Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, Elder of the Canadian Orthodox Monastery of All Saints of North America

Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, Elder of the Canadian Orthodox Monastery of All Saints of North America

Joy of Canada icon, a gift to the Canadian Orthodox Monastery of All Saints of North America

Joy of Canada icon, written by Slavko Protic as a gift for the Monastery of All Saints of North America


Spiritual Talks of Archbishop Lazar Puhalo
(The following Meleti were given in Thessaloniki, Greece ).



Last time you had a discussion and mentioned that because of your different kind of clothing you are distinguished from other people. People come and ask you what you are and then you have an opportunity to discuss the faith with them. But we as lay people do not have something that distinguishes us from other people. So we do not have an opportunity where people come and ask us about our lives or about our faith. What should our approach to other people be? Should we try to talk to them by ourselves, and if we try to confess the faith and give an oral witness what should our first words be toward them?


There are seldom any situations in which you should initiate such a conversation. Some Protestants do this, and it usually has a negative result. It is difficult to initiate such a converesation without being offensive to people. Usually, you are only making ordinary conversation with people, and it is only when you meet someone who is interested in spiritual matters that you are able to talk to them about the faith. When someone else initiates a conversation about religious matter, you certainly have an opportunity to respond. Most often, the conversation will be initiated by a Protestant, and that give one a good opportunity to witness for Orthodoxy. I remember an incident with a fourteen year old boy in one of our parishes. He attended a school near the parish. When it came time for lunch in the big lunch hall at school, he always stood up and said a short prayer and made the sign of the cross on himself. A few people would ridicule him because of this but many of the young people also respected him because of it. Some Protestants, seeing that he was a believer, would come and try to convert him. They would tell him,"You should not make the sign of the cross because we do not do that." Then he began to explain to them why they should make the sign of the cross. He asked one young girl who came to him to try to convert him, "Are you ashamed of the cross of Jesus? If you are not ashamed to the cross why do you not make the sign of the cross?" She was unable to answer so she went to her home and asked her parents about it. Because of that one thing the parents began to investigate a little bit, looking for an answer to Andrei's question. In this way, they discovered that, in ancient times, all Christians used the sign of the cross. Eventually the whole family became Orthodox. It happens that the Holy Spirit often provides the opportunities for us to witness by giving us an opening toward those people who are able to hear what we have to say.

It is difficult to initiate a conversation about the faith without appearing to be self-righteous or arrogant, but because it is also necessary to witness for the faith we need to have classes periodically where we teach people how to do this. Above all, we must learn to approach discussions about the faith in an Orthodox manner, rather than imitating the highly condescending and obnoxious Protestant manner. One of the first steps is to gain complete control of anger, because in any discussion if you become angry then it becomes an argument and you are going to lose it. Do not allow a discussion to degenerate into an argument, or even a debate. The Holy Spirit brings us the spirit of peace. In the Holy Scripture we read: "Be ye angry and sin not," but here it is talking about an internal spiritual struggle. When we are witnessing for Christ we are witnessing to a spirit of peace, so we have to acquire a spirit of peace. If you have a spirit of peace and an inner joy that comes from the Holy Spirit, then people who are open to the things of the Spirit will ask you how you arrived at the spirit of peace. Also when somebody tries to get you to do something wrong or something negative, when you refuse to do it you can tell people why you have refused without being angry or self-righteous. Remember that your concept of what is wrong or negative may differ substantially from theirs, and a condemnatory tone will not only come across as self-righteousness, it will also turn the listener away from considering your point of view.

We do not want any kind of self-righteousness. In order to truly witness for Christ one has to be natural and open, and not take on an attitude or the appearance of religiosity. In Slavic we call such an attitude svyatosha. This applies to a person who tries to take on the appearance of "holiness." But we do not need to have a long face, a sleepy, closed eyed countenance or a sorrowful look as an effort to demonstrate that we believe in God or in an effort to make us look like a spiritual elder or holy person.

One thing that I would like to say is that when I lecture at universities many times the students ask questions and I explain the Orthodox perspective on the problems. The students are very often amazed at the Orthodox answers. Sometimes they say ,"Oh but it sounds very liberal!" by which they mean "enlightened." Many people have turned away from our Lord Jesus Christ because the teaching they have received is heavy and dark, sometimes very dry and often filled with superstition. Students are amazed when they hear that we are comfortable with the principles of evolution and find it easy to understand in a spiritual way the whole process of evolution, or how comfortable Orthodoxy is with modern science. They are also surprised when we explain to them the true meaning of marriage and the correct teaching about redemption. When you know and understand the Orthodox perspective on these things then you have a great deal more to say to other people your own age.



