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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Apologetic Methods of Elder Epiphanios Theodoropoulos

Elder Epiphanios Theodoropoulos (Reposed on November 10, 1989)

Apologetic Method

- "When you write, my child, do not present all your arguments at first. Keep a few in reserve, so that, if there is someone who answers, you can implement the golden 'law of reserves'. Thus, you support your positions better."


Religious Seekers

- Once, a lawyer who met the Elder for the first time asked him about reincarnation. Father Epiphanios answered him. After a lengthy period of discussion, the lawyer insisted on continuing on the same subject. So the Elder said to him:

"All right, but don't you pity your time dealing with these things?"

"Is it evil, Father?"

"No, my little child, it is not evil in the sense that you are researching a topic, but you are wasting your time in vain."

"I like searching."

"How old are you?"

"About forty."

"So, you are forty years old and you are still searching? And when will you settle? And after you settle, will you then have years before you in which to regulate your life in accordance with your settled convictions? Life is very short and leaves quickly! You can't make the search the aim of your life. You must, of course, settle somewhere."

"Father, I don't accept the approach 'believe and don't research'."

"But I am not telling you not to research. I am simply telling you that sometime you have to settle somewhere. You are already late."

After a little while, the lawyer departed and the Elder commented:

"Do you know what it is for your tongue to have dried up from thirst, to have a little spring next to you and yet not approach it to be refreshed, but instead settle for swampy waters? Do you know what it is to tremble from the cold, for the fire to be next to you and for you not to extend your hands to get warm? Miserable people!"


Atheism and Skepticism

- For an excellent dialogue the Elder had with an atheist, please read here.

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- "Sin is that which prevents us from believing. Not logic. For this reason, if you tell an unbeliever to live for six months according to the ethics of the Gospel, and he does it, he will become a believer without even realizing it."

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- "'God does not exist' is usually said by people who are lewd and unethical. There has not been found nor will there be found an ethical, continent, virtuous, etc. man who will rather easily say: 'God does not exist!'"

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- Once, Father mentioned the following anecdote:

A certain scholar, after quite a bit of argumentation to prove that God does not exist, said:

"If God exists, let him kill me this instant!"

And because, of course, nothing happened, he continued:

"You see? If He existed He would have killed me."

Then, an elderly lady told him:

"Do you have children?"

"Yes", he answered.

"How many?"

"Three."

"Are they well behaved?"

"Well, not all of them...the two listen to me, but the third...."

"In other words?" asked the lady.

"Well", said the scholar, "he talks back to me, he doesn't listen to what I tell him, he acts wayward...."

"Well then, you should kill him!" the lady told him.

"My child?" the scholar said, amazed.

"Oh, so if you don't want to kill your child, how then do you imagine God would kill you, Who loves you incomparably more than you love your child?"

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- Once, a certain father (who was strongly materialistic) of one of the Elder's spiritual children visited him to complain that he was exerting an "unacceptable" influence upοn his son. At one moment, furthermore, he said, smiling mock­ingly at the Elder:

"And don't tell me, Father Epiphanios, that you, such a smart man, believe the things about Christ, Paradise, Hell, etc."

Then, the Elder got up automatically, set his politeness and meekness aside and, with a loud voice, told him:

"Listen, Mister! If Ι did not believe all these things, Ι would prefer to be selling lemons at Omonia Square, rather than to be fooling you! Ι would prefer to be a completely illiterate la­borer, rather than a lettered liar!"

After this, the visitor departed with his head bowed . . . .

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- Once, the Elder visited a certain spiritual child of his who was ill. There were also some other visitors, among whom was also a certain atheist doctor. After a little while, the conversation turned to religious topics and lasted quite a while. Ιn the end, the Elder addressed the doctor:

"Μy doctor, despite your objections, Ι discern in the depth of your soul a good will and disposition. Without being a prophet, Ι believe that God will not leave you. Ι would like to submit to you one request. Would it be diffi­cult, once a day, to say the following small expression: 'God, if you exist, come to find me.' Ι think it will not cost you anything nor does it clash with your conscience."

He accepted.

