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Persecution of the heretics


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#1 Vitalis

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 08:13 AM

I've been reading the book written by St. Joseph of Volokolam and Volotsk called "The Enlightener". In his book he argues for persecution and execution of heretics by providing many passages from the lives of saints, history, and Scripture. I wanted to find out what people generally think of this. For now I have a general mixed view on this. I most certainly convinced that the persecution of heretics must be severe, since his quotes from the Holy Fathers are quite straightforward on this.

For now I will post an excerpt from an article that I found that is related to this:

Thou shalt not kill" obviously has its exceptions. We shall first look at the warrior saints of our Church. As honest Christians they served their countries often engaging in battles that required killing of people. The Byzantine and Russian empires obviously came to be through conquering, which alot of the times requered killing. When the Russians were getting rid of the Tatar and Mongol invaders, it required killing. St. Sergius of Radonezh blessed the troops to do so. He even blessed his two great-schema monks to participate in battle as warriors. St. Andrew Peresvet laid his life and killed Mamai. He did this not because he hated him, but because he loved his people, who would have died from Mamai's hand. There is nothing ungodly in what they did. Many other saints of the Holy Rus' were warriors, yet they were glorified as saints. In general the Apostle did not forbid Christians to join the army. Thus, certain institutions were blessed by the Holy spirit to take other people's lives under certain circumstances. If the regular warriors are allowed to do so, the Kings and Czars are obviously also receive that authority, since they "are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well" (1 Peter 2:14) Czar "is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil" (Romans 13:14). If the warriors are allowed to take lives in order to protect their people and if the kings are allowed to take the lives of their subjects for certain crimes, how do we then think that ending the lives of those who not only kill bodies but also kill souls is unjust? Heretics are then must be punished and, if needed, executed more than anyone else, since they kill innocent Christian souls.


A little later I will translate a few passages from the Enlightener for those who have not read it or can't because of the language (I don't think it has ever been translated). Here come a few small points from his book. St. Theodore of Edessa traveled to the king to ask him to execute the heretics, because they were leading many Orthodox to fall into their false teachings. St. John Chrysostom told the Orthodox Christians to use violence if needed to stop the heretics from spreading their blasphemy, so that they might be "afraid of even shadows when they hear Christians somewhere". Holy apostles Peter, Paul, and John killed blasphemers and pagans through the power of the their prayer. St. Leo the Great prayed to God that he might stop the spread of heresy, and within 40 days St. Marcian slayed as many as he could. The same saint persecuted heretics severely. Same can be said about St. Constantine and many other pious rulers. There quite a few other examples on this issue. But those I found the most convincing.

#2 Matthew Namee

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 01:57 PM

I love and venerate St. Joseph of Volokolamsk. Once upon a time, because of his advocation of such things as these, I felt that he should not be venerated. However, I have since come to recognize him as a true saint.

However, I still disagree strongly with the assertion that heretics should be persecuted and/or executed. This is connected to my view that capital punishment is un-Christian (another issue entirely), but I also feel that killing heretics is, frankly, counterproductive and detrimental to the overall mission of the Church.

#3 Vitalis

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 03:33 PM

Well St. Joseph did get to see the Holy Theotokos herself =) So I think there might be a good reason there to venerate him.

At his time, heretics were spreading their filth around. They converted many souls, thus killing their souls. Persecution and at times execution was necessary to stop it from spreading.