Sometimes in our family, but also in our Church life, we face problems with other people, with their behaviour and their understanding of life. We see that people in our family or in the Church sometimes behave in a way that is contrary to the principles of a Christian life. Sometimes one wonders, at what point should this behaviour be no longer acceptable and at what point should one react against this behaviour. Sometimes we attempt to think, "This is just the times we live in; that is how things are in our times," but probably we should also reach a point where we should react against such a situation.


We had a few cases where we had to do something like that ourselves. In North America we have unique problems. People who come from the old country want a political organization within the Church and we tell them, "Sorry, we cannot allow such behaviour. It has nothing to do with the life and meaning of the Church or the parish community. If you wish to persist in politics in the church, you must go away to some other parish. So we have to face that problem ourselves, even when it is not directly related to ordinary questions of moral behaviour or human decency.

John Kalomiros: But you speak about political organisations...

ARCHBISHOP LAZAR:Right, in this case a Romanian club, a men's club. The behaviour of such institutions is completely contrary to the aspirations and goal of the Church. At that point we tell them to go and be happy in some other church

John Kalomiros: I think that he means about moral behaviour.

ARCHBISHOP LAZAR:Yes, I understand that the question is specifically about moral behaviour, but it is also about the possibility of having to react and even to exclude some person from the community. There are times when, for the sake and safety of the whole community, a person might have to be excluded, and I do not want to divide the question between theoretical morals and general behaviour. All human behaviour is a question of morality even if it does not apparently touch the matter of theoretical morals.

I have seen cases where, within the parish community, someone is angry with somebody else and they try to split the parish and make people take their side. Such a matter may not fall clearly into the realm of theoretical morality, but it is immoral nonetheless. Too often people think of morality only in terms of sex, murder and theft, and if you accuse the culprit of immorality because of selfish, self-centred of divisive actions in a parish, he would likely be shocked at the thought and not be able to grasp the immorality of his actions. In such cases, we would usually have the priest and one or two of the parishioners sit down and talk to these people and discuss the problem with them. Personally, I favour having a teenager included so that he or she can express how much it hurts the young people to have such a poor example set for them. If the problem absolutely cannot be corrected then we have to ask the originators of the problem to withdraw from the life of the parish until they repent. In such a case it is not possible for the priest to continue to give them Holy Communion.

You can also have a situation in the parish where somebody intentionally enters the church in a completely shameless way. I am using the word shameless in a serious manner, not just lightly. In cases where it is a woman, the women will talk to her about it, and if it is a man, some of the men will talk to him about it. If it becomes clear that this is something intentional and ongoing, then they also have to be asked to withdraw from the community, and in some extreme cases, they may have to be forced out. The point I am making is that you cannot endure intentional offences indefinitely. When people are obviously trying to harm the parish or cause grief and disorientation to others, then by allowing them to stay in the parish you only help them to destroy themselves and harm the whole community. So long as they get their own way, they lose even more control of themselves. Apostle Paul separated such people from the community until they repented. I want to make it absolutely clear, however, that I am not advocating a narrow moralism, an uncompassionate criticalness or oppression. In general, we should bear with people with much patience. If it is a "quiet" problem and not something that is openly displayed or flaunted, then we should struggle with patience, love and prayer to try to heal the situation. We have to be careful that we do not judge self-righteous judgment and yet when people are intentionally doing something which is completely contrary to the life in Christ, especially when they are doing something quite openly, then some kind of action should be taken. Otherwise these people are simply destroying their own souls and perhaps they are harming other people's souls. I think, though, that there has to be quite a serious problem before we completely exclude people from the community even when the priest must deny them Holy Communion.

If a problem of some serious canonical nature does arise, it is usually best for the priest to consult the bishop about it. Let me tell you, however, that it is a great sin to judge hypocritically.

