1989 (5) Visions Outside the Church
Orthodox Life 1989 (5)
Visions Outside the Church
by Monk Gorazd
Many people have heard that the Mother of God has supposedly appeared to Roman Catholics in various places. They do not know what to think about these events. Some even go so far as to think that since the Mother of God appears to Roman Catholics, it follows that the Roman Catholic Church is a true, grace-filled church, especially since various miracles and healings take place at the locations of the visions. Fatima, in particular, has aroused much interest among Russians living abroad because the apparition allegedly speaks about Russia in strongly anti-communist terms, leading them to overlook the heretical and anti-Orthodox content of the message as a whole. What are we to make of these appearances and the claims made for them? What criterion should we use to guide us in testing the truth of visions outside of the Orthodox Church? Hopefully, what follows will help in understanding such phenomena.
The Holy Fathers, knowing that Satan can transform himself into an angel of light, advise us to be cautious and distrustful of all appearances in the visible world. “If you are silent in a good way, desiring to be with God,” says St. Gregory the Sinaite, “never accept any physical or spiritual appearances, either outside or inside yourself, even if it might be an image of Christ, or an angel, or some Saint, or if light should appear, or imprint itself in the mind...Be attentive, that you may not come to believe something, even if it is something good, and be not captivated by it before consulting those who are experienced and are able to analyze the matter, so that you do not suffer harm...God is not displeased with the person who is attentive to himself, even if he, out of fear of deception, does not accept even that which is from Him, without consulting and testing....” We might add that the Lord God could at all times give full assurance to a person, if He is pleased to do so, concerning the truth of a vision. If such caution is necessary concerning visions WITHIN the Orthodox Church, how much more circumspect should we be in relation to apparitions OUTSIDE the one, true Church! The sole criterion for examining these visions should be their Orthodoxy. If in any respect their Orthodoxy is lacking, then they must be rejected: even if 99% of the message is Orthodox and only 1% deviates from the doctrines laid down by the Church, then the whole must be rejected. God cannot deny Himself or preach untruth even in the smallest degree.
Let us examine three well-known cases which have occurred in our own century. First, we will deal with Fatima, which is of special interest, since the apparition there speaks about Russia and its role in the destiny of mankind.
Towards the end of the First World War, at Fatima in Portugal, between May and October, 1917, three shepherd children, two girls and a boy, had a series of visions of someone whom they said was our Lady, the Blessed Virgin.... Throughout the six months of the apparitions, the messages which Lucia was told to make public, at that time or somewhat later, were largely concerned with the need to encourage devotion to the rosary and to our Lady’s immaculate heart, and with the need for mankind to change the direction in which it was moving. Failure to make that change would bring down the wrath of God... (from Studies in Comparative Religion. A Question Concerning the Second Vatican Council, by Verak).
In December, 1940 Sister Lucy (the only one of the three who remained alive and who is now a nun of the Carmelite order) wrote to Pope Pius XII saying, “In 1917 the Most Holy Mother prophesied to us the end of the war which at that darkened the face of Europe; she prophesied another war and said that she would come again. She insisted on the dedication of Russia to her most sacred heart, promising in return to hinder the spread of false teaching from Russia and to convert Russia.” (from News About Fatima, the Greatest Miracle of Our Time, Brussels, 1962 p. 144). It is necessary to remember that Catholics understand “the conversion of Russia” to mean her conversion to Roman Catholicism. Again we read in the journal The Fatima Crusader (issue #17, April-May, 1985): “So it may well be that the conversion of a few Russians to Catholicism now is part of God’s preparations for the conversion of Russia when the Pope and bishops finally obey the command of our Lady of Fatima to consecrate Russia in the manner prescribed by God...The reason why Jesus gave this specific command to the Pope and bishops is because he wants his whole church to recognize the consecration of Russia as a triumph of the immaculate heart of Mary...Sister Lucy records...in a letter dated May 18, 1936: ‘Intimately I have spoken to our Lord about the subject and not long ago, I asked Him why He would not convert Russia without the Holy Father making the consecration. He replied, “Because I want My whole Church to acknowledge that consecration as a triumph of the immaculate heart of Mary so that it may extend its cult later on and put the devotion to the immaculate heart beside the devotion to My sacred heart” ‘.“
Here something should be said about the un-Orthodox forms of devotion to the sacred heart of Jesus and the immaculate heart of Mary which the apparition advocates.
