Why Morality is Not Christian

I recall my first classes in Moral Theology some 35 or so years ago. The subject is an essential part of Western thought (particularly in the Catholic and Anglican traditions). In many ways the topic was like a journey into Law School. We learned various methods and principles on whose basis moral questions – questions of right and wrong – could be discussed and decided. These classes were also the introduction of certain strains of doubt for me.

The great problem with most moral thinking – is found in its fundamental questions:

  •  What does it mean to act morally?
  • Why is moral better than immoral?
  • Why is right better than wrong?

Such questions have classically had some form of law to undergird them:

  • To act morally is to act in obedience to the law or to God’s commandments.
  • Moral is better than immoral because moral is a description of obedience to the good God. Or, moral is the description of doing the good, or even the greatest good for the greatest number (depending on your school of thought).
  • Right is better than wrong for the same reasons as moral being better than immoral.

Of course, all of these questions (right and wrong, moral and immoral) require not only a standard of conduct, but someone to enforce the conduct. Right is thus better than wrong, because God will punish the wrong and reward the right – otherwise (in this understanding) everything would be merely academic.

I will grant at the outset that many Christians are completely comfortable with the understanding that God rewards and punishes. I will grant as well that there is ample Scriptural evidence to which persons can point to support such a contention. However, this approach is far from a unanimous interpretation within the Tradition of the faith – and has little support within historic Eastern Orthodoxy.

That Scripture says such things (God is the punisher and rewarder) is undeniable – but there is also another strain of witness:

When James and John approached Christ after He had been turned away by a village of Samaritans, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. “For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village. (Luk 9:54-56)

If James and John were working out of a “reward and punishment” model (which they clearly were) Christ’s rebuke must have caught them by surprise. The same is true of many other encounters in Christ’s ministry. The interpretation brought by the fathers in all of this, is that God’s role as “punisher” is only an aspect of His role as “healer.” What we endure is not for our destruction and punishment but for our salvation and healing.

This takes everything into a different direction. It is, doubtless, an interpretation brought to the Old Testament from the revelation of Christ in the New. In Christ we see clearly what was only made known in “shadow” under the Old Covenant. Through Him, we now see more clearly.

God as Christ brings an entirely different set of questions to the moral equation:

  • What does the Incarnation of God mean for human morality?
  • What is at stake in our decisions about right and wrong?
  • What does it mean to be moral?

St. Athanasius (ca. 296 – d. 2 May 373), the great father of the Nicene Council and defender of the faith against the assaults of Arianism offered profound insights into the nature of the human predicament (sin and redemption). His approach, as given in De Incarnatione, begins with the creation of the world from nothing (ex nihilo). Our very existence is a good thing, given to us and sustained by the mercy and grace of the good God. The rupture in communion that occurs at the Fall (and in every sin), is a rejection of the true existence given to us by God. Thus the problem of sin is not a legal issue, but an ontological issue (a matter of being and true existence). The goal of the Christian life is union with God, to be partakers of His Divine Life. Sin rejects that true existence and moves us away from God and towards a spiral of non-being.

Thus, our issues are not moral in nature (obeying things because they are right, etc.) but ontological in nature. The great choice of humanity is between union with God and His Life, or a movement towards non-being and emptiness. Our salvation is not a juridical matter – it is utterly ontological. The great promises in Christ point consistently in that direction.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Rom 12:1-2)

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2Co 3:18-1)

For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed–always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you. (2Co 4:6-12)

Such verses, which could be multiplied many times, point towards our salvation as a change that occurs within us, rather than a shift in our juridical status – having settled all our justice issues, etc. Rather, we are told that “God is working in us to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). Our salvation is nothing less than conformity with the image of God, a true communion of life and participation in the Divine Nature.

Juridical approaches obscure all of this. Concerns for justice quickly denigrate the faith into a cosmic law court (or penal system). Most problematically, the issues tend to be objectified and stand outside the life of believers. To be free of all legal issues that stand between ourselves and God is still far short of paradise. Our goal is to be transformed into union with Christ – to be healed of sin and to be made new. This requires a change within our inmost being – the establishment of the “true self” which is “hid with Christ in God.”

As for justice – it remains a mystery. Christ speaks of God rewarding one group of workers who labored only at the end of the day in a manner that was equal to those who had labored the entire day. The principle at work seems to be something other than a concern for justice (this is an example used by St. Isaac the Syrian).

Morality, as a systematic form of study, is a degeneration of true Christian teaching. Like secularism (and the two-storey universe) it can presume to discuss questions as though there were no God. Morality (and its ethical cousins) becomes a “science,” an abstract exercise of reason based (often) on principles that are merely assumed.  The Scriptures tell us that there is “none good but God,” neither can there be anything good that does not proceed from God. The “good” actions that we make are actions that lead us deeper into union with Christ. Such actions begin in God, are empowered by God, and lead to God. “Morality” is fiction, at least as it has come to be treated in modern thought.

The sin that infects our lives and produces evil actions is a mortal illness (death). Only union with the true life in Christ can heal this, transform us and birth us into the true life which is ours in Christ.

As I have stated on numerous occasions: Christ did not die in order to make bad men good – he died in order to make dead men live.

If my treatment of the word morality is disturbing – I ask your forgiveness. I hope this small piece is of use in considering the true nature of our life in Christ. One of my favorite stories from the Desert Fathers illustrates (obliquely) the difference between mere morality and a true ontological change.


Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba as far as I can, I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”


  1. I think it would be redundant for me to say anything else in response to this article, except that I find it to be very welcome, like so many other articles in this blog.

  2. Hello, Fr. Stephen. I do agree that the systematic approach to morality found in some, maybe all, Western religions, has its limits. But in my faith, the Catholic Faith, there is a both/and approach. We have a long mystical Tradition that I would describe, like you did, as an ontological approach to God, an inner transformation. The Fathers of the Church, many of them, maybe most of them, are the same Fathers that the Eastern Churches claim. Then there are the saints, like St. Benedict, St. Bernard, St. John of the Cross, and many more, whose writings and lives are like you described. The Law approach runs parallel, and the two are actually related, but I’ll leave it to the trained theologians to explain that. One without the other? I’ll have to think on that.

  3. Father, what came to my mind is the rich young ruler (Last Sunday’s Gospel). Ironically he comes and calls Jesus “Good Master”. He followed the rules of morality; yet his attachments were in his wealth. It prevented him from relationship.

  4. I appreciate your post. Morality has been an interest of mine also.
    The following is portion of an essay that I once wrote. It was a philosophical challenge to a mentor I respected, but, with whom I disagreed, concerning his humanist doctrine.

    We often assume that “Mores” & “Ethos” are equivalent concepts, but they are not. The Latin root for moral is mores. Mores are driven by ‘mob’ forces from without, e.g. religion, culture, government, community, neighborhood, and even criminal syndicates such as the Cosa Nostra; all of which may have it’s own unique moral code.
    Ethos however, is a spiritual element that arises from within; it is an application of an internal standard of reality. The standard is somewhat irrational, yet, it is spiritually superior. Consider ROMANS 7:19-23
    19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do— this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.
    Note that the writer continually references “I” in this passage. However, you can see that in verse twenty, the writer divides himself into two individuals. Even more importantly, he transforms our understanding by his identification of a spiritual/true self and a carnal/false self. In verse twenty-two the writer further enlightens us about who the true self is. True self is the “inner being”. As a disciple of Jesus, this makes sense. I see the inner being in myself as the man who exists as God created me and prior to the external modifications from without, which was my choice to believe Satan’s lie, that I could become like God, by my own physical effort.

  5. “Sin is primarily a metaphysical phenomenon whose roots lie in the mystic depths of man’s spiritual nature. The essence of sin consists not in the infringement of ethical standards but in a falling away from the eternal Divine life for which man was created and to which, by his very nature, he is called.”

    and later:

    “Sin will, inevitably, pass beyond the boundaries of the sinner’s individual life, to burden all humanity and thus affect the fate of the whole world. The sin of our forefather Adam was not the only sin of cosmic significance. Every sin, manifest or secret, committed by each one of us affects the rest of the universe.”

  6. I agree entirely with the substance of your post, Father. But I think I would want to switch around the words in your title and say that “Christianity is Not Morality,” or “not a moral system.” It seems to me that the very grammar in which we, in Western civilization, discuss morality comes entirely from the Christian tradition. We could not reason morally, for example, apart from a Christian understanding of the human person as imbued with intrinsic and eternal value. But, as you rightly point out, mere adherence to “moral guidelines” is by no means the aim of Christian spiritual life and discipline. So, I would say that our morality is (and properly should be) Christian, but that morality, as such, is not the end toward which we are striving — but inner transformation, divinization.

  7. Luke chapter 18 indicates to me that moral behavior is necessary but not sufficient. Moral theology attempts to understand the natural law. If you stop at moral behavior you stop exactly where the rich young ruler stopped. If you don’t act morally all you can say to Jesus is ” I haven’t done any of this stuff!”

  8. Father, I would think this is why so many of the righteous saints of the OT are praised even though their standards of morality are very different from what we would consider acceptable today. They sought union with God.

  9. Steven,
    It’s an admittedly provocative ahead (quite intention). Moral Theology, grounded in scholasticism is problematic and has been since its beginning. I purposefully meant to challenge its use. Some of this might be a side-effect of the fact that I studied with Stanley Hauerwas at Duke, but I find the challenge to be quite authentic. Note Rowley’s comments from St. Silouan.

  10. Leonard,
    Natural law, I think, is a scholastic invention, that allows people to speak of law apart from God. It is not the vocabulary of the early Church. Eschew it.

  11. Father, one problem that I have in eschewing scholastic theology is that minds that tower over mine, Thomas Aquinas not the least, have been unable to do so. Martin Luther is a good example of someone making those decisions for himself

  12. Leonard,
    Heaven knows, I respect St. Thomas as a great intellect. However, I respect him most in the statement at the end of his life, “I have seen something that makes everything I’ve ever written seem as straw.” Scholasticism is not, to me, a move forward for Christian theology, but a great movement sideways and downwards. I do not blame Acquinas, I simply consider him as beside the point. Which, glory to God, his own confession seems to realize as well. It was an interesting development in Western theology, but a huge mistake. But you know my place in these matters.

  13. A reminder of why I was driven east into the desert. I was not lured as some are fortunate to have been, by the beauty; but rather I was compelled to flee what I could no longer understand or for what little measure I did understand conform.

    Thank you Father Stephen.

  14. More needs to be written about this in the West. Repeatedly. Until it’s understood, we Orthodox will always be viewed by American Christianity as those crazy heretics who have unwritten God’s grace. Ironic, in a sense, really.

    I tried writing something like this once, but all I could squeak out was a piece of short fiction. And I don’t even like fiction that much. Thank you for pulling it off in prose.

    A Christianity based on a list of declarative statements and moral guidelines ultimately has all the palatability of US Tax Law.

  15. This is a great article. Thank you Father. As a convert from the Reformed tradition (where I was a Minister), I had to deal with such issues at length. This article is a great summary of very key points.