There does comes a point when patience and tenderness can actually harm a person rather than helping them. It is the same when we never discipline children but allow them to get away with everything, then one day we tell them not to play in a busy street but they do not take it seriously. If you discipline the child for playing in the street no one will accuse you of not loving the child. On the other hand if you allow your child to play in the middle of a large and busy street, people will accuse you of not loving the child, and they will be correct. We will be more loving if we discipline the child than if we allow them to play in the middle of the busy street. Sometimes we have to look at situations in the parish in exactly the same way.

If a canonical question arises, the priest should consult the bishop. Among other things it saves the priest from being accused of prejudice against someone, and this is usually the most peaceful and clear way to resolve questions of that nature.

I did not give you as direct an answer as you might have wanted, but that is because there are no die cut or "rubber stamp" answers to any such matters. Each case must be examined in its own context and circumstances and no two situations can be judged alike. Remember that there are cases when "justice" is not righteous and "righteousness" is not just.

15 NOVEMBER, 1998

Although the whole community is here tonight, I am going to continue to address myself to the teenagers.

This is my last evening in Thessaloniki and I am torn between two emotions. I am anxious to be home in my monastery, but I also do not want to leave this beloved community. By now I have a whole month of work waiting for me at home, but I am glad that we have one last evening together before we go so that David, Symeon and I can have fellowship together with you one more time.

I am going to talk a little bit this evening about a popular subject: about sin. I recall a story that Queen Elizabeth sometimes likes to tell, about someone who asked the Archbishop of Canterbury, "What do you think about sin?" and he said, "Well, I am against it."

The reason I want to say something about it is because in our times there is some confusion about what the word actually means. I remember that when I was young I thought: "Sin means something that whoever is speaking does not agree with." It was just a matter of adjusting the idea of morals and sin to whatever you liked or did not like. Greek speaking people always understand that "amartia" means to miss the mark or to fall short of the goal. In English we are stuck with a word that has only a legal connotation but does not really express any fullness or accuracy of meaning. For this reason, it is sometimes more difficult to explain to English speaking people that even many things that seem to be good or seem to be positive or very moral, are actually sinful.

It happens that the goal for which we are created is to be united together with God in pure love. This means that, at the creation, the goal set by God for all of humanity was not only to be united with Him in both truth and pure love, but to be united together among themselves in pure love and truth. Everything that separates us from God is sin. It does not matter whether what we do seems to be very moral, positive or good: if it separates us from God then it is sin. As my friend David Goa often says, it is easier to lose your soul through your virtues than through your vices.

Perhaps we will have some questions about this afterwards, but I want to say something that I may have said here before: morality is sometimes a heresy. Sometimes moral behaviour can also be sin. At first these things sound a bit shocking, because in the West, even among many Orthodox people, our whole faith, our whole religion, has been reduced to a legal moral code. Among Protestants, but also among people such as the Zoë Brotherhood and other Augustinians, we see that they introduce a kind of moral fascism. These people teach us that our whole spiritual life is to follow a moral law or a moral code, and so we have faith replaced by law, theoretical morality as a substitute for a life in Christ. This has formed a great tragedy for many people because they come to believe that being together with Jesus Christ depends primarily on correct behaviour. The fact is, we know that many pagans, many people who do not believe can be highly moral and practise outstandingly correct behaviour. In some pagans societies young people have a greater respect for their parents and for older people than they do in our own society, and in some pagan societies, crime is almost completely unknown.

If the essence of our faith is simply morality or moral behaviour then we are worse off than these pagans. Somewhere in history, people began to think that the only way to define sin was as behaviour that was not consistent with one or another moral code. They forgot that the essence of our Orthodox Christian life is a life in Jesus Christ, a life permeated by the grace of the Holy Spirit. I will assert that no deed has any real moral value unless it proceeds from the heart motivated by love. People began to leave the element of love out of the concept of morality — oh, they did not leave the word out but they did omit the reality — and then even their morality separated them from God, because it was motivated only by fear of law and not by love, and it manifested only a condescending self-righteousness, not a healing co-suffering love. When morality began to replace real struggle to acquire an active life in Christ, it became a heresy. When we struggle to have an active life in Christ we begin to rise above all these questions about morality and begin to do by a new nature those things which are truly (not theoretically) moral. The real question, then, is not: "Does such behaviour follow a moral code; is such behaviour good or is it bad?" Rather the question is:"Does such behaviour somehow separate me from God?"

