The Holy Light: Legend or Reality? (Fr. George Tetsis, Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, 2006)

NOTE: The following article is taken from the newspaper Vema, April 21, 2006. The article is followed by quotes from contemporary Greek Orthodox clergymen and theologians who openly admit that the Sleepless Lantern (i.e. the sanctuary oil lamp, which is supposed to be extinguished on Good Saturday) is in fact left lit! These quotes are followed by an English translation of the Patriarch’s Prayer.

  • “The Patriarch doesn’t pray to conduct the miracle.”
  • “The Holy Light from heaven is nothing but a legend.”
  • “The Patriarch lights his candle from the unsleeping oil lamp.”

The forthcoming feast of Pascha brought the issue of the Holy Light’s touch back to the limelight…

The happenings in Jerusalem and the risk of politicizing a basic liturgical act of our faith now gives the Church a unique opportunity to lift the veil of mystery that covers the Holy Light’s touch to this day; to enlighten the faithful regarding the theological background and symbolism of this beautiful an d delightful ceremony.

I will explain myself. For centuries now, there has been a widespread conviction among the pious, yet theologically and liturgically uneducated, orthodox faithful who search for “miracles” to fill a spiritual void: during the ceremony, the Holy Light descends miraculously “from heaven” to light the Patriarch’s candle.

However, as the eminent professor Constantine Kalokyres relates in his erudite book, The Architectural Complex of the Temple of the Resurrection in Jerusalem and the Subject of the Holy Light, concerns a legend that has been cultivated in the Holy Land after the Crusaders’ invasion and within the framework of the Orthodox-Latin-Armenian conflict in which each one claimed the privilege of “receiving the eternal light from heaven” for themselves.

The prayer that the Patriarch offers inside the Holy Sepulcher is clear and not open to any misinterpretation. The Patriarch does not pray to conduct the miracle. He simply “recalls” Christ’s sacrifice and Resurrection on the 3rd day and addresses Him, saying: “We piously take from the light that diligently and eternally burns on Your light-bearing Sepulcher, we spread it among those who believe in You, who are the true light, and we pray and plead with You, oh Holiest Despota, so that You will elevate [the light] into a gift of sanctification and fill it with Your divine grace…” This means that the Patriarch lights the candle from the unsleeping oil lamp located in the Holy Sepulcher. Every Patriarch and cleric does precisely that on the day of Pascha when he takes Christ’s Light from the unsleeping oil lamp located upon the Holy Table symbolizing the Lord’s Tomb.

However, the mystery that has been cultivated around the Holy Light ritual and the vulgar perceptions about it nowadays contributed to the appropriation and exploitation of this highly symbolic and compunctionate liturgical practice of our Church from external religious circles. The reason for the mockery of the Holy Light’s organized air transportation to Greece—escorted by governmental actors, honorary detachments, lightly-armed infantrymen, and boy scouts (and, of course, TV crews!)—is the Modern Greek celebrates “the authentic Greek Pascha.” As if our ancestors did not celebrate Christ’s Resurrection before the airplane was invented! Or, as if the Orthodox from the ends of the earth didn’t celebrate the Lord’s Pascha since the Olympic didn’t “fly” in their countries!


Protpresbyter George Metallinos

Fr. George publicly admitted his reservations about the Holy Light phenomenon on [Greek] national television: “When a specific Patriarch has faith and the grace of God, then the miracle takes place. When faith is lacking, the lamp may be used…” Of course, if the Patriarch can use the sanctuary lamp in case he’s not worthy, that means it has not been extinguished! Fr. George was severely criticized after this revelation.

In his book, Φωτομαχικά-Αντιφωτομαχικά, Fr. George writes that the key to understanding the ceremony and the nature of the light (“natural or supernatural”) we must see what the prayer says and the unforced conclusion is that the light is lit in a perfectly natural manner, its purpose is purely symbolic and its sanctity is derived from the fact that it comes from the Holy Sepulchre!

In the prayer recited by the Patriarch, “[…] there is not even a mention (not even a hint) about an immaterial light descending from above at that moment, but it is implied that the light is only natural and is lit in memory of the Risen Christ” (p. 33).

Fr. George distanced himself from the logic of the purposeful cover-up by the Church, characteristically stating that he prefers ‘the atheists’ who downright reject any possibility of a miracle, concerning the Holy Light to the concealment of the truth, […] for any reason. A truth indirectly confessed by the church through the prayer read during the Good Saturday ceremony.


Constantine Kalokyris

In his book, The Architectural Complex of the Temple of the Resurrection in Jerusalem and the Subject of the Holy Light, Constantine quotes and analyzes the Patriarch’s prayer in depth. He reaches the same conclusion that Fr. George Metallinos himself accepted in his 2001 study; i.e., that the light is lit in a perfectly natural manner, its purpose is purely symbolic and its sanctity is derived from the fact that it comes from the Holy Sepulcher!

Το αρχιτεκτονικό συγκρότημα τού Ναού της Αναστάσεως Ιεροσολύμων και το θέμα του Αγίου Φωτός

As Mr. Kalokyres notes “the prayer is very illuminating.” Indeed, there is no mention of a miraculously appearing light, but “it is implied that the light is natural and lit in remembrance of the Risen Christ, the only true light of the World.” So the Patriarch himself produces the light, in remembrance of that miracle, symbolically reproducing Christ’s Theophany. “And the Prayer […] goes on to explain where the light used to light the candles and then passed on to the faithful comes from. And the place is the Holy Sepulcher and the source of the light, which the Patriarch piously receives, is the holy lantern that CONTINUOUSLY burns and is always kept lit there.”

Completing his analysis, Mr. Kalokyres particularly stresses the word “elevate” (ἀναδείξῃς) which “clearly states that the light (not only isn’t being sent down from heaven, but) hasn’t yet been turned into a special ‘gift of sanctification’ […] However, if the light had been sent from heaven, then the Patriarch wouldn’t be asking for it to be elevated. And how will this elevation become possible? The prayer explains it: Through the grace of the Holy Sepulcher.”

In support of his interpretation Mr. Kalokyres points to the blessings of the Great Sanctification of the Waters during Theophany (which prays for the water to become ‘an apotropaic gift of sanctification’ (‘‘ὕδωρ ἁγιασμοῦ δῶρον καί … ἀναδειχθῆναι αὐτό ἀποτρόπαιον…”), and the transubstantiation prayer offered during the St. Basil’s Eucharist [the priest requests that God ‘bless, sanctify and elevate’ (‘‘εὐλογῆσαι, ἁγιάσαι και ἀναδεῖξαι”) the Holy Gifts. In both these prayers we have ‘sanctification’ and ‘elevation,’ just like in the Holy Light prayer.

On the matter of the body search that the Patriarch is (supposedly) subjected to, Mr. Kalokyres says that it is “a legend, the product of the lower, pious naivety of the people […] which degrades [the Patriarch’s] honest and flawless behavior and renders him as an accomplice to the production of a false miracle […].” For, “the removal of the vestments and his appearance with the sticharion alone is part of this ceremony of the Church. The process is meant to signify that the Patriarch, expressing humility and deep piety, before even approaching and crossing into the Most Holy Inner Sanctum is disrobed of all vestments that reveal his rank as a bishop” remaining with “the sticharium alone (the simplest and common vestment of all ranks of the clergy)!” There is a large gap between the process of voluntarily disrobing of all external vestments and an ‘exhaustive body search!’

Constantine Kalokyres

Mr. Kalokyres  gently ‘chastises’ the Church for its choice to “silently bypass the underlying religious enthusiasm and holy fervor” of the faithful (“perhaps not willing to shake the beliefs of the simple folk”). In the end he declares the Church free of any responsibility, since “the Church of Jerusalem has officially, with a special ceremony (i.e. the special prayer) expressed the whole truth about the Holy Light and its nature.” (Κ. Δ. Καλοκύρης, Το αρχιτεκτονικό συγκρότημα τού Ναού της Αναστάσεως Ιεροσολύμων και το θέμα του Αγίου Φωτός, University Studio Press, 1999, pp.164-165; 218-220)

Demetrios Kokoris

Even though this theologian clearly wrote in his book, The Holy Light (Άγιο Φως), that all flames are extinguished, during a talk show on Good Thursday he repeatedly claimed that there is a flame in the Chamber, but it just is not used!

Cornelius, Metropolitan of Petra, twice the locum tenens of the Jerusalem Patriarchal Throne

“The prayers have the power to sanctify the natural light and here we’re speaking about a natural light. But the prayers that are read by the Patriarch also consecrate the natural light and therefore it has the grace of the holy light. The invocation or prayer of the priest is the miracle and the light is sanctified. It is the natural light that is lit from the sleepless oil lamp which is kept in the sacristy of the Church of the Resurrection” Watch the 6:50 mark of the following video:

One of the biggest religious lies is—as it seems—the ‘miracle’ of the Holy Light, which every Pascha ‘miraculously’ illuminates the Holy Sepulcher Church in Jerusalem. I. Kardasis, a correspondent of the newspaper “Orthodox Press” (01/05/25), wrote on the subject of ‘Holy Fire’ and raised major questions that should be asked and answered by every sincere Christian. Let us pay attention to what he writes about the non-miraculous elements of the ‘Holy Fire’:

  1. On Great Wednesday (04.11.2001), Metropolitan Cornelius was interviewed about the Holy Fire on the “Mega” channel show “Grey Zones.” If the four of us heard and understood well, the above Prelate, who will be given the Holy Light in three days, said among other things, the following:
  2. a) The Patriarch divests himself of every stole and remains in his white esoraso not to check for any flammable materials, but to remain in the white robe symbolizing the angels’ robe.
  3. b) The Patriarch enters the Tomb with candle and prays saying a special prayer and lights up the Light from the light Sleepless Oil Lamp. The natural light of the oil lamp is transformed into Holy Light with this special prayer. So natural light is sanctified and transformed into the Holy Light. Then he exits the tomb and delivers the Holy Light to the crowd in the Holy Church and thereby to the whole world. (…)

MEGA Channel on 11/4/2001


Makarios III (Mouskos), Archbishop of Cyprus (1950-1977)

“These days we host the sacred archbishopric echelon by the metropolitans from the Jerusalem Patriarchate. One night after supper, Archbishop Makarios proposed we take our coffee in the great Synodicon. So we were discussing various issues there. Makarios asked the visiting Metropolitans: ‘Holy brothers, now that you’re here, it is an opportunity for you to solve a question I have.’ They told him, ‘we are at your disposal Makarios if we can, why not’. And Makarios said to them: ‘Holy brothers, please tell me what happens with the miracle of the Holy Fire. Is it indeed a miracle?’

“The Metropolitans from Jerusalem smirked and told him: ‘Makarios, we’re fooling the people, it is our shame to fool you also.’ Makarios said: ‘Are you saying that it’s not a miracle?’ They replied, ‘No, it is not a miracle!’ Makarios asked, ‘Well, what is it, then?’ They responded, ‘Beatitude, it is a ceremony that takes place every Great Saturday in the Church of the Resurrection.’ Makarios aksed them: ‘Why don’t you tell people the truth?’ And they replied: ‘Beatitude who would dare to tell the truth to the people? They would lynch us!’ This was the Archpriest’s story” (Told by a Cypriot Hieromonk; see video below)

Benedict, Patriarch of Jersualem (1957-1980)

“Once the pilgrim sets foot in Jerusalem, there is a clique, a gang, which is authorized by the Patriarchate to receive pilgrims upon their arrival. Indeed, they have a way to pester, daze, and blind them, to se and not to see…The Patriarchate’s clappers tell them, ‘Now we will give you the so-called indulgence…and they pay a pound!’ All these things occurred under Patriarch Benedict.” (Told by Haralmabos Katenidis, Archdeacon of the Jerusalem Patriarchate)

“Absolution Certificate” of Patriarch Benedict of Jerusalem, issued in 1957.

Haralmabos Katenidis, Archdeacon of the Jerusalem Patriarchate

In a video documentary interview with ecclesiastical writer, Stylianos Charlampakis, the Archdeacon reveals the Holy Light fraud! (September 7, 1965)
“Details about the so-called miracle of the holy light cannot be communicated because of scandal. But happily, since you asked me, I will tell you in summary how the ceremony happens and how you receive the ‘holy’ light. On Great Friday, after the procession of the Epitaph around the Holy Sepulchre, the Patriarch puts the Epitaph on the Tomb. After this, they extinguish all the oil lamps inside and outside the Tomb. The following day, Great Saturday, the Sacristan carries a special lit oil lamp—veiled with silver cover—which is placed in the Holy Sepulchre. Then the governor of Jerusalem seals the Sepulchre. While all the lights and oil lamps are always extinguished, the special oil lamp within the tomb remains lit. At the 10th hour, after the relative litanies around the Holy Sepulchre during which they chant the “O Joyous Light” (φως ιλαρόν), the gates of the Temple of the Holy Sepulchre are opened and the people enter. Simultaneously, the gate of the Kouvouklion where the tomb is located opens and the Patriarch enters, after typically he removes his sacerdotal vestments and remains only with sticharion. After a relative typical prayer, he takes the ‘holy’ light, certainly not miraculously, to be honest, but he lights his torch from the lit special oil lamp that the sacristan had previously transferred. This, in short, is the procedure for the ‘holy’ light.”

NOTE: There is also a second way to get this fake light. Spread the Tomb plate with phosphorus the day before and then the Patriarch rubs the plate with cotton and the light emerges.

Archbishop Nikeforos Theotokes

In 1880, the Archbishop stated that the light doesn’t miraculously descend from heaven, but is rather lit by the Patriarch and then distributed sanctified to the faithful, with the church being unable to cure ‘the people’s vulgar perception’ (Φωτομαχικά-Αντιφωτομαχικά, pp. 29-30)

“The Patriarch produces fire over the Life-giving Sepulchre by striking a flint”

Spyros Karatheodoris

In his unpublished work, Objection (Αντίρρησις 1832-1836),  Spyros criticizes Koraes for his polemic against the Jerusalem Patriarchs but leaves no margin for misinterpretation on the matter of the ‘Holy Light:’

  • “[…]it became customary to ignite light over the Holy Sepulchre and from that other festive lights[…]””
  • Concerning the Holy Light of Jerusalem, none of the patriarchs, bishops, priests and those with [decent] ecclesiastical background believe it to be miraculous […]”
  • “But why do they call it ‘Holy Light’? Yes! Holy Light! Because it is lit on the Holy Sepulchre and the faithful piously receive it, but this piety has degenerated into superstition, because of the ignorance of the many, and made stronger amongst the naivest of our brothers the belief, which the papal priests always spread, that the light is lit miraculously.”
  • “Therefore, the light is blessed for no other reason than for the fact that it is lit on the Lord’s Sepulchre, on the day the great mystery of the resurrection transpired […]”

(Φωτομαχικά-Αντιφωτομαχικά, pp.350-351)

Archimandrite Prokopios Dendrinos of Mount Athos

In his unpublished treatise On the Holy Light (Τα περί του Αγίου φωτός) [ca. 1833], Fr. Prokopios  heavily criticizes all the secrecy surrounding the ‘miracle,’ calling it directly suspicious and misleading. He even directs an incredible challenge to the Fraternity of the Holy Sepulcher:

“Let them leave the lanterns of the Temple unprepared, without oil and wicks, the Chamber doors open, so anyone can see the plaque over the tomb, so everything is visible, as was the case with prophet Elijah. Let the doormen step away, or even better, conduct a diligent search of the Tomb and clean the entire plaque with clear water and then pour an entire amphorae over it. Have them even restrict entry even to the representative of the Patriarch from Good Thursday morning till Sunday morning. And then let the “light-producer” enter and receive the Light! All this secrecy is suspicious and is not meant to prevent the introduction of man-made light -since this is impossible- but so that the preparations, i.e. the fraud, won’t become obvious. For, the candles are prepared by the Patriarchal Warden and not the laymen who do the temple chores as usual. The candles are covered with a flammable material and no one else is allowed to receive the light; not even the most prestigious clerics and pilgrims. Everything suggests that this is a downright human fabrication and this is even whispered among the Sepulcher Fraternity.” (Φωτομαχικά-Αντιφωτομαχικά, pp. 128, 361)

Bishop Porphyrius Uspensky (1804-1885)

In his diaries, the Bishop wrote that the clergy in Jerusalem knew that the Holy Fire was fraudulent.

