Little Jimmy had always wanted to be a priest. For as long as he could remember, he had looked up to the men who were priests in his home parish. Little Jimmy knew that it would be pleasing to God for him to become a priest. He knew this because when he spoke about it to his mother, she squealed with delight and told him it was a wonderful thought. When he shared this with his father, his father smiled and also told him it was wonderful that he wanted this.
Father Mackintosh helped Little Jimmy get into seminary. He wrote nice letters to the president of the seminary, telling him what a wonderful boy Little Jimmy was and how well he served at the altar during Mass. Little Jimmy was excited to receive the letter from the seminary telling him he was accepted to study there. This made Little Jimmy study even harder because he wanted to be the best student they ever had.
Little Jimmy’s first and second years were exciting. There were so many things to learn and to do. He learned that the Roman Catholic Church was the true Church, and that some popes had even said that no one could be saved outside the Church. He learned how the Filioque clause had been opposed by the wicked Orthodox Church, and how finally, the true Church had cut off the Orthodox Church from communion with them. He wondered why the Orthodox didn’t repent and come home to the true Church of Jesus Christ.
Life in the seminary was filled with exicting discussions and interesting classes. Students in his class would sit as one at a table and excitedly discuss becoming a deacon in their senior year, and then a priest after graduation. Little Jimmy could hardly wait.
But in his third year, in his Christian history class, things began to change for Little Jimmy. The class was studying the Bible. The Bible is important, but not as important as what the Roman Catholic Church teaches. Little Jimmy knew that. He knew that the Roman Catholic Church never makes any mistakes when speaking about the Bible. One day, in class, Little Jimmy had a question for the priest who was teaching the class.
“Father Ben, I have a question.” Little Jimmy was holding his hand up in the air, politely waiting his turn to speak.
“I’m a little confused. Here in our wonderful Douay-Rheims Bible, in Matthew 24:3, it says that the disciples asked Jesus when would be the consummation of the world. But in our Greek class, I have been taught that the word “aion” means age. Why does it say world in our Bible?”
Father Ben looked at Little Jimmy and his eyes seemed to narrow a bit. “You ask too many questions, Jimmy. It is important that you trust that the Church is right in all that She says. If it says world, it is because very wise and holy men interpreted the original writings correctly.”
Little Jimmy nodded slowly, but in his heart he was not satisfied. He was an avid student of the Greek language, and knew very well that aion meant age and not world. If aion meant age instead of world, then that meant that the whole teaching of Jesus in Matthew 24 was not about the end of the world, which the Church was teaching could happen at any moment now, but had to do with the end of an age, one of the “ages of ages” spoken of in the Book of the Apocalypse.
Little Jimmy got into more trouble that year. In his class on eschatology, which is about the end of the world and all things, Little Jimmy was taught that there is an eternal, fiery hell that awaits everyone who is not a Roman Catholic. He turned to 1 Timothy 2:4 and asked Father Leo how this could be when it is the will of God to save all mankind. Then he went to Acts 3: 21 and he really stepped in it by asking why his Douay-Rheims Bible said “restitution” when the Greek word “apokatastasis” means restoration.
“You are causing trouble, Jimmy.” Father Mark, the president of the seminary, did not sound pleased.
“I am just asking questions and seeking answers,” Little Jimmy responded, politely but defensively. “I am not trying to cause trouble, but I have questions.”
“You are not here to ask the kind of questions you are asking. You are here to learn your Catholic faith better so you can become a priest.” Father Mark’s face was not happy. “Do you realize that you sound like a Protestant heretic when you ask these kinds of questions? You don’t want to be a Protestant heretic, do you, Jimmy?”
“No, Father.” Little Jimmy shook his head, gave Father Mark a weak smile, and left the office. But in his heart of hearts the questions were beginning to mount up. Why were there so many mistakes in the Douay-Rheims when he had been taught it was God’s perfect Word? Why didn’t the professors want to answer his many questions about salvation and the next life? The cognitive dissonance of seeing deliberately mistranslated verses in the Bible was beginning to really bother him.
