“Beforetimes, a table used to stand in the corner wherein the holy icons were. Then, however, that space will be occupied by seductive instruments for the deception of men. Many who have departed away from the Truth will say, ‘we need to watch and hear the news.’ And it is in the news that antichrist will appear; and they will accept him.” St. Lavrentii of Chernigov
Was St. Paisios the new of Mt. Athos influenced by Protestant Eschatology, and are his teachings on the signs of the times not to be accepted as a legitimate continuation of the tradition of the Orthodox Church on the matter?
A social media source called “Theoria TV” posed this question in basic and answered it with a firm yes. It alleges that St. Paisios’ eschatological teachings – found in English in Volume II of a collection of his works named, “Spiritual Awakening,” under a chapter entitled “Signs of the Times” – are almost completely based on a Protestant publication called “When Your Money Fails,” by Mary Relfe, Ph.D.
Who is “Theoria TV?”
“Theoria TV” is run by a Mr. Benjamin Cabe (who may go by “Jonah” if you try to engage him online). Mr. Cabe is one of the founders of “St. Brigid’s Orthodox Community.” It is striking that the Community promotes “acceptance” of all, sexuality and gender identity included. It boasts of being composed of “Anglicans, low-church Protestants, agnostics, atheists, and more.” In the past, Mr. Cabe has written for a group called Conciliar Post, which seems to be of an ecumenical orientation, his profile may be found here. Now, one can make of these things what one will. I references them as possible indicators of Mr. Cabes ideological leanings. They possibly indicate that Mr. Cabe is friendly with ecumenist ideas and is accepting of some modern secular “inclusive” ideologies. These things should be taken into account when dealing with his claims regarding St. Paisios.
At one point I reached out to Mr. Cabe regarding his statements, via an online platform. In our brief interaction, he did kindly tell me that I am “sophomoric” in my understanding and that I see things in too much of a “black and white” manner. I’m very grateful that he condescended to my ignorance and was willing to “spell things out” for me in an effort to help me at least kinda figure out what his stance is. So, let the reader be aware of Mr. Cabes evaluation of me. I’ve always been a bit of a slow learner, so it was very kind of Mr. Cabe to be patient with my primitive understanding of things. (Only recently Mr. Cabe released a paper called “The New Orthodoxy, How the Internet and the Protestant Ethos is Changing our Faith.” I wonder if he means his own work on the internet too?)
I cannot claim to really know the person of Mr. Cabe, and thus I do not acclaim any malicious intent on his part as a person. I will strive to address the ideas that he appears to subscribe to on the topic at hand and their possible implications.
Mr. Cabe’s case against St. Paisios
Mr Cabe claims in basic that St. Paisios’ teachings are not in accord with the proper Orthodox understanding of the book of Revelation (Apocalypse) and Eschatology. He calls St. Paisios’ teaching in the “Signs of the Times,” “Overt protestant teaching.” He states that the above referenced book by Mrs Relfe was translated into Greek and distributed on Mt. Athos. It came into the hands of St. Paisios and he was heavily influence by it, and thus his teaching on the signs of the times is primarily but a rehashing of this Protestant Eschatological view. Under the influence of St. Paisios’ misguided eschatological understanding – and thereby Protestant thought – many Greek elders, down to our days, subsequently proliferated this faulty eschatology through their teachings. It seems implied therefore that one should not listen seriously to them on the matter of the signs of the times. Mr. Cabe seems quite opposed to them.
Mrs. Relfe’s book was originally printed in English, in America, in 1981. I did some searching to try and ascertain if the book was translated into Greek. I could find no indication of an official translation. For example, the website “World Cat,” which contains a very thorough catalog of books and their various editions and translations, lists only an English version, the final printing of which was 1983. Does this definitively prove it was never translated into Greek? Not particularly. It could be that an unofficial translation was undertaken by someone, a samizdat of sorts. It does simply indicate that there are no official translations of the book outside of English (according to the World Cat source).
I acquired a copy of the book by Mrs. Relfe in a PDF format and have been able to review it myself. I will briefly note here that I believe Mr. Cabe’s claims to be based upon circumstantial evidence rather than direct evidence. For, although he encourages us, through his claims, to reasonably infer the occasion of the influence of Protestant teaching upon St. Paisios’ eschatology, the very circumstances he relates could be factually interpreted in a different light. Thus, I infer his case to lack direct evidence.