First, Bishop Porphyrius quotes a certain Hierodeacon Gregory, who “upon entering the chapel of the Sepulcher at the time when, according to common belief, the Holy Fire descends, saw with horror that the fire was being lit simply from a lampada which is always [kept] burning; and so the Holy Fire is not a miracle. He himself [Hierodeacon Gregory] told me about it today.”

Second is the following story, which he says he heard directly from Metropol­itan Dionysius:

In the same year that the famous Ibrahim, Pasha of Egypt and lord of Syria and Palestine, was in Jerusalem, it was found to be that the fire received at the Lord’s Sepulcher on Holy Saturday is a ‘not-holy fire’ [lit.: not grace-filled] but is kindled in the way that all flames are kindled. How? The Pasha wanted to see for himself if the fire really does suddenly and miraculously appear on the roof of the Sepulcher of Christ or if it is lit by an ordinary sulfur match. What did he do? He announced to the Patriarch’s representative hierarchs that it would be his pleasure to sit in the chapel itself during the receiving of the fire and watch vigilantly to see how it appears; and he added that if the miracle proved to be true, he would give [to the Church] 5000 poungs (2.5 million piasters); and if it turned out to be a lie, then they would [be forced to] give him all the money collected from the deceived worshippers, and he would print about the dirty fraud in all the newspapers of Europe. The Patriarchal representatives—Archbishop Misail of Petroaravisk, Metropolitan Daniel of Nazareth and Bishop Dion­ysius then of Philadelphia [in Asia Minor], now of Bethlehem—gathered to decide what to do. During the meet­ing, Misail admitted that in the inner-chapel he lights the fire from a lampa­da concealed behind the marble icon of the Resurrection of Christ located near the very Sepulcher. After this admission, it was deci­ded to humble request Ibrahim not to meddle with religious affairs; and to the Pasha was sent the dragoman [interpreter] of the Holy Sepul­cher Monastery, who informed the Pasha that there would be no benefit for His Radiance to get to know the sacraments and mysteries of Christian church-services and that the Russian Emperor Nicholas [I] would be greatly displeased if he started learning about these sacraments. Pasha Ibra­him heard the dragoman out, made a giving-up-the-idea gesture with his hand, and fell silent. But from that time on, the Holy-Sepulcher clerics no longer believe in the miraculous app­ear­ance of the fire. Having said all this, the metropolitan added that only from God can be expected the discontinuance of (our) pious lie. As He knows and is able, he soothes the people, who believe now in the miraculous fire of Holy Saturday. And for us is forbidden even to consider such a revolutionary act [of revealing the lie]; they would tear us pieces at the very chapel of the Holy Sepulcher.”

The Book of My Life: Diaries and Notes of Bishop Porphyrius Uspensky, St Petersburg, 1894 Part 1, p.671 and The Book of My Life, St Petersburg, 1896 Part 3, pp.299-301.

Ephraim II, Patriarch of Jerusalem (1766-1771)

This absurdity and supernatural perception of churchmen and theologians who claim the ‘holy light’ is not only a miracle but God-given (θεόδοτο) is unacceptable. The Patriarch of Jerusalem, Efraim, who died in 1771, recounts his personal experience and describes the whole ceremony, characterizing it as “handmade engineering” and those involved as “light-makers.”

Γ. Καμπούρογλου, Μνημεία της ιστορίας των Αθηναίων

Hierodeacon Neophytos of Kavsokalyvia (1713-1784)

The author of The 1777 Anonymous Manual on Continuous Reception of the Holy Communion, made statements about a “sleight of hand” regarding the Holy Fire.

Νικηφόρου Θεοτόκη, στὸ Κ.᾿Ι. Δυοβουνιώτου, «Περὶ τοῦ ἐν ῾Ιεροσολύμοις ῾Αγίου Φωτός», «᾿Επετηρὶς ῾Εταιρείας Βυζαντινῶν Σπουδῶν», ἔτος ΙΒʹ, ᾿Αθῆναι 1936, σελ. 5.

From the official Website of the Jerusalem Patriarchate:

At 12pm, midday…It is necessary for us to stress that the heterodox have in advance searched the entire interior of the Holy Sepulcher, in order to certify that there is no lit vigil lamp or some other source of light” [They don’t mention that the monk Metrophanes hid twice in the Sepulcher without anyone seeing him! ]

At 12am…the lamp/candlestick [They don’t mention if it is extinguished or lit], if it becomes useful [they don’t mention what its use is] in the holy ceremony, is transferred…to the Holy Sepulcher for a prompter path.

The important thing is that the holy light for a few minutes [it doesn’t mention how much] does not have fire. Namely, if you rest the holy light on your hands, it will not burn [They don’t mention any time span whatsoever for non-burning, nor let it be for 30 seconds in a motionless hand!]

The ‘Secret Prayer’ of the Patriarch

Wondrous myths and legends have been woven around the special prayer chanted by the Greek-Orthodox Patriarch; the common denominator being that it is a special prayer that only he knows! This is in no way true. The prayer was first published in 1933 by Archimandrite Kallistos Meliaras (professor of the University of Athens) and published again in 1967 in the “New Zion” (Νέα Σιών) magazine, official publication of the Jerusalem Patriarchate. It is obvious that we’re not talking about a big secret, to which no one has access other than the Greek-Orthodox Patriarch, but a text that has been in circulation for more than 80 years! (π. Γ. Δ. Μεταλληνός, Φωτομαχικά-Αντιφωτομαχικά, εκδ. Κάτοπτρο-Ιστορητής, 2001, p.33) 

Despota Lord Jesus Christ, the originally shining wisdom of the without beginning Father. You who dwells in the unapproachable Light;* You who commanded that Light shine forth from the darkness, who said let it be Light and there was Light. Oh Lord provider of Light who took us out of the delusion of darkness and led us to the miraculous Light of Your awareness. You filled with light and joy the earth through Your incarnate presence and the underworld through Your descent to Hades and after these through Your Apostles You announced the light to all nations.

We thank You because through pious faith, you brought us from darkness to light and we became sons through holy baptism, seeing your glory full of grace and truth. However, oh light-giver Lord, oh great light, who said the people living in darkness.* Despota, Lord, the true light that illumines every man who comes in the world. The only light of the world and light of the lives of people, through whose glory the universe was filled, you brought the light to the world through Your economy of incarnation even though people loved the darkness rather than the light.

You Lord, giver of light, listen to us sinners and unworthy servants who, at this moment stand by this Your Most Holy and light bearing Tomb, and accept us who honour Your Holy Passion, Your most holy Crucifixion, Your voluntary death, the laying of Your divine body in this holy tomb, Your burial and Your resurrection after three days, which we joyfully have already started celebrating, remembering Your descent to Hades, through which the souls of the righteous You freed in a kingly manner with the lightning of Your divine light filling the underworld.

So with happy heart and spiritual joy, on this most blessed Saturday, Your most salvific mysteries which You divinely executed on earth and under the earth we celebrate, and remembering You, the exhilarating and appealing light which You divinely shone in the underworld, we produce this light, as an icon of Your congenial divine appearance to us.Because during the salvific and bright night everything was filled with light, the heaven, the earth and the underworld through the supernatural mystery of Your descent to Hades and Your resurrection from the tomb after three days.

For this reason, we piously take from the light that diligently and eternally burns on Your light-bearing Sepulchre, we spread it among those who believe in You, who are the true light, and we pray and plead with You, oh Holiest Despota, so that You will elevate [the light] into a gift of sanctification and fill it with Your divine grace, through the grace of Your Most holy and light-bearing Sepulchre. And those who touch it with piety, bless and sanctify them, free them from the darkness of passions and make them worthy of Your brightest dwellings, where the unsetting light of Your divinity shines. Lord, grant them health and good life and fill their homes with everything good.

Yes, Lord, the Light-giver, listen to me the sinner at this moment, and grant to me and to them to walk in Your light and remain in it as long as we have the light of this temporary life. Lord grant us that the light of our good works shine in front of the people together with Your without beginning Father and the Holy Spirit. You appointed us to be the light to the nations that we shine to those walking in the darkness. But we have loved the darkness rather than the light, committing evil works.

Anyone who does evil works hates the light according to Your faultless word. For this we stumble every day due to our sinning because we walk in the darkness. But make us worthy to live the rest of our life with the eyes of our minds enlightened. Grant us to live as sons of light and walk in the light of Your commandments. The bright garment of our baptism which we have blackened by our evil works, whiten it like the light, you who wears the light like a garment. Grant us to dress ourselves with the weapons of light, that we may overcome the lord of darkness, who transforms himself into an angel of light.

Yes, Lord, as You shone the light to those who are in darkness and under the shadow of death, likewise, today, shine in our hearts with Your pure light, so that becoming illumined and warmed up in faith, glorify You the one and only originally shining light, exhilarating light to everlasting ages. Amen.

From the Greek Wikipedia Page

There is a viewpoint that the Holy Light is an occult implementation organized by the Jerusalem Patriarchate clergy for centuries. One version proposes that the candles are previously immersed in phosphorus, which has the property of self-ignition after some time. Phosphorus as a chemical element was discovered in the 17th century and is not found free in nature. For the proponents of this view, some “miracle substances” or “fountains” (sources) exhibiting such phenomena were nevertheless known long before in the Middle East. This in turn can mean that either the entire Holy Sepulchre is located in such an area that either used such an ancient “miracle substance” (compound) whose name and composition are preserved today as a “closely guarded” sacerdotal secret. However, the view supported by the faithful is the flame from the Holy Light is brought to illuminate but not to cause combustion within the first 33 minutes, in contrast to the natural action of the fire. Of course, in this case it is obvious that the comparison is made ​​with reference not to the light, but the fire.

The author Michael Kalopoulos has published research indicating that the self-igniting materials and religious pyrotechnics that were known in ancient times are sufficient to produce the effect described as the “holy light.” Of course this estimate ignores the fact that the candles not self-ignite unexpectedly, although the supply is made ​​by open spaces or stores, which have the goods exposed to air, and even the supply of candles, often several days before the Resurrection, while in other cases, the faithful remain in the Church of the Resurrection of the evening of Great Friday.
Note: There are many narratives from Jerusalem about candles self-igniting completely unexpectedly. But there is a way to ignite after a long time.

From the English Wikipedia Page

In 2005, in a live demonstration on Greek television, Michael Kalopoulos, author and historian of religion, dipped three candles in white phosphorus. The candles spontaneously ignited after approximately 20 minutes due to the self-ignition properties of white phosphorus when in contact with air. According to Kalopoulos’ website:

If phosphorus is dissolved in an appropriate organic solvent, self-ignition is delayed until the solvent has almost completely evaporated. Repeated experiments showed that the ignition can be delayed for half an hour or more, depending on the density of the solution and the solvent employed.

Kalopoulos also points out that chemical reactions of this nature were well known in ancient times, quoting Strabo, who states: “In Babylon there are two kinds of naphtha springs, a white and a black. The white naphtha is the one that ignites with fire.” (Strabon Geographica He further states that phosphorus was used by Chaldean magicians in the early fifth century BC, and by the ancient Greeks, in a way similar to its supposed use today by the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem.

Adamantis Korais

The famous Greek intellectual of the Age of Enlightenment, Adamantios Korais (1748-1833), denounced the ‘Holy Light’ as a fraud and urged the Eastern Orthodox Church to discontinue the practice, arguing that “no true religion is in need of such false miracles.” In his treatise On the Holy Light of Jerusalem, Korais was adamant against religious fraud and theurgy. He referred to the recurring ‘miracle’ as “machinations of fraudulent priests” and to the unholy light of Jerusalem as “a profiteers’ miracle.” With deep sorrow, the Greek sage contemplated in his writings that “while Greeks are content to have the ‘Holy Light,’ people in Europe of his time are living among people of objective knowledge, surrounded by Academies, and Lyceums, and schools of every kind of art and science. Europeans have open, splendid public libraries, and their print presses buzz with activity daily and without pause.”

One can read his entire treatise in the Greek language here:






The “Absolute Truth” About Dogmatism (Judy J. Johnson, 2008)

NOTE: The following article are excerpts from the first chapter of What’s So Wrong About Being Absolutely Right: The Dangerous Nature of Dogmatic Belief by Judy J. Johnson:

What’s So Wrong About Being Absolutely Right

It is much easier to demolish someone else’s ideas than to suspend judgment and carefully examine our own. Such analysis requires moving beyond what we believe to why and how we hold beliefs of central importance. Many people do not analyze their beliefs much beyond the what stage. Certainly not dogmatists. They have little difficulty explaining the content of their beliefs, and their arrogant pronouncements clearly reveal how they believe. Less visible are the psychological reasons why they close their minds to anything that contradicts what they know to be true—absolutely true. In describing fanaticism (a variant of dogmatism), Winston Churchill said, “A fanatic is someone who can’t change his mind and won’t change the topic.”


Psychologists can only infer from observable emotions and behaviors the invisible forces that drive people to close their minds to reason and act in self-defeating ways. The theory of dogmatism proposed here is such an inferential model—a systematized compilation of ideas about plausible causes that account for dogmatism’s unique characteristics. For some, it may seem odd to propose a theory that has not been empirically validated, but that is the core of psychology. In a similar vein, “to believe something while knowing it cannot be proved (yet) is the essence of physics.”1 Theory is thus a convenient model that can turn useful fictions into testable predictions.

All of us have encountered dogmatists and dogmatism. We recognize that personal and worldly decisions are made by dogmatists whose default systems include instant, premature judgment and dismissal of opposing or novel ideas. Tenaciously, they cling to their steadfast beliefs when common sense and countervailing evidence suggests they should re-examine their faulty assumptions. With little reflection or humility, they are driven to defend themselves against facts, comments, or questions that they interpret as direct threats to their intellectual integrity and personal dignity, as a result, we cannot get through to them.

The Tenacity of Unreasonable Beliefs - Fundamentalism and the Fear of Truth
The Tenacity of Unreasonable Beliefs – Fundamentalism and the Fear of Truth

Yet, as with all problems, closing our eyes and hoping for the best is surely naive. It is therefore urgent that we study the organization of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that shape doctrinaire belief systems. We need to know what we’re up against before zealous movements gain emotional momentum and convert fear to dangerous, self-righteous anger, and before the free spirit of democracy is derailed by close-minded decisions. It behooves our familial, educational, and political systems to counter these dangers with reason, vigilance, and the liberty of open-minded dialogue, all of which strike fear in the hearts of dogmatists, whose social, political, moral, and spiritual values are frozen in time.