  16. Jeffrey,

    I’m intrigued by your statement “A Christianity based on a list of declarative statements and moral guidelines ultimately has all the palatability of US Tax Law.? could you expand on that a little more?

  17. Father your reply made me think because Aquinas himself distanced himself from scholasticism when he he said all he had written was as straw. I have never been a big fan of scholastic theology but there are some things that I’ve learned from it. Thanks that did give me a perspective!

  18. Thanks Father for this post.

    I find it refreshing as every time I turn around it seems that “Morality” has changed, but fortunately Christ does not.


  19. Check out this link from the Russian Orthodox Church’s official teaching manual on moral theology:
    And note what happens without solid moral theology:

    “The Lord pointed to adultery as the *only* permissible ground for divorce, for it defiles the sanctity of marriage and breaks the bond of matrimonial faithfulness.”

    OK, but look what it follows up with:

    “In 1918, in its Decision on the Grounds for the Dissolution of the Marriage Sanctified by the Church, the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, recognised as valid, **besides adultery** and a new marriage of one of the party, such grounds as a spouse’s falling away from Orthodoxy, perversion, impotence which had set in before marriage or was self-inflicted, contraction of leper or syphilis, prolonged disappearance, conviction with disfranchisement, encroachment on the life or health of the spouse, love affair with a daughter in law, profiting from marriage, profiting by the spouse’s indecencies, incurable mental disease and malevolent abandonment of the spouse. At present, added to this list of the grounds for divorce are chronic alcoholism or drug-addiction and abortion without the husband’s consent.”

    Jesus gave only one permissible ground for divorce, adultery (which even then isn’t a patristic interpretation, for divorce was totally forbidden), but for whatever reason they go onto officially teach all these other sins are sufficient grounds. I don’t believe such can be supported anywhere in the Councils or Fathers.

  20. “Unless your righteousness exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you shall in no manner see the Kingdom of Heaven.”

  21. Also, Father, something came to me once that I have never fully understood – A man who was capable of resisting Bathsheba could never have written the Psalms. I don’t mean this to excuse David’s sin (or my own), but rather to explain to myself the ferocity of David’s passion for God and how I should emulate it.

    As CS Lewis wrote – It does you no credit to congratulate yourself for resisting sins you haven’t risen to the level of yet.

  22. One of the best article I’ve read in my entire life, and it prooves why I come to this site day after day. Thank you very much Fr.

  23. Father, bless.

    I have heard similar statements on Aquinas before re: his repenting of a great deal of his earlier scholasticism. Unfortunately, my searches have turned up nothing– and I wouldn’t expect western Christians or the Scholastically-minded Roman Catholics to announce it from the rooftops, either.

    Could you or anyone else point me in the direction of resources that discuss later Aquinas?

  24. Nathan,
    The Church sees divorce as a sin – and even the Lord’s “permissable” case of adultery, does not mean divorce is not a sin. Ask anyone whose been divorced and they’ll tell you how painful and destructive of the inner life divorce is for any reason. The social teaching document of the Church of Russia, is not seeking to amend Christ’s teaching, but is setting forth, for the guidance of the Church, its use of “economia” with regard to the discipline of Church marriage. The canons of the Church permit remarriage (twice) in the Church, but it follows repentance and has prayers of repentance within the service itself. The Orthodox understanding of economia is guided by mercy. Legalism, whether driven by moral theology, or the like, often creates strange fictions (like the annulment procedure, etc.). I would suggest that one problem is that you are reading an Orthodox document with the foreign eyes. If you understood Orthodoxy, you would not draw such conclusions.

  25. Daniel,
    He does not renounce his work, but after a vision, says to his amenuensis (secretary) who was urging him to return to his writing, “I have seen something which makes everything I’ve ever written seem as straw.” A good source is GK Chesterton’s small biography on Aquinas. I do not see this declaration as an act of repentance – nor would he have considered his work something to repent of.
    Scholasticism had its “crisis” in Byzantium during the debates between St. Gregory Palamas and Barlaam the Calabrian. The Council of the Church (meeting in Constantinople) declared Palamas’ position to be correct and condemned Barlaam’s Scholasticism. Essentially, it declared that Hesychasm and Apophaticism to be the proper means of doing theology – i.e. prayer and true spiritual experience are the basis of theology rather than pure reason.

  26. Daniel,
    I would read him as a Western, medieval scholastic. Not a Doctor of the Church. I think he was a very holy man and hold him in great esteem. But I haven’t read him in years. Most Orthodox probably don’t read him, and would find his writings very odd (stylistically). Do you have a special interest in Aquinas?

  27. Concepts of right and wrong are also culturally determined to some extent; whereas the notion of good and evil is a more universal reality. Fr. Meletios Webber expands on these ideas in many of his lectures and in his book: Bread & Water; Wine & Oil.

    It is much easier for a fallen being to construct moral frameworks than to choose dying to self. Constructs are tainted with self and ego (both individual and of a group) whereas union with God requires ever-increasing self-effacement. “I must decrease that He might increase.” (St. John the Forerunner)

    Another terror of a reliance on morality is that one can arrive at a place where, having constructed the framework out of one’s own self/culture, one can imagine that one (or one’s group) has “arrived”, that there is nothing more to pursue — except, of course, judging everyone else against the Almighty Framework.

  28. Father Stephen:

    No, not really. As a Protestant, I never touched him (though my education referenced him) and I haven’t given him much thought since becoming Orthodox. I was just curious, and had heard rumors of that “revelation” moment.

  29. Father Stephan,

    You mention that you studied with Hauerwas. I’m mostly familiar with his writings on homosexuality, nationalism, abortion, and end of life issues. If you have a moment, could you provide a very brief “nutshell” view of Hauerwas from an Orthodox perspective? Or point me towards one?

    I read him while working my way out of the Evangelical/Reformed traditions and into Orthodoxy (still working on it…). Most of what he’s written is over my head, but I was struck by his call for Protestants to take pre-Reformation theology seriously, and at act like a community that is older than America.

    Orthodoxy has answered those questions for me in unexpected ways, but I can’t help but be thankful to him for opening a door. Which leaves me wondering, does Hauerwas ever address Orthodoxy?

    I’m sure you have plenty to write about, so certainly feel free to pass on such a particular request.


  30. Fr. Stephen, I have got to second the request for a “nutshell” view of Hauerwas from an Orthodox perspective? Or point us toward one? My husband wrote a review of one of his books a few years ago at the request of someone, not published review, but adding to a review and that was when we were considering leaving the Church of England for Orthodoxy, which we eventually did become Orthodox. Anyway, very interested in your (or on Orthodox Church) perspective on the views of Hauerwas. Thank you.

  31. Rowley,
    Oddly, Hauerwas seems to stay away from Orthodoxy. When I was defending my thesis he was on my committee, and though my thesis was on the Icon as Theology, and he liked he, even suggested it be published, but strangely told me I should try to publish elsewhere than with the Orthodox. I didn’t ask more than that. (It’s never been published). He’s somewhat post-modern, though with a careful bullet aimed at classical liberalism. I found him helpful, myself, but would never recommend him as Orthodox reading. When he’s right, he’s clever and offers twists on things that can be very illuminating. But like any of us, when he’s wrong, he’s wrong.

    In a nutshell, he’s more or less Mennonite in his thought (greatly influenced by them) with a very Catholic view of the Eucharist. He’s a Protestant, though I don’t think he could explain why he is a Protestant. He’s a Yale University product where he was immersed in the theology of Karl Barth – thus his critical thought regarding many things. He’s one of the more interesting theologians in the country – but not Orthodox. I think that probably the most interesting Orthodox theologian in the U.S. right now is Fr. John Behr at St. Vladimir’s. I like his stuff (mostly Patristics) very much.

  32. Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you for your article! Just a couple of weeks ago I finished reading “The Freedom of Morality” by Christos Yannaris. Your article was a very timely reminder of that book which I highly recommend to all. Thanks!

  33. david, in short, to accomodate our weaknesses and human condition, pastoral theology sometimes trumps “moral theology”
    as the Holy Church is the hopsital for sinners, it makes no sense to take a rigid positon that does not allow sinners to enter the hospital …

  34. Father, bless. I am trying to understand your article in the context of the parable of the sheep and goats. (Mt 26). It seems that in this episode, the Lord judges based on works of mercy performed, rather than some abstract notion of “union with him” (please do not take offense, I use the word abstract because I am ignorant of such a thing). It seems to me, that morality is still good in itself (some actions being intrinsically right or wrong).

    In addition, in Western Christianity the pendulum of morality has seemed to swing on both extremes. For example, Jansenism (which stressed the importance of moral actions but seemed to minimize human free will) was a response to a great deal of moral laxity that was seemingly justified by “casuitry”. Romans 8 seems to indicate that we are free in the Spirit, but how do we begin to understand what the moral life means outside of us, i.e. what the intrinsic change within us leads to in the wider circumstances of our lives?

    I apologize for my rambling. I greatly enjoy your articles.

  35. Morality as defined by a system I think misses a key point. In God there are no “systems”. There is just the real itself. Therefore, acting morally is simple conformance to the real. Immoral actions are a denial of reality and therefore as father Stephen has pointed out a decent into non being.

  36. Thank you, Father Stephan. This is a very helpful summary of Hauerwas. I will certainly look into Father Behr.

  37. Rowley, do you mind posting the page number(s) for those excellent quotes you gave us from “St. Silouan the Athonite”?

  38. Father,

    I really enjoyed this post, I’ve been thinking about this a lot, partly because I’ve been listening to the soundtrack of Les Miserables in my car, and thinking about the contrast between the characters of Jean ValJean (whose life has been transformed by grace) and Inspector Jalvert (who is the epitome of justice)…it reminds me also of the two brothers in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and about this very discussion.

    However, my priest spoke today about the Israelites in the desert and God sending the snakes among them and the bronze snake is lifted up. I understand that the bronze snake is figurative of Christ…but still, GOD sends the snakes, seemingly out of judgment. There are other similar passages–of the earth swallowing up people, the command to kill Achan for stealing, slaughtering the Canaanites…

    How does this fit in with our picture of God? What is going on here, and why does it seem like he is painted so differently here than in the New Testament? The “justice” here doesn’t even appear to be redemptive/discipline oriented–it seems to be about punishment and an assaulted honor, almost like an Anslemian portrait of God.


  39. Peter how many people have you ever met that that if you asked them “what in the name of all that’s holy do you think your doing?” could simply reply “I’m simply conforming myself to the real” I’ve always found it comforting to have a few hints and guidelines posted along the way

  40. Leonard,
    I don’t think we ever say, “I’m just conforming myself to the real,” nor do I say, “I’m doing what I think is systematically right.” I usually say, “I’m struggling to be ontologically authentic as revealed in Jesus Christ (actually I don’t say that either – though that’s what I’m thinking). Usually I simply say, “About the best I can when I’m up to it.”