The first great emperor equal-to-the-apostles Constantine established a law in all of his domain that those who did not believe in the Holy Life-giving Trinity must die the most brutal death and their houses allowed to be pillaged. The holy fathers of the First Ecumenical Council did not forbid this. Saint Alexander the patriarch of Constantinopole caused Arias' belly to sprawl by the power of prayer.The heretic Aetius became mute and then died in seven days by the power of word of Saint Epiphanius of Cyprus The pious emperor St. Marcian condemned Dioscorus the patriarch of Alexandria to death and did not kill him with a sword but exiled him to Gangra (St. Joseph called it 'Has' island) island, where no one could live even for a year, because everyone died a ferocious death due to mortal winds. Here Dioscorus and all of his confederates emitted their spirits in terrifying torments. But the holy fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical councils did not prevent this. The pious emperor Justin and Tiberius cut the heads of Addus and Eleutherius, advocates of the heresy. But the great miracle-worker St. Eutychius the patriarch of Constantinople did not try to prevent this. The great emperor Heraclius ordered to kill the jews which did not want to baptized and none of the great patriarchs, hierarchs and venerable fathers that lived during that time did not try to prevent it. Saint Theodore the bishop of Edessa made one Jew mute by the power of his word for blaspheming our Lord Jesus Christ and then begged the ruler of Babylon, who send troops to Edessa and ordered to banish all the heretics from the city and confiscate their riches, and to cut off the tongues of some, and the saint did not put an end to that. Same way Saint Theodora and her son Michael imprisoned the heretic Jannes (meaning John VII the Grammarian the patriarch of Constantinople, an iconoclast, nicknamed Jannes after one of the opponents of the Holy prophet Moses) the patriarch of Constantinople and then ordered to stretch him out to whip him with straps. But the blessed patriarch Methodius and many other venerable fathers and confessors did not prevent it. And Saint Leo the bishop of Catan made it so the heretic Heliodorus was burned by fire.


Saint Joseph also reminds us:

St. Athanasius the Great writes the following about those, who commit mortal sins. First he mentions the prophets and the righteous of the Old Testament, which killed with weapons and with prayer. In such a way, Moses conquered the pharaoh with prayer but others with weapons. The great among the prophets Elijah burned the two troops with fire after praying but then also killed 400 foul priests with an axe. Joshua destroyed the walls of Jericho with prayer but killed those inside of the city with a sword. Then saint Athanasius mentions the Holy chief Apostles Peter and Paul. In such a way, Peter put Ananias and Sapphire to death with word and power given to the Apostles by the Holy Spirit. St. Paul put the sorcerer, Alexander the coppersmith, Hymenaeus and Philetus to painful execution by word.See, St. Athanasius the Great did not differentiate between killing with arms and putting the guilty to death or execution through prayer. If it would not be appropriate to put heretics and renegades to death and executions, then the holy Apostles, our holy hierarchs and venerable fathers would not kill by prayer and the power given to them by God, since a death as a result of prayer is more miserable, then one from a weapon. If a prayer led to death then it is obvious that the guilty one was judged to death by God: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!" (Hebrews 10:31). Death by weapon often occurs due to a human intention and is not as terrifying as death as a result of a prayer for the reasonable ones, since a man looks at the face but God looks at the heart.


And let us not forget the words of St. John Chrysostom, who St. Joseph quotes:

If someone will kill in accordance to the will of God - this murder will be better than any compassion. If someone will show mercy out of compassion but against the will of God, such a compassion is meaner than any murder. It is not the nature of things but God's judgment that makes things good or bad.


If you will have to beat him (a heretic), do not avert but slap him across the face, break his jaw, consecrate your hand with a wound.



#4 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 03:51 PM

This is why I thank God on a daily basis that I do not live in a Talibanesque theocracy. Who, exactly gets to decide what constitutes heresy? Anybody remember when the civil authority decided that the followers of Christ were heretics? Or how about when the Byzantine emperors thought that icons were heretical?

What would happen to the Church as a whole if the "authorities" decided that perhaps following the Old Calendar somehow was heretical and deserving of death?

There are many people who die that deserve to live, and many who live who deserve to die. If we cannot give life back to those who deserve to live, must we be so ready to give out death?

There was once a military organization that had the motto: "Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out." Perhaps we ought to let them all live and let God sort it all out. I have enough to worry about keeping myself on the straight and narrow without having to decide who is deserving of life or death, and glad that the Lord has given me far more than I deserve. I don't see any reason to not pass on the favor to those around me and let them keep living, regardless of what they believe. But that might just be me.

Herman the Pooh

#5 Yuri Zharikov

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 04:14 PM

Somebody may correct me, but I think St. Joseph's rhetoric was aimed at and against the herecy of judizers, which having established itself in Novgorod in late 1400s spread to the royal court in Moscow and was probably rather close to overtaking the Church and the upper echelons of the society. This indeed would mean perdition of many souls. St. Joseph and St. Gennadius of Novgorod were among the few (in the whole country) who readily recognised this. Thus the zeal with which St. Joseph writes about "heretics" in general may well reflect his encounter with the particular herecy of the judizers and the fear for the souls of many. Again, this is only my opinion.