In English we make a distinction between ethics and morals, because ethics is something that is required in business and (in theory at least) in politics, and is enforced by law. Some hyper religious people think that the government should enforce their concept and doctrine of morality by law also, but in that case, it would cease to be truly moral and would become only a law of social behaviour with no real moral value. It certainly would not serve for the salvation of the person or the transformation of society. In fact, such legislated social ethics may be useful for society, though it is worthless for the salvation of the soul, but it may also be a disastrous repression which will only engender rejection of basic moral precepts and rebellion against them. Many times a person who has perfectly "moral" behaviour becomes very self-righteous and full of judgment about other people, never grasping that such an attitude separates them from God and so it is a sin.

We have to be very careful about how we understand the nature of sin because otherwise we can accuse other people and justify ourselves when really we are the ones who are found in sin, for the act of passing moral judgement and condemning other people is already a sin itself. We realize that we have a paradox and tension about how we must use discretion without judging and condemning people, and we will need to discuss this, but for the moment I simply want to establish that the true meaning of "amartia" or "sin" is any action that separates us from God, no matter how virtuous it may appear. Every action that separates us from God makes us fall short or miss the mark of the destiny for which God created us. This means that a lack of love is a very great sin, but in almost every moral code we do not see the necessity for genuine unselfish love, only for correct behaviour as defined by one or another group of authorities, and usually manipulated or "adjusted" by a power elite. Yet genuine unselfish love is the only thing that can defeat the power of Satan; genuine selfless love is the only thing that can unite us with God.

Our real struggle, then, is to make sure that all of our behaviour, our actions, our choices are motivated by genuine love. Only such a life — a life which is motivated by the struggle to acquire a genuine unselfish, co-suffering love — can be a life in Christ. Therefore only such a life can be truly moral. When we say that we are going to repent, what does it mean? We say "metania" which means to change our direction or to re-think, to think in a different way. This is exactly what the English word "repent" means, to think in a different way and to change our perspective on life.

Often when somebody comes into the church for confession, the confession is short, quick and without any depth of meaning. Many people think that repentance means to think about some specific violation that you committed and apologize for it. They begin to think about sin as just breaking the law, like a traffic violation, and then the priest gives you an "epitimia," like writing a traffic ticket for going too fast. We pay the fine or apologize for the deed and this supposedly propitiates God's anger. This is a totally false perception, however, because repentance, or "metania," means to change your whole way of looking at things, to reverse your perspective. When we focus on individual events or deeds that we do in life, this is not repentance. It is good that we apologize because we did something wrong, but repentance means to try to change ourselves in such a way that we do not do those things any more because of the growing love within us. When we desire to change our way of thinking and our perspective, what we really try to do is to turn our lives away from selfishness and toward unselfish love. If we obey God only because we fear Him then we are not repenting because we committed a sin, we are repenting because we cannot get away with it. This is perhaps useful in the beginning, as a training technique, but not for mature Christians.

We repent because our hearts feel heavy that we sinned against the love of God. Saint Abba Isaac the Syrian (and I think also Saint Ephraim) tells us that "no sin is so great as the sin against love. "Perhaps the greatest fire in hell for those people who are separated from God is the realization that they sinned against such great, all encompassing and pure love. There is one line from a poem by a poet that I admire very much. She says,"O Lord, if I love Thee because of the fear of hell, may I burn in hell; O Lord, if I love Thee only for the hope of Heaven, may I be deprived of Heaven; but O Lord, if I love Thee for Thyself, let me not be deprived of Thy glory." That always has a great meaning for me because I realize when we start toward our life in Christ, we may repent out of fear, we may repent because we are afraid that we will not be in the Heavenly Kingdom, but when we become mature Christians we should repent because we love Jesus Christ for Himself, not from fear of loss or hope of gain. Our Lord says the same thing. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.

It is easy to try not to offend somebody who can do you some great hurt. It is easy to have the pretence of love for someone who can give you a great reward. But when your love truly responds to the love of Jesus Christ, then you love Jesus Christ because of Himself. Then you repent because you hurt somebody that you love very much, and you repent because you might be otherwise separated from that person you love so much. This is the point to which mature Christians must come. Saint Abba Anthony the Great in one of the ikons says on the scroll in his hand: "I used to fear God but now I love Him." Because we fear the unknown when we do not know God it is easier to be completely afraid of Him. But we know God through Jesus Christ, and the more that we know our Lord Jesus Christ the more we begin to love Him. Then we begin to truly love God with our heart and fear passes away and it is replaced by love. The greatest sin of all is to not love. Nothing so completely separates us from God as to be empty of love.