  41. Are the snakes figurative of Christ? I have always thought is is Moses’ staff, lifed up as a prefigurment of Christ, His word and sacrifice which allows the passions and death (the serpents) to be defeated–precisely why our bishop’s staff today has the serpents surmounted by the Cross of Christ and why, as with Moses staff, the bishop’s staff is at the entrance to the Holy of Holies at the Cathedral. Mercy, through obedience, conquers the natural consequences of sin in us. I have never seen anything resembling justice here.

    Am I wrong?

  42. +Miriam if I may
    He sends the serpents that they may be lifted up. It is both the last thing Adam sees in Paradise and the first thing his descendents see when they return. It is the very gate of Heaven.

  43. @Michael

    Moses makes a bronze snake and lifts it up…I meant to refer to that as a prefigurement of Christ, not the real snakes.

    Numbers 21 for the original story, John 3:14 for the reference to Christ.


  44. >Morality, as a systematic form of study, is a degeneration of true >Christian teaching. Like secularism (and the two-storey universe) >it can presume to discuss questions as though there were no God.

    From my post:

    I disagree. Morality as we understand it via Judeo-Christian values is not a “degeneration” of Christian teaching. Morality is a broader set of teachings that intersects the Christian faith in some points but not in others. In my class on Judeo-Christian values I make it quite clear that the purpose of morality is to enable us as a society to treat other human beings with decency, dignity, and honor. Morality is not the consequence of a theological exercise. Morality does not attempt to solve the Mystery of the Trinity or figure out how many angels dance on the head of a pin. Morality as expressed in the Ten Commandments provides a benchmark by which societies can be governed. Now yes it is true that in some respects New Testament ethics go beyond the Ten Commandments, but New Testament ethics are intended for our inter-personal relationships, not as a means to govern society (except perhaps for “render unto Caesar…”). “Turn the other cheek” is beautiful when exercised by the individual but it is suicidal when exercised by nation-states (as a matter of public policy).

    And yes, sometimes morality needs to be discussed as if there were no God. Some people in society do not believe in God, or believe in a different god than the Judeo-Christian God. Morality is the only framework by which all reasonable people can conclude that using airplanes as missiles and crashing them into buildings full of people is evil: otherwise it’s just “your God” versus “my God” (Christianity versus Islamism). It is not that we deny God – I would never deny the existence of God – the issue is that you have to be able to speak to those of all faiths and those of no faith…read more here: http://tpkatsa.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/morality-is-not-christian-so-says-father-stephen/

  45. Actually, you made much of my point for me.
    1. turn the other cheek is fine for individuals but suicidal for states – thus the state is a higher good than the individual. Pilate and the Sanhedrin agreed.
    2.Trinity and angels and pins are not commensurate. You make the governance of societies the greater good – which finally speaks in harmony with secularism. The history of secularism is the invention of an existence considered apart from God (not the death of God). Along with rise of secularism is the rise of the newly-invented nation-state, which brought not less bloodshed, but more. Some of Hauerwas and his associates have written rather well on the problems of the modern nation-state. Hauerwas once said, “The great success of secularism is that catholics could now kill catholics (and protestants kill protestants) in the name of something less than God.

    The state has many problems as a concept. It imagines that it can command my loyalty (even my killing loyalty) in the name of the state. A king could command loyalty, but the king was not a state, and the king had limits. The great wrestlings between king and courtier (as in the case of Thomas More) is simply one of many examples (even in Russia) where the king could be questioned, even disobeyed.

    Hauerwas again notes that nuclear was is the ultimate democratization of war – everybody gets to die. The modern abolition of the distinction between combatant and non-combatant (cf. Gen. Sherman, total war, etc.) blurs this classic distinction. A human being ceases to become human and now becomes an American, a Frenchman, etc.

    The whole subject is full of depth and layers worth discussion – but secularism, an invention of Protestant Christianity and modernity their child – are indeed a degeneration of Christianity. They were born under failed Christian settings – their replacement – the nation state – is not a given – just language for organizations whom we believe have the license to kill.

    Morality is a “systematic form of study” that can be done apart from God. It is also weak and unable to save. Which state does not, as a matter of policy, lie to other states and to its own citizens? The state is largely about power and very little more. I expect more out of a king, or a Czar (if they are Christian). I expect more out of Christianity. I want a king (or head of state) who believes he will have to give account before God in some manner. I’m not utopian – but the commandments of Christ apply to all (states included). Utilitarian arguments have already tallied so many dead bodies to their credit that I think the “too dangerous to turn the cheek” is far too facile.

    Perhaps the first truly great secular war (though it had is predecessors) was WW1 – an almost exclusively Christian bloodbath – (with the exception of “secular Turkey”). The American Civil War fits neatly into the same framework. God’s name invoked (always the 2 storey God). CS Lewis, in one of his poorest moments, imagines Christians killing each other on the battlefield, waking up in heaven and apologizing like a couple of guys have an accident at a tea table.

    As a Christian I can speak to people of no faith, all faith, any faith. My faith is not an obstacle. However, every body of faith should recognize that the secular states wants to destroy their religion – to reduce it to the second-storey and by no means hold it great than the so-called ethics of the state. We’ll be allowed to keep our faith, but in a new secularized dhimmitude. I’d rather turn the other cheek.

  46. Great article. I always wince when I read or see the phrase “WWJD”, which presupposes that we can deduce morality from the basis of our deductions about how Jesus might behave in any given situation. That seems very improbable and dangerous to me. While there are times for punishment or reward in life, I am also very wary of any psychology (cognitive behaviorism, for example) that relies upon it as part of its method of inciting change or growth.

  47. Father I have a question.

    Do you have any other readings, books or anything that talks about the subject ?

    Do you recommend any particular book as for Orthodoxy in general ? I do not live near any Orthodox Church, and don’t have access to computer very often to read, so I would try to find and read book when I can.

    Thank you very much,

  48. Howdy Father, so given our conversation what you think of the following article: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/13/opinion/if-it-feels-right.html

    The interviewers asked open-ended questions about right and wrong, moral dilemmas and the meaning of life. In the rambling answers, which Smith and company recount in a new book, “Lost in Transition,” you see the young people groping to say anything sensible on these matters. But they just don’t have the categories or vocabulary to do so.

    When asked to describe a moral dilemma they had faced, two-thirds of the young people either couldn’t answer the question or described problems that are not moral at all, like whether they could afford to rent a certain apartment or whether they had enough quarters to feed the meter at a parking spot…

    When asked about wrong or evil, they could generally agree that rape and murder are wrong. But, aside from these extreme cases, moral thinking didn’t enter the picture, even when considering things like drunken driving, cheating in school or cheating on a partner. “I don’t really deal with right and wrong that often,” is how one interviewee put it.

    So, if morality is “not Christian,” what is your answer to this problem? What in your estimation is the role of the Church in equipping Christians to think morally?

  49. Father, I forgot to add, being able to think morally isn’t a matter of scholasticism versus mysticism, or east vs. west methods of approach to theology, it’s a matter of making the right moral choice given the situation…

    For example, would you rather your teenager smoke a cigarette or cheat on an exam? You wouldn’t believe the number of people who say they’d rather have their child cheat. I have talked to priests who could not give a straight yes or no answer to this question.

    Another one: if your dog that you love dearly or a stranger were drowning in a lake and you could only save one, which would you save, your dog or the stranger? A full 2/3 of high school kids answer that they would save their dogs and let the human stranger drown.

    So obviously we as Christians – and Orthodox Christians – have work to do because our kids are not equipped to answer these relatively easy moral questions. If they cannot answer the easy choices, how will they then be able to tackle bigger moral dilemmas?

  50. As an Orthodox priest, I’m the father of four. Two are married to Orthodox priests. I have one and almost two grandsons. All of them are people who may good choices for themselves and for those around them, and take the teaching of the Church seriously. “Moral” formation is much the same as building character, which I think is done less by various schemes of moral theology and mostly by being taught by a person of good character and a true and active life in the Church. The problems you point to are the sad result of a secular system that is sick to the core, to the breakdown of the family (with the increasing aid of the state). We cannot do what parents will not do, as painful and sad as it may be. The role of the Church is to be the Church. I happen to think there are much better ways to teach than the scholastic model and that this has largely been the case in the best times of Christian East.

  51. I think that we often over state how different the Orthodox take on things is the point that we end up discounting or denying authentic aspects of our own tradition. In Russia, the basic catechetical instruction that everyone gets in school is called “Zakon Bozhij” — the Law of God, thus the title of the book by Fr. Seraphim Slobodskoy. There is a moral law, and all Orthodox Christians are obliged to keep it. If people keep initially out of fear of punishment, that is the first step towards keeping it out of love, as the desert fathers make clear. I know that you would agree, I just think you have over stated things a bit here.

  52. I think a question I would have is that if a moral person dies without becoming a mystic (read christian here) will that person go to heaven or be cast into hell

  53. Fr. John,
    The Law of God is indeed widely used in Russia – in some ways for lack of anything else. I’ve read it and its a good example of a sort of “Westernized” approach, often typical of that century. But it is used and with effectiveness. The teaching of right and wrong in children and in adults has been long recognized by the fathers as two different things altogether.

    Leonard, You are well aware of what I’ve taught about heaven and hell, making your comment tongue in cheek or impertinent.

  54. Father, my comment could be interpreted as tongue in cheek or impertinent but it hits at the heart of something that has caused me a lot of distress over the years. Most of the people who I dearly love do not share the same focus on spiritual matters that I have. They live good, moral decent lives but never have endured the Great Canon of St Andrew in all it glory.And even myself, many people do not believe I’m even in a real church. My question is…whats to become of all of us?

  55. Dear Leonard;
    in light of this post and all Fr Stephen has written about God’s loving kindness, what does your heart suggest?
    You can search Fr Stephen’s blog for heaven and hell; it’s been well covered.

    -Mark Basil

  56. Leonard,
    Seriously, love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. It’ll be fine. But the other questions become distractions such that we think to much. Love more.

  57. “The Law of God is indeed widely used in Russia – in some ways for lack of anything else. I’ve read it and its a good example of a sort of “Westernized” approach, often typical of that century.”

    If you are speaking of the Law of God by Fr. Seraphim Slobodskoy, it was written in the 1950’s in America. What about it did you find westernized?

    The concept of catechetical instruction being termed “The Law of God” certainly predates Fr. Seraphim, and there is no western precedent for that.

    “But it is used and with effectiveness. The teaching of right and wrong in children and in adults has been long recognized by the fathers as two different things altogether.”

    I think the idea that children should be taught something different than what adults are taught is actually a fairly recent and western phenomenon. But even if we accept that it might not be a bad idea to approach children differently, one thing that doesn’t change is that all Christians are obliged to keep the moral Law of God, and so there are no two ways about the fact that violating that law is sinful, and without repentance, such violations will send you to hell… and that is because the moral law tells you what means to love God and your neighbor, and if you don’t adhere to it, you don’t Love God or your neighbor.

  58. Fr. John,

    I have written fairly extensively on the topic – my concern is not to deny the law of God – but to move it from an objectivized, external matter, to an internal matter (“written on the heart”). It is not a legal problem that man has in sin, but a problem at the very level of his being. In some ways it bears deep resemblance the conversations regarding the nature of the atonement. A forensic approach in either case, it seems to me, lacks insight.