Why is it that some people obstinately refuse to open their minds to new ideas, even when persuasive, contradictory evidence should give them reason to pause? They simply refuse to see things any other way. Not only do they cling to beliefs with rigid certainty, their lack of interpersonal skills makes them oblivious to the effect their proclamations have on others. From ordinary people to priests, presidents, and professors, dogmatists feel protected by what they believe and fail to see that how they believe limits their opportunities for success and erodes their credibility. Like the bed in their guestroom, their minds are always made up, but seldom used.

But these are only some of the problems created by the need to be absolutely right. Around the dinner table, dogmatism is there to constrain thought. At social gatherings, dogmatism interrupts free-spirited conversation. During office meetings and government sittings, dogmatism derails progress. The dictatorial bark of dogmatism had interrupted peace and progress ever since humans began articulating beliefs about the world and their place in it. In its mildest form, dogmatism is the voice that asserts: “I am right; you are wrong.” Moderate dogmatism presents a stronger variation: “I am right; you are stupid.” Extreme dogmatism (or zealotry) is vicious and violent: “I am right; you are dead.”2 Understood from a psychological perspective, individual dogmatism is the practice that assures one: “I am right; therefore safe.”


Since ancient times, great thinkers have espoused the philosophical importance of being open-minded and cautioned against the perils of doctrinaire thinking. But little was written about dogmatism as a distinct personality disposition until the end of the Weimar Republic in Germany, when Erich Fromm and Wilhelm Reich sought to understand why Germans were drawn to Hitler.

Dogmatism is a personality trait. Psychologists use the term personality trait to refer to aspects of personality that motivate us to think, feel, and act in fairly consistent ways across time and different situations. In that sense, traits allow us to make reasonable predictions about people’s behavior, because we observe the same person express his or her unique traits (in this case, dogmatism) in many different situations. Traits are therefore more widespread and enduring than specific habits or behavioral tendencies.3


Dogmatism: Ancient and Modern Meanings

Throughout history, believers of various ideologies have clamored to dominate religious and political movements. In this regard, dogmatic beliefs that justify power and dominion over others know no boundaries. Psychologically, belief systems consist of perceptions, cognitions, and emotions that the brain considers to be accurate if not true. While perceptions are interpretations we make about the world based on our sensory systems, cognitions refer to abstract mental processes that continually organize and process these perceptions in unique, meaningful ways. Thus, the terms cognitive and cognition refer to our brain’s abstract organization and interpretation of sensory experiences—what we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell.

This visual metaphor represents an attempt to synthesize research & theory on cognitive diversity.
This visual metaphor represents an attempt to synthesize research & theory on cognitive diversity.

Dogmatism presumably emerged with the development of language, through which people began crafting myths and folklore about their experiences, abilities, identities, social roles, and various cultural values. When strong emotions became attached to tales and myths, belief systems ensued, some of which were consolidated in dogma that later became institutionalized. Such dogma was stamped with official authority that had the potential for the rigid trappings of dogmatism. But the first definition of dogma is relatively neutral. The Oxford English Dictionary defines dogma as:

“1. That which is held as an opinion; a belief, principle, tenet; esp., a tenet or doctrine laid down by a particular church, sect, or school of thought; sometimes, [my emphasis], depreciatingly, an imperious or arrogant declaration of opinion. 2. The body of opinion formulated or authoritatively stated; systematized belief; tenets or principles collectively; doctrinal system.”

Thus, dogma need not always enact the practice of dogmatism; it may merely reflect the content of institutionalized belief systems that may or not be practiced dogmatically. According to Webster’s to be dogmatic is to be “positive, magisterial; asserting or disposed to assert with authority or with overbearing and arrogance; applied to persons; as a dogmatic schoolman or philosopher.” Tenets differ in that they do not carry such stamps of authority. Webster’s again notes: “A tenet rests on its own intrinsic merits or demerits; a dogma rests on authority regarded as competent to decide and determine.”

Conflicts about various belief systems that were formerly settled among families, small bands, tribes, and larger groups (known as chiefdoms) later became settled by the resolute decisions of appointed rulers who had a monopoly on information, which allowed them to exercise arbitrary power. Such muscular control meant they could apply force to indoctrinate people with “official religious and patriotic fervor [and] make their troops willing to fight suicidally.”4 Ruling elites converted supernatural beliefs into religious dogma that institutionalized and justified the chief’s authority. Moreover, shared ideology expanded the bonds of kinship that held groups together and motivated people to cooperate, thus enabling large groups of strangers to live together in peace.5 To further consolidate and legitimize their power, rulers built temples and monuments as visible reminders of their supremacy. Throughout the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Industrial Revolution, European empires used state religions to give kings, queens, and monarchs divine status that legitimized war and the colonization of the Western world.6

Common Sense is not So COmmon

As recently as three centuries ago there was no question but to automatically accept dogma as pure, even divine, doctrine. Humans have always sought meaningful explanations for existence and effective guidelines for living, and, linguistically, religion refers to anything which one is strongly devoted. Through stories and religious rituals, beliefs and behaviors become transformed. Long before the scientific method became the practice for developing a body of reliable knowledge, scriptures were routinely endorsed as indisputable truths, and they were adopted and held with absolute conviction, but without much reflection on their accuracy or feasibility. Beliefs were assumed to be divinely inspired, and it is therefore understandable that the terms dogma and dogmatism were first associated with religion. Given the brutal history of torture and killings that religious dogma inspired, it is also understandable how the term dogma acquired a pejorative meaning. Yet religious dogma may be simply perceived as devout teachings based on divine revelation—teachings that promise communal associations that are sustained through ritual.

Seen from the psychological perspective of dogmatism, political and religious ideologies are not the key problem in social unrest; their corresponding dogmas simply consist of articulated or written words. The purpose of any dogma “lies in its ability to point beyond itself to a deeper reality which cannot be readily articulated in a simple formula or expression.”7 But when dogma is elevated to absolute truth, it is often accompanied by deeply embedded emotions that compel people to unquestioningly adopt it as a demonstration of loyalty or piety—an act that assuages fear and offers psychological protection. Emotions, not reason, propel allegiance and obedience, and the dogma of yesterday kindles the dogmatism of today, which can be anything but benign.


Throughout the Middle Ages, gross misinterpretations of Jesus Christ’s teachings were applied during the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Catholic Church’s witch hunts. These hypocritical misrepresentations of dogma and fantasies chewed up bits of undigested ideology and spit it out as dogmatism. These examples of rigid, individual dogmatism are beleaguered by pervasive, enduring psychological problems that lurk beneath the dogma of one’s stated beliefs. As we shall see in later chapters, within these murky domains, negative emotions of anxiety and anger contaminate and obscure reason, which ultimately compromises personal and intellectual freedom.

Emotions F3.large

Religious beliefs held sway during the Middle Ages, when uncritical acceptance of dogma was the norm—especially given people’s lack of education, their socialization to honor authority figures, and their fear of questioning religious authorities. This culture of religion stifled efforts toward rational inquiry up until the 17th and 18th centuries, when scientists and philosophers inspired a new Age of Reason. Eminent philosophers and scientists advocated superstition be replaced by the voice of authoritative reason. They stressed the importance of subordinating religious belief to the power of reason, empirical observation, and critical thinking, and in their struggle to facilitate open-minded inquiry, they began to formulate a scientific approach to knowledge that would gradually replace the Church’s dominion over political and religious orthodoxy.

Yet today, as they did centuries ago, dogmatic people continue to assert their beliefs as if they were scientific axioms that do not require proof. It is axiomatic that the earth rotates on its axis and that squares have four equal, perpendicular sides, but is it axiomatic that Jesus rose from the dead or was conceived by the Virgin Mary? When such beliefs are presumed to be self-evident rather than based on evidence, they exonerate the believer from any burden of proof. People who are more flexible in their thinking often reject such faulty reasoning and dislike the proselytizing manner of fervent believers.

Dogmatists in other religions sanctimoniously condemn the unconverted with a close-mindedness that commandeers reason. Yet to condemn, control, or rule others from one’s own self-doubt and emotional apprehension risks violating people’s inalienable rights.

Mattathias killing a Jewish apostate (1 Maccabees 2: 15 - 29).
Mattathias killing a Jewish apostate (1 Maccabees 2: 15 – 29).

Dogmatism, Common Synonyms and Related Terms

Psychologists generally agree that dogma, ideology, opinions, attitudes, values, and belief systems have distinct meanings but three overlapping properties. First, these terms connote individual beliefs about what is true or false, good or bad, desirable or undesirable, right or wrong. Second, all are accompanied by emotions that vary in intensity and duration from mild, transient emotions to passionate, sustained arousal. Such emotions create physiological responses that a person may or may not be aware of. Third, because our attitudes and values consist of several related beliefs that motivate behavior, entire belief systems are more potent than single beliefs.8

However, whether a particular belief stands alone or in relation to other beliefs, “beliefs are principles of action: whatever they may be at the level of the brain, they are processes by which our understanding (and misunderstanding) of this world is represented and made available to guide our behavior.”9 And “as long as a person maintains that his beliefs represent an actual state of the world (visible or invisible; spiritual or mundane), he must believe that his beliefs are a consequence of the way the world is. This, by definition, leaves him vulnerable to new evidence.”10 Whether one’s beliefs are based on facts that attempt to reveal truths or are value judgments that imply behavioral proscriptions, beliefs about either domain reflect attempts to understand ourselves and the surrounding world in a way that enhances the quality of life. Finally, behaviors reveal underlying beliefs much more than verbal pronouncements alone, for, as the adage notes, “Love is as love does.” On a broader scale, democracy is as democracy does, and dogmatism is as dogmatism does.


While attitudes and values are typically prominent and enduring, single beliefs and opinions are less persistent and more narrowly circumscribed in their emotional, cognitive, and behavioral parameters. People whose attitudes and values are held dogmatically may be described as opinionated, and although the terms dogmatic and opinionated imply close-mindedness, opinions refer more to specific issues that are often of shorter duration and less penetrating. There is nothing inherently destructive about being opinionated, but dogmatism is another matter, especially given its degree of intolerance, its excessive and prolonged emotional baggage, and its harmful behavioral consequences.

Throughout this book the terms dogma and ideology are used interchangeably, but both are intended to convey closed-minded, rigid convictions about belief systems that have damaging consequences for individuals and groups. Whereas some belief systems reflect cultural attitudes and values that are based on informal, commonsense notions about, for example, marriage and parenting, others are institutionalized policies that are derivative of formal, academic theories. But regardless of how dogma or ideology is derived, ideologues who adopt dogma as inerrant truth bathe reason in excessive emotion.

Philosophers have long given serious thought to dogma, dogmatists, and dogmatism.11 More than two years ago, the skeptics first applied the term dogmatics to people who believed that absolute truth was attainable through the activity of reason. If one reasoned hard enough and long enough, universal truths would emerge. Such claims did not sit well with two pre-eminent skeptics—Pyrrho (ca. 360-270 BCE) and Sextus Empiricus (ca. 160-210 CE). These philosophers and their followers believed that reasoning could never distill logical theory into a single truth. Their objective was to examine arguments to determine if equally reasonable counter arguments could be mounted. Any sound opposing argument would show that a declaration statement cannot be considered correct with absolute certainty, and, therefore, any claims of discovering truth are invalid (this is especially so with statements pertaining to abstract concepts, which most psychological constructs are, including dogmatism). By acting on their belief that nothing can ever be proven, only falsified, these and other skeptics dismissed all theories of objective truth as delusions of certainty.12


While the skeptics argues that beliefs and ideas are never true, they nonetheless believed that we could become knowledgeable, provided our ideas are supported by solid premises and sound reasoning, and as long as no strong argument provides a better alternative explanation. Even when these conditions are met, we can still go no further than to state that “this is how it seems to me.” Once people understand that no one can ever know for certain that any proposition is true, they will cease to strive for absolute truth and, consequently, acquire peace of mind and tranquility (this is the state of ataraxia, as described by ancient philosophers).

In our pursuit of knowledge, we must also guard against the erroneous view of radical skeptics who are lost in a quagmire of doubt, denial, and disbelief.13 These skeptics refuse to believe any assertion or apparent fact, preferring instead to habitually doubt everything. While the radical or absolute skeptic arbitrarily denies anything without grounds for rejection, the dogmatist arbitrarily asserts truth without grounds for acceptance. The absolute skeptic and the dogmatist are therefore similar in that neither values open-minded inquiry and evidence-based knowledge. We can assume that the absolute skeptic and the dogmatist would occupy extreme ends on a linear scale that measures close-minded thinking, because both have a rigid approach to ideas and information and both are unable to expand or substantiate views that they arbitrarily reject or cling to with unwarranted certainty.


In contrast, the scientific skeptic has a more broad-minded approach to knowledge. He or she questions the validity of a particular claim by calling for evidence to prove or disprove it.14 Evidence emerges only from a scrupulous, deliberate process of original inquiry, critical thinking, and constructive criticism that validates new knowledge against previous benchmarks of understanding. The task of modern-day skeptics is to purge our inquiries and beliefs of bias, hasty alliances, and accidental inheritances, to overcome prejudice (literally, pre-judgment, judgment before inquiry), to examine all possibilities with sympathetic interest and critical attention, and to love truth loyally so that we may be spared the embrace of falsehood in the darkness.15

Individual belief systems are adopted through a complicated process. It is not always clear whether personal statements are components of an overarching, systematized ideology or whether they evolve from personal meaning extracted from organized, institutional ideologies derived from dogma.16 What is clear—and clearly disconcerting—is the manner in which dogmatists adopt, adhere to, and impose their beliefs on others.


At the individual level, gradients of dogmatism all have in common rigid, ideological beliefs, and while political and religious belief systems are assumed to be the most common targets of dogmatism, quite possibly some social science researcher might prove me wrong by discovering that significantly more people are dogmatic about parenting styles and sexual morality. But regardless of the issues involved, dogmatic minds are closed to new ideas and evidence that refutes their established beliefs. Displays of intolerance and discrimination towards others are justified by uncorroborated or unverifiable dogma that removes the dogmatist from the rational world of history, philosophy, and science. In the extreme, dogmatism plays out the psychological fantasies of fanatics who are devout followers of fundamentalist ideology, such as that seen in suicide missions and terrorist attacks. Among these dogmatists, there is a powerful temptation to join groups that appeal to the weakest link in the chain of their psychological being.

Working Toward A Psychological Definition of Dogmatism

A comprehensive psychological definition of dogmatism needs to capture the essence of its entire suite of cognitive, emotional, and behavior complexity, and it needs to do so with enough precision to render it capable of empirical validation. We will keep in mind that beneath the definition of each characteristic is a network of deep-rooted causes that have serious psychological and psychosocial consequences. What are the patterns of thoughts, emotions, motivations, and behaviors that motivate and sustain dogmatic belief systems? Why do some people transfer their personal autonomy to external agents whose reasoning ability they glorify? What enables some leaders to command followers to surrender their own moral standards and commit atrocities that violate international laws or disregard  universal codes of ethics? Why do some people declare that killing is wrong but rationalize its legitimacy when carried out in the name of God, democracy, or freedom? How do individuals develop polarized beliefs that legitimize casting groups of people into “us versus them” dichotomies that justify blame and retaliation against members of an out-group who then become scapegoats for dogmatists’ own unacknowledged weaknesses and failed identities? Why do some government leaders declare war and then simplify the complex with categorical rationalizations—win or lose, live or die, honorable or traitorous? Situating the conflict in a political or biblical context of righteous indignation makes their war noble and moral—a simple solution that prevents guilt, strips war of its horror, and turns flesh and blood into mere statistics. It is important to note the catalytic link between emotional vulnerability and dogmatism, especially during uncertain, fearful, or oppressive times, when vulnerable individuals abandon their moral and ethical principles. A compelling theory of dogmatism needs to address these questions as fully and open-mindedly as possible.


