did mention, that he predicted that Peter would suffer martyrdom as Christ did. And Peter is given to us as an example of a follower of Christ, as he has his own witnesses but nevertheless he follows Christ to the end. And indeed, Peter experienced his own Golgotha, and his own crucifixion. What actually happened to him, if we begin to analyse the situation in human terms and you went to Jerusalem with Christ. And in the Last Supper he said: “I will never betray you, I would die if it was necessary”. And after a few days he betrays him, it was a real personal tragedy when he realised what he had done. He felt a real cheapness about his personhood, that he betrayed eternal God that Peter himself had witnessed the Transfiguration with his own eyes. And if you take the attestation further, he was the oldest of the apostles, how embarrassing it was for him to set such example, he was in a state of nothingness, ultimate.

Father Sophrony said: “just imagine as pre-eternal God to have all this universal mission laid upon you, that is what happened later after the resurrection, but Peter felt such unworthiness, he said, “I will go fishing, I will do what I did at the beginning before I met Christ. After all this experience with Christ, Peter was broken with his betrayal of Christ so much, that he went back to doing what he was doing before, being fishermen.  This act in self, is a sign of profound spiritual property, humility. He does strange things, when he sees Christ in the boat, he jumps into the water. So have this very complex portrait of a Christian who has his weaknesses, his moments of not knowing what to do when he jumps and see. It is a very lively paradigm.

And there is also that of the beloved disciple. And if you notice the beloved disciple never speaks in the Gospel, he’s always silent, as someone who is always present with Christ.

Opposite of Righteousness

The opposite of righteousness is sin. What is sin? What is sinful? Can you give a definition? The way sin is portrayed in the new Testament, you cannot give a definition. In the same way that you can give a definition of love, cannot give a definition of sin. Sin, has now a personal dimension. In the old Testament, it was is to identify sin because you are doing certain actions to prescribed in the old Testament law the should be doing, if you’re doing this your sin. Sin in the old Testament is defined. But in the new Testament yes, Christ gives a list of the evils like what comes out of your heart (e.g. adultery), but this list of sins is not exhaustive. Can you give a definition of the sin of Judas, for example? What was wrong with what he did? The holy Fathers speak of Judas’s love for money, this perhaps was not the main point. The very fact that he betrayed Christ, was the major sin. He sinned against love. Judas was in a relationship of a follower to Jesus, and he severed that link by betraying him. But if you look at it according to the old Testament, Judas may not have committed any sinful action. He went to the Pharisees, told in the truth he didn’t lie, according to the old Testament he didn’t sin. But according to the new Testament, he sinned. And Judas did not only betray but delivered Christ to the Pharisees.

Sin is also given to us in this way, in the language of this hypostatic paradigm. And of course, there is a moment, where Satan enters Judas’s heart. Father Sophrony said that Judas was scandalised by Christ’s behaviour because remember the moment that he decided to betray him, a woman came to anoint him, and put precious oil and wiped his feet with her hair, and Judas at that moment thought, he receives pleasure from a woman, but he could not see the Christ was accepting her repentance. And this is the moment that Judas decided to betray him. But for Christ at this moment the salvation of this woman was so important. So what I am saying is that it is impossible to provide a definition of sin. Again, there is an infinite category of sin. Just like there is an infinite category of love, and love can be expressed in many forms. It is the same thing with sin, it can be expressed in many forms. In Soviet Russia people would report about their neighbours to authorities and they would think that they were doing nothing special because they were not seeing lies. So there were saying the truth, so what is wrong with the truth? Always in the right to say the truth? But you see according to the New Testament it is a sin which cannot be defined but it is a sin. In fact this personal dimension, people think at times that even if they see nice words but with a heavy heart, people can hurt, depends on the personal dimension. In the Akathist in our hymns to Christ we say: “Hail, now king of the Jews, king of Israel”. And of course, the same words were used by people who mocked him before the crucifixion. We can see that the same words can be understood differently given the different contexts infecting opposite ways.

