The Shape of Scripture and the Orthodox Faith

Preist-hands(2)_RZI have written frequently about the Orthodox understanding of the Scriptures. I offer a quote taken from a lecture by Fr. Andrew Louth, Professor of Patristic and Byzantine Studies at Durham University, priest in the Diocese of Sourozh (Great Britain) in the Russian Orthodox Church. This passage comes from the first lecture in the series. I heartily recommend the entire 8 lectures. I could not possibly have said it better:

What does all this add up to? It suggests to my mind an attitude to Scripture that sees it not as some flat collection of infallible texts about religious matters, but rather as a body of witness, of varying significance—some clearly crucial, as witnessing very directly to Christ, others less important (though never of no importance), as their witness to Christ is more oblique. And the criteria for importance are bound up in some way with the way the Church has taken them up into her experience. There is a hierarchy, a shape: the Gospel book at the centre, the Apostle flanking it, and then a variety of texts from the Old Testament, generally accessed not through some volume called the Bible, but from extracts contained in the liturgical books, along with other texts: songs, passages from the Fathers, and so on. The Scriptures then have a kind of shape, a shape that relates to our experience of them.

I would like to say something similar about the other ‘authorities’ we consult in Orthodox theology: the Fathers, the Councils and the prayers of the Church. There is no question of making the Fathers, or any selection of them, infallible authorities. They disagree with one another over all sorts of issues, and we should beware of trying to iron out the differences between them. What we should hear from the chorus of the Fathers is a rich harmony, not a thin unison. Similarly with the decisions of the councils, especially the Holy Canons. Although the canons have been collected together, time and again, there is no disguising the fact that the canons were issued by councils for particular reasons, in particular contexts. If we put them altogether, we shall not find in them detailed guidance on all the problems that face us nowadays. Some Orthodox thinkers have made capital of this, arguing that the open texture of the canons makes room for a creative freedom as we seek to live the Gospel—and I would agree with them. Perhaps most important, outside the Scriptures, are the prayers and songs of the Church, which take us into the experience of the sacred mysteries.

He concludes his lecture with a quote taken from Fr. Pavel Florensky’s Pillar and Ground of Truth:

 … the life of the Church is assimilated and known only through life—not in the abstract, not in a rational way. If one must nevertheless apply concepts to the life of the Church, the most appropriate concepts would be not juridical and archaeological ones but biological and aesthetic ones. What is ecclesiality? It is a new life, life in the Spirit. What is the criterion of the rightness of this life? Beauty. Yes, there is a special beauty of the spirit, and, ungraspable by logical formulas, it is at the same time the only true path to the definition of what is orthodox and what is not orthodox. The connoisseurs of this beauty are the spiritual elders, the startsy, the masters of the ‘art of arts’, as the holy fathers call asceticism. The startsy were adept at assessing the quality of spiritual life. The Orthodox taste, the Orthodox temper, is felt but it is not subject to arithmetical calculation. Orthodoxy is shown, nor proved. That is why there is only one way to understand Orthodoxy: through direct orthodox experience… to become Orthodox, it is necessary to immerse oneself all at once in the very element of Orthodoxy, to begin living in an Orthodox way. There is no other way.

“The life of the Church is assimilated and known only through life – not in the abstract, not in a rational way.” How rightly spoken – and this by a priest who died in Stalin’s Gulag. The knowledge of God and the truth of the Christian faith are never abstract, for God is not abstract and life itself is never abstract. Our penchant for reducing things to arguable moments is symptomatic of a cultural failure. The proclamation of the Gospel is never found in the stating of ideas. It is in action: “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand,” and in experience, “Come and see.”

Comments

  1. Marjaana says

    Great post, Fr. Stephen! As a convert to Orthodoxy, one of the most poignant moment of all services is perhaps during the Presanctified Liturgy when the choir sings: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” No arguments or mental constructs necessary.

  2. dinoship says

    What gems…!

    What we should hear from the chorus of the Fathers is a rich harmony, not a thin unison.

    the life of the Church is assimilated and known only through life—not in the abstract, not in a rational way.

