Sweet Commandments

10commandments_2425344bSomewhere in the early ’70’s, I recall being in a group of Church youth. They were singing a song based on Psalm 19:

The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.

At the time, I found it hard to sing the song with conviction. It seemed to me that we were saying, “God, I really love your rules! Your rules are so wonderful! Nothing is better than your rules! I’d rather have rules than money! Your rules are sweeter than honey!”

I wanted to mean it (“After all,” I thought, “this is Scripture!”). But with any measure of honesty added in, I could not bring myself to say, “I love rules!” I still don’t like rules.

There are people who do like rules. There were always at least one or two kids in any grammar school class who wanted to know first thing what the rules were and then excelled in keeping them and in gathering up all of the trinkets and privileges doled out by teachers for those who did. I got all of the punishments given to those who talk too much and who interrupt others.

Even on a serious, adult level, I still wonder at those who love rules. The godly commandment: “Thou shalt not kill,” is a good law. It is a holy law. And though I don’t want anyone to break such a commandment, it is hard to say, “I just love this commandment!” For the man who has broken the commandment, it is crushing and life-ending. It would be perverse for others to stand around as his death sentence was carried out and say, “I love this commandment!” Of course, this is one of the perversities in which our fractured culture occasionally engages.

So why does the Psalmist sing as he does? How are the commandments of God “sweeter than honey?”

The question, it seems to me, is related to Christ’s statement, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Again, this makes sense, but sounds heartless. “If you love me, do what I say,” is distant and cold and correct. Distant, cold and correct are not things I associate with love. So how are commandments sweeter than honey and the manifestation of love? Over the years, my experience has shown “rule-keepers” to often be judgmental and neurotic. Their observance of the rules is not always an example of love, but only one more form taken by human deviance.

The mystery and meaning of Christ’s statement is revealed when we understand that the commandments of Christ are a “verbal icon” of Christ Himself. The “keeping” of His commandments is an act of union with Christ in the heart of His life rather than a neurotic effort to “do the right thing.”

Of course, the commandments of Christ are nowhere as boring as the cultural morality of the mainstream. Forgiveness of enemies and doing good to those who do evil is a world away from the general civility that most people find to be a sufficient modern morality. The radical love of Christ embodied in His commandments are eschatological in their demands (having to do with the “last things”). His commandments are a description of what is like when the Kingdom of God has come – for, in truth, in Christ, the Kingdom of God has come. The community which is the Body of Christ is specifically called to the keeping of His commandments because the Body of Christ is specifically the community of the Kingdom.

The Kingdom of God does not represent an adaptation to life in this world. We are nowhere commanded to “do the best you can.” But neither are we commanded to keep the commandments for the sake of Christ or for the sake of His Kingdom. Christ recognizes that His commandments are “impossible.” The commandments of Christ have about them the nature of the resurrection – and they can only be kept in and through the power of the resurrection. Union with Christ Himself makes possible what is impossible (“with God all things are possible”).

The keeping of Christ’s commandments is not an exercise in human morality – it is life from the dead. Christ has not commanded us to walk on water – but we can only love our enemies through the same power by which we would. This is the nature of the Kingdom, and the nature of the gospel itself. As such, the commandments of the Lord are indeed pure and sweeter than honey.

 

 

Comments

  1. sergieyes says

    This is a blessed logos (word), Father. Many thanks. The Old Testament is filled with Jesus Christ, and Christians know this. Especially the Septuagint is uncorrupted by the Jewish Council of Jamnia, but enough of that, Jesus Christ is unconditionally there in the Old Testament. Here is what Psalm 19 tells those of us who are Christocentric:
    Psalm 19:

    The Jesus Christ is perfect, converting the soul;
    The Jesus Christ is sure, making wise the simple;
    The Jesus Christ is right, rejoicing the heart;
    The Jesus Chrtist is pure, enlightening the eyes;
    The Jesus Christ is clean, enduring forever;
    The Jesus Cherist is true and righteous altogether.
    More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold;
    Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.

  2. EPG says

    I have pondered this for many years, and perhaps now is the time to offer this thought. I sometimes think that we incorrectly interpret many of the harder sayings in scripture as presriptive, rather than descriptive.

    So, the phrase, “If you love me, keep my comandments,” is not so much instruction, as observation. Those who love Him will keep his commandments, by virtue of their love. Jesus’s admonishment to Thomas that those who believe without seeing are blessed is not so much a put down to Thomas, as an acknowledgement that, if you believe without seeing, you are in fact blessed. The Old Testament admonition about sins being visieted upon the seventh generation is not condemnation, but just an observation of the cold, hard facts. Sins do in fact reverberate through time.

    The ‘rules”, therefore, are not arbitrary dictates, but observations of natural consequents. The wages of sin are death, not because God is angry, but because sin naturally separates us from God, and leads to death. If you step out of an airplane without a parachute, you will fall and die. That is not because God has said, “If you step out of an airplane without a parachute, thou shalt die.” It is a natural consequence of the step.

    So it is with our sin, our alienation. And, too many Christians fail to see this. They see God as the dictator, the harsh schoolmaster, the judgmental parent, instead of the One who throws out the lifeline.

    Just a thought.

  3. says

    This post reminds me of a passage from Scripture, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 3:20).

  4. Karen says

    sergieyes, I like your rendition of Psalm 19. Now that makes its real meaning very plain indeed (and the Source of the sweetness intuitively self-evident). It parallels the practice of substituting the word “God” or “Christ” for the word “love” in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.

    Yes, Father, I sang that song many times as well!

  5. mary benton says

    I was one of those rule-keeping neurotic kids – not at first, but after feeling humiliated by a teacher in front of the class. After that, my little mind decided to be “perfect” so that that wouldn’t happen again. And I have excelled at following the rules for many years.

    Often, I think, the rule-keepers are looking for a way to win love and approval – and avoid rejection and shame. In Christ, we do not need to strive to win God’s love – it is already there, complete and unconditional, without any action on our part. Rejection does not come from God – though often we imagine or fear that it will.

    As I shed the many layers of my “neurosis”, I can allow myself to be enveloped in Christ’s love. I need to let go of striving to “earn” God’s love and learn the humility of accepting it. Freed of my striving, it becomes a joy to follow His Way – how can it not be a joy to follow the love of my heart? To do what He does, to love with His love…sweeter than honey, indeed.

    (I still have many layers of neurosis to shed; thankfully, God has infinite patience.)

  6. sergieyes says

    Hi Karen, here is Jesus Christ in Corinthians even as you suggested he be .
    Corinthians 13:4-8
    Young’s Literal Translation (YLT)

    4 Jesus Christ is long-suffering, Jesus Christ is kind, Jesus Christ doth not envy, Jesus Christ doth not vaunt HIMSELF, Jesus Christ is not puffed up,

    5 Jesus Christ doth not act unseemly, Jesus Christ doth not seek HIS own things, Jesus Christ is not provoked, Jesus Christ doth not impute evil,

    6 Jesus Christ rejoiceth not over unrighteousness, and Jesus Christ rejoiceth with the truth;

    7 all things Jesus Christ beareth, all Jesus Christ believeth, all Jesus Christ hopeth, all Jesus Christ endureth.

    8 Jesus Christ doth never fail;

  7. says

    We must remember that the Law of the Lord is a two-edged sword…it kills and it gives life (Heb 4:12). It kills the passions of this earthly flesh but it gives life to those who live by the Spirit. Difficult lessons to learn. Blessings.

  8. leonard Nugent says

    The Roman Catholic church in the United States has transferred Ascension thursday to the following Sunday. This is definitely an example of rule breaking that I have trouble seeing the Orthodox church being comfortable with.

  9. drewster2000 says

    EPG,

    I know what you’re talking about.I’ve been seeing the same things in scripture over the past few years. While your idea of descriptive vs. prescriptive is attractive, I think don’t think it’s the complete picture. In the Garden when God told Adam he would from this day forward work by the sweat of your brow, He was stating a reality but He was also speaking that reality into being. Because He is the true ruler of the world, what He speaks becomes so.

    Now, you would need to go case-by-case on His statements. Sometimes He’s simply stating what was already established and sometimes He’s proclaiming something new. I think in the end it still comes down to: do we love and trust Him? If we do then all is for our good; if we don’t then it won’t really matter what He says – it will be taken wrongly.

    We can’t really prove His goodness to anyone, least of all to ourselves.

  10. fatherstephen says

    Moving a major feast whose meaning is actually related to it’s date (40 days after Pascha) is really odd. This baffles me beyond words.

  11. Grey Pilgrim says

    Jewish sages teach that to study the Torah is to clothe one’s mind in the thought of God. St. Peter is credited as saying something similar in one of Clement’s books (I think it was Recognitions), that to study the scriptures is to be submerged in the mind of God. The sages also speak of the garments of the soul, namely thoughts, words, and deeds. So to study the scriptures, to perform the commandments, and to speak words of prayer is to clothe our soul with God. We are commanded to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” and in doing so, we will make no provision for the lusts of the flesh. To be be submerged in His thoughts through studying His teachings, His words by prayer and sayings He taught us, and His deeds by following His commandments and example, is to clothe our souls with Him and armor ourselves against the world, the flesh, and the devil.

