Ijov’s Blog

March 26, 2011

Prophetic Vision of Hell of St. John Bosco

The Holy Saint John Bosco had a Prophetic Vision of Hell in 1868 A.D., (*which is recorded in its entirety below.)

Many of the dreams of St. John Bosco could more properly be called visions, for God used this means to reveal His will for the Saint and for the boys of the Oratory, as well as the future of the Salesian Congregation. Not only did his dreams lead and direct the Saint, they also gave him wisdom and guidance by which he was able to help and guide others upon their ways. He was just nine years of age when he had his first dream that laid out his life mission. It was this dream that impressed Pope Pius IX so much that he ordered St. John Bosco to write down his dreams for the encouragement of his Congregation and the rest of us. Through dreams God allowed him to know the future of each of the boys of his Oratory. Through dreams God let him know the boys’ state of their souls. On February 1, 1865 St. John Bosco announced that one of the boys will die soon. He knew the boy through the dream the night before. On March 16, 1865, Anthony Ferraris passed away after receiving the Last Sacraments. John Bisio, who helped Anthony and his mother during the former’s last hour, confirmed the story of his part in this episode by a formal oath, concluding as foIlows: “Don Bosco told us many other dreams concerning Oratory boys’ deaths. We believed them to be true prophecies. We still do, because unfailingly they came true. During the seven years I lived at the Oratory, not a boy died without Don Bosco predicting his death. We were also convinced that whoever died there under his care and assistance surely went to heaven.”

St John Bosco and his oratory

St John Bosco and his oratory

*The Road to Hell
(Prophetic Dream of St. John Bosco 1868 A.D.)

On Sunday night, May 3 [1868], the feast of Saint Joseph’s patronage, Don Bosco resumed the narration of his dreams:

I have another dream to tell you, a sort of aftermath of those I told you last Thursday and Friday which totally exhausted me. Call them dreams or whatever you like. Always, as you know, on the night of April 17 a frightful toad seemed bent on devouring me. When it finally vanished, a voice said to me: “Why don’t you tell them?” I turned in that direction and saw a distinguished person standing by my bed. Feeling guilty about my silence, I asked: “What should I tell my boys?”

“What you have seen and heard in your last dreams and what you have wanted to know and shall have revealed to you tomorrow night!” He then vanished.

I spent the whole next day worrying about the miserable night in store for me, and when evening came, loath to go to bed, I sat at my desk browsing through books until midnight. The mere thought of having more nightmares thoroughly scare me. However, with great effort, I finally went to bed.
“Get up and follow me!” he said.

“For Heaven’s sake,” I protested, “leave me alone. I am exhausted! I’ve been tormented by a toothache for several days now and need rest. Besides, nightmares have completely worn me out.” I said this because this man’s apparition always means trouble, fatigue, and terror for me.

“Get up,” he repeated. “You have no time to lose.”

I complied and followed him. “Where are you taking me?” I asked.

“Never mind. You’ll see.” He led me to a vast, boundless plain, veritably a lifeless desert, with not a soul in sight or a tree or brook. Yellowed, dried-up vegetation added to the desolation I had no idea where I was or what was I to do. For a moment I even lost sight of my guide and feared that I was lost, utterly alone. Father Rua, Father Francesia, nowhere to be seen. When I finally saw my friend coming toward me, I sighed in relief.

“Where am I?” I asked.

“Come with me and you will find out!”

“All right. I’ll go with you.”

He led the way and I followed in silence, but after a long, dismal trudge, I began worrying whether I would ever be able to cross that vast expanse, what with my toothache and swollen legs. Suddenly I saw a road ahead.

“Where to now?” I asked my guide.

“This way,” he replied.

We took the road. It was beautiful, wide, and neatly paved. “The way of sinners is made plain with stones, and in their end is hell, and darkness, and pains. ” (Ecclesiasticus 21: 11, stones: broad and easy.) Both sides were lined with magnificent verdant hedges dotted with gorgeous flowers. Roses, especially, peeped everywhere through the leaves. At first glance, the road was level and comfortable, and so I ventured upon it without the least suspicion, but soon I noticed that it insensibly kept sloping downward. Though it did not look steep at all, I found myself moving so swiftly that I felt I was effortlessly gliding through the air. Really, I was gliding and hardly using my feet. Then the thought struck me that the return trip would be very long and arduous.

“How shall we get back to the Oratory?” I asked worriedly.

“Do not worry,” he answered. “The Almighty wants you to go. He who leads you on will also know how to lead you back.”

The road is sloping downward. As we were continuing on our way, flanked by banks of roses and other flowers, I became aware that the Oratory boys and very many others whom I did not know were following me. Somehow I found myself in their midst. As I was looking at them, I noticed now one, now another fall to the ground and instantly be dragged by an unseen force toward a frightful drop, distantly visible, which sloped into a furnace. “What makes these boys fall?” I asked my companion. “The proud have hidden a net for me. And they have stretched out cords for a snare: they have laid for me a stumbling-block by the wayside.” (Psalms 139: 6)

“Take a closer look,” he replied.

I did. Traps were everywhere, some close to the ground, others at eye level, but all well concealed. Unaware of their danger, many boys got caught, and they tripped, they would sprawl to the ground, legs in the air. Then, when they managed to get back on their feet, they would run headlong down the road toward the abyss. Some got trapped by the head, others by the neck, hand, arms, legs, or sides, and were pulled down instantly. The ground traps, fine as spiders’ webs and hardly visible, seemed very flimsy and harmless; yet, to my surprise, every boy they snared fell to the ground.

Noticing my astonishment, the guide remarked, “Do you know what this is?”

“Just some filmy fiber,” I answered.

“A mere nothing,” he said, “just plain human respect.”,

Seeing that many boys were being caught in those straps. I asked, “Why do so many get caught? Who pulls them down?”

“Go nearer and you will see!” he told me.

I followed his advice but saw nothing peculiar.

“Look closer,” he insisted.

I picked up one of the traps and tugged. I immediately felt some resistance. I pulled harder, only to feel that, instead of drawing the thread closer, I was being pulled down myself. I did not resist and soon found myself at the mouth of a frightful cave. I halted, unwilling to venture into that deep cavern, and again started pulling the thread toward me. It gave a little, but only through great effort on my part. I kept tugging, and after a long while a huge, hideous monster emerged, clutching a rope to which all those traps were tied together. He was the one who instantly dragged down anyone who got caught in them. It won’t do to match my strength with his, I said to myself. I’ll certainly lose. I’d better fight him with the Sign of the Cross and with short invocations.

Then I went back to my guide. “Now you know who he is,” he said to me.

“I surely do! It is the devil himself!”

Carefully examining many of the traps, I saw that each bore an inscription: Pride, Disobedience, Envy, Sixth Commandment, Theft, Gluttony, Sloth, Anger and so on. Stepping back a bit to see which ones trapped the greater number of boys, I discovered that the most dangerous were those of impurity, disobedience, and pride. In fact, these three were linked to together. Many other traps also did great harm, but not as much as the first two. Still watching, I noticed many boys running faster than others. “Why such haste?” I asked.

“Because they are dragged by the snare of human respect.”

Looking even more closely, I spotted knives among the traps. A providential hand had put them there for cutting oneself free. The bigger ones, symbolizing meditation, were for use against the trap of pride; others, not quite as big, symbolized spiritual reading well made. There were also two swords representing devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, especially through frequent Holy Communion, and to the Blessed Virgin. There was also a hammer symbolizing confession, and other knives signifying devotion to Saint Joseph, to Saint Aloysius, and to other Saints. By these means quite a few boys were able to free themselves or evade capture.