Edited by Yuri Zharikov, 01 May 2008 - 04:52 PM.


#6 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 04:29 PM

Yuri is right - my wife read a book about this not long ago. The sect was led by the jew Skhariya and briefly flourished in Moscow and Novgorod. St Joseph and Archbishop Gennady, as Yuri says, led the attack against the sect. Skhariya was executed on the orders of Ivan III. Some of his followers were executed or burned at the stake. Such treatment of heretics was, of course, usual in Europe for many centuries, not least in England. Catherine Murphy was the last person burned at the stake in England, in 1789 at Newgate, London. That was for treason, not heresy, though these may have meant much the same thing in earlier times. We have moved on. St Joseph is a saint of the Church but I find St Nil Sorsky a more attractive character.

#7 Michael Stickles

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 04:54 PM

If the warriors are allowed to take lives in order to protect their people and if the kings are allowed to take the lives of their subjects for certain crimes, how do we then think that ending the lives of those who not only kill bodies but also kill souls is unjust? Heretics are then must be punished and, if needed, executed more than anyone else, since they kill innocent Christian souls.


It seems to me that, in order to use this as justification for the execution of heretics, you would have to accept the following premises:

(1) The heretics are beyond any possibility of repentance and restoration to the Church; and
(2) Those they infect with their heresies have indeed had their souls "killed" and are also beyond hope of restoration.

That kind of discernment is the province of the saints and prophets; it is definitely beyond my feeble abilities. But to the best of my knowledge, none of our more recent saints (I believe St. Joseph reposed around 1515) have made any calls for execution of heretics, or have tried to justify the killing of heretics, so I find it reasonable to assume that those conditions do not generally hold true nowadays.

Also, it seems that a full consideration of St. Joseph's views would have to include the views of his contemporary, St. Nilus of Sora, who resolutely opposed corporal punishment and execution for heretics, and questioned the use of any means of opposition and correction besides admonition, example, and prayer. St. Nilus "taught quite uncompromisingly that the human conscience must be free and that none should be persecuted for his religious views." He based his ideas not on detailed exegesis from the fathers, but on the notions of Christian forgiveness and charity and on the example of Christ. Interesting that both are recognized as saints, and apparently respected each other (the OCA site's Lives of the Saints notes that St. Joseph would send his disciples to St. Nilus to study inner prayer under his direction).

Finally, don't forget when all this was taking place. The Spanish Inquisition had begun not many years prior to the debate over how to handle the Judaizing heretics in Russia. "Preserving orthodoxy through execution" seems to have been the "spirit of the times", so to speak.

In Christ,
Mike

#8 Matthew Namee

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 06:08 PM

Finally, don't forget when all this was taking place. The Spanish Inquisition had begun not many years prior to the debate over how to handle the Judaizing heretics in Russia. "Preserving orthodoxy through execution" seems to have been the "spirit of the times", so to speak.

I agree, it is essential to consider the context in which St. Joseph was writing. Yuri and Andreas have pointed out the dangers of the judaizers in Russia at that time. Mike has made the good observation that differing opinions did exist, with St. Nil Sorsky the leading example. But the world in which St. Joseph lived was indeed a more violent world, on a day-to-day basis, than our (western) world today. Death, in general, was more a part of the fabric of life than it is for most of us today (what with plagues and sicknesses of various kinds, hunger, infant mortality, women dying in childbirth, mauraders, etc). Heretics were also persecuted and executed in the Byzantine Empire. I think it was generally understood that if you professed a belief which stood in contrast to the prevailing religion, you placed your life in danger. Thankfully, we live under different conditions today.

#9 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 07:00 PM

You didn't have to be a heretic to get into trouble. St Maximos the Confessor had his right hand cut off and his tongue torn out. He was justified not very long after. St Maxim Grek suffered appallingly from the Russians who suspected him of heresy when all he was trying to do was correct Slavonic translations from the Greek. I venerated his relics at the Holy Trinity St Sergius Lavra and whispered how sorry I was that he suffered so much for the truth. I feel he heard me.

(Note: in case anyone was wondering, St Nilus of Sora and St Nil Sorsky are one and the same saint.)

