By Very Rev Dr George C. Papademetriou
Professor of Theology, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary

The proper understanding of the Christian view of the human body would also clarify both anthropology and Christology. The traditional patristic and Orthodox doctrine of man is based on the biblical understanding of creation and salvation. In the early Christian formation of doctrine there were two trends simultaneously impacting human thought: that of classical philosophy and the Hebrew biblical tradition. The classical philosophers looked upon matter, including the human body, as evil or an admixture of good and evil. For classical philosophy, all material phenomena were viewed as genesis and corruption. This is also true of man as well. For that reason Plato espoused the doctrine that the real man is the soul and that the body is a shadow. He states that, "the soul is in all respects superior to the body, and that even in life what makes each one of us to be what we are is only the soul." He continues to say that, "the body follows us about in likeness of each of us, and therefore the bodies are our shades or images" and "the true and immortal being of each one of us which is called the soul." For Plato and classical philosophers in general the physical human body is evil, corruptible, and temporary, and even a tomb of the soul and a prison of the soul. Contrary to Greek philosophical anthropology, the Old Testament views man as body and soul. The Old Testament opposes the Greek dualistic view of the soul belonging intrinsically to a higher world and the body as its prison. The soul is the vital element for the body. The idea of immortality of the soul is foreign to the Old Testament that teaches the belief in the resurrection of the bodies. The Christian understanding of man as body and soul is deeply rooted in biblical anthropology as it evolved in the Hebrew Old Testament. As in the Old Testament, New Testament Orthodox Christianity teaches that the whole man, body and soul, was created for immortality. The Orthodox Christian doctrine of man as body and soul is also clearly indicated in the prayer book where prayers are offered for the healing of the soul and body. Using both Hellenic and Hebraic sources Saint Gregory Palamas and Barlaam the Calabrian debated the issue in fourteenth century Byzantium. Palamas espoused the biblical Orthodox Christian doctrine that man is body and soul and opposed the classical Greek philosophical view that the body is evil. He makes his arguments clear and uses biblical and patristic thought as evidence to support his position. Palamas' teaching on the human body will be the topic of the present paper.

Barlaam claimed that Greek philosophy had equal importance to revelation in the theological doctrines of the Church. So he claimed in a Platonic way that the body does not participate in ascendance toward God. The soul and mind is that which prays and is affected by prayer because the soul is immaterial. Perfect prayer for Barlaam means perfect liberation from matter. The participation of the body with the soul in the gifts of the Holy Spirit is absolutely unacceptable for him. Whatever detracts the soul from ascending and attaches it to the body, darkens the soul and prevents it from coming closer to God. Palamas, in answering the Barlaamite arguments from an Orthodox perspective, begins with the sacred Scriptures and also uses patristic and church tradition. On the basis of the biblical presupposition, Palamas refuted the philosophical approach of Barlaam and articulated the Orthodox doctrine of the human body. We may set forth the Palamite thesis that man as God's image is body and soul and that they interact and ascend towards God. He rejects the philosophical view that the body is a "tomb" or a "prison" of the soul. God creates the body as well as the soul ex nihilo [out of nothing] to attain the ultimate theosis in paradise. The coming of Christ to the world included the redemption of the body and ultimate resurrection of both body and soul. This thesis of Palamas will be examined and documented in the present work. Saint Gregory Palamas makes clear that the Holy Scriptures refer to man as a unique being which consists of body and soul. He rejects the idea that man is only a soul. This is not his personal opinion but the faith of the Church as is evident from the reference made to the Fathers. He specifically refers to Saint Maximos the Confessor who speaks of the whole man as body and soul who attains theosis through divine grace. He says: "The whole man consists of soul and body by nature, and the whole man becomes divine, both soul and body, through divine grace." God's uncreated grace sanctifies both body and soul.

