Generally not recognizing the immortality of the soul and denying the general resurrection, paganism—even religious paganism—deprives man once and for all of the real meaning of life. Meaning can only be in life, in the personal appreciation and experience of one’s actions, and not in the insensibility of death. The pagan’s blind, unbending faith in the finality of death (that is, impunity [for immoral acts during life]) can be explained only by his fear of the voice of his conscience, or of any moral responsibility for his actions. This is where his desperate desire to “live,” to “get all he can from life” comes from. However, the brevity of life cannot be prolonged, and the tragedy of death, senseless to the pagan, unmasks his nearsightedness, revealing the emptiness of those phantom idols by which he lives.
§ 2. Idol Worship
Idol worship (from the Greek εἰδωλολατρεία, from εἴδωλον—vision, phantom, visibility, reverie, idol) means literally worship of idols, the images of gods. In polytheistic religions this was expressed in the cult of various idol gods (for example, in the Greek religion there was the cult of Dionysus, the god of wine and merry-making; Aphrodite, the goddess of sensual love and beauty; and the rest). Sacrifices were brought to the idols, even human ones.
In the connotative sense, idol worship is the worship of such “lusts,” ideals, idols and goals which spiritually blind and degrade man, making him a toy of his own passions. There are many idol/passions. The idea of ruling the world, the cult of money, unbridled immorality under the banner of personal freedom, and other similar idols serve as objects of sacrifice, often of gigantic proportions.324 The Apostle calls “idol worship” the passion for wealth, for example (Col. 3:5), or gluttony (whose God is their belly [Phil. 3:19]). Truly, when the greedy man thinks of nothing besides profits and money, and the ambitious man about nothing besides glory and honor, and they exert all their energy towards the achievement of their aims, they are in fact the servants of idols in the full sense of the words. Abba Dorotheus talks about three main idols which give birth to all the others: “All sins come from either love of pleasure, love of money, or love of glory.”325
Any passion, physical, emotional, or spiritual, can become a person’s idol. Tertullian was right in this regard when he wrote, “Mankind’s great wickedness, which includes all other wickedness, a wickedness that causes man’s condemnation, is idol worship.”326
Servants of idols—that is, actual pagans—can be people of the most diverse world views and religions—from agnostic and atheist to Orthodox Christian; for one’s faithfulness to God is in the final analysis shown not by love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth (1 Jn 3:18). The Lord warns that Ye cannot serve God and Mammon (Mt 6:24).
§ 3. Mysticism
Mysticism (from the Greek, μυστικός, meaning “secret”), is a somewhat broad concept. The well-known modern Catholic theologian Hanz Küng, for example, writes,
If we return to the literal sense of the words “mystery,” “mystical,” it comes from the Greek verb μύειν, meaning “to close up (the lips).” “Mystery” is a “secret,” “secret teaching,” “secret cult,” about which the initiates are not supposed to speak. Thus, that religion is mystical which “closes its lips,” that is, remains silent about its hidden secrets in the presence of the profane, and moreover, turns away from the outside world, closes its eyes and ears in order to obtain salvation within itself.… Mysticism, according to [the Western religious scholar] Friedrich Heiler [†1967], is “the form of communion with God in which the world and the ‘self’ are radically denied and the human personality dissolves, disappears, drowns in the one and infinite element of divinity.”327
The very perception of God takes on a distorted nature in mysticism, in comparison with that of other positive religions. Heiler, in his monumental work Prayer, notes that “systematic mysticism frees the imagining of God from all personality attributes, and leaves a naked and pure eternity.”328
This understanding of mysticism shows how far it is from the Christian religion which has an openness to the world, a perception of God as a personality, and an entirely different understanding of the conditions and nature of the experiential acquisition of knowledge of God and the sanctity of man. The latter of these differences is of particular significance, for mixing concepts of “mysticism” and “sanctity” in the spiritual realm of life is more dangerous than in any other realm, because it reaches the very foundation of human existence. Therefore, the habitual use of the terms “mystic,” “mysticism,” “mystical experience,” and so on in adjunct to any experience of contact with the “other” world is precarious and can have serious consequences. If both goodness and evil, both the striving for truth and primitive curiosity, both sanctity and satanism, and both Christ and Belial (see 2 Cor 6:15) are standing behind these terms, the broad application of them in Christian theology can very easily instill into one’s consciousness a perilous idea of the other world essentially of ascetical paths of all religions.