We can display perfectly moral behaviour for many reasons. We can display this kind of morality simply because we have a hardness of heart, but it is a completely false morality. We can display completely moral behaviour because we are selfish. We find people who keep their virginity for their whole life only because they are too selfish to share themselves with anyone else. We find people who display a perfect and moral behaviour because they have political ambitions and want to make their political career easier. We find people who display perfectly moral behaviour only because they are filled with fear and insecurity. When we learn to behave ourselves in a way that we consider to be completely moral because we truly love our Lord Jesus Christ and we love our neighbours and we do not want to hurt or cause pain to somebody, then we become truly moral people. Perfect holiness consists, as Saint Antony Khrapovitsky says, in perfect love, not in correct behaviour.

When I first saw the teaching about the "telonia" ("aerial toll-houses") what I found extremely disturbing about it was that there was no "telonia" that asked about love. There was nothing that asked about the quality of love, about unselfish love for our neighbours. There was nothing that asked about the purity of our love for Jesus Christ. Salvation and entry into the Heavenly Kingdom depend upon unselfish love and the moral manifestations of that love, not upon obedience of some moral laws or codes, some theoretical morality. So I understood that there was something terribly wrong with this idea and that it had to be a false teaching. This is the great misunderstanding and moral fascism that so many people and so many of the brotherhoods have tried to impose upon us, and think that in this way they will force people into salvation. In truth, a soul that has been illumined by the grace of the Holy Spirit is a soul that has perceived that the mystery of redemption is the mystery of co-suffering love, and the only way to bring ourselves close to our Lord Jesus Christ is to struggle to acquire such love ourselves.

Now I am going to ask if anybody has questions about what we have discussed so far.

More questions answered by Archbishop Lazar


Often, someone who belongs to the Church and lives the faith becomes acquainted with and develops a relationship with a person who is outside of the Church, and although that person may have respect for the faith, he or she has not been taught the basics of Christian life. In this case the question arises that when these two people truly love each other and are seriously thinking of getting married to each other, they face the problem of sexual relationships between them even before marriage. This is especially the case when one of them does not really understand the reasons why they should not enter into sexual relationships before the Church crowns the marriage. So can you comment on this difficult situation?


If I do not give you a much longer reply than you expect, and cover more aspects of the question than might seem necessary, I will not truly have answered your question. Far too often, questions like this are answered with some unsatifying moralism or the notion that incorrect behaviour irritates God. Such "answeres" are not anweres at all, they are merely solgans. So I ask you to bear with me while we discuss this question from a greater perspective.

True morality is not the same as "moralism," and it is not just a set of rules. We cannot say that something "is moral because it pleases God, and immoral because it makes Him angry." This is not the meaning of morality, and it is also false. Morality is practical, not abstract. The Law of God is given to us in order to protect us and save us from destruction, not in order to assuage some fetishes or peeves that God might have. Let me give you a generalized rule about things that are moral and things that are immoral. If you will examine the Orthodox teaching about this, in general you will find that those things which we consider moral involve unselfishness and a turning away from self centred motivations. Things that we consider to me immoral generally have a selfish nature to them, involving self gratification and self centred attitudes. Some kinds of behaviour may be considered immoral if they undermine or contradict the revelation and prophecy about redemption or undermine our relationship with God and neighbour.

In this context, let us say something about sexual morality in general. Unfortunately we seldom learn anything from history even though we study it. We certainly have enough experience in human history to tell us that our sexuality must be exercised with discipline and self-control. Sex and death are very closely related to each other. I will explain that a little better later but first I want to say something about having self control and discipline in sexual matters.

Often this question is dealt with in an unconvincing dry moralistic way and with a sense of heavy handed legalism and repression about it. With all the terrible sexually transmitted diseases now, people understand the danger and they also understand that having random sex can kill you and in a very unpleasant and tragic way, but this is not the only reason that we need to have self-discipline and control in sexual matters.

