The Ancient Greeks considered confession necessary and beneficial, because as they were initiated into the Eleusinian and Samo-Thracian mysteries,1 they would confess their sins beforehand (Plutarch, On Sparta: Sayings). Socrates spoke of confession as salvific: “If he is unjust, he should willingly go there, where he will give an account as quickly as possible as if to a physician, hastening so that the ailment of injustice does not remain for a long period of time and render the soul infected and incurable” (Plato, Gorgias).
Pythagoras would also say: “do not attempt to cover your sins with words, but to treat them with reproval.” And Aristotle asserts: “the person who confesses the sin committed honestly renders himself not far from sinlessness.”…
The most ancient civilizations, having sinned, would offer propitiating sacrifices to God. As they offered these sacrifices, they would confess their sins. These prayers sent up to God from every part of the world are a certain type of active confession of the human race to God. The propitiating sacrifices are a certain type of active confession of the sin and guilt of those who offer them. The person who does not confess his sin finds himself perpetually under the weight of guilt and distanced from God. This is why the soul suffers and pains.
The Person Who Has Sinned is Obligated to Satisfy the Divine Righteousness
The satisfaction of the Divine Righteousness, which has been offended through the creation of sin by the iniquitous person, is both i) something demanded by justice (in order for treatment of the soul to occur), as well as ii) an internal disposition of the sinful man to propitiate God.
The demand by justice and the disposition of the heart originate from the same source: the perennial nature of the Divine Law. Justice demands satisfaction on account of the everlastingness of the Divine Law, which sin has plotted against. Additionally, due to an internal impulse, the heart seeks to satisfy the Divine Righteousness, internally it desires and seeks the reign of the Divine Law, and it hastens to act on behalf of its eternal truth. This internal desire emanates from the concordance of the inner will of man with the Law of God.
The demand [by justice] and the eagerness [of the heart] are set forth to combat sin, because every sin is an adversary of God’s Law and an enemy of the peace and the kingdom of God upon the earth, which sin seeks to disturb and bring to confusion and disorder.
Sin, being undesirable by nature, is uncreated; as uncreated, it is something non-existent. However, it receives hypostasis when it is created by unnatural human desire. But since the entire creation is full of the Lord’s works, while His Law has been poured upon the entire face of the earth, this unnatural human desire and creation that receives hypostasis also receives some type of place and displaces the good that has been created by God. If then God created everything very well, it follows that this new creation that entered into the world also disturbed and harmed the reigning good and plotted against the Law of God. Therefore, sin is a great evil against God because it threatens to destroy the work of God. And since its creator is man, when man sins, he sins against God; this is why he is obligated to satisfy the Divine Righteousness, while destroying the evil he has created and working on behalf of the everlastingness of God’s Law.
Both the Jews and the Gentiles held this belief that every sin is referred to God. Both the Holy Scriptures and the writings of the Gentiles are replete with such testimonies. David, while confessing his sins to God says: “Against Thee only have I sinned and done this evil before Thee” (Ps. 50:6). While Hesiod2 says that justice is a virgin and daughter of God, honored and respected by even the gods themselves. When someone insults her by intentionally dishonoring her, she immediately sits by God and relates to Him the unjust opinion of people, so that the people may repay justice for the unjust actions of their kings:
“One of them is the virgin, born of Zeus,
Justice, revered by all the Olympian gods.
Whenever she is hurt by perjurers,
Straightway she sits beside her father Zeus
And tells him of the unjust hearts of men,
Until the city suffers for its lords
Who recklessly, with mischief in their minds,
Pervert their judgments crookedly….”3
From these verses, Hesiod appears to proclaim not only that every sin is referred to God, but also that no reconciliation takes place between Divine Righteousness and man unless the necessary satisfaction is given for the injustices committed.
Samothrace: a Greek island in the northern Aegean. Eleusis: a city in ancient Greece, northwest of Athens. The mysteries that took place in these two locations were secret religious rites of ancient Greece, celebrated every spring in honor of Demeter and Persephone; they symbolized the annual death and resurrection of vegetation.
A famed Greek didactic poet who lived during the 8th century B.C.
Hesiod and Theogenis, Works and Days, verses 255-261.
In the first few centuries of the Church, many pagan writers accused the Christians of plagiarism; i.e. “their Hebrew myths were copied from already existing myths and were rewritten for the Jewish peoples.” The early Fathers, to counteract these accusations, took all the pagan writings that fit or resembled Christian scriptures and prophecies (both in the Septuagint and New Testament writings) and claimed that the Holy Spirit was speaking through these pagans to prepare the Nations for the coming Messiah. Thus, in pre-Christian pagan writings and mythologies, anything that resembles or agrees with Christianity is considered God-inspired prophecies, and anything that disagrees or is contrary, demonic.
