Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Questions and Answers 80 - 86

About the Shroud of Turin

Question 80: I am wondering whether you would consider updating the articles you have included on the Shroud of Turin at your Mystagogy site. I’m Orthodox, and even without the Shroud would be a convinced Christian. All I care about is the Truth and that we all bear witness to that as best we can. What I have learned is unless the experts who have thus far examined the Shroud are unqualified or lying (and they are not all Catholics or even all Christians from what I understand), the Shroud is beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt that described by the NT as enclosing the Body of the Lord after His death. I have from time to time been following the research, so I didn’t always think this, but recent discoveries have changed my mind, and I’m very inspired by how the Lord seems to have left Himself yet another extremely powerful witness to His life, death and resurrection (as well as corroboration of certain records we have of the history of this holy relic). In a skeptical age, I like to see those in the Church taking advantage of this, not joining the skeptics in casting doubt unless that is truly warranted. You were apparently skeptical in 2012? There have been developments since then. Perhaps a fresh look at all the evidence and a 2019 update at your site would be timely and edifying of the faithful, and a fitting challenge to the skeptics.

Answer: To answer your specific question without getting into the details of the issue, my opinion has not changed since 2012, despite the most up to date research on the subject. I am still extremely skeptical of the authenticity of the Shroud, and the research done in 2011 has put the issue to rest, as far as I'm concerned. But you are right, in the sense that I should write something on the issue, including some of the recent research out there. I will do this when I can.

Sex Before and After the Fall

Question 81: I hear regularly that early Church Fathers believed Adam and Eve were sexless or procreated in some way other than by current natural methods and that sex was a result of the fall. This has stumped me a bit. In some ways since I am a huge critic of modern explanations of evolution it isn't a huge jump, but it also seems to contradict many other Church Fathers who took the Nephilim incident literally. It is obvious to me that the Enoch story though not canonical as a book, that the material was taken seriously. It seems that many practices in the Church could be linked to the idea that Adam and Eve's sin brought sex into the world - monasticism and virginity (Chrysostom), the elevation of Mary - she would have been "angelic" in her virginity, prolonged abstinence in marriage, etc. Imaginatively I can obviously see reasons for monasticism and the other things mentioned without this view, but I am curious how much the Orthodox appraisal of virginity or anything else linked to sexual relations is dependent on the view that Adam and Eve procreated some other way than through sexual intercourse. Some Priests I've read and listened to seem to make this as fundamental as other issues related to the fall.

Answer: Some Church Fathers have speculated that if the Fall never took place, then procreation would have been sexless, sort of like the angels, who are a multitude but did not procreate through sex. Because the Fall did take place, carnal sex among the passions of the flesh is a result. Since our aim is to enter a state of being before the Fall, and in full communion with God, one way this is done is to suppress and transform the passions of the flesh to their original purpose, and our sexuality is one way this is done, by embracing virginity, which is equated with an angelic life. This is for those who desire to embrace the perfect and ideal form of the Christian life. The theory that angels could procreate with humans was rejected by the Church, as were many other primordial and eschatological teachings some early Christians received from the Jews.

The Salvation of the Iconoclast Theophilos

Question 82: In one of your prior posts ( you mentioned in passing that St. Empress Theodora in the 800s, through her prayers, saved the soul of her husband the iconoclast Theophilos from hell. I've encountered brief mentions of this tale in other things online (additionally, a detailed version of it appears in the fiction book Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin), but have not come across the full tale. Do you happen to know more about it, or whether to find it? All I have found is that one website (, fn. 15) mentioned in a citation that it can be found in the Synaxarion for Meatfare Saturday.

Answer: After a quick search online, you can read more about it here beginning on p. 195:

Definition of the Word "Osios"

Question 83: I’ve been looking on your website to see if you have the meaning of Osios and I couldn’t find anything. Maybe I didn’t look properly. Who knows? I was wondering if you could help me. Do you know what Osios is?

Answer: It is a difficult word to translate, and one which I translate as "Venerable", and it speaks primarily of those who lived a strict ascetic life, but there is more to it, and for this I will rely on the definition given by St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite.

St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, in his Heortodromion, writes: “Those called Venerable or Osioi are those who subdued the flesh through self-control, asceticism, and mortification until their death. The Greek word ὁσία means death, and those things having to do with the preparation of a dead person for burial we call ὅσια. Such Osioi (Venerable ones) were Elijah, Elisha, and the sons of Jonadab, who all lived the ascetic life… The three children are called Osioi not only because they displayed self-control when they did not eat of the polluted foods given them by Nebuchadnezzar, but also because they kept their love for God until that ὁσία which we spoke about, that is, until their death” (Heortodromion, vol. 2, pp. 88-89).

Christians and Abortion Choice

Question 84: Can you be a Christian and be Pro-Choice?

Answer: Personally, I don't like the dichotomy between being Pro-Choice and Pro-Life, because as Christians we should be in favor of both, without eliminating one or the other. Being Pro-Choice should not eliminate being Pro-Life, and vice versa. However, this is something we can only apply personally. In countries where people have the right to be in favor of abortion, then people have the right to be in favor of abortion and have an abortion. In this sense, we can be Pro-Choice as Christians, by allowing others to have the right to an abortion. However, as Orthodox Christians, we cannot allow ourselves or other Orthodox Christians to have an abortion without canonical consequences.

The 11:11 Phenomenon

Question 85: I know that this may sound odd, but... have you ever heard of or ever experienced the 11:11 phenomena? I wish I knew who or what it is. Just curious.

Answer: Funny you should ask that now. Perhaps you saw the recent horror movie Us, because 11:11 is prominently displayed throughout the movie, such as when the clock strikes 11:11 or when you see a homeless man holding up a sign saying "Jeremiah 11:11". To interpret the many metaphors in the film, people have been wondering what 11:11 means. I won't go into the details, but you can read about it here:

Personally, I don't believe that seeing 11:11 at a specific time means anything, and that it is merely coincidence if something does happen associated with 11:11.

The Appearance of Christ at Patmos

Question 86: Dear John, I wanted your help on two things. First, I was recently in Patmos, and I heard two different versions of our tradition of what happened in the Cave of the Apocalypse. In one version, it is merely that the saint beheld the Revelation there. In the other version, we believe that Our Savior set foot physically in that Cave while addressing St John. Those in the second camp refer to Patmos as a Second Jerusalem because Christ physically walked there. The first account is obviously accurate. Is the second account also true?

Secondly, have you seen the pemptousia interview with Aghios Ganos about his spiritual father, St Amphilochios Makris? It’s called Ο Άγιος της αγάπης. What are badly needed for the interview are Greek subtitles, because the Metropolitan has a kind of palsy and it’s very hard to make out his words. Do you have connections at pemptousia or elsewhere that could attempt something like that?

Answer: In regards to your first question, I will tell you what I heard there, as I have been to Patmos three times and it was explained to me the same way each time. The monks there believe that Christ appeared in the Cave under the spot where the three fissures in the rock on the ceiling appear. He appeared there as the Ancient of Days, as depicted in the Apocalypse icon (see above) and described in Revelation 1. The fissure is equally divided into three parts, which they interpret as a sign of the Holy Trinity. While St. John beheld this vision in an ecstatic state, he dictated what he was seeing to his disciple Prochoros, and it was Prochoros who wrote the text as St. John was telling him what to write. Is it true? I have no idea. Is this the Patmian tradition? Yes.

Regarding your second question, I have no association with Pemptousia. Pemptousia is an online ministry out of Vatopaidi Monastery on Mount Athos. They often do translate their videos, so I would suggest you contact them to provide an English translation. Try contacting them on Facebook here:

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