|Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries
|Orthodoxy - Salvation
Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dean Emeritus of St. Vlad's Orthodox Seminary addresses the controversial subject of "toll-houses" in this highly animated, one-half hour discussion with our co-hosts.
Kevin Allen: Welcome to this edition of "The Illumined Heart". I'm Kevin Allen.
Kevin: And today is ask Father Thomas Hopko day, our segment where we asked esteemed dean emeritus, lecturer and writer Father Thomas Hopko your questions. To send us a question to ask Father Thomas, please send them to email@example.com. And, Father Thomas, welcome back to the program.
Father Thomas Hopko: Thank you. Good to be with you again.
Father Thomas: Sure. Maybe I could begin with a commercial. If the listeners are interested in what I think about this subject, having studied it and read the various authors on the subject, there is four hours or more on CD from St. Paul's Greek Orthodox Church in Irvine, California, where I gave a retreat on this subject; and these CDs are also available from Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, who also helped in the project, and sell these CDs in their bookstore. But, basically, I spoke generally about the issue of the Lord Jesus Christ's death, and then what happened to death after he died, and then what happens, we believe, as much as we could say, when a person dies.
Kevin: "The Mystery of Death."
Father Thomas: ... Jordan Bill, "The Soul After Death"; Father Michael Azkoul wrote a vitriolic condemnation of Seraphim Rose's interpretation, and called it "The Agnostic Heresy," and so on. And, of course, the struggle between Bishop Lazar, who, at the time, was in the ROCOR, and father Seraphim Rose got so bad that they broke and, I think Bishop Lazar was not a bishop at that time, he went into the Serbian church, or something... So, it's a terrible, terrible controversy; terrible. But, quickly, I would just say that my opinion is that the teaching about toll booths, about the aerial part of it, that's another story. But, the teaching that, when a person dies, they have to answer for their life, and, when they die, all the demons in hell attack them to try to get them to hang on to their sins, and their passions, and their vices, and their demons; in other words, the teaching is that the angels, somehow, the evil angels attack a person at the moment of death, when a person is dying, and then, of course, according to Scripture, the good angels come also to be with the just, and so on.
Kevin: Are we not though, Father, begging this question, it's on my mind and I'm sure it's on others' as well. Let me pose it this way. Christ died to save us from our sins. Do we accept that as an act that has efficacy upon our ultimate destiny, or not?
Father Thomas: Yeah, of course we do. That's the gospel, that's the Christian faith.
Kevin: Well then what's all this...
Father Thomas: That Christ has forgiven us. That Christ has purified us. That Christ has been victorious over the demons. The question, however, remains forever, do we accept it? Do we want it? When we're alive on earth we pray to God every day, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass." "Deliver us from the evil one." We say that in the Lord's prayer several times a day because we want to accept the salvation of God. Death is this final moment of truth, whether or not we really do that or not. So we're praying, and we also don't only pray that for our self, we pray for each other. For me you could say, "Lord Jesus, please help Father Cobb to accept your forgiveness, to accept salvation, to enter into paradise. Don't let him surrender to the devil. Don't let him be enslaved by Satan. Give him your strength to conquer." What we believe is that as long as we're still alive on earth we can still pray. As long as the final judgment has not yet taken place and the end of the world has not taken place, we can continue to pray for everyone. We should remember, by the way, that God is not up there sitting around wondering to see if we are going to pray or not. God knows whether we've prayed, and our prayers are taken into the divine activity from before the foundation of the world. God heard our prayers before we said them.
Father Thomas: The whole providence of God is connected with our prayer for each other. It's a clear scriptural teaching that the prayer of a righteous man has great effect and power with the Lord and that we can pray for each other. We can ask for God's grace for each other, and that's what we do, especially at the moment of death. We do it when a person is dying, and then when they actually die, when they're dead, when their soul and their body are separated and their life is taken by God and their body turns into a stinky corpse, we can continue to pray. We never stop praying. We never stop hoping.
Kevin: Father, let me ask you this. Let's say I have a friend who is in a hospital dying, he's never been baptized and he wants to be baptized, and I don't have time to go get a priest. What do I do?
Father Thomas: You baptize him.
Kevin: I'm a layman.
Father Thomas: You don't need a priest to baptize him.
Kevin: How do I do that?
Father Thomas: Get some water.
Father Thomas: Say, "The servants of God," and say his or her name, "is baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen."
Father Thomas: Let's make another scenario. Suppose you have a friend who's never been baptized and he says, "Please, baptize me," and you say, "OK, I'm going to run and get some water." While you're gone the guy dies.
Father Thomas: Is it too late? Does he go to hell? Some people would say, "Yeah. God arranged for him never to get baptized so he could send him to hell, because he's among the damned." That would not be an orthodox teaching. Gregory the theologian said a long time ago that desire would count before God as a baptism itself. He spoke about the baptism of desire, the baptism of fire. In other words, God is not an ogre. He's not a machine pagan-type god, "Baptized, go to hell, not baptized [sarcastically] ..." You could be baptized and chrismated and served with divine liturgy and go to hell.
Kevin: Again, I'm still struggling with one thing you just said about the baptism of desire. Aren't we getting them a little too close for comfort with those who want to reduce everything to faith alone, faith alone, faith alone, faith alone. That is, if you don't...
Father Thomas: I would say [laughs] , forgive me for saying this, but faith is great, except it isn't alone.
