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Prayers for those in Hell
24-08-2007, 01:39 PM,
Quote:It was one reason why I asked whether there were any Coptic commentators we can read on this. I tend to end up reading Fr. Tadros Malaty, whose work I much enjoy and from whom I learn much, but it would be good to have some other Oriental Orthodox commentators.

Dear John,

As Kirk may be able to testify, theosis is replete in Syrian Orthodox theology. From about the 6th century onwards, one finds the term metallhanuta, a passive formation from a verb allah, 'to divinise', which corresponds exactly to the Greek theosis; there are also verbal forms used, active and passive. The term is found in a number of different writers and in Syrian Orthodox liturgical texts as well (especially in the long prose prayers known as Sedre).

H.G. Paulos Mar Gregorios of the Indian Orthodox Church is very heavy on theosis. I have his book Cosmic Man, which is a study and analysis of St Gregory of Nyssa's theology, as well as an evaluation of scholarship's treatment of St Gregory's theology. One key text on theosis from that book is: "The very nature of humanity is to be like God, for that is what it means to be created in the image of God. The more humanity becomes like God, the more it becomes itself. Theosis is anthropesis."

I recently purchased H.H. Aram I's "For a Church Beyond its Walls." This book is primarily concerned with ecumenical and ecclesiological issues, but H.H. nevertheless uses the term theosis when discussing the concept of Grace. H.H. Aram I is, as you may know, the Armenian Orthodox Catholicos of Antelias, and he appears to have very good relations with Pope Shenouda. I am doing everything I can to try and get into contact with him in any way possible, but it seems next to impossible to do so.

With regard to Coptic clergy and theologians:

You may want to consider the following article written by a Coptic priest who, for whatever reason, remains anonymous: <!-- m --><a class="postlink" href=""></a><!-- m -->

As you can see the above work is uploaded on the website of St George Coptic Church in Sydney, which is under the direction of Fr. Matthew Attia. While he was a layman, Fr. Matta Attia wrote a very short and simple work titled "Blessings upon Blessings" which has a short segment on theosis.

HG Bishop Youssef of the Southern Diocese of the United States advocates theosis on the official Southern Diocese website. In his article "Baptism: Crowning Back into the Original Glory", His Grace states:

By adoption, we all become sons of God through the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Through this adoption, we have become everything God is, except for His Divine nature. Retaining our human nature, we can still become members of His family through Grace. The process of growing in the knowledge of the Lord and His Word is called deification. Deification simply means growing in grace; according to what God is by nature. According to the Churchs teachings, to grow in grace one must believe in and be faithful to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Source: <!-- m --><a class="postlink" href=""> ... nal-glory/</a><!-- m -->

In the Q and A section of that website, His Grace responds to a query on theosis:

Theosis or Deification means "union with God" taken from the Greek Theos - God, and the word Enosis - union. Our Lord Jesus Christ asked God the Father "They also may be one in us" (Jn 17:21). He also gave us the command of Theosis "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in Heaven is perfect" (Mt 5:48), our goal in life is to accomplish perfect union with God through the grace of the Holy Spirit. Man was created in the image and likeness of God, and then sin created a gap between God and mankind, causing damage to our souls. All Christians through baptism receive the seed of Theosis, which is not only to the forgiveness of sins, reconciliation and justification, but also a restoration of God's image. The sinful inclination of our human nature should not govern our behavior anymore; instead we should strive to live a holy life looking towards Jesus Christ the author of our faith, and growing in His knowledge and sonship. The restoration and sanctification of Theosis brings us back into relationship with the Creator. St. Athanasius' presentation of Theosis was summarized as "the reintegration of the divine image of man's creation through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit conforming the redeemed into the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ, and also of the believer's transition from mortality to immortality so that he is enabled to participate in the eternal bliss and glory of the kingdom of God."

Our full union with God is a union with the "energies" of God. These energies, while an extension of God, are not to be confused with the "essence" or "substance" of God, which is unknown by humans and is shared only by the Holy Trinity. Our union with God will not make us gods but will make us partners in the Divine nature in works not in essence. We will not acquire the unique characteristics of God such as being the Creator, the Omnipotent, the Omnipresent, but it will make us partners with Him in building the Kingdom by our own salvation and by winning the souls of others to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Source: <!-- m --><a class="postlink" href=""></a><!-- m -->

A contemporary Coptic Orthodox priest of the United States, Fr Matthew Wahba, wrote his thesis on "The Doctrine of Sanctification in St. Athanasius? Paschal Letters" (the foreword of this published work was actually written by Bishop Kallistos Ware). Fr. Matthew Wahba discusses theosis therein.
"Come and incline your ear to the voice of your Mother who gives you life by the sweet music of her voice. Come and suck the sweet milk of Orthodox doctrine from the living breast of the Mother who bore you" - St Philoxenus of Mabug
24-08-2007, 03:36 PM,
Dear Andrew,

I am most grateful; many thanks.

