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On the Ills of Scholastic Theologians : Elder Photios of Mysia

The musings of academic, so-called theologians, tire me, for they speak to the mind but not to the entire being of the human person. One wonders whether they have constructed a new tower of Babel, for they are excited by the different elucidations of the Faith and its spiritual life that have occurred throughout the ages, as if they were the formations of ideas and philosophical concepts.

They become protective and overbearing of their writings as if their articulations were actually their own inspiration and innovation that are “revolutionising” our Faith.

Accursed sufferers of false deception, I spit on the arrogance of your pride and the unmitigated audacity by which you all put yourselves forward as teachers of the Faith, and yet you are all blind to the fact that you merely speculate upon the functions of the spiritual nerves of human ontology and what the Lord has deemed proper to reveal.

Stop building for yourselves towers of vainglory upon sand, for it will not stand when the waves of the sea lash upon them, for you all will crumble like those towers. You must live your calling, and that will differ from person to person, but the purpose remains the same, and the objectives that help us to attain them, is the same.

Yet knowing your perverted pride, seek to test me as to what our aim is and by what objectives it is attained. Thus I will answer before you even ask! Our aim is to become citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven and dwell amongst the firstborn of the Heavenly Jerusalem which are the angels. Alternatively put, as St. Basil the Great would call it, it is our journey from image of God towards likeness of God, so that we can be united to God and in perfect communion with the rest of His creation, and partake within the divine life of God’s eternal love, and not experience that light of love as an all consuming fire for those who have not prepared themselves to receive it.

For such, the presence of God will be their eternal Hell, because like weak eyes that stare at the sun and cannot withstand its power, so too will these who spurn their reason of being towards union with God, and will be forced to take cover from God’s glory and remain far from Him in darkness, emptiness and loneliness. They will try to draw near the Almighty One, but each time they will draw near it will be a torment, while enduring eternal thirst and hunger that cannot be quenched.

Not as erroneously as many of you under the influence of Frankish (Western) heresies believe, that Paradise is some physical place in the skies, or that Hell is beneath our feet with demons dancing around with cauldrons of boiling oil torturing the evil. Heaven and Hell are not physical places, but states of existence before the presence of the All-Merciful Holy Trinity. The Scriptures and our Church Fathers utilised poetic license to express these realities to the laity. The anthropomorphical and physical references express symbolisms, deeper meanings, eternal realities that we have a perception of, but do not know exhaustively since they ultimately remain as mysteries within God. Our Church Fathers seeking to discern the Faith as best they could, according to the will of Divine Grace, quantified and qualified what we as humans can safely know with regards to salvation.

And do not fool yourselves with Frankish or Hagarene (Muslim) innovations, because even within Divine Providence, Hell is also a state of salvation. Yet it is the lowest, most painful and torturous form of salvation since one dwells far from God, since one is unable and incapable of approaching the Almighty without being penetrated by the Divine Light of Divine Agape, and burning from it, while remaining cold due to the inability to reciprocate or respond in a like manner. You may question this point further, but consider that the Lord created the universe out of nothing, if He really wanted to destroy us He could condemn us by returning us back to nothing. Thus even when we have not accepted His love and established a relationship with Him, He does not turn us away, but allows even those who are spiteful amongst us to dwell at a distance from Him and not be returned to nothingness. Therefore, Paradise begins here, and if you do not come to know it here, or to cultivate its fruit, you will neither know it in any lifetime or in any place or even after death.

The faithful of Thrace often reinforce this point when they recite this lovely folkloric saying:

Do you have to write poetry in order to be a poet?

Or to know the names of the notes in order to be a musician?

Or to be pious in order to get to Paradise?

This is paradise, right here, for anyone who has the eyes to see it.

And if you don’t, then you’re not going to know any Paradise, either on earth or in Heaven!

As for the objectives by which we arrive at our point of reference, it can simply be surmised by the cultivation of purity of heart, from which all other things come forth. Did not our Lord say that it is not what goes into a man that defiles him, albeit he is not a cannibal of course! However, my humour aside, the Lord cited that it is what comes out of a person, which reveals to some degree what dwells within their heart and soul. He also said that the eye is the lamp of the body which is a window into the soul, and if we do not perceive with positive or clear and sound intentions then we will not function in a proper or effective way towards ourselves, our neighbour or God.

