In 1996, two contemporary spiritual fathers, Fr. Teofil (Paraian) and Fr. Arsenie (Papacioc), met at Techirghiol Monastery in Romania. Fr. Arsenie was a spiritual son of Elder Cleopa (Ilie). He was imprisoned numerous times by the authorities, and at times lived in the wilderness to avoid further arrest. Although an ascetic himself, he is known for counsels on moderation, in combination with continual watchfulness. Today, at the age of 95, he continues to be the spiritual father at Techirghiol Women's Monastery. Fr. Teofil was a hieromonk at the Transylvanian monastery of Simbata de Sus. Born blind, he nevertheless completed his theological studies, learned three languages, and stuidied Patristic texts recorded on cassette tapes. He became one of the great luminaries of the Romanian Church in the twentieth century. He reposed on October 29, 2009, in the rank of archimandrite. Here is a part of that conversation:
Fr. T: Are you certain that all will be well for you in eternity?
Fr. A: I could not say that, most venerable Father! Please, believe me when I say, "I'm the only one who won't be saved!"
Fr. T: Do you believe so?
Fr. A: Yes, but I have great hope!
Fr. T: If you're hopeful, why do you express yourself like that?
Fr. A: The mind in hell and the hope in God! Without the grace of God, our deeds don't save us in any way.
Fr. T: Well . . . but it's impossible for God not to want to save us!
Fr. A: Yes, but I can't impose conditions on Him!
Fr. T: Well, without imposing conditions, God being Love . . .
Fr. A: Most venerable Father, I somehow in all honesty before a father confessor say: I will be saved because I suffered . . .
Fr. T: I honestly tell you that I have the certainty that I will go to the good, but not for my deeds!
Fr. A: I only hope!
Fr. T: Well, I can say that I have the certitude that if I hope . . .
Fr. A: This is not an Orthodox position!
Fr. T: Maybe I'm not Orthodox?
Fr. A: The truth is that our deeds don't save us in any way without God's mercy!
Fr. T: Do you know what I'll say to God when I'm standing in front of Him? Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner! I won't say anything else to Him!
Fr. A: I made myself a [burial] cross at Zamfira Monastery, where I confess to Fr. Gavril (Stoica), and this is what I wrote on the Cross: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus--forgive me!
Fr. T: I can't imagine God saying, "I don't want you," after I've lived with Him all of my life.
Fr. A: He loves us so much, and this gives me hope!
Fr. T: Father, if we count on God's mercy, we need not hesitate!
Fr. A: I don't want to count on God's mercy without considering our life and deeds. The salvation process involves not just the grace of God, but also our deeds. If only He could find us on the way. The struggle is to be on the way and to be honest with the fight!
Fr. T: I don't worry, because I have confidence in God's goodness!
Fr. A: I worry, but I'm also hopeful!
Fr. T: It's extraordinary when you say this, since God is our Father!
Fr. A: Yes, but I can't say that I have the certitude of salvation!
Fr. T: But why can't you say it?
Fr. A: If God allows me, I will say this on my deathbed: "God, I thank Thee that I die a monk!" But I have the thought that my deeds are leading me to hell. If God wants to save me, He can do it! But I can't say for sure that He will forgive me.
Fr. T: But I am sure that He forgives us!
Fr. A: I also have hope in the Lord! He even told St. Silouan, "Keep thy mind in hell and despair not!" The world does not yet know how much God loves us, how "passionately in love" with us God is!
Fr. T: You see how beautifully you say it.
Fr. A: But I can't say that I have certitude. Only the Protestants say that they have the surety of salvation. For our deeds don't save us without the grace of God; and the grace of God only comes if there is authentic humility. Can I say that I'm humble?
Monday, August 30, 2010
This dialog appeared in The Orthodox Word 272 (2010) 148-51. I'm hardly an expert, but it seems to me that it beautifully captures the complexity of Orthodox soteriology. There's always this tension between faith and humility, such that it's almost impossible to express without an apparent contradiction.