    As for children and adults, St. John Chrysostom, in his writings on educating children, was quite clear that some things should be postponed. In the same manner, I suspect that even for some adults, somethings might need to be postponed.

    God’s peace.

  59. Its the difference between Jesus (morality) and Paul (mystery religion) with his nonsensical interpretation of a Jesus he never even met.

  60. Jaykay,
    that is a position which has been discredited long ago…
    It is a wonder that even educated people are not aware of this and keep on banging on that same tired argument

  61. Jaykay,

    What Dino said. The Gospels and the Pauline epistles go together like peas and carrots. The same Christ preaching the same message of reconciliation with the Godhead is found in both collections of writings.

    Also, St. Paul did indeed meet Christ, just not in the flesh. However, he did meet some of Jesus’ closest friends on earth.

    Furthermore, in terms of tone and content, the Pauline epistles are no more foreign the Gospels than the Petrine or Johannine epistles. And both Peter and John knew Christ in the flesh. They were his best companions, actually.

    Finally, it must always be remembered that the Pauline epistles are the *MOST PRIMITIVE* expression of Christianity after the Letter of James. If anything, the Gospels would have “borrowed” the Pauline Christ, not vice versa.

  62. We can talk on the subject until the cows come home… (I know that I, for one, really can)
    but, irrespective of “morality”, “mystery religion”, “nonsensical interpretation”, etc etc etc… fact is that this spiritual law has no exceptions: “I only truly love god to the degree that I forget myself”, and St. Paul taught, demonstrated and lived out Jesus’ admonition to take up one’s Cross and follow Him to the point that he could say “not I, but Christ” more than the vast majority of His followers;
    indeed, “I, am the absence of God” and until we realise all this, our arguing on these matters are more often than not completely futile…

  63. Its not a position that can be ‘discredited’ any more than it can ever be ‘proved’ that Paul really saw anything on the road to Damascus other than a marijuana induced delusion or an opportunity to destroy Christianity from the inside rather than via persecution.

    “Also, St. Paul did indeed meet Christ, just not in the flesh. However, he did meet some of Jesus’ closest friends on earth.” And he did call them names in Galatians. Peter, James, and John are a bunch of nobodies who seem to be pillars, but what they really are is of no importance, because they’re not as great as me Paul the uberapostle.

  64. Jaykay,
    It is a useless exercise to argue historical matters from your reading of Scripture. The text is the Church’s record of its life with God, not some 1st century newspaper. St. Paul’s relation to the gospel, is, in the judgment of his own contemporaries and their successors, the same as that of the “eyewitnesses.” It’s great for you to have your own opinion, but it’s a little late in the game for that. Paul wins. They already voted.

    There’s no need to look for credited or discredited positions. This is an Orthodox Christian blog. What the NT says is not up for grabs for the Orthodox. We’ve been reading it for 2000 years. It’s not an interesting question. If you have an interesting question, please share it. Otherwise, save your stuff for Protestant blogs. They like to argue about Scripture.

    Pardon me, everyone. I’m declaring this conversation as closed. If Jaykay is interested in real conversation, he’s welcome. Otherwise I will pull his comments.

    Fr. Stephen

  65. Fr. Stephen

    Was there a reason you pulled my comment? (I’m not saying it was a particularly brilliant or necessary comment – but if I did something offensive, I’d like to know so that I don’t repeat it. I like your blog and the discussion.)

  66. “It is a useless exercise to argue historical matters from your reading of Scripture. The text is the Church’s record of its life with God, not some 1st century newspaper. St. Paul’s relation to the gospel, is, in the judgment of his own contemporaries and their successors, the same as that of the “eyewitnesses.” It’s great for you to have your own opinion, but it’s a little late in the game for that. Paul wins. They already voted.”


  67. Mary,
    I pulled the comments in the conversation with JayKay. Generally if there’s a problem (the problem was JK), I remove the whole conversation. Forgive me if I gave offense. Your comments are always helpful and welcome. I was away from the blog a lot the last few days. If I had been watching closely JK’s first comment would not have appeared. It was not a question but an uninformed argumentative swipe. I don’t want to reward such swipes with the attention that an intelligent conversation gives. Thanks so much!

  68. Fascinating religious rationalisation of a purely natural process and value. Every living thing (including plants) has an instinctive knowledge of ‘morality’ ~ ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ~ that has been instilled over billions of years of evolution. ie. What aids the survival of the species is ‘good’, what doesn’t is ‘bad’. No god required.

    My dog doesn’t kill for sport or politics or religion; he’s a ‘moral’ (by any definition) creature. Morality and ontology are integrated within him ~ and provides an unassailable ‘integrity’.; he doesn’t need theologists or philosophers to explain it to him. It’s what life is, unconditional and unfragmentable, that’s all.

    Homo sapiens is the most vicious, vindictive and murderous species ever to emerge, and the only one who invented gods.

  69. The only portion of that post which I understand is manifestly untrue: “What aids the survival of the species is ‘good’, what doesn’t is ‘bad’.”

    Why do you assume that the survival of the species is good? It isn’t “good” for many other life forms on the planet: that is, it isn’t conducive to their continued existence. That is an unfounded metaphysical assumption.

    Anyway, I think that you’ve missed the point of Father Stephen’s post.

  70. Gee, Jason. I don’t think you get my point. But I get yours.

    But, by your reasoning, religious rationalization must be good, since we’ve been doing it (by your account) as long as humans have existed, and we’ve survived all this time. On the other hand, the few, truly “atheist” regimes that we’ve seen practiced genocide on such a level that they have ceased to exist.

    I get that you don’t like religion – and that you lump every believer in God together. I don’t lump atheists together. Not all atheists are Nazis, though Hitler was an Atheist. Not all Atheists are communist, though Stalin was an atheist. Not all atheists are stupid, etc.

    Not all Christians fit within your list. Some Christians even love their enemies. I’d rather take my chances with people who believe the power that created everything commands us to love everyone and everything, despite the many failures of believers.

  71. Jason,

    You say:

    Homo sapiens is the most vicious, vindictive and murderous species ever to emerge, and the only one who invented gods.

    This is a contradiction in terms if sapiens is Latin for wise. Even this (clever terminology that it is), does not even begin to describe who man (and woman) really are:

    “All rational, spiritual and other qualities of man, distinguishing him from other creatures, have their focus and ultimate fulfillment in this capacity to bless God, to know, so to speak, the meaning of the thirst and hunger that constitutes his life. “Homo sapiens”, “homo faber”…yes, but first of all, “homo adorans”. The first and basic definition of man is that he is the priest. He stands at the center of the world and unifies it in his act of blessing God, of both receiving the world from God and offering it to God…”

    (Fr. Alexander Schmemann)

    You also say:

    My dog doesn’t kill for sport or politics or religion; he’s a ‘moral’ (by any definition) creature. Morality and ontology are integrated within him ~ and provides an unassailable ‘integrity’.; he doesn’t need theologists or philosophers to explain it to him. It’s what life is, unconditional and unfragmentable, that’s all.

    Not quite. Pavlov’s dogs responded by drooling at the mere sound of a bell, even when food was not present – the so called conditioned response.

    Fr. Stephen is writing about how sons of men came to be sons of God. This has nothing to do with morality (behaviour).

  72. And loving one’s enemies hardly seems evolutionarily helpful. The Golden Rule? Maybe. But turning the other cheek — especially to the extent commanded by Christ? No. The species’ survival is not served by allowing oneself to be humiliated, harassed, beaten, and even killed.

  73. So, where does it leave those of us who haven’t even gotten as far as “god is”? Why would such choose to live moral lives?

  74. TLO,

    Because the law is written on every human heart, even if it is obscured to greater or lesser degrees.

    “12 For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law 13 (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; 14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) 16 in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel” (Romans 2:12-16).

    There are also sociological reasons, no doubt: peer pressure, herd mentality, threat of retribution, positive incentives to act normatively, etc. Surely, many a virtuous action has been done for no reason other than desire to conform, or fear of punishment. But at the root of this phenomenon is the fact that all men are graced with the image of God, even if it is burnished.

  75. PJ,
    I can say as a matter of faith (spiritual perception) that all men are created in the image of God – but I do not think this is or should be clear to a non-believer. It’s sad that someone thinks that we only act for self-preservation and that is the definition of morality. I am known not to like the word “morality,” but for these purposes would say that our Christian faith teaches almost the opposite – that laying down our life for others (not self-preservation) is the moral act. But that is to go to the Cross for the joy set before us – that only faith reveals (cf. Hebrews 11). And St. Paul is right (of course), even non-believers will act in such a manner. Dying for others – sometimes even “instinctively” – without reasoning or weighing the benefits. But still, we agree with St. Paul, because we are believers.

  76. Micah: “for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” I was referring to those who have not made it through the first part.


    There are also sociological reasons…

    Fr. Stephen said:

    Like secularism (and the two-storey universe) it can presume to discuss questions as though there were no God. Morality (and its ethical cousins) becomes a “science,” an abstract exercise of reason based (often) on principles that are merely assumed.

    I don’t think we can discuss this in a “sociological” setting given the core of the original post.

    Fr. Stephen:

    …even non-believers will act in such a manner. Dying for others – sometimes even “instinctively” – without reasoning or weighing the benefits.

    Could you juxtapose this against animals that instinctively protect others (particularly their young)? Isn’t self-sacrifice an instinct found all throughout the animal kingdom? If so, how is it more meaningful or noble when found in humans?

  77. TLO:

    So, where does it leave those of us who haven’t even gotten as far as “god is”?

    From reading your posts across several blogs, I do not think that this statement adequately applies to you, even though you adamantly argue for it. I might say actually, it does not apply to you because you do argue so adamantly for it. At times, I get the feeling that you are trying to convince yourself of this moreso than us.

  78. Jason:

    An Orthodox woman (nurse, psychologist, counselor, therapist; i.e. one very well trained & educated in the sciences) once told me that everything we humans do is controlled by biological & chemical processes in our brains. My comment was that I truly believed she was wrong. Otherwise she was telling me that I am no different than my house cat & that I am not truly alive. He eats, he sleeps, he uses his litter box, he climbs, he plays, & if he wasn’t neutered he would breed. He desires nothing more than this & lives entirely according to instinct. His world, his life, is complete. While this is the life of a cat by nature, it is not the life of humans by nature. To ascribe terms such as “morality” or “immorality” to him (or your dog or any animal/plant) is fallacy.

    Yes, we humans are different from our pets & other animals; we are sentient. We think of the future, we think of the past, & we even think beyond ourselves to others as well as God. My cat only thinks of what he wants right now. He does not remember yesterday nor can he conceive of tomorrow. He has no concept of being a good or bad cat. He has no desire to be a better cat, neither in his behavior nor his being.

    Only man is capable of such things because that is how man was created to be in his nature. Man was created to worship; & man will worship. If man does not worship God, then he will worship something or someone else; usually it is someone in the form of self-worship. For my cat, his world-his life-is complete. However, man is only complete-man is only human-when united with God; only then is man “moral”.