#10 Misha

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 07:38 PM

A recently reposed great elder and miracleworker in Greece,fr.Iakovos of st David's Monastery said that in Church's catalogues there are "saints" who are not really saints.

st.Nilus of Sora was a holy man,follower of the hesychastic tradition and so opposed to Church's secularization and supporter of the poor russian peasants.

Those who are in favor of the persecution or,even worse, the execution of the heretics or "heretics" don't differ from the Pharisees who crucified our Lord as blasphemous and heretic.


In the orthodox church there wasn't and there can't be a kind of Saria (islamic law) or Holy inquisition.

The Church keeps as the holiest treasure the Love for the ,so called,Enemies.This won't change till the end of ages,no matter what some priests claim from time to time.

#11 Yuri Zharikov

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 07:44 PM

Getting off the topic here, but the humility, forebearing and faith of St. Maximus the Greek really struck me when I learned about his life. I think his faith in Truth, if the comparison is appropriate, was greater even than that of the martyrs of the first three centuries. His words of rebuke to the people of high society in Moscow of that time that got lodged in my memory are: you say - oh Sweet Jesus - and His commandments are bitter for you; you sing - rejoyce of Theotokos the Virgin - and yourselves you inbitter your neighbours.
To add to what Andreas said, St. Maximus got into trouble with the authorities when he advised Prince Basil III against divorcing his first wife to marry Elena Glinskaya (future mother of Ivan IV the Formidable) in the most unambiguous words, saying that a God-loving, pious Tzar may not behave like a "horse in heat". The charges of book spoiling were brought in later by the ill-wishers when they saw that St. Maximus fell out of favour.
Remarkably, St. Maximus did not try to defend himself but instead accepted all the guilt and begged forgiveness.

#12 Andrew James

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 08:56 PM

A recently reposed great elder and miracleworker in Greece,fr.Iakovos of st David's Monastery said that in Church's catalogues there are "saints" who are not really saints.

st.Nilus of Sora was a holy man,follower of the hesychastic tradition and so opposed to Church's secularization and supporter of the poor russian peasants.

Those who are in favor of the persecution or,even worse, the execution of the heretics or "heretics" don't differ from the Pharisees who crucified our Lord as blasphemous and heretic.


In the orthodox church there wasn't and there can't be a kind of Saria (islamic law) or Holy inquisition.

The Church keeps as the holiest treasure the Love for the ,so called,Enemies.This won't change till the end of ages,no matter what some priests claim from time to time.



I agree that St. Joseph of Volokolamsk is in error, and that to promote going around killing heretics is to show a lack of compassion. However, in this saint's honest love for Christ and truth, he clearly stepped over the line. But we should not therefore feel he is not a saint.

Saints sometimes fall into extremes or even error. Think of St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Cyril of Alexandria to name a few.

#13 Moses Ibrahim

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 09:04 PM

Its very possible that this Saint made a mistake.

However the possibility of heretics destroying the souls of countless Orthodox is also a huge mistake to leave be. But each case should be looked at differently, not all heretics are the same. Every case is different, as St. Paul converted and repented for his slaughtering of the Christians, so did many other heretics repent, but others like Nestorius and Arius did not, even though they were reproached many times (and God sent Angels to slay and disembowel these two heretics for the hatred and schisms they sowed in the Church). I personally think in some cases it is better to kill a heretic than for the Church to fall apart (even though we know that the gates of hell will not prevail against it, some people are still bound to be lead astray).

Just going to post this one incident where St. Leo had the heretic Heliodorus killed in the fire. God could have very well saved Heliodorus, but St. Leo was righteous before God and his killing of Heliodorus was justified in the eyes of God.

When St Leo was Bishop of Catania, there was a certain sorcerer named Heliodorus, who impressed people with his fake miracles. This fellow was originally a Christian, but then he rejected Christ and became a servant of the devil. St Leo often urged Heliodorus to repent of his wicked deeds and return to God, but in vain. Once, Heliodorus impudently entered the church where the bishop was serving, and tried to create a disturbance, sowing confusion and temptation by his sorcery. Seeing the people beset by devils under the sorcer's spell, St Leo realized that the time for gentle persuasion had passed. He calmly emerged from the altar and, tying his omophorion around the magician's neck, he led him out of the church into the city square. There he forced Heliodorus to admit to all his wicked deeds. He commanded that a fire be lit, and jumped into the fire with the sorcerer. Thus they stood in the fire until Heliodorus got burnt. St Leo, by the power of God, remained unharmed. This miracle brought St Leo great renown during his lifetime.

