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Parable of the Virgins


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#1 Sacha

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Posted 09 November 2011 - 11:36 PM



http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2009-10-15_parable-of-the-ten-virgins-the-oil-is-the-holy-spirit-the-proper-dogma-regarding-works-st-seraphim-of-sarov-conversation-with-motovilov.html


There seems to be a divide in the interpretation of the parable of the ten virgins. On one side, there are followers of St Seraphim of Sarov who insist that the oil in the lamps represents the acquisition of the grace of God/Holy Spirit (see link above). On the other hand, the traditional interpretation has been that the oil represents good works or works of mercy.

Are both looked on favorably as intepretations?

#2 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 10 November 2011 - 12:08 AM

Yes. Is there a problem with either interpretation? Can't it be both?

#3 Sacha

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Posted 10 November 2011 - 12:15 AM

Yes. Is there a problem with either interpretation? Can't it be both?


St Seraphim would say you are mistaken. From the link above:

"the oil is not good deeds but the grace of the All-Holy Spirit of God which is obtained through them and which changes souls from one state to another"

#4 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 10 November 2011 - 12:33 AM

I'd say it is more a matter of emphasis than anything else. FOR HIS PURPOSE, it does not mean "good deeds" HOWEVER, St. John Chrysostom says "… and by oil [He means here], philanthropy, almsgiving, help to them that are in need". I don't know that St. Seraphim would dare to call the Golden Mouthed "mistaken", but that might just be me.

St Gregory the Great has yet another interpretation. For him "The brightness of glory is signified by the oil, and the small containers are our hearts, in which we carry all that we think." Do you believe that St. Gregory would say that St. Seraphim is wrong? I don't. They are all simply choosing to emphasize different things with the same story.

The OSB plays all sides of the story, and refers to the oil as 'works of mercy—the grace of the Holy Spirit.'

Can't they all be "right" for their purposes? Does one or more HAVE to be "wrong"? Sometimes there is more than one way to work a parable, I suspect that is why Christ liked them so much.

Herman the parabolic Pooh

#5 Sacha

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Posted 10 November 2011 - 01:05 AM

Your claim that it is a matter of emphasis I do not find convincing. But regardless, look forward to the input of others.

#6 Sacha

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Posted 10 November 2011 - 01:24 AM

St Seraphim says here:
"Acquire the grace of the Holy Spirit also by practicing all the other virtues for Christ's sake. Trade spiritually with them; trade with those which give you the greatest profit. Accumulate capital from the superabundance of God's grace, deposit it in God's eternal bank which will bring you immaterial interest, not four or six percent, but one hundred percent for one spiritual ruble, and even infinitely more than that. For example, if prayer and watching give you more of God's grace, watch and pray; if fasting gives you much of the Spirit of God, fast; if almsgiving gives you more, give alms. Weigh every virtue done for Christ's sake in this manner..."


He is implying that the virtues or deeds do not necessarily lead to more of God's grace, hence his counsel to 'weigh' every virtue. Later on in his conversation with Nicholas Motovilov, he seems to equate the evidence of having acquired the grace of the Holy Spirit with the ability to 'see' God through prayer and meditation especially. He seems to be referring to a certain disposition of the soul and spirit, 'extraordinary sweetness', 'extraordinary joy in all of my heart'.

Is this a mistaken understanding of his views?

#7 Olga

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Posted 10 November 2011 - 06:05 AM

Sacha, Orthodoxy does not base its theology or doctrine on the pronouncements or writings of a single individual, be he saint or layman or cleric, unless, of course, that individual is Jesus Christ. Different saints and Fathers might have different insights into a particular matter. As long as these differences complement, not contradict, each other, and are not contrary to Apostolic tradition, there is no problem.

Seemingly simple parables have fed the minds of priests, saints, orators, and countless Orthodox faithful for the better part of 2000 years. The depths of these stories continues to be plumbed.

#8 Michael Stickles

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 03:08 AM

St Seraphim would say you are mistaken.


Actually, he wouldn't - and he didn't. From the link you gave (emphasis added):

Some say that the lack of oil in the lamps of the foolish virgins means a lack of good deeds in their lifetime. Such an interpretation is not quite correct.


He would not have bothered with the "quite" if he felt the interpretation was simply mistaken. Let's look again at the section you quoted, but with a different part emphasized:

"the oil is not good deeds but the grace of the All-Holy Spirit of God which is obtained through them and which changes souls from one state to another"


Now, let us look at St. John Chrysostom's statement from Homily 78 on Matthew's Gospel, which Herman quoted part of (emphasis added):

But by lamps here, He meaneth the gift itself of virginity, the purity of holiness; and by oil, humanity, almsgiving, succor to them that are in need.


In an earlier remark from the same homily (the same paragraph, even), he shows that the almsgiving is not an end in itself:

He putteth forth this parable sufficient to persuade them, that virginity, though it should have everything else, if destitute of the good things arising out of almsgiving, is cast out with the harlots, and He sets the inhuman and merciless with them.


At this point, he is sounding rather similar to St. Seraphim. St. Seraphim calls the oil that necessary thing - the grace of the Spirit - which is obtained by good works; St. John calls the oil the good works from which arise those necessary things without which even so laudable a virtue as virginity is worthless. The point of focus is really the same - that the good works are a necessary means to the true goal. I would suspect that between St. John and St. Seraphim, that point got lost, and people looked merely to the good works without attention to what they were meant to produce in us. St. Seraphim's words, while appearing on the surface to contradict St. John, are really restoring the original understanding, but he needs to word it differently because his audience does not have the same point of view that St. John's did.

In Christ,
Michael

#9 Michael Stickles

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 03:34 AM

A follow-up point. While I think St. John Chrysostom and St. Seraphim of Sarov are saying fundamentally the same thing in their respective interpretations of this parable, I also agree fully with what Herman and Olga have said. Often parables or stories in Scripture are used to illustrate broad truths; interpreters normally are focused on a particular aspect or application thereof, and try to present it in terms that their audience can understand and relate to. A different aspect and/or a different audience can result in a different (or at least seemingly different) interpretation.




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