What if St. Paisios read the book?
For the moment, let us accept hypothetically Mr. Cabe’s claim that a Greek translation of Mrs Relfe’s book did come into St. Paisios’ hands. Another question may be asked here – do we trust the spiritual discernment of St. Paisios? Let us suppose that St. Paisios read the book in question. Would he be so spiritually undiscerning to be simply led astray by a foreign teaching and then perpetuate it in the Orthodox faith? Years in spiritual podvig and he would simply accept, hook line and sinker, a Protestant teaching? It seems in Mr. Cabe’s estimation he would.
Continuing with our hypothetical situation, St. Paisios reads the book. Could he have filtered it through his own deep spiritual acuity for the benefit of Orthodox people? For example, St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain read the work of the Roman Catholic writer Lorenzo Scupoli, Combattimento Spirituale (The Spiritual Combat). He found in it something of profit, he then made needed edits and adjustments, translated it into Greek, and it was published as “Spiritual Warfare.” Later, St Theophan the Recluse made a few more edits and published an edition in Russian. In Orthodoxy it is an acknowledged spiritual classic. Does anyone attempt to discredit it because it was originally the work of a Roman Catholic? No. Why? Because we trust the very steadfast “filters” of Ss. Nicodemus and Theophan. We know they would not feed us with faulty spiritual food. St. Tikhon of Zadonsk synthesized in an Orthodox manner some themes from the Imitation of Christ. Do we decry the teachings of St. Tikhon? No, because he clearly sifted the work according to a strict Orthodox standard. (These are just a few examples.) Here is a very profitable lecture by Bl. Seraphim (Rose) that continues a bit on this general theme. I recommend listening to it.
Could we not, therefore, in contrast to Mr. Cabe’s conclusions, just as plausibly conclude that if St. Paisios read Mrs. Relfe’s book he saw some things of profit therein and filtered them through his deep spiritual discernment to be offer to Orthodox people? (In a manner in tune with that of St. Nicodemus, for example.) That is hypothetically accepting that he did, as Mr. Cabe posits, read the book. Even if his claims are true, does it necessitate the definitive conclusion that St. Paisios was engaging in “Overt protestant teaching?” And therefore Orthodox people can disregard his warnings on the signs of the times? Rather, may we not conclude that he was correct and given his deep Orthodox wisdom and spirituality he is trustworthy in his words? Of course, please keep in mind I understand things in too much of a “black and white” manner.
The testimony of St. Paisios himself on his teaching
I think it wise to contrast St. Paisios’ own testimony about his words and teachings with the claims of Mr. Cabe. He states that St. Paisios has succumbed to a “Protestant” understanding of eschatology. St. Paisios makes this testimony with regard to his teaching – very specifically about the signs of the times – “I did not express my own opinion; I simply stated the words of Christ, of the Gospel, because our opinion must be subject to the will of God as recorded in the Gospel” (Spiritual Awakening, pg. 207). Someone is wrong in their assessment. For St. Paisios clearly states that he is not teaching his own opinion (and thereby a Protestant teaching) but rather true Christian teaching. He is very particular. Mr. Cabe alleges that he is in error and under Protestant influence. Did St. Paisios deceive himself with regard to the actual source of his teaching? If we take seriously Mr. Cabe’s claims, it is possible we would have to confirm he did. I leave you to choose whose witness is more trustworthy.
In another place St. Paisios says these words, which again indicate that he did not believe himself to be speaking his “own opinion” on the signs of the times, “Other people are preoccupied with prophecies and devise their own interpretation. They do not say, ‘This is my opinion about this matter,’ but they state unequivocally, ‘This is how it is,’ and so then go on to relate many theories of their own” (Ibid, pg. 215). Clearly, St. Paisios understood himself to be grounding his teaching on the signs of the times firmly in an Orthodox phronema. This is St. Paisios’ testimony. Mr. Cabe claims otherwise.