Α few months later, the doctor diagnosed in himself neo­plasm of the bones, in other words: cancer. He departed abroad. There, the doctors advised him to return to Greece, because it was a rapidly spreading form of cancer and he was quickly approaching his end.

Before taking the return road home, he asked to confess and commune. He died in repentance a little while after his return to Greece.


Critics of Christianity

- Once, when he was studying in the School of Theology, his fellow students sought him out to help them in a dialogue which they had opened with students of another school during a certain break. As soon as Eteoklis (the later Father Epiphanios) arrived at the place of discussion, a handicapped student happened to be accusing Christianity of being useless. Eteoklis presented a multitude of arguments, but the student would not retreat for anything. So finally Eteoklis told him:

"Don't continue because you will put me in a difficult position. I specialize in this subject."

The student insisted. And Eteoklis continued:

"Especially to you, Christianity has offered life itself! If Christianity did not exist, you being handicapped, would have been thrown into some Kaiada! [Note: a pit or underground cavern where corpses were thrown in ancient times.]

And the conversation ended.

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- "For all the foolishness to be refuted, which is written against Christianity, the mountains would have to be minds, the trees to be pen holders, the sea to be ink, and the fields, paper!"

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- "Many people write as they smoke and smoke as they write and write whatever the smoke blows."


Miracles

- Once he was asked:

"Elder, have you ever seen a vision?"

"No, my child. Nor do I wish to see any. The only thing I want to see are my sins."

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- A strange, religious person once asked the Elder:

"Father, have you seen miracles in your life?"

And the Elder replied:

"Miracles? Nothing but!"

Curious and with intense interest, he then asked him:

"Will you relate to me the greatest miracle you have ever seen?"

"The greatest miracle which I have seen is that God came to earth to save me, the most sinful of people."

The curious man, frustrated, said:

"Is that all you have to tell me?"

And the Elder answered:

"But is there, my dear child, a greater miracle than that?"

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- On account of all those who have difficulties with the matter of the Lord's miracles, Father stressed: "When someone accepts the Resurrection of Christ - in other words, that Christ is God - then he can easily explain all the miracles."

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- "With miracles, the Lord does not give a certificate of correctness of people's faith. He does them out of love for His creatures."


Heresy

- Once he was asked:

"Elder, it is known that peace reigns only in the soul of the people of God. However, the Evangelicals also maintain that they feel a permanent calmness in their hearts. How is it possible for this to occur, since they are in delusion?"

And he responded:

"In the villages, my child, when the villagers wish to tie their donkey for grazing, it is not necessary to tie it by all four feet. It suffices to tie it by one.

"The devil does the same thing with the Evangelicals. Since he has tied them by the foot of heresy, he does not attack them with other temptations. Thus, it is explained why they feel peace, as they maintain. However, this peace is superficial and temporal."

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- The Protestants maintain that, in the Sacrament of the Divine Eucharist, we don't have the actual Body and Blood of our Lord, but that it is a simple remembrance of the Sacrifice of His Crucifixion.

The Elder responded to this:

"As we know, the Body of the Lord upon the Cross not only was not broken up into small pieces, but not even a bone of His was broken. So, how then does the Lord, during the imparting of the Sacrament of the Divine Eucharist, say: 'Take, eat, this is my Body, which is broken' (1 Cor. 11:24). If it were merely a simple remembrance, he would not have said 'which is klomenon' - that is, 'broken into small pieces', because such a thing had not occurred in the crucifixion for them to remember it."


Ecclesiastical Issues

- He was asked:

"Why, in the area of the Church, are improprieties and injustices committed and why can we not find perfection even in the people who are most dedicated to God?"

Responding he said:

"So that we do not base ourselves on persons and things which are related to the earth, and so we can turn our thought constantly to God and toward heaven which is our permanent homeland."


The Problem of Evil

- "Elder, why does God allow righteous and virtuous people to suffer from dreadful illness?"

"In order to be cleansed even from the least traces of their passions and to gain a greater crown in heaven. Furthermore, since He allowed His beloved Son to suffer and to die upon the Cross, what can we say for the people, who, no matter how holy they are, have filth and spots from sins?"