Indeed I saw some lads walking safely through all those traps, either by good timing before the trap sprung on them or by making it slip off them if they got caught.

When my guide was satisfied that I had observed everything, he made me continue along that rose-hedged road, but the farther we went the scarcer the roses became. Long thorns began to show up, and soon the roses were no more. The hedges became sun-scorched, leafless, and thorn-studded. Withered branches torn from the bushes lay criss-crossed along the roadbed, littering it with thorns and making it impassable. We had come now to a gulch whose steep sides hid what lay beyond. The road, still sloping downward, was becoming ever more horrid, rutted, guttered, and bristling with rocks and boulders. I lost track of all my boys, most of whom had left this treacherous road for other paths.

I kept going, but the farther I advanced, the more arduous and steep became the descent, so that I tumbled and fell several times, lying prostrate until I could catch my breath. Now and then my guide supported me or helped me to rise. At every step my joints seemed to give way, and I thought my shinbones would snap. Panting, I said to my guide, “My good fellow, my legs won’t carry me another step. I just can’t go any farther.” He did not answer but continued walking. Taking heart, I followed until, seeing me soaked in perspiration and thoroughly exhausted, he led me to a little clearing alongside the road. I sat down, took a deep breath, and felt a little better. From my resting place, the road I had already traveled looked very steep, jagged, and strewn with loose stones, but what lay ahead seemed so much worse that I closed my eyes in horror.

“Let’s go back,” I pleaded. “If we go any farther, how shall we ever get back to the Oratory? I will never make it up this slope.”

“Now that we have come so far, do you want me to leave you here?” my guide sternly asked.

At this threat, I wailed, “How can I survive without your help?”

“Then follow me.”

We continued our descent, the road now becoming so frightfully steep that it was almost impossible to stand erect. And then, at the bottom of this precipice, at the entrance of a dark valley, an enormous building loomed into sight, its towering portal, tightly locked, facing our road. When I finally got to the bottom, I became smothered by a suffocating heat, while a greasy, green-tinted smoke lit by flashes of scarlet flames rose from behind those enormous walls which loomed higher than mountains.

“Where are we? What is this?” I asked my guide.

“Read the inscription on that portal and you will know.”

I looked up and read these words: “The place of no reprieve.” I realized that we were at the gates of Hell. The guide led me all around this horrible place. At regular distance bronze portals like the first overlooked precipitous descents; on each was an inscription, such as: “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25: 41) “Every tree that yielded not good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the the fire.” (Matthew 7: 19)

I tried to copy them into my notebook, but my guide restrained me: “There is no need. You have them all in Holy Scripture. You even have some of them inscribed in your porticoes.”

At such a sight I wanted to turn back and return to the Oratory. As a matter of fact, I did start back, but my guide ignored my attempt. After trudging through a steep, never-ending ravine, we again came to the foot of the precipice facing the first portal. Suddenly the guide turned to me. Upset and startled, he motioned to me to step aside. “Look!” he said.

I looked up in terror and saw in the distance someone racing down the path at an uncontrollable speed. I kept my eyes on him, trying to identify him, and as he got closer, I recognized him as one of my boys. His disheveled hair was partly standing upright on his head and partly tossed back by the wind. His arms were outstretched as though he were thrashing the water in an attempt to stay afloat. He wanted to stop, but could not. Tripping on the protruding stones, he kept falling even faster. “Let’s help him, let’s stop him,” I shouted, holding out my hands in a vain effort to restrain him.

“Leave him alone,” the guide replied.


“Don’t you know how terrible God’s vengeance is? Do you think you can restrain one who is fleeing from His just wrath?”

Meanwhile the youth had turned his fiery gaze backward in an attempt to see if God’s wrath were still pursuing him. The next moment he fell tumbling to the bottom of the ravine and crashed against the bronze portal as though he could find no better refuge in his flight.

“Why was he looking backward in terror?” I asked.

“Because God’s wrath will pierce Hell’s gates to reach and torment him even in the midst of fire!”

As the boy crashed into the portal, it sprang open with a roar, and instantly a thousand inner portals opened with a deafening clamor as if struck by a body that had been propelled by an invisible, most violent, irresistible gale. As these bronze doors — one behind the other, though at a considerable distance from each other — remained momentarily open, I saw far into the distance something like furnace jaws sprouting fiery balls the moment the youth hurtled into it. As swiftly as they had opened, the portals then clanged shut again. For a third time I tried to jot down the name of that unfortunate lad, but the guide again restrained me. “Wait,” he ordered.


Three other boys of ours, screaming in terror and with arms outstretched, were rolling down one behind the other like massive rocks, I recognized them as they too crashed against the portal. In that split second, it sprang open and so did the other thousand. The three lads were sucked into that endless corridor amid a long-drawn, fading, infernal echo, and then the portals clanged shut again. At intervals, many other lads came tumbling down after them. I saw one unlucky boy being pushed down the slope by an evil companion. Others fell singly or with others, arm in arm or side by side. Each of them bore the name of his sin on his forehead. I kept calling to them as they hurtled down, but they did not hear me. Again the portals would open thunderously and slam shut with a rumble. Then, dead silence!

“Bad companions, bad books, and bad habits,” my guide exclaimed, “are mainly responsible for so many eternally lost.”

The traps I had seen earlier were indeed dragging the boys to ruin. Seeing so many going to perdition, I cried out disconsolately, “If so many of our boys end up this way, we are working in vain. How can we prevent such tragedies?”

“This is their present state,” my guide replied, “and that is where they would go if they were to die now.”

“Then let me jot down their names so that I may warn them and put them back on the path to Heaven.”

“Do you really believe that some of them would reform if you were to warn them? Then and there your warning might impress them, but soon they will forget it, saying, ‘It was just a dream,’ and they will do worse than before. Others, realizing they have been unmasked, receive the sacraments, but this will be neither spontaneous nor meritorious; others will go to confession because of a momentary fear of Hell but will still be attached to sin.”

“Then is there no way to save these unfortunate lads? Please, tell me what I can do for them.”

“They have superiors; let them obey them. They have rules; let them observe them. They have the sacraments; let them receive them.”

St John Bosco and his boys

St John Bosco and his boys

Just then a new group of boys came hurtling down and the portals momentarily opened. “Let’s go in,” the guide said to me.

I pulled back in horror. I could not wait to rush back to the Oratory to warn the boys lest others might be lost as well.

“Come,” my guide insisted. “You’ll learn much. But first tell me: Do you wish to go alone or with me?” He asked this to make me realize that I was not brave enough and therefore needed his friendly assistance.

“Alone inside that horrible place?” I replied. “How will I ever be able to find my way out without your help?” Then a thought came to my mind and aroused my courage. Before one is condemned to Hell, I said to myself, he must be judged. And I haven’t been judged yet!

