Worth the Time to Think It Through


There are many things written in theology that are difficult to understand. Certain writers, certain realities are difficult if not impossible to grasp with reason alone. I can recall spending several days with a single sentence from Met. John Zizioulas’ Being As Communion. However, after several days, “the coin dropped,” as the saying goes, and it started a chain reaction that changed my life. Three days well spent. I am offering here a two paragraph’s from Fr. Nicholas Sakharov’s I Love Therefore I Am – his magisterial work on the life and thought of Elder Sophrony (Sakharov). It is worth noting that Fr. Nicholas is the grand nephew of the Elder and is himself a monk at St. John the Baptist Monastery in Essex, England, the Elder’s monastery. If you want to spend time with something – these paragraphs will be worth whatever it takes. At the very least it should make you want to read the works of Fr. Sophrony, as well as those of St. Silouan, his spiritual father.


Elder [St.] Silouan pays particular attention to the type of prayer “for the whole creation”: “Let the whole world come to know Thee.” Elder Silouan precedes Fr. Sophrony in using the expression the whole Adam, which indicates the ontological oneness of the human race. His chapter “Adam’s Lament” expresses his universal application of the term “Adam”: Adam is “the father of the universe” and, as such, he emerges as a collective personality. Christ-like love is the bond that links the whole Adam.

The universality of this love is often expressed by elder Silouan as “love toward one’s enemies,” which was central to his thinking to an unprecedented extent. It became his criterion for the authenticity of any Christian message. Christ’s commandment (Matt. 5:44) is a projection of the divine mode of being onto the level of human relationship, since it reflects the absolute character of divine love.

Fr. Nicholas Sakharov


This morning I’ve thought to add some meditation on Fr. Nicholas’ paragraphs. They can be difficult indeed. First, the thought on the “ontological oneness of the human race.” According to the teaching of the Church – humanity shares but one nature, our human nature, though in our fallenness there is something of a fragmentation of this in our experience. We experience ourselves as individuals – not connected to others. St. Silouan concentrated not on our “nature,” but on our person – that “individual-like” identity which is whole because it is connected with others (and thus is often treated as the almost opposite of “individual”). But the great saints teaching, as well as that of the Elder Sophrony, was that in the practice of love of neighbor (and love of enemy), we extend our personhood into a communion with others that enlarges the spiritual heart and unites us together as one. This common humanity, both men referred to as the “Whole Adam.”

More importantly in these paragraphs is the insistence by St. Silouan on the one hand that “love of enemy” was the only proper measure for authenticity in the Christian life. I have stated this elsewhere as, “You only know God to the extent you love your enemy.” It is a pure teaching. But, as noted by Fr. Nicholas, it is more than a mere moral teaching. Love of enemy is a “projection of the divine mode of being on to the human relationship” – which is to say that love of enemy is indeed that action which, by grace, makes us like God. Love of enemy becomes for us as well our “mode of being,” and not simply a good thing to do. Through such love we come to live more fully as a person in the “whole Adam.”

I attended a panel discussion earlier this week between an Orthodox priest, a Rabbi, and an Imam. At one point, in discussing forgiveness, the Rabbi commented that if he got to heaven and found Adolf Hitler walking around, he would be disappointed in God. It was clear in his remarks that “justice” was his greatest concern. His has been noted by Orthodox teachers that if we ask for justice we will all be in hell. The universe and “God’s mode of being” are not founded on justice. No where in the Scripture are we told, “God is justice.” He is, indeed, a just God, but the meaning of that statement is still a deeply hidden mystery. Far more clear is the revelation, “God is love.” If we cannot bear God’s love for our enemy, then our relationship with God will be deeply hindered, even broken.

The gravity and anguish of even contemplating God’s love of political mass murderers is the sort of thing that breaks, even crushes the heart. But we have hearts of stone that find themselves crushed by the love of God. We must pray that the outcome is a broken and contrite heart. There is not a limit on the love of God. May He have mercy on me and my stoney heart.