    This also continues the Jewish idea of a ‘mitzvah’ (good deed) where the commandments are considered very nearly sacramental. To the Jew a commandment is not merely a rule to be kept, but an active channel for participating in the life of God in this world. In essence, it is a means of intimacy with God – since God is Spirit, one can not give Him a hug or shake His hand or kiss His cheek, but to immerse yourself in His words and to act according to His Will via the commandments is to experience intimacy with God. With the coming of Christ we now have the additional physical intimacy of the Flesh and Blood in the Bread and the Wine, which provides a deeper intimacy. But nevertheless the spiritual intimacy is still available to us, and indeed required of us, hence “if you love me, keep my commandments”.

    I had actually been discussing this scripture with my children last night (and we sang the song!) and this occurred to me – in the first section the psalmist praises the sun and the stars, then praises the commandments, then asks God to keep him from unknown faults and deliver him from sin. My thought was that the stars were praised because they kept to their courses and in doing so their constancy was a witness to the whole world day after day and night after night. The law is then praised as a sure guide for the life of men to keep us in our course. He then asks for grace to be kept from sin and forgiven of even his unknown sins. Through this grace (the grace of forgiveness and the grace to obey) one fulfills the promise given to Abraham, namely that his children would be “as the sands of the sea and the stars of heaven” – we begin as dull, gritty, impermanent shifting sand and are transformed into glorious, brilliant, immoveable, constant stars, and then our testimony goes out into all the world, and the heavens declare the glory of God.

    To my thought (and I confess that my thinking can be a bit “out there” at times) the commandments are part of the path to theosis – by studying and praying and obeying we put on Him who is the “brightness of His glory and the express image of His person” and become conformed step by step into His likeness until His will is our will and our will is His will.

  12. leonard Nugent says

    Father, it is really odd and it’s a breaking of the rules that really bothers me.

  13. says

    Thank you Father for this wonderful teaching. Much for to reflect and ponder. I am a struggling legalistic who is coming to terms with faith without legalism.

  14. Michael Bauman says

    The shift in the celebration makes sense if what is important is the number of people showing up for the service. We Orthodox have been know to do the same thing, although not for the major feasts as far as I know.

    Is not the Sabbath made for man? Nevertheless the Law is not eradicated, it is fulfilled and made greater and moves from an external regulation to an ontological reality.

    The question is how far to take it before economia becomes apostasy and license rather than mercy. How far is one allowed to go in external observance (or its lack) as a replacement for the discernment of the intenral, ontological reality which then redounds to a life-filled witness to the saving grace and person of Jesus Christ.

    As Grey-Pilgram mentions, the rules still apply. In a sense they are even more applicable. It is just that with a Christocentric life, the rules are fulfilled and simultaneously transcended and made new.

    Revelation 21:5
    And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.

  15. sergieyes says

    “leonard Nugent”The Roman Catholic church in the United States has transferred Ascension thursday to the following Sunday. This is definitely an example of rule breaking that I have trouble seeing the Orthodox church being comfortable with.”
    Dear Mr. Nugent. I will simply comment, I walk in your shoes vis-a-vis mix and match Church Feasts. My favorite example is that All Hallows was in ancient tradition practiced a week after Pentecost. Somebody got a nifty idea to practice it in the fall. I like All Hallows in summer, I feel it strongly.
    Praise God! Always praise God!

  16. leonard Nugent says

    Michael Bauman I agree with you. You said…The question is how far to take it before economia becomes apostasy and license rather than mercy….To restate this it could be asked How far can the rules be bent.

  17. Dino says

    “The commandments of Christ have about them the nature of the resurrection”

    This reminded me of elder Sophrony’s “the commandments are nothing other than the manifestation of God’s life on the earthly plane of existence”

  18. says

    Mary,

    rule-keeping neurotic kids

    I can relate. I was a rule-keeping neurotic kid (beginning in pre-school) too, but for another reason. I was an only child raised by a divorced mother. My mother was 1 of 6 kids raised by a divorced mother during the depression. Her upbringing was chaotic & noisy, full of strife & conflict, therefore Mom insisted on peace & quiet in our home that she never had growing up. Once I started school though I had a very hard time handling the noise & chaos of so many other children, many of whom virtually reveled in misbehavior for the attention it brought. I went into sensory overload. I followed the rules & stayed quiet in order to avoid being noticed & thus drawn into the chaos. I also learned to “block out” the chaos so effectively that one teacher (a screamer) thought that I was deaf. By being a quiet well-behaved student & blocking everything out, I was able to somewhat cope until I could escape the chaos called school & return home where peace & quiet reigned. My husband was also raised with a chaotic older brother who reveled the controversy of his misbehavior, learning to stay under the radar via rules adherence. He therefore has many of the same coping habits that I do, to include keeping a quiet & peaceful home.

    the rule-keepers are looking for a way to win love and approval – and avoid rejection and shame.

    I agree that is probably the case for most, but I have also experienced another sort of rule-keepers; those that go beyond keeping the rules themselves (as they may not follow the rules) & begin forcing others to follow all of the rules, aka “control freaks”. I think that the chaos, irrationality & inconsistency of the world disturbs them so they cope by trying to instill order, routine & consistency provided by the rules.

  19. mary benton says

    I appreciate your comment, Rhonda. Certainly there are many reasons why we are the way we are.

  20. mary benton says

    I think that the transfer of the celebration of the Ascension to a Sunday in the US Catholic Church is sad because of what it represents.

    I say all of this as a Catholic, as I think most of you know by now. The Catholic Church of old defined certain sins as “mortal” sins (go to hell if you don’t confess it before you die). They included missing Mass on Sunday or holy days along side of murder, rape, etc. As our culture changed, this glut of rules with drastic consequences became untenable. Thus, to avoid the “neurosis” of trying to follow all of the rules or risk hell, many people stopped taking the rules seriously (or worse, stopped taking the faith seriously).

    To try to stop the bleeding, the church began modifying rules (note abstaining from meat on Friday) which unfortunately only seemed to confirm the impression that they had either been rather silly rules in the first place or that the threats of hell had been hollow. (Or, for the conservative faithful, that the church had lost its course.)

    We Catholics could stand to learn a lot from you Orthodox (which is what I am doing here :-)). You seem to keep the expectations high but with the focus on spiritual growth rather than on rules and penalties. Thank you for your witness to a path which is humanly rational without a compromise of the spiritual imperative.

  21. drewster2000 says

    Grey Pilgrim, (and continuing the theme of the post)

    Good words. Fr. Stephen talks about not jumping up and down in delight concerning a commandment and it not being sweeter than honey in our usual way of thinking.

    You talking about the stars caused me to reflect on what a relief it can feel when we have been through a hellish, disorienting experience – and then finally return to some kind of normalcy, including something that would normally be negative.

    One example would be the prodigal son. Not only did he look forward to the food of his father’s pigs, but also living in a sphere where values were placed where they belonged, where commandments were kept, where good was cherished: all is right with the world again.

    What was restrictive before he left home now becomes something he wants to enfold himself in. What originally chafed against him now holds him securely in its arms. Now, this love of the security of rules and structure can itself become a god, but that doesn’t negate how good it can feel to dwell in a place with rules – especially when one understands that behind them all is the love of the Father.

  22. leonard nugent says

    mary benton you hit the nail on the head and I’m profoundly greatfull for all of the prayers our Orthodox brothers and sisters offer for us that we may become more Orthodox.

  23. TLO says

    It seemed to me that we were saying, “God, I really love your rules!… But with any measure of honesty added in, I could not bring myself to say, “I love rules!” I still don’t like rules.

    Personally, I find it helpful to think of David as the kind of person who in today’s world would be a trial lawyer. He was a shepherd with upward mobility in mind. People like that actually do love rules and are probably best avoided.

    (the rules) can only be kept in and through the power of the resurrection.

    Statements like this trouble me for two (similar) reasons:

    No one is able to keep them all. Period. No human ever has.

    An atheist who so desires is as able to keep the rules as well as any believer. So what is this “power of the resurrection” stuff really? Keeping the rules is an act of the will. The will may find motive power through things like love or fear of consequences and yet it still boils down to a choice.

    Mary’s comment about the history of the RCC in this regard begs the question that is a major discussion point today: Upon what should the rules (or morality) be based?

    Of the ten commandments, numbers 6-9 are pretty universal. I think everyone would agree on those four rules. Beyond that, whatever additional rule one wants to invoke will be strictly cultural in nature.

    1-5 and 10 are all about attitude and (IMHO) a bit silly to put into a rule book. I don’t see why Moses didn’t include “Whistle while you work” in his list. It makes as much sense as “don’t covet” and has a much more positive spin.

  24. fatherstephen says

    TLO,
    You have misunderstood the statement that only the power of the resurrection can keep the rules. It does not boil down to a choice. You cannot “choose” to walk on water. Your question is apt, “What is this “power of the resurrection.” It’s a different mode of existence. Most Christians know very little about it because they’ve traded in true Christianity for a morality-driven, psychology-dominated knock-off. I know when I writing correctly about the Kingdom when questions such as yours are being asked.

