Constantine the Great gave his own interpretation of the above poem during the
first Ecumenical Synod: ‘a man of sense will clearly see that this is the description of the adventof a God and not the birth of a man
It is evident that Virgil is inspired by his wish of redemption, which the whole
world shared. Should someone read the whole poem, they would see there are a lotof references to the Redeemer’s holy origins, his birth by a virgin, and the universalwish for the salvation of mankind. There are also many other facts that were peculiarnot only to Sibylline prophecies but also to the traditions of other nations that awaitedfor the Saviour.
However there are those who made the same mistake as Jews and expected that
the Saviour would establish a new empire here on earth.
Tacit, the renowned historian (50-117 AD) writes: ‘a lot of people were convinced by the
priests’ prophecies that there would be some great turmoil in the East and through that turmoil aperson from Judea would banish the dynasty, ascent to the throne and take over the government’
The expectation of the advent of the Saviour of mankind is evident in what the
Roman philosopher Seneca tells his friend Lucillus: ‘we need someone to shape ourcharacter. Where there is no rule one cannot eliminate deviation’
V. The Greeks- A special relationship
Sperms of the Word existed in all the people leading them to imagine the Messiah
and to expect some kind of ‘Salvation’ from some kind of ‘Saviour’. However thepeople, whose tradition approach truth the most, were the Greeks.
Plutarch, who was very attached to ancient Greek religion served as a priest in the
Oracle of Delphi. According to him the Oracle guarded an ancient prophecyaccording to which the Son of Apollo would come to earth and establish a kingdom ofjustice.
The Church has always had close ties with the ancient Greek philosophers and
historians. St John, bishop of the Euchaita, who lived in the 11th century prays to God:‘Dear Lord, should you wish to exempt a few people from the threat of your Just Judgment, letPlutarch and Plato be among them, grant me this favour. For the thoughts and actions of bothwere almost Christian. You, who wish to save everyone, mercy them for they did not know you arethe one and only God’
Some claim that in the end Plutarch acknowledged that Jesus was the Saviour
Aeschilus in his tragedy ‘Prometheus Bound’ refers to the advent of a Saviour.
Prometheus foretells that He will be the son of virgin Io and Zeus. This God-Manborn by a virgin will abolish the rule and the powers of older Gods. Hermes(Mercury), who is there with him, tells him not to expect his suffering to end beforethe advent of a God who shall take his place in the martyrdom and willingly descendto Hades and the dark bowels of the earth.
In ‘Socrates defence’ Plato writes that the great philosopher addressed his judges
saying: ‘You would sleep on for the remainder of your lives, unless God in his care of you givesyou another gadfly
In his ‘Republic’, Plato says the following: ‘Let him be clothed in justice only and have
no other covering. Let him be the best of men and be thought the worst. Then he will have beenput to the proof. And let him continue thus till the hour of death. Being just and seeming to be
unjust. (…) The just man who is thought unjust will be scourged, racked and bound, will havehis eyes burnt out; and at last after having suffered every kind of evil he will be impaled.’
In his book he explains that illuminated by God he was able to see even the eyes of
the ‘just’ one burning up, due to a hyperaemia that was caused by his hands beingnailed and hanging from the Cross. According to medical science what caused Jesus’death was the inability to open his chest as his whole body was hanging from the nailson his hands. Therefore, the lungs could not relax and the blood could not get tothem and oxygenate them. Thus the blood from the veins could not move from therest of the body towards the heart and remained in the periphery of the body ascertifies the hyperaemia of the eyes, which looked as if they were burning up. That iswhat we mean by the phrase ‘he will have his eyes burnt out’
(in ancient Greek ‘ÂÎÎ·˘ı‹-ÛÂÙ·È Ùˆ ÔÊı·ÏÌÒ
However, even that last word is probably the best Plato could use. The ancient
Greek word ‘·Ó·Û¯ÈÓ‰˘ÏÂ‡ÔÌ·È
’ or ‘·Ó·ÛÎÔÏÔ›˙ÔÌ·È’
is the accurate word for being nailedon a stake (according to Stamatakos dictionary of ancient Greek). Therefore Platodescribed in one word Christ’s ascent on the Cross, and at the same time his beingbound to it, nailed to it in fact.
What is more in the second chapter of his ‘Republic’, when he refers to ‘a just man’,
he literally predicts our Lord’s sufferings: ‘for his intentions the just will be whipped (…)
In Plato’s Alcebiades ππ, when Alcebiades asks Socrates when the man who shall
teach us the way to behave to Gods and people shall come, and who that man is,Socrates replies: ‘ he who takes care of you too’( √‡ÙÔ˜, ˆ ÌÂÏÂÈ Î·È ÂÚ› ÛÔ˘
’) , and refers tohim as God-Man (‘£ÂﬁÓ ‹‰Â (Î·È) ¿Ó‰Ú·
The myth of Pandora of Greek mythology sums up mankind’s religious history
starting from the original sin and going all the way to the expectation of the Saviour.