Sex is a powerful force. It can destroy individuals and it can destroy whole cultures and societies, so when we talk about discipline and self-control in sexual matters we are really talking about something practical. We are talking about how to preserve ourselves so that we can have some real feelings and real love in life. You are all aware that sometimes men do violent things to women in relation to sex and that there are some people who sexually abuse children and then murder them. Hurting someone badly and exercising power over them is an expression of sexual passions. For people who have developed such passions, killing somebody is the ultimate sexual thrill. Many of you will never encounter one of the sorrowful realities of our era, but I am going to mention it in order to demonstrate a point. Sex has been elevated almost to a religion in the past thirty years. This reminds us of some of the terrible idolatries of the ancient world, and also of the sad, cruel and empty lives of the late Romans. In every era in which sexual gratification has become a dominate theme in life, this has been accompanied by an almost neurotic self-centredness, new manifestations of cruelty and a frenzied, but hopeless, quest for happiness. As we near the end of this century, we see people so saturated by this passion that they begin with "sex games" that include roll-playing such as bondage and the infliction of pain. This is because the normal use of sex, and the ideas of self-control and moderation have been abandoned. The most fundamental concepts of true morality unselfish love and the care and compassion for others have been lost. People who become extremely sexual in their lives also become cruel and this is why we have these terrible sex crimes. [1]

At the same time, sexual repression can create the same results. Many violent sex criminals have been psychiatrically deranged by deeply repressed sexuality. Discipline and self-control must not be mistaken for repression. Undisciplined sexuality can lead to a kind of passion or desire that is like a pit that has no bottom and can never be filled. Self-control and self-discipline are necessary against such a very powerful force, but repression is just as dangerous and can lead to as much sexual violence than lack of discipline.

When young people begin to have sexual relations at a very early age, first of all sex can easily become an addiction. The other thing is that you can also become dry and mechanical in sexual relations after a few years, and in such a case your desires can never be fulfilled. I have seen many people in their forties and fifties who had become addicted to sex at a very young age and because they built up these desires that can never actually be fulfilled, no matter how many times they experience sexual relations they remained unfulfilled and eventually, they become bitter and malicious. Even among young people, however, excessive sex can make them cold and uncaring and distort their personalities.

Another aspect of why we need to have self-control and discipline in sexual matters, and the more direct answer to your question of why we should avoid living together without the blessing of the Church, concerns the true meaning of marriage. I have heard many times that when someone is explaining to people why you should not have sexual relations before their marriage is crowned, they present it as if the crowning of a marriage is simply a licence to have sexual relations. They suggest that before the crowns are set on your heads sex is a sin but afterwards it is no longer a sin. Our perverted Augustinians, on the other hand, teach that even after the crowning your sexual relations are still a sin (although only a "venial" one).

In the first place God created male and female so that He could give us a revelation about salvation and redemption. The Old Testament covenant between God and Israel was not a legal agreement but a spousal relationship, a marital relationship; the New Testament new covenant is exactly the same. Marriage is a revelation about the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Church, it [marriage] is a growing bond of love that has a definite commit­ment to it. This is why we often tell young people that nobody really "falls in love." After a couple is married for about five years they begin to discover the actual meaning of love.

In the beginning you like somebody very much and you have a strong sexual attraction to the person. People often think that this is love, but it is not. It is a natural physical attraction and when you like somebody and consider them a friend then there is a basis for a relationship, but this is only the beginning. When you begin to live a genuine married life together, you commence to grow in such a way that you begin to discover what love really is. It happens that after about five years of marriage the passions begin to cool, and this is partly because one is getting a bit older and settling into the routine of life. It is at this time that many marriages break up and fall apart. This is because they are based on the passions and not genuine love.

When a married couple comes to the fifth year or a little after and the passions are not so demanding, they begin then to discover the true meaning of love. For one thing, after about five years you have learned most of the things that are wrong with the other person, and you have learned that you love them without thinking about all the things that are wrong. In the same way, Jesus Christ loves us even though He knows all the things that are wrong with us. After this initial period of marriage, you continue to grow in a deeper and more profound and more spiritual love for one another, and this is the same way that we grow in our love relation with Jesus Christ. Our faith and our love are always a growth situation; they never come to us all at once. The commitment that we make in marriage is of a different order than the relationship between two people who just make a private decision to live together withou marriage. When we violate the proper order about marriage it is not simply something that is not moral, it is also a corruption of the faith and of God = s revelation; and as such, it distorts and twists the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. So there is also something very practical about this. What is this revelation?

