February 21, 2024

Fr. John Romanides as a Professor of Dogmatics at Holy Cross School of Theology in Boston (8 of 8)

f. Death and Selfless Love

"Death is the devil's weapon throughout the world; it is also God's weapon against the devil. God created man for selfless love. Man in turn fell into a double death. Deprived of divine grace, he is unable to do good, even if he wants to do good. As long as he is under the state of death, he is unable to live according to his original purpose.

He has within himself the instinct of self-preservation, which manifests itself in two ways - psychologically and physically. Everyone wants to secure themselves. When he tries to secure himself psychologically, he sins. When he strives psychically, then he takes steps towards salvation. Man seeks physical security, because he needs food, shelter, clothes, etc. (to be protected from the elements of nature). It is obvious that he is automatically interested in himself. If not, he will kill himself. Being concerned about physical security is a natural phenomenon. It is not a sin. Christ Himself cared about it. These are called blameless passions, but they are not considered sins (sadness, lamentation, etc. are blameless passions when they have a good purpose). According to the Platonists, all these are sins, due to the body being the prison of the soul; they belong to the appetitive and incensive parts of the soul.

However, when a person finds himself in a situation where blameless passions refer to psychological sin, then he enters the realm of sin. He always faces the chasm of death, of non-existence, of the lack of meaning in life. He feels the need to prove that he has some value in order to further secure his physical existence. The person who seeks psychological security likes flattery, praise, etc., from which he derives pleasure and psychic relief. However, when such a person is insulted or abused, then he feels a lack of psychic security.

Basically there is not much difference between love and hate. We hate that which opposes our interests and we love that which contributes to our interests. We love our friends because our interests are the same. The closest friendship can turn into hatred if our friend reacts to something. The basis of hate and love is selfishness, self-interest.

Self-interest in itself is not a bad thing. In the hands of the devil it is something evil, just as death in the hands of the devil is a weapon against the world. The basis of sin and selfishness is fear. "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love" (1 John 4:18). Whoever is afraid cannot be perfected. "But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8).

"But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them" (Luke 6:32). "And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back" (Luke 6:34). How can we love our enemies if we are cowards? We don't love them because we fear them. And if we are not afraid of them, this means that we have greater power. Real love is free from all fear and all need.

It is obvious what Chrysostom means when he says that death is the devil's weapon against the world and God's weapon against the devil. God puts an end to sin so that evil does not become immortal. In the hands of God, death is a source of good. The devil would like the death of all at once, but God does not allow it. The instinct of self-preservation helps man not to want death, and whoever does not want death is basically cooperating with God. But when he wants to avoid death, out of fear, at any cost, then he cooperates with the devil. The one who fears death can deny the sacred, the holy, the country, the faith, and everything, because of cowardice.

From one point of view, it is good for man to be afraid. From another point of view it is evil (when it comes from the devil), but fear can be a gift of the Holy Spirit. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God. Man must fear God and no one else.

Because of the fear of hell and the desire to avoid hell, man turns to God and His will, and examines himself first from a spiritual point of view. Here is the beginning of wisdom. He begins to do God's will with every sacrifice. This is indeed self-interest, and it is good and necessary. This is the beginning of wisdom, not the end.

The Fathers say that man from the beginning must have the remembrance of death, which is a gift of God. Having the remembrance of death and thinking about death, man sees reality exactly as it is; his eyes and mind are focused.

1) Those who do God's will for fear of hell are servants, but also perfect Christians. If they are not perfected now, they will be perfected after death, they will see the glory of God in Heaven (they do not need the purgatory fire).

2) The laborers are perfect, self-interested, but their self-interest is perfect and holy. Looking forward to the reward, these do the will of God.

3) The perfect do the will of God not because they fear hell, or look forward to the reward, but because they have tasted the glory of God and have been perfected much more than others. Such people have another kind of fear - lest they lose the communion of God's glory. We are not referring to an eternal loss, but a daily one. Such people weep when they do not see the glory of God.

According to him, death is nothing. Another view of death, illnesses, sorrows, etc. in the world is the view of trials. Through illnesses, sorrows, etc. God tests people. He wonders: why does God allow evil? Why do the good suffer and the wicked prosper? He allows it in order to test us, that is, to perfect us. If there were no tribulations, or if only the unjust would suffer, then everyone would be formally good. On the condition that they will enjoy all the goods of the earth if they are good, in all probability all will try to be good. Thus, the righteous will have everything, and the unrighteous will have tribulations. In the final analysis, everyone would be good from a self-interest point of view (to have the material goods of this world).

God does not want us to have a selfish love, but the selfless, the love that does not seek its own. If He did not test us, we would remain in the state of self-interest, we would pursue the will of God looking only to our well-being, and not to the achievement of selfless love."

All these and many other orthodox things were said by Fr. John Romanides when he was teaching at Holy Cross Theological School (in the years 1960-1962), at the age of only 33-34 years, before he came to Greece to teach.

May the memory of Fr. John Romanides, who delivered such an Orthodox Patristic Dogmatics, be eternal, and may the memory of his student, Fr. Stefanos Avramidis, who saved these Notes, be eternal.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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