    Of course it is impossible to keep the rules (as you noted). I think I said that in the article.

    But the commandments to which Christ refers are not the 10, but His commandments in the gospel – which, if kept, more than fulfill any aspect of the 10. But they fulfill in a manner that transcends the 10.

    But I am talking about an entirely different mode of existence – to which I can only say, “there is such a thing and Christ is an example of it, as are many of the saints, etc.” Not every Christian will live such an existence fully, but learning of it and entering into it, is basic, fundamental Christianity (at least of the Orthodox sort).

    I tend to write articles like this precisely because of the bogus-Christianity of the moralizers.

    But, really, TLO, do you have it all figured out? You read the article and still made such remarks? Really?

  25. says

    There is a difference between following the letter of the rules vs. the spirit of the rules. The Mosaic Law had 613 rules in letter which were succinctly summed up in spirit by 2 rules involving love–love of God & love of neighbor.

  26. dino says

    TLO,
    your comment points to a certain misunderstanding of what is being described here…
    As Father stated, ‘keeping the rules’ is about an entirely different mode of existence – that of Christ and His saints.
    We have thousands of years of (“scientific” in the sense of verifiable) proof of this in the saints of Orthodoxy.
    To understand this, one must have at least some experience of God’s Grace (the “power of the resurrection” if you like) and the resultant love of God and neighbor, manifested as an effortless, most fiery “Nepsis” (unwavering Christ-centered watchfulness of the most minute movements of one’s being) imparted to a person in great strength through God’s Grace, (hence effortless), or effected through years of hard-earned wisdom and self-control and vigilance when His Grace and our awareness of it is somewhat “lessened” for reasons He knows.

  27. Lina says

    I know lots of Christians who fall into TLO’s way of thinking. I used to be one, as a matter of fact. God was up there somewhere and I was struggling below and I doubted we would ever meet. He was holy and I was a miserable sinner.

    Until…

    One night I heard a homily, preached by a lay person. He highly recommended that we give our lives to God. I figured that He could do a lot better than I was doing so I said, “All I have to give you God are the broken pieces of my life.”

    Everything changed! Albeit slowly. He is still working on this beloved daughter of His, and has been most faithful over many years. I am most blessed.

    So I think the question is, How do we help people to get from Point A to point B? I know lots of people who have never made the journey.

  28. leonard Nugent says

    The power of the resurrection is an interesting thing. I suspect that it is not a one size fits all experience. There are things about living in the power of the resurrection that may be unique to each person in this life. There are things about it that you know that I have no clue about, and perhaps there are things about it that I know that no one else, or not everyone else knows. It’s probably a mysterious thing. No one ever seems to define it

  29. mary benton says

    If we rely on rules to tell us how to live, we are in trouble. Though some rules are needed for an orderly society, rules in and of themselves cannot give life meaning or teach us how to live.

    “In and through the power of the Resurrection” (Fr. Stephen) our lives become “ruly” (vs unruly) – not because we suddenly become able to follow long lists of rules properly but because we are transformed to a new Life.

    Following the Way of the Christ brings my life into harmony with the wholeness (holiness) for which we were made. That harmony naturally coincides with “the rules” – but the focus is not on the rules but on the love for the One I follow.

    To illustrate, in light of my previous comment on Catholic rules: there is a vast difference between going to church on Sunday because a rule says I must vs. going to church to seek and celebrate the union with God and community offered me in the infinite love which is Eucharist. The latter coincides with the rules but the focus is completely different.

  30. Michael Bauman says

    lenoard nugent says:

    There are things about it that you know that I have no clue about, and perhaps there are things about it that I know that no one else, or not everyone else knows. It’s probably a mysterious thing. No one ever seems to define it

    Yes, we come as unique persons, in a unique interrelationship with our God and His people. We are not alone or separate but we are unique in a manner that the world cannot conceive, opting instead for a barren individualism and rationalism as a poor substitutes.

    We bear one another’s burdens and participate in one another’s joys across time and space whether we want to or not. That is the power of the Incarnation, Crucifixtion and Ressurection and why each Divine Liturgy begins with the words: “Blessed is the Kingdom…”

  31. Dino says

    Lina,
    I think that the answer given to that question (How do we help people to get from Point A to point B) is that we must get ourselves from point A to B and become a shining, inspiring example.

  32. Lina says

    Most of the sermons I have heard tell us what we are supposed to do and be, but I have heard very few which gave any hint on how to do it. It is kind of like being given an airplane and no flying lessons.

    Take forgiving one’s enemies. We are supposed to forgive but how do we forgive, and how do we get the hurt healed that has settled in our soul,our heart?

    In the Divine Liturgy the priest says, “Let us lift up our hearts.” What does it mean to lift up our hearts? To whom are we lifting up our hearts and why? How many of us say, “Here is my aching heart Lord, please do something with it? ” How many of us give God permission to do anything in our lives?

  33. CoffeeZombie says

    Dino & Lina,

    “Acquire the Spirit of Peace, and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” -St. Seraphim of Sarov :-)

  34. sergieyes says

    Father bless;
    “But I am talking about an entirely different mode of existence – to which I can only say, “there is such a thing and Christ is an example of it, as are many of the saints, etc.” Not every Christian will live such an existence fully, but learning of it and entering into it, is basic, fundamental Christianity (at least of the Orthodox sort).”
    I am tempted to believe that this Christianity you refer to is kairos. I am tempted to think that kairos is normal in heaven but we do not know these relationships here. Jesus Christ, when he emerges from the Jordanian prayer retreat, from being tempted by Satan, first announces: “Metanoia” repent! And if you do, God awards Kairos, the life which exists in heaven.
    Is this correct or am I delusional?
    GLORIFY CHRIST!

  35. Dino says

    Lina,
    “how to do it”
    According to Elder Aimilianos’ explanation of Saint Hesychios, it is through constant, zealous, unwavering, spirited, fervent “Nepsis” of the most minute movements of one’s being heart and mind.
    The degree of our Spiritual vigilance (in this sense) is the degree to which we love God; with out it we are left in the dark, we know not what to make of hurts, illnesses, temptations, enemies, prayers… with it however, Light floods our being and all the aforementioned suddenly make complete sense! Just like sinning made sense before, not sinning makes sense with it. It is the road that leads to a true relationship with God.

  36. Lina says

    Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Unless one is born again of water and the Spirit , he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” John 3:5.

    The water part is easy unless one lives in a desert or a land where water is scarce. But how do we get born again in the Spirit? This seems to me to be the crux of the matter. Most of us can relate to God, as God and as Father, we can relate to Jesus as Saviour, but the Spirit poses a problem.

  37. Dino says

    We are baptized Orthodox, The Spirit is already inside of us, through Nepsis we will peal away layer from layer from layer and eventually discover we had it all, all along, buried deep under a great deal of darkness …

  38. says

    Was it an accident that my comment, which was awaiting approval (I presume, because it had a link in it), has now disappeared? I hope it wasn’t rejected. It was just a link to comical video by a Lutheran minister (Pastor Fiene the maker of Lutheran Satire) about John 3:5 and the meaning of Water and the Spirit. I thought it was a funny and actually a bit edifying video, and I surely didn’t think I was violating the ground rules here with my comment.

  39. Lina says

    Dino, I am sorry to say this but I would imagine that 99% + of the world has never heard of the word Nepsis and therefore has no idea what it means. I would also say that much of the world is just struggling to survive, physically, and hasn’t much time to study the church fathers. I would like to think that God in His vast wisdom, knows all this and that He would make His Holy Spirit available to readers and non readers alike.

    What I hear you saying is that the Holy Spirit is only available to those who study the Fathers and pray ceaselessly.

    But as I read it, we are born again by the power of the Holy Spirit so that it is the Holy Spirit working in us, not our power trying to impress it.

    I grew up on this:

    Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,
    and lighten with celestial fire.
    Thou the anointing Spirit art,
    who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.

    Thy blessed unction from above
    is comfort, life, and fire of love.
    Enable with perpetual light
    the dullness of our blinded sight.

    Anoint and cheer our soiled face
    with the abundance of thy grace.
    Keep far from foes, give peace at home:
    where thou art guide, no ill can come.

    Teach us to know the Father, Son,
    and thee, of both, to be but One,
    that through the ages all along,
    this may be our endless song:

    Praise to thy eternal merit,
    Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

    Words: Latin, ninth century;
    trans. John Cosin, 1627

    and this:

    Come down, O love divine,
    seek thou this soul of mine,
    and visit it with thine own ardor glowing;
    O Comforter, draw near,
    within my heart appear,
    and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

    O let it freely burn,
    till earthly passions turn
    to dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
    and let thy glorious light
    shine ever on my sight,
    and clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

    Let holy charity
    mine outward vesture be,
    and lowliness become mine inner clothing;
    true lowliness of heart,
    which takes the humbler part,
    and o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

    And so the yearning strong,
    with which the soul will long,
    shall far outpass the power of human telling;
    for none can guess its grace,
    till Love create a place
    wherein the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.

