The writings of Father Daniel Sysoev might be the best bridge for Protestants to learn about Orthodoxy. I am a on a reading binge of his works lately, so I am by no means an expert on his works and ideas, but what we have translated into English has impressed me. He is traditionally Orthodox and reads very much like the early Church fathers, speaks with authority from the Scriptures especially, and is not afraid to take views which seem out of style (at least in the West’s version of Orthodoxy) since the 20th century.
This is why I think he is so important. For one, he can preach the Gospel like a Protestant without falling into theologically imprecise dichotomies between faith and works. From this, I mean, Protestant inquirers are often given the impression that Orthodoxy teaches we are saved by faith and works, that somehow faith is “not good enough,” but this is not really what Orthodoxy teaches if by this we mean we still need to earn our salvation by works.
Further, he defends traditional Orthodox doctrines such as prayers for those in Hades, damnation of the unbaptized, and aerial toll houses–all of which that have come under flak from Protestant-influenced modernists. While only time will tell if this blessed martyr will be canonized as a saint, for what it is worth, reading his works at least give us a window into what a modern, Eastern (as opposed to Western) thinker has brought to bear on so many subjects. This is something sorely needed in the West, due to the heart of soul of Orthodoxy being preserved in languages that are not in English and by societies on the other side of the Prime Meridian.
I offer commentary on the following passages here:
The following are taken from the 2015 edition published from Daniel Sysoev Inc.
All unbaptized go to Hades
Hades is a kind of underground into which people who have fallen into sin go, and to this day, all the unbaptized, without exception, wind up there (p. 7).
Pharaoh was allowed to be evil to glorify God
The Lord specifically states that in His eyes, [Pharaoh–auth] was already a dead man, but that he was left alone so that the fullness of Divine Might could be demonstrated–as a graphic exhibit to make a point, if you will. It is in this vein that there are cases of extreme lawless people remaining on Earth. The Lord leaves them here specifically so that He might then demonstrate His glory upon them, and remind people that they should not become attached to the Earth (p. 22).
Martyrdom is a “good way to go”
A martyr’s death washes away all sins except for heresy and schism (p. 27).
Assurance of salvation
What is the best kind of death? When the Holy Spirit says to you plainly that you are already saved. There is an idea, like an assurance, a special state of the heights of spiritual life, in which the Holy Spirit tells someone that he will get into the Heavenly Kingdom…[Lists examples]…Why? Because they were so confident in themselves? No, rather because they had received assurance from the Holy Spirit that they would be saved (p. 36).
[Y]our best assurance of being saved is God’s Word. Can a demon confuse you? No, a demon cannot. When God has made a pronouncement, you can’t confuse it with anything else. If you have any doubt, it is probably not from God. God’s Word comes directly in the following way: first the fruits of the Holy Spirit come…Here these gifts of the Holy Spirit appear in witness of the fact that the person is approaching closer to God, and then God speaks to him (p. 37).
[A monk assured of salvation said:] ‘I was meek, like Moses, zealous, like Aaron, courageous, like Joshua son of Nun, pious, like David, wise, like Solomon. If the Lord God granted that unto me, [how] could he possibly not grant me the Heavenly Kingdom?’ Very interesting, is it not? One could say that he spoke out in a way that was immodest. However, this was in fact modesty. The Lord granted this, the Lord granted everything, so how could He possibly not grant the Heavenly Kingdom? Remember (and this is something important to remember at the moment of death), our hope is based not [on] our good works, but on the death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ (p. 52).
Understanding dogmas does not come from “arguments”
You have to have a firm grasp of the dogmas so that no demon can knock you off track…First of all read God’s word…I myself have debated with Protestants. You show them a certain passage, and they say, ‘Oh, we did not know that.’ They learn individual citations by heart, but do not perceive the Bible that is an organic whole. We [Orthodox] Christians pray with the Word of God, and live by it. Have you ever noticed just how much from the Bible is read during the service? It is almost the entire service. Even the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete is thoroughly permeated with the Bible. That is why we attend to the Word of God, and pray through the Word…Cast aside all arguments; even if they are the very most persuasive ideas, they come from Satan, and are intended to drive you to despondency and destruction. This is a preliminary, probing attack; the strongest attack will come right after your death, and thus it is essential that you prepare yourself for it (p. 40-42).
The Virgin Mary prayed for protection before death due to the Aerial Toll Houses
When the person is taken up into the air, he encounters the barriers of the princes of darkness, which are ordinarily referred to as ‘toll-houses.’ Before the Dormition, even the Mother of God, on leaving the earth to go to her Son, prayed that He protect her from the toll-houses of the air (p. 65).
Muslim’s when they die think they go to heaven
If the soul has left the body, but that person had been used to living to satisfy his stomach, what will the soul see? St. Theophan the Recluse says that it will see an elaborately laden table, with black caviar, red caviar, sturgeon filets, tortes, wine, and so on…This is the origin for all of the tales of astral worlds, astral blessed abodes. They are a description of those very Satanic traps that he places on the path beyond the grave. It is a well organized reality–the reality of traps made to catch people. Moreover, I am convinced that Muslims actually see a Muslim paradise. You see? Later, of course, they are quite unhappy to have wound up there (p. 67).
Unbelievers cannot be prayed out of Hades
[O]ne who has wound up in Hades can be prayed out of there if he had kept unharmed his faith in [the] Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If he did not believe in the Holy Trinity, he cannot be prayed out of Hades (p. 80).
We are progressively sanctified, or the opposite, after death
Finally, on the 40th day, he stands before the face of God, bows down before Him, and is assigned a place in which to await the judgement. For people who had not struggled with their passions, in Hades those passions continued to ravage them, and the people rot away to an even greater degree. However, if their will was still somewhat neutrally inclined, but was leaning towards God, God can drag them out of Hades. In Paradise, people continue to develop…The soul continues to grow in the place where they [sic] find themselves (p. 82).