The following psychological definition of dogmatism provides the framework for the theory proposed in this book: Dogmatism is a personality trait that combines cognitive, emotional, and behavioral  characteristics to personify prejudicial, close-minded belief systems that are pronounced with rigid certainty.17 As such, it reflects a style of thinking that is derivative of emotions, particularly anxiety, that narrow thought and energize behavior.

This is a psychological definition, but we cannot overlook certain social conditions that interact with psychological predispositions to unleash unconscionable, dogmatic authoritarian aggression (one of five behavioral characteristic of dogmatism).  Although this book focuses on dogmatism as a psychological trait, its development does not independently originate in the psyche; it is clearly influenced by social phenomena. Particularly vulnerable are individuals whose personal risk factors combine with stressful social and cultural environments that suppress independent, rational thought.

If we are to understand the mass psychology of group behavior, a thorough knowledge of the culture’s history is necessary to contextualize group goals. Whether the group is predominately motivated to gain freedom, pursue a particular religious or political ideology, redress social injustice, or seek revenge, its manner of addressing complex issues requires an assessment of the players’ motives within broad historical, cultural, and political contexts—a daunting obligatory task. Dogmatism inevitably reflects an interaction of inextricably linked individual and institutional forces.


Behaviors that reflect the close-mindedness of dogmatism were present long before the conservative right clashed with the liberal left. Similarly, religious fundamentalists locked horns with secularists on battlegrounds that significantly predate the current conflict between creationists and evolutionary theorists, who seem unable to reconcile their differences. In addition, the demands of environmentalists collide with corporate game plans, feminists struggle against patriarchal power, and academics defend their turf in the very manner that advanced education warns against—a manner that betrays an open-minded pursuit of knowledge.

Despite philosophic and scientific advances made before, during, and after the Age of Reason, and despite scholarly contributions that emphasize the importance of open-minded inquiry, daunting social and political problems in the early years of this millennium are exacerbated by emotional excesses that gird dogmatism. The result is short-term quick fixes that, more often than not, work against the long-term interests of humanity. As we examine dogmatism’s unpleasant characteristics and harmful consequences to one’s self and associates (microdogmatism) and to social and cultural institutions (macrodogmatism), quite likely someone you know or have known will breathe vivid life into the black words on these white pages.

The question is, how objectively can we—you and I—assess psychological impediments that constrict our willingness to open-mindedly consider alternate views? … How accurately can you summarize countervailing ideas before contradicting them with your own? This does not mean that once you have fully considered opposing views you cannot arrive at a comfortable position and choose not to engage, at length, someone whose views significantly differ from your own. You may simply agree to disagree. But first, do you understand that with which you disagree? Genuine understanding requires active listening and hearing.


It is consoling to know that we are all capable of being somewhat rigid, even close-minded about some of our ideas some of the time. We are inclined to adopt beliefs that accompany the circumstances of our birth and habitually defend them in the absence of thoughtful examination. Beliefs maintained by a combination of complacency and habit are not necessarily dogmatic, nor do they lead to incontrovertible, implacable belief systems that hallmark dogmatism. Dogmatic believers, however, are proud of their unwavering belief systems, even though they would not want to be thought of as dogmatic or pig-headed. Their desire to keep such uncomplimentary awareness and judgment hidden is not any different from the rest of us who want to conceal our own unacceptable thoughts and emotions.

Flexible open-mindedness about value-laden belief systems concerning politics, religion, and sex—the three big adrenaline movers—is an ongoing conscientious struggle. Close encounters of our own closed minds are often too close for comfort.

As Korzybski noted back in 1958, the common tendency is for people to make hasty generalizations  that lead to misevaluations and self-deception.18 We arrive at our beliefs for “non-rational reasons and we justify them after.”19 Those with the personality trait of dogmatism have a habit of doing this and generally lack awareness of the doctrinaire manner in which  they hold their beliefs. Such insight would shatter their self-image—an image that needs to be continually propped up and preserved by agreement from others. To see themselves as dogmatic would be too chilling to reconcile. When challenged to open their minds about alternative ideas, their inclination is to quickly judge and dismiss (especially ideas that conflict with their own). In doing so, they preserve the illusion that they are rational and open-minded.


It is interesting to note that research suggests that once people adopt particular beliefs, they are less open to re-examining the validity of those beliefs from different perspectives.20 Reviewers of scientific research papers are far less likely to publish articles that do not support their own theoretical biases.21 They are not intellectually disabled, but they can be emotionally rigid and single-minded about beliefs and ideas, especially their own. Intelligent people who are capable of thinking through complex issues but choose instead to cling to traditional paradigms exhibit an “ideological immune system.”22 They are the academics who desperately seek to preserve a body of knowledge by immunizing themselves against foreign, cognitive intruders. After all, new ideas might germinate seeds of controversy that would threaten and destabilize their aura of intellectual integrity. Mathematical geniuses, acclaimed musicians and writers, and other highly intelligent people are not resistant to the errors of dogmatic protectionism.

This state of affairs is the opposite of what our intuition tells us it should be, yet “educated, intelligent, and successful adults rarely change their most fundamental presuppositions.”23 Psychologist David Perkins discovered that the connection between ideological rigidity and intelligence quotients unveiled surprising results: the higher the IQ, the greater the person’s inability to consider other viewpoints.24 Social psychology research indicates that very intelligent people and those with high self-esteem are more resistant to changing their views.25 However, other studies reveal modest correlations in the other direction: “The ability to overcome the effects of belief bias (or knowledge bias) was significantly related to cognitive ability in a formal reasoning task.”26 The results are therefore mixed, and more studies of belief inflexibility around values and formal reasoning are needed. It is possible that people with both types of cognitive rigidity invest time and energy bolstering their own convictions or trying to recruit and convince others because, “new and revolutionary systems of science tend to be resisted rather than welcomed with open arms, because every successful scientist has a vested intellectual, social, and even financial interest in maintaining the status quo. If every revolutionary new idea were welcomed with open arms, utter chaos would be the result.” The charismatically skilled who succeed at this mission leave important lessons for the rest of us.

Describing someone as an intelligent dogmatist may sound oxymoronic, but we would be naive to assume that all dogmatists are uneducated or of low intelligence. While dogmatism clearly indicates a defective style of rational thinking, it is not, strictly speaking, the product of intellectual deficiency. Something else is brewing beneath the surface. Dogmatic beliefs are driven by psychological needs and emotions that end up giving the appearance of intellectual limitation. As we shall see, beneath the surface there is a host of biological predispositions that interact with various other individual and environmental conditions to shape close-minded, inflexible thinking.


What Dogmatism Is Not

Dogmatism is not the opposite of critical thinking. Although much has been written about how to promote critical thinking skills such as inductive and deductive reasoning, abstract analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of conceptual models, less attention has been given to the deeper psychological conditions that seriously impair one’s ability to think critically. People who are prone to dogmatism can learn all the theory available on critical thinking, but if unmet psychological needs are pushing them in dogmatic directions, their minds will not be sufficiently open to turn theory into practice.

Dogmatism should also not be confused with the open-minded passionate, social activism that creates popular movements for social change. What distinguishes dogmatic activists from their non-dogmatic counterparts is the former’s arrogant unwillingness to examine an issue from different perspectives and their unjustified rejection of those with opposing beliefs (even though their personal rejection may not be apparent). Open-minded people speak out; they do not lash out. They inspire reflection because they neither oblige agreement nor disdain disagreement. In sharp contrast to self-righteous dogmatic rants that deny opposing views, open-minded, inclusive, passionate reason stirs action.

Zealous dogmatists can move society in extraordinary directions. When individual dogmatism ignites group dogmatism, little remains that is thoughtful or useful in social activism. These are the people who feel the urge to assert their beliefs every chance they get and fail to recognize that passion without reason is puerile, reason without passion is sterile, and reason without passion is fertile.

You might be wondering how dogmatists differ from fanatics. According to research, dogmatists, fanatics, and zealots are soul mates, with some distinctions.27 Linked y their emotional intensity, all are capable of unleashing spiteful, self-righteous vengeance. While not all of them wield sledgehammers to drive their beliefs into the thick skulls of nonbelievers, dogmatists, fanatics, and zealots are all rigidly and emotionally attached to views they adopt as inviolate truth, and they readily dismiss opposing ideas and the people who hold them. Fanatics and zealots, however, show excessive, frenzied enthusiasm for beliefs that have an absurd or bizarre quality. Overlapping qualities among dogmatists, fanatics, and zealots often blur the distinctions. In general, fanatics occupy what has commonly been referred to as the “lunatic fringe,” while dogmatists appear relatively more rational—both in the beliefs they hold and in their less dramatic manner of presenting them. Characteristics of dogmatism are also differentiated from personality disorders that have secured special recognition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. These disorders, which have overlapping behavioral characteristics of dogmatism, include the antisocial personality disorder, which exhibits dogmatic, authoritarian aggression; the histrionic personality disorder, which exhibits a preoccupation with power and status; and the narcissistic personality disorder, with its vilification of the out-group and self-aggrandizement. These are all features or subtraits of dogmatism.28

Monks and nuns from the various monasteries under Geronda Ephraim during St. Anthony Monastery’s Feast Day (ca. 2006)
Monks and nuns from the various monasteries under Geronda Ephraim during St. Anthony Monastery’s Feast Day (ca. 2006)

The Trait of Open-mindedness

Why do some people become dogmatic while others do not? Psychologists are currently unable to answer this question, but we can clued that the personality trait of open-mindedness is an antidote to dogmatism, and people who are cognitively flexible plainly differ from those who are easily threatened, emotionally defensive, and dismissive of anyone who disagrees with them or even proffers opposing beliefs. Open-minded, cognitive elasticity is seen among those who are awestruck by the miraculous beauty of life; they do not need to confine its complexities to explicit, doctrinaire categories of presumed truth. In their personal lives, they are open to considering and accepting different views and have little if any need to change the beliefs and values of people who differ, unless opposing beliefs directly threaten their own or others’ freedom. Those with open cognitive systems can comfortably explore a topic as widely and deeply as the conversation takes them. They confront the issue, not the person, and rarely infer motives for an opponent’s stated beliefs or jump to conclusions when someone changes the topic. Condescending frowns, sarcasm, and patronizing voices are rare. In their presence, we are relaxed and yet poised to respond to whatever topic emerges, be it serious or silly. Able to laugh at themselves and the absurdities of life, open-minded people generally prefer a philosophic sense of humor that is without hostile, pretentious condemnation.29

Curious and open-minded, they resemble the Athenians of yore who so valued the pursuit of knowledge that they invented the first alphabet, philosophy, logic, principles of political democracy, poetry, plays, and the idea of schools. Open-minded people today are no exception. They recognize “the fallibility of one’s own opinions, the probability of bias in those opinions, and the danger of differentially weighting evidence according to personal preferences.”30 Willing to suspend judgment as far as humanly possible, they explore multiple views and are not subservient to the beliefs that underlie social conventions. Because their beliefs are autonomously determined, these people are not easily convinced that certain ideas are absolutely true, nor are they readily manipulated by propaganda.  Similarly, because their acceptance, rejection, or reservations regarding social values are authentic, they are less vulnerable to external reinforcements of flattery or bribery. They can detect inherent biases and premature assumptions, accurately process new or challenging viewpoints about complex or controversial issues, and are capable of admitting errors in their own thinking, whereupon they revise their beliefs accordingly.

Open-minded people understand that a demolition act on opposing belief is relatively easy; the more difficult task is to distance themselves from personal convictions, to put their egos aside and let them rest awhile. Flexible of mind, they can tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty. They examine ideas that are based on stereotypical reasoning or incomplete information, and they recognize when personal needs shape, control, or distort information. At their best, they are invulnerable to manipulation. Their reasoning emanates from an open-minded appraisal of reality and they accept that eternal, universal truths are elusive. Truths are reasoned, conditional, and probable, not final and absolute.  Many would agree with Seth Lloyd: “Unlike mathematical theorems, scientific results can’t be proved. They can only be tested again and again until only a fool would refuse to believe them.”31

Such a provisional stance is not to be confused with wishy-washy, ideological free fall. Open-minded people deliberate as long as necessary about important ethical and scientific principles that are derived from reason. And reason consistently triumphs over emotion, especially in matters concerning ethics and morality. To become better informed about their belief and disbelief systems, they examine the source of controversial facts and opinions and recognize that to rely only on information that substantiates their own beliefs reinforces their biases and stifles objective inquiry. They demonstrate cognitive permeability by openly modifying their previous views and assumptions as necessary. Able to suspend judgment and reflect on opposing ideas, they enjoy sharpening their ideas on the fine, abrasive steel of dissenting voices, agreeing that “minds are like parachutes; they only function when open.” They are humble seekers, trudging along a path that echoes Socrates’ dictum: “I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.” Socrates surrendered his life to the supremacy of such open-minded reasoning.

Finally, recognizing that the best use of one’s intelligence is to first understand oneself, open-minded people are able to examine their own psyches by peering into their genuine thoughts, feelings, and motives as objectively as humanly possible. This self-scrutiny can then be applied to psychological analyses of group motives to determine, for example, if a government is open-minded enough to willingly admit error and make the necessary readjustments.