God has given you the privilege of being a living revelation, and you yourselves can become holy prophets through marriage, in that the woman reveals the nature of the Church and the husband reveals the relationship of Jesus Christ with the Church, you begin to understand the mystery of human gender and the true mystery of love. When you enter into a marriage properly by having it crowned with the grace of the Holy Spirit, you become a form of revelation yourself. A truly Christian marriage is a form of the Gospel, and the spouses become holy prophets not only to their own children and to each other but to the world around them. In a marriage crowned by the Holy Spirit, husband and wife reveal the nature of the relationship between Jesus Christ and His Church. We are, therefore, not just dealing with a type moral question and moral problem; we are dealing with the very revelation of redemption itself. All these things have to be said when you are explaining to some couple why they should not violate the proper order of marriage and have sexual relations before their crowning or live together without the intention of making the spiritual commitment of having their marriage crowned in Church by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

In the case of one partner who either is not a believer or who does not understand the need for a proper marriage, the one who believes and the one who cares is going to be responsible for maintaining the relationship in proper order.

[1] I am not discounting the real psychiatric illnesses that cause these actions which are not "developed" in a person. I am very suspicious of the "nurture and environment only" schools of psychology which allow sex criminals out of prison on "day leave" or "monitored parole." Most violent sex criminals have deep-seated and genuine psychiatric problems which makes it difficult to accept "nurture and environment" schools of "rehabilitation." Most, if not all, of these people should be permanently incarcerated.


Is it necessary to go into great detail when we try to explain this to people.


We have to approach the matter from these practical and coherently spiritual points of view and not simply talk about "bad-good, naughty-nice." All of human existence is a divine mystery and everything we are called upon to do by our Lord Jesus Christ, by God, is a revelation and part of the mystery of redemption. No question is simply resolved by questions of morality or rules of proper behaviour. One of the great tragedies for most people in this world is that life has no genuine meaning for them. Sometimes even the idea of morality destroys meaning, and it is true that often "morality" itself is a heresy because it becomes a substitute for a life in Christ, and because it destroys people = s understanding of the true meaning of life and reduces it from being a sacred mystery to being a set of rules and laws.


How does one avoid the horns of the following dilemma? Jesus Christ is God, the Son incarnate, and God cannot sin. On the other hand, Hebrews 4:15 notes that Christ was "tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin." It is unthinkable that God Himself can be tempted to sin, but it is also distressing to think that all the New Testament's passages speaking of Christ's temptations do not mean what they say. Also, it does not make sense to me to think that Christ was not tempted, only His human nature was. It seems that the observation of St Cyril of Alexandria that only a person, not a nature, can be born, applies here as well: can be tempted to sin. Please help me with my dilemma.


Thank your for your question. The solution lies partly in a correct understanding of the word "temptation." We usually take the word for granted as only meaning to be lured into sin in the hope of pleasure. This understanding deprives the word "tempt" of much of its meaning. The meaning of the word is similar to "tempering" steel or iron. If you make an axe or knife blade on a forge, you must tempt the blade in order to make it stronger. Untempered blades are not strong and are subject to chipping and becoming dull quickly.

In the English versions of the Scripture there are a number of words translated as "temptation." The Hebrew / nasha / , which occurs at, for example, Genesis 22:1, Numbers 14:22, etc., indicates a /trying and proving/. It can be negative (as in the saying, "he tries my patience") or not negative (as in, "he went through a trying experience and was proved strong and patient"). At Malachi 3:15, we encounter the word / bakhan / , which has the connotation of / testing / in a negative way. In the New Testament, when Apostle James says that God cannot be tempted by sin, he uses the word / apeirastos / , which has more the connotation of either becoming exasperated and responding in a sinful way or of being lured into a sinful passion.