“Let’s go,” I exclaimed resolutely. We entered that narrow, horrible corridor and whizzed through it with lightning speed. Threatening inscriptions shone eerily over all the inner gateways. The last one opened into a vast, grim courtyard with a large, unbelievably forbidding entrance at the far end. Above it stood this inscription:

“These shall go into everlasting punishment.” (Matthew 25: 46) The walls all about were similarly inscribed. I asked my guide if I could read them, and he consented. These were the inscriptions:

“He will give fire, and worms into their flesh, and they may burn and may feel forever.” (Judith 16: 21)

“The pool of fire where both the beast and the false prophet shall be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (Apocalypse 20: 9-10)

“And the smoke of their torments shall ascend up forever and ever.” (Apocalypse 14: 11)

“A land of misery and darkness, where the shadow of death, and no order, but everlasting horror dwelleth.” (Job 10: 22)

“There is no peace to the wicked.” (Isaias 47: 22)

“There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:12)

While I moved from one inscription to another, my guide, who had stood in the center of the courtyard, came up to me.

“From here on,” he said, “no one may have a helpful companion, a comforting friend, a loving heart, a compassionate glance, or a benevolent word. All this is gone forever. Do you just want to see or would you rather experience these things yourself?”

“I only want to see!” I answered.

“Then come with me,” my friend added, and, taking me in tow, he stepped through that gate into a corridor at whose far end stood an observation platform, closed by a huge, single crystal pane reaching from the pavement to the ceiling. As soon as I crossed its threshold, I felt an indescribable terror and dared not take another step. Ahead of me I could see something like an immense cave which gradually disappeared into recesses sunk far into the bowels of the mountains. They were all ablaze, but theirs was not an earthly fire with leaping tongues of flames. The entire cave –walls, ceiling, floor, iron, stones, wood, and coal — everything was a glowing white at temperatures of thousands of degrees. Yet the fire did not incinerate, did not consume. I simply can’t find words to describe the cavern’s horror. “The nourishment thereof is fire and much wood: the breath of the Lord as a torrent of brimstone kindling it.” (Isaias 30: 33)

I was staring in bewilderment about me when a lad dashed out of a gate. Seemingly unaware of anything else, he emitted a most shrilling scream, like one who is about to fall into a cauldron of liquid bronze, and plummeted into the center of the cave. Instantly he too became incandescent and perfectly motionless, while the echo of his dying wail lingered for an instant more.

Terribly frightened, I stared briefly at him for a while. He seemed to be one of my Oratory boys. “Isn’t he so and so?” I asked my guide.

“Yes,” was the answer.

“Why is he so still, so incandescent?”

“You chose to see,” he replied. “Be satisfied with that. Just keep looking. Besides, “Everyone shall be salted with fire.” (Mark 9: 48)

As I looked again, another boy came hurtling down into the cave at breakneck speed. He too was from the Oratory. As he fell, so he remained. He too emitted one single heart-rending shriek that blended with the last echo of the scream that came from the youth who had preceded him. Other boys kept hurtling in the same way in increasing numbers, all screaming the same way and then all becoming equally motionless and incandescent. I noticed that the first seemed frozen to the spot, one hand and one foot raised into the air; the second boy seemed bent almost double to the floor. Others stood or hung in various other positions, balancing themselves on one foot or hand, sitting or lying on their backs or on their sides, standing or kneeling, hands clutching their hair. Briefly, the scene resembled a large statuary group of youngsters cast into ever more painful postures. Other lads hurtled into that same furnace. Some I knew; others were strangers to me. I then recalled what is written in the Bible to the effect that as one falls into Hell, so he shall forever remain. “. . . in what place soever it shall fall, there shall it be.” (Ecclesiastes 11:3)

More frightened than ever, I asked my guide, “When these boys come dashing into this cave, don’t they know where they are going?”

“They surely do. They have been warned a thousand times, but they still choose to rush into the fire because they do not detest sin and are loath to forsake it. Furthermore, they despise and reject God’s incessant, merciful invitations to do penance. Thus provoked, Divine Justice harries them, hounds them, and goads them on so that they cannot halt until they reach this place.”

“Oh, how miserable these unfortunate boys must feel in knowing they no longer have any hope,” I exclaimed. “If you really want to know their innermost frenzy and fury, go a little closer,” my guide remarked.

I took a few steps forward and saw that many of those poor wretches were savagely striking at each other like mad dogs. Others were clawing their own faces and hands, tearing their own flesh and spitefully throwing it about. Just then the entire ceiling of the cave became as transparent as crystal and revealed a patch of Heaven and their radiant companions safe for all eternity.

The poor wretches, fuming and panting with envy, burned with rage because they had once ridiculed the just. “The wicked shall see, and be angry, he shall gnash with his teeth, and pine away. . . ” (Psalms 111: 10) “Why do hear no sound?” I asked my guide,

“Go closer!” he advised.

Pressing my ear to the crystal window, I heard screams and sobs, blasphemies and imprecations against the Saints. It was a tumult of voices and cries, shrill and confused.

“When they recall the happy lot of their good companions,” he replied, “they are obliged to admit: “We fools esteemed their life madness, and their end without honour. Behold, how they are numbered among the children of God, and their lot is among the saints. Therefore we have erred from the way of truth, and the light of justice hath not shined unto us, and the sun of understanding hath not risen upon us.” (Wisdom 5:4-6) “We wearied ourselves in the way of iniquity and destruction, and have walked through hard ways, but the way of the Lord we have not known. What hath pride profited us ? or what advantage hath the boasting of riches brought us ? All those things are passed away like a shadow.” (Wisdom 5: 7-9)

“Here time is no more. Here is only eternity.”

While I viewed the condition of many of my boys in utter terror, a thought suddenly struck me. “How can these boys be damned?” I asked. “Last night they were still alive at the Oratory!”

“The boys you see here,” he answered, “are all dead to God’s grace. Were they to die now or persist in their evil ways, they would be damned. But we are wasting time. Let us go on.”

He led me away and we went down through a corridor into a lower cavern, at whose entrance I read: “Their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched.” (Isaias 66: 24) “He will give fire, and worms into their flesh, and they may burn and may feel forever.” (Judith 16: 21)

Here one could see how atrocious was the remorse of those who had been pupils in our schools. What a torment was their, to remember each unforgiven sin and its just punishment, the countless, even extraordinary means they had had to mend their ways, persevere in virtue, and earn paradise, and their lack of response to the many favors promised and bestowed by the Virgin Mary. What a torture to think that they couId have been saved so easily, yet now are irredeemably lost, and to remember the many good resolutions made and never kept. Hell is indeed paved with good intentions!

In this lower cavern I again saw those Oratory boys who had fallen into the fiery furnace. Some are listening to me right now; others are former pupils or even strangers to me. I drew closer to them and noticed that they were all covered with worms and vermin which gnawed at their vitals, hearts, eyes, hands, legs, and entire bodies so ferociously as to defy description. Helpless and motionless, they were a prey to every kind of torment. Hoping I might be able to speak with them or to hear something from them, I drew even closer but no one spoke or even looked at me. I then asked my guide why, and he explained that the damned are totally deprived of freedom. Each must fully endure his own punishment, with absolutely no reprieve whatever. “And now,” he added, “you too must enter that cavern.”

“Oh, no!” I objected in terror. “Before going to Hell, one has to be judged. I have not been judged yet, and so I will not go to Hell!”

“Listen,” he said, “what would you rather do: visit Hell and save your boys, or stay outside and leave them in agony?”

For a moment I was struck speechless. “Of course I love my boys and wish to save them all,” I replied, “but isn’t there some other way out?”

“Yes, there is a way,” he went on, “provided you do all you can.”

I breathed more easily and instantly said to myself, I don’t mind slaving if I can rescue these beloved sons of mine from such torments.

