The above warning was given to me when I first met Orthodoxy in 1986. Today [2009] it is even more perilous, even more difficult to find the Royal Path. For one thing there is a far greater abundance of misinformation. And many materials are missing, and other materials are being rapidly rewritten. For another thing there are fewer than ever guides remaining on the Royal Path, especially who speak English. Hopefully this website will be a place where Newcomers to the Faith can keep at least one foot on solid ground, while they are "exploring."

blog owner: Joanna Higginbotham


jurisdiction: ROCA under Vladyka Agafangel

who did not submit to the RocorMP union in 2007


21 August 2014

Door to Paradise

online book
classic introduction to Orthodoxy

original Door to Paradise (by former monk John Marler)
(Platina changed the last page sometime after monk John left the monastery)

Despite what he was up against, monk John produced good works while he was striving for the Church.

also archived here:

Last page of the booklet, Door to Paradise:
Two versions: original and rewrite

original (circa 1996) by monk Marler

BECAUSE Orthodoxy is the fullness of ancient, apostolic Christianity, becoming a true Orthodox Christian requires being a Christian in the fullest sense of the word, and that is not easy. It takes a lifetime of constant unseen warfare, ascetic discipline, self-denial, self-crucifixion, and active, selfless love.  To be truly Orthodoxy, you will have to die to yourself and "hate your life" (Luke 14:26)—that is, the life of your own ego. You must die to self-love and sensual pleasure, which as the Holy Fathers teach are the primary results of the Fall and the root of all sin. You must look into yourself and face your sin, not just as separate acts but as your condition. Then you must go about rooting out all of the most subtle passions which separate you from God. You must overcome resentment by forgiveness, which can only happen through the grace of Christ. You must cut off all desire for popularity, acceptance, recognition, approval and "love," even from other members of the Orthodox Church.

    Christ said: Whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? (Luke 14:27-28). Many people do not take up the Cross of Christ because they see that it will require too much of them. Others take it up, but then, not having counted the cost, put it down when it gets too heavy. Still others, on becoming Orthodox, do so with worldly motives: the desire to be more "correct" and historically authentic than Protestants and Roman Catholics; the desire to experience the beautiful aesthetics of Orthodox liturgics, etc. In so doing, however, they never enter into the essence of Orthodox Christianity. Not having really taken up the Cross of Christ, they never really taste the unearthly joy of His Resurrection.

    "He who wishes to serve God," says St. Basil the Great (4th century), "must prepare his heart for tribulations." The Orthodox Christian faith is a suffering faith (II Timothy 3:12), because through suffering we can at last wake up to our true condition, repent, be purified by Christ, and in that purification become a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. The great fourth-century theologian, St. Gregory Nazianzen, described true Christianity as "suffering Orthodoxy." To take it up is to take up the most radical, demanding, all-or-nothing life possible. All false motives must fall away, burned up in the fire of suffering for Jesus Christ. You must taste, to the degree of which you are capable, the suffering, persecution, and crucifixion that the Orthodox saints have experienced throughout the ages. To enter into their heavenly company, you must pay the price. Christ said: Straight is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it (Matthew 7:14). That narrow way is found through pain of heart and years of repentance. According to your yearning and your striving, you will enter; you will taste the fruits of Paradise even in this life, and Christ will fill your sufferings with His presence. Then you will know the joy of the Resurrection, for you will have experienced a resurrection in you own soul. You will be a new being on the inside, and you will find the Kingdom of Heaven within you (Luke 17:21).

    Though the Sacraments, the Scripture, the spiritual discipline and the ascetic teachings of the Orthodox Church, you will find the Door to Paradise. And then, in your own heart, your own inward being, you will find Paradise itself. You will find what true prayer is, and you will find Him who has been calling you all your life: Christ, the Bridegroom of your soul.

rewrite (circa 2004) by Platina

In approaching the Door to Paradise – in coming to Jesus Christ in His Holy Orthodox Church – one must come in repentance, acknowledging one's sins and seeking reconciliation with one's neighbor.  One begins to take part in the common worship of Christs Body, the Church, 

“One Person of the Holy Trinity, namely the Son and Word of God, having become incarnate, offered Himself in the flesh as a sacrifice to the Divinity of the Father, and of the Son Himself, and of the Holy Spirit, in order that the first transgression of Adam might be benevolently forgiven for the sake of this great and fearful work, that is, for the sake of this sacrifice of Christ, and in order that by its power there might be performed another new birth and re-creation of man in Holy Baptism, in which we also are cleansed by water mingled with the Holy Spirit. From that time people are baptized in water, are immersed in it and taken out from it three times, in the image of the three-day burial of the Lord, and after they die in it to this whole evil world, in the third bringing out from it they are already alive, as if resurrected from the dead, that is, their souls are brought to life and again receive the Grace of the Holy Spirit as Adam had it before the transgression. Then they are anointed with Holy Myrrh, and by means of it are anointed with Jesus Christ, and are fragrant in a way above nature. Having become in this way worthy of being associates of God, they taste His Flesh and drink His Blood, and by means of the sanctified bread and wine become of one Body and Blood with God Who was incarnate and offered Himself as a sacrifice."

Because Orthodoxy is the fullness of ancient, apostolic Christianity, becoming a true Orthodox Christian requires being a Christian in the fullest sense of the word, and that is not easy. It means loving Jesus Christ above everything and everyone in the world, – and as an outpouring of that love – giving over one's life totally to Him.  This, in turn, means a lifetime of service to God and to one's neighbor.  Through the grace of Christ, one is to conduct constant unseen warfare, to remain vigilant in prayer, and to live a life of ascetic discipline, self-denial, and active, selfless love.