God-inspired men and women of the Gentile world foretold the future coming of the Redeemer of mankind. Preserved testimonies confirm the truth of these words. God, as a Father of the entire human race, guided even the Gentiles toward faith in the future Redeemer by revealing to them His upcoming arrival. Theophilos of Antioch expresses the same opinion in his epistle to Autoclytos. He attests: “But men of God carrying in them a holy spirit and becoming prophets, being inspired and made wise by God, became God-taught, and holy, and righteous. Wherefore they were also deemed worthy of receiving this reward, that they should become instruments of God, and contain the wisdom that is from Him, through which wisdom they uttered both what regarded the creation of the world and all other things. For they predicted also pestilences, and famines, and wars. And there was not one or two, but many, at various times and seasons among the Hebrews; and also among the Greeks there was the Sibyl;1 and they all have spoken things consistent and harmonious with each other, both what happened before them and what happened in their own time, and what things are now being fulfilled in our own day: wherefore we are persuaded also concerning the future things that they will fall out, as also the first have been accomplished.”2
Clement of Alexandria spoke in accordance not only concerning the prophets, but also the Greek philosophers themselves, such as Socrates, Plato, and others.3 Similarly, Origen acknowledges various degrees of divine inspiration even amongst the Gentiles. But why should we supposedly deny divine inspiration for the Gentiles? Does God show favoritism? Is He the Father of the Judaic nation only? Or would not the future Redeemer of mankind also be a Redeemer for all mankind? Or is God only for the Jews and not for the Gentiles? Why then should He abandon the nations to disbelief and despair? Why should he not likewise prepare them also to receive the future Savior and Redeemer, especially since He knew through His omniscience that the nations would glorify Him, worship Him, and believe in Him? Therefore, the nations received the gift of divine inspiration, and men among the Gentiles, who were godly inspired, foretold the arrival of a Redeemer and Savior of the world.
Tacitus,4 a Roman historian, attests that all the nations looked to Judea as an axis of their common hope, from where the awaited king was ready to appear: “Everyone in general was convinced about the belief of ancient prophecies that the East was about to overpower; and, that not long afterwards, they would see those who were about to rule the world coming from Judea.”5
According to Souidan and Nikifore Kallistos’ Ecclesiastical History, when Augustus traveled to Delphi to inquire of the oracle regarding the identity of his successor, he received the following response:
“A Jewish child, who is king of the blessed gods commands me to leave from this temple and to return to Hades again. Therefore, depart silently from our altars.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ was born during the reign of this Augustus; and our Church chants along with the Gospel according to Luke: “When Augustus reigned alone upon the earth, the many kingdoms of men came to end: and when Thou wast made man of the pure Virgin, the many gods of idolatry were destroyed.”6 Such oracles referring to the expectation of the nations are numerous.7
The Roman historian Suetonius8 also bears witness to this same event with similar language. He says: “the entire East has been filled with talk of the ancient and steadfast opinion that it had been pre-determined from God that, during that time, they who were about to rule the world would appear from Judea.”9
While interpreting an oracle of ancient Sibyls that proclaims the arrival of a King, Whom all those wishing to be saved were obliged to recognize, and while unsuccessfully applying it to a certain young ruler of his epoch (whose name is not even recalled), the Roman poet Virgil9 says the following: “The years sung by the Sibyl have finally arrived. The infinite order of the ages is about to begin. Behold a new generation is being sent from heaven…The birth of this son, which will bring an end to the iron age and build the golden age all over the earth will be the basis of your favorable administration and pure freedom. This sign of the new age will appear during your reign, O Polion; and then, if there still remain traces of peoples’ transgressions, the entire earth will breathe because it will have been freed from the fear that held it for so many years in bondage.” Within this same poem he says: “He, through whom all these miracles are about to take place, will receive the life from the bosom of the godhead; he will be distinguished from all the heavenly beings and appear higher than them, and he will rule the world, having made peace through his father’s power…Therefore come desirable offspring of Heaven, great stem of Zeus! The announced time approaches; come to receive the great honor that belongs to you. Behold, all the world wavers at your arrival. The earth, the ocean, and the heavens shake; all things leap as the new age approaches.”