“Come inside then,” my friend went on, “and see how our good, almighty God lovingly provides a thousand means for guiding your boys to penance and saving them from everlasting death.”

Taking my hand, he led me into the cave. As I stepped in, I found myself suddenly transported into a magnificent hall whose curtained glass doors concealed more entrances.

Above one of them I read this inscription: The Sixth Commandment. Pointing to it, my guide exclaimed, “Transgressions of this commandment caused the eternal ruin of many boys.”

“Didn’t they go to confession?”

“They did, but they either omitted or insufficiently confessed the sins against the beautiful virtue of purity, saying for instance that they had committed such sins two or three times when it was four or five. Other boys may have fallen into that sin but once in their childhood, and, through shame, never confessed it or did so insufficiently. Others were not truly sorry or sincere in their resolve to avoid it in the future. There were even some who, rather than examine their conscience, spent their time trying to figure out how best to deceive their confessor. Anyone dying in this frame of mind chooses to be among the damned, and so he is doomed for all eternity. Only those who die truly repentant shall be eternally happy. Now do you want to see why our merciful God brought you here?” He lifted the curtain and I saw a group of Oratory boys — all known to me — who were there because of this sin. Among them were some whose conduct seems to be good.

“Now you will surely let me take down their names so that I may warn them individually,” I exclaimed. “Then what do you suggest I tell them?”

“Always preach against immodesty. A generic warning will suffice. Bear in mind that even if you did admonish them individually, they would promise, but not always in earnest. For a firm resolution, one needs God’s grace which will not be denied to your boys if they pray. God manifests His power especially by being merciful and forgiving. On your part, pray and make sacrifices. As for the boys, let them listen to your admonitions and consult their conscience. It will tell them what to do.”

We spent the next half hour discussing the requisites of a good confession. Afterward, my guide several times exclaimed in a loud voice, “Avertere! Avertere!”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Change life! ”

Perplexed, I bowed my head and made as if to withdraw, but he held me back.

“You haven’t seen everything yet,” he explained.

He turned and lifted another curtain bearing this inscription: “They who would become rich, fall into temptation, and to the snare of the devil.” (1 Timothy 6: 9) (Note: would become rich: wish to become rich, seek riches, set their heart and affections toward riches.)

“This does not apply to my boys! I countered, “because they are as poor as I am. We are not rich and do not want to be. We give it no thought.”

As the curtain was lifted, however, I saw a group of boys, all known to me. They were in pain, like those I had seen before. Pointing to them, my guide remarked, “As you see, the inscription does apply to your boys.”

“But how?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, “some boys are so attached to material possessions that their love of God is lessened. Thus they sin against charity, piety, and meekness. Even the mere desire of riches can corrupt the heart, especially if such a desire leads to injustice. Your boys are poor, but remember that greed and idleness are bad counselors. One of your boys committed substantial thefts in his native town, and though he could make restitution, he gives it not a thought. There are others who try to break into the pantry or the prefect’s or economer’s office; those who rummage in their companions’ trunks for food, money, or possessions; those who steal stationery and books….”

After naming these boys and others as well, he continued, “Some are here for having stolen clothes, linen, blankets, and coats from the Oratory wardrobe in order to send them home to their families; others for willful, serious damage; others, yet, for not having given back what they had borrowed or for having kept sums of money they were supposed to hand over to the superior. Now that you know who these boys are,” he concluded, “admonish them. Tell them to curb all vain, harmful desires, to obey God’s law and to safeguard their reputation jealously lest greed lead them to greater excesses and plunge them into sorrow, death, and damnation.”

I couldn’t understand why such dreadful punishments should be meted out for infractions that boys thought so little of, but my guide shook me out of my thoughts by saying: “Recall what you were told when you saw those spoiled grapes on the wine.” With these words he lifted another curtain which hid many of our Oratory boys, all of whom I recognized instantly. The inscription on the curtain read: The root of all evils.

“Do you know what that means?” he asked me immediately.

“What sin does that refer to?”



“And yet I have always heard that pride is the root of all evil.”

“It is, generally speaking, but, specifically, do you know what led Adam and Eve to commit the first sin for which they were driven away from their earthly paradise?”


“Exactly! Disobedience is the root of all evil.”

“What shall I tell my boys about it?”

“Listen carefully: the boys you see here are those who prepare such a tragic end for themselves by being disobedient. So-and-so and so-and-so, who you think went to bed, leave the dormitory later in the night to roam about the playground, and, contrary to orders, they stray into dangerous areas and up scaffolds, endangering even their lives. Others go to church, but, ignoring recommendations, they misbehave; instead of praying, they daydream or cause a disturbance. There are also those who make themselves comfortable so as to doze off during church services, and those who only make believe they are going to church. Woe to those who neglect prayer! He who does not pray dooms himself to perdition. Some are here because, instead of singing hymns or saying the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin, they read frivolous or — worse yet — forbidden books.” He then went on mentioning other serious breaches of discipline.

When he was done, I was deeply moved.

“May I mention all these things to my boys?” I asked, looking at him straight in the eye.

“Yes, you may tell them whatever you remember.”

“What advice shall I give them to safeguard them from such a tragedy?”

“Keep telling them that by obeying God, the Church, their parents, and their superiors, even in little things, they will be saved.”

“Anything else?”

“Warn them against idleness. Because of idleness David fell into sin. Tell them to keep busy at all times, because the devil will not then have a chance to tempt them.”

I bowed my head and promised. Faint with dismay, I could only mutter, “Thanks for having been so good to me. Now, please lead me out of here.”

Fires of Hell

Fires of Hell

“All right, then, come with me.” Encouragingly he took my hand and held me up because I could hardly stand on my feet. Leaving that hall, in no time at all we retraced our steps through that horrible courtyard and the long corridor. But as soon as we stepped across the last bronze portal, he turned to me and said, “Now that you have seen what others suffer, you too must experience a touch of Hell.”

“No, no!” I cried in terror.

He insisted, but I kept refusing.

“Do not be afraid,” he told me; “just try it. Touch this wall.”

I could not muster enough courage and tried to get away, but he held me back. “Try it,” he insisted. Gripping my arm firmly, he pulled me to the wall. “Only one touch,” he cornmanded, “so that you may say you have both seen and touched the walls of eternal suffering and that you may understand what the last wall must be like if the first is so unendurable. Look at this wall!” I did intently. It seemed incredibly thick. “There are a thousand walls between this and the real fire of Hell,” my guide continued. “A thousand walls encompass it, each a thousand measures thick and equally distant from the next one. Each measure is a thousand miles. This wall therefore is millions and millions of miles from Hell’s real fire. It is just a remote rim of Hell itself.”

When he said this, I instinctively pulled back, but he seized my hand, forced it open, and pressed it against the first of the thousand walls. The sensation was so utterly excruciating that I leaped back with a scream and found myself sitting up in bed. My hand was stinging and I kept rubbing it to ease the pain. When I got up this morning I noticed that it was swollen. Having my hand pressed against the wall, though only in a dream, felt so real that, later, the skin of my palm peeled off.

Bear in mind that I have tried not to frighten you very much, and so I have not described these things in all their horror as I saw them and as they impressed me. We know that Our Lord always portrayed Hell in symbols because, had He described it as it really is, we would not have understood Him. No mortal can comprehend these things. The Lord knows them and He reveals them to whomever He wills.




