To Gain Paradise

Picture 183I stumbled across the following quote from St. Cosmos of Aetolia:

The Martyrs earned paradise with their blood; the Monastics, with their ascetic life. Now we, my brethren, who beget children, how shall we earn paradise? With hospitality, by relieving the poor, the blind, the lame, as Joachim (the father of the Theotokos ) did…. Almsgiving, love, and fasting sanctify man, enrich him in both soul and body, and bring him to a good end; the body and the soul become holy.

My thanks to All Saints of North America Russian Orthodox Church in Middlebrook, VA

A note to those who can’t bear to hear the word “earn” without paroxysms of “works/righteousness.” Orthodoxy does not teach salvation by works – but, like St. Paul, believes that we are to obey the commandments of Christ. By God’s grace such obedience is greeted with God’s great mercy and yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





22 responses to “To Gain Paradise”

  1. alyssasophia Avatar

    Ah, two of my favorite people together–Fr. Stephen & Fr. John! That makes me happy.

    And what a great quote…sobering to consider as I raise my children. How do I spend my time with them? hmmmm.

  2. fatherstephen Avatar

    Keep them poor … then feed them. 🙂

  3. alyssasophia Avatar

    So you’re saying that all of this can be lived out right under my own roof if I create the right conditions?

  4. fatherstephen Avatar

    Truth be told – the conditions are probably always there…

  5. Jesse Avatar

    It strikes me, since I have a wife and two children, that “hospitality, . . . relieving the poor, the blind, the lame” are probably some of the most challenging and terrifying works for a parent to do, because there is so much risk involved. When you are single, it is no problem to invite society’s rejects into your life (and home), but when you have a family, you are risking them as well as yourself.

    “Keep them poor … then feed them.” Ha! That is what my parents did, and I love them for it.

  6. Jesse Avatar

    Did any of the fathers or mothers write extensively about marriage and family? I know that there are many writings on the monastic life; since marriage is considered an equally sacrificial choice (at least theoretically) I would hope that there are some appropriately massive tomes out there 🙂

  7. asiaticus Avatar

    “Keep them poor…then feed them.” Golden rules for Christian parents in these spendthrift and consumerist days. Simple living with charity constantly in view as the saint says above may well lead to holiness.

  8. fatherstephen Avatar


    I wouldn’t say massive. But there is a wonderful collection of St. John Chrysostom on the home and children. And there are some good collections as well.

  9. Brantley Thomas Avatar
    Brantley Thomas


    I have this book:

    It’s pretty good! It’s a collection of lives of married saints, ordered by date of commemoration.

  10. novaseeker Avatar

    Jesse —

    St. Vladimir’s published a small volume of Chrysostom’s writings on marriage and family life (mostly homilies and sermons). The ISBN is 0-913836-86-9.

  11. Mary Avatar

    What is the place of asceticism in the life of a family? Should we learn to guard the intellect, strive for pure prayer, etc. in a similar way as a monastic would?

  12. fatherstephen Avatar


    The goal of an Orthodox lay person or a monastic should not be different. Obviously, the asceticism of those of us who live in the world (outside monasteries) is greatly moderated. Also, the lack of very gifted direction can make for limits (but not every monastery has this either – indeed it’s rare everywhere).

    I generally tell people to set the goal of regular prayer, remembrance of God, almsgiving (tithing and more), regular and frequent confession and communion. If we keep the fasts of the Church, as generally practiced in parishes, we’ll have done much. If people strive to be kind and gentle, forgiving rather than cursing, and practice mercy towards others – in time they will find that this “public asceticism” will have worked as surely for salvation as the many of the inner practices of a hermit.

    There is an excellent article, written by Met. Jonah of the OCA, entitled “Do not react; do not resent; keep inner stillness,” that is quite excellent – and far more than sufficient for most of us.

  13. mic Avatar

    FANTASTIC!!! Exceedingly short, exceedingly profound!


  14. Guy (Theodotus) Avatar
    Guy (Theodotus)

    Father bless;
    Wonderful entry. Fr. John Moses is dear to me also! A real country Parson whom I visit as often as I can. As to the article by Metropolitan Jonah…wonderful. Anger is something I struggle with and it has proven a boon! I recommend it very highly.