    Man did not invent god, gods or God. God invented man. And until man understands & accepts this, man will continue to be immoral.

  79. John,

    All I’m saying is that every man has the law written on his heart by virtue of his being in the image of God, though some are more aware of it than others (and thus, some societies are more aware of it than others). Those who have a weaker awareness of the law likely adhere to social norms — which sometimes stem from the interior law, but other times from ignorance thereof — on account of peer pressure, fear of punishment, desire for approval, etc. That’s what I meant by “sociological reasons.” This is the Catholic natural law tradition, which I find supported by Scripture and tradition. I don’t speak for the Orthodox, some of whom — Father included — seem to harbor a wariness concerning natural law theory, etc. That’s fine. I was just giving me thoughts. Hope they help!

  80. PJ,
    Quite so, viz. natural law theory. I take no exception to St. Paul’s statement – it’s that an amazing edifice has been erected on that small foundation – giving rise to notions concerning “unaided” reason – that indeed go well beyond the foundation – it seems to me. Forgive an Orthodox priest who would describe himself as somewhat “Barthian” on the topic.

  81. PJ. My trouble with the natural law approach is that, by itself, it tends toward deism which is a fundamental denial of the incarnation.

  82. I remember now the word I was searching for viz. the natural law – It’s a theological Trojan Horse.

  83. Michael,

    The deists, beginning with Locke and Hobbes, rejected traditional natural law, at least as classically expounded by Catholic theologians. The Enlightened philosophes, including those who founded this country, had no interest in a paradigm rooted in the social kingship of Jesus Christ and the mutual cooperation of the secular and sacred realms. That was medieval monkish popery. The appeals by Jefferson, Madison, etc. to the “Almighty Author” or “First Principle” is a world apart from the Catholic natural law tradition, wherein Christ is King, and all aspects of civilization are brought into conformity with that reality. So when I speak of natural law, I am imagining as my model medieval Europe, with its explicitly Christian commonwealth, not republican, Masonic, “Hobblockean” America.

  84. PJ.
    You absolutely win the prize for best new word of the year! Let’s all hear it for “hobbelockian”! With the adverbial use of Masonic as an intensifier, you have exceeded my fondest hopes! I am so wanting the right conversation to come up so I can use this!

  85. I wish I could take credit for it, but I picked it up from the work of a delightful curmudgeon named Christopher Ferrara, from his book “Liberty: The God That Failed.” It’s a pretty scathing look at Americans’ fixation with rootless, godless, disordered liberty (more properly called license).

    It does have a fun ring to it, though. : – )

  86. Rhonda:

    it does not apply to you because you do argue so adamantly for it.

    You are very much mistaken. From my experience, Orthodox Christians are the only sane Christians around. If one is to be a Christian, I am adamantly opposed to Protestantism in any form as there is nothing in Protestantism that fails to lead to insanity. But I have never been more convinced that there is no god than I am now. I’m willing for any god to convince me otherwise but silence isn’t doing the trick.

    PJ & Michael: It seems to me that “every man has the law written on his heart by virtue of his being in the image of God” is simply a another way of saying, “that’s the way humans are, therefore morality is a result of being created in god’s image.” It makes more sense just to say “that’s the way humans are” and just leave it at that. Tossing any deity into the conversation throws an unnecessary level of complexity.

    Let me ask this.

    I have a 3 year old granddaughter called Jenny who is very troubled. Some days she’s sweet as can be. Other days, not so much. On more than one occasion she has stated that she intends to kill her mother, her sisters, and any police who may want to interfere. She has not been exposed to anything more violent than Sesame Street. This is not learned behavior from anyone in her surroundings.

    In addition, she has stated on one occasion that she wishes that she could be Carie again. No one knows where the heck this came from as she knows no one by that name.

    Clearly this child has issues. Are they spiritual or physical? Is she possessed or does she need medication and/or counseling?

    My point is that this child clearly does not have the same innate moral code with which most of us are wired.

    Is this because she is not made in the image of god or that god has somehow abandoned her or some devil has influence over her? Or is it more likely that she has a mental illness or simply that she is wired in ways that lead to violent thoughts?

    To my way of thinking, I find it far preferable that she has a mental illness that can be treated medically or with therapy than to ascribe these to a spiritual condition. the former case gives us hope that something can be done. The latter only leaves us at the mercy of a god who may or may not intervene on her behalf. If history is any guide, the “may not” is the more likely scenario.

    I find it very difficult to accept that we are made “in the image of god” and are therefore moral beings. It leaves far too may questions (like those surrounding this child) unanswered and unanswerable.

  87. TLO,
    I sincerely believe that, (feel free to discard this as my experience and “research” if you want, but I have no doubt that the “other option” is far more far fetched), the ‘scientist’ explanation deludes itself when thinking it has the answers (and is content in ignoring its current lack of answers while ‘waiting’ for them to maybe come from its field in the future -‘faithfully’ waiting -that is a faith in science). Meanwhile, the Christian ‘explanation’, if properly examined and lived in an Orthodox contest, “leaves far less questions (like those surrounding this child) answered and answerable.”
    There really is no “contest”

  88. Oops! that sounded like (“there is no contest”), the Christian ‘explanation’ has the incontestable superiority (Freudean slip of the tongue..). But, irrespective of that, I actually meant that we should not, if properly approaching these matters, compare apples and pears, the two fields have distinct sectors and you should not fall into the delusion that they must contest with each other on the explanation of, what is really, each others sectors. there should really be no contest…
    We have had this conversation here before though…

  89. John,

    That’s obviously very abnormal behavior, especially from such a young child who, I presume, has had minimal exposure to violence and death. The identity confusion only thickens the bizarre stew.

    I am not competent to comment thoroughly or definitively on her unfortunate situation. I can only say that man is not a “ghost in the machine,” a la Descartes, but rather a unified whole, an organic compound of spirit and matter: he is an ensouled body. From this perspective, everything that influences man’s body influences his soul, and everything that influences his soul influences his body. This is why a Catholic or an Orthodox suffering from a serious illness might be doused in prayers and ointments of healing one moment, and the next moment be under the knife of a trained surgeon. Similarly, someone suffering from terrible anger might seek the counseling of a therapist and a priest. I, for one, have a psychologist who is a deeply committed Catholic (and the in-house shrink for the local seminary), and so spirituality is a major element of my therapy.

    I truly hope that little girl gets betters. I will pray for her — for whatever it is worth in your opinion. God bless.

  90. PJ

    My point is that for a lot of people natural law been uncoupled from God. IMO it began with the Catholic humanists in the 14th century and continued to the present. The concomitant temptation for we Orthodox is to forget that matter matters and become too ethereal. That too is a fundamental denial of the incarnation.

  91. Michael & PJ, if I may — NL tends toward a denial of Pascha, although some parts are beautifully covered.

  92. TLO –

    I’m so sorry that your granddaughter is so troubled. I hope she has been evaluated and is getting good care. (Often hard to find with children who have unusual conditions.) My prayers for her and your family. It must be quite a challenge, on many levels.


  93. TLO, if I may — in truth, it is God Who seeks man. We wouldn’t know what to look for, or where to look.

  94. TLO:

    From my experience, Orthodox Christians are the only sane Christians around. If one is to be a Christian, I am adamantly opposed to Protestantism in any form as there is nothing in Protestantism that fails to lead to insanity.

    This is my new favorite blog comment.

    As for the discussion, the doubts about God’s existence and the attempts to explain it remind me of the verse in Ecclesiastes about the Lord having set the aeons in our hearts such that we cannot know the beginning or the end. We are, after all, speaking of a mystery. I find validity in the doubts expressed by TLO. God is marvelously silent, and this life is often marvelously rotten. Ecclesiastes is a pretty good example of searching the ridiculousness of this existence for transcendent meaning, and I think it speaks well to the longing and draws a logical conclusion. It is not, however, pure logic (in the modern sense of the word) that leads to faith, and perception contains more than reason.

    Seems to me there are a good many Psalms and other passages, Old and New, about such despair or feelings of abandonment as well. Man, including religious and spiritually developed man, has struggled with this for a long time.

    In any case, as an Orthodox I am unoffended by anyone’s righteous concerns about the inscrutability of Providence or any accompanying doubts about the benevolent Creator’s existence. I myself haven’t the words to assuage the doubts. I have them myself.

    I hope the girl gets the treatment she needs. Searching for a theological explanation for her illness, by the way, strikes me as even more of a folly than trying to prove God’s existence. If there be earthly care that can aid her, then that’s the way to go. Who knows why God permitted the illness? Surely not any of us. Darkening counsel by words without knowledge won’t manage her illness or cure her, in any case.

    First comment. I hope that I was correct in deducing how to format the above text.

  95. “My point is that for a lot of people natural law been uncoupled from God. IMO it began with the Catholic humanists in the 14th century and continued to the present. The concomitant temptation for we Orthodox is to forget that matter matters and become too ethereal. That too is a fundamental denial of the incarnation.”

    The difficulty is that there are several theories which fit loosely under the umbrella term “natural law.” One of them is indeed deistic, humanistic, rationalistic, and even borderline materialistic. The other — which I profess — is Christological rather than deistic; theandric rather than humanistic; sapiental rather than rationalistic (in the modern sense); and brooks no materialistic nonsense. In fact, I’d contend that a society operating under classical natural law is less predisposed to irreligion and deism. It is in our secular societies that God — that is, “religion” — is cast from the public square and relegated to the so-called private realm. The Christian commonwealths, both Latin and Greek, were theocentric civilizations, revolving around the worship of the Trinity, both public and private. Law and custom alike were shaped — or even transformed — by the power of the gospel. Christendom was hardly perfect, but at least its inhabitants couldn’t be accused of the enormous folly of trying to organize a society without reference to the Creator and Sustainer of mankind.

  96. PJ, I agree with you. Unfortunately, Christendom is dead. Therefore any mode of thought that relies on a theandric culture is going to have problems. The Orthoodx belief in the synergy of the Church and the state is one.

    While I may be quite wrong, it seems that the classical natural law you describe is another. In any case, the natural law approach, even in a theandric model, seems to me to unnecessarily downplay intense inter-relationship we created human beings can and should have with our creator in the person of Jesus Christ. The inter-relationship is of such intimacy that many have described it as marital.

    It is not just the Church for whom Jesus is the Bridegroom, but for each of us.

  97. Michael Bauman it seems to me that if a church had no mystical theology that would be Arianism and if it had no natural law that would be Monophysitism. Jesus Chris is true God and true man and has to be related to both ways

  98. Illustrating my previous comment, there is a book I study named “Christian Perfection and Contemplation according to St Thomas Aquinas and St John of the Cross” It contains both

  99. Lasseter

    It is not, however, pure logic (in the modern sense of the word) that leads to faith, and perception contains more than reason.

    I agree. There is nothing logical about any relationships with any persons. Hence my certainty is not mathematical but simply a result of perpetual silence. The absence of a person make a relationship with him/her impossible. Consider Manti Te’o as a prime example of what I mean. It is possible to become emotionally invested in a phantom that others are presenting to you.