January 3, 2009

Why Orthodoxy is the True Faith

Lecture “Why Orthodoxy is the True Faith,” delivered on September 13, 2000, at the Meeting of the Sretenskaya Lord’s School in Moscow by Alexei Illich Osipov, a professor of the Moscow Theological Academy.

Professor of Moscow Theological Academy Alexei Osipov

Professor of Moscow Theological Academy Alexei Osipov

In this world of religious pluralism, you encounter such a multitude of preachers, each offering up his own ideals, standards for living, and religious views, that members of past generations, even my own, would probably not envy you. It was easier for us: the principal question for us was religion versus atheism. Something much greater, much worse, looms before you. Resolving whether God exists or not is only the first step. If one should conclude that God exists, what next? Which of the many faiths should he espouse? Christianity? Islam? Why not Buddhism, or Krishna Consciousness? Suppose he negotiates the maze of religions, and realizes that Christianity is the best, the true religion. Which of its many faces should he espouse? Orthodox, Catholic, Pentecostal, Lutheran? Again, a multitude of choices faces youth today. At the same time, heterodox confessions, old and new, usually advertise themselves much more than do the Orthodox, and they possess significantly greater resources for waging propaganda in the mass media than do we Orthodox Christians.

Because the first thing contemporary man stops to consider is this multitude of faiths, religions, and world views, I would like to conduct a brief tour of the succession of rooms which open up before those seeking the truth. I will present a very general and concise survey of the reasons that one should – not only can, but should – become not merely a Christian, but an Orthodox Christian.

The opening question is “Religion or atheism?” At important conferences, one may encounter truly erudite scholars, deep intellects who repeatedly pose the questions: Who is God? Does He exist? Why is He necessary? Or even: If He exists, why doesn’t he appear on the floor of the United Nations and announce Himself? How does one respond to such questions? It seems to me that the answer lies at the core of contemporary philosophical thought, and is most easily expressed in existential terms. What is the purpose of man’s life, what is the essence of his existence? First of all, how could it be anything other than living? What “purpose” do I experience while asleep? Meaning can be experienced only through consciousness, “tasting” the fruits of one’s life, one’s activity. Throughout the ages, no one has ever been able to posit, and no one will ever posit, that the ultimate purpose of man’s life is death. Here is the unbridgeable divide between religion and atheism. Christianity affirms that earthly life is only a beginning, a condition and a means to prepare you for eternity. It tells you to prepare yourself, for eternal life awaits; it tells you what to do, what kind of person you must be, to enter into eternal life. What does atheism tell you? That there is no God, there is no soul, there is no eternity; thus, believe, O Man, that only eternal death awaits! Words of such horror, pessimism, and despair as to make your skin crawl: Man, eternal death awaits you. Without even considering the, to put it gently, strange underpinnings for such a proposition, the proposition is itself enough to cause a shudder in the human soul. No, deliver me from such a faith!

If a person loses his way in the forest, and, looking for the way home, suddenly encounters someone, he will ask, “Is there a way out of here?” If that person answers, “No, none, don’t even look, just settle down here as best you can,” will he take that advice? Will he not continue his search? Finding someone else who tells him, “Yes, there is a way out, and I will show you the signs marking the way,” will he not rely on him? This is what happens when we are choosing a world view, choosing between religion and atheism. As long as man has even a spark, a glimmer of desire to find the truth, to seek for the purpose of life, he will not accept the proposal that only eternal death awaits him and all of mankind. He will not accept the corollary that to “realize” the idea, he should work toward better economic, social, political, and cultural conditions of life, in expectation that farther along, everything will be “OK.” Tomorrow you will die and will be taken to the cemetery. How marvelous.

I have pointed out only one psychologically very significant aspect, one I would think sufficient to make any person with a living soul understand that only a religious outlook which accepts as its foundation the One Whom we call God, enables us to talk about the purpose of life. Now, having passed through that first room, and having come to believe in God, we enter the second. My God, what do we see and hear? It is filled with people, everyone shouting, “Only I possess the truth!” What a challenge… Muslims, Confucians, Buddhists, Jews, all manner of others, including many who now call themselves Christians. Here, a Christian preacher is standing with the others, while I am supposed to sort out just who is right, just whom should I believe?

There are two approaches to this problem; there may be others, but I will identify two. One way to convince a person as to which is the true faith (i.e. one objectively consonant with human nature, human strivings, human understanding of the meaning of life), is the methodology of comparative Theology. It is quite a long path, requiring detailed study of each religion. Few are capable of taking this path, for they must possess the capacity to absorb all of the material, and must expend a great deal of time and effort in a spiritually taxing process… There is another way. Ultimately, each religion addresses people, saying to them, “This, and not something else, is the truth.” In this regard, virtually all world views and religions state one simple thing: that the conditions under which a person now lives, the political, social, economic conditions on the one hand, and the spiritual, moral, cultural, etc. on the other, are abnormal, and cannot be totally satisfying. While a specific individual describes himself as satisfied, the vast majority of people suffer from them to some extent. Humanity remains unsatisfied with the current state of affairs, and, seeking after something greater, some “golden age” strives to advance somewhere into the unknown future.

One can see why the focus of virtually all religions and world views is the study of salvation. It is here that we encounter what it seems to me already affords us the opportunity to make an informed choice from among the multitude of religions. Christianity affirms something the other religions and the non-religious world views simply do not comprehend, something they indignantly reject. This lies in our understanding of so-called original sin. All religions, and I propose, all philosophies of life, all ideologies, talk about sin, albeit in different terms. But not one of them other than Christianity believes that human nature in its current state is ill. Christianity affirms that the condition in which we people are born, exist, grow, are educated, take courage, mature, the state in which we find enjoyment, amusement, learning, make discoveries, etc., is a state of serious illness, bringing us profound harm. We are ill, but not with flu, bronchitis, or psychiatric illness. We are physically and psychologically well, we are capable of solving problems, and can fly into space. Nonetheless, we are gravely ill; in the beginning unified human nature sustained a strange and tragic fracture, dividing into apparently autonomously existing and frequently warring mind, heart, and body. Such a comment evokes universal indignation. “Isn’t Christianity being absurd?” “Me, abnormal? Sorry, others may be, but I am not!” If Christianity is correct, this is the root problem, the reason human life, life of the individual and of all mankind, goes from one tragedy to another. If man is seriously ill but does not try to heal the sickness because he is unaware of it, it will do him harm.

Other religious do not comprehend that man has such an illness. They believe that man is a healthy seed that can develop either normally or abnormally, with development dependent upon his social milieu, economic conditions, psychological factors, and many other things.

Man can be either good or bad, but by nature he is good. In this lies the principle antithesis, the consciousness of the non-Christian. I am not even addressing the non-religious, for whom the term “man” seems like an “exercise in pride.” Only Christianity affirms that our current state is a deeply damaged one, so damaged that no one can by himself repair it.

This is the fundamental truth on which the great Christian dogma of Christ as Savior is built. This idea is the principle watershed between Christianity and the other religions.

Now I will attempt to demonstrate that, in contrast to other religions, Christianity has within it objective confirmation of its assertions. Let us consider mankind’s history and the aspirations by which man has lived throughout known history. Of course, man has striven to create the Kingdom of God on earth. Some have sought to do so with God’s help, while at the same time considering Him not as the ultimate goal of life, but merely a means to achieve good on earth. Others did not consider God at all. However, it is something else that is important. Everyone understands that this Kingdom cannot exist on earth without some basics such as peace, justice, love (what kind of Paradise would be ruled by war, injustice, hatred, etc.?), or, on an even more basic level, respect for one another. Everyone understands perfectly that without establishing and following such fundamental moral values, it is impossible to prosper on earth. Yet, what has mankind been doing throughout its history? Erich Fromme expressed it perfectly when he said “The history of mankind is written in blood. It is a history of never-ending violence.”