    Words: Bianco da Siena, d. 1434;
    trans. Richard Frederick Littledale, Jr., 1867

    or to put it in very vernacular terms, we invite God to come in and clean our house. And sometimes we sure battle Him. We don’t like to cede territory.

  40. fatherstephen says

    Lina,
    Through the centuries, these things have been known by the faithful whether they could read or not. They learned them in the Church and through its life. Today, admittedly, there are many who know nothing of these matters (whether they use the word “nepsis” or not is inconsequential). But the ignorance that has infected much of the Christian world has robbed it of knowledge about many things – a knowledge that would once have truly been universal. People know almost nothing about true prayer. Almost nothing about true fasting. They no longer understand about the true nature of the spiritual life and live instead trapped in their own psychological delusions or religious error (or unbelief). In proclaiming the Orthodox faith and its fullness, there is an effort to restore proper spiritual knowledge – both by writing – and mostly by living.

    Does it help if the word “nepsis” is translated as “watchfulness” or “sobriety?” It’s in the English Scriptures as such – but its importance has been lost because the Tradition in which the Scriptures were written was lost to most of the modern world.

    God is merciful and pours His grace out on us without measure and many learn some of these things in other ways – and even call them by different names. But Dino has correctly stated the matter.

  41. CoffeeZombie says

    @Lasseter

    Your video shows up for me. Also, I found it very funny! :-D I grew up hearing the water connected to amniotic fluid and all that. It never occurred to me, until I started encountering and talking deeply with Christians from other backgrounds, that there was any other way to interpret that verse!

    @Lina

    Nepsis is one of those words I have to go look up every time I come across it!

    However, Dino is correct that we are born again in Spirit through Baptism. More specifically, in the Orthodox Church (I don’t know your background, so please forgive me if I’m saying something you already know), we are first Baptized in water, and immediately after, are anointed with holy oil. This is called Chrismation. When we are Chrismated, the priest says, “You are sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” As I’ve been told, Chrismation was given by the Apostles as a replacement for the laying on of hands, because they just couldn’t be everywhere.

    So, if you are Orthodox, you have been born of water (Baptism) and of the Spirit (Chrismation).

    What Dino is, I think, trying to say about Nepsis and so on is to say that we must strive to work with the Holy Spirit, so that we may attract him, be more and more receptive to him, etc.

    And, as I understand it, unceasing prayer is the calling of all Christians, though it is certainly something we learn to do (perhaps for some it may come “naturally,” but, thank God, I am not abnormal in that it does not for me). It does not mean that we literally spend all our time praying in church or something (even monks have to work!), but that, even as we are out and about, doing our work, or scrabbling to get by as best we can, whatever we are doing, we maintain a prayerful awareness of God and a watchfulness over ourselves, that we not fall into sin.

    But, of course, all of this would be something one might best work out with his or her spiritual father or priest. :-)

  42. Dino says

    Lina,
    I would say that the “uncoverer of the Spirit” already dwelling inside our heart of hearts, namely Nepsis, (Spiritual Vigilance, Watchfulness of all thoughts as well as internal and external images – no matter how minute and nascent-, that fervent Noetic Sobriety) can be practised everywhere – even if its highest levels are near impossible to be achieved for any length of time (ie: utterly pure noetic prayer) amidst the hustle and bustle of most people’s lives and requires an externally hesychastic set-up (as well as an internal one).
    The world which

    “is just struggling to survive, physically, and hasn’t much time to study the church fathers”

    is not such a hindrance to it at all, it has been achieved in noisy concentration camps, rife with sin and torture by many (e.g Archibishop Anthony Golinsky is a fabulous example – check “Two Elders on the Jesus Prayer”). It is far harder to be achieved in situations that suffer from voluntary distraction (no matter how subtle this ‘voluntariness’ might seem to us) than it is to be practised in situations plagued by involuntary distraction.

  43. mary benton says

    Dino:

    You wrote: “We are baptized Orthodox, The Spirit is already inside of us, through Nepsis we will peal away layer from layer from layer and eventually discover we had it all, all along, buried deep under a great deal of darkness …”

    I assume you were not suggesting that only that baptized Orthodox have the Spirit in them. I believe that God’s Spirit is already in all people but the work of faith is what helps us to know it and peel away the layers. Certainly not all faiths do so with equal effectiveness but I do not believe that God denies His spirit to any of those He has created.

    Regarding praying without ceasing (nepsis, noetic prayer and other terms I’m just learning), sometimes I need to trust that the Spirit prays within me (see Romans 8: 26-27). I long for it to be so during those times when my mind must be occupied in such ways that conscious prayer is not possible.

    I suspect that this becomes more the case as we peel away more layers. As the Spirit helps us peel away the layers, our spirits and the Spirit become less and less distinguishable from one another in the loving union. (I’m nowhere near this point myself but this wonderful exchange has given me pause to reflect on such a holy process…)

  44. says

    Well, now I see my video comment. Jiminy Cricket.

    We do call the Holy Spirit “the giver of life.” He moved upon the face of the waters. His name in the ancient languages is closely associated with soul and life. He participated in Creation and gave life, not just to man either. If in baptism one is buried and raised with Christ, then in chrismation (or the laying on of hands), one receives of the Spirit a new life, a second life, or the gifts of it.

    (This isn’t, mind you, a very insightful comment, but I didn’t want the only thing I said to be, “Oh, now I see my video, gee whiz!”)

  45. TLO says

    Not every Christian will live such an existence fully, but learning of it and entering into it, is basic, fundamental Christianity (at least of the Orthodox sort).

    I used to believe that there was such as thing as “basic Chrisianity” and I searched for it for many many years. All I ever found was people behaving like people.

    In the end, it has become far less important to me what people intellectually ascend to. Behavior is more important than theological belief. If one adopts a philosophy that teaches kindess, mercy and self-sacrifice, I don’t care whether they also believe in a resurrection or if they think the space-alient mother ship will return one day.

    It seems to me that behavior forms belief, not the other way around.

    But, really, TLO, do you have it all figured out?

    Goodness no! I would not be here if I had or at least I would not pose the niggling questions that arise. But whereas I used to be obsessed over these matters, I have reached a point where a great many of the questions that plagued me now seem fatuous.

    I’m an imperfect being, and I’m fine with that. I know others are imperfect, and I’m fine with that too. Knowing that we cannot be perfect in this life, I fail to see the point in trying to be perfect rather than accepting people and things as they are.

    Lina said:

    Most of the sermons I have heard tell us what we are supposed to do and be, but I have heard very few which gave any hint on how to do it. It is kind of like being given an airplane and no flying lessons.

    I think, rather, that it’s like pasting feathers to your arms and being shoved off a building while they tell you that you were meant to fly when the truth is that plummetting comes far more naturally to us.

    How many of us give God permission to do anything in our lives?

    Heavens! Do you know how much agony people go through when god decides to bless them? The Bible and history are replete with horrifying stories of people who have given god permission to muck about in their lives… :)

  46. mary benton says

    Hi TLO – nice to “see” you again.

    “Knowing that we cannot be perfect in this life, I fail to see the point in trying to be perfect rather than accepting people and things as they are.”

    If I love someone, even if I know I cannot ever love them perfectly, wouldn’t I welcome the opportunity to fall ever more deeply in love with them every day? It is that way with God. Trying to be perfect is not the goal (I’m a recovering perfectionist) – allowing God to make me perfect in union with Him is a love relationship, not a striving of the ego.

    One can accept self and others as they are and still grow spiritually. In fact, I think that acceptance is a prerequisite…

  47. TLO says

    If I love someone, even if I know I cannot ever love them perfectly, wouldn’t I welcome the opportunity to fall ever more deeply in love with them every day?

    Certainly! I would contend that this is only possible after the façade has worn off and we see them as they are, warts and all. It’s easy to love someone when you don’t know their dark side. But I don’t think that you could really call that “love.”

    And maybe this is part of my problem. I find it far simpler to relate to any of the Greek deities than to a “perfect” god. I can appreciate someone with weaknesses and imperfections. How could I possibly relate to anyone or anything that is or presents itself as perfect? I have no common ground with perfection. How can I love it or want to be loved by it? What could possibly result except a constant reminder of my own imperfections?

    I would rather be loved by someone who has the choice to love me than by one who is defined as “love” itself and has no choice in the matter. It is the choice that makes love valuable, don’t you think?

    Unless god can also hate and be defined as “hate” itself, what’s so great about him simply following his own nature and loving us?

  48. Dino says

    TLO,
    my thoughts are that God’s greatest “weakness” if you want to call it that, is that he loves us knowing our darkest most perverse possibilities, hidden from ourselves, more than we can ever comprehend,

    even just suspecting a slither of that Love of His towards us is obviously powerful beyond normal measures.