    Gems worth remembering indeed…

  3. Dominic Albanese says

    hit the nail on the head. you can argue till the feathers fall off the bird. live it breathe it and then there is no reason to challenge the abstract difference. the part that is the most important is not to look to human thought word or deed. we are all fallen as were the Fathers before us, any one who claims to have a lock (see Pope) and does not make mistakes needs to be looked at with the same eye that looks at the daily news, who wants what? who can deny the only path is daily prayer and keeping the orthodox alive in your own heart, let the TV play on it is even more fallen then we are.

  4. says

    Great posting! The Orthodox understanding of Scripture for me has been enlightening & liberating since my reception into the Church. As I have talked about life in the Church & living the Faith with the non-Orthodox I often find myself reminding them that the Christian Faith is not about debating or arguing over metaphysical, philosophical constructs. It is about life. Furthermore, life that is lived here & now; life which will extend beyond all time. I am frequently surprised at how much of a “safety net” those metaphsical, philosophical constructs have become.

  5. PJ says

    The church has always utilized philosophy to help explicate the faith. We needn’t demonize it. That said, it can certainly “get in the way” if allowed to turn theology into dry rationalism divorced from liturgy, prayer, and ascesis.

  6. sergieyes says

    I wish to submit this for consideration, and hope it is not adversative.
    “Orthodox Arts Journal

    Mercy on The Right. Rigor on The Left
    by Jonathan Pageau

    Crucifixion scene, carved by the author.

    Anyone interested in iconography has certainly contemplated the wonderful 6thcentury encaustic Sinai icon of Christ. Although most agree it is beautiful, even at the first glance one senses something “off” about the icon: the right and left side of Christ do not match.

    6th century encaustic icon of Christ Pantocrator from Sinai

    This impression is so strong, I have seen some iconographers “correct” the image when attempting to copy it. The explanation most often given is that Christ’s right represents his merciful side, while his left represents his rigorous side.

    This may seem far-fetched to some, something as an after the fact desire to explain the discrepancy, but a survey of iconography will show us how pervasive this Left-Right relationship is and how it is a major element in the structure of many icons.

    The idea of the right and left of Christ representing the merciful and rigorous comes from the New Testament,

    “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance… Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. …”

    The very image of the Pantocrator is of that “Son of Man in his glory”, being identified with Christ who shall “return again, to judge the living and dead”. Therefore the deisis, the image of Christ in glory flanked by specific saints is already a summary image of the Last Judgement. It comes naturally then that the deisis is always at the summit of the icon of the Last Judgement, where we can see the process of separation in the form of three columns. Christ with certain other “central” elements such as the hetymasia, the balance, the cross and some others form the central pillar splitting the image into a right and left side. What we could call this double effect of Christ can be seen as a “bringing in” and “casting away” but it can also be understood as a “raising” and “lowering” as found in the words uttered by Simeon upon seeing the Christ Child: “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel”.

    Last Judgement from a 10th century Byzantine manuscript.

    This composition of three columns, or three pillars is extremely pervasive in iconography and we could hardly exhaust the breadth of its meaning, but regarding rigor an mercy, it also appears boldly in the general interpretation of the cross and the crucifixion. In a troparion of the 9th hour we hear that:

    “In the midst of two thieves, Thy Cross was found to be a balance of justice: for the one was borne down into hades by the weight of his blasphemy; the other was raised up from his sins to the knowledge of theology. O Christ God, glory be to Thee.”[1].

    In more complete images of the crucifixion, one will find the good thief crucified to Christ’s right and the bad thief on the left. In later images, we might also see an angel and a demon according to a tradition which finds voice in St-Macary the Great:

    “When the soul of a man departs out of the body, a great mystery is there accomplished. If it is under the guilt of sins there come bands of devils, and angels of the left hand, and powers of darkness take over that soul, and hold it fast on their side.” [2].

    Detail of good and bad thief with angel and demon carrying away their souls, from a 16th century icon in Kiev

    And in some traditions, even the Slavic cross, the famous three-barred cross seems to retain this meaning of the left and right. From a Russian iconography handbook we are given the explanation:

    “Question: Why is the footboard of the Cross of Christ pointed with the right side up, and the left down, and the head of Christ is also inclined to the right? Answer: Christ makes His right foot light and lifts it above the foot board in order to lighten the sins of the ones who believe in Him. And His left foot He lowers on the foot board in order that those who do not believe in Him should be weighed down and descend into hell. His head is inclined to the right, that He might incline all the heathen to believe and to worship Him.”[3].