I think that historians, especially military historians, can readily illustrate for us what constitutes human history: wars, shedding of blood, violence, cruelty. The 20th Century is thought of as an era of exalted humanism. Yet it has demonstrated its level of “perfection” by exceeding in the amount of bloodshed, all that was shed in the prior centuries of human history combined. If our forefathers could have seen what was to come in the 20th Century, they would have shuddered in horror at the scope of the cruelty, injustice, and deceit. This is a paradox beyond human comprehension: as the history of mankind has unfolded, man has acted in direct opposition to those very guiding principles, goals, and ideals toward which he had initially directed all of his efforts.

I would like to pose a rhetorical question: “Can an intelligent being act in such a manner?” History simply mocks us with its ironic pronouncements: “Man truly is wise and healthy. No, he is not spiritually ill. He simply does a little more, and acts a little less wisely than do those locked up in asylums for the insane.”

Alas, this is an inescapable fact which shows that it is not individuals who have gone astray (in fact it is only individuals who have not gone astray), but, paradoxically, that straying is a characteristic of mankind as a whole.

If we consider the isolated individual, or to be more exact, if an individual has enough moral force to look into himself, he will see a picture no less striking. The Apostle Paul accurately described it: “For the good that I would I do not, but the evil which I would not, that I do…” Truly, anyone who actually considers what is taking place in his soul cannot help but notice how spiritually ill he is, how much he is subject to and enslaved by various passions. It is pointless to ask “Why, poor man, do you engage in gluttony, drunkenness, lying, envy, adultery, etc.? You are killing yourself, destroying your family, crippling your children, poisoning the atmosphere about you. Why are you beating, cutting, and stabbing yourself, why are you doing harm to your nerves, your psyche, your body? Do you understand that this is doing you harm?” Yes, I understand, but I am incapable of not doing so.

As a rule, suffering man is unable to get a grip on himself. It is at this point, in the depths of his soul, each rational person encounters that of which Christianity speaks: “…the good that I would I do not, but the evil which I would not, that I do….” Is this health or illness?

For the sake of comparison, let’s consider how an individual can change by living a proper Christian life. Those who cleanse themselves of the passions, acquire humility, and in the words of St. Seraphim of Sarov, have “acquired the Holy Spirit,” arrive at a state which is extremely fascinating from a psychological point of view: they consider themselves to be the worst of all people. Pimen the Great said: “Believe me, brethren, I shall be cast into the very place into which Satan is cast.” As Sisoe the Great was dying, and his face had become bright as the sun, making it impossible for anyone to look upon him, he implored God to give him a little more time in which to repent. What is this? Some kind of hypocrisy, some false humility? No. Afraid to sin even in thought, they said what they were actually experiencing. We on the other hand do not feel this at all. I am filled to overflowing with all manner of filth, and yet I see myself as a very good person. I am a good person! If I do something bad, well, no one is without sin, others are no better than I, and I am not as guilty as he, she, or they. Because we do not perceive the state of our souls, we see ourselves as so good. How the spiritual vision of the saints differ from ours!

Well, I again state: Christianity affirms that by nature, in his so-called normal state, man is deeply damaged. Unfortunately, we are only very dimly aware of the damage. The most terrible, principal blindness that afflicts us is the inability to see our own sickness. This is what is truly most dangerous, for when a person recognizes that he is sick, he seeks help, he goes to a physician, and he gets treatment for his disease. However, if he sees himself as healthy, he sends away those who tell him he is sick. This is the greatest symptom of the very damage within us. The full weight of history – both the overall history of mankind and the history of each individual, including first and foremost one’s own personal history – bears unambiguous witness to its existence. This is what Christianity shows us.

I will say that objective evidence of the single fact of human nature’s damaged state, that single truth expressed in the Christian Faith, is enough to show me the choice as to what religion to embrace – the one which reveals my sicknesses and shows me the means to heal them, or one which masks my diseases, nourishes human egotism, and says that everything is fine and wonderful, that I do not need to heal myself, but instead that I should heal the world around me, develop, and become more perfect. History teaches us the results of not getting treatment.

Well, we have come to Christianity. Thanks be to Thee, O Lord, I have finally discovered the true faith. I enter the next room: like the others, it is filled with a multitude of people, once again crying: “My Christian faith is the best of all.” Catholics cry out: “Look at how many followers we have – 1 billion 45 million.” Protestants from an extremely wide variety of denominations say that they are 350 million. The Orthodox are fewest in number, a mere 170 million. As has already been correctly suggested, truth is not determined by quantity but quality. Yet the most important question remains: “Where is true Christianity?”

There are a number of possible approaches to the question. In seminary, we were always taught to compare Catholic and Protestant dogmatic systems to that of the Orthodox. This is a method worthy of attention and respect, but it is one which seems to me not comprehensive or good enough, for one who does not have a good education, who is not sufficiently knowledgeable, will hardly find it easy to make sense of the jungle of dogmatic arguments and decide who is right and who is wrong. Moreover, at times such powerful psychological methods are employed, that one can easily be diverted from the substance of the matter. For example, when we take up the question of Papal primacy with the Catholics, they say: “Oh, the Pope! What are you talking about? This primacy and infallibility is such nonsense; it is the same as what is enjoyed by your Patriarch. Papal infallibility and authority is practically indistinguishable from the authoritativeness of pronouncements made by the head of any Local Orthodox Church.” In fact, there is a distinction here between dogma and canons. Thus, the comparative-dogmatics approach is far from simple, especially when you are dealing with those who not only are knowledgeable, but are striving to win you over at any cost.

However, there is another path which clearly shows what Catholicism is and where it leads man. That path is one of comparative investigation and study, but one already in the realm of the spiritual life, visibly manifested in the lives of the saints. It is there that, to use the language of the ascetics, the “vanity” of Catholic spirituality is clearly and powerfully illuminated. It is that vanity, which is fraught with the most grave consequences for the ascetic who sets foot on its way of life. You know, I sometimes give public lectures which are attended by a wide variety of people. Frequently, I hear the following question: “Well, what distinguishes Catholicism from Orthodoxy. How are they in error? Don’t they simply constitute a different path to Christ?” On many occasions, I’ve seen that all I need to do is to bring out examples of a few Catholic mystics, and the inquirer will say, “Thank you, now everything is clear. Nothing else is needed.”

Truly, any Church, Orthodox or heterodox, is known by its saints. Tell me who your saints are, and I will tell you what kind of Church you have. Any Church proclaims as saints only those who embody the Christian ideal as understood by the given Church. For this reason, a saint’s glorification is not the Church’s affirmation that they judge a certain Christian worthy of honor and a fit example for emulation, but also, first and foremost is the Church’s witness as to itself. We can best determine through the saints as to the reality or appearance of holiness of the Church itself.

I will give you a few illustrations of how the Catholic Church views holiness.

One of those considered by Catholicism to be a great saint is Francis of Assisi (13th C.). The following gives a picture of his spiritual consciousness/self-image. It once happened that Francis was engaged in a lengthy prayer “for two gifts.” The subject of the prayer is telling. “The first is that I… might… experience all of the suffering which You, Sweetest Jesus, experienced during Your tortured passion. The second … is that … I might feel …that limitless love with which You burned, O son of God.” As we can see, Francis was concerned not with his own sinfulness, but with a pretension toward equality to Christ!