#14 Vitalis

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 09:17 PM

It seems to me that, in order to use this as justification for the execution of heretics, you would have to accept the following premises:

(1) The heretics are beyond any possibility of repentance and restoration to the Church; and
(2) Those they infect with their heresies have indeed had their souls "killed" and are also beyond hope of restoration.


The heretics are not beyond the possibility of repentance. Nothing that St. Joseph wrote states that.

Also, it seems that a full consideration of St. Joseph's views would have to include the views of his contemporary, St. Nilus of Sora, who resolutely opposed corporal punishment and execution for heretics, and questioned the use of any means of opposition and correction besides admonition, example, and prayer.


Concerning St. Nilus, it is a rather wrong opinion that their views were opposed on this issue. St. Nilus actually wrote many parts of the Enlightener. St. Joseph, on the other hand, had almost all of St. Nilus' writings in his monastery for people to read. St. Nilus was not opposed to carpal punishment. OCA website quotes the old liberal analysis of the 19th century historians. That analysis was very much influenced by the ideas of symbolism and other liberal ideologies. The deepest research on this was done by Vadim Kozhinov, who refutes such misinterpretations of the writings of St. Nilus. If anyone can read russian, the article can be found here. It is generally funny to see how most of the things written here about St. Nilus is taken somewhat from wikipedia.

I agree that St. Joseph of Volokolamsk is in error, and that to promote going around killing heretics is to show a lack of compassion.


St. Joseph has never promoted "going around killing heretics". He promoted killing the heretics, when this heresy was taking over the whole northern Russia. He mentions again and again that killing should only take place when the heretics are killing the souls of other people by making them fall into heresies. In his book he gives many examples of how saints did not act until heretics would make other Christians join them. St. Joseph mentions that it is wrong to see his view on the topic as lacking compassion. He says that those who do not want to stop the heresy are the ones that lack compassion. Just like with ecumenism, our leaders choose to show a lot of love for heretics, but show little concern for their fellow Christians. St. Joseph does not write any of this out hate. Christian love is not about hugs and kisses. It is about salvation.

I was hoping for more concrete arguments with proof from the Holy Fathers. At least more concrete refutations of the evidence that St. Joseph presents. Let us not forget, who St. Joseph was. He was a person, who dedicated his whole life to asceticism. The least we can do is show a little humility and remember that we have a worldly understanding, while St. Joseph cleared his mind through fast, prayer, vigil, and labor.

#15 Andrew James

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 10:06 PM

The heretics are not beyond the possibility of repentance. Nothing that St. Joseph wrote states that.


I believe Mike was referring to the statement of how the heretics were "killing souls". He was trying to say that if those people later repented, than the heretics would not have accomplished the murder of any souls. Basically as long as those people were still alive, the heretics had yet to murder a soul.

#16 Misha

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 11:18 PM

If we put in use the argument :"we kill heretics because they kill souls",then we just repeat Pharisees way of thinking :
Then one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said, “You know nothing at all!You do not realize that it is more to your advantage to have one man die for the people than for the whole nation to perish.”(John 11,49) which lead to our Lord's suffering.

This way of thinking will lead to religious fanaticism and is absolutely contrary to the spirit of Christ's teachings and the therapeutic/hesychastic tradition of our Church.

from:http://www.iocc.org/...lus of Sora.pdf

"He strongly defended the Inquisitional treatment of heretics by excommunicating and turning them over to civil
authority to be burned alive. He justified the use of civil authority in these matters as a way to defend the Christian
state and the rule of the authorities that were in power because of the grace of God. He tried to persuade the
authorities that if the heretics were allowed to live then the very existence of their rule was threatened. Joseph
was a studious, well-read scholar.
He was well versed in both the Bible and Patristic fathers and presented a convincing case against the heretics.
The last four chapters of the Enlightener dealt specifically with the reasons why corporal punishment and
execution should be followed by the church in regards the Judaizers"

"Both Paisius Yaroslavov (an honored Russian starets and thought by many to be Nilus' teacher in Russia) and
Nilus were present at the Synod of 1490. They were known to opposed both the secular persecution and ecclesiastic trial of heretics. And both when dealing with infractions by both monks and the laity always counselled forgiveness and charity."