  1. Father Stephen,

    Thank you for sharing this. Only entering my second year of conversion, after reading this post, I have a deeper experience with our God’s ocean of love. The juridical understanding of the atonement continues to be crushed in my life. Thanks be to God!

  2. One time when I was in school one of my fellow students made a comment similar to the Rabbi above (this student happened to be the lone Calvinist at an arminian Bible college). The prof, a gem of a man, remarked simply, “The accuser who insists upon justice, Scripture has a name for that dark angel.”

  3. Father bless,

    I had a question for you but is unfortunately not related to this post. It was a question about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and when Liturgy is served there.

    Shall I ask you here or via email?


  4. The Greeks celebrate Divine Liturgy in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre every day, right?

    If so, do you remember what time the service starts? When would be a good time to show up?

    I’m (Orthodox and) visiting the Holy Land and would love to receive Holy Communion while I’m there. Thanks!

  5. When we were there Liturgy was just after midnight. It may vary, depending on calendar. It’s on the Old Calendar, btw. Look for one of the Greek monks, many speak English, tell him you are Greek Orthodox (don’t say just “Orthodox”) and want to attend Liturgy, ask when. Ask if anyone will be hearing confessions in English, etc. They can be pretty accommodating.

  6. Thank you! I’m glad I asked.

    Btw, what’s with telling them I’m “Greek” Orthodox?

  7. Because they’re all Greeks, and for them Greek and Orthodox are almost interchangeable words. The official name of the Antiochian Patriarch, for instance, refers to it as Greek Orthodox. It’s never incorrect, internationally. Just thought I’d make it smoother for you.

  8. John:

    As Father Stephen wrote, saying “Greek Orthodox” is an equivalent to saying “Eastern Orthodox”. People in USA tend to misunderstand the term because of the jurisdictional fragmentation that exists in the US, and Greeks also often misunderstand the term and treat Orthodoxy as a private national heritage that they offer ‘in a box’ to non-Greeks. Actually the word ‘Greek’ denotes the language and mentality that formed the Orthodox apologetics and original worship, as opposed to Latin in the West. Actually the eastern and western parts of the early medieval Church (before the Great Schism), were known as the Greek Church and the Latin Church correspondingly (though neither Greece nor Latio existed at the time as entities). So, saying “Greek” Orthodox is much like saying “Roman” Catholic. Also, monks in the Holy Sepulchre need to distinguish Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox. The lone term “Orthodox” does not let them do that.

  9. Until recently, despite attempts not to, I tended to think of love as an emotion, a feeling, even a sentiment. However, I have begun to see and experience love as an act of will, a refusal to close off my heart even in the midst of pain and anquish. A refusal to allow fear to create barriers between me and others, even if I don’t like them, even if they have hurt me in the past. I’m not very good at it yet, but the realization allows me (sometimes) to engage the act of prayer for others and forgiveness and the manner in which I approach others at least a little differently.

  10. In regards to your above article, there is an interesting podcast on AFR and the “Illuminded Heart” with Kevin Allen. The podcast is with Wesley Smith at http://www.wesleyjsmith.com on the hugh debate(s) that is going on with almost an anti-christian favor. It is a must reading to what is happening in the field ethics and morals.

  11. Oh thank you Michael for your comment!
    I struggle with this and will remember
    your words.

  12. Sean,

    You said:
    “Also, monks in the Holy Sepulchre need to distinguish Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox. The lone term “Orthodox” does not let them do that.”

    That’s what I figured. Along with the things you mentioned first, this was the one thing that came to mind. I attend an OCA parish, so I would have felt uncomfortable having to lie and say, “Oh, I’m Greek,” when not being so. But I kind of thought it was for the reasons both Father and you mentioned. Thanks.

  13. Michael,

    Thank you for that comment!! That clarifies it very well for me. May I quote it? Would you like your name used as author or “a comment I read” ?

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