Through the worship, the Sacraments, the Holy Scripture, the doctrines, the ascetic teachings. the discipline, and the spiritual direction of the Orthodox Church, one finds the fulfillment of the soul's deepest longings.  One finds true, interior prayer within one's heart, which has been filled with grace through the sacramental life of the Church.  And there, n the heart, one finds Him Who has been calling, "Come to me, all ye who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28).  One finds Christ, the Bridegroom of the soul, Who alone opens to man the Heavenly Kingdom – Who is and shall ever be the only Door to Paradise.

So what is wrong with the new version? 

Reading the original version, I was inspired each time I read it.  It gives such a clear down-to-earth picture of the Orthodox struggle.   Why is the new version so flat

1."All-or-nothing".  The new version minimizes the "all-or-nothing" to almost go entirely unnoticed.  Fr. Seraphim Rose taught that all-or-nothing lesson.  Speaking of what I. M Andreev said about Christianity being an "all-embracing new principle of life," Fr. Seraphim wrote: this becomes yet more forceful when you know that this statement comes out of the horror of Soviet reality, and was born in prisons and catacombs and the awareness that was forced upon him there, that now one can't be a half-hearted Christian, but only entirely or not at all; Christianity is either everything for one, or it simply will not stand the test of Soviet reality.

2. Instead of the concrete examples of the labors to expect, such as dying to sensual pleasures and renouncing desire for popularity mentioned in the old version, the new version focus is on the lofty theologizing of St. Symeon. 

3. Instead of the old version which says we can find "true prayer", the new version promises "interior prayer within one's heart."   This alludes to the Jesus Prayer.   This is so out-of-place here.  The potential catechumen who is reading Door to Paradise has not even had a chance to experience the change in prayer life that is given with Baptism.  What good does it do to introduce the idea of the Jesus Prayer at this time, which Fr. Seraphim says needs to be presented carefully in any case to avoid certain pitfalls?  He was distressed that certain books (The Pilgrim) were available to the unbaptized for this reason.
   Today there are no suitable guides for undertaking the Jesus Prayer.  If Platina thinks it is a suitable guide, it is in delusion.  If Fr. Seraphim knew he was not competent, should then Platina see that they are even less competent than Fr. Seraphim. 
   This is connected to the lofty theologizing.  These unsobor things are characteristic of world-orthodoxy, which, having lost its connection to the source of grace, has somehow replaced it with "spiritual experiences".  (see http://orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/fsr_88.aspx or alternately, Not of This World chapter 89)

4. Twice in the new version is mentioned the "neighbor".   In the 1st paragraph, "... one must come in repentance and seeking reconciliation with one's neighbor."  In the 3rd paragraph, "...a lifetime of service to God and one's neighbor."  
    In the 1st paragraph, it is true that coming to the Church in repentance may or may not include, somewhere down the line, a relationship adjustment with a neighbor.  Reconcile is a strong word.  What if the neighbor is a pagan, how do you reconcile with that?   What if your pagan neighbor is mad you because you stopped coming to the Saturday night poker games? 
   In the 3rd paragraph, "service of one's neighbor" sends a distorted message to a newcomer who might already be suffering from the Protestant missionary mentality – missionary work is not where Orthodoxy starts for a potential catechumen, or even a newly baptized.   Traditionally the ascetic is not called out of his cave to serve his neighbor until after a number of years.
   Both of these mentions of neighbor are distortions and out of place.  What would the purpose be for this, or what permitted this?  Could it have something to do with Fr. Seraphim's observation:  "The outward Gospel of social idealism is a symptom of loss of faith."

Fr. Seraphim Rose:  “convert pitfalls,” or “obstacles in the Orthodox mission today':
A. Trusting oneself, samost.
Remedy: sober distrust of oneself, taking counsel of others wiser, guidance from Holy Fathers.
B. Academic approach—overly intellectual, uninvolved, uncommitted, abstract, unreal. Bound up with A. also.
C. Not keeping the secret of the Kingdom, gossip, publicity. Overemphasis on outward side of mission, success. Danger of creating empty shell, form of mission without substance.
Remedy: concentrate on spiritual life, keep out of limelight, stay uninvolved from passionate disputes.
D. “Spiritual Experiences.”
Symptoms: feverish excitement, always something “tremendous” happening—the blood is boiling.  Inflated vocabulary, indicates puffed up instead of humble. Sources in Protestantism, and in one’s own opinions “picked up” in the air.
Remedy: sober distrust of oneself, constant grounding in Holy Fathers and Lives of Saints, counsel.
E. Discouragement, giving up—“Quenched” syndrome.
Cause: overemphasis on outward side, public opinion, etc.
Remedy: emphasis on inward, spiritual struggle, lack of concern for outward success, mindfulness of Whom we are followers of (Christ crucified but triumphant).
F. A double axe: broadness on one hand, narrowness on the other.

Fr. Seraphim was also distressed that many of the more exalted texts already in translation were being read by those outside the Faith.  This was very dangerous, he said, for they were reading without being illumined by grace.  Even more basic texts, such as The Pilgrim, he said, should be read by Orthodox Christians under the supervision of a spiritual father, in order to avoid the temptation that we, too, can be just like the pilgrim in his practice of the Jesus Prayer.    (Letters p. 40)

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