    I am unoffended by anyone’s righteous concerns about the inscrutability of Providence or any accompanying doubts about the benevolent Creator’s existence… Searching for a theological explanation for her illness, by the way, strikes me as even more of a folly…

    I think you prove my point about the Orthodox being sane rather well.

    leonard Nugent:

    I’m a Roman Catholic and almost none of us are sane!

    Inasmuch as Roman Catholics are certainly not Protestant, I tend to congregate you with your other apostolic brethren in the sanity clause.

    I will say this for the EO/WO Christians that I know – they know why they believe what they believe. I have not always found this to be true among the Roman Catholics that I have known. Still, it seems to me that the RC is devoid of the nefarious doctrines that plague Protestant churches and lead to logical absurdities and hyper-introspective psychosis. (To be honest, we still at times visit the local cathedral (after services) as a place of solace and meditation.)

  100. John,

    I wonder if the knowledge and devotion of the Orthodox is related to the remarkable number of converts.


    Christendom is gone — but is it gone for good? Make no mistake: I have no interest in resurrecting 13th century France, but is it so crazy to hope that one day our culture might recommit itself to the collective expression of the gospel? That we might one day recognize the kingship of Christ over all things? We needn’t believe that secular liberalism will always be the state of affairs. think that the new Hungarian constitution, with its frank and explicit acknowledgement of the Christian faith, is an interesting case worthy of study.

  101. TLO when you say EO/WO know why they believe what they believe have you considered the issue of baptism that comes up when the ROCOR is involved. I’ve had time to think about it you can come up with some extremely strange senarios. I used to be mad at my church for making a mockery of the initiation sacraments but recently I’ve come across something that is even more rediculous

  102. For example, if a protestant receives a trinitarian baptism and requests to enter the oca that baptism is accepted. However is the same protestant instead enters ROCOR he or she will be baptised. Now, is said “new ROCOR” member then joins the OCA which baptism is he or she professing in the creed. The protestant one originally accepted by the OCA or the ROCOR baptism?

  103. Leonard,
    Your question regarding baptism is stuck in categories of “validity.” There is only one Baptism and can be only one Baptism. But the whole matter of receiving converts, is not really a matter of “receiving their baptisms.” The canons governing this never treat the matter as a question of accepting sacramental acts performed outside the One Church. Nevertheless, these canons provide possibilities of “economia,” in the reception of converts, allowing a latitude to some Baptized outside the Church, receiving by Chrismation, or, in some cases, requiring only Confession and Absolution.

    In the example you cite, more to the point would be, that ROCOR, exercising a stricter requirement for the reception of a convert (a matter that is properly at the discretion of a Bishop, or Synod of Bishops), would accept, with no further requirement, someone who had been received in the OCA by Christmation. That action makes it clear that the Orthodox consideration in the matter is not about the character of someone’s “Baptism” elsewhere, but only about the reception of a convert (from a schismatic situation). Once they are united to the Cup in Holy Orthodoxy, regardless of how they were received under whatever Bishop, they are in the Orthodox Church. It’s simply that the Orthodox do not look at the sacraments with the same eye as the West. The sacraments never “stand alone,” as something to be considered by itself apart from the fullness of the Church. What the Church has, in its fullness, is the capacity to extend economy to whomever. That one synod does it one way and another does it another is neither here nor there for the Orthodox. There are discussions underway to come to greater uniformity in this across the world in Orthodoxy, because of the increasing phenomenon of conversion – but there is no particular theological issue at stake.

  104. Father, I think that the discussions to come to greater uniformity of receiving converts would be a good thing all around. Re chrismation used to bother me but this issue goes way beyond that one. I was baptized as a little baby in a Roman Catholic church. When I was 27 I went into the “Church of Christ” and they rebaptized me. It was on July 26, 1982 The feast of Sts Joachim and Anne in the Roman Church incidently. I was there for 16 years and then went back to my original church. Before I was received I went to confession and confessed that I had repeated the sacrament of baptism. Now when I profess one baptism for the remission of sins I’m certain of which one I’m talking about.

  105. I could add that there is a book titled “The Russian Church and the Papacy” in which Vladimer Solovev suffers from the same scruples as I do about this

  106. Soloviev is notoriously not an Orthodox thinker. His scruples and yours are based on Roman assumptions about the nature reception into the Church. Rome’s theology on the sacraments often differs from Orthodoxy in subtle ways. Oddly, Rome’s sacraments not understood in nearly as “ecclesial” a manner as Orthodoxy – but neither is the Church understood in as “ecclesial” a manner as Orthodoxy.

  107. TLO:

    The absence of a person make a relationship with him/her impossible.

    Much of the figurative language we use for God can complicate things if understood in too mundane a way. He is, for instance, our Heavenly Father, but He is certainly not our father in same way that our birth fathers are. How would anyone feel to be forsaken by his daddy the way that, say, Job was abandoned to Satan by the Lord? It would be downright criminal from a human father, and yet it is acceptable with our Father in Heaven. He is our Father in some sense, but not in any way governed by rules or justice we can comprehend.

    Just the same, the Incarnation gives us God as a human being, but, unless you were around two thousand years ago, chances are you haven’t had any face time with this particular fellow, however human he is. A phrase one will seldom hear from an Orthodox, by my reckoning, is “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” and thank goodness. We will also not as often as others call Him just by His first name (his Christian name, hardy har): oh, we do call him Jesus, but other terms are used by Orthodox more often, I think (as in “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, be merciful to me, the sinner”), and we surely don’t end our every prayer with “in Jesus’ name.” Many heterodox prefer to stay on a first name basis with the Lord.

    None of this offers an immediate solution to the problem of finding it impossible to relate to an absent person, but I note that our “personal” conception of God in Orthodoxy is markedly less humanly and cognizably personal than in the thoughts of, say, those Protestants whose madness you lovingly mentioned once or twice. Thinking of God is too mundanely personal terms, in terms of personal relations as we know them in earthly life, is a nice way to drive yourself to atheism or, as you noted, psychotic delusion.

    I think you prove my point about the Orthodox being sane rather well.

    Thank you.

    Thanks to dinoship for the kind comment as well.

  108. Father I understand your point unfortunately because of this I feel even more outside the One True Church than I did before.

  109. A very good illustration of the Roman church’s sacrament not being ecclesial is the ordination of 4 bishops by Abp Lefebvre. He was comitting a schzmatic act and was excommunicated for it yet those 4 men are still considered bishops by the latin church. That is something that is hard for me to accept. I do understand your point. In fact I think it’s St Cyprian who espouses the ecclesial nature of the sacraments

  110. Leonard,

    The Catholic Church also considers the episcopacy of Orthodox bishops to be valid, despite their being in schism. From what I can tell, Orthodox opinion vis-a-vis Catholic bishops is mixed, though I was pleased by this statement by Metropolitan Hilarion, “We proceed from the fact that this [the Roman Catholic Church] is a Church which has preserved apostolic succession.”

  111. Leonard,
    Oddly, the Orthodox would accept the kind of ordinations you describe – inasmuch as they would not “re-ordain” such men if they were received back into the Church – or at least in most cases they would not be. But again, it’s not because the sacrament somehow stands alone, as an “act” that has validity or non-validity. It is the Church, the Ecclesia, that constitutes the reality of Christ’s Kingdom in this world, and it is only in that context that sacraments are rightly understood. Many, many schismatic groups tout their “apostolic succession.” Anytime I run across a group that has to cite their “succession” and how they came by it, it means to me that they have no succession. It is not “succession” as such that matters, but union in the Truth. Such schismatics demonstrate their own heresies in their very efforts to substantiate their legitimacy.

    If more people had even the remotest grasp of a true ecclesiology, these things would be much more clear. Protestantism is the rejection of ecclesiology and has made it very difficult for most people to even understand the topic. It continues to me among the more contentious topics between Orthodoxy and Rome.

  112. Leonard, if I may — John Sandipoulos has posted an insightful article outlining what is, and what is not, an authentic expression of Orthodoxy:

    There is a trend nowadays to chant in a Byzantine way, to make icons in a Byzantine manner, to build churches according to Byzantine architecture, etc. This is good. Yet, it must be done in parallel with the effort to find and use the therapeutic treatment of the Church. For, liturgical arts as well as the entire teaching of the Church are the expression of this inner life. In other words, liturgical art was developed by sanctified people who had personal experience of the stages of spiritual perfection. In their attempt to create art they infused into their art all the experiences they had. The iconographer passed down in the Byzantine icon the therapeutic method and the way in which man reaches to theosis; he even imparted the state of theosis itself. When he paints the Saint in glory, he also renders the transfiguration of the human body. The same thing applies to the sacred hymns, the church building, the chanting. The healed person, he who has acquired the experience of noetic worship, knows how the intellectual worship must be expressed, so that it is attuned, as much as possible, with the inner state of the soul. I think that the revival of the liturgical arts which do not express and do not lead to purification, illumination and theosis is not Orthodox despite its external conformity. It is just a culture of the tradition and of art.

    The author of the article Metropolitan Hierotheos defines Orthodoxy as an internal conformity. To properly express such worship, a certain amount of discipline is needed (to access the inner realms). More often than not, the catalyst is divine silence rather than any supernal or heroic effort on man’s part. Metropolitan Hierotheos continues:

    Also, it is possible that a contemporary deified person may express tradition differently, concerning the liturgical arts, without naturally being estranged from the basic structure of the Byzantine tradition. This occurs because the Saint obtains the tradition, he is a bearer of tradition and, therefore, he creates tradition.

    Blessings to you and your family!

  113. Father I agree with you about ecclesiology. I’ve read and admire Father Nicholas Affanasev’s writing about it. I pray quite a bit for him. Not so much thaat Rome will finally understand correct ecclesiology or that Othodoxy will understand correct ecclesiology but that ecclesiology will be understood

  114. Leonard

    because of this I feel even more outside the One True Church than I did before.

    I’d really like to have this explained to me. If god is your father and your heart is turned to him, why does it matter whether some doctrine or other makes you feel like you are “inside the one true faith” or not? None of my kids relates to me in the same way as their siblings and all have varying understandings of who I am but that doesn’t put any of them outside the family or change their status with me.

    Does it seem plausible to you that god really cares about adopting the right doctrine as much as adopting the right heart? To my mind, any doctrine that makes you feel separated from god or the community of believers is probably a load of tosh. (IMNTBHO)

  115. The doctrine that sex is reserved for man and woman in marriage makes many “feel separated” from “god” and “community,” but that doesn’t mean we should abandon it. The tyranny of sentiment already dominates modern life: it cannot be allowed to dictate the truths of the Christian faith.

  116. TLO,
    There is far more than the usual, (somewhat secular) diminished understanding of doctrine here:
    One cannot be united to Christ without also becoming His One True Church, and one who is not grafted unto His Body (the Church) will

    “feel separated from god or the community of believers”…

    Your kids are also your one true family and being your one true family is the same as being your kids, (family = church). So one who truly wants to be unified to God as His child would obviously want to be part of His one True Faith/Church, no?

  117. I also humbly submit that there is a connection between right belief and right behavior. Paul makes this especially clear in Romans 1, when he links idolatry to the various sinful passions.