Anyone who has read st Nilus writings can easily understand that this holy man couldn't support the use of physical violence against anyone.

#17 Vitalis

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Posted 02 May 2008 - 12:47 AM

Nilus were present at the Synod of 1490. They were known to opposed both the secular persecution and ecclesiastic trial of heretics. And both when dealing with infractions by both monks and the laity always counselled forgiveness and charity

There's not a single epistle from St. Nilus that shows his opposition. The sources that the liberal historians base their opinion on are the writings that were written way after the events. For instance one of them says that St. Nilus came with his student Paisius to denounce the ideas of St. Joseph. However, his student Paisius died before the council took place. Moreover, in his "Predanie" or "Legend" he says: "Everyone with me and I damn the heretical teachings and legends". St. Nilus made copies of the Enlightener with his own hands. In any case, this is off topic, so I won't go further. Hopefully the work of Kozhinov, Prokhorov (who did the most extensive analysis of his life and compiled all of his works), and many other historians will be translated into English.

Basically as long as those people were still alive

Well when St. Dimitrius, St. Andrew, St. Alexander and their troops went to kill the Tatars did they need to think that there's a possibility that the Tatars all might convert? When St. Alexander of Neva went to slay the Germans did he also need to think about whether or not they might convert to Orthodoxy? No, first and foremost they thought about their fellow Orthodox Christians.

Anyway, I am going to stop arguing, because it will go nowhere. I just want to repeat what St. John Chrysostom said and give two other related quotes from St. Anthony the Great. I want to apologize right away, since I do not have anything that I quote in English, I have to translate and I realize these translations are not that great.

As I wrote earlier:

If someone will kill in accordance to the will of God - this murder will be better than any compassion. If someone will show mercy out of compassion but against the will of God, such a compassion is meaner than any murder. It is not the nature of things but God's judgment that makes things good or bad.

It makes perfect sense how heretics can be killed. If Christians soldiers were allowed to kill, how then civil authorities are not allowed to kill heretics that are way worse than anyone that a soldier would fight against?

Anyway, here are two quotes from St. Anthony from "Precept on good morals and holy life in 170 chapters", which I think relate:

69. We should not get angry at those who sin, even if the delinquencies they commit are worthy of punishment. The guilty ones must be, for the sake of truth, turned back (to the path of truth) and punished , if needed, either by yourselves or through others. However, we should not be angry or cross with them, since the anger is acting only through passions but not according to judgment and truth. We should not approve those that are compassionate more than needed, but at the same time, the bad ones must be punished for the sake of goodness and truth, not for the sake of one's anger.

81. If you have much authority, do not threaten someone with death right away, knowing that you yourself are subjected to death and that every soul, will take off its body like its last garment

I think, at the end we should just all learn from these events and take care of ourselves and others so that they do not leave Orthodoxy and abandon it for a heresy. We no longer have the advantage of having Orthodox emperors. It is up to us to grow our children and try to preserve our friends from atheism and other false teachings. May God deliver us from this!

Forgive me for the sake of Christ!

#18 Andrew James

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Posted 02 May 2008 - 12:57 AM

Well when St. Dimitrius, St. Andrew, St. Alexander and their troops went to kill the Tatars did they need to think that there's a possibility that the Tatars all might convert? When St. Alexander of Neva went to slay the Germans did he also need to think about whether or not they might convert to Orthodoxy? No, first and foremost they thought about their fellow Orthodox Christians.


Yes, but they were reacting to immediate danger. They did not have the luxury of exiling or jailing their enemies. When you have such a luxury at hand, it should be utilized far before any means of violence are.

#19 Michael Stickles

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Posted 02 May 2008 - 04:36 AM

Concerning St. Nilus, it is a rather wrong opinion that their views were opposed on this issue. St. Nilus actually wrote many parts of the Enlightener. St. Joseph, on the other hand, had almost all of St. Nilus' writings in his monastery for people to read. St. Nilus was not opposed to carpal punishment. OCA website quotes the old liberal analysis of the 19th century historians. That analysis was very much influenced by the ideas of symbolism and other liberal ideologies. The deepest research on this was done by Vadim Kozhinov, who refutes such misinterpretations of the writings of St. Nilus. If anyone can read russian, the article can be found here. It is generally funny to see how most of the things written here about St. Nilus is taken somewhat from wikipedia.


