October 7, 2014

Abba Isaac the Syrian, the "Unjustly Accused" Saint (6 of 7)

6. Abba Isaac on Eternal Life and Eternal Hell

All of the above cacodoxies of the Pseudo-Isaac writings have nothing to do with Abba Isaac and his all around Orthodox teachings.

A) Regarding the Nestorian cacodoxies, despite the best efforts of Alfeyev and those with him, they cannot prove that such delusions exist in the authentic works of the Saint.

B) Regarding the apokatastasis of all, the following must be said:

Abba Isaac expresses God-like love towards all creation and even the demons:

"And what is a merciful heart? It is the heart’s burning for the sake of the entire creation, for men, for birds, for animals, for demons and for every created thing; and by the recollection and sight of them the eyes of a merciful man pour forth abundant tears. From the strong and vehement mercy which grips his heart and from his great compassion, his heart is humbled and he cannot bear to hear or see any injury or slight sorrow in creation. For this reason he continually offers up tearful prayer, even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth and for those who harm him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner he even prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns in his heart without measure in the likeness of God."

But this love does not invalidate the teachings of the Gospel, which reaffirms our Abba:

"Scripture has not taught us the existence of three realms, but, 'When the Son of Man shall come in His glory, He shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.' He did not speak of three orders, but two: one on the right and one on the left. And he definitely separated the distinctions of their dwelling places, saying, 'The righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father, but sinners shall depart into everlasting fire.' And again, 'Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven. But the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into the outer darkness; there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth,' a thing more dreadful than any fire."

Pseudo-Isaac, who was an unillumined Nestorian, justifies the delusion regarding the apokatastasis of all by speaking of the love of God and asking:

"Who can say or imagine that the love of the Creator is not greater than Gehenna?"

Our most sweet Abba responds:

"It would be improper for a man to think that sinners in Gehenna are deprived of the love of God."

The love of God is not absent even in hell because uncreated energy is available to all. Hell is nothing but the steadfast refusal of the love offered. For believers this love becomes light, but it becomes fire for the damned. Here is how the blessed Venerable Isaac puts it:

"I also maintain that those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love. For what is so bitter and vehement as the punishment of love? I mean that those who have become conscious that they have sinned against love suffer greater torment from this than from any fear of punishment. For the sorrow caused in the heart by sin against love is sharper than any torment that can be. It would be improper for a man to think that sinners in Gehenna are deprived of the love of God. Love is the offspring of knowledge of the truth which, as is commonly confessed, is given to all. The power of love works in two ways: it torments those who have played the fool, even as happens here when a friend suffers from a friend; but it becomes a source of joy for those who have observed its duties. Thus I say that this is the torment of Gehenna: bitter regret. But love inebriates the souls of the sons of Heaven by its delectability."

So one understands that hell is not a punishment from God, but a consequence of human choices. And God respects this and does not try to violently overthrow it, as Origenists maintain, together with Pseudo-Isaac, who eliminate the freedom of man.

7. The Purpose of the Book of Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev

However, Bishop Hilarion, the author of the book The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian, does not feel the need to justify the pseudo-saint for his delusions. He identifies him with Saint Isaac and believes that the Saint holds such cacodoxical views because he supposedly belonged to the Nestorian "Church of the East". This "Church", according to Alfeyev, in essence is not Nestorian although it "continues to commemorate Theodore and Diodorus even after the anathemas by Byzantium"; it "includes the name of Nestorius in its diptychs"; it "follows the theological and christological thought that is closer to that of Nestorius". We are talking about theological hilarities in no need of comments!

But the author neither has a problem with the Jacobite Church, which "is called 'Monophysite' by its theological opponents, and the Church of the East is Nestorian according to its enemies"! All these are Churches! The difference is that on one end we have the "Greek-speaking Byzantine tradition", and on the other the "East-Syriac tradition" and "West-Syriac tradition".

Thus Bishop Hilarion:

* creates confusion and sows doubts about the uniqueness and the truth of the Orthodox Church.