    Kissing your right hand
    -a sinner

  15. Guy (Theodotus) Avatar
    Guy (Theodotus)

    St. John Chrysostom has written:

    Great book!


  16. Karen Avatar

    Hey, Darlene! I’m willing to bet that the original language says “put off the old man,” and doesn’t use the term “nature.” I agree that translation confuses things.

  17. fatherstephen Avatar

    Met. Jonah is using “nature” (physis) in its later, developed meaning as it came to be used in the doctrine of the 2 natures of Christ and in the 5th Ecumenical Council (which primarily followed the theology and usage of St. Maximus the Confessor). In the NT, the word is used in a much looser manner – without the technical meaning that the word eventually acquired.

    In later (and present) usage – the nature of something, a person or what-have-you, is its very essence or substance. Everything that God created, He created good. Thus all of creation is, by nature, good. It is good in its very existence. Evil has no true existence (since it is not created by God Who alone causes everything to be). Evil is a misdirection, a turning aside from the proper direction of your nature. Thus the fall is not a disruption of our nature – but a falling away from our nature – an inability to truly be what we are created to be.

    The understanding goes much further than this – though that is probably enough to start with.

    But the result is to give Orthodoxy a generally positive view of creation and of human beings. Even the demons are good by nature, though that goodness is utterly obscured by the perversion of their wills. Hope that helps and doesn’t create more questions than it answered.

  18. Darlene Avatar

    Ah, Father I think you wrote that last paragraph for me! My Protestant sensibilities were initially offended by that nasty word: earn. 🙂

    Met. Jonah said, “In our Tradition there is no such thing as fallen nature. There are fallen persons, but not fallen nature.”

    I have read various articles on other Orthodox sites that address this very matter, but for the life of me, I just can’t grasp the concept. Does not Scripture implore us to, “Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts.” Isn’t this verse and other ones like it referring to our “fallen nature?” Do we not live in a fallen world that reveals how fallen it is through the evil deeds that are propagated on a regular basis by our fellow human beings?

    Please clarify this Orthodox concept for me. I just don’t get it, but I am open to understanding it.

    Scratching my head here. 🙂


  19. Carl Avatar

    Karen nailed. Ephesians 4:22 “That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;” (KJV)

    Ephesians 4:22 αποθεσθαι υμας κατα την προτεραν αναστροφην τον παλαιον **ανθρωπον** τον φθειρομενον κατα τας επιθυμιας της απατης

    “Anthropon” is man not nature.

  20. Carl Avatar

    For an Orthodox explanation of the meaning of “original sin” and how it does not corrupt our “natures” per se, John Romanides’ “Original Sin According to Saint Paul” can’t be beaten:

  21. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    this article helped me and might be helpful for you, esp. the first few pages.

    My understanding of “nature” as used in Orthodoxy is: all of that about us humans that makes us human. Orthodoxy does not see “humanness” in and of itself as bad or wrong, anymore than “dogginess” or “catness” or “rockness”. Thus, “The nature of something, a person or what-have-you, is its very essence or substance. Everything that God created, He created good. Thus all of creation is, by nature, good. It is good in its very existence.” So, Darlene partakes of humanness in general (what makes her human), as well as being a distinct expression of that humanness with a unique personality and will (what makes her “Darlene”). Darlene *has* a human nature and *is* a distinct, unique human with an active will.

    Carl’s point, I think, is that Scripture uses words such as “man” and “flesh”, which sometimes get translated into something else that may cloud the issue more than help explain it… I think part of the confusion is a difference in vocabulary that reflects the difference in the Orthodox understanding of the “make-up” of humans as well as the consequences of the fall.

    Please set me straight, Carl or Fr. S. if I misunderstand.


  22. Darlene Avatar


    I’ll read Romanide’s writing on original sin. Perhaps that will clear things up, cuz i’m still scratching my head with regard to this whole nature vs man thing.

    You say man, I say nature, and Gershwin says “Let’s call the whole thing off.” 🙂 Humor is a great anecdote in times of perplexity.

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