    “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator — who is forever praised. Amen.

    Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

    Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.”

    The content of the faith is not meaningless. We could not be unitarians just as easily as we could be trinitarians.

    Christianity cannot be boiled down to good works or a kind disposition. It is about knowledge of God, who alone is the source and summit of love.

    This is not to say that scholastic handbooks are the keys to the kingdom. Just that it’s imprudent to throw overboard theology.

  118. PJ says:

    The tyranny of sentiment already dominates modern life: it cannot be allowed to dictate the truths of the Christian faith.

    Yes. Truth is Person. We rightfully perceive the other only insofar as this Truth is in us.

  119. PJ –

    Perhaps I lost the thread here…but I do not understand your introduction of the topic of homosexuality.

    Sexual orientation is something that is poorly understood among many people. People of either hetero or homo orientation may engage in “shameful lusts”, etc., as either may engage in deep and loving commitments.

    There is considerable evidence that one’s orientation is something one is born with or that develops early in life, rather than being chosen. To equate one orientation with sinfulness can be very hurtful to people who are genuinely trying to follow God.

    I am not trying to open up a major controversy here as much as to ask for sensitivity – none of us knows what it feels like to be another person. None of us knows the intent of our Creator in creating people with differences.

    I agree with you about the “tyranny of sentiment” – in that our understanding of God’s truth should not be based on making people feel good and included, regardless of their beliefs or behaviors. On the other hand, it is important to be open to understanding those whose differences we may not understand well.

  120. PJ,
    Too quickly we move from the heart back to the mind, from the true self to the ego. “True theology,” is important, but ultimately resides in the heart, where alone truth and love are united. That union will not be a tyranny of sentiment. But without that union, “theology,” the data of revelation will simply be something to bludgeon others with. Mary Benton’s point is apropos.

  121. Mary,

    I didn’t bring up homosexuality, per se. I brought up sexuality, the orthodox Christian understanding of which can upset both heterosexuals and homosexuals. But I could have chosen any controversial doctrine.

    You state my case for me: “[O]ur understanding of God’s truth should not be based on making people feel good and included, regardless of their beliefs or behaviors.” This is what I meant to say.

    I wasn’t trying to come down on homosexuals. I agree that they are too often treated with an appalling lack of charity and sensitivity. Of course, it would be equally unkind to fail to assert the truth that the gift of sex is for man and woman in marriage.

    (For the record, as a Catholic, I don’t believe that an “orientation” is sinful *in and of itself,* and how one becomes gay or straight appears to be a mysterious mixture of nature and nurture.)

  122. PJ says:

    For the record, as a Catholic, I don’t believe that an “orientation” is sinful *in and of itself*.

    Some thoughts on the matter: In trying to identify the root of one disorder, we often stumble on another still deeper, root:

    More than a third of respondents (36%) think abortion should be legal in all cases, whereas a majority (55%) thinks that the procedure should be legal only under certain circumstances. Only three per cent of Britons would ban abortion altogether.

    Angus Reid Public Opinion 2010

    With heresy so widespread, we need all the more to heed St Silouan’s commandment:

    Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not!

    A Christian attitude is either praxis, or it nothing at all:

    While discussing the horror of Nazis with a friend whose mother died in a concentration camp, he [Dietrich von Hildebrand] said, “If Hitler were dying in jail and begged for a glass of water, I would hasten to give it to him.”

    Alice von Hildebrand says it as it is.

  123. I too agree with both sides here and must remind myself of Father’s wise saying time and again:

    without that union [of truth and love], “theology,” the data of revelation will simply be something to bludgeon others with

    it reminds me of Elder Paisios once exclaiming (in his typically quirky style) about a person who was highly versed in his (“dry, intellectual”) knowledge of the Fathers, yet, lacked an equivalent humility and love in his application of that knowledge (application on others, of course):
    “That man casts true ‘diamonds’, but, if one was to strike you on the brow… it would surely obliterate you!”

  124. PJ- you wrote:

    “I agree that they(homosexuals)are too often treated with an appalling lack of charity and sensitivity. Of course, it would be equally unkind to fail to assert the truth that the gift of sex is for man and woman in marriage.”

    I’m afraid I cannot agree with part two of what you wrote. We agree on the “appalling lack of charity and sensitivity”. But I do not understand why you feel it would be “unkind” to not assert the truth as you believe it. If you are the person’s spiritual father/director, that is a different matter.

    However, I think when it is a matter so sensitive, it is kinder for the average person to say – and only if asked – perhaps it would help you to discuss this with your spiritual father… Most homosexuals are already painfully aware that the teachings of many churches offer them no alternative but celibacy. To be reminded outside of pastoral care would, in my mind, be more “unkind”.

    I realize that this is perhaps off track of the overall point you were making. While I am not suggesting that Christians should never verbalize a stance on controversial topics, I think we draw more people to the faith by minding our own souls lest we “bludgeon”, even if with good intention.

  125. What’s the big deal about homosexuality? Homosexual behavior is found all throughout the animal kingdom. It is a fact of nature, not a moral question. May as well say that it’s sinful to be have blue eyes.

  126. TLO,
    Although I entirely agree with Mary Benton’s last comment, I would like to remind you that you have stated that you have a different view of the Fall to the Orthodox. That is a key aspect of how the new view of such matters tend to be seen nowadays – the “new religion” is one that does not accept any falleness. Homosexuality is simply a very small part of this puzzle of falleness, there are far more significant ones which are also considered as completely ‘natural’, yet the Orthodox would label unnatural. Most of what we accept in the world as life. there is a great chasm of though here i fear…

  127. As Father Alexander Schmemann famously said:

    “The question is not at all whether it [homosexuality] is natural or unnatural, since this question is generally inapplicable to fallen nature, in which—and this is the point—everything is distorted, everything, in a sense, has become unnatural. . . . Homosexuality is a manifestation of the ‘thorn in the flesh’ which tortures in various ways, but tortures every one. In the fallen world nothing can be ‘normalized,’ but everything can be saved.”

    So, for example, someone who truly wants to become like Christ (to be in Christ rather than in Adam) would be highly vigilant in every one of his relationships against “attachment” (a most serious antagonist to the first commandment and the correct application of the second – probably the most common enemy of true love in fact, far more than ‘hate’…!).
    This would include “attachments” to all friends, acquaintances and of course family members as well as ideas, opinions, hobbies etc. So, just imagine, the distance from that high (though quite ‘basic’) standard in Orthodoxy; and something a great deal further down the line of non-vigilance, such as the condoning, or the practice of sodomy or “just revenge” or simply the relaxation of vigilance for the sake of some ‘well earned relaxation into reverie’ – what we might now call “Me time in a Spa”.
    Of course, the Orthodox application of all this is “only to me”, ‘others’ are all God’s business of whom I am a servant and not my own responsibility! My responsibility towards ‘others’ is to constantly say “yes”, understand, excuse, forgive, comprehend and accept them…
    Truth and its all important knowledge must never be separated from Love, humility and discernment.

  128. So, whether I have a tendency towards gluttony, reverie, despondency, sensuality, pride, argumentativeness, complaining, cowardice, laziness, promiscuity, attachment (homo or hetero), or some other passion, I must deal with it in an ascetical Orthodox framework, not succumb to it. It is what makes people what they were meant to be – Saints.
    to quote Father Alexander again:

    “It’s how you deal with what you’ve been dealt.”

  129. Mary,

    We’re actually in agreement. I didn’t mean that Christians should go around telling random gays and lesbians they meet that homosexuality is wrong. Rather, the Church qua Church should maintain this important truth — insofar as it is part of its wonderful teaching on human sexuality. I further agree that the direct admonishment of sin should usually — usually — be reserved to spiritual directors, clergy, family, and close friends.

  130. dinoship –

    Well said. “the Orthodox application of all this is “only to me”, ‘others’ are all God’s business of whom I am a servant and not my own responsibility! My responsibility towards ‘others’ is to constantly say “yes”, understand, excuse, forgive, comprehend and accept them…”

  131. dinoship: it is the people who insist that whatever they do is normal and out to be recognized by the Church as such with whom I have an issue. That includes all sorts of ‘normal’ activities such as drinking to excess, gambling, etc. Who refuse to deal with sin and temptation as sin and temptation and expect the Church to excuse it anyway.

    Challenging words from Fr. Schmemann and it highlights the difference between morality and the Chrisitan journey to wholeness through grace.

  132. Father Stephen – Another question occurred to me, regarding the Orthodox understanding of “falleness” as mentioned by dinoship.

    Since the etiology of sexual orientation is not clearly understood, I will cite more clear cut examples upon which to base my question. Some people are born with “differences” that are considered medically “abnormal”, e.g. disorders of sexual development based on chromosomal patterns (46XX, 46XY, 45X0, 47XXY, etc.), Downs Syndrome, people born with extra or missing organs, limbs, fingers, etc.

    I think we would all agree that these conditions are not “sinful” or the fault of the affected individuals or their parents – though at one time they may have been viewed that way. Would these occurrences be regarded in some way as tied to the falleness of humanity? Or are they considered more part of the mystery of the Divine plan that goes beyond our understanding?

    Thanks for any light you can shed.

  133. Michael,
    I also feel the same way as you. It is, to use an analogy, as if the King of Babylon decrees that we eat ‘naturally’ rather than, like the Prophet Daniel, keep the fast of our tradition.
    (As I think Father Stephen once said), it is OUR Church, OUR scripture and the secular world wanting to influence It, is obviously not such a “virtuous desire” as it would want to convince itself and others…

    Mary Benton,
    I also await Father’s answer, however, the framework for understanding this question for me remains: “It’s how you deal with what you’ve been dealt.”.
    Of course these differences are tied to the falleness of humanity, as both what can be described as “unnatural” as well as “natural” states are fallen – they are “in Adam”– compared to the “supra-natural” (from our current perspective) state that one can taste “in Christ”.
    In Christ, in the fulness of His Grace man can hardly even eat or sleep!
    That lofty state (one of walking on water and praying throughout the nights) is what would normally be called our ‘natural state’ by our God-bearing Fathers and Mothers.
    For example, the Elder Paisios would hardly ever eat more than a single bite of a fruit or a tea, Saint Silouan would always sleep less than an hour and a half… most of this would be completely effortless.

  134. Michael,
    I also feel the same way as you. It is, to use an analogy, as if the King of Babylon decrees that we eat ‘naturally’ rather than, like the Prophet Daniel, keep the fast of our tradition.
    (As I think Father Stephen once said), it is OUR Church, OUR scripture and the secular world wanting to influence It, is obviously not such a “virtuous desire” as it would want to convince itself and others…

  135. Mary Benton,
    I also await Father’s answer, however, the framework for understanding this question for me remains: “It’s how you deal with what you’ve been dealt.”.
    Of course these differences are tied to the falleness of humanity, as both what can be described as “unnatural” as well as “natural” states are fallen – they are “in Adam”– compared to the “supra-natural” (from our current perspective) state that one can taste “in Christ”.
    In Christ, in the fulness of His Grace man can hardly even eat or sleep!
    That lofty state (one of walking on water and praying throughout the nights) is what would normally be called our ‘natural state’ by our God-bearing Fathers and Mothers.
    For example, the Elder Paisios would hardly ever eat more than a single bite of a fruit or a tea, Saint Silouan would always sleep less than an hour and a half… most of this would be completely effortless.