    There are also certain icons, not necessarily structured according to the three columns, which can in some of their variations manifest these attributes. In some icons of the Anastasis, such as the famous 14th century fresco from the Church of Christ in Chora, we find this separation in three columns. There, all the figures with halos are on the right of Christ with Adam, while none on the left with Eve have halos. Adam is also in white whereas Eve is in red. White and blue are very much related to the right whereas red is related to the left. This link to certain colors is a very deep noetic relationship and it can still be seen as true today, as even our experience of faucets, with the hot/red on our left and blue/cold on our right testifies to how even the modern world, hard as it tries, cannot completely eliminate symbolism.

    Although the notion of Christ being rigorous is one that is not popular in our world, it is nonetheless very important as it shows most strongly how Christ in his person unites these two opposites which are born from the very fall of man, which are born from the identification with duality, the knowledge of good and evil. This moving away from the truly Good, the good beyond all possible opposition brought about the appearance of mercy and rigor, though the Father and His Logos remain unchanged by this. And in the icon of 6th century Sinai we find these aspects of duality brought together beautifully “without mixture” into the person of Christ .

    Anastasis fresco from Chora, where the left and right column are clearly scene..

    Adam and Eve from the Catacombs of Rome. In this type, the tree of Knowledge plays the role of the central column.

    [1] Cited by Saint Jean of Kronstadt in a letter explaining le the meaning of the third bar in the Russian Cross, from, Living Orthodoxy, Vol. IV, No. 3 (May-June 1982), pp. 22-24.

    [2] Fifty Spiritual Homilies of St. Macarius the Great , Homily 22 p. 171, Eastern Orthodox Books, Willits, California, 1974

    [3] Cited par N. Pokrovsky in a supplement of the “Russian Orthodox American Messenger”, January 1903,”

  7. mary benton says

    Fr. Stephen –

    This is another great post. I have a couple of questions that are somewhat related (slightly off-topic, but perhaps there are others who wonder also).

    I might like to become acquainted with some Orthodox in my area. I am not at a point of changing churches but I would like to expand my knowledge of Eastern church beyond blog-reading (helpful as it is). I don’t know the protocol for visiting Orthodox churches, other than realizing that I wouldn’t share communion. Is it OK to just go in and sit down?

    I live within walking distance of a Greek Orthodox church, a Russian Orthodox church, an Orthodox Church of America and a Byzantine Catholic church. (Lot of other churches too – my neighborhood has the highest density of churches in the US, I’m told.) How would I choose, if I wanted to start an acquaintanceship? Also, I am not real clear on the differences between Byzantine and Orthodox, other than papal ties. (I have admitted my ignorance of church history before – but have read a little online.)

    I had thought of asking this question before but was prompted now by Fr. Florensky’s words, “The life of the Church is assimilated and known only through life – not in the abstract, not in a rational way.” And life, of course, is known by sharing experience with people.

  8. Cathy says

    Fr. Stephen — What is the Orthodox position on the “proclamation of the gospel” as the Evangelicals term it. From my experience in my church, the gospel is a message to be declared, with a decision required by the recipient. A missionary to our congregation told about their work among a group of foreign nationals that involved charity and aid, but that the aid work was not important compared to the proclamation of the gospel, otherwise “they would go to hell.” No one else around me seemed bothered by that statement. On the other hand, this organization is doing incredible work with the destitute, and the Christian church is growing there.

  9. PJ says

    Cathy,

    If I had to choose between receiving bread of wheat and bread of heaven, I’d like to think I’d choose the latter, despite my rumbling stomach. That said, it seems to me that the corporal and spiritual works of mercy should not and need not be separated.