  49. Karen says

    TLO,

    I don’t find it that remarkable in terms of human logic that someone flawed and imperfect like myself should love me. If they are able to care for themselves, imperfect as they are, why shouldn’t they be able to genuinely care for me as well? Just to be clear, I don’t frown even on this kind of love or take it for granted. There are many human beings who, for various reasons for which I cannot judge them (since, frankly, I am frequently one of them!) cannot seem to love even in this limited way. But, the wonder of God’s love is that although He is perfect (which is not different than saying He is love), and has no need of us (IOW, He isn’t at all egotistically interested in us for our utility to Him, as many of those of Calvinist zeal seem to imply when they insist that humans exist to give “glory” to God), He desires our good and never ceases to pursue this for us, regardless of how much we may reject His overtures and make ourselves His enemies. I’m not a philosopher, so I can’t point out why in philosophical terms, but your reasoning that God is love so He loves, not “freely” because He could do something else, but out of a kind of “necessity” of His nature is very flawed. God is not a created and contingent thing. Also, by definition, to do something because it is genuinely in harmony with one’s will and nature is the perfection of freedom! The view of “freedom” as only the choice between different options is a deficient view of personal freedom. Real “freedom” is that which genuinely fulfills our nature and allows us to be what we, in the deepest and truest part of ourselves, truly want and were intended to be.

  50. fatherstephen says

    TLO,
    You are correct viz. love and freedom. Thus, although we say, “God is love,” it is understood by the Church that this is not by “nature” but an act of the Persons of the Trinity – a pure act of freedom (thus “choice” if you will). Could God do other than love – yes. But He doesn’t. He loves – but not of necessity. Love by necessity isn’t love – it’s something but it’s not love.

  51. mary benton says

    TLO:

    “How could I possibly relate to anyone or anything that is or presents itself as perfect? I have no common ground with perfection. How can I love it or want to be loved by it? What could possibly result except a constant reminder of my own imperfections?”

    I would not want to be loved by “perfection” if its goal was to keep itself perfect and keep me imperfect, with constant reminders of this. However, this is not the case with God – not the One I believe in, anyway. He became a human being in Jesus so as to invite me and enable me to know/join Him in the perfection of His complete love.

    I think I understand what you mean by not having common ground with perfection, i.e. it feel like real problem to love a perfect human being while being imperfect oneself. Such a dilemma sometimes makes me wonder if I would have loved and followed Jesus had I met Him in history. I actually find it kind of a scary thought because I’m afraid that I would not have. I don’t know if I could have gotten past my own ego that would feel threatened by His perfection.

    A small child cannot relate to the “perfection” of his/her parent – not true perfection, of course, but to a child a good parent will seem so much stronger, wiser, etc. And yet such a child can love this good parent because he/she sees that that parent is trying to raise the child to their level, with a judicious blend of nurturing and discipline.

    This is one of the many reasons I find it so comforting to call God my “Father”…

  52. TLO says

    although we say, “God is love,” it is understood by the Church that this is not by “nature” but an act of the Persons of the Trinity – a pure act of freedom (thus “choice” if you will).

    One who chooses to love is called “loving.” To say that god is love is something entirely different.

    It is my understanding that those who believe in god believe that he encompasses all things and that everything exists within him. If that is true, then evil cannot exist without him. Hate cannot exist without him. And yet no one says “god is hate” even though it is an impossibility that hate could exist outside of god.

    If we consider that “love” and “hate” are are actual things and we say that “god is love” then who or what “is hate” if not god?

    by definition, to do something because it is genuinely in harmony with one’s will and nature is the perfection of freedom! Real “freedom” is that which genuinely fulfills our nature and allows us to be what we, in the deepest and truest part of ourselves, truly want and were intended to be.

    I’m struggling over this. Something about it doesn’t seem right but I can’t pinpoint it.

    to a child a good parent will seem so much stronger, wiser, etc

    Yes, but “seeming” is not reality. The reality is that the parent isn’t necessarily good or wise and in time the child will discover this. It seems to me that a grown child who is able to accept that his parent is flawed and who can love that parent as a person (and not just as the pare role-model) is eons further along the path of love than the little child who has a sort of hero-worship delusion about his parents.

    At some point, the patina has to wear off. What we do then is all-important.

    I believe this is true of our deities as well. We may be small children, by comparison, but that only means that the deity will always “seem” and we really have no way of knowing whether that “seeming” is a delusion or based in some kind of reality.

  53. Dino says

    TLO,
    it sounds to me that you are still trying to construct a god (or deconstruct a humanly constructed god) of rational reasonings and syllogisms. That is not the True God that is known (not through our reasoning powers, but first and foremost), through His direct revelation to us.

    Also, hate is trying to exist outside of God, our rejection of the Truth of ‘Love as the meaning of existence’ if you like, and our attempt to posit the Ego as the arbiter of all ‘truth’ – a Hades-like dead end… no?

  54. mary benton says

    TLO –

    You ask many good questions. However, sometimes I feel like you take a comment out of context so that you can argue with it. (I realize that this may not be your intent, but let me explain what I mean.)

    In the comment I made about the child and the good parent, I was responding to your earlier statement that you could not relate to a perfect being, either to love or want love from it. I was attempting to illustrate that there can be love when two beings are not on the same level, while acknowledging the limitations of the analogy since no human parent is perfect.

    I do not believe that our love is or should be limited to beings who are as flawed as we are. If we so limit it, we are not likely to grow beyond our flaws.

    Of course the “patina wears off” with children and parents. But to assume that it must be so with “our deities” seems odd logic to me. I understand, however, that the notions you have been taught of God may lead you to mistrust ANY notion of a God who is perfect and loving. (Back to not wanting to be duped again?)

  55. fatherstephen says

    TLO,
    You get to make up your own meanings for statements in Scripture? “God is love,” is not interpreted by the Fathers as “the essence of God is love,” but is a description of the Persons – it is an act, not an essence.

    There is no such thing as an essence of “love.” It is one of God’s Divine Energies.

    There is also no such thing as an essence of “hate.” Hate is an action taken by people – persons – demons, etc. But there is no “free-existing” substance of hate or evil (unless you’re watching Star Trek or some horror movie).

    God, the good God, who loves, loves even those who are doing evil (Luke 6:35). That probably includes me from time to time. Thus God sustains us in existence, because He is a good God (and existence is truly one of the “good” things that He gives us). That gift is obviously abused, but in His mercy He sustains us.

    The “mystery of evil” or “mystery of iniquity” is a phrase used in the NT. It refers to the “full run of the course” of evil actions. The mystery is both that God allows it to have its run, and that it is not an infinite run, but will be ended. Exactly what that looks like isn’t clear – although the mystery of Pascha is its primary example. Christ tramples down death by death (death is the “last enemy” in St. Paul’s words). Good will triumph, evil will be no more and creation will enjoy the freedom of the sons of God.

    The resurrection of Christ is the ultimate ground of reality. All “seeming” is done away with. Who and what He is – is clear. If you believe in that sort of thing. But the Christian faith begins with the resurrection of Christ and flows from that at every moment. There is no reasoning about reality and truth apart from it.

  56. Michael Bauman says

    The first struggle and perhaps the hardest is accepting a good God as described in the Gospel of John and elsewhere. It is the fundamental stuggle of faith, IMO and one that can go on for the entirity of one’s life. We are always faced with existential evil and horror that can make faith in a good God difficult to accept.

    I have found it easier ever since I began to realize that those who have the greatest trouble with accepting a good God in the face of evil, tend to want a magical or tyrannical God who simply does not allow “bad” things to happen.

    Further, we have to accept the antinomical nature of the Chrisitan faith in which two seeming opposites often combine to form a whole truth, e.g, Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man.

    Any attempt to reduce such antinomies to rational syllogisms will always fail and lead to heresy and/or unbelief.

    The Orthodox Christian faith for all its incredible theology, liturgies etc. is founded on the experiential unity of the human and the divine made possible by the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection.

    Three questions (each repeated 3 times) are posed to those who ocme for Baptism: Do you reject Satan and all his works? Do you unite yourself to Christ? Have you united yourself to Christ? express the personal death and resurrection each of us must go through continually in order to enter more fully into the union to which we are called.

    Soon we will sing the plaintively/joyous hymn of Bridegroom Matins to begin Holy Week: “I behold the Bridal Chamber, richly adorned for my savior, but I have no wedding garment to worthily enter in. Make radiant the garment of my soul, oh giver of Light and save me.”

    The union with Christ to which we are called and which His grace makes possible is deeply intimate, even as a marriage. In that union, submitting to His love, His laws become sweet indeed and all things are made new.

  57. leonard Nugent says

    I once saw a funny cartoon. It was Moses holding the 10 commandments and reading them and the caption read “Please hold your applause until I’ve read all 10″ That always cracks me up

  58. TLO says

    Ricky Gervais in “The Invention of Lying” holding up the Man in the Sky’s ten laws as written on the inside of pizza boxes always cracks me up. That whole scene really…

    “Is he the one who saved me when the boat capsized?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Did he capsize the boat?”

    “Yeah.”

    ….

    “So, he gave my mom cancer?”

    “Yeah.”

    “And he cured my mom of cancer?”

    “Yes.”

    Classic.