A Roman Catholic nun, Mary Margaret Alacoque (who died in 1690), allegedly had a vision of Jesus Christ who showed her His heart, burning with love, and asked her to spread devotion to it. The revelations she received were first printed in the account of her life by the Jesuit bishop Lanje and caused such a scandal that the edition was destroyed. Due to the fact that these “revelations” were so exposed to the public eye, they were condemned by Pope Clement in 1772. Nonetheless, this cult continued to exist under the auspices of the Jesuits, and finally entered into the mainstream of Catholic religious life (Pastoral Theology, Part II, Archimandrite Constantine, Jordanville, 1961, p. 16). Sacred heart pictures and devotions became a major part of Catholic spirituality, and the popes added their endorsements in encyclicals, granting indulgences for the observance of the devotion. Not to be outdone, other groups, claiming to have seen apparitions of Mary, put forward the idea of devotion to “The Immaculate Heart of Mary.” The heart of Mary was sometimes depicted together with the sacred heart of Jesus motif: a picture with two hearts...and later, the sorrowful heart of Mary, with five or seven swords piercing it, became extremely popular...It would be difficult to accuse Roman Catholicism of denying the divinity of Christ, rather they have split the wholeness of Christ, emphasizing His human nature as a separate devotion, sometimes in a crudely biological way. This violates a central principle of the Councils, that devotion should be given to the devotion of Christ, and not to one of His natures, or parts of His body. Thus, by fragmenting the wholeness of the Son of God, a tendency develops to ‘Nestorianize.’ Parts of the body of Christ should not become parts of isolated objects of adoration, nor should they be pictorially depicted (i.e., a heart on fire, or a heart crowned with thorns surrounding it)” (from Comparative Religion, “Roman Catholicism: Some Devotional Practices,” by Father George Mitchell). We mention these devotions here in order to illustrate the abyss which lies between Orthodox and Roman Catholic spirituality.
Yet another series of apparitions took place in a small mountain village called San Sebastian de Garabandal in the north of Spain. These apparitions took place between June, 1961 and November, 1965. The seers were four young girls. We repeat some of the messages given:
“The Virgin also reminded us very often about visiting the blessed sacrament. As a matter of fact even in her final apparition (November 13, 1965) the Virgin told me, ‘Conchita, why do you not go more often to visit my Son in the tabernacle?’ When I saw the Virgin I said to her, as if there were a spy in the village, ‘You know, there are some Protestants here.’ The Virgin replied, ‘They are all my children.’ The angel came and said, ‘Many cardinals, many bishops and many priests are on the road to perdition and taking many souls with them. Less and less importance is given to the Eucharist.”
It is interesting to note that in 1967 Conchita Gonzales (one of the seers) started to have doubts about the apparitions:
“Yes, in 1967, sometime after the apparitions had taken place, I did have doubts. It happened suddenly on August 15. I will never forget it. There were many people around me and I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I was not honest. I felt I was deceiving all those people and that I ought to confess it. I went to a priest and told him that it was like an illusion or a dream or living a lie, that I had never seen the Virgin and that I had been deceiving everybody all the time...These doubts and denials of the Virgin’s apparitions lasted five or six days. Since then, up to this time, I have confusion and doubt within me” (from Miracle at Garabandal by Conchita Gonzales with Harry Daley, Dubleday and Company, N.Y., 1983).
We mention this apparition here to show that even in a case where the seer herself is ultimately uncertain of the reality of what she saw, the story still seems to find apparently serious believers. They are not even discouraged by such disturbing facts as the following, reported by one of the seers:
“After the apparitions started, we never missed a day of communion. When there wasn’t a priest in town, an angel would come down to give us communion...At one point we were instructed by a priest to ask how it was that, since only a priest could consecrate the hosts, the angel was administering communion to us. We did ask, and the Virgin said that the angel would come down and take the already consecrated hosts from tabernacles on earth.”
Can we not imagine the consternation this would cause in the church from which the hosts were taken! Can it be possible that angels need to take hosts from the tabernacles of churches? In the Orthodox life of St. Onuphrius an angel does, indeed, bring the Holy Communion, but it is quite unthinkable that an angel would need to take the Holy Gifts from an earthly tabernacle.
The third series of visions we will mention began on June 24, 1981, in the Yugoslavian town of Medjugorje, where a number of young children began to have visions of what they considered to be the Mother of God. The apparition has claimed that these revelations will be the last in the world. In November, 1982 the apparition said, ‘After these revelations finish there will be only some false revelations in the world.” People have flocked to Medjugorje from all over the world even though the local Roman Catholic bishop of Mostar, Pavao Zanic, who denies the verity of the apparitions, made a public declaration in the name of the Yugoslavian Bishops’ Conference to the effect that “It is not permitted for pilgrimages or for other manifestations to be organized which are motivated by the supernatural character supposedly attributed to the events of Medjugorje.”