Actually, I completely ignore Wikipedia when it comes to research. While I only gave one link, multiple Orthodox sites I checked were in perfect agreement as to St. Nilus' opposition to St. Joseph's stance on how to deal with heretics, and none credited him with writing any part of the Enlightener. Since I can't read Russian, I'll have to wait for the page you linked to be translated into English before I can evaluate that claim compared to what I've read elsewhere.

Since the content of St. Nilus' testimony is contested, let us turn to another father of the Church. I have so far been unable to find among St. John Chrysostom's writings the quotes which you said that St. Joseph attributed to him (though I'm sure I haven't searched all his writings yet). But in any case, that St. Chrysostom would oppose the execution of heretics seems clear from what he says in his 46th Homily on Matthew:

But what means, “Lest ye root up the wheat with them?” Either He means this, If ye are to take up arms, and to kill the heretics, many of the saints also must needs be overthrown with them; or that of the very tares it is likely that many may change and become wheat. If therefore ye root them up beforehand, ye injure that which is to become wheat, slaying some, in whom there is yet room for change and improvement. He doth not therefore forbid our checking heretics, and stopping their mouths, and taking away their freedom of speech, and breaking up their assemblies and confederacies, but our killing and slaying them.

But mark thou His gentleness, how He not only gives sentence and forbids, but sets down reasons.

What then, if the tares should remain until the end? “Then I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them.” He again reminds them of John’s words, introducing Him as judge; and He saith, So long as they stand by the wheat, we must spare them, for it is possible for them even to become wheat but when they have departed, having profited nothing, then of necessity the inexorable punishment will overtake them.


Numerous saints have spoken of the permissibility of killing in warfare, but aside from St. Joseph Volokolamsky I have seen none who outside of warfare advocated killing heretics. They have penned heated invective, urged deposition, banishment, excommunication, expulsion from the clergy, and various other actions, but not execution.

The passages you quote from St. Joseph would seem to indicate otherwise, but frankly, I haven't been able to confirm any of those stories so far. One of the quotes says:

The first great emperor equal-to-the-apostles Constantine established a law in all of his domain that those who did not believe in the Holy Life-giving Trinity must die the most brutal death and their houses allowed to be pillaged.


Yet, in the copy I've read of St. Constantine's "Edict against the Heretics," no mention is made of execution, but rather simply of depriving them of their meeting-places. I investigated a couple of St. Joseph's other examples of alleged patristic approval of the execution of heretics, and likewise could not find any independent confirmation of them. While I may simply be missing something (and I admittedly haven't come close to exhaustively researching all of them), I can't help but wonder about the accuracy of the sources he had available, from which he drew those examples.

In Christ,
Mike

#20 Matthew Namee

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Posted 02 May 2008 - 05:07 AM

Yes, but they were reacting to immediate danger. They did not have the luxury of exiling or jailing their enemies. When you have such a luxury at hand, it should be utilized far before any means of violence are.

I agree completely. The "justification" for killing in battle is in large part due to the imminent danger posed by the enemy. If you don't kill him, he'll kill you and others. But once you have someone in custody, it becomes quite a different matter. They are defenseless, and you can physically control their movements. In this case, killing is not in self-defense but for other purposes entirely.

With regard to heretics, by all means, they are dangerous. But for heaven's sake, "killing the soul" is very different than "killing the body." Anyway, many things besides heresy are extremely harmful to the soul. Should, for instance, those who gossip be executed for tempting others into sin? I certainly hope not. Yet I would imagine that many more Orthodox Christians fall to the sin of gossip and judgment of others than to the sin of heresy.

I do recognize that, in St. Joseph's time and place, heresy was (from what others here have said) a very imminent threat. I'd still hope to rely on education and example to preserve the people, rather than force, but would not simple exile have been enough? Does not killing the heretics provide them with martyrs and place us in the position of ending the life of a defenseless person? That person, even a heretic, is still made in the image of God. By killing anyone, we destroy a living icon. Perhaps in war this is unusually necessary, but it should be avoided if at all possible.




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