No one can dispute the fact that there is a bond of union between body and soul, with no conflict between them. The soul has a strong love for the body, which does not want to separate from it. Palamas strongly emphasized that the immaterial rational nature of the soul was co-created with the earthly body and received the life-giving spirit from God, which continues to give life to the body. This is evident in the fact of the spiritual love of the human soul for the body. The interaction is natural and the great love that the soul has for the body is evidenced in that it does not want to separate, except by force of interference, by great disease or external scourge. The Holy Spirit influences both body and soul and transforms both. That which is spiritually enjoyed by the soul is transferred to the body and that which acts on the body is spiritual. The fellowship of the body and soul makes the mutual influence and interaction of both joy and sadness possible. The body becomes spiritual by the influence of the Holy Spirit that changes it and makes it spiritual. Palamas rejects that the body is evil. For him, as for the Scriptures and the Church, "sin" that dwells in man is evil. Saint Paul says, "... it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me." Saint Gregory insists that the heretics, such as the Gnostics, teach that the body is a creation of the evil god. The Orthodox view of the body is that it is good. He quotes several Pauline statements, which confirm his position that the body is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?" "We are his house if we hold fast our confidence and pride in our hope."  "For you are the temple of the living God." Palamas insists that the body is not evil but that evil may dwell in the body; that the Holy Spirit must purify the body. Man seeks after God to be in the divine presence. David said: "O God, my God, unto Thee I rise at dawn. My soul hath thirsted for Thee; how often doth my flesh long after Thee in a land barren and untrodden and unwatered." And he also said, "My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God." It is the evil dwelling in the flesh that moves man to do evil. For that reason man ought to have self-control and practice asceticism for the welfare of body and soul. Palamas also points out that both the body and the soul sin. The soul is not unrelated to the body; although the soul may sin without the body, sin affects both body and soul.

Sin interacts between flesh and soul. Christ said, "I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Palamas interprets this to mean that although the body in this case did not actively participate in the sin of lust, yet the rational soul did. This does not indicate that soul and body is separate but does show that the soul can also sin and needs to be purified and sanctified, as does the body. The human body, according to Palamas, is created by God, and is by nature good; and by the sanctifying uncreated grace of Christ, it becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit. This dwelling of the Holy Spirit in the human body as God's temple is incompatible with the Platonic and Plotinian view of "ecstasis," that is, the view that the intellect leaves the body to participate in divine grace. The Platonic view espoused by Barlaam was unacceptable by the great hesychast. He was deeply rooted in biblical tradition and patristic thought which emphasized that in prayer the **** (intellect) must descend into the heart, that is, to the center of the psychosomatic reality of the human being. There is need to be freed, however, from fleshly desires. The soul's exit from the body and unity with the divine reality is a classical Greek philosophical error, in fact, the greatest of all errors, and its root and source is the devil himself. For Palamas and the other Fathers of the Church, the body participates in prayer and helps the mind to pray. Bodily acts such as fasting, vigils, kneeling, sitting down, or standing are ways in which the body participates in prayer. This is evident from holy Scripture (Mt.17:21, Mk.9:29) and from church fathers such as Saint John Klimakos. Prayer does not deaden the body, nor is it the passive aspect of the soul. It is rather an activity and participation, and an offering of the whole man, body and soul, to God. Saint Paul urges, "I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship." Palamas points out that the offerings, which the Scriptures refer to, are common to body and soul. It is important to understand God's commandment to offer the human body as a sacrifice to God, but first it is to be purified and sanctified. The same holds true for the soul because the energies are common to both. As the offering to God is common to body and soul, so are the blessings bestowed upon them. This is one unique sign of the unity of man. The body participates with the soul in the spiritual gifts. The spiritual gifts that come to the body and soul from the Holy Spirit even benefit the physical body, which receives spiritual sensitivities and is able to perceive supernatural-spiritual visions. Furthermore, the body becomes a source of miracle working as is evident from numerous relics of saints. This is an indication that the body participates in theosis. It is evident that in the incarnation of the divine Logos, Christ, both body and soul were participants. The body may become slave to the fleshly desires of this world and be separated from Christ and His grace. This leaves the flesh as dead matter without the life-giving spirit. The holiness of the body is evidenced by the virtue attained by the saints of the Old Testament and of the Church after Christ.