Here is a little something that can serve as a clear illustration of this:
Following the path of contemplation, Hindu Brahmans came to the same thing that all mystics have come to, no matter what time or nation they lived in. Yajnavalkya and Buddha, Plotin and Psuedo Dionysius Areopagitus, Meister Eckhart and Gregory Palamas, the Cabalists and Nicholai Kuzansky, Jakob Böhme, Reisbruck, and many other clairvoyants of the East and West.… They all unanimously witness that there … there is neither good, nor evil, nor light, nor darkness, nor movement, nor calm.… In the sacred twilight that hides the beginning of beginnings, they felt the reality of the Existing, the Absolute. Terrible, unbearable mystery!… It is hard to even call this abyss “God”.… Beyond the boundaries of everything created and organic, Reality was revealed to the mystic eye, Reality which Lao Tzu called the Tao, Buddha, nirvana, the Cabalists, Ein Sof, the Christians, Divine Essence (οὐσία), “Divinity.”329
This is an entirely theosophical idea, which completely devaluates the unique significance of the Lord Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and His Divinity in the work of man’s salvation. A similar theosophical idea has a broad understanding of mysticism as its point of support. With the aide of mysticism, it is very easy not only to place the experience of Christian saints in the same row, but even to equate it with the experience of Cabalists (for whom Jesus Christ is a false messiah), Buddhists (who fully deny the existence of a Personal God), the Tao, nirvana, and Ein Sof with Divine essence, Divinity (compare with Jn 8:42; 15:23).330 In this way, the very concept of Truth in religion is destroyed, and man is deprived even of the thought of the possibility of fatal error in such a responsible realm of life as the spiritual realm. As a result, he easily becomes the blind toy of dreaminess, self-opinion and, not rarely, of openly demonic powers.
The term “mysticism,” despite its Greek origin, entered Russian theology from the West with this broad and essentially theosophical meaning (see Chapter IV, §2, Mysticism).
The beginning of mysticism is always the same—it is man’s passionate hankering to penetrate the secrets of spiritual existence and receive power over them, the search for higher delights, becoming one with the divinity, ecstasy. It all leads to the same thing—pride. But mysticism exists in all religions. In paganism it exists as a natural manifestation, but in Christianity it exists as a sickness, an abnormality, a distortion of the Christian faith and precepts of spiritual life.
Mysticism has many different forms. All of them can be divided into two main categories: natural and acquired; although this division is somewhat conditional, inasmuch as it is not always easy to place a boundary line between them.
By natural mysticism is meant the native ability of foresight, healing, clairvoyance, telepathy, and other abilities that are now called “extra-sensory perception.” According to Christian anthropology, these abilities are natural to man, but were distorted as a consequence of the fall, are in a state of “anabiosis,” and therefore manifest themselves rarely.
There is a great danger for those who possess these abilities to become ambitious, proud, and develop the accompanying passions. It is very dangerous for a “natural mystic,” an ordinary sinner, to work not upon the patient’s body as in normal therapy, but directly upon his soul. Thrusting his unclean “hands” into it, he infects it, disrupts the subtle, secret order of the soul, and in this way often causes irreparable harm to the psyche, the nerves, and the entire organism as a whole. Therefore, the Church forbids using the services of these “healers.”
Even more dangerous are the influences (for example, by television [or on the internet]) of those who belong to the category of acquired mysticism. Various sorcerers, astrologers, psychic “professionals,” and the like, who consciously develop these abilities in themselves—most often for fame and money—cripple people incomparably worse than do those in the first category. (The television “experiments” of modern psychics are a perfect illustration of this.)331
Acquired mysticism is divided into two main branches: the occult and the delusional [prelest ].
The occult 332 path is bound up with man’s longing to penetrate the secret world of man, nature, and spirits not subject to the laws of this world, in order to learn its secrets and to use the hidden powers they contain to their own ends. Related to occultism are magic, satanism, spiritualism, theosophy, anthroposophy, and others. In all of these, man consciously or unconsciously enters into contact with only the fallen spirits, as a rule injuring himself irreparably in the process.
Prelest (delusional, fantasy) mysticism usually brings man visions, revelations, or delights. The person in prelest thinks that he is learning of that world, but in actuality he has become the toy of his own fantasies and demonic influences.333
Mysticism thus leads man away from God, from the true meaning of life, and directs a person’s spiritual development toward a place where subtle pride grows fiercely, making him incapable of accepting Christ as the true God and only Savior. His growing pride encourages his false asceticism, and often opens up extrasensory abilities (in yoga, for example), as well as types of neuro-psychological experience and pleasure, which lead to ecstasy. This all gradually leads a person to the conviction that he is “like a god.” This path quite often ends in mystical atheism (as in Buddhism and Samkhya), insanity, hysterics, and suicide.