Dogmatically Undogmatic


  1. McEwan, introduction to What We Believe but Cannot Prove: Today’s Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty, 2006, p. Xvi.
  2. Soyinka, Climate of Fear: The Quest for Dignity in a Dehumanized World, 2005, 118.
  3. W. Allport, “What Is a Trait of Personality?” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 25 (1931): 368-72. Gordon Allport is still recognized as providing one of the earliest—and still one of the best—psychological definitions of a personality trait.
  4. Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, 1999.
  5. Batchelor, Alone with Others: An Existential Approach to Buddhism, 1983, p. 41.
  6. Rokeach, Beliefs, Attitudes, and Values, 1968. Rokeach states that the different components of attitude are not consistently defined. More than 40 years later, while social psychologists still have not reached complete agreement on the definition of an attitude, there appears to be some consensus on these three components.
  7. Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, 2005, p. 52.
  8. , p. 63.
  9. C. Baltzly, “Who Are the Mysterious Dogmatists of ‘Adversus Mathematicus’ Ix 352? (Sexus Empiricus),” Ancient Philosophy 18 (1998): 145-71.
  10. Sextus Empiricus was a Greek physician and philosopher who defined three schools of philosophy: the Dogmatic, the Academic, and the Skeptic. His three surviving works are Outlines of Pyrrhonism (three books on the practical and ethical skepticism of Pyrrho of Elis, ca. 360-275 BCE), Against the Dogmatics (five books dealing with the Logicians, the Physicists, and the Ethicists), and Against the Professors (six books: Grammarians, Rhetors, Geometers, Arithmeticians, Astrologers, and Musicians). The last two volumes critique the role of professors in the faculties of arts and science.
  11. Suber, “Classical Skepticism: Issues and Problems,” This article reviews the rationale and motives of skeptics, academic skepticism, and dogmatism, and illustrates how the philosophic definition of dogmatism differs from the psychological definition. Philosophers claim that people can be dogmatists even if they are not absolutely certain of their beliefs. From a minimalist philosophic definition, “a dogmatist is one who is willing to assert at least one proposition to be true” (p. 10). This contrasts with the broader, psychological definition in this book, which incorporates emotional (primarily anxiety) and behavioral characteristics that are highly influential in the personality trait of dogmatism.
  12. Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time, 1997, p. 17.
  13. Suber, “Classical Skepticism,” p. 32.
  14. T. Jost, “The End of the End of Ideology,” American Psychologist, 61, no. 7 (2006): 651-70. Jost presents a good historical review of ideology and its various definitions. He notes that the term ideology “originated in the late 18th century when it was used mainly to refer to the science of ideas, a discipline that is now known as the sociology of knowledge” (p. 651).
  15. This definition of dogmatism is derived from the work of Milton Rokeach, Robert Altemeyer, and myself, Judy J. Johnson.
  16. Korzybski, Science and Sanity, 4th ed. 1958, p. xxxvi.
  17. Shermer, “The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Freud,” panel discussion, Nova, PBS, DVD, 2004.
  18. Abell, and B. Singer, eds., Science and the Paranormal, 1981.
  19. J. Mahoney, “Publication Prejudices: An Experimental Study of Confirmatory Bias in the Peer Review System,” Cognitive Research and Therapy 1 (1977): 161-75.
  20. S. Snelson, “The Ideological Immune System,” Skeptic 4 (1993): 44-45.
  21. Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things, 59.
  22. Rhodes and W. Wood, “Self-Esteem and Intelligence Affect Influenceability: The Mediating Role of Message Reception,” Psychological Bulletin 111 (1992): 156-71.
  23. Macpherson, and K.E. Stanovich, “Cognitive Ability, Thinking Dispositions, and Instructional Set as Predictors of Critical Thinking,” Learning and Individual Differences 17 (2007): 123.
  24. Altemeyer, The Authoritarian Specter, pp. 212-13.
  25. American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th, 1994.
  26. Maslow, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, 1971. A philosophical, unhostile sense of humor is listed as a feature of Being-cognition—an open-minded style of thought that characterizes self-actualizers.
  27. E. Stanovich, “Reasoning Independently of Prior Belief and Individual Differences in Actively Open-Minded Thinking,” Journal of Educational Psychology 89 (1997): 342-58. Stanovich cites researchers who, in the tradition of cognitive science, have “examined the influence of prior beliefs on argument evaluation and demonstrated how prior belief does bias human reasoning” (p. 342).
  28. Lloyd, “Seth Lloyd,” in What we Believe but Cannot Prove: Today’s Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty, 2006, p. 55.

Orthodox Monks Don’t Experience Rigor Mortis?

“A Monk’s Funeral: 30 hrs after death, the corpse retains its flexibility” [Athonite Moments, p. 200]
Pilgrims to Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries are taught about a “Miracle exclusive to Orthodoxy”—i.e., monks do not experience rigor mortis when they die. Typical of the other “exclusive miracles” which are taught at the monasteries, this one also has some grey areas. Depending on the monastic giving the sermon, it is either all orthodox monastics throughout the world, or just Athonite monastics. In some cases, the monastic giving the sermon will grab the book Athonite Moments and show the pilgrims a photograph of a monk being lowered into a grave with signs of flexibility and no rigor mortis. Also see Geronda Evdokimos claiming this scientifically understood phenomena as an exclusively orthodox miracle that “testifies to sanctity.”

Of course, if you question the monastic giving the sermon, they only have a cursory understanding of what rigor mortis is—which usually amounts to “all corpses are stiff after they die and any flexibility in a corpse is scientifically impossible.” What “proof” do they offer to validate their erroneous understanding of corpses, decomposition and rigor mortis?  A photograph from a book and their “authority” validates this “scientifically impossible” phenomenon.

“Black, white, red: An atmosphere of mournful quietness” [Athonite Moments, p. 201]
Similar to their erroneous claim of Persistent Frontal Suture being an “exclusive orthodox miracle,” the claim that a corpse without rigor mortis is an “exclusive orthodox miracle” is also scientifically and biologically erroneous. In both cases, “science is not needed to validate these miracles” because they are an Athonite oral tradition and “monks who speak to God know more than a worldly scientist.” Science is not always rejected by the monastics—if science validates something in orthodoxy, or if science cannot explain phenomenon which for the monastics validates a divine origin, then it is accepted. When science conflicts with orthodoxy, then it is dismissed as idle, vain, worldly knowledge that is incompatible with spiritual knowledge.


First of all, rigor mortis is easily “broken” by bending and moving the joints about. A common question people have for morticians is whether they need to break a corpse’s legs if the body doesn’t fit into the coffin properly. The answer is, of course, no. The legs bend quite easily even after death.

''Remember the day of death, but also the day of resurrection & judgment'' [Athonite Moments, p. 201]
”Remember the day of death, but also the day of resurrection & judgment” [Athonite Moments, p. 201]
Second of all, rigor mortis is basically a stiffening of the limbs. The joints become difficult to bend, but this does not happen with all bodies. There is a technique morticians use to get rid of it called “breaking the rigor mortise.” Basically, you bend the limbs back and forth a few times and the joints will loosen up. This “breaks” the stiffness and the body is back to normal.

The Athonite monks are aware of corpse manipulation because some of them have stated that Fr. Seraphim Rose’s corpse was manipulated by his disciples to smile, etc., to give the appearance that he had a saintly death.

Also see: Misconceptions & Questions — A collection of questions and opinions about the funeral industry and Ask an Undertaker and Working Funerals: Decomposition.


Rigor Mortis is the stiffening of the body after death because of a loss of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) from the body’s muscles. ATP is the substance that allows energy to flow to the muscles and help them work and without this the muscles become stiff and inflexible.

Rigor Mortis begins throughout the body at the same time but the body’s smaller muscles – such as those in the face, neck, arms and shoulders – are affected first and then the subsequent muscles throughout the rest of the body; those which are larger in size, are affected later.

gerontissa efpraxia

Rigor normally appears within the body around two hours after the deceased has passed away with – as we have already mentioned – the facial and upper neck and shoulder muscles first to visibly suffer from its effects. Many Scenes of Crime Officers (SOCO) have reported that upon discovering the deceased that their face might have taken on what looks to be a grimace; this is because the facial muscles have contracted as ATP drains from them.

Once the contracting of all the body’s muscles has taken place this state of Rigor – technically referred to as the Rigid Stage – normally lasts anywhere from eight to twelve hours after which time the body is completely stiff; this fixed state can last up to another eighteen hours.

Contrary to common perception the process of Rigor Mortis actually does reverse and the body returns to a flaccid state; the muscles losing their tightness in the reverse of how they gained it: i.e.: those larger muscles that contracted last will lose their stiffness first and return to their pre-Rigor condition.

See: Rigor Mortis and Lividity


Rigor mortis can be used to help estimate time of death. The onset of rigor mortis may range from 10 minutes to several hours, depending on factors including temperature (rapid cooling of a body can inhibit rigor mortis, but it occurs upon thawing). Maximum stiffness is reached around 12-24 hours post mortem. Facial muscles are affected first, with the rigor then spreading to other parts of the body. The joints are stiff for 1-3 days, but after this time general tissue decay and leaking of lysosomal intracellular digestive enzymes will cause the muscles to relax.

A Funeral Procession, Filotheou Monastery, Mt. Athos
A Funeral Procession, Filotheou Monastery, Mt. Athos

During rigor mortis, another process called autolysis takes place. This is the self-digestion of the body’s cells. The walls of the cells give way, and their contents flow out. Rigor mortis ends not because the muscles relax, but because autolysis takes over. The muscles break down and become soft on their way to further decomposition.

Thus, contrary to the misconceptions disseminated by the monastics, the flexibility witnessed in some monastic corpses during their funeral—which occur 24-48+ hours after their repose—is not “a scientifically impossible miracle which scientists cannot explain.” Rather, it is a natural process that is quite common and has been observed in corpses throughout the world, both orthodox and non-orthodox, lay people and monastics. Once again, the monastics misrepresent a natural phenomenon as an “exclusive miracle to Orthodoxy.” As stated above, in Greek-American orthodox monasteries, the “secular sciences” are generally not considered a “valid” source of information when it comes to understanding or interpreting natural phenomena and processes.


Schema Monk Constantine Cavranos
Schema Monk Constantine Cavranos

The monastic funerals here in North America are unlike those in Mount Athos: the body is not flung into a hole, but rather it is placed in a coffin and lowered into the hole. Thus, there isn’t much contact with the body before burial other than the last kiss. So witnessing such “miracles” of corpses without rigor mortis here is uncommon. Of course, if the superior tells the monastics that the body is warm and without rigor mortis, then they will believe it is so, and will also transmit this “miracle” to the pilgrims who visit.


Each monastery has its own process of preparing the body for burial, again giving opportunity for manipulation. The body is then placed in the middle of the Church, usually under the polyeleos, and the monastics have to read the entire Psalter continually until the next day. Then the funeral service occurs in the church ending with the procession to burial. Depending on time and circumstance, this process can take from 24-36 hours or more. Thus, photographs of monks without rigor mortis after such a time period cannot be considered a “miracle exclusive to orthodoxy” as this can happen to any corpse; i.e. the natural return to the pre-rigor condition.

Schema Monk Constantine Cavarnos' funeral procession at St. Anthony's Monastery
Schema Monk Constantine Cavarnos’ funeral procession at St. Anthony’s Monastery

The Traffic in Relics: some Late Roman Evidence (E.D. Hunt, 1980)

NOTE: The following article is taken from The Byzantine Saint: University of Birmingham Fourteenth Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies. _

As the controversial monk Pelagius was defending his views before a synod of bishops in Palestine in December 415, news arrived of miraculous events at the village of Caphargamala in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem.1 Impelled by a series of dream-visions of the New Testament rabbi Gamaliel, the local presbyter Lucianus had unearthed three burials – of Gamaliel himself, his fellow-rabbi Nicodemus, and (the real prize) of the first Christian martyr, St Stephen (whose place of burial had been unknown since the time of his death). The bishop of Jerusalem and others hurried to the scene to preside over the revelation of Stephen’s remains: Lucianus (to whose first-hand account we owe our knowledge of these events) describes the fragrance that filled the air as the tomb was opened, such that ‘we thought we were in paradise’. In this heady atmosphere seventy-three people (it is asserted) were cured of sundry ailments, before the martyr’s body was solemnly laid to rest in the great basilica on Mount Sion in Jerusalem, on his feast day of 26 December.2

"Hair Relic" of St. Stephen Protomarty @ St. Stephen Church in Cleveland, Ohio.
“Hair Relic” of St. Stephen Protomarty @ St. Stephen Church in Cleveland, Ohio.

The interment of Stephen’s remains in Jerusalem is far from the last word in the story. For, after his rediscovery, the first martyr was to become one of the most widely-travelled of Christian saints. According to a fifth-century sermon in praise of Stephen (attributed to bishop Basil of Seleucia) ‘every place is glorified and hallowed by your remains; your protection shines out overall the earth’. 3 Certainly it was not long before some of the relics reached Constantinople and the pious court of Theodosius II and his sister Pulcheria.4 The saint made a journey even further afield by the hand of the Spanish presbyter Orosius, on his return to Augustine in north Africa after the vindication of Pelagius by the Palestinian bishops;5 through this channel of distribution relics of Stephen were circulated among Christian congregations in Africa, where he effected miraculous cures and was believed to intervene in the life of the community in a variety of ways to alleviate day-to-day hardships (whether the consequences of nature or the Roman government).6 Orosius, unable to reach his native Spain, also deposited relics of Stephen on the island of Minorca, where the saint inspired the local congregation to an onslaught against their neighbouring Jewish population, and achieved a mass conversion.7

Relics of St. Stephen Protomartyr @ St. Andrew Memorial Church, South Bound Brook, NJ)
Relics of St. Stephen Protomartyr @ St. Andrew Memorial Church, South Bound Brook, NJ)

The distribution of relics

The widespread distribution of Stephen’s relics, and the miraculous achievements associated with them, illustrate what has become a ‘fact of life’ in the Christian Roman empire of the early fifth century. Christian saints escape from their tombs to become the possession of congregations far and wide.8 Churches denied traditions associating them with apostles and martyrs could acquire such pedigree by the import of relics, to lend authority and prestige: by such means, as is familiar, the city of Constantinople sought to make up for its lack of Christian history.9 In the era of St Ambrose, new churches were dedicated at Milan and elsewhere in northern Italy over the shrines of apostolic relics which had become the prize of eastern pilgrimages.10 So Gaudentius, bishop of Brescia, housed relics which he had himself acquired on such a journey;11 while the Holy Land pilgrim Silvia (whom tradition also associates with Brescia) is said to have promised her friends in the West that she would return with the remains of ‘many martyrs from the East,12 This traffic was predominantly, but not exclusively, from east to west – there was a ‘counter-flow’, for instance, in the sample of the remains of the three Christian missionaries martyred in 397 by the pagans of the Val di Non which was sent to John Chrysostom in Constantinople;13 or the Roman relics of Peter and Paul which Theodosius I’s praetorian prefect Fl. Rufinus (brother-in-law, incidentally, of the pilgrim Silvia) transported to grace his new church across the Bosphorus at Chalcedon.14 Clearly there was already a considerable One final example befits a symposium on the Byzantine saint: chief among the remains which Gaudentius carried back to Brescia were those of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, which he had acquired from the family of bishop Basil at Caesarea – both Basil and Gregory of Nyssa, in their sermons on these martyrs, acclaim the ubiquity of the soldier-saints: ‘they are offered hospitality in many places, and adorn many lands’.15

L-R: Relic of the True Cross from Mt. Athos. Relic of 40 Holy Martyrs of Sebaste. Relic of St. Necktarios (oval box). These relics are located at St. Anthony's Monastery, Florence, AZ.
L-R: Relic of the True Cross from Mt. Athos. Relic of 40 Holy Martyrs of Sebaste. Relic of St. Necktarios (oval box). These relics are located at St. Anthony’s Monastery, Florence, AZ.