Already in 1981 the seers were saying: “There will be a visible and lasting sign on the hill of the apparitions; it will come soon, you will see it in a short time. Wait a little longer, be patient.” And again: “The sign will be on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, 1981, then at Christmas, then at New Year, etc.” Needless to say, no sign has yet appeared on the hill. For an Orthodox reader it is sufficient to know only some of the ecumenical messages given by the apparition to be certain that it is not the Mother of God who is appearing there. For instance:
“All the religions are the same before God. God commands in all these religions as a king in his realm.” (Counter-Reformation-Catholic, 201 Eng. ed. Cf. Fr. Blaise, 500 Messages a Vivre, p. 370, Montreal, 1986.) “In God neither divisions or religions count. It is you in the world who have created the divisions because believers have separated themselves from one another.” (Apparition of the Virgin Mary at Medjugorje, Jan Urban [in Czech]. The Catholic Counter-Reformation in the XX Century, Sept ./Oct;, 1987; Nov./Dec., 1985).
For the uninformed, this message has a seductive appeal and is in keeping with the “one world” thinking. But as Orthodox Christians we know that to say “all the religions are the same before God” is a denial of Christ as the only Truth. Is it not He Himself who says, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me (John 14:6). Therefore, to say that all religions are the same is a denial of Christ!
Without attempting to analyze too deeply the meaning of all the messages it is sufficient enough to realize that each one of these apparitions, claiming to be the Mother of God, accepts the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church (Holy Communion, Priesthood, Confession) as true, grace-filled Mysteries. This alone makes these apparitions totally unacceptable for us since we know that grace-filled Mysteries can only be found in the one, true Church of Christ. Since the Western Church separated itself from the one, true Church in the 11th century there can be no question about the existence of true Mysteries in the Roman Catholic Church. “The Church is one and only she has the fullness of the grace-filled gifts of the Holy Spirit. No matter who, or in what way one has fallen away from the Church, whether in heresy, schism, or in uncanonical gatherings, one loses the communion of the grace of God. Therefore no sacraments performed outside the Church have any grace-filled power.” (Archbishop Hilarion, There Is No Christianity Without the Church, p. 114, San Paulo, Brazil, 1954.)
Even the presence of healings is not a proof of the truth of the appearances. Healings might be from God, from natural causes, or if God allows, from the evil one. Sozomen, in his Ecclesiastical History (Book II, #5) writes: “The temple of Aesculapius in Aegis, a city of Cilicia, and the temple of Venus at Aphaca, near Mt. Lebanon and the river Adonis, were undermined and entirely destroyed. Both of these temples were highly honored and revered by the ancients...because those among them who were infirm in body were delivered from diseases because the demon manifested himself by night and healed them.” In the Vita Patrum of St. Gregory of Tours we read in the life of St. Friardus the Recluse, “And as they courageously persevered in prayer, the tempter appeared at night to the deacon Secundellus, taking the form of the Lord and saying to him, ‘I am Christ, to whom you pray every day. Already you are holy, and your name is written in the Book of Life. So go out from this island and perform healings among the people.’ Secundellus, taken in by this deception, left the island...and even so as soon as he laid his hand upon the sick in the name of Jesus Christ, they were healed.”
The words of Archpriest Boris Molchanov are very timely here:
“It is very important to be aware of that little-known but remarkable spiritual law by which all false and hypocritical Christianity will inevitably lead its followers to acceptance of the Antichrist or to a movement which will prepare for his appearance. In every false teaching, like in the Pharisee’s attitude towards truth, there is hidden the seeds of eternal damnation. Foolishly and in vain many people do, not accept the importance of dogma. The close union between dogma of the faith, practical, moral activity, and the struggle for salvation has been expounded on by bishop Ignatius (Brianchaninoff) and His Beatitude Metropolitan Anthony (Krapovitsky). According the teaching of the Church, there is nothing as import as confessing divinely-revealed Truth, in the work of The Word of God itself bears witness that God must be worshipped in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:23-24). Truth is not some kind of insignificant thing, which one could relate to as one wishes. In the truth, the Spirit of Truth, Who proceeds from the Father, is present in a real way. And correspondingly, in every lie, there is present the father of lies, the devil. Therefore, a person who confesses the truth receives the Spirit of Truth; and the one who confesses a lie will necessarily assimilate the spirit of lies, the fallen spirit. Outside the one, holy Orthodox Church there are not, and there will not appear the means for recognizing the Antichrist, nor is there any grace-filled power to resist him and all his temptations (Epoch of Apostasy, Jordanville, 1976, p. 18)
We do not need heterodox apparitions to call us to repentance, prayer, and fasting. Further, these apparitions accept Roman Catholic sacraments, the papacy, encourage un-Orthodox forms of piety, and embrace false ecumenism. In our troubled times, times of subtle temptations and sublime deceptions, when false miracles, visions, and apparitions are on the increase, we Orthodox Christians should work out our salvation with fear and trembling, holding firm to our Holy Orthodox Faith and looking for guidance and inspiration to our Holy Orthodox Church alone.