You may extol to me the wonders and necessity of prayer, but I tell you that prayer is but one means which helps cultivate the heart of purity, while fasting seeks to help to cultivate self-discipline. The two together help focus our attentions and dedicate our time and effort towards the Almighty. Charitable works, often called by clergy and laity alike, as works of mercy, are the expressions of our faith and dedication. Yet all three elements reinforce each other, as well as reinforce our own personal faith, hope and love, and thus deepening the experiences of each. As a consequence we are brought closer through this wisdom to that highly desired theoria (vision of God) that we seek in order to be sustained upon our journey. Then we continue on and delve deeper into the journey of the mystery of God, and within the illumined darkness of this mystery, to be transformed from image of God towards likeness of God which St John of Damascus called omoiosis.

Yet let me remind you that prayer is the tool and means of communication within an eternal dialogue with our Creator, however, without purity of heart it is an incomprehensible language! And that this dialogue begins from the time of our conception and continues on well after the process of metastasis (transition of one mode of existence into another, usually a reference to biological death). Therefore you must learn this language so that you may communicate with God and to listen to Him, for on earth we may speak many different languages which we can learn over a lifetime, but prayer is the language of Heaven and can take many lifetimes to learn, hence in our limited human efforts we try to learn it like a child who learns the alphabet.

Furthermore prayer is a means of building bridges between God and creation, since we, as the stewards of creation have been entrusted with the task of speaking on creation’s behalf. We thus serve as the link between the celestial realm and the physical and material world, and even though humanity may have failed at this on numerous occasions, the Almighty sent His Son to show us along the path as to how we can recover our direction and our compass point. Why do you think that in many churches, which are tabernacles of the presence of Heaven upon earth, we depict the Saints upon the walls which link the floor and the ceiling? Does not the floor with its earthy colours represent the earth on which we walk upon everyday of our lives? Is not the ceiling often coloured blue interspersed with symbolic cosmic and Trinitarian motifs represent the celestial heavens? Are we not stating something very important by this?

The Saints were people like me or you, who endured their own hardships and the struggles which God allowed them to contend with. As a result we have people of many different socio-economic, political and cultural backgrounds throughout differing times of human history which indicates firstly that the paths towards God are many within the Church.

Furthermore, that there is no discrimination towards anyone willing to take up their cross to follow this journey of self-discovery and union with one’s own Maker. It is not constrained by our concepts of time, civilisation or education, but is determined by a person’s sincerity and love to remain open to the workings of God through them. That is why they stand alongside of us when we pray within the liturgical services of the Church, for even though we may differ from them in terms of lifestyle, profession or in time, we are all present together in prayer, both the living and those who have made it towards the Kingdom of Heaven. For the Saints shine out like beacons of grace, setting forth their own failings and victories, as examples to exhort us towards the struggle. Thus we strive to emulate their virtues and avoid their vices, and become the physical link between Heaven and earth.

Yet I should also cite that prayer is our spiritual nerves whose mind is linked to God. Therefore I ask you, can a head function without a body, or a body without a head? It would be pretty useless having one without the other, as St Paul in his letter to the Ephesians cites when speaking of marriage. Hence within ourselves we already have this link between the two realms of existence in place, the potentiality is there, but the question is are we ready to follow through?

Therefore what good is all the knowledge or education in the world, if it cannot transform you to function in line with this inherent principle (logos) within you? What good is it if you cannot function as a true and genuine human being and relate to others as such? Are you any different from others? What have you really discovered, is it truly something new, or have you merely stumbled upon God’s fingerprints within our existing creation which are patterns that He designed and only revealed for a specific purpose?

Do not be so arrogant, even the peasants who you ridicule have more sense and modesty to recognise these things! It would be better if the fleas of a thousand camels infested your armpits than corrupting the souls of the faithful in your lust for acknowledgement! Are you that deprived of love and acknowledgement? Where does this empty feeling deep within you come from? Ask yourselves, because if I tell you, you either will not understand or you would argue with me.