§ 4. Magic
Magic (from the Greek μαγεία, meaning sorcery, enchantment) is the belief that the laws of this world are subject to occult powers which man can possess with the aide of special activities (spells, rituals, etc.). Nicholas A. Berdayev (†1948) wrote of magic: “Occultism is for the most part a sphere of magic; that is, it is a necessity and not a freedom. Magic is a power over the world that is gained by learning of the needs and laws of the secret powers of the world. I have not seen any freedom of spirit in people who are involved in occultism. They do not have command over the occult powers—the occult powers have command over them. Anthroposophy334 corrupted the integrity of human personality, and eviscerated the soul no less than psychoanalysis.… Rarely has anyone produced an impression of someone so devoid of grace as Steiner.335 There isn’t a single ray falling upon him from above. He wanted to obtain everything from below; to break through to the spiritual world by passionate force.”336
Magic, like mysticism, is not tied to a mandatory acceptance of a personal—never mind a single—God. The magical understanding of the world sees it as something unconditionally statistical and predetermined, and leaves no room for freedom to gods, or spirits, or forces of nature. Everything and everyone is subject to primordially existing occult powers. Therefore, he who has found the “key” to it becomes the true ruler of gods, people, and the world. One Hindu saying goes, “The whole world is subject to the gods. The gods are subject to incantations. Incantations are subject to the Brahmans. Our gods are the Brahmans.”
Unlike religion, which sees the existence of man’s life in his right spiritual relationship to God, for magic the main thing is the knowledge of what words and actions are needed to use in order to get what one wants. These aims are exclusively earthly (to cast a spell, enchant, destroy a love relationship, etc.), and their attainment is no way connected with man’s spiritual and moral purification. The main thing in magic is correctly doing it.
An awareness of magic is deeply present in our “old man.” For very many people, Orthodoxy consists in placing candles, “venerating,” donating something, leaving prayer requests, ordering Liturgies, molebens337 and pannikhidas,338 joining in the cross processions, visiting holy shrines, confessing and receiving Communion. The most important part of salvation, life according the commandments and repentance, remains undone. However, without spiritual transformation (in Greek, the word for repentance is μετάνοια [metanoia], which means to change one’s way of thinking), all of these external activities are at the least useless, and at the worst harmful, for they can cause one to feel self-righteous and raise his self-opinion over “sinners.”
In Orthodoxy the Sacraments themselves are only saving under the condition of a person’s sincere yearning to spiritually and morally change. A purely external participation in them without the awareness of one’s sinfulness, without sincere repentance, can even harm one. The Apostle Paul writes of Holy Communion, For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself (1 Cor 11:29). But this applies to all the Sacraments without exception. A magical perception of the Sacraments, ecclesiastical rites, and Church practices as a whole is one of the main causes of the Christian religion’s degeneration, distortion, and backsliding into paganism.
Pagan consciousness is an enormous evil in man—“to partake of the secrets of existence,” and to put himself in place of God. Magic is a mad attempt at “revolution” against God. According to Holy Scripture, the final step in this revolution will be the appearance of a world tyrant—the antichrist, man of sin; that Wicked [in Slavonic, “the Lawless One”] (2 Thes 2:3, 8) in the strongest and most exceptional meaning of the word, so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God (2 Thes 2:4), working false miracles with the help of magic.
§ 5. The Root and Essence of Paganism
What has borne and continues to give birth to paganism in society?
The main cause of its appearance is man’s false self-determination. The book of Genesis tells how the first people were tempted to pick the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, in order to become “as gods.” Instead of gradual spiritual growth, instead of changing themselves in accordance with the all-holy God, people choose the “easy path” which requires no work, fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold (Gen 3:6), promising to give the “knowledge of good and evil”—the path of godlessly becoming “god.”
This external path of “plucking” the secrets of existence in order to possess their natural and supernatural powers gives birth to magic. From this comes idol worship as the natural result of a corrupt understanding of higher goals and the true meaning of life. Here are the roots also of naturalism, for the loss of the spiritual ideal inevitably brings the cult of the material, the cult of the flesh. Pride, man’s striving to put himself in the place of God, the striving for super-consciousness and highest delights, gives birth to the more subtle form of paganism—the mystical form.339
In what direction does the general cultivation of paganism go? Does it become more “pagan,” or does a certain positive process of returning to the unknown God (Acts 17:23) take place?
It is indisputable that there were always people in paganism who sought God if happily they may feel after him or find him (Acts 17:27). In this sense the supposition is justifiable that even in paganism “a positive religious process occurred,”340 for, as Saint Justin the Philosopher wrote, “All have the seed of Truth,”341 and “Christ is the Word of Whom the entire race of man is part. Those who lived according to the Word are Christian in essence, even though they be considered godless; such amongst the Hellenes were Socrates, Heraclites, and others like them.”342
Just the same, another thing is no less obvious; this general participation in the Word and sincere search for truth by separate pagans does not determine the general direction of paganism’s development in mankind. Paganism, in the final analysis, is not so much the search for God, as it is the departure from Him; and progress in paganism was and is more the progress of sin and apostasy than an unselfish search for truth and greater knowledge of God. The idea of “A kingdom of God on earth”—that is, the attainment in earthly history of general spiritual and moral perfection and material well-being343—does not exist in patristic writings, and essentially contradicts New Testament Revelation (see Mt 24:5–31; Rev, and others). Divine Revelation tells us that In the last days, shall come dangerous times. Men shall be lovers of themselves, covetous, haughty, proud (2 Tim 3:1–2), so that, The Son of man, when he cometh, shall he find, think you, faith on earth? (Lk 18:8). This could only be the consequence of a deep and comprehensive spiritual degradation of mankind, and the final reign of paganism. The Lord also reveals to the Church that the fulfillment of creative Divine providence for man is not prepared through history, but through meta-history, when there will be a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1).