* raises doubts about the truths expressed by the Ecumenical Synods.

* puts, unjustifiably, in the mouth of the Saint blasphemous cacodoxies and undermines the trust of the faithful in his teachings and holiness.

* and finally, he classifies Saint Isaac among the Nestorians, he does him an injustice, he extinguishes his Orthodoxy, and he alters the basic faith of the Church that a Saint is only one who is divinized and only those are divinized who are in communion with the Orthodox Church.

The ultimate purpose of the book is to promote an ecumenical perspective since, as he says, "word of Saint Isaac has crossed not only the boundaries of time, but also confessional barriers... In our day his writings continue to draw the attention of Christians who belong to various traditions but share a common faith in Jesus and are engaged in the quest of salvation."

This of course is half the truth. Indeed the heterodox seek salvation, but they are not given a share of the salvific faith of Saint Isaac and the Orthodox Church to which he belonged.

So I wonder:

* How do some nominal Orthodox dare disrespect the "God-bearing philosopher", according to the Holy Fathers, Abba Isaac, and denigrate his venerable person, slander his holiness and distort his divinely-inspired writings?

* Since we are unworthy to even untie his shoes, having not tasted of his heavenly experience, why do we not fasten ourselves to the edge of his garments to have him as our warmest intercessor before Christ?

* And if we don't even have the disposition to do this, why do we impart scandals on behalf of the Orthodox and impediments on the path of the heterodox who are attracted to Orthodox teachings and seek to enter the One, Holy, Catholic and Orthodox Church?

* Should not the loved by all Saint Isaac remain a pointer to Orthodoxy, a key to open the hearts of our brethren wasting away in the heresy of the delusions of the West? Should he not be a call to Orthodox baptism which is the beginning of salvation and Orthodox asceticism in Christ?

Abba Isaac writes:

"For, behold, baptism forgives freely and requires nothing save faith. By repentance after baptism, however, God does not forgive sins freely. He demands labors, afflictions, sorrows of contrition, tears and weeping over a long period of time, and only then does He bestow remission."

* Lastly, should not the Saint be a living proof that without the Orthodox faith and baptism no one can taste something of the sweet teachings of the Saint, nor can they understand it correctly?

8. Elder Paisios and the Injustice Towards the Person of the Saint

It is written in the life of Elder Paisios that once he heard these slanders against Saint Isaac that he was a Nestorian. With much sadness he prayed and received information from above that the Saint was Orthodox. After this he wrote in his Menaion under January 28th, when Saint Ephraim the Syrian is celebrated, the following: "...and Isaac the great hesychast and much unjustly accused."

However, the injustice done to Saint Isaac by the book of Alfeyev and other similar books and publications, in essence are an injustice done not only to certain Orthodox who view the Saint with suspicion and are deprived of the benefit of his authentic teachings and intercessions, but also to the heterodox who see him as a wise Christian teacher with very good advice, but not as a wondrous Orthodox and ecclesiastical teacher of the life in Christ. With respect in regards the Saint himself, he does not lack any uncreated glory which surrounds the Lord in His kingdom.

9 . Confidence in Sacred Tradition

After all that has been said it is clear that we should always have confidence in the experience of the Church, which is received through the Holy Fathers and delivers to us the lives and teachings of the Saints and God-bearing Fathers. In this case, the Church has given us the divinely-illumined Abba Isaac in Greek translation, texts that are most Orthodox, exuding grace and consolation. If we do not have confidence in the Sacred Tradition of our Church we will always be confused like "infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching" (Eph. 4:14) from the atheists and the rationalist Frankish theologians, who devoid of divine grace thirst and investigate without results.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

First published in Εφημερ. «Ορθόδοξος Τύπος», ἀριθ. 1659/6.10.2006, σελ. 1 καὶ 2· ἀριθ. 1660/13.10.2006, σελ. 1· ἀριθ. 1661/20.10.2006, σελ. 1 καὶ 2· ἀριθ. 1662/27.10.2006, σελ. 1 καὶ 2.