Concern about translations

It is not self-evident why this distribution and proliferation of relics should have arisen in the later fourth century, especially in view of the long-standing assumptions of antiquity about not interfering with the dead in their tombs. Laws continued to be issued in the late empire reaffirming the traditional prohibitions against tampering with the dead,16 and in 386 this was specifically applied to the martyrs; in a law addressed to the eastern praetorian prefect Theodosius ordered ‘no person shall transfer a buried body to another place [by the time of Justinian’s Code the clause ‘except with the permission of the emperor’ is added] ; no person shall sell the relics of a martyr; no person shall traffic in them […] ‘.17 Not only the powers of the state were marshalled to preserve the body in peace; on occasions the saints themselves communicated their wish not to be disturbed. As early as 259, at Tarragona in Spain, bishop Fructuosus made a post mortem appearance to prevent the separation of his ashes and to secure proper burial;18 while, in their so-called ‘Testament’, the Forty Martyrs leave specific directions against any division of their remains. 19 Delehaye long ago observed a difference of practice here between East and West, and that Western Christendom (far less richly endowed with tombs of apostles and martyrs) was reluctant to sanction the disturbance of precious remains: the Roman Church in the time of Gregory the Great was still affirming that the saints’ bodies were inviolable (though promoting sacred objects which had had contact with the remains as substitute relics).20 Not long before the bishop of Jerusalem was enthusiastically transferring Stephen’s newly-discovered relics into the basilica on Mount Sion, Exsuperius, bishop of Toulouse in Aquitania, had reluctantly contemplated the removal of the body of the local martyr Saturninus to a new church – he needed to be reassured by a dream, and by imperial authorisation.21 But if Ambrose’s energetic excavations of martyrs’ remains are any guide, not all western bishops were so particular in respecting the peace of the dead.22

Some church authorities strove at least to contain the enthusiasm for relics pervading their congregations. As the shrines and miraculous accomplishments of Stephen proliferated in the African province, Augustine instituted the practice of publicly authenticating and documenting the martyr’s achievements, both to give the miracles currency and also to guard against fraudulent claims23 he warned against bogus monks going the rounds with relics for sale, alleged to be those of martyrs.24 Similarly a council at Carthage in 401 had urged congregations against shrines and relics which were not authentic but merely the result of ‘dreams and empty revelations.’25 The search for authenticity and the acknowledgement of the possibilities of fraud only emphasise the degree to which the movement of relics was now incorporated into the life of the Church; as does its emergence as a subject of ecclesiastical debate. Jerome’s defence of the cult of relics against Vigilantius’ attacks on the veneration of mere ‘scraps of dust’ is perhaps the classic contemporary statement:

“While the devil and the demons wander through the whole world and present themselves everywhere, are martyrs after the shedding of their blood to be kept out of sight shut up in a coffin from whence they cannot escape?”26

Relics of St. Ambrose of Milan
Relics of St. Ambrose of Milan

Later Theodoret was to parade before pagan critics the salutary deeds of martyrs achieved through their scattered remains.27 One theme is common to all such treatises and sermons – and fundamental to the thinking behind the spread of relics: that the saint is indivisible and omnipresent, and wherever the smallest portion of his remains is to be found he is there in his entirety. Thus Gaudentius on his fragments of the Forty Martyrs, ‘pars ipsa, quam meruimus, plenitude est,.28 With such an argument the Church came to terms with the increasing dismemberment of its treasured saints.

The influence of the pagan past

We may wonder, with Vigilantius, what was the attraction for pious individuals and congregations in the possession of these bones and ashes. In some respects it seems to represent only the thinnest Christian veneer veiling the traditional practices of pagan antiquity. When St Makrina, for example, like many others, kept by her precious fragment of the wood of the Cross, it functioned much as a pagan talisman – a good luck charm to keep misfortune at bay.29 Superstition knew no religious boundaries. Similarly, relics deposited in churches afforded potent collective protection for congregations, even (of course) whole communities. 30 Yet there was more to this than institutionalised superstition. The saints who were present in diverse places through the mobility of their remains turn out to be late Roman patroni par excellence; their intercessions would vanquish the influence of earthly potentes. The language of patronage pervades our accounts of the accomplishments of saints and martyrs through their relics: so Gervasius and Protasius in Milan would overwhelm the forces of the Arian court of Valentinian II;31 so, too, Stephen, in effecting the conversion of the Jews in Minorca, outclassed the worldly standing and aristocratic prestige of the Jewish leaders.32 The record, furthermore, of Stephen’s interventions at Uzalis in north Africa is that of the patronus communis of the Christian congregation, behaving as a leading local citizen protecting the interests of his clients in the community.33 Not for nothing is emphasis placed on the relics representing the physical praesentia of the saint in the earthly community – access to his influence and patronage demanded that he be present in their midst, and not confined in a distant (and unknown) grave.

Relic of St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church with original authentics dated 1766 signed by Domenico Giordani.
Relic of St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church with original authentics dated 1766 signed by Domenico Giordani.

The relics of the Holy Land

The experience of these late Roman congregations may be illuminated by reference to a specific group of relics which came to the fore in the fourth century those from the holy places of Palestine.34 St Makrina’s fragment was only one of the many pieces of the wood of the Cross scattered, according to bishop Cyril of Jerusalem, all over the Mediterranean world.35 The enthusiasm to possess a portion of the sacred wood is vividly glimpsed in the story, told to the pilgrim Egeria in Jerusalem, of the worshipper who had bitten off a piece as he knelt down to kiss the relic.36 As with the remains of apostles and martyrs, so the wood of the Cross came to adorn the foundation of new churches: a martyrium at Tixter in Mauretania, for instance (359), or Sulpicius Severus’ new basilica at Primuliacum in Gaul (c.400).37 A close second in popularity to the True Cross was the earth from the Holy Land on which Christ had walked – St Augustine knew of an ex-official in his diocese who had a lump of Holy Land earth hanging in his bedroom.38 The favoured quarry for such soil was the spot at the summit of the Mount of Olives said to have borne Christ’s last footprints on earth before the Ascension (the footprints, like the True Cross in Jerusalem, were miraculously preserved despite the depradations of the relic-hunters).39 Another increasingly popular Holy Land relic (or very nearly a relic) was a small flask of oil from the lamps which burned at the Holy Sepulchre – the same variety of memento was favoured by devotees at the shrines of saints.40

06_08_28_relic_monica 06_08_28_relic_Augustine

We are in a position to understand something of the kind of devotion which surrounded the acquisition of these Holy Land relics thanks to the record of the early pilgrims at the holy places in the years after Constantine.41 There is already a clue in the ampullae, the oil-flasks mentioned above: surviving examples are distinguished by the realistic representations of the shrines at the holy places as they appeared to contemporary pilgrims – they give us an idea of what the holy places actually looked like.42 Pilgrims, we are reminded, went to the Holy Land not just to be there, where Christ had been, but also to see the evidence of his presence on earth before their eyes.43 For Jerome, it was the ‘eyes of faith’ which revealed to the pilgrim Paula the whole biblical scene in all its detail at the sites she visited – the Bethlehem manger and the surrounding characters assembled (even the star shining above), the Cross with Christ hanging upon it, and so on.44

Throughout her travels in the Holy Land hers was an essentially visual experience, conjuring up to a vivid imagination the biblical past in the Palestine of the present. The pilgrims’ experience was not confined to the New Testament: others, like Egeria, saw (for example) in the Sinai desert the very bush from which the Lord had spoken to Moses out of the fire, or saw in the sand on the shores of the Red Sea the tracks of the Egyptians’ chariot wheels disappearing into the waters.45 The imagination came to be aided not only by the constant reading of the appropriate biblical passages in situ but also, in Jerusalem, by the development of a distinctive church liturgy designed to re-enact, in strongly visual terms, the events of Christ’s life at the places where they had occurred.46 Egeria’s description of the round of worship in Jerusalem captures the immediacy and visual realism of experiences such as accompanying the bishop from the Mount of Olives into the city on Palm Sunday – a direct echo of Christ’s own entry into Jerusalem – or hearing the Passion narratives read at Golgotha on Good Friday: ‘you could hardly believe how every single one of them weeps during the three hours, old and young alike, because of the manner in which the Lord suffered for us.’47

The characteristic pilgrims’ response at the holy sites was thus, with the ‘eyes of faith’, to recreate the biblical past as a present reality; and to come away from the Holy Land with relics from the holy places, wood of the Cross, a portion of earth, was to enable that present reality to be recreated wherever the relics might come to rest. The experience of pilgrims in the Holy Land might thus become the experience of congregations far and wide, and of those who had never been anywhere near the holy places. The point is discussed by Paulinus of Nola in a letter he wrote to Sulpicius Severus to accompany a fragment of the Cross which he was sending for the dedication of Sulpicius’ new church at Primuliacum.48 All that Severus will see with the naked eye is a few scraps of wood: but his ‘interior eyesight’ will be stimulated to behold the whole series of biblical events surrounding the Crucifixion and their implications for belief – he will see ‘the whole force of the Cross in this tiny fragment’. Paulinus is sending the relic, he urges, so that Severus may possess the physical reality of the faith which he has long adhered to in the spirit. There seems little reason to doubt that Severus’ ‘interior eyesight’ here and the pilgrims’ ‘eyes of faith’ are one and the same; and that, through the medium of the relic of the Cross, the immediacy and vividness of the pilgrims’ experience is being reproduced far away from the Holy Land. The Cross and its implications are to be as present to the community in Aquitania as they are on Golgotha.


The part and the whole

Against this background the ubiquitous presence of the saint or martyr through the distribution of his remains becomes, I believe, less of an abstraction. Picture the scenes described by Jerome, as the remains of the prophet Samuel were transported from Palestine to the court of Arcadius at Constantinople: as the relics made their journey the route was lined by the faithful, linking the Holy Land to the Hellespont (so he asserts) in a unison chorus of acclamation; they were welcoming, not a casket of dust and ashes, but the prophet himself as though he were still among them ‘quasi praesentem viventemque’.49 The fragmentary relics were the visible testimony of the prophet’s continued presence. The same kind of language will be found characterising the devotion to martyrs and their relics. Asterios of Amaseia pictured the tomb of the martyr Phokas as evoking a vision of the saint’s life and martyrdom – and he has an explicit parallel with pilgrims at the Holy Land site of Mamre visualising the biblical history of Abraham and the patriarchs which the shrine commemorated so Gregory of Nyssa portrays the faithful approaching a casket of relics of the martyr Theodore:

“Those who behold them embrace them as though the actual living body, applying all their senses, eyes, mouth and ears; then they pour forth tears for his piety and suffering, and bring forward their supplications to the martyr as though he were present and complete” […J. 51


Victricius bishop of Rouen, an enthusiastic collector of relics, justifies the practice in similar terms: the physical remains, the ‘blood and gore’ (‘cruor et limus’) are what the eye sees; yet through this visual experience the ‘eyes of the heart’ (another variant of the ‘eyes of faith’) are opened to apprehend the presence of the saint himself – ‘where there is any part, there is the whole’.52 Victricius’ relics of saints have the same capability as Sulpicius Severus’ fragments of the Cross: to engender the effective presence of the saint in the Christian community which possessed his relics.

France's Amiens Cathedral contains a preserved skull (facial bone sans lower jaw) which is supposedly St. John the Baptist.
France’s Amiens Cathedral contains a preserved skull (facial bone sans lower jaw) which is supposedly St. John the Baptist.

The traffic in relics, then, may be seen to have originated from a species of devotion which hankered after physical objects and remains which could be seen to embody, for individual and community, the saint and his powers. That there were many whose piety had this concrete, visual propensity may be established from the evidence of pilgrims’ reactions to the holy places, and the evident reality, for them, of the biblical past which they commemorated. For the Church at large, the age of the martyrs was past; but that did not mean that their presence could not be revived (on a much more widespread scale than their previous earthly existence (through the circulation of their remains. It may be supposed that St Stephen was as real a presence to the Christian community in Minorca or to the congregations in north Africa as were the living holy men of Syria or Egypt – and his impact on local life comparable to theirs.

The purported head of Saint John the Baptist, enshrined in its own Roman side chapel in the San Silvestro in Capite, Rome
The purported head of Saint John the Baptist, enshrined in its own Roman side chapel in the San Silvestro in Capite, Rome


  1. For a recent summary of the political background, see J .N.D. Kelly, Jerome: his life, writings and controversies (London 1975), 317ff.
  2. The text of the Epistultz Luciani (Avitus’ Latin translation of the presbyter’s account) is to be found in PL 807ff.
  3. Basil Seleuc. 42 (PC 85. 469).
  4. Chronographia, s.a. 420 (ed. de Boor, 86-7): a fragment of Stephen’s right hand in return for Theodosius’ gift of a gilded cross for Golgotha.
  5. For Orosius as the bearer of the relics, see Aviti, PL 41. 805-8.
  6. For the arrival of the relicli in Africa, see Augustine, 317-8 (PL 38. 1435ff.), and the record of miraculous cures in Civ. Dei xxii.8. For incidents at Uzalis, De Miraculis S. Stephani (PL 41. 833ff.).
  7. The events are described in the Letter of Severns, bishop of Minorca, PL 82Iff.
  8. The classic study remains H. Delehaye, Les origines du culte des martyrs (SubsHag 20 (1933]), ‘Developpements du culte des martyrs’.
  9. g. Philostorgius, HE iii.2 (Andrew, Luke, Timothy); cf. Jerome, Chron. (ed. Helm) s.a. 356, with G. Dagron, NaiSSllnce d’une capitale (Paris 1974), 409.
  10. See E.D. Hunt, ‘St Silvia of Aquitaine’,JTS 23 (972),370-1.
  11. Gaudentius, xvii. 14ff. (ed. Glueck, CSEL 68).
  12. Not. Ep. 31.1. On Brescia, see iTS 23 (1972), 362ff. and P. Devos, ‘Silvie la sainte pelerine II’, AnalBolln (1974), 321ff.
  13. Trident. Ep. 2 (PL 13. 552ft).
  14. Callinicus, Vita Hypatii, 66 (ed. Bartelink [SC 177),98); on Rufinus, see John Matthews, Western Aristocracies and Imperial Court (Oxford 1975), 134ff.
  15. The story of the Forty Martyrs (its first appearance in the West) is the theme ofGaudentius, xvii (loc.cit); cf. Basil Caesar. at PC 31.521, and Greg.Nys. at PC 46. 784.
  16. CTh 17, passim; e.g. ix.17.4 (356): ‘nothing has been derogated from that punishment which is known to have been imposed on violators of tombs’.
  17. CTh 17.7, with Cl iii.44.14.
  18. Martyrium Fructuosi, 3 (H. Musurillo, The acts of the Christian Martyrs [Oxford 1972], 182).
  19. Testament of the Forty Martyrs, 3 (Musurillo, 354).
  20. Delehaye, Les origines,
  21. , 67 (citing the Acta Saturnini)
  22. In addition to Sts Gervasius and Protasius, Ambrose brought to light Sts Vitalis and Agricola, and Sts Nazarius and Celsus; cf. F. Homes Dudden, The Life and Times of St Ambrose (Oxford 1935), 316ff., and Delehaye, Les origines, 75-80.
  23. Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo (London 1967), 414-5, based on fundamental studies by Delehaye. For the text of a libellus documenting authentic cures, see August. Serm. 322 (PL 38. 1443).
  24. De opere monachorum, 36.
  25. Carthag. 13 Sept 401 (CChr 149, 204)
  26. Contra Vigil. 6; on the treatise in general, Kelly, Jerome, 286ff.
  27. Theodoret, Cure of Pagan Ills, lO-ll (ed. P. Canivet [SC 57]): ‘no one grave conceals the bodies of each of them, but they are shared out among towns and villages, which call them saviours of souls and bodies, and doctors, and honour them as founders and protectors [… )’.
  28. Tract. xvii.35-6; cf. Theodoret, loc.cit., with Chromat. Aquilei. (ed. J. Lemarie, SC 164) Sermon 26.1 Paul.Nol. Corm. 27.440ff., Victricius, below, 179.
  29. Nys. Vita Macrinae, 30 (P. Maraval [SC 178], 240ff, with notes). Cf. Jerome, Comm. in Matt. iv, 23.5 (CChr 77.212), on the phylactenes carried by ‘superstitiosae mulierculae’.
  30. As at Primuliacum: Paul.Nol. 31.1
  31. g. Ambr. Ep. 22.10
  32. At Severi 4 (PL 41. 823).
  33. De miraculis Stephani, iLl (PL 41. 843); cf. P. Brown, Augustine ofHippo, 413.
  34. For a catalogue of Holy Land relics, see B. Bagatti, ‘Eulogie Palestinesi’ OCP 15 (1949), 126-66.
  35. Cyril, Catecheses, 10, x.19, xiiiA. For testimonia of the fragments of the Cross, see A. Frolow, La relique de la vraie croix (Paris 1961), 155ff.
  36. Eg. 37.2.
  37. Tixter: MEFR 10 (1890),440-68 (=CIL viii, suppl.iii, 20600]; cf. similar dedication at Rusguniae, CIL viii, 9255 (with J.F. Matthews, CR 88 (1974],104). Primuliacum: Paul. Ep.31.1.
  38. Civ. Dei, xxii.8 (CChr 48. 820); cr. the Donatists who venerated earth from the Holy Land, id. Ep. 52.2.
  39. Sev. Chron. ii.33.8; cf. Paul.Nol. Ep. 31.6 (on the Cross)
  40. On these flasks, cr. Anton. Placent. 20 (CChr 175. 139). Martyr-shrines: Joh.Chrys. Hom. in Martyres, PC 50. 665: ‘Lobe efaion hagion (…J’.
  41. For the texts, see ltineraria et alia geographica (CChr 175 (1965]), and translations by J.D. Wilkinson, Egeria’s Travels (London 1971) and Jerusalem Pilgrims Before the Crusades (Warminster 1978).
  42. See A. Grabar, Ampoules de Te”e Sainte (paris 1958). For their use in reconstructing the original building at the Sepulchre, cf. Wilkinson, Egeria’s Travels, , and ‘The Tomb of Christ’, Levant 4 (1972), 83-97.
  43. Nol. Ep. 49.14
  44. Jerome, 108.9ff; cf. Kelly, Jerome, U8ff., on Paula’s ’emotional transports’. For Jerome’s more succinct version of his own experience, see Apol.c.Ruf iii.22
  45. Burning Bush: Eg. 4.6ff., Chariot tracks: Pet. Diac. (deriving from Egeria) Y5 (CChr 175. 100-1); Orosius, Hist. i.10.17, knew they were still visible.
  46. The liturgy is described by Egeria, Eg, 24ff.; cf. Wilkinson, Egeria’s Travels, 54ff. The best modern study is A. Renoux’s introduction to his edition of the Armenian Lectionary, PO 35 (1969). For Bible-reading, cr. It.Eg. 4.3 (10.7.
  47. Palm Sunday: Eg. 31 (ND 31.3) Good Friday: ibid. 37.7.
  48. Nol. Ep. 31.lff.; the fragment had been brought from Jerusalem by Paulinus’ kinswoman, Melania the elder.
  49. Vigilant. 5. For Samuel’s arrival in Constantinople, cf. Chron. Pasch. s.a. 406 (ed. Dindorf,569).
  50. ix, PG 40. 301-4: the worshippers become ‘spectators’ of the biblical record.
  51. in S. Theod. PG 46. 740B.
  52. De Laude Sanctorum, 10.
Relic of the skull of Saint John the Baptist in Munich.
Relic of the skull of Saint John the Baptist in Munich.