Plato spoke with inspiration.10 Let us hear him proclaiming, as the stentorian Isaiah, the crucified death of the righteous one, who suffers on account of righteousness: “we must strip him of everything except his justice, and our picture of him must be drawn in a way diametrically opposite to that of the unjust man. Our just man must have the worst of reputations for wrongdoing even though he has done no wrong, so that we can test his justice and see if it weakens in the face of unpopularity and all that goes with it; we shall give him an undeserved and life-long reputation for wickedness, and make him stick to his chosen course until death. In this way, when we have pushed the life of justice and of injustice each to its extreme, we shall be able to judge which of the two is happier…They will say that the just man, as we have pictured him, will be scourged, tortured, and imprisoned, his eyes will be put out, and after enduring every humiliation, he will be crucified, and learn at last that one should want not to be, but to seem just.”11
Who does not see great similarity when comparing this with the words of Isaiah, who prophesies about the suffering of the lord, the only Righteous One who has appeared on the earth? Behold what the stentorian Isaiah prophesies about this righteous one: “I gave my back to scourges and my cheeks to blows: and I turned not away my face from the shame of spitting…He bears our sins, and is pained for us: yet we accounted him to be in trouble, and in suffering, and in affliction. But he was wounded on account of our sins, and was bruised because of our iniquities…He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation his judgment is taken away: who shall declare his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth: because of the iniquities of my people he was led to death…for he practiced no iniquity, nor craft with his mouth…because his soul was delivered to death: and he was numbered among the transgressors” (Isa. 50:6, 53:3-12; cf. Mt. 27; Mk. 14; Lk. 22, 23; Jn. 19).
In the Dogmatic Theology of Makarios, Metropolitan of Moscow, we read the following concerning the expectation of the nations: “It was necessary for the truths of the faith and especially the promises about the redeemer, which were given in the beginning to the entire human race and which were transmitted through oral tradition from fathers to children, and from ancestors to descendants, to be spread throughout all the nations, even to those who subsequently moved on further to the roads of impiety and idolatry. Even though it was inevitable for these truths, which were mixed with the new beliefs of the Gentile nations, to gradually shed their original purity and integrity and to be altered, nevertheless, even within this altered form, these truths supported and sustained, for the Gentiles, the traditions concerning the genesis and the first state of man, the fall of the forefathers in paradise, and—the most significant of all—the tradition concerning the Redeemer of the human race and the expectation of His coming.”
1 Sybil, derived from the Greek word Σίβυλλα, means Dios’ desire, or God’s will. The Sibyls were individual prophesying women, usually priestesses of early times, who admittedly are known only through legend. Through their prophecies, they would influence the common opinion of the people. The most famous sibyl was connected with Erythrai, but a sibyl also reached Delphi; a Babylonian sibyl is also mentioned. The sibyl of Cumae that lived in the 6th century B.C. became most important by virtue of her influence on Rome. References to sibyls are made by Aeschylus (458 B.C.) as well as Virgil (70-19 B.C.). The preservation of oracular utterances was one of the earliest applications for the art of writing in Greece, which began to spread about 750 B.C.; later, cities began to make official collections of oracles. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cumaean_Sibyl
4 Tacitus was a native of Italy, born in 56 A.D. His reputation for eloquence was high, and he chose to write Rome’s history. He wrote various works in which he drew partly on historical works now lost, and partly on public records and his own experience.
6 The Festal Menaion, South Canaan: St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 1998, p. 254.
7 In response to a philosopher’s claim that the Crucified One is not mentioned by any of the ancient teachers, St. Catherine the Great Martyr answered: “Yet to affirm the truth that the ancients did speak of Him, let us hear what the erudite writer Sibyl says about His divine Incarnation and salvific Crucifixion: ‘One appeared and walked upon this banished earth Who became flesh without sin and dissolved the incurable passions without toil by His divinity. Envied by an unbelieving people, He was also condemned to death and suspended.’ Hear the unfeigned words of Apollo who, against his own will, confessed the passionless God, constrained by His almighty power: ‘The One Who suffered is a heavenly Trinal Radiance. He that suffered is God, though the divinity was passionless. At the same time, He had a mortal body, yet was immortal. He is God and man. He bore mortality, the Cross, mockings, and burial…‘ and so forth. Thus, Apollo admitted that Christ is the true God and co-eternal with unoriginate Father, Who is the origin, source, and foundation of all good things” (The Lives of the Holy Women Martyrs, Buena Vista: Holy Apostles Convent, 1991, pg. 506)” (St. Nektarios pg. 37)
11 When Christ descended into Hades to preach to the imprisoned souls, only they who had some seeds of piety and virtue within them while still living on the earth believed in his preaching and were liberated from Hades. St. Nicodemos says that such were all the righteous people who lived both prior to and after the law, as well as several of the Greeks and philosophers. He quotes the following noteworthy story concerning Plato, recorded by the wise Nikitas of Serres: “A certain Christian would condemn the wise Plato excessively, criticizing him as an atheist and an evil man. However, Plato appeared to this person in a dream and said to him: ‘Do not criticize me pointlessly, my dear man. I do not deny that I am a sinner; however, when Christ descended to Hades, I was the first to believe [in Him]” (An Interpretation of the General Epistles).