  10. Karen says

    HI Cathy! I hope you won’t mind if I offer a thought (as a former Evangelical myself) while you’re waiting for Fr. Stephen’s response. I’m offering an intuitive impression gleaned mainly from reading the lives and quotes from Orthodox Saints and Elders (experienced monastics). From an Orthodox perspective the “proclamation of the gospel” is a message to be declared not simply with words, but with one’s whole life. The focus for the one who is called to proclaim and the calling to the one to whom the gospel is preached is to a way of life in Christ (and this is a process, not a one-time decision). At some point (usually at many different points at different levels) words of proclamation or explanation will be needed, but they are an organic and integral part of a whole way of living and being with God and others–and God (i.e, real experiential union with Him in Christ), not what I do for God, is the focus. Also, there’s isn’t the anxiety on the part of an Orthodox to rush to preaching to get a decision or response. Rather, relationships are formed such that each one can be approached in a natural way and as he is ready and interested to hear more. Hence the biblical injunction to be ready to give an account when we are asked the reason for the hope that is within us.

  11. Cathy says

    PJ — Thank you for your to-the-point response. It is something I need to remember as I grapple with this. My church body is big on “proclamation”. As someone who is mostly tongue-tied and shy, I feel an enduring sense of failure, which can at times give way to resentment of those with more evangelistic gifts. Karen, I am interested in your journey. Do you have a blog? Thank you for your thoughtful response.

  12. says

    Hi, Cathy:

    Fr. Stephen commented about Protestant-style evangelism in the comments section of Shame & Envy–Our Secret Sins (http://glory2godforallthings.com/2013/01/10/shame-and-envy-our-secret-sins/#comment-76257). I think you would find this words there very helpful.

    As Karen well said above, Orthodoxy also believes that evangelization (proclaiming the gospel) includes the example of our lives of deepening relationship with/in God.

    I too have always had issues with the mentality of “Trust Christ or go to hell”. Personally, I find it judgemental, arrogant & down right annoying. It is also bad theology based on emotional manipulation through fear (making one scared of an angry god). Orthodoxy on the other hand starts with treating others as the image of God they are rather than a bad hell-bound sinner.

    Yes, the gospel is to be proclaimed (preached) & no Orthodox would deny that; it’s the method of that preaching that Orthodoxy has issues with. Orthodoxy starts with salvation as union with God who is Love. This is not a one-time event, but rather a continuing & transforming process.

    In Orthodoxy heaven & hell are not places of eternal reward/punishment. Rather heaven is union with God while hell is not. This promotes a different sort of “fear” of God where one stands humbly in awe, reverence & wonder before the loving God, not cowering in terror.

    Protestants have read much of our modern culture into the Scriptures & the Protestant form of evangelization is a prime example. Most think that the Apostles would find a busy street corner, prop up a sign & scream “Repent or go to hell!” at the top of their lungs.

    Few realize that in ancient times there were places where people would gather to openly debate the hot topics of their day, such as in the temple, synagogues or market places. These are the places where the Apostles proclaimed Christ. Sadly, America does not have such places in the public arena & open debate is definitely a lost art for most.

  13. dinoship says

    Cathy,
    The Orthodox position on the “proclamation of the gospel” as the Evangelicals term it, sides with the “hesychastic” sayings of saints like St. Isaac the Syrian:

    (The man who follows Christ in solitary mourning is greater than he who praises Christ amid the congregation of men.)

    far more than it sides with the western “activism” of Evangelicals. In fact, that is often also seen as a naive belief that one can run before they can walk. (Proclaim with their mouth what is not proclaimed by their being -and very presence).
    That is not to say that “proclaiming” (verbally) is ‘prohibited’ of course, but it is generally discerned that there is a great danger in doing it with “mixed” motives, and to negative or unreliable “fruits”, both in the ‘proclaimer’ and the ‘hearer’. Many western Christian historical ‘blunders’ can be attributed to a lack of this basic awareness…
    Only a person who is especially called to this (and most probably reached the state of being 100% directed by the Holy Spirit) can safely tread the path of verbal proclamation, and still with great danger.
    Imagine: Saints (too many to list) of the stature and clairvoyance of St Isaac are adamant that achieving the knowledge of one’s weakness, and becoming assimilated to Christ precedes any “verbal proclamation” (especially that of the Evangelical style might I add) and is incomparably greater, more pressing and even more effective a “proclamation” in the long run…

  14. fatherstephen says

    Cathy,
    Orthodoxy certain believes that we are to “proclaim the Gospel.” We do so as we establish the Church and do the patient work of evangelism – which happens in many, many different ways. Orthodoxy has a very, very long history of evangelizing the world. My ancestors and yours were probably evangelized by the Orthodox – mine in Britain, through the preaching of St. Columba and St. Augustine of Canterbury.