St. George & the Dragon: Dialogue with an Orthodox Priest (Harry H. McCall, 2012)

NOTE: Most modern orthodox commentators have rationalized the icon of St. George slaying the dragon as “purely symbolic art” with varying interpretations of the symbolism. Protestant fundamentalist, and some Orthodox Christians who have bought into the creationist science theories, take the icon as one more proof of man’s co-existence with dinosaurs even after the Flood.

However Orthodox Christians want to interpret their St. George icon the fact remains that the greatest “God-inspired luminaries of the Church” not only believed in the allegorical dragon–Satan–but they also believed in the existence of real dragons (as well as unicorns and other mythological creatures mentioned in the Bible). St. John Damascene, St. Athanasios the Great, St. John Chrysostom, St. Ephraim the Syrian, etc. are just a few of the Church Fathers who have written about the “real existence” of imaginary creatures. Orthodox Saints have been slaying dragons since the beginning of Christianity (see the Life of Apostle Thomas and Apostle Philip)

Some other pre-Schism Orthodox Saints who have battled or slain dragons: St. Adelphus, Bishop of Metz; St. Areml; St. Beatus; St. Bertrand; St. Cain; St. Clemens; St. Donatus; St. Hilarion; St. Lupus, Bishop of Sens; St. Magnus, the Apostle of the Allagu (south Germany); St. Mangold; St. Marina(Margaret) of Antioch; St. Narcissus of Gerona; St. Nikolaus; St. Philip the Apostle; St. Procopius; St. Romain; St. Servan; St. Sylvester I, Pope of Rome; St. Theodore Tyron; St. Thomas the Apostle; St. Urgin (This is, of course, not a complete list)!

The Patristic consensus of the Orthodox Church is dragons did/do exist in reality; i.e. the saints and teachers of the church saw flesh and blood dragons with their own eyes and then wrote about these experiences. They also used dragons as spiritual metaphors and allegories for the devil and his demons.

The following article is one South Carolina man’s quest at the meaning behind the icon of St. George and the Dragon:

Iconostasis of Chapel in lower level of Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral Greenville, SC
Iconostasis of Chapel in lower level of Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral
Greenville, SC

Christian “truth” is fabricated and propagated by Christian tradition and one of my favorites deals with my experience at Saint George Greek Orthodox Church here in Greenville, S.C.

While attending its annual spring Greek festival, I noticed the church was open so visitors could venture inside to get an introduction to the Greek Orthodox tradition and its icons, so I decided to check it out. As I entered, I was given a brief printed history which included the claim that the Greek Orthodox Church was the ONLY TRUE Christian Church established by Jesus Christ himself. (Wow, and I thought it was the Mormons!)
On the wall in front of the church is a large iconic mural of a knight on a white horse who had just slain a dragon. The guide told visitors that the icon depicted Saint George as a righteous knight who killed a dragon (a creature pictured with bat like wings and a snake like neck and head) who had terrorized a village for a number of years. The guide told us, by killing the evil dragon, George became a Saint: Thus the name of Greenville’s Saint George Greek Orthodox Church.

Icon of St. George slaying the dragon at St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. (Florence, AZ)
Icon of St. George slaying the dragon at St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. (Florence, AZ)

After considering the logical reality behind this dogma, I decided to call Saint George Greek Orthodox Church and ask if they really thought dragons existed.

The church’s secretary (who was herself a Methodist) told me she would have to refere this question to the priest (Father Tom) who was out of town, but she would have him call me.

One morning (several weeks later) the phone rang and a man identified himself as Father Tom from St. George’s Church (who seemed to have been given the impression that I was a potential member).

After a few formalities, the conversation focused on St. George killing the dragon and went as follows:

Harry: Could you tell me about Saint George Killing the dragon.

To which Father Tom basically recounted what the church guide stated about the miracle of St. George killing the dragon that had terrorized a village.

Harry: So there was a real flying dragon that terrorized some ancient village?

Father Tom: Well, the dragon which St. George killed was, in reality Satan, and by killing Satan; George freed the village from the dragon’s destruction.

Harry: What you’re telling me then is that Satan is now dead?

Father Tom: No! Satan is not dead! St. George killed the dragon just as the icon depicts.

Harry: (Thinking I must have missed something) . . . But was there a real dragon that flew and terrorized an ancient village?

Father Tom: (Now getting angry) Who are you? You’re not a Greek Orthodox are you?

Harry: No (I decided it was not a good idea to tell him I was an Atheist).

Father Tom: I’ll tell you one thing! You and the rest of you so-called Christians will stand before Christ at the judgment and there you WILL give an account to him as to just why you are not Greek Orthodox (with that final comment, he hung-up)!

Frankly, I knew no more about the matter of St. George and the flying dragon than before he called.

(What I had done was to not only questioned religious dogma, but by pressing Father Tom on the dragon, I was then given the wrath of God and Hell as a future judgment for my soul (par for the course in Christianity)!



I work with a former Southern Baptist (I’ll call him Jim) who joined St. John of the Ladder Orthodox Church which also venerates St. George. I told Jim about my experience with Father Tom and I asked him how he dealt with questions regarding St. George and the dragon? Jim told me he hadn’t really thought about it.

A week later, I got an email from headquarters telling me Jim had filed a formal complaint with them in that I was harassing him over his religious beliefs and it would be in my best interest not to bring the matter up again with him!

When pressed on the reality of St. George and the dragon, Lvka (herself an Orthodox and a regular DC commenter) linked me to this sign:

chruch sign


Novgorod, 1400-1500
Novgorod, 1400-1500


From the church’s website:

If you’ve been looking for a Church that is, Orthodox in morals, Orthodox in doctrine, Orthodox in worship, you’ve probably been looking for the Orthodox Church. Please know that Fr. Tom and Deacon Charles are always ready to sit down with you and talk about Orthodox Christianity. Many before you have walked the path and asked the questions that you have. Our faith is personal. One can learn a little by reading, but the Christian faith is a living faith, and is properly transmitted from person to person. People who are interested in the Orthodox Church are encouraged to come to the Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral, attend actual services, meet flesh-and-blood Orthodox Christians, and talk with Fr. Tom and Deacon Charles. We have regular classes about the Orthodox faith where you can also learn more about Orthdoxoy. Contact the office for information.

Well, if you love morals that include myths with lies to cover them up, I’m sure you’ll love the Orthodox doctrine and worship!

Nice detective work on Wike, but the website of the Orthodox Church does not use Wiki.

Their own description of not only the dragon, but Saint George did 8 more miracles:

Here is a quick rundown of George’s life and it is good thing that the Holy Church Fathers weren’t like Pinocchio. If they had been cursed with Pinocchio’s punishment for lying, most all the Orthodox Holy Church Fathers could pole-vault over their cathedrals with their noses!

Saints Barbara, George, & Theodore
Saints Barbara, George, & Theodore

Now the life of St. Geroge as taught by the Orthodox Church (buckle your mental seat belts and kick your brain in neutral):

A. The Emperor ordered this George taken to prison and that a boulder be placed on his chest as a form of torture. The next morning Diocletian ordered that the prisoner be brought before him for questioning. George stood steadfast and told Diocletian of his belief in the riches of the Kingdom of Heaven.

B. The Emperor then summoned the executioners to take the George and have him bound to the rim of a wheel set with sharp spikes.// When the Saint appeared before Diocletian not only was he unharmed, but an angelic aura had settled about him. Suddenly, two officers of the Roman army, Anatolios and Protoleon, appeared before Diocletian with two thousand soldiers. They admitted their belief in Christ and Diocletian had them all executed.

C. He then ordered his soldiers to dig a pit and fill it with lime. The George was then drenched with water and thrown into the pit. The water and lime would slowly destroy the Saint’s body. After three days, Diocletian instructed the soldiers to clear the pit. To the surprise of the soldiers and the Emperor, Saint George sat at the bottom of the pit unharmed.

D. The Emperor then ordered that iron sandals be tied to the feet of the George and that he be made to run. As he ran, he was beaten. As he ran, he was beaten. One of Diocletian’s advisors, Magnentios, ordered George to perform a miracle. They happened to pass by a tomb of a man who had been dead for many years. // Diocletian asked the resurrected man who he was and when he had died. He told Diocletian that he had lived before Christ had come on the Earth, and because he was an idolater, he had burned in the fires of Hell during all those years. Many idolaters were converted to Christianity because of this great miracle.

E. The next day, Diocletian met with his noblemen to determine Saint George’s fate. They decided to beat the George mercilessly. The Saint nevertheless remained unharmed and retained his angelic appearance.

F. Diocletian was convinced that all of George’s miracles were done by magic. He, therefore, called upon Athanasius the Magician to break this magic. Athanasius held two vials in his hands. If the George drank the first one, he would go insane, if he drank the second one he would die. The George took the first vial and prayed. He drank its contents and there was no effect.

G. Once again George appeared before Diocletian who ordered that Saint George accompany him to the temple and sacrifice to the gods. When they arrived at the temple, Saint George made the sign of the cross and the idols were again destroyed. The people and the priests were furious and demanded that Diocletian have the Saint executed. Saint George was taken out of the city and as he turned his head toward the executioner, he was beheaded.

St. Theodore Tyron
St. Theodore Tyron

Then we come to the ONLY miracle (lie) St. George is really known for:

In the history of our Church, we find a myth related to a dragon and Saint George. This dragon threatened the idolaters in the area of Atalia. The people were forced to live inside the walls of their city. This prevented them from tending their fields and grazing their sheep. Every year, they would sacrifice a young girl to the dragon. When Saint George arrived in this area, the King’s daughter was about to be sacrificed. After subduing the dragon, Saint George placed a rope around its neck. He then gave the rope to the princess so that she could lead the beast back to the city. Thence, he slaughtered the terror and subsequently baptized thousands of the city’s inhabitants.

Pope Saint Sylvester overcomes the dragon of the Tarpeian Rock
Pope Saint Sylvester overcomes the dragon of the Tarpeian Rock

The problem allegory!  So why use language and terms that would never escape perjury in a court of law?

Thus, I could claim I have a million dollars in the bank, but I’m not talking about a real million dollars so let’s say my heart has a million dollars of love in it.  That’s great a nice harmless allegory, but try getting a car loan with that “fact”!

So here’s my view of St. George and the Dragon:  It was at one time a great belief in antiquity when most people were illiterate (by one estimate, only about 5% could read and write (China still has beliefs in dragons)), but as modern times arrived neither did George kill a real dragon nor does the Catholic Church hunt down and burnwitches anymore.   However, to totally deny the myth of the dragon tell would mean that George would no longer be a “saint”; something Orthodox tradition could not deal with!

So to keep any credibility for this myth of dragons to survive in the modern world, allegory has softened the harsh reality of a myth better known as a lie in a court of law. 

Great red dragon with seven heads from a scene illustrating chapter 12 of the book of Revelation of St. John. Late 18th c.

Prophecies of the Holy Fathers about Monasticism in the End Times

NOTE: In both the verbal and fax homilies that Geronda Ephraim gives to his monastics, he emphasizes “we are the monks of the last days; the holy fathers prophesied about our generation.” He uses this as a kind of encouragement for his monastics not to fall in despair for being weak and not gaining great spiritual heights as “this generation will not accomplish any great feats like the fathers of old.” It is also used to justify the secularization, worldiness, and lack of ascesis in contemporary Greek-American monasticism, to encourage the younger monastics not to have logismoi or be scandalized with the contrast between what is written in the monastic texts and what is actually practised and lived in the monasteries. These prophecies are also used as “leverage” as to why only blind obedience to Geronda Ephraim, the Prayer, and patient endurance are necessary.

Geronda Ephraim teaches his monastics that they are the last generation of monks whom the Desert Fathers prophesied about.
Geronda Ephraim teaches his monastics that they are the last generation of monks whom the Desert Fathers prophesied about.

The prophecies of Abba Moses the Ethiopian, do not appear in any of the Patristic writings of the time, nor his Synaxarion. Much like the “Constantinople Prophecy” of St. Methodius (believed to be the work of a 7th century Syrian Monophysite), none of the Church Fathers mention or quote these prophecies. They only appear in 20th century books about end-time prophecies.

(See Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition)

The 20th century became a hotbed for the dissemination of spurious prophecies attributed to various saints. Many of these spurious prophecies were accepted as legitimate and incorporated into the eschatology of various contemporary Elders, especially on Mount Athos. Moreover, antiquated and heretical “prophetic” and “visionary” texts that were never accepted by the Church—The Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius; The Apocalypse of St. Andrew the Fool-for-Christ, etc.—contained so many Scriptural errors, heresies, and mythological traditions that only the passages that fit into the specific eschatological teaching of Constantinople’s liberation were extracted and the remainder of the texts ignored. Many contemporary books omit all the heresies and false histories and only publish the verses that are “prophetic”. They still print the verses that say all these things would occur in the 6th or 7th Millenium but these dates have already past. Over the years, various monasteries under Geronda Ephraim have sold (and still sell) books containing some of these spurious prophecies. Elder Ephraim has also given numerous homilies to his monastics and pilgrims quoting these spurious prophecies and affirming that everything will happen “just as the Holy Fathers say it will.” These spurious prophecies are taught as the “consensus of the Fathers.”