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- "Elder, how does the goodness of God reconcile with the existence of Hell?"

"We must not consider Hell as an expression of the punishing disposition of God. Hell means his complete absence. And, as such, it is a result of our free choice. When someone tells God: 'Depart from me, I do not wish to know your ways' (Job 21:14), then He also, even though All-Good, does not save him by force. Being just, He lets him enjoy his choice - that is, Hell, just as He offers the delight of Paradise to the saint. We choose the place of our eternal dwelling place and God, being just, simply co-signs our choice. In a few words: The justice of God is not exhausted in the selections of our choice."


Children's Questions

- A small child asked him:

"Elder, where was I before I was born?"

"In God's mind, my child."


Science

- "Natural sciences in essence describe and certify. They don't explain."

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- The Elder said: "Professor Louvaris formulated in a first form the following argument, whose strength Ι have experienced in conversations: Marxists proclaim that there exists nothing beyond matter, and natural laws govern everything. However, nature knows οnly the law of strength (survival). The laws of love, compassion and justice are unknown to it. Based οn this logic, the fate of the lamb is for the wolf to eat it and for the rich person to oppress the poor person without ethical respon­sibility. Οnly the acceptance of ethical laws, after the rejection of materialism, can justify the demand for social justice."


Bible Difficulties

- One night, the Elder was returning on foot from the Three Hierarchs Church, accompanied by a certain spiritual child of his, who, utilizing the opportunity, posed different biblical questions to him. So he asked the Elder at one point:

"Elder, how do we say 'Moses signed the Cross' since, in the text of the Old Testament, it is not written that he made the sign of the cross?"

They were then at Saint Constantine Street, waiting for the light to change so they could go across. So, the Elder responded:

"This is concluded if we think of what motions Moses did to achieve a passage way through the Red Sea. If we suppose that Saint Constantine Street is the Red Sea, then for it to be interrupted, the motion of the rod must be vertical toward the road. When we go across - that is, we pass through the 'Red Sea' - in order for the waters to again unite, the motion of the rod must be parallel with the road. Thus, however, in the air the sign of the Precious Cross is formed with the vertical and the parallel signing toward the road/Red Sea."

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- "Elder, isn't cowardice a sin?"

"Yes, my child."

"Didn't the Lord cower at Gethsemene? Then, how is he sinless?"

"What would the Lord face at Golgotha?"

"Death."

"And what is death, according to the Holy Scripture?"

"The wages of sin."

"Well, what relation did the God-Man have with sin and its wages, death?"

"None, whatsoever!"

"The agony, consequently, of the Lord at Gethsemene was not cowardice as a sin, but disgust and aversion, which he felt as God toward sin and its fruits."

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- When again he was asked why the angel Raphael lied to Tobit when he asked him to tell him who he was, and he answered "I am Azarias of Ananias the great, of your brothers" (Tobit 5:13), the Elder said:

"He did not lie. Very simply, he answered according to appearance. He said, that is, that he is Azarias, because he had taken his form. If Ananias was present at the scene, he would be seeing in front of him his son Azaria. And to give you a parallel example so you can understand it, I tell you the following:

"Say that I have in my office someone who is suffering from color-blindness - that is, he sees red for green and vice versa, and at some point in my library I have next to each other a red and green book and I want him to bring me the green one. If I, despite the fact that I want the green one, tell him: 'I want you to bring me the red one', whereas seemingly I am lying, in reality I am not lying, because only if I tell him red, will he see green, which I really want, and he will bring it to me."

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- Once he related:

"A child of High School age, exceptionally misbehaved, had just returned home after his catechetical lesson. He immediately began with great audacity to make fun of his catechist: 'So you can understand how stupid he is, he was telling us that the ass of Balaam spoke like a man.'

"The grandmother scolded her grandson for his impiety to the Old Testament. Then, the grandson turned to his grandmother and with haughtiness and scorn asked her: 'Do you possibly, grandmother, also believe in these stupidities, that the ass was able to speak like a man?'

"And the grandmother responded: 'Since, my child, you who are a man are able to speak like an ass, why should I not believe that the ass also was able to speak like a man?'"
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