Another hypostatic paradigm, in the fourth Gospel, other crowds. The concept of the crowd in John’s Gospel, is again, a very flexible and dynamic concept. If crowds are positively disposed towards Christ, find among the crowds his disciples. But in chapter 6, once the crowds turn hostile to Christ, they acquire a technical term “the Jews”. We see this dynamic from crowds to Jews. Bassler (?) Who asserts that the evangelist is not concerned with nationality, or geography, but he’s concerned with the type of attitude towards Christ, people who reject Christ and who do not accept Christ. So juice is not a nationality, but a type of people. This is crucial for our understanding, for political issues these days. Some fathers of the church believes the Gospel was anti-Semitic, but no this is not the case, and I would side with modern scholars that the term “Jew” was based on the type of attitude and behaviour.

Topic 6: The Synoptic Gospels - Eschatology

These notes are assembled after listening to the lecture delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. Disclaimer: Any errors are completely my own as I intertwine the lecture material with my own reflections and additional source material.

Very relevant to Christian life today. There is a preoccupation in some cultures to talk of the end, the contents of the Book of Revelation, for instance. Typically in Russian and Greek cultures.

So what do the gospels say about the end of the world, in eschatology.

How did eschatology emerge?

Jewish Apocalyptic: speaks of the emergence of eschatology, after the Babylonian exile. And the reason why eschatology entered to begin with? If you read from the Old Testament, the law (the Pentateuch), does not say anything about life after death. The Old Testament could provide a manual for you on how to live in this life. Once you die, the belief was you are shut away, from all the blessings of this life. That is why the Torah, is a kind of a manual for well-being in this life.

But once you deal with such issues as suffering, and death, then what? For example, what does the law have to say but what of the Maccabean martyrs? But what's the point, what was the reward for them, in dying for the law, if there was no eternal life? There is no point dying, if there is nothing beyond.

And that is why there was a necessity in Israel to provide theological foundation, for the teaching about life after death. For instance it was God who moved this issue to be number one within the Israelite community, at the time of Christ's coming. Recollect, that the Pharisees would say there is eternal life, and the Sadducees would say there is no eternal life. It was the major issue at the time of Israel. Christ said: "I am the life and the resurrection."

Now there are a few characteristics of apocalyptic literature. First of all it speaks about the history of the world of being entirely under control of divine powers. That God has planned something for mankind, and everything unfolds according to this plan. E.g. the book of Daniel. Secondly you have quite a prominent place, you have heavenly powers actively taking steps to change the course of history. For example, angels, archangels, evil powers. Third apocalyptic literature is characterised by trying to explain why there is so much pain and suffering in this world. And so usually the story goes that this world is ruled by evil powers and that Christ will intervene and make things or write. And after this there will be a time with Christ will reign and there will be a wonderful life, simply.

For only Christians the coming of Christ, was actually the coming of the end of the world. It was the time of the coming of the mighty intervention of God, into human history where God would put things right. As Christopher Dodd wrote: the more we try to penetrate imagination of the first Christians, the more we are driven to think of the coming of Christ, and His resurrection, as a single event. So for early Christians the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was but one significant portion of the end of the world.

But Christ did not come covered in glory. So the church had to adjust to this new situation. Why is there delay and how should we explain this?

Now if we look at Mark's Gospel which is the most apocalyptic, you have this sense of urgency that it is time for you to leave Jerusalem and flee to the mountains and hide from the wrath of God. Mark's Gospel is full of this kind of apocalyptic imagery. You get the sense that this whole books climax is built up to this chapter 13, which is known as the small Markan apocalypse. It is the biggest block of teaching, in the whole gospel, relevant to apocalyptic. Here is where Christ speaks of the suffering coming upon mankind. And when you come to St Luke's Gospel, you will see that this is eschatological tension is somehow diluted. And this is a movement that scholars see in the apocalyptic beliefs of the Church in the first century. Because Jesus didn't return straight away after his resurrection, Church had to rethink its position and beliefs on eschatological events.