Another question may be asked – would St. Paisios who, according to his own words, critiques those who are “preoccupied with prophecies and devise their own interpretations” be so lacking in Orthodox comprehension that he would not detect the elements in the works of Mrs. Relfe that are but far-fetched and faulty Protestant ideas? Again, it seems according to Mr. Cabe the answer would be, yes.
The topic of the Orthodox teaching on the signs of the times is one the transcends even St. Paisios. Thus, as I note in another recent article of mine, entitled, “The Emerging World Order and a Throne of Power,” the burden of proof lies in providing direct evidence that St. Paisios is teaching something totally novel and completely out of harmony with and opposed to the corporate voice and tradition of the Church on the matter, heard and discerned through the other holy elders and saints (both of recent and of old). In the above referenced article I provide only a handful of examples that I believe firmly indicate that St. Paisios is not out of harmony with the corporate tradition of the Church on the matter. There are numerous holy ones who spoke in a manner similar to St. Paisios about the signs of the times long before Mrs. Relfe ever published her book.
Specifically touching upon the Greek elders, we may take elder Athanasios (Mitilinaios) as an example. I’m referencing him because his extensive commentary on the book of Revelation is available in English (thus a person could acquire it and read it), which are translations of transcripts of lectures he gave in Greek. The elder, we know for certain, began giving his lectures in 1980. This is without a doubt before Mrs. Relfe’s book was ever published. It seems safe to assume that elder Athanasios gave his lectures after many years of prayer, reading, and study on the subject. It is very probable that he spoke before 1980 in the same manner on the subject. He is deeply respected for his patristic phromena. Thus, his teaching is free from Mr. Cabe’s suspected “Protestant” source. His teaching is very much in harmony with that of St. Paisios, and vice versa. So, we may even more confidently concluded that both St. Paisios and elder Athanasios are presenting sound Orthodox teaching on the matter. Elder Athanasios’ testimony supports that of St. Paisios. Elder Athanasios acts as a faithful Orthodox witness to support St. Paisios. His witness contradicts the claims of Mr. Cabe.
Mr. Cabe believes St. Paisios to not be in line with the Orthodox understanding of the Apocalypse as presented by St. Andrew of Caesarea. This would be a topic worth unpacking more, but at present I will not be doing so. St. Paisios’s teaching does not go against the spirit of St. Andrew’s commentary on the Apocalypse. In fact, the overall primary themes harmonize. I have also read St. Ephraim the Syrian’s homilies on the “End Times,” and I believe St. Paisios harmonizes with his teaching also. (Obviously these two ancient Saints could not make the technological observations about our times that St. Paisios – together with other holy ones of our times – could. The addition by St. Paisios and others of observations regarding modern technological advancements, which have advanced even from St. Paisios’ day, and their possible role in eschatology does not detract from the ancient teaching but rather expands upon it. The point is – is the overarching spirit of the teaching consistent with the Tradition of the Church?)
Let us remember the spiritual principle, “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not a God of confusion, but peace, as in all the churches of the saints” (1 Cor. 14:32). The spirit of St. Paisios’ work is not subject to Mr. Cabe, rather it is subject to the other prophets – elders and saints – who have given true testimony in the Spirit about the signs of the times. St. Paisios’ teaching does not add confusion, for it is, in its spirit, at peace with the other prophets. Mr. Cabe does bring confusion through his allegations.
St. Paisios and Mrs. Relfe
Mr. Cabe claims that because there are some surface similarities between the writings of Mrs. Relfe and St. Paisios, there must be direct substantial influence. He says that some of St. Paisios’ words bear “uncanny resemblance to Mary Relfe’s account” (Cabe, The New Orthodoxy). Rather than rehash his claims in my own words, I will provide a section from his writings that I feel accurately presents his claims –
“Relfe references the Septer (sic) 20, 1973 cover of Senior Scholastic and cites the article “Public Needs and Private Rights – Who is Watching You” which claims that people in new buying and selling system “would receive a number that had been assigned them tattooed in their wrist or forehead” which would be “put on by a laser beam” but the mark “is not seen with the naked eye and is as permanent as fingerprints,” Saint Paisios comments that after “convenient cards” (Credit Cards) “they will introduce marks…invisible laser marks in hands and foreheads with 666.” Both Paisios and Relfe use peculiar wording of the tattoo/laser mark being “in” the hand—Relfe draws out the Likewise, Relfe speaks of this ink being used to mark fish, as does Saint Paisios. Elsewhere both Relfe and Paisios claim that TVs are now monitoring the viewers (this was in the 1980s)” (Ibid).