When I was a catechumen I read through the Cachetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, and he is very clear on theosis and the Eucharistic feast. In Lecture 22:3, he states plainly:
Quote:3. Wherefore with full assurance let us partake as of the Body and Blood of Christ: for in the figure of Bread is given to thee His Body, and in the figure of Wine His Blood; that thou by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, mayest be made of the same body and the same blood with Him. For thus we come to bear Christ in us, because His Body and Blood are distributed through our members; thus it is that, according to the blessed Peter, we became partakers of the divine nature.

This is in line with what St. Ignatius, (Ephes xxi) taught, when he speaks of Christians as
Quote:breaking one bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote that we should not die, but live for ever in Jesus Christ.
And in a famous passage, St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote:
Quote:?Since then that God ?containing flesh partook for its substance and support of this particular nourishment also, and since the god who was manifested infused Himself into perishable humanity for this purpose, viz. that by this communion with Deity mankind might at the same time be deified, for this end it is that, by dispensation of His grace, He disseminates Himself in every believer through that flesh whose substance comes from bread and wine, blending Himself with the bodies of believers, to secure that, by this union with the immortal, man too may be a sharer in incorruption. he gives these gifts by virtue of the benediction through which He transelements the natural quality of these visible things to that immortal thing.?

Thus spoke the Fathers and thus, I thought, taught the Church. From the articles you cite (for which many thanks) I see that is so; so if there are those teaching another doctrine they open themselves to the comments made by St. Gregory of Nyssa after his visit to Jerusalem:
Quote:What means this opposing array of new Altars? Do we announce another Jesus? Do we produce other Scriptures? {Epistles XVII)

Assuredly we do not, so it would be interesting to know exactly what is being said about Theosis. I do find it difficult to believe that it can be denied by any Orthodox - let alone ones as eminent as the persons you cite; very odd indeed.

In Christ,

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
24-08-2007, 10:29 PM,
Dear Andrew,

We now have, from a brother on Tasbeha, this reference:
Here is what the Keraza has to say on this matter; the relevant issue is Friday 23rd February 2007.

From it it is clear that His Holiness is condemning the notion that humanity can be united with the essence of the Divine, which is indeed heretical; but I am unclear anyone is teaching that.

Perhaps it is the absence of a fully developed distinction between the Divine 'essence' and the Divine 'energies' which leads to this situation; the Pope makes no such distinction in his pronouncement.

This, at least, pushes us along a little.

In Christ,

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
25-08-2007, 09:13 AM,
prayers for those in hell
The prayers spoken for those in hades are beautiful and should not be
"edited" but made known throughout the Christian world. The only objection anyone could make is the term "hades", but I have always understood this as most definitely not purgatory, but a place of anxious waiting. Souls who undergo this period (which we cannot comprehend in terms of human time) most definitely need our persistent prayers.
Theosis is so traditional an aspect of Orthodox Christianity that I cannot even conceive of it being challenged within Orthodoxy. When we partake of Christ's Holy Body and Blood we are partaking not of His divine essence, but of His Resurrected Body. Obviously terms like "theosis" and
"divine" can be misunderstood. In a Syriac prayer directed to obtain the aid of Yoldath Aloho (the Theotokos) we refer to Her as "godess", but it is obvious from the context that this is not the same use of the word as in pagan religions, but rather as expression of Mary having undergone (if that is the right word!) theosis.
If I have the opportunity I will ask HE Bishop Athanasios Touma about this,
maybe it will be dealt with at a meeting of the heads of the Oriental Orthodox Church.

With prayers,
Kirk Yacoub
25-08-2007, 11:36 AM,
Dear Kirk,

Thank you for this, which certainly confirms what Andrew and myself had thought to be the case.

It does look as though there is a misunderstanding of what is being said. I am not sure if, as has been suggested to me elsewhere, the want of a theological vocabulary which includes 'essence' and 'energies' is part of the problem, but it is certainly one that could do with sorting out.