According to the myth the god of evil gave Pandora a box, which contained all the
evils on earth as well as the hope of redemption from evil. The myth says that evilcame to earth through a woman since she could not resist the temptation toknowledge. Epimetheas was taken in by her deceit and allowed her to open the box.
No sooner had she done so than all kinds of evil flew out. But the hope of redemptionremained in the box. Pandora is Eve who was deceived by evil. And hope, whichremained in the box, is the expectation of the Saviour, which, the Old Testamentteaches us.
Solon (639-559 BC) who was one of the seven wise men in ancient Greece
predicted the advent of the Saviour so accurately that Saint Nectarios of Pentapolisacknowledges some level of enlightenment to his prediction. Solon said that: ‘One dayin the divided mankind, the fleshless God will have flesh. God incarnate will be hanged by anungrateful nation and shall willingly go through all sufferings.’
Since early Christian days the faithful venerated not only all the people of ancient
Israel who are mentioned in the Old Testament but also the ancient Greekphilosophers. Therefore it is no accident that in many monasteries one may findfrescos of the Prophets- without the Halo however- side by side with Greekphilosophers. Such frescos can be found in the Holy Monasteries of Iviron, of MegistiLavra and Vatopedion on Mount Athos, at the monastery of St Nicholas tonPhilanthropinon
in Ioannina, the Sistine Chapel in Rome, as well as the temple of theAnnunciation in Moscow and other places.
The preparation for the incarnation is present in the rituals of ancient religions
too, a fact that proves the expectation of Redemption through the sacrifice of the Son
of God. Constantine Kallinikos, the Protopresbyter of the Patriarchate of Alexandriain his work The Christian Church and its rituals
, mentions that he regards ‘as omens of theperfect and living sacrifice
(of the Christian Holy Mass) the Sanskrit ‘Soma’, the Persian‘Homa’, the slaughter of the holy buffalo of Todes in Indostan, the ancient Arabs’ eating of thecamel’s flesh and the Mexican ‘Tecualo’
In all those rituals the believer would eat either an image of God made of dough,
or part of some animal, which symbolised God.
The expectation of Salvation, which is present in all religions, and the wise men’s
predictions render it clear that the advent of Christ as a Saviour of the world had beexpected ever since man, due to the original sin, was cast away from Heaven. In factthe whole pre-Christian era served as the time when humanity bore in it Jesus Christthe Saviour. The Greeks are the people who from the very beginning contributed tothe spread of Christianity. It is no accident that when one day Jesus was informed thatsome Greeks wished to meet him, he said: ‘The time has come for the Son of God to beglorified
’. The interpreters’ of the Gospels explain that this phrase means that sincepaganism’s chief representatives, the Greeks, had come to him, the time had come forJews to fulfil Providence’s plan, the plan, which included his crucifixion andresurrection.
According to theologians and Holly Fathers, the souls of many pious people that
lived before Christ’s incarnation were saved. This was possible due to Christ’s descentto Hades. The following text by Ioannis Karmiris supports this view: ‘Clement ofAlexandria (who lived at the beginning of the 3rd century AD) who studied the teachings of SaintJustine the philosopher on spermatic word, maintains that pagans also had the chance to believeand be saved due to Christ’s preaching during his descent in Hades. This is also proof of God’sjustice, mercy and philanthropy. There is no doubt that it would have been contrary to God’sjustice, mercy and love to restrict salvation only to those who lived after the God-Man’s Epiphanyand were enlightened by the Evangelic light and exclude from it (from Salvation) all those whohad passed away earlier only because they lived before his advent, or even exlude only pagans asan exception, although many of them rather believed in the one true God and followed hiscommandments, leading a life that was virtuous and just, but who could not, for reasons that haveno relevance to their free will, listen to and adopt the Christian faith.’
Many Fathers of our Church such as Saint Cyril of Alexandria and John of
Damascus have similar views on this matter.
It is of course considered certain that Christ would have seen to it that the prophets
and Patriarchs of Israel that lived before him and had foreseen his advent, passion andresurrection, would be saved.
It is believed that ancient Greek philosophers, who, to a large extent, lived
according to his teachings without however, having met him, fall under the abovecategory.
Saint Nectarios of Pentapolis writes: ‘St Anastasios, Patriarch of Antioch assures us that
he had a revelation, which informed him of the redemption of pious and just heathen. He alsoinforms us that the wise philosopher Plato appeared to a devout monk who had cursed him forsome mistakes of his, and while the monk was still awake he heard the greatest of philosopherstelling him that he had been saved by Jesus Christ and therefore to stop committing a sin incursing him.
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