The greatest argument that Palamas makes against Barlaam is that of the incarnation of the divine Logos. How can one speak of the body as evil since God decided to take up the human body in Jesus Christ. Palamas says this is an ineffable fellowship; Christ became our brother who became body and blood. Christ, the Logos of God did not only become soul, not a different body from our own, but he was conceived in the womb of the Virgin as announced by the archangel of God. He came to free the world from sin. He interacted with the world and ineffably cleansed the human race from sin. The Logos took up soul and body and deified them both. Palamas emphasized that the incarnate Logos of God through the deified soul, deified the body. The Logos honored the body as a rejection of those who consider the immaterial spirits higher and deified because they do not possess a body. Another aspect that Palamas emphasizes is that eucharistic union is received by the faithful in Holy Communion. Everyone who receives the Holy Eucharist becomes one with Christ's body and spirit. He says, we not only become his followers, but we become one with the body of Christ, through receiving the divine bread. Furthermore, we not only become one with his body but we also become one with his spirit. Christ unites with each human being through the reception of his holy body in the Eucharist. We become one with Him and also become the temple of God Who transforms us. This divine body also contains the soul. Saint Gregory Palamas supports the thesis that the reality and goodness of the human body is based in the holy Scriptures. The body is not separated from the soul but is helpful to the soul in a real way. Together they work to attain salvation. Though the classical Greek philosophers and their successors, including Barlaam, claimed immortality of the soul apart from the body, it was considered to be an erroneous doctrine. The Orthodox Christian view is that the soul separate from the body and vice versa is not the total man. For that reason the Orthodox Christian faith opted for a resurrection of the body and the immortality of the total man as is evidenced in the biblical revelation of the Old and New Testaments. Palamas' view of man, body and soul, is like a pilgrim going through life walking on a road of this world guided by the divine light. There is no separation of the material from the immaterial world, and the light shines in the path of the believer in this world until one reach the creator God in Whom one participates and is united with.

In conclusion we may emphatically state that the Christian Orthodox understanding of the human body as articulated by Saint Gregory Palamas is scriptural and patristic. For Orthodoxy the ultimate end of man is theosis, participation of body and soul in the divine uncreated grace. The glorification of the bodies of the saints is the goal for all human beings. In the proper Christian understanding of the material world and especially the human body, we become responsible as stewards and caretakers of our environment and our world, and must work for the well-being of all human beings. All the ascetic efforts of Orthodox monasticism and the Christian life are not in vain but are to help increase the health of the body and soul (both physical and spiritual) and for man to become the temple of the Holy Spirit. Man must understand the material world and himself as God's creation and behave according to the divine commandments. We must realize that only in the presence of the Holy Spirit are we truly alive. Man as body and soul will ultimately rise as Christ did, to live in the eternal presence of God. In the present situation and existence, Christ made all things new. As committed Christians we cling to the Logos, the Christ, and nothing shall separate us from him: "...neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come...shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus." This is the faith of the Church that is presented to all as a challenge and guide to live by in a confused and morally corrupt world. Orthodoxy calls all human beings to make a total commitment, both body and soul, to the Lord of life, the Logos and Creator of the universe. When one considers how clear the holy fathers have been about the matter of the relationship between the body and the soul, and about the fact that the soul is not naturally immortal one is astonished that the ROCOR bishops could have fallen into such a heresy. One is also, at first, surprised that Archbishop Chrysostom of Etna and many others have been unable to recognize the error and understand that it is a heresy. The answer lies in a few points, which will make clear the reason for this lapse into such a heresy. We must assert that the addiction to the Western neo-Platonist philosopher Augustine of Hippo is the larger part of the problem. It is impossible to consider Augustine a Church father or saint without falling into serious errors. For all his brilliance and the beauty of much of his writing, no writer of note in the history of the Church ever diverged to radically from the holy fathers, as did Augustine. His beautiful writings are laced with the poison of Platonism and Gnosticism. Sometimes these errors are blatant, at other times they are subtle and difficult to sort out. Even when Augustine's writings contained genuinely Orthodox concepts, error was sweetly and subtly woven into the fabric. Augustinianism is, in fact, a heresy. The other problems for the ROCOR bishops are evident to me. They falsely accused me of teaching "soul sleep" because they do not understand what noetic means, and because, following a heresy against Orthodox Christian anthropology, they do not understand the nature of man according to either the holy fathers or the divine services, as we will demonstrate on this website. In actual fact, however, the hierarchs not only did not come up with the idea about "soul sleep," but they did not even understand what it is about. The idea that such an error occurred in my book was fed to them by Fr Alexei Young, who had come across a reference to such a heresy in a work of the Anglo-Catholic divine, F. Gavin. Fr Young, who also did not read The Soul, The Body and Death, is not only a radical Augustinian but is quite unfamiliar with patristic thought and even now continues to read the holy fathers through the grid of Western scholasticism, as does Archbishop Chrysostom of Etna. Readers of The Soul, The Body and Death realize how utterly ludicrous this accusation of a teaching of soul sleep is. For critics to continue such an accusation demonstrates a serious lack of integrity on their part.