    What modern Evangelicals mean by “proclaiming the gospel” is often, sadly, a cliche. There are many modern practices that date back only to the first half of the 19th century in America, that have been given Biblical “tags” that make them sound Biblical and important. I will be writing an article on this American phenomenon soon. But “evangelism,” meaning, “preaching for a decision,” and then the whole theology of praying the “sinner’s prayer,” “asking Jesus to come into your heart,” etc., is a modern invention – an extremely short-hand version of the “gospel,” that is not the gospel at all. Christ commanded us to preach the gospel and to make disciples. Praying a short prayer and deciding to go to Church is not at all the same thing as repentance which Christ preached. Repentance is a “change of mind, a transformation.” Christ never told anyone something as simple as “pray this prayer.” Sometimes he told someone to sell everything they had. In Orthodoxy, repentance would be to take up your cross, and embrace the fullness of the Orthodox life – turning away from sinful practices and taking up the practices of the Church – fasting, praying, giving, forgiving all for everything, confessing, and being daily transformed into the image of Christ. Anything less than this is simply sub-Christian. Thus preaching the gospel requires the extremely difficult task of establishing the Church – as a truly practicing Orthodox community.

    American Evangelicalism has invented its own ideas of what Christians should do – not being willing to submit to the history and Tradition of the Christian faith. I recall as a small child in a Baptist Church in South Carolina, having to fill out a card each week in Sunday School, in which I was supposed to indicate how many times I had made “contact” with others for Christ, etc. It was so bizarre. And these ideas as examples of “proclaiming the gospel” are no older than about 1820.

    Most modern people do not know their own history – where the ideas (often false) came from or whether the ideas should be trusted or believed. For a culture that is supposed to be somewhat skeptical and questioning – I find modern Christians to be gullible in the extreme. We need to know the fullness of the truth and who Christ truly called us to be. Re-invented, modernized versions of Christianity have no legitimacy and are creating problems throughout the Christian world.

    Forgive what may sound like “judgmental” words – but there are very important things at stake – an a wake-up call to be “proclaimed.”

  15. Cathy says

    Fr. Stephen — Thankfully, my own church is not as silly as your Baptist experience, nor quite as reductionistic. Conversion is not separated from discipleship or maturity. I think what I am struggling with is the sense of personal duty in the matter. Calling others to repentant faith, as it is termed, is an individual’s responsibility within the church, indeed the only sacrament, if you can call it that. It is not enough to model the faith, cultivate prayer and devotion, engage in personal discipline, without a persistent public witness. Anything less is to consign others to the wrath of God.

  16. says

    Fr. Stephen;

    Thank you for your input & blog site…I am constantly learning from it.

    I, too, have perhaps an off-topic question. I encountered several of the Sacred Name Theology crowd & their literature is spreading throughout my workplace. This happens from time to time & usually I just pitch their tracts & publications into the trash. Dealing with adherents however, is quite another story as I cannot so easily at 5′ tall do the same with them; & even if I was so able, it is against the workplace rules to throw an inmate into the nearest trash dumpster ;-) Administration has no sense of humor about such things & neither would my priest.

    Seriously though, with those that are doubtful about or new to the theology I remind them of the Scriptures declaring God’s love & renewed life in Christ as I contrast with the idea of a God that would put people in hell for not using specific Hebrew name(s) which are many. I also remind them that Christ is our example & He taught us to pray, “Our Father…” This works with most.