That is why this simple futuristic eschatology, that Christ is coming, all has been broken down into various types.

For example, "the kingdom of God is at hand." What does that mean? Where is it? Has it come? Is it coming? Where is it? This is known as inaugurated eschatology. For example, if someone knocks on the door, and he is just behind, just about to enter, I know this is just about to happen. But he is not there yet, but I know he will come in because he just knocked. This is imminent eschatology because it is about to happen. E.g. Gospel of Matthew. The axe is laid to the root of the trees. The axe is there, but not yet cut down the tree. Another type of eschatology is anticipated eschatology. For example, we see in movies that at times, they begin with a scene, and then they present how they got to that scene throughout the whole lifespan. It is like the scene at the beginning is used as the mechanism for which to build up to, throughout the movie. This is how anticipated eschatology built up to the coming of Christ. Christ anticipates what will happen at the end of the world. Remember how in Matthew chapter 8, the demons cried: what do we have to do with you Jesus son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time? That is Jesus came before the time, anticipating what would happen in the future. There is yet another type of eschatology called consistent eschatology. This is when the battle has been won, and the king has overcome the enemy. His authority has been established, and what is left for his army is just to do a mopping up operation (pockets of resistance). What is left is to finish it off in various places. E.g. Gospel of John: 'the prince of the word has been cast out and condemned (ch 16). Christ has already overcome the world'. What is left for the disciples is just to enforce this victory of Christ. And finally, in John's Gospel we have realised eschatology. When eschaton has already arrived, we have already passed from death unto life, the Kingdom of God has already come to power. Now let us consider St Luke's eschatology. We can see that St Luke is concerned to explain why the end is postponed. He speaks to the faithful trying to communicate that Christ's coming is not happening straight away. Luke attempts to tone down this eschatological tension (e.g. Luke 31:8). 'Heed that many will come in my name saying 'I am'... do not go after them'... So Luke clearly warns against this eschatological agiotage. Then in Luke we have these tiny additions in Luke 8 when we can hear the word of God with patience. He shifts slightly from the apocalyptic urgency. He talks about the Christian life, and builds up the importance of Christian ethics. He speaks about repentance, prayer, and persistence in prayer. He says, 'if anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.' Versus, in St Luke's Gospel, take up his cross, "daily". So it becomes a daily reality for us. There is a sense of continuation of life, in regards to his coming/not coming straight away. So again, we are dealing here with certain antinonyms.

So on the one hand all the gospels speak of an imminent coming of Christ, and on the other hand the gospels speak of the delaying of Christ's coming. How can we reconcile these antinomies?

When Christ spoke: 'this generation will not pass away until these things happen?', was it a mistake? How can we interpret these eschatological predictions? Did the church make a mistake? See Matthew 34 'nation against nation... earthquakes... famines, pestilences... beginning of sorrows... you will be afflicted and they will kill you... you will be hated for my names sake... there will be great tribulations... unless those days would be shortened... false prophets... see son of man in clouds of heaven... 'this generation'... so what happened? "This" generation as in 'his' generation. If we consider anticipatory eschatology, all of these events took place in Christ himself. 

If we consider John Meyer's view of Matthian eschatology, EVERYTHING was fulfilled in Christ. And the same goes for synoptic eschatology. And this is present even in the Gospel of John. John 11, 'do not weep your brother shall rise again...' And Martha replied, 'yes, I know he will rise again in the resurrection of the last day', but Christ corrected her view and says 'I am the resurrection and the life'. So we see how Christ tries to speak on the events of the last days being fulfilled in himself. 

So how were things fulfilled?