As we continue our response to the curious presentation of Mr Patrick Barnes (The Orthodox Information Service) and his mentor, Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna, we should reflect on certain points. Firstly, I suspect that Bishop Gregory purposely kept me from seeing the "Protocol" which Mr Barnes presents on his website because he was embarrassed by it, if not ashamed. The fact that this "Protocol" was never mentioned to me during the remaining year or so that I was a clergyman of the ROCA is, I believe, clear evidence of this embarrassment (which is well deserved). The fact that I was still serving in ROCA for over a year after the date of the "Protocol" (my last service was at the glorification of the New Russian Martyrs), only reveals that the "Protocol" was not given all that much significance by the actual governing powers of ROCA, (Bishop Gregory and Metropolitan Philaret). Perhaps Bishop Gregory only wished to mollify the overweening arrogance of some bishops in ROCA who did not want to hear any of the facts in the matter. I can understand this just from one conversation I had with the late Archbishop Antony (Senkevich) of Los Angeles. I think this conversation is significant enough to relate here because it sheds much light on the nature of the conflict, and on the thinking of the hierarchs of ROCA who clandestinely discussed and ratified the "Protocol." I was scheduled to pass through Los Angeles on my regular lecture visit to parishes of ROCA in early 1980, and I had asked Archbishop Antony if I might not stop and discuss the controversy about the soul after death with him. He agreed to see me and, among other things, I explained the Gnostic origins of the toll-house myth. I suggested to him that the use by saints of the derogatory term "publicans" to describe demons was the source of the ascetic use of the idea of tax collectors to describe our struggle in this life with them. In the Gospels, we see that a publican (a toll collector or tax gatherer) was the most despised man in society - considered immoral and dishonest by everyone. He was the enemy of all and destroyed many. Thus, "publican" was a fit and logical metaphor for a demon. In Greek, a "publican" would occupy a telonia or tollbooth, to collect the tax from one entering and sometimes also from those who left a city or town. This ascetic metaphor somehow became blended with the Gnostic myth of the "dangerous ascent of the soul after the death of the body."

Archbishop Antony was not interested in this discussion but wanted, above all, to prove the materialness of angels and the human soul. He focused on the idea of angels. He displayed great impatience with anything I had to say and, in a highly agitated manner, began to explain to me that angels have complete physical bodies with all the same organs that humans have, only the angelic bodies are more subtle than human bodies. "This," he asserted, "is proven by Scripture, which tells us that angels had sexual relations with human beings and produced a race of giant half human- half angel beings." He insisted that this is the meaning of Genesis 6:1-4. Furthermore, Archbishop Antony continued in his agitated state, there are both male and female angels, with male and female bodies. They become dense when they are to appear to someone, otherwise, they are a subtle material. I restrained my shock and dismay at such a doctrine. Since Vladika Antony asked me for a response after his own discourse, (which lasted nearly an hour) I replied essentially as follows: The Divine Services repeatedly tell us that angels are bodiless and immaterial, thus, it is impossible to deny that this is the teaching of the Orthodox Church. This is not some vague reference, like those twisted and deformed references used to attempt to substantiate the toll-house myth, rather the Divine Services very clearly refer to the bodiless and immaterial heavenly hosts. It is, however, clear that angels and human souls are not pure spirits as God is pure, rather they are created spirits. In order to make this reality clear, one or two of the holy fathers used the pagan Hellenic expression "subtle bodies" to describe the difference between the pure spirit of God and the created spirits. They did not use this expression in the way that Gnostic teachers did. For the Gnostics, the idea of spirits having subtle bodies was more carnal, even while it was an internal contradiction. Most Gnostics also believed that human souls are pure spirits, just as the deity is. However, since they despise the human body, believing it to be created by an evil entity, some of them wanted to demonstrate the complete independence of the soul from the body, and so the posited that the soul and angels had complete bodily form and "subtle bodies" of a material nature. Thus, the soul is totally independent of the physical body. It is completely unnecessary to understand the metaphor "subtle body" as used by, for example, St John Damascene, in a carnal, pagan manner [which is, evidently, how Archbishop Antony and most of the hierarchs of ROCA understood it].

