The Appearance of Elder Ephraim and the anger of God (conclusion)
Before continuing to write about “the anger of God” it must first be pointed out that this will be an inexact estimate. This is because something is being written about God; and whenever we write about God, we immediately find ourselves greatly restricted. Why? Because a creature is using human language to speak of the uncreated God Who is “without beginning, invisible, incomprehensible, indescribable, changeless”.(From the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great) So we will make an effort to be as accurate as we can.
I believe that as we begin consider our subject, it is best to start with the Gospel accounts of what is often referred to as “the cleansing of the Temple”. I do this because I know of some who have used this event – which is recorded in all four Gospels – to justify their own anger. St. John the Theologian records it near the outset of his Gospel; while the other three evangelists have it close to the end of Christ’s ministry on earth. I will make some remarks based on commentaries of Sts. Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Theophylact and Augustine.
In considering the reactions of the Jewish leaders we could conclude that this was done twice. In St. John’s Gospel, after our Lord’s cleansing of the Temple we read, “The Jews therefore answered and said unto Him,”What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these
things?” (John 2:18) This appears to have taken place before our Lord’s many miracles and great renown, therefore they asked this question. In the other evangelists’ account, the cleansing of the Temple occurs right after Palm Sunday which would have been preceded by the raising of Lazarus. St. Mark tells us how the Jewish leaders reacted quite differently at that time: “And the chief priests and the scribes heard it, and sought how they might destroy Him: for they feared Him, for all the multitude was astonished at His teaching.” (Mark 11:18) Note that none of the aforementioned commentators said Christ was angry. Instead, we see His divine authority, His harmony with God, and love for the Temple. His action proved that He was not an adversary of God as He was accused of being. This can also be seen to foreshadow an end to the old worship and an indication of something new to come.
But how exactly should we understand this action of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Who is both God and man? In becoming man our Lord Jesus Christ assumed not only our flesh but also a human soul. This is mentioned a number of times in the Hymnology of the Church. For instance, in the Vespers service this past Saturday evening (Tone 8) we sang: “We glorify Christ Who rose from the dead; for having assumed a soul and body, He cut the passions off from both.” (The Octoechos Volume IV, trans. Reader Isaac E. Lamberstein, p. 77) In The Philokalia the three aspects or powers of the soul are defined as the intellectual, the appetitive or desiring, and the incensive aspects. The incensive aspect “often manifests itself as wrath or anger, but [which] can more generally be defined as the force provoking vehement feelings”. (The Philokalia Volume One, p.358) However, if Christ God, Who cut off the passions of soul and body, uses this incensive force, does this mean that He was angry as we experience and understand it? That the answer is no, should be obvious to us. Among the evangelists it is only St. John who comments further on this event in which we see Christ using physical force. St. John writes: “And his disciples remembered that it was written, ‘The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up’[Ps. 68:9].” (John 2:17)
In another place in the Gospels we read regarding an encounter with the Pharisees: “And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts” (Mark 3:5). This took place when Christ was about to heal a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. St. Mark did not say Christ was angry, but rather that He was grieved and looked upon them with anger. Our Lord was grieved and used a stern expression of anger to rebuke their hardheartedness. To further illustrate my point I shall turn to an event in the life of St. Paisius Velichkovsky:
Once, one of the brethren said to the starets, “Father, my thoughts tell me that you bear hatred toward me since you often rebuke me angrily in the brethren’s presence.” The starets answered, “My beloved brother, to become angry and irritated is alien to the life of the Gospel. If the divine Gospel commands us both to love our enemies and do good to them, then how can I possibly be hate my spiritual children? [No, it is impossible!] (1) And if I rebuke you angrily, then let God give you such anger as well. I force myself to appear angered, although through God’s grace I never have anger or hate.” The brother fell to the starets’ feet with tears, asking for forgiveness. The starets would often tell the brethren, “I do not wish for anyone of you to fear me as a stern ruler, but for all of you to love me as a father, just as I love you as my spiritual children.” (Starets Paisii Velichkovskii, Sergii Chetverikov, trans. Vasily Lickwar and Alexander J. Lisenko, Nordland Publishing Company 1980, pp.154-5)
If this was so with a saint, then how much more is it true for our Lord Jesus Christ?
“People need love today.” These are the words of Eldress Makrina of the convent Panagia the Directress at Portaria, Greece. She was under the direction of St. Joseph the Hesychast and later Elder Ephraim. She once came to America to see her spiritual daughter, Eldress Taxiarchia, of the convent of the Birth of the Theotokos at Saxonburg, Pennsylvania. This happened in the early 1990’s. During my conversation with her, I told her that when I had previously spoken with Elder Ephraim at the convent, the nun who translated for us was quite nervous about doing so. However, the Elder – recognizing this – looked at her with an expression of extreme love. I believe that both the translator and I experienced similar feelings from his glance: he was like an icon of the love of Christ. Mother Makrina remarked, “This happened because people need love today.” Later in this conversation she repeated again, “People need love today”. Although we hear both in the Scriptures and in Holy Tradition of God’s anger, we should think of it as St. John Cassian tells us. (see the previous post) Likewise, as St. Paisius the Athonite points out, we should be aware that these things were spoken to a barbaric people.
Sin has multiplied greatly in the world and the salvation of all is what we hope. So repentance is needed. Yet some people—perhaps most—do not repent unless there is a strong wake-up call; and, unfortunately there are some who will never repent. St. Jospeh the Hesychast wrote in a letter: “Some souls are made soft through rebukes and others through compassion.” His spiritual child, Joseph the Younger has said, “When men are repenting according to the will of God they are supported amidst difficulties. If they go off a little He sends something to bring them back. But if they totally go off or oppose God then hard things and broken-heartedness can come.” A difficult time is sure to come, we have been hearing about this for decades.
Now it appears that it may be very close. So we need to continue our own repentance and pray for the repentance of the world. We need to mourn over the fall of man–a universal repentance. And have hope, for, GOD IS LOVE.
(1) As this seemed ambiguous to a reader who emailed me I made the addition in brackets to remove misinterpretation