In Christ,

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
26-08-2007, 09:15 AM,
Theology is a specialist discipline using a specialist language with a specialist methodology to address specialist questions. This is hardly unique: when the IT specialist who looks after my computer, or the mechanic who looks after my car, or the physician who looks after my health, considers a problem, each applies a specialist methodology and speaks (unless he or she happens to be skilled in translation into non-specialist terminology) a specialist language. Real problems arise when those without the education (or the knowledge of the specialist terminology) attempt to address the specialist questions. I spent the last week teaching in a program on Aboriginal land title claims; it included anthropologists and lawyers. Anthropologists use terms like ?culture? or ?norms? or ?tradition? in special ways, just as lawyers use ?title?, ?evidence? and ?contract? in special ways. Fortunately, my first degree was in anthropology, and I now work and teach in law, so I was able to understand and use the specialist language of those disciplines. Some participants, who were neither anthropologists nor lawyers, became confused when they used what might be called popular language to respond to statements in specialist language.
The problems regarding (apparent) Coptic Orthodox official repudiation of traditional doctrines like theosis, prayers for the departed and the nature of that which is received in Holy Communion seem to have their their origin in a lack of theological education and a lack of knowledge of theological language.
For example: it is easy and appropriate to denounce theosis if it means (literally) that Man can become God or gods (as in Mormonism and some schools of Hinduism). But I do not know of any Orthodox theologian or Church that teaches such a doctrine. Theosis is an extremely complex and difficult doctrine to explain; very sophisticated theological language is required to express and make sense of it.
But there is an added complication: Orthodox theology (like the disciplines of anthropology and law) is like a jigsaw puzzle. It can only be understood when all the pieces are integrated. It is easy to take one piece in isolation and comment on or criticize it; but no piece has meaning in isolation from the whole. Theosis makes little sense apart from everything from Orthodox anthropology (the origin, nature and future of human beings) to Orthodox eschatology. If that comprehensive understanding of the whole Orthodox Tradition is lacking, any commentary or criticism will be (probably fatally) flawed. This is also reflected in the ?proof texting? approach to Scripture: plucking a verse from here and a verse from there in an attempt to prove some assertion. Scripture cannot be understood other than as a whole, and (in Orthodox terms) other than as a part of the whole Orthodox Tradition. The dreary, inadequate and one might say unorthodox approach of many Coptic Orthodox writers whereby they attempt to ?prove? particular doctrines by a selective ?proof texting? is popular amongst Protestant Fundamentalists, but is unknown in and entirely contrary to the spirit of Orthodoxy.
I am free to dispute the specialist claims of the IT consultant, the mechanic and the physician, but if I lack any competence in their areas, and lack any fluency in their language, how valuable will be my arguments? That I am a Priest (or that someone else is a Bishop) confers no competence whatsoever in theology, any more than it does in information technology, motor mechanics or medicine.

Fr Gregory
26-08-2007, 10:51 AM,
Dear Fr Gregory,

Quote:Theosis makes little sense apart from everything from Orthodox anthropology (the origin, nature and future of human beings) to Orthodox eschatology.

Much more importantly, "everything from Orthodox Orthodox eschatology" make very little sense apart from Theosis (especially when it comes to Christology! Theosis is the primary soteriological presupposition underlying the dogmatic proclamations of the Three Ecumenical Councils, and the Church's resistance to Chalcedon).
"Come and incline your ear to the voice of your Mother who gives you life by the sweet music of her voice. Come and suck the sweet milk of Orthodox doctrine from the living breast of the Mother who bore you" - St Philoxenus of Mabug
26-08-2007, 09:14 PM,
Dear Andrew

I agree, of course, with your comments. My analogies, like all analogies, were inadequate.
I think there is another problem underlying the current situation. If people assume (or are taught) that Priests or Bishops, by virtue of being Priests or Bishops, are theological authorities, they will tend to accept unquestioningly what they are told. This can create a dangerous situation in which people believe Priests and Bishops are theological authorities, so the Priests and Bishops also come to also believe that they are theological authorities ? regardless of the level of their theological education. Therefore there is no need for theological education of clergy because, presumably supernaturally, they receive all the theological knowledge they require through ordination. This then inhibits, or even prevents, clergy being challenged for dubious or even false teaching because, by definition, their teachings must be true. Even worse, those making the challenge are represented as attacking the Church or the Faith.
Even in the rare cases in which some teaching is challenged (as with Fr Matta) there is no dialogue or debate, merely a denunciation without theological specifics (and usually a lot of dubious ?proof-texting?).
I do not think anyone needs a PhD for salvation, or even to be a Priest or a Bishop! However, I do think that those who claim to teach (particularly those who claim to teach with the authority of the Church) ought to be competent to do what they are doing ? or not do it. As you may be aware, in some Orthodox traditions (for example, the Armenian) not all Priests are permitted to teach, preach or hear confessions. Only those judged theologically competent to do so are permitted to undertake these important responsibilities.
We know, and have been warned, of the consequences of the blind leading the blind!

Fr Gregory
27-08-2007, 12:04 PM,
Dear Fr Gregory,

I agree with your above assessment. The question of the proper relationship between laity and clergy and a proper interpretation of the authority of the latter and the role of the former when it comes to theological issues is a very delicate one. St Ignatius of Antioch's ecclesiology which seems to very strongly support the idea that one is to wholly and without question submit to their Bishop seems to be rather idealistic in my opinion, but then again, St Ignatius was dealing with a very peculiar historical situation, and I wonder if his ecclesiological principles are more appropriately understood in that context.