Mr. Cabe’s claim that St. Paisios was overtly teaching Protestant Eschatology seems to rest on the surface similarity in descriptions of technological items such as “laser beam,” “tattoo,” TVs and such. Yet, do surface similarities in description necessitate identity in essential message? St. Paisios in his overall message in “Signs of the Times,” strives to maintain an Orthodox application and understanding of events.
Generally speaking, similarities between substantially different things exist. It seems Mr. Cabe is following a reductionist course to bolster his thesis. (As a general example – what if someone said, look a Ford Fiesta has four wheels, doors, an engine, windows, and so forth and so does a McLaren, thus they are the same and came from the same manufacturer! And so, a McLaren is no different than a Ford Fiesta! This is a reductionist approach. On a very basic reductionary level there are clear similarities, but the two are not equal on so many vital and deeper quality levels. These are the levels that interests us.)
It is but circumstantial evidence to note surface similarities between St. Paisios and Mrs. Relfe’s words. Rather it would need to be definitively shown and proven that St. Paisios is outside of the spirit and tradition of Holy Orthodoxy in his teaching about the signs of the times. St. Paisios is very much, as he himself testifies, within the ethos of Orthodoxy; moreover a survey of the other numerous voices on the subject indicate clearly that St. Paisios is not “overtly protestant” (in his teaching) as Mr. Cabe accuses.
Why sow doubt upon St. Paisios teaching on the Signs of the Times?
What are Mr. Cabe’s goals in questioning St. Paisios’ teaching? Is a alleged “Protestant Ethos” really threatening to change the faith?
From what I’ve encountered of Mr. Cabe’s works, it seems that he is of an ecumenist persuasion. It seems that he is willing to compromise clear teachings of the Church on human sexuality to create “accepting” places. My impression is that he is of a modernist mentality. I’m open to be corrected by him if my impressions are wrong.
Could it be that Mr. Cabe is accusing St. Paisios, not so much because his teaching is truly “Protestant,” but rather that it does not align with Mr. Cabe’s vision of what Orthodoxy should be? I have concerns that Mr. Cabe is in a subtle manner attempting to undermine an aspect of Orthodoxy he does not find conformable with his subjective vision. After all, no one has questioned the authenticity of St. Paisios’ teaching up until now. Why now? Doing it under the cliché accusation of being too “Protestant” is rather pathetic.
Does Mr. Cabe desire an “Orthodoxy” that will change its established teachings on human sexuality and morals to appease the modern world? Does he want an Orthodoxy that will be but one of the “ways” to God? I’m asking, because some of his writings and the orientations of the community he founded seem to imply he may. Does he desire a new improved Orthodoxy that will be more compatible with the spirit of this age? If so, then of course St. Paisios’ teaching would need to be deconstructed. Could it be Mr. Cabe is the one trying to build a “New Orthodoxy?” To justify this it is necessary for him to allege that the saints are wrong.
Indeed true Orthodox souls should be unsettled by the dissonance between the teaching of the Saints and certain men – “voices that would have long ago been swept up in the wind if it were not for the internet” – such as Mr. Cabe.
I guess the claims on his Community’s website of acceptance “no matter what,” apply only so far. If a person endorses St. Paisios and his teaching on the signs of the times, then this will not be accepted or tolerated by Mr. Cabe.
I will end with these words from a respected Greek monastic, Fr. Dositheos of the Holy Protection Monastery, for the reader to contemplate –
“We should obey the Saints and the Ecumenical Synods and our two thousand year tradition. The fact that paradise is full of millions of Saints and Martyrs is proof that our Church and the Saints aren’t wrong. But some want to persuade us now that the saints made mistakes. They are trying to change things now and say, ‘You know things aren’t like the Saints said’ … Yet we want to be on the side of the Saints even if they were wrong, rather than with these ones now who will lead us to the ‘other one’ (the devil). We prefer to side with the Saints no matter what the cost.”