    With the most aggressive & adamant I leave them with the challenge to show me from the Holy Scriptures where it commands that we call God the Father & Christ by Yashua, Yah, Yahweh, Yahveh or whatever rather than God, Father, Christ & etc. I have tried to put forth the absence of this teaching in the early Church, the writings of the Church Fathers, the fulfillment of the OT law by Christ & the new law of love. This seldom works as claims are quickly made about paganism, idolatry & heresy. In the end, everyone except them is going to hell.

    I have had some success by putting forth questions such as:
    For 1900 years bible translators translated the Scriptures wrong until your guy translated it correctly? What are/were his credentials for languages & translating? What was his background & education in ancient languages? What sources & manuscripts did he use for his translation? How do you know that he finally got it right other than he claims to have finally gotten it right? Show me where this sacred name theology has been taught throughout the history of the Church before it supposedly apostasized? I also have a list of such questions for their insistence on Saturday/Sabbath observance, dietary laws & etc which seem to go hand-in-hand with their sacred name theology.

    In the end, how else might I approach this other than as I have?

  17. PJ says

    “(The man who follows Christ in solitary mourning is greater than he who praises Christ amid the congregation of men.)”

    Maybe this makes more sense in context, but as it stands, this statement doesn’t seem quite right. Is St. Isaac superior to St. Peter because he was a hermit who felt uncomfortable with the role of pastor?

  18. Eleftheria says

    Cathy wrote:
    It is not enough to model the faith, cultivate prayer and devotion, engage in personal discipline, without a persistent public witness.

    If I may, persistent public witness LIVES (not models)the faith by praying with devotion, practicing ascetic discipline(s) and treating others with the love with which the God that is love treats us…as much as we can. Doing less than we can is simply that – doing less; the point is that God still, always, loves us. In Orthodoxy, truly lived Orthodoxy, there is no such thing as “consigning others to the wrath of God”; we may consign ourselves to darkness when we withdraw from God,that is to life without God, but we don’t consign others – ever.

    forgive my boldness,
    Eleftheria

  19. dinoship says

    St Isaac’s “The man who follows Christ in solitary mourning is greater than he who praises Christ amid the congregation of men.”, as well as others such as: “The man who is deemed worthy to see himself is greater than he who is deemed worthy to see the angels.”
    “Honour flees away from before the man that runs after it; but he who flees from it, the same will it hunt down, and to all men become a herald of his humility.” should be understood in the light of Pope Gregory the Great’s saying: “It is through mourning that I am able to be and lead others to become evermore that “new creature whom the Master of the nations seeks with watchful eye amid the other disciples, saying: ‘If, then, any be in Christ a new creature, the old things are passed away. Behold all things are made new’”

  20. PJ says

    Dino,

    I haven’t any qualms with these other quotes. But I don’t see their relation to St. Isaac’s assertion that the hermit is, as a rule, superior to the preacher. After all, St. Paul was a preacher, a church planter, a pastor, and a tent maker.

  21. PJ says

    This reminds me why it is so important that the Church recognize saintly layfolk, especially those who are married with children and jobs — truly citizens of the world, yet bearing the light of Christ.

  22. dinoship says

    PJ,
    Well, is not St Paul a prime example of a a person who first spent time in the desert and then when out to preach. Is he not also a prime example of one who is “forced” by the Spirit to go out preaching rather than do this of his own whim.

  23. says

    Cathy,

    “Modeling the faith, cultivating prayer & devotion, engaging in personal discipline “, or as Eleftheria puts it “living the faith” is not separated from “proclaiming the gospel”. In Orthodoxy our lives are (or rather, should be) “a persistent public witness”. We cannot separate “our lives” from “persistent public witness”. Many verses in Scripture clearly link holy living to witness, for example in Christ’s words, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

    Calling others to repentant faith, as it is termed, is an individual’s responsibility within the church, indeed the only sacrament, if you can call it that.

    I don’t believe that we “can call it that”, or at least we should not. I don’t understand in what sense you use the word “sacrament” here. It seems to be in the connotation of a law or rule as you also mention “individual responsibility”. In Orthodoxy the mysteries (sacraments) are the means by which we receive God’s transforming grace rather than laws or rules.

    Ref “personal duty”: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. (Romans 12:1) Our “personal duty” therefore, is to God & God alone. Our duty is to deepen our union with God the Father through God the Son in the Holy Spirit. We do this by loving God; we love God by loving our neighbor (our enemy is also our neighbor).