Back onto the topic of prayers for the departed and their practical effects, I found this interesting quote from St Bar Hebraeus' Zalgae, quoted by Dr. Paulos Mor Athanasius Kadavil in his The Syrian Orthodox Church: Its Religion and Philosophy:

"By the prayers for the departed, unpolluted souls of believers experience a certain delight. On the other hand, these prayers help cleanse the dirt off the mirrors of the polluted souls." (p. 78)

There's nothing very specific that we can infer from the imagery he uses here, but at least there is the suggestion that even the unrighteous benefit from the prayers of the Church in some sense (and one would reasonably assume that this distinction between polluted and unpolluted souls corresponds to the souls in paradise and the souls in hades, respectively...or would that be stretching it?)
"Come and incline your ear to the voice of your Mother who gives you life by the sweet music of her voice. Come and suck the sweet milk of Orthodox doctrine from the living breast of the Mother who bore you" - St Philoxenus of Mabug
27-08-2007, 03:33 PM,
Dear Fr. Gregory,

Many thanks for your comments and clarifications. The real problem I suppose is when you write:
Quote:If people assume (or are taught) that Priests or Bishops, by virtue of being Priests or Bishops, are theological authorities.
Especially when it is the Bishops who take on that assumption with, or without, the theological education necessary.

It is natural that those who call their Priest 'Father' should look to him as the child would to the father; but as those of us who are fathers know, our children soon recognise we are pretty fallible.

It would seem as though the need for greater theological education for the clergy is an urgent one. Is it just that the Coptic Church has had its hands full for so long just trying to hold its position against all the odds, so has not had the time and energy to devote to this work?

In Christ,

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
28-08-2007, 09:14 AM,
prayers for those in hell
Dear Andrew,
The quotation from Bar Hebraeus is very apt and, also, exact without being lengthy or complex. Christ was straightforward in the way he spoke,
acknowledging that there would be those that would not understand, very often the "educated and knowledgeable".
I did not have the opportunity of talking with Bishop Athanasios on Sunday, but when I mentioned the action of the Coptic Synod to a member of the congregation I was met with wide-eyed astonishment and the remark, "But we must pray for everyone, even our enemies." Once again, a straightforward remark that hits the nail on the head.
Kirk Yacoub
15-12-2007, 07:51 PM,
May I interject, but may it be made clear that I am no theologian, no scholar and no authority on anything. But for all questions there is an answer in the Bible. The act of interpretation by mere man merely distorts Gods word. We should always turn to God for the answers and the Bible - not mere humans:

As I see it the answers are here:

In most modern translations of the Bible, the word "hell" has been transliterated from the original Hebrew and Greek languages where the words "she'ohl" in Hebrew and "hai'des" in Greek appeared. (2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6; 2 Kings 23:10 ). These words do not refer to any literal place.

Gospels frequently portray images of destruction and torment in hell. Sometimes this destruction is referred to as annihilation or punishment when God's Kingdom gets established on earth (Matthew 3:10-12, Matthew 25:41-46, Luke 3:9, John 5:28-29 ). Other times it is said to be the fate of the individual sinner (Matthew 5:22, Matthew 5:29-30, Luke 12:5). While flames and destruction are the most common depictions, darkness or exclusion are also referred to, (Matthew 22:13, Matthew 25:30, Luke 13:22-28, Luke 16:19-28 ) and Jesus describes a place of "weeping and gnashing of teeth"; this quotation appears six times in Matthew and once in Luke.

A vivid account of hell is found in Luke 16:19-28 (Lazarus and Dives). In this account, it is said that nobody can pass from the bosom of Abraham to hell or vice versa. Fire and thirst are again described, and it is stated that the souls that are in Hell can see those that are in Heaven and vice versa. Many view this story as a parable, and as such, believe its meaning may not literally define the existence in the afterlife, but instead serve as a metaphor or illustration.

Of course there are those who believe that hell is a place on earth which is any time that you are suffering during your life and it could be said that if that reigned true those people would certainly appreciate your prayers!

So, we don't know - but what we do know is this. We can guard our own salvation quite simply.

1. Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved Romans 10:13
2. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life John 3:16
Romans 3:21-24 tells us that God saved us through Christ, who has freed us by taking away our sins .. God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty.

Promises from God:

God forgives all sin. Isaiah 1:18
God wants to save wicked people too. Ezekial 18:21
Believing in Jesus as Lord brings eternal life John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9.

Hope this sheds light.

Anne Bradburn
15-12-2007, 08:00 PM,
I do apologise for my most simplified approach to complex matters.

Anne Bradburn

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