Father Thomas: [laughs] I mean, how can a person say, "I have faith in God but I'm going to stick with my demon of slothery," or, "I'm going to stick with my demon of greed, but I believe in Jesus, oh yeah. He saved me. He died on the cross for me." That's just blaspheme.
Father Thomas: Faith is not alone. If a person wanted to speak that way, I would say, "OK, say faith alone, as long as you admit that real faith is proven by what a person does, as long as you agree that the scriptures, the Psalms, the Proverbs, the prophets, the New Testament writings, the Apocalypse, all say that we're going to answer on the day of judgement "cata ta erga," according to our works. Not according to what we claimed. Even our works won't save us if they're not done for the love of God and the love of a neighbor. Jesus said that in the Sermon on the Mount. He said, "On the day of judgement many will come to me and say, 'We cast out demons in your name. We prophesied in your name. We did miracle in your name. We talked on the radio in your name.'" and he'll say, "I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers."
Kevin: Ouch. [laughs]
Father Thomas: Yeah, sure because we're doing it out of vanity. We're doing it out of pride. We're doing it out of judging people, whether they're baptized or not baptized. We're getting involved in all kinds of stuff that's not our business. And we're not loving God with all our mind, soul, heart and strength and loving our neighbor including our worst enemy as our self and being ready to die for them any moment and to pray for them until our last breath. Well if that kind of love is not in us, we're not going to be safe. Period. That's the teaching of scripture.
Kevin: Yeah, but that's a scary thing that you just said.
Father Thomas: Well, the scripture is terrifying.
Kevin: [laughs] Nobody wants to read it anymore, huh?
Father Thomas: Well you can say that again. You give a sermon just plain on the New Testament and people say "Man, you're tough father." I say I'm not tough, I'm just reading the New Testament. I'm just reading what's said there. And on this issue two things are clearly said. You can't have faith and love without showing it in actual deeds. But it's also said that deeds may be done even in the name of Jesus without real love for God. And so both of those will not save you. You gotta have both together. In other words, Jesus said "I was hungry, you gave me food. I was thirsty, you gave me drink." You actually have to do those acts. In one John the apostle says "Let us not love in word intention." I can't remember the exact wording.
Kevin: "Word indeed only" or something like that.
Kevin: Well what does this all say, Father, about the sacrament. Because you mentioned what got us off on the tangent- which is a good tangent by the way- the baptism in the hospital room and you go to get the water, your friend dies, you say "He was baptized by intention."
Father Thomas: I didn't say that. St. Gregory the Theologian said that, "God may honor that intention."
Kevin: OK, may honor that intention.
Father Thomas: Yes, I didn't say it. But I wouldn't even say it about it if he did get baptized if that was saved. Because I could say that baptism was done not really- it was only done as a last ditch or hope for magic. A person really thought that if you sprinkled water you get to heaven, and that would be blasphemous. So it is certainly a teaching of our church that you could be baptized and go to Hell and not be a member of our church and be saved. That's clear teaching of the bible. So again, it may sound paradoxical but it's not at all. I think it's only paradoxical for people who's God is not the real God but it's a God that they're making up according to their fallen human minds.
Kevin: So Father there are evangelicals who are listening out there and are saying "You know what, these orthodox- they have no idea whether they're saved or not. Even if they lived this righteous life and they spend all their time on their face prostrating and tears and everything else. What you're saying is basically 'You know what? You never know.'"
Father Thomas: I would say that that's absolutely true and that the Evangelical is completely and totally wrong. But I would say that the evangelical is totally right in the answer to the question "Are you saved?" They say "Yes, absolutely- as far as God and the blood of Christ." But that I can be saved simply by saying "I accept Jesus Christ as my savior" is blasphemous.
Kevin: OK, so you're making a distinction between. The efficacy of the atonement from God's perspective vs. the appropriation of that from our perspective.
Kevin: You'd sure put a lot of preachers out of business.
Father Thomas: Good. [all laughing] If they're preaching that, they're in the business of Sadists.
Kevin: Ouch, OK.
Father Thomas: They're not in the business of God if they're preaching that.
Kevin: We're gonna get emails on this one, Father.
Father Thomas: I mean Jesus Christ said himself in St. John's gospel "The one who believes in me-" And that's a singular participle "will do the works I do. And greater works than these will he do because I go through the Father." So the causality of Jesus being glorified and going to God, the Father, and sending the holy spirit means that there will actually be human beings who have faith and grace in Jesus have actually performed more works themselves than Jesus did when he was on the Earth. That's in the Bible. Read the Bible. I would make two suggestions to the whole world if I could, and if I could command it, I would command it. I would say to people "Throw away all of your theological presuppositions as much as you can and sit down and pray to God to illuminate your mind and heart and then read through the entire New Testament slowly three times before you have another theological discussion in your life." Read through it carefully, slowly, with prayer, and then see what you come up with.
Father Thomas: That's fine, but I would say "Let's be careful." We have four different gospels and we have hundreds of different saints. So I could imagine some coming to Macarious and saying "Macarious, what about a person who really a part of him wants to love Christ and wants to be with him but still is caught by these demons. What about that?" And he would say "Death would be a terrible thing for them. Let's pray for them so that they make it through, so that they ultimately would be purified." I think that's what he would answer.
Kevin: Well fair enough. Well Father Thomas Hopko we're gonna need to end on that. We sure appreciate your coming on and talking with us today. Listeners, if you'd like information on speakers to come to your church or event, please check out www.orthodoxspeakers.com. The engineer for today's program is Steve McMeans. Thanks for listening.
Article published in English on: 9-1-2012.
Last update: 9-1-2012.