  59. fatherstephen says

    TLO,
    It must be lost. Didn’t find it in the spam filter. May have dumped it with the spam. Sorry.

  60. PJ says

    Father,

    This is REALLY off topic, but the question has been bugging me: Does the Divine Name given unto Moses, signified by the so-called Tetragrammaton, belong to the Father or the Son — or the entire Godhead? If the whole Godhead, why is it linked with the first person singular? And, in a larger sense, which Person is generally speaking in the Old Testament? The Son?

    Again, sorry to interrupt …

  61. fatherstephen says

    The most common Orthodox answer is that the Person speaking is the Son – He is the Logos of the Father. Thus, in the icon of Christ, the nimbus contains a cross, and in the Cross, are the letters ὁ ὤν from the Septuagint Exodus 3:14 ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν (the tetragrammaton in Greek). Thus Orthodox tradition irrevocably ties the Speaker to the Logos. Among Orthodox theologians, the great Leonid Ouspensky, iconographer and theologian, wrote perhaps the most strongly on this topic – and I prefer his treatment to any other that I’ve seen.

    He is very keen that images of the Father are outside of the Tradition (though, following some Catholic practices, you can find them – even on Mt. Athos). The only God we know (including in His self-revelation to Moses) is the God we know through Christ.

  62. PJ says

    Brian, I’m aware of the numerous “I AM” statements in the Gospel of John. But I wasn’t sure if the name refers to a particular Person, to all three Persons, or to the divine nature. I’ve leaned toward understanding “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” as less of a personal name and more of a description of the Divine Nature. But, if I understand you, Father, you’re saying that it refers specifically to the Son?

  63. Dino says

    PJ,
    regarding the use of English translations of Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah etc.
    (this also pertains to some of your use of Isaiah in Father Aidan’s site), or even those ‘direct’ quotations (“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh”), please remember that (as J. Sanidopoulos very well points out), the Septuagint is actually the one that predates the Masoretic text by almost ten centuries. It is the Septuagint that is based upon the first Hebrew, Aramaic and Chaldean texts (at least twelve centuries older than those texts upon which the Masoretic version is based).
    Yet, modern Christian translations of the Old Testament rely on the Masoretic Text, not the Septuagint!

    Around 250 B.C. seventy rabbis translated the sacred texts into Greek. This translation was not a bootleg edition. The project was approved by the High Priest and the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. The Septuagint, the translation of the seventy, was an official document.

    The Hebrew Bible today is the Masoretic text – compiled around 700 A.D. It is almost one thousand years newer than the Septuagint. The rabbis who compiled the Masoretic text were not accountable to the High Priest in Jerusalem. There no longer was a High Priest. The rabbis who compiled the Masoretic text were not accountable to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. There no longer was a Sanhedrin…

  64. PJ says

    Dino,

    I’m familiar with the history of the various texts, although I think the situation is more nuanced than your words suggest. I personally find them equally valuable and venerable: translations of both the LXX and the MT sit on my nightstand.

    But what does this have to do with my question?

  65. Michael Bauman says

    Matthew 11:27
    All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.

    Does this verse speak to your questions PJ?

  66. Dino says

    PJ,
    the greek texts tend to an understanding of a more personal name/hypostasis rather than a description of the Divine Nature, as compared to the english masoretic based translations, that’s all.
    I am pretty sure that your original question has been answered by Zizioulas somewhere – though I forget the answer!
    The situation is indeed far more nuanced, I completely agree. Especially from a scholarly perspective rather than an eclessial one..

  67. Dino says

    YHWH clearly can apply to any of the Three Persons as there are instances where one YHWH is addressing the other YHWH in Isaiah 48, Zachariah 2 and others.

  68. fatherstephen says

    Dino,
    Yes, I agree. The point of the “ho on” on the ikon of Christ is to make it clear that this man is also God. It is probably incorrect to push the question of which Person prior to the Incarnation, inasmuch as we are pursuing that was hidden on purpose. It’s not a sin or anything, but we can only go so far with the question.

  69. PJ says

    Dino,

    “the greek texts tend to an understanding of a more personal name/hypostasis rather than a description of the Divine Nature, as compared to the english masoretic based translations, that’s all.”

    You think so? I don’t find much difference. If anything, the LXX seems more interested in ontology than the MT; less interested in the Sacred Name as an actual “name” — in the usual sense of that word.

    “YHWH clearly can apply to any of the Three Persons”

    What about the Isaiahan “I AM” statements. For instance: “I am God, the only God there is” (45:5). How can any of the persons say this? It seems to limit not only the number of deities, but the number of persons. Or am I misreading this? Can any of the Persons at any time say, “I am the only God”? I suppose Christ did say: “All that belongs to the Father is mine.”

    For some reason, the complexities of Trinitarian theology have been tripping me up. This is most likely because I’ve been trying to read deeply in the Old Testament, and it is easy to fall into a simplistic unitarianism …

  70. PJ says

    I guess I’m basically wondering about the extent of the Father’s monarchy. Is He the “One God,” Absolute Being, whose self-knowledge and self-love are hypostasized as Word and Spirit? I’m wrestling with the … autonomy? … of the Word and the Spirit. With their subordination (or lack thereof) under the Father. I recognize their eternal generation and procession — this makes sense. But I’m wondering if my monarchianism has perhaps gone “too far,” perhaps even bordering on a sort of reformed Arianism, with a Son who is eternal but more a “part” of the Father than fully His own… St. Athanasius, pray for me! Bah!

  71. fatherstephen says

    PJ,
    Yep. Sounds a little over the top. Self-knowledge and self-love hypostasized? Doesn’t work. Autonomy becomes something problematic when we mishandle it. Of course the Persons are free – were they not free they would not be Persons. But how that Freedom is used is the point. But there aren’t 3 agendas, etc. You need to read some Zizioulas just for the cleaning job!

  72. Dino says

    PJ,
    (I have copied this, more or less on F. Aidan’s:)

    The OT statements of YHWH can be confusing, as in “the Lord said to my Lord” classic example of this.
    It seems like it is a non-Hypostatic name for the completely OTHER nature of God , yet used ‘Hypostatically’ as a NAME (applicable to all Three Hypostases).
    I remember reading an explanation of this by someone somewhere in Greek (writing against Jehovah’s witnesses) that “YHWH should be understood in a similar way to a family’s surname, shared by father, mother, daughter and son who also have their own more personal names.
    Eg: Zechariah 2: 9 “For, behold, I will shake mine hand upon them, and they shall be a spoil to their servants: and ye shall know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me.”
    Obadiah 1 is even stranger: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says about Edom—
    We have heard a message from the Lord
    As if two YHWH have heard a message from a third YHWH!
    This understanding, to some degree, is indirectly supported by the ending of Mathew’s Gospel where it says in the name (not in the names) of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

  73. Dino says

    PJ,
    forgive me I think ” If anything, the LXX seems more interested in ontology than the MT” is far more correct BTW

  74. PJ says

    Well, what is the Word but the perfect and complete self-expression of the Father? Thus isn’t it basically “personified” self-knowledge (so to speak)?

    Dino,

    I’d be interested in reading the article or book you’re referring to.

    Father,

    Which Zizoulas book in particular do you recommend for clearing up Trinitarian misunderstandings?

  75. fatherstephen says

    PJ,
    You’re using “Logos” as though it explains things. Logos gives some hint but Person cannot be reduced in such a casual manner. He is Word of the Father and Son of the Father. Wisdom, Word, Power, and much more. It is best “summed up” as Son.

    With Z you start with Being as Communion.

  76. says

    PJ;

    What about the Isaiahan “I AM” statements. For instance: “I am God, the only God there is” (45:5). How can any of the persons say this? It seems to limit not only the number of deities, but the number of persons. Or am I misreading this? Can any of the Persons at any time say, “I am the only God”? I suppose Christ did say: “All that belongs to the Father is mine.”

    Yes, all three are “the only God (YHWH)!” Remember there is only one eternal source of the Godhead, the eternal Father. The Son is eternally begotten while the Spirit is eternally processed from that one source, the Father. Therefore, all three are God as they are united through & in 1 source, (again) the Father; they are 3 Persons, not 3 Gods! YHWH equally applies to all. Also, just which person of the Godhead “YHWH” may apply to in any given Scriptural passage is dependent on the text of the passage. There are even passages where YHWH interacts with YHWH as Dino noted.

    God is not “what”; God is “who”. When we quote the Scriptures “God is love” we are not speaking of God existing as a “what” called love, nor are we speaking of a mere quality (loving, or lovely); rather we are speaking of God who is love personified. We do not & cannot know or experience the what of God; His essence–nature–is totally Other & beyond all direct understanding or direct knowledge or direct experience. But we can & do know through directly experience is God in His energies (grace, love)because He in His love has chosen to interract & interrelate with us; thus He is revealed to us. He even unites with us without either Him or us losing identity–personhood. He remains God (Father, Son & Holy Spirit) & we remain human (persons).