    Ref “Anything less is to consign others to the wrath of God”: I assume here that “the wrath of God” is reference to eternal hell? Remember, heaven is eternal union with God while hell is eternal separation from God. God gives us free-will & that is a choice that each of us has to make for ourselves. None of us knows who has chosen what & we are not to judge others, nor assume what they have chosen. Remember the parable & words of the Publican & Pharisee. We are not held responsible for another’s sin, only our own. We are not held responsible for another’s acceptance/rejection of salvation, only our own. Furthermore, it is God who saves, not us mere mortals. At no time do we “consign” anyone to “the wrath of God.” Perish the thought!

  24. fatherstephen says

    Cathy,
    I disagree viz. God’s wrath. This is one of many errors taught in some Evangelical Churches. Any God who pours out His wrath on someone because you failed to proclaim the gospel isn’t worthy of praise. This is just the guilt-mongering of ill-taught preachers and not the gospel of the Kingdom.

  25. Cathy says

    In the case of the word “sacrament” I think what I was trying to refer to was “things that are done to participate in the life of the church.” It’s probably not a proper usage, since evangelicals don’t think in terms of sacraments, so I apologize for my careless word choice. Church life as I am experiencing it — scholarly sermons on systematic theology all aimed at exhorting us to share our faith — is, for whatever reason, discouraging. Sharing my faith, for me, is a clunky endeavor. How does one bring up Jesus in a workplace conversation about golf? The sacraments as Rhonda describes them — “means by which we receive God’s transforming grace” — are appealing because they seem to be about showing up in faith and receiving. Anyway, it’s something that I hope to study more. Thanks for your feedback and your patience, all.

  26. dinoship says

    What I have invariably noticed time and again, having been lucky enough to talk to highly respected, holy Elders, mainly on Mount Athos, (most of them now having slept in the Lord) is this:
    The closer to God someone truly is, the less he actually talks about Him without a prior request from another person. However, when he talks about something else, (it is what his listener wants to talk about rather than what the Elder wants to talk about), his words (for example, on how a child should prepare for an exam) and overall behavior emanates a glowing Christ-like attraction. It does this to such an extreme, that even an atheist child would come away a believer – having forgotten his doubts just by being in the Elder’s presence, talking about his exam or any other subject…
    That is some powerful, yet effortless proclamation of the Gospel, is it not?!

  27. mary benton says

    Cathy – I agree with others’ well said comments. I wanted to add that I have encountered people who are tortured by believing that they must convert everyone they love – or their loved ones go to hell. They are miserable and they make their loved ones miserable.

    I think it would be a mistake to bring up Jesus in the workplace with people who have not expressed an interest. It is likely to annoy them. Better to be living in such a way (with love, compassion, humility, etc) as to make them interested in how/why you live this way. Often no words need to be said.

  28. PJ says

    Dino,

    Yes, St. Paul lived in the wilderness for a time, but only a time. Did he suffer loss of holiness or sanctity upon rejoining the world of men and proclaiming the Gospel until the nations? That makes no sense. I’m not against monasticism or hermeticism, I just find it wrongheaded to declare that solitary mourning is always and everywhere preferable to the public proclamation of the kingdom.

  29. PJ says

    Mary,

    I don’t think that “annoying people” should keep us from preaching the gospel in public, if that is truly what we are called to do. The apostles clearly upset many pagans and Jews with their declaration of the crucified and risen Christ. They were even stoned, whipped, harassed, and eventually killed for their trouble. Right now, in places like China, there are apostles who are suffering the same fate for uttering the same gospel boldly and in the power of the Spirit. I’m all for sensitivity to circumstances, and “preaching without words,” but let’s not be held hostage by the fickle tempers of others.

  30. fatherstephen says

    Forgive me, but quit arguing over the statement of a saint. Just ponder it. Not everything needs to be balanced. Just pondered.