As to how angels appear to people when God sends them in rare prophetic visions, St Symeon the New Theologian says, "...when a holy angel is dispatched by God from above, at [God's] command, he [the angel]...enters into communication with that which is earthly and with man. In this moment, the angel appears to be circumscribed and defined...with regard to our nature, however, they are completely bodiless, incomprehensible and unseeable." (First Ethical Discourse, 5:2). [By the way, I do not recall that I quoted this so fully, but only paraphrased it to Archbishop Antony]. Thus, when angels appeared to the prophets in a visible form, this took place by a special miracle, by an act of God's will. The appearance of angels to humans is a miracle, which takes place at God's command, and it has nothing to do with the nature of angels. St Symeon says something similar about the soul, when he tells us that the soul has substance only with relation to God, Who is the only pure spirit. Therefore, it is erroneous to refer to the soul as having a "subtle body" in the pagan, Hellenistic way or according to a Gnostic understanding. While I was speaking, Archbishop Antony listened in a highly agitated state. He listened, but refused to hear. When I had finished, he burst into an angry diatribe and roared that I was a "recalcitrant heretic." "Angels have complete physical bodies, and so do human souls," he thundered. "I told you how even the Scripture makes it clear that angels had intercourse with human women and produced children by them. In order to do this, they clearly must have complete organs just as human bodies do, but you refuse to accept this..." At this point, it became clear that any further attempt at conversation with Archbishop Antony would be fruitless.

When I discussed this conversation with some members of the English language mission of the Los Angeles Cathedral, they assured me that this is exactly what Archbishop Antony taught about angels and Genesis 6 in his catechism classes. This, you see, is the sort of "theology" we were dealing with. It might also be notable that when I cited Apostle Paul's words, "...neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come...shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus" (Rm.8:38-39), Archbishop Antony grimaced, waved his hand and retorted, "That only applied to the Christians of the first centuries, who were much holier that later Christians." I asked him if, then, the Christians of the first centuries were exempt from the tollhouses, but he did not answer this question. As Fr Michael Azkoul and my own book have demonstrated, the "Protocol" of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad clearly teaches heresies already condemned by the fathers of the Church. Perhaps Mr Barnes and the Archbishop of Etna might have noted that had either of them had any deep familiarity with the holy fathers and basic Orthodox theology. Another point, before we move on to the next few articles on Orthodox Christian anthropology that we will present in this response, is the question of Fr Michael Pomozansky's putative comments on my book and my inference of neo-Platonism. Fr Michael did not read English. He could not possibly have read my book and thus, he could not possibly have made a knowledgeable and meaningful comment on it. With his usual sophistic facility, Archbishop Chrysostom (and Mr Barnes) chose to ignore this fact and make it seem as if Fr Pomozansky had read The Soul, The Body and Death and made a meaningful comment on it. That would have been quite impossible for the late Fr Michael. If he made a comment, it was only on the basis of something someone else told him about it, and certainly not from his own reading or extensive familiarity with the text. It must be said, therefore, that, if he did make such a comment, it was not legitimate or meaningful. This is not at all honest, but we can see that ROCA displayed a great lack of integrity in this whole matter, just as the aforementioned sophists are displaying now. Just incidentally, in the same section of the works of St Symeon cited above, the New Theologian, like St Andrew of Crete, says clearly that when the soul departs the body, it is received by God's angels - no mention of toll-houses. This accords well with the actual meaning of the ninth day memorial service for the departed: because the souls of the departed are kept by the nine orders of angels (St Symeon of Theossaloniki and the Constitutions or Teachings of the Holy Apostles); it does not, however, accord well with the toll house mythology.

Archdiocese Home Page