Then I would pose to you the question, do things always have to make logical sense for them to be real or true? Consider the different examples which exist in real life and the universe around us. Furthermore, if a person due to some sort of illness loses their ability to reason and the gift of logic, do they cease being a person, or for that matter existing? Even if we discovered the reasons behind things we do not understand, how will we benefit as people or what will it change? For what purpose do you seek to know things, is your intent to shower yourself with vainglory, or is it for self-gain or to do harm against others?

From an Orthodox standpoint, will you become a better and godlike person, because there is much knowledge in the world but very little of it is profitable to our lives or the attainment of salvation, if anything, it is often used to oppress other people. Therefore our calling conditions us to be very circumspect and eclectic in what we utilise, and forces us to try and go out of our comfort zone to experience all things on numerous different levels and not purely on a rational, logical or scholastic basis. For to write or to talk, does no justice to the wonders of God’s creation or the mystery of His presence. Remember, what is natural to God, is a mysterious paradox to humanity.

Nevertheless knowing your ilk, I will tell you to go on and continue to hide behind your writings and the Crucifix! But remember one thing, neither the people, nor God, are blind to see that you are not one of the brethren! For even a chamber-pot has more substance and value, for its contents enriches the fertility of the land! Whereas your lot engage in your own personal apotheosis, while the nation haemorrhages under the foot of tyranny awaiting for you to lead them out of this misery. It is only by virtue of God’s mercy and your comfortable connections with the hierarchy, who is as ignorant as you, that you have not been expelled from the service of the Church.

Do not fool yourselves thinking that I am some illiterate peasant on whom you can heap scorn upon and play your intellectual games with, nor am I some so-called obscure or crazy elderly monk who has never gone beyond his own village and experienced the world beyond. Not that such monks are not blessed by God, but it is your own prejudices at play within your minds, believing it is your right to talk down to me due to your “education” and your “good standing” with the hierarchy. A standing which I should mention is based on self-interest to attain priesthood or recognition with titles and honours, as well as being seen as writers and apologists of the Church.

Thus I ask again, are you that deprived of love, attention or recognition, where does this internal emptiness come from? Think about it carefully.

As for myself I can only pity your stupidities and scoff at your arrogance, because if it were not for men like myself who the Lord knows sacrificed our lives in hard work to give your generation what we were deprived of, particularly the chance to learn about the Faith. Blood, sweat and tears were endured to provide ingrates like yourselves to receive an education, and here your lot are utilising that freely bestowed gift, to shower yourselves in personal glory and to become known as a great author or scholar as if that was an end in itself.

If you wish to compare honours, let me oblige you by citing that I am not who you perceive me to be. I am not truly a monk, but the former Metropolitan of Prusa (Bursa), who was deposed of on the basis of political expediency by the Turkish authorities, and not on ecclesial or canonical grounds. According to the holy canons I am still a canonical hierarch, but wishing to avoid causing troubles or scandals I remain here as a recluse following the angelic path of salvation, and if you do not believe me go to the patriarchate and make your enquiries there for they will affirm what I have said. Many within the City (Istanbul) know of me and why I am here and choose to remain here.

Furthermore, unlike many of you, I have lived and worked abroad, dwelling like a slave and treated without respect but with hostility and contempt. The monies that I had earned were sent back to my parents and to our community to build the schools in which you were educated in. I was also married and had children, and I struggled like the rest of our brethren, to raise and protect them, only to see my wife succumb to illness and my children to be killed by Hagarenes.

So do not come to me with your insolence, telling me about what our Faith is, because like the rest of the brethren, I have lived it, and continue to live it, which is one of the key points that many of you have missed. Therefore, I reiterate the point to you, of what gain shall it be to you if you know all the knowledge in the world, and yet have not learnt to be a true human being capable of sincerely relating to all peoples. Irrespective of whether a person is high born or low born, whether they differ from you in faith, and to seriously appreciate each person’s contribution to human culture and society as well as their offer of friendship. This is what we Orthodox are called to do, but of course to never compromise the dogmas of our Faith or our witness to the world. Amen.

Translated by V.M. and dedicated to the hardworking and tireless Faculty of St. Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College in Sydney.

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