During this prayer, Francis “felt himself entirely transformed into Jesus,” Whom he immediately recognized as a six-winged seraph, who struck him with flaming arrows into the hands, feet, and right side, places where Jesus Christ had been wounded, and where, following this vision, bleeding wounds (stigmata – signs of the “sufferings of Jesus”) opened. (M.V. Lodyzhensky, p. 109, The Unseen Light, Petrograd, 1915.)

The phenomenon of such stigmata is a subject quite familiar to the field of psychiatry: Uninterrupted meditation on Christ’s passion on the Cross markedly arouses one’s mental state, and with prolonged exercise of such concentration can bring on such phenomena. There is nothing grace-filled in it, for in such co-suffering (compassio) with Christ there is not that true love whose substance the Lord clearly stated: He that hath My Commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth (John 14: 21). Therefore, substituting meditation on the experience of “co-suffering” for the battle to overcome one’s “old man,” one’s former nature, is one of the gravest errors in spiritual life, one which has led and still leads many spiritual strugglers into egotism, pride, frank spiritual self-delusion, often directly tied to mental illness. (See, for example, Francis’ “homilies” addressed to birds, to the wolf, to doves, to snakes and to the flowers, and his reverence before fire, stones, and worms.)

What Francis set forth for himself as the goal of life is also quite telling: “I have labored and want to labor because this brings honor.” (St. Francis of Assisi; Works; Moscow; Franciscan Publishers; 1995. – p. 145). Francis wishes to suffer for others and to atone for others’ sins (p. 20). Was this not the reason for his flatly stating at the end of his life “I am not aware of any transgressions I have not redeemed through confession and repentance.” (Lodyzhensky. – p. 129). This all bears witness to his failure to see his sins, his fall, his utter spiritual blindness.

For the sake of comparison [between Orthodox and Catholic sanctity – Ed.] consider a vignette from the last moments of Venerable St. Sisoe the Great’s life (5th C.) “In the minutes before his death, as Sisoe appeared to be talking with persons invisible to the brethren surrounding him, he responded to the request: “Father, tell us with whom you are conversing…” by saying “They are the angels who have come to take me, and I am imploring them to leave me [here] for a short time, so that I might repent.” When the brethren, who knew that Sisoe was accomplished in virtues, contradicted him, noting, “But you have no need of repentance, Father,” he answered, “In truth, I do not know whether I have even begun to repent.” (Lodyzhensky, p. 133.) That profound understanding, that recognition of one’s own imperfection, is the principal distinguishing characteristic of all true saints.

Here is an excerpt from the “Blessed Angela”” (†1309), in The Revelations to Blessed Angela, published in Moscow, 1918.

She writes that the Holy Spirit spoke to her, saying “My daughter, my sweet delightful one…I love you very much.” (p. 95). “I was with the apostles, and they saw Me with human eyes, but they did not feel me as you do.” (p. 96). Angela revealed the following about herself: “In the darkness, I see the Holy Trinity, and it seems to me that I am there, at the very center of the Trinity, which I see in the darkness.” (p 117). She provides examples of how she sees her relationship to Jesus Christ: “I was able to put myself entirely inside Jesus Christ.” (p. 176). And: “Because of His sweetness and out of sorrow over his departure I screamed and wanted to die” (p. 101). In her frenzied state, she would begin to beat herself so severely that the nuns were forced to carry her out of the church (p. 83).

A.F. Lossev, one of the most prominent Russian religious writers of the 20th Century, gave the following harsh but accurate criticism of Angela’s “revelations.” He wrote in part: “[Angela’s] is in such a state of temptation and seduction that she even has the Holy Spirit appear to [her] and whisper adoring expressions: “My daughter, my sweet delightful one, My temple, My delight, love me, for I love you very much, much more than you love Me.” The saint sweetly languishes, and is disoriented by love’s sweet exhaustion. And her lover appears more and more often, to inflame still further her body, her heart, her blood. The Cross of Christ appears to her as a nuptial bed. How can anything be more opposite to serious and sober Byzantine-Muscovite asceticism than the following blasphemous pronouncement: “My soul was taken into the uncreated light and ascended.” Such passionate reflections on the Cross of Christ, on the wounds of Christ and on the individual parts of His Body, such forced evocation of bloody marks on one’s own body, etc… In culmination, Christ wraps the arm which had been nailed to the Cross around Angela, and she, totally spent from her languor, torment, and happiness, says “Sometimes, in the closeness of that embrace, it seems to my soul that entered the side of Christ, and the joy and illumination it received there, was inexpressible. For they were so great, that sometimes I was unable to stand on my feet, and lay down, unable to speak… and I lay there, [the use of] my tongue and limbs taken from me.” (A.F. Lossev, Essays on Ancient Symbolism and Mythology, Moscow 1930, Vol. 1, pp. 867-868.).

Catherine of Sienna (+1380), who was elevated by Pope Paul VI to the highest rank of sainthood, i.e. “Doctor of the Church,” provides a clear example of Catholic sanctity. I will quote a few excerpts from the Catholic book Portraits of the Saints by Antonio Siccari, excerpts which I believe need no explication.

Catherine was about 20 years of age. “She sensed that her life was to come to a decisive turning point, and she continued to pray about it to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, repeating the wonderful, extremely tender turn of phrase that was to become her leitmotiv, “Unite Yourself to me in a marriage of faith!” (Antonio Siccari, Portraits of the Saints, Vol. II, Milan, 1991, p. 11.)

“Catherine once had the following vision: her Divine Bridegroom, embracing her, drew her to Himself, but then removed her heart from her chest so that He might give her a new heart, more like His Very Own.”(p. 12).

Once, it was said that she had died: “She later said herself that her heart was torn apart by the power of God’s love, and that she experienced death, “seeing the heavenly gates.” However, the Lord said unto me, “Go back, My child, you must go back… I will bring you before the princes and rulers of the Church.” And the humble girl began to send out her epistles throughout the world, lengthy letters dictated, often three or four at a time on different subjects and without losing the thread, at amazing speed, leaving her secretaries unable to keep up with her. All of these letters concluded with the passionate formula “Sweetest Jesus, Jesus [my] Love.” They often began with the words “I, Catherine, the servant and slave of slaves of Jesus, write to you in His most precious Blood…” (p. 12).

“In Catherine’s letters, one is struck first of all by the frequent and persistent appearance of the repeated words “I want.” (p. 12). (12). Some say that in her ecstasy, she even addressed the demanding words “I want” to Christ.” (p. 13).

From correspondence with Gregory XI, whom she was trying to persuade to return from Avignon to Rome: “I speak to you on behalf of Christ… I speak to you, Father, in Jesus Christ…. Reply to the call of the Holy Spirit which is addressed to you.” (p. 13)

“And to the King of France, she said ‘Do God’s will and mine.’”(p. 14).