    The East starts with the who of God–Father, Son & Holy Spirit–the persons/hypostases who have interacted with us & the proceed to the what of God–His nature/ousia–which we then leave as a mystery. For example, the Father loves, the Son loves, the Holy Spirit loves; therefore God (the Holy Trinity) is omnibenevolent. Just what “omnibenevolent” fully & truly means however concerning the Godhead is a mystery.

    I don’t remember which one of the Fathers stated, “Nature does not exist naked”. There is no such thing as nature in & of itself from which the particular thing or being may be derived. Something or someone must exist that displays that nature, for example, humans must exist in order to conceptualize human nature. Your quandry is the result of the West’s tendency to do just the opposite of the East, starting with the general nature/ousia of God & moving to the specific/particular Persons/hypostases of God. We must start with the Persons to begin to conceptualize the general Godhead because conceptualize is all that we can do & no more regards the Godhead. That is why we cannot begin with God’s nature/ousia to arrive at the Persons/hypostases of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit.

    In a way this Eastern line of thought might also apply to your quandry with understanding the OT passages. They were merely a foreshadowing of Christ, not the definition or total understanding of Christ. It is because Christ fulfilled & even transcended the OT in all ways; therefore, it is Christ that defines & gives full understanding to the OT. Try to understand the many “I am” statements of Christ in the NT before trying to understand those in the OT. The OT must be read through the lens of Christ rather than reading Christ through the lens of the OT. Remember how the Ethiopian eunuch was unable to understand the OT (ironically Isaiah, the same prophet that you are quoting)until St. Phillip taught him about Christ.

  77. says

    Fr. Stephen,
    I seem to have a comment lost somewhere, can you please find it? It’s in there somewhere as I was prevented from making a duplicate posting when I tried to resubmit. Thanks :-)

  78. TLO says

    The first struggle and perhaps the hardest is accepting a good God as described in the Gospel of John and elsewhere. It is the fundamental struggle of faith, IMO and one that can go on for the entirety of one’s life. We are always faced with existential evil and horror that can make faith in a good God difficult to accept.

    The real question to me is this: If bad stuff is going to happen either with or without throwing god into the mix, why does god matter at all?

    Hate is an action taken by people – persons – demons, etc.

    Why leave god off this list? Are you saying that god cannot hate? Or are you saying he chooses not to hate?

    If you say there is no essence of “love” or “hate” then aren’t those simply adjectives that describe human emotions? How then can they possibly apply to god?

    sometimes I feel like you take a comment out of context so that you can argue with it. (I realize that this may not be your intent, but let me explain what I mean.)

    I hope that my statements were understood within the context you describe. No child is able to tell if a grown-up is a good or a bad parent. Only other parents can do so. Even childless adults have no clue. Similarly, no one but another deity can possibly know if god is good or bad. All we “know” is how we feel about god. All I was saying is that I’d prefer a deity that showed some weakness with which I can relate. That would be somehow comforting.

  79. PJ says

    ” All I was saying is that I’d prefer a deity that showed some weakness with which I can relate. That would be somehow comforting.”

    You’ve never been betrayed by a friend? Misunderstood by those closest to you? You’ve never suffered in someone else’s stead? Never shouldered another’s burden? Never condescended to come to the aid of a beloved, though it pains you to do so? This is the story of the Lord.

  80. Dino says

    TLO,
    “If bad stuff is going to happen either with or without throwing god into the mix, why does god matter at all?”
    He matters both now (in how ‘bad things are interpreted) and of course forever (which it sounds like you are ignoring in that question)

    Yes both thieves are crucified indeed, (‘bad stuff’ with or without God) yet, the one on the left (without God) closes his eyes to the Sun and remains in darkness forever while the one on the right opens them to the Sun and is illumined forever.

    We humans can shine a torch to another or not (love or hate), but God is the Sun (he is Love unchanging).
    Look closer at the gigantic power and enormous gamut of a persons interpretation being.

  81. Michael Bauman says

    In the Christian paradigm “bad stuff” happens because of our rejection of God and the subsequent breaking of communion (the Fall). Further, as the Gospels teach: all things worketh for good to those who love God

    It is only possible to accept such a statement if one has an ontological and eschatological faith.

    God transforms everything, He makes everything new, but only if we allow Him to. To put it somewhat vulgarly: He can make a multi-course roast chicken dinner out of chicken waste.

    He is also a loving father so He allows us to learn behavior and virtue through natural and logical consequences.

    God needs to be included because we need salvation, redemption and transformation. Sometimes that requires fire, tongs, a hammer and an anvil. He is the fire and He is with us in the fire.

  82. PJ says

    God isn’t a sort of rabbit’s foot that wards off “bad stuff.” Indeed, the promise of Christ is that we will suffer for Him, with Him, and in Him. Our faith does not so much abolish the passion of human existence as transform it in light of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We will receive peace, yes, and riches, but not peace and riches as the world know them.

  83. says

    God transforms everything, He makes everything new, but only if we allow Him to. To put it somewhat vulgarly: He can make a multi-course roast chicken dinner out of chicken waste.

    Come on now. Let’s don’t go quoting the Church Fathers without giving credit. That last part is from a kontakion by St. Romanos the Melodist. We sing it every year on Great and Holy Saturday … and not a dry eye in the house, I tell you. Marvelous indeed are the transformations our faith can bring.

  84. Chrys says

    “Without God, bad stuff is just bad stuff. With Him it becomes an offering.”

    True – but then, without God, it isn’t bad or good — it doesn’t have any meaning at all.

    But, in fact – or rather, in experience, that “bad stuff” – the suffering we undergo becomes a means of our salvation of the hands of God; it tears down the egoism (which the “good stuff” often feeds) that keeps us trapped in ourselves and cut off from God. It exposes the lie and the illusion from which the commandments, if followed, would have protected us. We think this egoism is our life, but it is our death. It is often only in suffering that we let go of this “mind of the flesh” and find Life and Truth (that is, God).

  85. Shane says

    TLO said “All I was saying is that I’d prefer a deity that showed some weakness with which I can relate. That would be somehow comforting.”

    Hello TLO, I would encourage you to attend, if possible, the Orthodox Holy Friday service next week – Veneration of the Shroud and Lamentations at the Tomb. You just might discover some of God’s weakness that you’re still looking for.

  86. TLO says

    In the Christian paradigm “bad stuff” happens because of our rejection of God

    There would be no tsunamis, tornadoes, avalanches, floods, allergies, or mild sunburns if people hadn’t rejected god?

    Without God, bad stuff is just bad stuff. With Him it becomes an offering.

    Bad stuff is an offering? That’s rather like saying that every curse is a prayer.

    …without God, it isn’t bad or good

    Of course it is.

    PJ and Shane:

    You’ve never been betrayed by a friend? Misunderstood by those closest to you?

    …Veneration of the Shroud and Lamentations at the Tomb…

    It is one thing to have things done to you. That is not weakness. You can place graffiti on a rock. That doesn’t make it any less of a rock.

    “The good are innocent and create justice. The bad are guilty, which is why they invent mercy.”

  87. Dino says

    TLO,
    your comment:
    “There would be no tsunamis, tornadoes, avalanches, floods, allergies, or mild sunburns if people hadn’t rejected god?”
    ignores the crux of your misunderstanding concerning the INTERPRETATION of all being (including good &bad stuff)…!
    The ancient Epictetus (often cited with approval by Church Fathers) hit the nail on the head when he said:
    “It is not things themselves that disturb men, but their judgments about these things…. When, therefore, we are hindered or disturbed, or grieved, let us never blame anyone but ourselves, that means our own judgments.”

  88. Chrys says

    …without God, it isn’t bad or good

    Of course it is.

    Father, forgive me. I failed to express my point clearly (a perennial problem unfortunately).

    I had in mind those who claim there is no God, who believe – or live – as materialists, as atheists. If one starts from the assumption that there is no God, then you must also accept that everything is just molecules and thus there is no meaning, there is nothing we can call good or bad in any meaningful way. I hope this is clearer.

    Interjecting a comment about materialists/a materialist viewpoint was not as random as it may seem (at least, it does not seem so to me). As I thought about how we live, I realized how often my behavior exhibits just such a lack of faith. That is, I have begun to realize that, in practice, my faith is often immature, weak — or, as Christ put it, “little.” At the moment of testing – the moment of challenge – when I am faced with adhering to the commandment of God or to grasping after godlike control of my existence, I seem to reenact the fall all over again: I reflexively grasp once again to gain control. Unlike Christ in the desert, I do not say “Man does not live by (whatever the need is), buy by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

    For those who assert that the events of our lives have meaning – that stuff is good or bad – is to presume God (otherwise, again, it is just molecules) . . even if we live every or any other part of our life as if He does not exist(the “functional atheism” of our “little faith”).

    Of course, you are right that of course there is indeed bad stuff – and it is pervasive. As I often tell my children, we were made by God for a perfect world – for heaven (for communion), as it were – but we live in a fallen world where disorder, death, disease and every distortion is the result of our fall, of sin. Severed from the life of God, death contaminates existence. But God, Who is everywhere present, is perpetually pouring out grace upon grace to turn what we have done into something good, to transform our acts of disintegration into opportunities for repentance and a means to deeper communion (which is a wordy version of what I think Michael meant).