Interestingly, many of these prophecies accurately describe certain aspects of the life and atmosphere in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries. desert_fathers

Abba Ischyron

The Holy Fathers were making predictions about the last generation. They said, “What have we ourselves done?”

One of them, the great Abba Ischyron, replied, “We ourselves have fulfilled the commandments of God.”

The others replied, “And those who come after us, what will they do?”

He said, “They will struggle to achieve half our works.”

They said, “And to those who come after them, what will happen?”

He said, “The men of that generation will not accomplish any works at all and temptation will come upon them, and those who will be approved in that day will be greater than either us or our Fathers.”

An Anonymous Elder

“It is better to dwell together with three God-fearing people rather than dwell together with thousands who don’t have the fear of God. I tell you this because when the end of the world approaches, if, for example, there is a monastery with 100 monks, then it is questionable whether two or three monks from among them will be found who will save their souls. Again, even though the monks are 50, there will not be found even one amongst them who will save his soul.”

“All will throw themselves into food and their heart will love the dining tables, the belly, and money.”

“Nevertheless, do not be amazed so much on account of this, it is more amazing to see whether one soul will escape from the mouth of the enemy.”

Abba Pambo (d. 374)
Abba Pambo (d. 374)

Abba Pambo

“And I will tell you this, my child that the days will come when the Christians will add to and will take away from, and will alter the books of the Holy Evangelists, and of the Holy Apostles, and of the Divine Prophets, and of the Holy Fathers. They’ll tone down the Scriptures and will compose troparia, hymns and writings technologically.”

“Their nous will be spilled out among them, and will become alienated from its Heavenly Prototype. For this reason, the Holy Fathers had previously encouraged the monks of the desert to write down the lives of the Fathers not on parchment, but onto paper, because of the coming generation will change them to suit their own personal tastes. So you see, my child, the evil that comes will be horrible.”

Then the disciple asked: “So, then, Geronda, the traditions and the practices of Christians are going to be changed? Maybe there won’t be enough priests in the Church when these unfortunate times come?”

And the Holy Father continued: “In those times, the love for God in most souls will grow cold and a great sadness will fall upon the world. One nation shall face off against another. Peoples will move away from their own places. Rulers will be confused. The clergy will be thrown into anarchy, and the monks will be more inclined to negligence. The Church leaders will consider anything concerned with salvation—both for their own souls and the souls of their flock—as useless and they will despise any such concern. All will show eagerness and energy for every matter regarding their dining table and their appetites. They’ll be lazy in their prayers and casual in their criticisms. As for the lives and teachings of the Holy Fathers, they will not have any interest to imitate them, nor even to hear them. Rather, they will complain and say, ‘If we had lived in those times then we would have behaved like that.’ And the Bishops shall give way to the powerful of the world, giving answers on different matters only after taking gifts from everywhere and consulting the rational logic of the academics. The poor man’s rights will not be defended; they’ll afflict widows and harass orphans. Debauchery will permeate these people. Most won’t believe in God; they’ll hate each other and devour one another like beasts. They’ll steal from each other; they’ll be drunk and walk about blind.”

The disciple asked again: “What can we do in such a state?”

And Abba Pambo answered: “My child, in those times, whoever will save his soul and prompt others to be saved will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

St. John the Dwarf (d. ca. 405)
St. John the Dwarf (d. ca. 405)

Abba John

Abba John used to say, that he saw in a vision one of the old men in a state of stupefaction, and behold, three monks were standing on the shore of a lake, and a voice came to them from heaven (or from the other shore of the lake), which said, “Take ye wings of fire and come to me”; and two of them took wings of fire and flew over to the other side, even as it was told them. Now the third remained behind, and he wept abundantly, and cried out, and at length wings were given to him also, but they were not of fire like those of his companions, for they were weak and feeble wings, and it was only with the greatest difficulty, and after dropping down into the water, and with most painful exertions that he reached the [opposite] shore. And even so is it with this generation, for although it taketh to itself wings, they are not the powerful wings of fire, but it forceth itself to take weak and feeble wings.

St. Moses the Ethiopian (d. ca 405)
St. Moses the Ethiopian (d. ca 405)

Abba Moses the Ethiopian

Abba Moses, prophesying said, “In the last days of the seventh and a half eon, the monastic state will be completely neglected and in the future, the monks will despise the salvation of their souls. Therefore, the brothers will go about amidst the tumults and troubles: darkened, useless and careless, and they will not cultivate the virtues at all; enslaved in the passions of sin. For where the ancient strugglers burned Satan, that is where Satan is going to burn and set aflame those monks and he will defeat those negligent monks who despise the laws of the monastic life. But where righteousness abounded, there is to abound much more sin and iniquity, because the love of the many will grow cold, and without fear they will be going around the villages with gluttony and wine-drinking, and between the vanity of the world, sinning together in licentiousness and the impurities of the flesh.

“And in those days there will be hate, envy, contentious strivings, and fights in the coenobiums, until murder; likewise, even in the idiorhythmic lavras, from the evils of one towards the other one’s neighbors, on account of the canons and spiritual struggles being neglected.”

[NOTE: The fistfight at St. Anthony’s Monastery between two novices from Toronto—the brothers Eleutheris and Demetrios—is still talked about today. As well, the Athonite Fathers who are here in the States still talk about the monk at Filotheou who chased another monk with a knife throughout the monastery ready to murder him].

“They will elect abbots and shepherds: men without virtues, unbelievers, making no progress, anomelies, and uncouth—not discerning the right path from the left, careless and worrying about many things.”

“The abbots will seize their primacy with gifts and will take upon the abbacy without knowing how to catechize and admonish the flock of the brotherhood and without realizing that they should be the type and example in order to benefit their flock. But from such negligence and despisement of the shepherds, they will lead themselves into perdition.”

After these things, the salve of God Moses saw that a cloud and tempest—gloomy, dark, and more fearful temptations—fell upon the monks from the arctic and the monks were persecuted. And because of destructive heresies they will be forced to cast away the monastic schema and get married. Then the few strugglers who were tried as gold and silver in the furnace of many great afflictions, persecutions and grief—those who show themselves tried and victorious over these great afflictions and temptations—will be magnified, glorified, and honored by God more than those who endured the burden of the day and the burning heat and the cold of the night.

After these things, the slave of God Moses saw that the winter of afflictions, temptations and grief of the terrible heresies passed by and there was peace and calm.

Again, however, after the passing of some number of years, the Angelic Order of Monks will become negligent and worse than the first—temptations will rise up again and they will be more violent. He saw how the monks mingled dishonorably with the nuns and that the evil desire was mixed up together with the tyranny, so that even those who didn’t want to were corrupted. But the priests will be polluted with fornications and their prebyteras will commit adultery. Likewise, those men with whom the presbyteras committed adultery will go with other married women.

Then it will be done: The wrath of God consuming every evil generation there with fire, and they will be driven away into eternal fire.

Blessed, then, is whoever does not submit and bow down in the lawless work of debaucheries—which are more violent and heavier sins than murder—but they shall resist and reproach the lawlessness as John the Forerunner and they will be triumphant in reproaching the incest and they will be murdered by the vile, unclean, and licentious people of those times. They will be given comfort and rest in the bosoms of the glorious Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and they will dwell in the Kingdom of Heaven, adorned and gladdened along with all the Saints; whose share and portion may we also acquire through the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


Abba Silvanus

As Abba Silvanus was sitting with brethren, one day he was rapt in ecstasy and fell with his face t the ground. After a long time, he got up and wept. The brethren besought him, saying, “What is it, Father?”

But he remained silent and wept. When they insisted on his speaking, he said, “I was taken up to see the Judgement, and I saw there many of our sort (i.e. monastics) coming to punishment and many seculars going into the Kingdom.”


St. Nephon

NOTE: The Life of St. Nephon is one of Geronda Ephraim’s favorite books. He gave his spiritual child, Archimandrite Ignatios Apostolopoulos—who now resides at St. Anthony’s Monastery—an obedience to translate it into English.  It was published in 1989 under the title, Stories, Sermons, and Prayers of St. Nephon: An Ascetic Bishop. Fr. Demetrios Carellas, another spiritual child of Geronda Ephraim, wrote the introduction. Geronda Ephraim’s teachings are greatly influenced by this book and he paraphrases St. Nephon’s prophecies and visions in many of his homilies. Geronda Ephraim presents this particular prophecy as being fulfilled right now; i.e. this is the last generation of monks and the end of the world is just around the corner.

“The prophets of the Lord God will not disappear till the end of the world, just as the workers of Satan will never be absent. In the last days, however, all that work truly for Christ will hide from the people wisely. And if they don’t perform signs and wonders like today, nevertheless, they will always walk on the narrow path in all humility. In the Kingdom of God, they will be greater than the wonderworkers, because in their time there will not be anyone performing miracles, to incite them to spiritual struggles, since those who will occupy priestly offices throughout the world will be completely unsuitable and will have no trace of virtue. But the leaders of the monks will also be the same. They will have surrendered to gluttony and vainglory. Consequently, they will constitute more of a stumbling block than a model. That’s why virtue will be neglected. Avarice will reign everywhere. But woe to the monk who will prosper with gold, because they will be disgraced in the eyes of the Lord and will not see the face of God.

Monastics and laymen will lend money with interest. They will not prefer that God multiply it for them through alms to the poor. For this reason, also, if they do not withdraw from this greed, they will sink to the abyss. Then, as I said before, the majority will be misled by ignorance into the chaos of the broad and wide road of perdition.”

Fr. Seraphim (Sam) Lawson

Persistent Frontal Suture Once Again Misrepresented as an “Orthodox Miracle” and “Testimony of Holiness” (Geronda Evdokimos of St. Savvas Lavra)

On the website Apanta Orthodoxias, there is an article displaying the picture of a monk’s skull with persistent frontal suture. This article states that this “sign of the cross” is a miracle and testifies to the holiness of this monk. This is similar to the misinformation “miracle” stories taught to pilgrims at Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries—i.e., that persistent frontal suture is a miracle exclusive to orthodoxy and occurs only to priests (or, depending on who is telling the story, only priest-monks or only priest-monks on Mount Athos). As stated in a previous article, Persistent Frontal Suture is found all over the world. Many times the skulls belonged to people who were non-Orthodox and even non-Christian.

See:  Persistent Frontal Suture: A miracle exclusive to Orthodox Clergymen?

Furthermore, many female adult skulls also have Persistent Frontal Suture (thus ruling out the “only Orthodox Priest” theory). It is not an “Orthodox miracle,” nor does it represent “sanctity.” Though uncommon, it does occur throughout the world in both female and male non-orthodox populations. Just because a monk states Persistent Frontal Suture is an orthodox miracle doesn’t validate it as a miracle; it is inaccurate and misleading:

Skull of an orthodox martyr with Persistent Frontal Suture.
Skull of an orthodox martyr with Persistent Frontal Suture.

The website states:

“Fr. Ignatios look at the cross that has been created on top of the holy skull of the righteous monk! This cross declares the holiness of the martyr!!!”

Skull of an orthodox martyr with Persistent Frontal Suture.
Skull of an orthodox martyr with Persistent Frontal Suture.
Non-Orthodox  Brazil Complete metopic suture (arrow)
Non-Orthodox Brazilian Skull Complete metopic suture (arrow)

In our Exarchate in Cyprus, we left the holy skull of an anonymous saint, from the “Martyrdom of the 44 Holy Sabaite fathers, monk-martyrs of the Great Lavra of St. Sabbas the Sanctified, massacred by the Saracens (Blemmyes) (610 or 614). The blessed Patraiarch of Jerusalem, Theophilus gave the order for the holy skull to remain there forever. He gave the command to Fr. Evdokimos, the spiritual father of the Holy Monastery. While we were already in Cyprus in the Exarchate, we celebrated a holy vigil in memory of the Holy Martyrs on May 16th. It was so peaceful and compunctionate.

Skull of an orthodox martyr with Persistent Frontal Suture.
Skull of an orthodox martyr with Persistent Frontal Suture.
Non-Orthodox South Indian Skulls with Persistent Frontal Suture
Non-Orthodox South Indian Skulls with Persistent Frontal Suture

Fr. Evdokimos had left with His Beatitude for the Holy Land, and before leaving he told me, “Fr. Ignatios look at the cross that has been created on top of the holy skull of the righteous monk! This cross declares the holiness of the martyr!!!”

Patriarch Theodosios & Geronda Evdokios (wearing cross).
Patriarch Theodosios & Geronda Evdokios (wearing cross).

According to Geronda Evdokimos’ statement, these skulls of non-Orthodox men and women with Persistent Frontal Suture from India, Thailand and Brazil can be assumed to declare their holiness and sanctity. Based upon Geronda Evdokimos’ teaching, these skulls of non-orthodox men and women are “holy relics.”

Persistent Frontal Suture in Northeastern Thai Adult
Persistent Frontal Suture in Northeastern Thai Adult

As explained in a previous article, frontal suture is a dense connective tissue structure that divides the two halves of the frontal bone of the skull in infants and children. It usually disappears by the age of six, with the two halves of the frontal bone being fused together. It is also called the metopic suture, although this term may also refer specifically to a persistent frontal suture. In some individuals the suture can persist (totally or partly) into adulthood, and in these cases it is referred to as a persistent metopic suture. The suture can either bisect the frontal bone and run from nasion to bregma or persist as a partial metopic suture (see image of frontal bone) (where part of the suture survives and is connected to either bregma or nasion) or as an isolated metopic fissure. Persistent frontal sutures are of no clinical significance, although they can be mistaken for cranial fractures. As persistent frontal sutures are visible in radiographs, they can be useful for the forensic identification of human skeletal remains. Persistent frontal sutures should not be confused with supranasal sutures (a small zig-zag shaped suture located at and/or immediately superior to the glabella).

More non-orthodox skulls with Persistent Frontal Suture
More non-orthodox skulls with Persistent Frontal Suture
Non-orthodox skull with Persistent Frontal Suture
Non-orthodox skull with Persistent Frontal Suture

Incidence of Metopism in Different Ethnic Groups

Persistent Frontal Suture Sources

The incidence of the metopism and difference in shapes varies by races.

A note on the morphology of the metopic suture in the human skull 

A rare case of persistent metopic suture in an elderly individual: Incidental autopsy finding with clinical implications (Karnataka, India)

Autopsy Study of Metopic Suture Incidence in Human Skulls in Western Rajasthan

Imaging in Skull Fractures 

Incidence of metopic suture in adult South Indian skulls

Incidence of metopic suture in skulls of Northeastern Thai adults

Median Frontal Sutures – Incidence, Morphology and Their Surgical, Radiological Importance 

Metopic suture 

Metopism in Adult Skulls from Southern Brazil 

Morphological study of Metopic suture in adult South Indian skulls

Occurrence of Metopism in Dry Crania of Adult Brazilians

Persistent Metopic Suture in Various Forms in South Indian Adult Skulls – A Study

Single Suture Craniosynostoses 



Tale of the Taung Child Collapses

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  • A rare metopic Tibetan skull bowl. Kapala This rare example has the metopic suture. The lining is silver with a gold wash, and a beautiful matrix turquoise cabochon is mounted inside. Tibet, 19th century.