When Christ was sending his disciples in their first mission, he said 'Behold I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, be wise as serpents and harmless as doves... they shall scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be brought to governors and kings for my sake'... 'Spirit of your father will speak in you, as they will cause you to be put to death'... So we do not know, what his disciples experienced in their first mission, but we trust they experienced persecution already in their first mission. So Christ's prophecies were fulfilled already in his lifetime, in himself.

The cross from a distance (2004), says, that his suffering on the Cross, was the greatest suffering this world would ever know, or will ever be. Indeed who can suffer more than Christ? He suffered all this affliction on the Cross. Interesting parallels, how things were fulfilled in Christ, especially in Mark's gospel. Christ predicts about that day and that hour, 'which no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not the Son but the Father... for you don't know when the time is coming.' One chapter later, he finds his disciplines sleeping... 'the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.' It is exactly what Christ predicts in the preceding chapter- 'lest he comes and finds you sleeping'. The hour does actually come when the disciple is sleeping, but there is more detailed fulfillment in the Gospel of Matthew, in chapter 24 when Christ predicts, prophecies the end of the world, he speaks of great tribulation. And then 2 chapters later (in Greek), 'my soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death'. The affliction and put to death described in chapter 24, is exactly what is fulfilled in chapter 27 (Pilate etc). The sun, and the earthquake etc, are recorded again in 27, in Christ's own death and resurrection.

St Silouan was praying for whole world, for people born before and who are yet to be born. He already lives in their own history, and their own destiny, in his own heart and in his own being.  

What is the difference between Christian prophecy and prophecy that we see in Nostradamus or fortune tellers? Is it the same? No, it is different. In Christian prophecy, in association with mankind, a person lives through these things as all embracing prayer. E.g. When St John the Divine wrote down the Apocalypse, he experienced everything that was written down by virtue of his association through love.

This is why St Silouan said the ultimate goal of monastic life is to achieve this prayerful state for the whole world. A man prays for the whole Adam, for the whole of mankind as for himself. In the liturgy we celebrate the second coming of Christ as if it has already taken place. Isn't it a glimpse of this hypostatic eschatology in our Scripture.

Another example of hypostatic eschatology (when we associate ourselves with the history of mankind). St Andrew of Crete. 'It's me. I am like this person, I am the one who has done this and that'. 

We have a hypostatic view of history. E.g. in Great Lent why do we sing Psalms 'of all the rivers of Babylon' because we associate ourselves, our life, the history of Israel, we live it in our personal life. Ascetic fathers, in the writing of St John Climacus, they like to interpret our personal life as in the history of Israel. 

The highest virtue of Christian life is prayer for the whole world. 

So when we look at the Epistles, of Peter and John, and they discuss the last times, what do they mean? E.g. 'the last hours'... Do they speak about imminent coming of Christ, or something else into the future? How would you interpret this apocalyptic tension?

And something important to add, is that the last time, began with the Incarnation. Because from that time on, God has given to us the ultimate revelation. There can be no other added to the Gospels. This is God as he is. The eternal reality has broken through, manifested itself in history. There is no other possible revelation.

Fr Sophrony: what is the meaning of such expressions as last times and last age? In the Liturgy of St Chrysostom, granted to us "Thy Kingdom Come", or St Basil the Great "We have seen the image of thy resurrection..." And yet also, by virtue of their immediate communion, the divine hypostastis of the Logos, still living on earth in the spirit is binded already in eternity. For them, as for any man, they learn that time reaches its end. Hence these strange words... their perception of time is different to those of philosophers (Newton or Einstein) or gnostics... TIME is a space that one can move from one end to an another. At the end of these days, will be the ultimate meeting with him that will be without end. 

This is important in understand the different perception of time in the Apostles and the NT as a whole. The ascetic fathers have a notion of the "watchfulness of the soul". And it relates about not the fact that Christ is coming imminently, but the state of the mind. The Christian who is expected to live in the day, and in the time, watchfully, throughout the course of his life. In every moment of every time, Christ can be present.