Perhaps it was his philosophy class that pushed Little Jimmy over the edge. There was a quotation from Aquinas that really bothered Little Jimmy. Aquinas said that the redeemed would look down from heaven upon the damned and it would increase the joy of their salvation for them. Really? Little Jimmy thought. Anyone who enjoys the suffering of another human being is not a saint, they are a sadist! Little Jimmy had a hard time imagining heaven filled with sadists laughing at the terrible plight of the damned. What was even worse, he had no one he could talk to about his doubts. All he had ever been told was to listen to what the Church teaches and not to ask questions.
Little Jimmy’s third year in seminary was almost over when he met Father Zacharias in a coffee shop in downtown Pittsburgh. Father Zacharias was a heretical Orthodox priest, yet he was kinder to Little Jimmy than any of the priests at the seminary. Little Jimmy had a lot of questions for Father Zacharias and Father Zacharias answered them all. He was very patient when he spoke and he gave very long answers to Jimmy’s questions. For the first time, Little Jimmy felt like someone was listening to him. But more than that, Little Jimmy began to read books on the history of Christianity. He began to find out things that no one had ever told him, like the fact that for the first five hundred years of the Christian faith, many people, even revered saints in the Church like St. Gregory Nyssa and St. Maximos the Confessor, taught that God will find a way to save all people. They taught that some will have to go through the fire of purging their sins and paying God’s justice if they die in wickedness. And like Pope John Paul the Great, they taught that hell wasn’t a place filled with boiling cauldrons of oil into which the wicked are plunged forever, but that hell is the wicked experiencing the love of Christ as torment until they repent.
When Little Jimmy spoke to Father Zacharias one day about apokatastasis, which is the Greek word in the Bible for Universal Restoration, found in Acts 3:21, Father Zacharias told him he should buy Dr. David Bentley Hart’s new book, THAT ALL SHALL BE SAVED, and read it.
“I think it will answer a lot of your questions, Jimmy.” Father replied. “I personally have problems with the teaching, but there is no definite teaching in the Orthodox Church regarding eschatology.”
“What about the Fifth Ecumenical Council, Father?”
“Problematic. Emperor Justinian overstepped his authority and put in the anathemas against apokatastasis. Even your own church does not accept his anathemas as authentic, and some experts believe they are forgeries. That leaves the fifteen origina canons of the council, and none of them mention apokatastasis by name.”
“Does that mean that if I became Orthodox…”
“Yes. You would be free to believe that God restores all things.” Seeing Jimmy smile broadly, Father continued. “I said I have problems with it, but I have to admit it is a beautiful thought. And I have to admit I have no answers for Dr. Hart’s meditations in his book. He makes a terribly strong case for it, along with the saints who believed in it. ” Father gave a little laugh and looked Jimmy right in the eyes. “Perhaps I’m closer to accepting it than I realize.”
Sitting with Father Zacharias one day during summer break, Little Jimmy brought up the quote from Aquinas and asked Father what he thought of it.
“Barbaric,” Father Zacharias replied, shaking his head. “That sounds more like Zeus than Jesus.” Little Jimmy nodded his head in agreement. Do you know what we call Christ in the Orthodox Church? He is ‘The Lover of Mankind.’ “
Little Jimmy’s eyes started to fill with tears. He had never heard anything so beautiful about Jesus. All he could remember hearing from the time he was little were warnings about mortal sin, how it would send you to hell, and how he need to be constantly confessing his sins to escape the judgment of God. Growing up, it seemed to him that Jesus was going to return, angry with mankind, and just waiting to open a can of whup-ass on all sinners, especially those who were not part of the Catholic Church.
Little Jimmy is happy now, even though there is tension between him and his parents. He called bullshit on all the nonsense the Roman Catholic Church teaches about the angry Jesus who just wants to whup up on people when they die. He is an Orthodox priest now, and married to a lovely Orthodox woman he met after he converted. They have two darling children, and Little Jimmy’s mother cannot stay away from them, even though she is disappointed that Little Jimmy left the seminary and converted to Orthodoxy.
Little Jimmy prays every night that his parents will see how loving Jesus really is and will consider converting to Orthodoxy, which he has come to believe is the true Church.
**NOTE: I admit that A.) this is a work of fiction and B.) not all seminaries nor Roman Catholic priests are cut in this mold. I know a couple who are lovely men and wonderful priests. My bone to pick is with the Roman Catholic organization and some of its teachings, especially those of an angry God who sends people to hell forever. It is not with individuals nor individual priests! Having been terrorized by such teaching for over 50 years, I am fed up with the angry God of Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and even some Orthodox.