    It increasingly amazes me how God turns our bad stuff – the bad stuff we do and the bad things that happen to us – into medicine for our soul and the means of our salvation. This becomes especially evident in reading the lives of the saints and seeing how God used the very evils that they endured to sanctify them (St. Nektarios is a vivid example). As the Patriarch Joseph said (Gen 50:20), “What you meant for evil, God used for good.” Beginning to see this has helped me to accept such things in my life as providential, as tools that God can and will use to work out my salvation. I trust that He will do this, too, with the worst evils in my life, which are not those done to me, but those done by me. Then someday, perhaps, when I encounter temptation I will be able to answer with Christ that “I do not live by (the temptation at hand), but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” that it is not my wishes (or, more to the point, my ego) that I serve or need, but “the Lord God and Him only shall I serve.”

  89. Michael Bauman says

    TLO, there is a sense in which all we have to offer God is our brokenness both personally and as a worshipping community. The cruse is our knowledge of good and evil without the ability to really discern. He alone judges righteously. So we offer everything to God in thanksgiving and pray for the healing, transformation and increase only He can give.

    Every ‘bad’ thing that has ever happened to me has brought me closer to God the more I offer up my judgements, feelings, sorrow and grief.

    He replaces the emptiness, anger and dispair with joy.
    His abundance is made manifest in my poverty.

  90. Dino says

    This is yet another word on interpretation – our judgement of things, even if it doesn’t originally look like one..
    An Elder in Greece who had a great deal of “bad stuff” happen to him and suffered from virtually every illness under the sun (it was a miracle he was alive according to his doctor) would often repeat enthusiastic words such as these:

    Christ is everything. He is Joy, He is Life, He is Light. He is the true Light that makes Man joyful, soaring with gladness; He makes him see and clearly comprehend everything and everyone.

    He is indeed our all, the true objective of all desire. He is Love, Eros, Passion, enthusiasm, fervour, longing for the Divine; a Joy that transforms us into another person; a spiritual madness in the eyes of the world but not in Christ. This spiritual wine has the power to inebriate far more than pure unadulterated wine. The Prophet David says, “You have anointed my head with oil and your cup intoxicates me most mightily.” Such divine intoxication is a gift of God, given firstly according to one’s purity of heart.

    Christ’s joy lasts forever, and brings eternal delight. It is the Joy of our Lord bestowing assured peace, serene delight and the fullness of bliss. It makes you forget to eat, forget to sleep, forget to sit…

    This is what our Faith is in truth. What is Paradise you ask? It is Christ. Jesus Christ is Paradise, my children and that Paradise begins here and now. Here and now. What Christ wants most of all is to fill us with Joy, because He is the well-spring of true Joy. This joy is a gift of Christ. In this joy we come to know Him.

    If, for instance, you are in love, you can live amid the hustle and bustle of the city centre and be utterly unaware that you are in the heart of the city. You see neither cars nor people nor anything else. Within yourself you are with the person you love. Nothing more, nothing less. You experience that person, you take delight in them, they inspire you. Are these things not true? Imagine now that the person you love is Christ. Christ is in you mind, Christ is in your heart, Christ is in your whole being, Christ is everywhere and all is seen through Him.

    Whoever therefore loves Christ also overflows with love for all other people and truly lives life. Loving others thus we love the Church –His Body- Jesus Christ.

    Compare this to life without Christ, it is death, it is hell, it is not life. This is what hell is – the absence of love. Life therefore is Christ. Love is that life of Christ. Either you will be in life or death. It’s up to you to decide.

    Let us love Christ and let our only hope and care be for Him. Let us love Christ for His sake only. Never for our sake. Let Him place us wherever He likes. Let him give us whatever He wishes.

  91. TLO says

    Dino:

    “It is not things themselves that disturb men, but their judgments about these things…. When, therefore, we are hindered or disturbed, or grieved, let us never blame anyone but ourselves, that means our own judgments.”

    OK. So, one who is unperturbed about homosexuality, stem cell research, sexual promiscuity, prostitution, child porn, and abortion do not suffer from some moral failing, do they? If it doesn’t bother them, that thing must not be wrong (to them).

    This thought would seem to support that morality is subjective. “…for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

    The natural outcome is that any further moral argument put forth by Christians as irrelevant. I kinda don’t think this is the case and so I don’t think that this quote really means what it seems to mean. At least, it’s not one that should be put forth as an argument with non-theists unless your intention is to prove them correct.

    Chrys:

    I had in mind those who claim there is no God, who believe – or live – as materialists, as atheists.

    Why does “atheist” equal “immoral” in your mind? There are as many immoral Christians as atheists (percentage-wise) and as many moral persons in each camp. It’s nonsense to say that bad stuff happens because of atheists or atheism.

    As far as “materialism” is concerned, I don’t think that any American in qualified to even talk about the issue (certainly not anyone with a computer and Internet access!). It is like the social drinker condemning people who drink more than they do. We are all materialists in the good old US of A. There are mo teetotalers in regards to materialism. Not here. That’s why people come here, IMHO, to have better and more stuff.

    I don’t intend this as a bag on you. I am merely stating that the fish in the pond ought not to condemn those who live in a fog on the land. Both are surrounded by H2O but the fish has no reference points for land lubbering. We are all fish in the West.

  92. TLO says

    Ah, well, my posts aren’t posting. Perhaps the gods of the web are speaking and telling me to shut up.

    Pax.

  93. dino says

    TLO,
    you are right in suspecting that you misunderstood the quote of Epictitus – it is not what it seems to you according to your comment above. It is especially not referring to any “subjective morality”
    It is far more related to Kalomoiros’ the River of Fire who there expounds in detail how one can interpret experience (God’s Love in that case) as the complete opposite to another person, all based on their respective internal disposition. So 2 people look at the same thing (God’s Love, or his providence, or what befalls them) and one perceives “bad stuff” the other perceives”good stuff” (Heaven and Hell is far more in the eye of the beholder). The proper, objective experience perceives “good stuff” where the the darkened, subjective self-centred individual perceives “bad stuff”.
    Yet another example of this is comparing Jean Paul Sartre and Saints like St Silouan or St Seraphim. One says “others are my hell” while the the others say “others are my paradise”….

  94. PJ says

    “It is one thing to have things done to you. That is not weakness. You can place graffiti on a rock. That doesn’t make it any less of a rock.”

    What? Being vulnerable isn’t a form of weakness?

  95. Chrys says

    TLO, I am referring to philosophical materialism (ala Francis Crick), not economic materialism – to the viewpoint that, per my first post, there is no God, only matter. The point there was that such a view renders all renders the one who holds it incapable of any coherent notion of meaning, or giving priority to anything, or of any sense of there being “good or bad stuff.” We may quickly recognize the horror and bankruptcy of such a perspective on life, and yet fail to see that when we yield to sin or the passions, that is the “ground’ we take up in our behavior. In that sense do we reprise the fall of Adam in ourselves and show our own vacuous egotism, our own inclination to grasp after divinity. It also shows how unlike Christ we are – in our yielding to self over truth, to short-term desire over enduring truth, to appetite over commandment, in grasping after what prerogatives we do not have when He did not even grasp after the prerogatives He had (Phil. 2:5-8.) It shows the need for ever-deepening repentance, obedience, and humility; and that humility, in turn, makes a place in our hearts for communion with God.

  96. Dino says

    Another way to look at the paramount importance of the way we condition ourselves to interpret all “Being“, or through what lens we train ourselves to see God, others and all that befalls us, is that it also reveals our “eternal interpretation”…

    Elder Paisios’ once described this vision:

    In Hell there is a gigantic table at the centre of which lies a huge Chalice containing the most desirable ever drink, the most desirable ever Light (etc etc…) All who sit around this table have a gigantic ladle attached to their hand. But they are unbelievably miserable and utterly desperate: No matter how hard they try, they know the ladle is too long to ever reach their own mouth and they are in the most unbearable darkness, alone and tormented by dryness.

    In Paradise the situation looks similar. People around the same enormous table, the same immeasurably long ladles attached, but with one key difference: They are not trapped inside that “enclosement” of the Self, through thinking of the Other first, they enjoy the ‘First Commandment’ (they enjoy the Light and Love and that quenching of their thirst from that “Chalice”) through the ‘Second Commandment’ by feeding each other lovingly…

    The title of Met. J. Zizioulas’ most famous work, “Being as Communion“, is (in my mind), a key notion to an Orthodox ‘phronema’ on Heaven and Hell, (no matter how various Fathers interpret these at times).
    What I mean to say is that one’s “enclosement” inside of his ego (one’s inability to relate to God and to any other, through various degrees of egocentricity) is his degree of Hell.
    If I am my god, and this Lie has become my mode of being, God cannot be seen as my God or my heaven, and perhaps the fact that He actually is, makes things worse for those who desire the Truth to be a Lie and the Lie to be the Truth, as Sartre said: “others are my Hell”… (and vice versa of course)…

    p.s: I have also (more or less) posted this same comment on Father Aidan’s site.