§ 6. An Assessment of Paganism
The concept of “paganism” is first of all expressed in Christianity by the “old,” inherited seed in man that first appeared as a result of his fall from God, and then sprouted and developed in various shapes and forms throughout history. According to the Christian teaching, man in his present condition is not a natural, normal being, but rather one deeply deformed in body and in soul. Good is mixed in him with evil, the “new” is mixed with the “old,” and he requires continual, conscious spiritual and moral work on his personality in order to become a whole, “new” man (Eph 4:24).
Paganism is thus, first of all, a life disposition which can be described as a false relationship to God, to one’s self, and to the world. Therefore, it includes various religions and world views as well as all those people, including Christians, who live after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ (Col. 2:8). For in every human being there lives both a Christian and a pagan by nature. Only the sincere choice of Christ as a life ideal makes a person a Christian. But a person can, on the other hand, confess Orthodoxy, remain officially in the Church, fulfill all its rites and injunctions, yet still be an ungodly pagan in the full sense of the word, for, Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven (Mt 7:21).
Old Testament Religion
§ 1. Teaching
Old Testament religion is the name for the ancient monotheist religion which the forefathers of all peoples had from the beginning. However, while it obtained its physical status only through a special Revelation to Moses and other Jewish prophets, it is usually considered to be the Judaic religion before the coming of Christ and the establishment of His Church. (After this begins Judaism, or new Judaism.)
One of the main features of this religion, as the Bible relates, is first of all its unconditional monotheism. The assertion of certain scholars regarding the polytheistic character of Old Testament religion does not stand up to criticism and careful analysis of their arguments, the main ones being:
1. From the first lines of the Hebrew text of the Bible, it talks about “Elohim,” that is, about the gods and not God (because the suffix ־יכו “-im” indicates the plural), as it was translated into other languages.
2. In the Bible are mentioned the names of various gods which the Jews worshipped: Adonai, Yahweh, Sabaoth, and others.
3. The frequent biblical anthropomorphism which Old Testament religion used in relation to God bespeaks a primitive concept of God characteristic of polytheism.
With respect to these suppositions, we can note the following:
1. The suffix “-im” in the Hebrew not only indicates the plural, but it is also used to express the fullness of being, quality, and superlative degree. For example, in the Bible, “heaven” sounds like shamaim, or “water” (as an element)—maim, etc. This is applicable to the name Elohim, which expressed a special reverence before God, and emphasized His exceptionalness and singularity. This usage was as a call to the surrounding polytheism. “In the Hebrew language Elohim did not mean ‘gods,’ but was rather a banner of the superlative, which the Hebrew language does not have. The use of Elohim instead of [the singular] El would have emphasized that it refers not only to the Semitic divinity, but to the Most High God. It is worthy of note that neither Elohim nor Eloach are encountered anywhere in Semitic literature other than in the Bible.”344
Some Church fathers would be inclined to suppose that this name in the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament already indicates in a hidden way the Trinitarian Hypostases of God. Saint Basil the Great wrote,
And God said, Let us make man (Gen 1:26). Tell me, could this be one Person? It is not written, “let there be man,” but rather, Let us make man.… Do you hear, O lover of Christ, the speech addressed to the Participant in the world’s creation, to the one by Whom also he made the worlds (Heb 1:2)!… Thus, He says to His own Image, to the living Image, announcing, I and my Father are one (Jn 10:30).… He says to Him, Let us make man in Our own image.345
2. Yahweh, Adonai, and other names of God found in the Bible signify not different divinities, but rather different names of the One God, indicating one or another of God’s qualities. Thus, “Adonai (Heb.) is the powerful, mighty commander—the Lord.” “Sabaoth (Heb., genitive plural) are hosts, powers; this word was usually used together with the word ‘Lord,’ or ‘God.’ Yahweh (Heb.) is ‘Being,’ the great and holy name of God, which signifies originality, eternity, and unchangeableness of God’s Essence (Ex 3:14).”346
3. Anthropomorphism by itself does not provide a sufficient argument in favor of Old Testament polytheism, because not only is anthropomorphism inherent in all religions, it is also inherent in human language itself, for it is a human tendency.