In Hebrews 4:15, the specific instance you ask about, the Apostle uses the word / peirazo / which is similar to the Hebrew / nasha / , and indicates being tried and proved. Here, the meaning is that Christ co-suffered with our struggle in this life. It means that He willingly felt the pain, sorrow and suffering that we feel in our passage through this life. Temptation does not have to do only with "sin." It has to do with all the things in life that cause us sorrow and struggle. It is important to remember that our redemption is accomplished by the co-suffering love of God with man, not by some juridical action. Had Christ not endured our sufferings, He could not have actually co-suffered with us. Let us recall that "passion" does not mean "sin." It means "suffering." Human passions include those blameless passions of hunger, loneliness, etc. We speak of the "twelve passion Gospels" and the passions of Christ, even Passion Week (Holy Week) for the week of Christ's most intense sufferings for us. In all but one of the instances in the book of Hebrews where the word "temptation" is used in the English versions, / peirazo / is the word that occurs in the Greek. It is particularly important to understand this at Hebrews 11:37, where the word is being used about the martyrs and their martyrdom. Remember that Christ is the universal martyr, being willingly martyred because of His co-suffering love for us. In some instances / peirazo / can appear to have a strongly negative connotation, but actually, it must be understood in the context of enduring trials and tribulations, enduring the struggle and sufferings of human life, and being proved.

would God lead us into temptation, and if so, why? After all, Apostle James (1:13) says that "no one should say `God is tempting me,'" and "...nor does He tempt anyone." How does this accord with the words of the Lord's Prayer, where we ask God not to lead us into temptation? But again, James says, /"consider it a joy when you fall into temptation"/ (1:2). Why? "Because you know that tempting leads to perseverance" (1:3). This takes us back to our first paragraph about the knife and axe blades. Untempered steel is worthless. Such a blade will not be useful for splitting firewood or cutting. Untempted faith will be just as weak and brittle. James uses the word / peirasmos / here, which is also the word translated as "temptation" in the Lord's Prayer. I cannot take the space to discuss the Lord's Prayer here. A discussion of this prayer if found elsewhere on our website. We must observe, however, that in the context of Hebrews 4:15 as in 11:37, temptation and "being tempted" are related to martyrdom, to trying and proving. What Paul says at 4:15 is that Christ endured our struggles and suffering in this life but He conquered all of them for us. Nevertheless, He felt our pain, suffering and sorrow voluntarily, being martyred for our sakes. His martyrdom refers to our whole person: He, being God, had no necessity of enduring any of our humiliation and struggle, nor our death. He became fully human and accepted this voluntarily. We also are under no compulsion to be martyred for His sake, yet the holy martyrs accepted this voluntarily, from love for Christ, rather than renounce Him. They could do this because of faith, a faith which was tempered and proved.


I recently read in a book about religion and science that all elementary particles are made up of three "quarks." The author suggested that this was an analogy of the Holy Trinity, and that the truth of the Holy Trinity was revealed in this scientific fact. I wondered if you had heard of this fact.


So far as I know, Augustine of Hippo was the originator of the heresy of making analogies between God and nature. This heresy was condemned by the Orthodox Church when John Italos tried to introduce it in Constantinople in about A.D. 1050.

It is a rather treacherous thing to make such analogies in any case. In the first place, it is simply not true that all elementary particles are made up of three quarks. Quarks are elementary particles. Electrons, being elementary particles, are not made up of quarks at all. In fact, baryons (a category of hadrons) are made up of three quarks. Mesons (another category of hadrons) are made up of only two quarks. Protons and neutrons, which are not elementary particles (more likely, energy clouds), are made up of three quarks. Whenever we begin to make such analogies, we risk completely destroying our argument about the dialogue between science and theology. One may see something that appears to resonate with some doctrine of the faith, lock onto it and assert that it somehow is an analogy of the divine in some way. The created cannot be an analogy of the uncreated. In this case, you see, the entire assertion collapses because it is simply not true. One must realise also that the description of particles are metaphorical, not concrete. For example, a Delta particle is made up of something quite unusual. It is made up of three "up" quarks with identical degrees of "spin." This is something that is not really possible. The solution to this puzzle is to assign some different degrees of freedom to the quarks in order to explain how they can co-habit in the same "particle." These three degrees of freedom were whimsically named "colour." Consequently, when one hears of a red, blue and green quark, the colours themselves mean absolutely nothing. They are metaphors for some state which is as yet not well known. It is always a serious error to read metaphor as if it were a concrete statement. Above all, it is very treacherous ground to walk upon when one desires to make analogies between the divine and the created.

More questions answered by Archbishop Lazar

Next pageNEXT Next page


Canadian Orthodox All-saints monastery

(Primary contact, all questions about the monastery, related to theology and other content on the website, and so on)

(For concerns and question about the website itself, such as reporting a technical error)