  31. says

    PJ:

    I do not think that is what Mary is referring to. As one who has worked somewhere for 32 years now in a variety of fields & professions, I agree with her. Unless your employer is paying you to do so, one should not missionize on the job. Now, if the subject comes up, as it inevitably will because people enjoy talking & learning about the beliefs of others, then yes, there is no issue with proclaiming Christ according to one’s faith gently & lovingly. While we are not to live for the world, we are to get along with our neighbors & live in the world.

    Yes the Apostles were persecuted & martyred for proclaiming the Faith, but they always were gentle & loving in their approach. Their place & timing were also always appropriate as well. While exception was taken with their message (theology), no exception was ever taken with their method. IOW: they were gentlemen & did not force themselves nor their message on those unwilling to listen.

    Many years (decades?) ago I remember a media story about three children that supposedly had their “religious rights” violated when their grade school expelled them for preaching. It later came out that the parents were coaching their children on how to proclaim the gospel. They would drop the kids off at the school & then stand by while the 2 boys would “preach” with the daughter standing nearby meekly & quietly; thus the 3 were supposedly being examples of how Christians were to act. Problems arose when the children, at the behest of their parents, refused to stop their revival & go to their classrooms. When they did under threat of expulsion, the boys continued their revival in the classrooms. Ultimately, after several interactions with the parents screaming religious discrimination (my guess is the father), the school took the desperate act of expulsion. DCFS & the lawyers were called in. School officials & DCFS were concerned about the mental welfare of the children, especially the little girl who had ceased talking because “women were to be in silence”. DCFS & the courts ruled that other than before or after school hours & during recess, the children had no “religious right” to stage a revival at school or in the classrooms, disrupt the operation of the school, nor violate the rights of other children to an education. IOW: the kids were there to learn, not preach. I was a Protestant at the time & I felt ashamed by their lack of even basic understanding. All I could tell my unbeliever co-workers was that their actions, although probably well-intentioned, were not good Christian behavior.

    I realize that this is an extreme example, but such extreme examples are happening far more frequently. They are not good examples of the Christian Faith, actually they are just the opposite because they drive people away.

  32. Karen says

    Cathy, I don’t and probably never will have a blog–too time consuming. Too bad Fr. Stephen’s site doesn’t have the feature where you can click on a commenter’s name to see all their comments–you’d pretty much get my whole journey by reading those at this site! The extremely short version is “Penal Substitution” drove me to Orthodoxy for a more coherent and genuinely biblical account of our salvation in Christ and especially of God’s motivation in sending Jesus to die for us. It was the last place I expected to find that–so, it was definitely a God thing! :-)

  33. PJ says

    Rhonda,

    I don’t think we’re in any sort of significant disagreement. I’m certainly not for littering your coworkers’ desks with gospel tracts or any such thing.

  34. mary benton says

    Rhonda, you represented my intentions correctly.

    If we want to draw people to be interested in Christianity in the ordinary situations of our lives, we often do better to have our lives and actions proclaim it rather than our words. Once people have an interest or curiosity, they will be more open to words.

  35. dinoship says

    Today we celebrated St Anthony the Great’s feast, in whom we saw a “man who follows Christ in solitary mourning” becoming more influential than thousands of others who talked about Christ “amid the congregation of men”; in fact, such a multitude were to follow him that “the deserts were transformed into cities!” St Anthony’s sublime proclamation was first and foremost one of example and prayer.
    Example always speaks far louder than any words… Its impressions are far more lasting and inspiring. When it is coupled by words those words have the authority and weight of unique authenticity. In Orthodoxy we value those words far more than any rational constructs of some great intellect… The words proclaimed by the Saints are, therefore, also an invaluable gift of God to us, (although they need an equivalent supporting example – which is, maybe, why we see St Paul in 2Corinthians 11 and 12 expounding on his actual example as ‘a last and more potent resort’)

  36. PJ says

    Ah, but St. Antony (whom we also celebrated today) was inspired by the proclamation of the Gospel by some unknown, unsung presbyter. ;-)

    Anyway, I don’t want to argue. All I’m saying is that God is glorified in many different ways: by those who live alone in deserts, by those who give their lives tending the sick, by those who shepherd vast congregations. It’s all to the glory of God, and it is all by the power of God. That’s all I’m saying. No disrespect to hermits intended. ;-)