No less telling are the “revelations” of Teresa of Avila (16th Century) who was likewise elevated by Pope Paul VI to the status of “Doctor of the Church.” Before her death, she cried out, “O my God, my Husband, at last I will see you!” This strangest of outcries was no accident. It was the natural consequence of all of Theresa’s “spiritual” struggle, whose essence was revealed in the following:

After her many revelations, “Christ” said to Teresa: “From this day forth, you shall be my wife. From henceforth, I am not only your Creator, but your Husband.” (D. S. Merezhkovsky, Spanish Mystics, Brussels, 1988, p. 88.) D. Merezhkovsky wrote that Teresa prayed “Lord, either to suffer with You, or to die for You!” and fell exhausted from these favors. Thus, it is no surprise that Teresa confesses “My Beloved calls my soul with such a piercing whistle, that I cannot help but hear. This call so acts on my soul that it becomes exhausted with desire.” It is no coincidence that in evaluating her mystical experiences, the famous American psychologist William James wrote that “her conception of religion came down, if one may so state, to an endless series of lovers’ flirtations between the worshiper and his” (William James, The Variety of Religious Experience, translated from the English, Moscow, 1910. – p. 337).

Yet another illustration of Catholic sanctity is Therese of Lisieux (Little Therese, or Therese Child of Jesus), who had lived to the age of 23, and whom, in 1997 on the centennial of her repose, Pope John Paul II “infallibly” declared to be yet another Teacher of the Universal Church. The following excerpts from Therese’s spiritual autobiography, The Story of a Soul (Symbol, 1996, No. 36, Paris, p. 151), bear eloquent witness to her spiritual state.

“During the discussion preceding my tonsure, I saw the events that were to take place in Carmel. I came to save souls and first of all, to pray for priests…” (To save not herself, but others!)

Speaking of her unworthiness, she wrote, “I maintain the constant daring hope that I will become a great saint… I thought that I was born for glory and I sought the ways to accomplish it. And lo, the Lord God… revealed to me, that my glory will not be look upon death, and its substance is that I will become a great saint!!!”(Compare this to Makariy the Great, who, known for the exceedingly lofty character of his life, was referred to by his co-strugglers as “God on earth.” He prayed only “O God, cleanse me a sinner, for I have done nothing good before You.”) Later, Therese was to write even more bluntly “In the heart of my Mother-Church, I will be Love…then I will be for everyone… and through this my dream will have come true!!!”

Therese’s teachings about spiritual love were absolutely “remarkable.” She stated “This was the kiss of love. I felt loved, and said “I love Thee and entrust myself to Thee forever.” There were neither petitions, nor struggles, nor sacrifice. Jesus and poor little Therese had long since looked upon one another and had understood everything… That day brought not an exchange of glances, but a merging; there were no longer two of them, and Therese disappeared like a drop of water that is lost in the depths of the sea.” Comments on the fantasy novel by the poor maiden, Teacher of the Catholic Church, are hardly needed.

The mystical experience of Ignatius Loyola (16th Century), founder of the Jesuit Order and one of the pillars of Catholic mysticism is based on systematic development of the imagination.

His book Spiritual Exercise, within Catholicism considered to be quite authoritative, uninterruptedly calls the Christian to imagine, and contemplate the Holy Trinity, Christ, the Mother of God, the Angels, etc. As a matter of principle this all stands in stark contrast to the basis of the spiritual struggles of the saints of the Universal Church, for it leads the believer into total spiritual and emotional disarray.

The Philokalia, an authoritative anthology of the early Church’s ascetic writings strictly forbids participation in such “spiritual exercises.” Here are some excerpts from that anthology:

St. Nilus of Sinai (5th C.) cautions: “Do not desire visions of Angels or Powers or Christ, lest ye lose your minds, take the wolf for the pastor, and worship your demon enemies…” (St. Nilus of Sinai, 153rd chapter on prayer. Philokalia, Chapter 115, Volume 2 of the 5 Volume 2nd Edition, Moscow 1884 p. 237).

Discoursing on those who in prayer “imagine the pleasures of heaven, the ranks of angels, and the dwellings of the saints,” St. Symeon the New Theologian (11th C.) plainly states that “that is a sign of prelest’ [spiritual self-deception]….” “Embarked on such a path, those who see a light with their physical eyes, sense sweet smells with their sense of smell, and hear voices with their ears, etc., are seduced …” (St. Symeon the New Theologian. “On three forms of prayer,” The Philokalia, Vol. 5, pp. 463-464, Moscow 1900.

St. Gregory of Sinai (14th C.) reminds us: “Never welcome anything you see with the senses or the spirit, within or without, whether it be the image of Christ, or of an angel, or of some saint…. Those who do welcome such things… are easily enticed…. God is not indignant at one who, careful and heedful for fear of being deceived, does not welcome someone who is in fact from Him, …rather [God] praises [such a person] as one who is wise….” (St. Gregory of Sinai, “Instructions to those who keep silent,” op. cit., p. 224).

St. Ignatiy Brianchaninov writes about the correctness of the landowner who, on seeing his daughter holding the 15th Century Catholic Thomas A Kempis’ book Imitation of Jesus Christ, wrested it from her hands and said: “Stop your romance with God.” In light of the above-cited examples one cannot doubt the propriety of such words. It is quite unfortunate that the Catholic Church has apparently stopped distinguishing between the spiritual and the emotional, between sanctity and fantasizing, and consequently, between Christianity and paganism.

So much for Catholicism.

When it comes to addressing Protestantism, their stated dogmas alone will suffice. One can grasp their essence by considering but one fundamental Protestant assertion: “Man is saved only by Faith, and not by works; therefore, to a believer, sin is not imputed as sin.” Here is the fundamental question on which Protestants have become confused. They start to build their house of salvation from the 10th story, having forgotten (if they ever had remembered) the teachings of the early Church about what kind of faith saves man. Is it not faith in the fact that 2000 years ago, Christ came and accomplished everything for us?!

How does Orthodox understanding of faith differ from that of the Protestants? Orthodoxy also says that man is saved by faith, but for the believer sin remains sin. What kind of faith is this? According to St. Theophanes, not “intellectual,” i.e. analytical, but rather a state acquired through proper, and I emphasize, proper Christian life. Only through such a life does one grasp the fact that only Christ can save him from bondage and from the torment of passions. How is such a state of faith acquired? Through a compulsion to fulfill the Commandments of the Gospel and through true repentance. St. Symeon the New Theologian states: “Careful fulfillment of Christ’s commandments teaches man his weaknesses.” I.e. it reveals to him that without God’s help, he is powerless and unable to root out his passions. By himself, a single person cannot [do it}. However, with God, with “two working together,” all things become possible. It is the Christian life that shows one first, that his passions are illnesses, second, that the Lord is near each and every one of us, and finally, that at any given moment He is prepared to lend us assistance and save us from sin. However, He does not save us without our participation, effort and struggle. Spiritual struggle renders us capable of accepting Christ. It is essential, for it shows us that without God, we cannot heal ourselves. It is only while I am drowning that I am certain of my need for the Savior. While I am on shore, I need no one. It is only when I see myself drowning in the torment of passions that I call upon Christ. It is then that He comes to my aid, and it is from that point that active, salvific faith begins. Orthodoxy teaches us that man’s freedom and dignity are not, as characterized by Luther, a “pillar of salt” incapable of accomplishing anything, but rather are God’s co-workers in His [accomplishment of our] salvation. This renders comprehensible the meaning of all of Commandments in the Gospel, and makes obvious the truth of Orthodoxy, not simply a faith in the matter of salvation for the Christian.

In this way, not simply Christianity, not simply religion, not simply faith in God, but Orthodoxy begins for man.

Source: http://www.stjohndc.org/Russian/homilies/e_Osipov.htm

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