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Question 110.


Dear Fr Christopher,

The Lord said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to Gehenna, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. For every one will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltness, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” 

In what sense does the Lord Jesus mean to cut these body parts off ?
What is the Orthodox interpretation of the statement: "For every one will be salted with fire"?

In Christ,
Regards, John


Answer to Question 110.

 

Dear John
May I first ask what translation of the New Testament do you use? The Greek speaks of scandalizing one of these little ones and not causing them to sin. What the verse is saying is that whosoever scandalizes someone by either word or deed and causes them to be led astray it were better for him... This can be interpreted as sin but it is not a true interpretation from the original Greek. Also some of the verses are incomplete. This doesn't mean the translation is an error. Some of the old New Testament manuscripts have complete verses missing or vary considerably from the text the Church uses. So English translations differ one from another according to which manuscript was used for the translation. No translation is 100% but the closest translation with the same verses as used by the Church is the KJV (New Testament only), which understandably many people find hard to understand because of the archaic language. But even the KJV can be misleading it some of its translation. Before I could read Greek I read the New Testament in English, and understood the text in a certain way according to what I read, but later when I learnt Greek and compared the Greek with the English I noticed that even a single word wrongly translated could change the whole meaning and was surprised that what I originally understood about a certain passage was completely wrong. As for the Old Testament there is as yet no English translation that has faithfully been translated from the Septuagint Greek. There are English versions of the Septuagint but these still vary from the Greek because instead of translating from scratch they all used the KJV as the foundation of their translation.
But let's now see your questions.
Firstly Christ is not literally saying that if our hand or foot or eye offends us or causes us to sin that we should cut off our bodily members. Mutilation of our body is a sin. One of the most influential scholars of Alexandria was Origen (185-254). Origen’s writings were some of the most influential in the early church. He had a brilliant mind and although some of his writings were labelled as heretical, he is still read by Theological students today. He lived an ascetic life but took his asceticism to the extremes by taking the Lord’s counsel in the literal sense and having himself castrated to avoid any possible scandal while giving private instruction to women catechumens. “For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake.” (Matth. 19:12)
Christ's words are symbolic and spiritual. All of our bodily members are good and can be used to do good, but at the same time, because of the corruption of our hearts, they can also be a source for us to be led astray and sin. Thus it is necessary for us to crucify and put to death all our worldly desires and passions. The bodily members are symbolic of people or things that are precious to us. If for example someone you love by his actions or way of life scandalizes you then you should cut off all communication with that person, no matter how painful this separation may be, just as if you would cut off your hand or foot, lest by continual contact with him/her you would be led astray. It is better to put an end to any relationship with that person and gain entry into the kingdom of heaven than to continue having contact with him and to continue to sin and at the last Judgement to be cast into hellfire. Thus in this life it is necessary to make painful sacrifices, to mutilate our desires and passions and even our relationships with others if these things cause us to sin and deprive us of the Kingdom of Heaven.
For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.
Salt apart from seasoning food is also a purging agent and prevents decay. It was used to preserve meats and is still used as a preservative today. In Cyprus we have a delicacy called tsamarella which is goat's meat coated in salt and left to cook and dry in the sun for about a week. This preserves the meat and can be kept for more than a year. The meat is cut into small pieces and offered as a meze with the local zivania spirit.
In the verse "every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt" salt is used as a purging agent in the same way that fire purges and also as a seasoning. Human nature is corrupt and like decaying meat everyone needs to be purged. The faithful do this willingly by self denial, by cutting off their bodily members, symbolic of their painful sacrifices and offer themselves as living sacrifices to God. Their sufferings are like salt which gives seasoning to their sacrificial offering and is pleasing to God. On the other hand the wicked who denied making any sacrifices in this life will be purged with the salt of hellfire on the day of judgement.
The next verse continues with this interpretation. Salt spiritually represents the sacrifices and virtues of the righteous which gives seasoning and flavour to life in a society, and which anticipates and prevents decay, but if these virtues were to vanish and be replaced with evil then how can that man acquire again the good reputation of a faithful person he once had in society? Therefore preserve in you the salt – the good virtues so that you will always have peace among you. Here Christ is directly speaking to the apostles to not dispute about dignities and honours. It is an answer to a dispute the apostles had of who among themselves should be the greatest which began in verse 33 and was the cause for Christ to teach them what followed up to verse 50.
I answered this question first because I received it first, but now looking at the other questions I notice that I will be working backwards.

In Christ
Fr. Christopher