  136. Michael,
    I also feel the same way as you. It is, to use an analogy, as if the King of Babylon decrees that we eat ‘naturally’ rather than, like the Prophet Daniel, keep the fast of OUR tradition.
    (As I think Father Stephen once said), it is OUR Church, OUR scripture and the secular world wanting to influence It, is obviously not such a “virtuous desire” as it would want to convince itself and others…

    p.s.: I have posted this multiple times unsuccessfully so, i hope it doesn’t suddenly appear 10 times!!!

  137. Michael,
    what you describe, (“the tyranny of tolerance”) is a widespread issue in much of the western world – it does remind me of the Babylonian King’s decree in the book of Daniel…

  138. ““the Orthodox application of all this is “only to me”, ‘others’ are all God’s business of whom I am a servant and not my own responsibility! My responsibility towards ‘others’ is to constantly say “yes”, understand, excuse, forgive, comprehend and accept them…””

    I don’t think it’s so simple as that, Dino.

    There is a place for loving admonishment and gentle fraternal correction. Our Lord tells us this plainly: “If thy brother sin against thee, reprove him” (Luke 17:3). “Reprove” not “ignore.” And further: “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother” (Matthew 18:15).

    St. Paul even makes the case for public reproof: “Them that sin reprove before all: that the rest also may have fear” (1 Tim. 5:20). Though this was written in a letter for a pastor, so the advice probably has limited application.

    I fully expect my brothers and sisters in Christ to correct me when I go astray. This is proof of charity. As St. Thomas wrote, “The greatest kindness one can render to any man consists in leading him from error to truth.”

    Interestingly, admonishing sinners and instructing the ignorant are both considered spiritual works of mercy in the Catholic tradition.

    We must tend to one another in all gentleness and charity and prudence and patience. When one suffers, all suffer; thus when one goes astray, all go astray. Therefore, we are our brothers’ keepers, to the glory of God.

  139. the “new religion” is one that does not accept any falleness.

    Being reasonable is not a “religion.” It is irksome when one presumes that the absence of a religion is in fact a religion unto itself. This is simply not the case.

    That aside, it seems to me that those who take the stance that it is not a sin to be homosexual have removed the stigma that has caused a judgmental heart in those who do and freed those who are homosexual from a guilt that should never have been theirs in the first place. It is religious dogma that has equated homosexuality with sin just as in the past religion has often equated epilepsy and other conditions with demon possession (I recently read somewhere that gun powder, when first introduced in Europe, was considered a form of witchcraft).

    We have seen the same thing with racism in many places. The stigma of being born with dark skin was literally oppressive for most of American history and an even larger portion of European history. I can cite any number of sermons over the centuries that have had at its core the idea that:

    …everything, in a sense, has become unnatural. is a manifestation of the ‘thorn in the flesh’…

    And the first portion of this statement is absurd at any rate. If everything is unnatural then that means nothing is natural which defies the meaning of the word “natural.” It is Mad Hatter reasoning.

    So, whether I have a tendency towards gluttony, reverie, despondency, sensuality, pride, …

    These are qualities common to all human beings. Homosexuality is not. Homosexual people experience love just as heterosexual people do. The only difference is the object of their affections.

    I, personally, do not dig white chicks. There is simply no attraction there for me. So is it “unnatural” or a “sin” for me to be attracted to women of color (the darker the better)? In a former age, this would have been considered shameful and I would have been treated very badly by most other white people.

    If the church wants to maintain the archaic ideas about homosexuality, I am certain that, in time, this thinking will go the way of demon possession vs. mental illness. There’s simply no getting around biology.

  140. PJ,
    I used to think that way too, with support from some ‘Orthodox’ persons, until I was corrected time and again by the most discerning (honestly) of spiritual Fathers.
    I also could say -as Abba Nisthero says on the matter of correcting others, whose apparent “indifference” to his own spiritual children’s sins was extremely scandalous to his brothers in Christ- that the Lord said to “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” but Bible quoting will get us nowhere on its own…

  141. This can get real murkey really quickly. However, the Traditional Orthodox anthropology which is integrally related to our Christology and the path to salvation will not change just because of some fad of scientism and political correctness.

    It includes certain things (among many):

    1. We are created male and female.

    2. The synergy that exists between the male and the female cannot be duplicated between two people of the same sex.

    3. The duality is not just about sexual intercourse and procreation or about sexual desire. It is part of how God wants us to function within His creation to do what He has commanded us to do.

    4. Not all love needs to be expressed sexually. We are not ‘sexual beings’. There is only one way in which we can express the sexual desire, i.e. a marriage between one man and one woman. All other expression of sexual desire is inherently sinful and all temptation to any other form of sexual expresson must be overcome. Even in marriage we are not free to engage in any and all forms of sexual expression any time we want.

    5. The mystery of our being so far transcends anything science can even begin to consider that in many ways science is irrelevant.

    6. Anytime we define who we are by our desires (any of our desires) we miss the point and locks us into a false ideation.

    The point is that without Christ, all of our desires have elements of sinfulness that must be overcome. The Orthodox path is one of constant repentance and asceticism (even sexual expression in marriage for instance) probing ever more deeply (with an experienced and compassionate guide) into our souls and being; offering more and more of what we think of as ‘us’ to God so that we might be transformed into who we truly are. Few follow the path with the diligence and discipline required to experience the fullness of their beings.

    Further: Demons do exist and can both influence and possess we humans if we allow it. They are wholly malevalent beings who desire our destruction. Most of the time, they do not need to be directly involved with us because we do a fine job of destroying ourselves.

    Metal illness does exist that is biologically and emotionally based.

    It is not an either/or situation. Rather it is a both/and situation.

    Adam and Eve’s transgression brought disorder, decay and death into creation. Not all expressions of that disorder are sinful but they are all the result of our separation from our Creator as described in the first chapter of Romans. Thus the physical abnormalities, genetic diseases, etc. are all part of the general disorder and decay that is one of the consequences of being separated from God.

    Jesus Christ incarnated and did all that he did to restore proper order and proper understanding of who we are and what God wants of us. We can particpate in the “new heaven and new earth” right now if we work at it.

    One thing is certain to me. The current ruling ideology (poltically and culturally) is anti-Christian and is using the tyranny of tolerance to attack and attempt to destroy traditional Christianity whether in the RCC or we Orthodox. Confusing and obsfucating who we are as human beings is a big part of that attack.

  142. TLO,

    If you do not endorse the “In Adam” or “In Christ” notion (even as a type of cold intellectual reasoning), we cannot possibly agree here; what we are comparing here is the state we see around us with a state of perfection which you actually doubt. However, that state of perfection is the yardstick, not the other way around – you are missing that point I am afraid.
    your secular reasoning on the matter is all the more proof of the invaluable worth of the example of ‘perfection’ (even if only an ‘attempted’ perfection) which is still the goal of Orthodox monastics, as seen on Mount Athos. Thank God for that.
    In their calling, both those “qualities common to all human beings”, as well as what is not, are to be overcome by them, it matters not which of those two ‘camps’ they belong to…

  143. Dino,

    I don’t think those verses are in contradiction. The spirit of judgment and the spirit of loving admonition are utterly opposed. St. John Chrysostom’s commentary on Matthew 18:15. makes this point. It’s interesting — you should read it. St. Paul rebukes the Galatians, for instance, but there is no judgment in his words — just charity and concern.

    Many times God has blessed me through the patient and kindly reproof of brothers and sisters in the Lord. Thank the Lord for their wisdom and kindness!

  144. Michael,

    I agree: To understand the Christian “sexual ethic” (for lack of a better term), one must look not at nature, but at Christ and His Bride, for which the coming together of man and woman in nuptial intimacy (at once generative and unitive) is an icon or symbol.

  145. A living symbol, an icon of the unity with Christ that makes real His presence and mercy and grace. Such presence is simply not there in any other form of sexual expression since any other form is akin to idolatry.

    Even in marriage that purety is difficult to attain and maintain. It is impossible anywhere else. Monastisim takes that unity to its highest expression. Unity with Christ that does not involve carnal sexual union at all, but nevertheless is an expression of the Bridegroom joining with His Bride.

    I assume you have read Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

  146. Yes. Though I’ve also read St. Paul: “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church” (Eph. 5:31-32). ; – )

  147. PJ,
    “The spirit of judgment and the spirit of loving admonition are utterly opposed” I agree of course, but the discernment to truly ascertain whether there is any judgement secretly mixed in my loving admonition is usually hidden from me. Only one who has experienced true, deep, and utterly compunctionate repentance, even for a single hour and then seen the immensity of his reluctance to admonish anyone straight after that (never to be re-captured once that spirit of humility subsides) knows what Abba Nisthero means..

    I completely comply with you and Michael on “that great mystery”…

  148. Mary…the long awaited answer…

    A very difficult problem is untangling our thoughts surrounding the word “sin.” To a large extent, this original post (long lost in our manifold comments) focuses on this very problem. We say “sin” and we think “bad,” “shame,” “morally repugnant,” etc. These are “moral” judgments. As I’ve noted, Christianity is not “moral”: it is ontological. We do not have a legal problem, we have an ontological and existential problem. I’ll quote myself, “Jesus did not die to make bad men good – He died to make dead men live” (it’s in the book). This is very much St. Paul and St. John’s take on sin – but we read the word in Scripture and immediately read a whole legal, forensic world into its meaning.

    St. Paul says, “The wages of sin is death.” The legal read is “If you sin, God will kill you.” The ontological read is “sin and death are interchangeable.” It is this latter understanding that rightly perceives the Cross and Resurrection. Christ “tramples down death by death,” and this is also the forgiveness of sins. In Orthodoxy we sing, that Christ “forgives all by the resurrection.” How would the resurrection possibly be forgiveness is sin is a legal/moral issue? Much of Orthodoxy only makes sense if you take on ontological view of these things. I contend that it is, in fact, the Christian view and the right interpretation of the faith. I’m actually kind of dogmatic about it. 🙂

    Having said that as a prelude – it becomes much easier to speak rightly about problems surrounding our sexuality. Everyone is broken – “there is no one who lives who does not sin” we sing in the burial office. There is no “unbroken” sexuality. Unbelievers will not understand this. I well understand why those who struggle with the problems of a homosexual orientation have thrown off the “moral” yoke of a forensic reading of Christianity. Who needs to live with unmitigated shame. Shame is the one emotion that human beings cannot endure. There’s no healing of any sort to be found in the legal model. Just effort, failure, guilt and shame. It’s a lousy cycle.

    So, I can say, sure homosexuality is sinful – all of our sexuality is marked by sin. The Christian understanding is that our salvation if found in the transformation into the image of Christ – from glory to glory. It is a transformation of our psyche, of our of our soul and spirit, even of our body. There are only two kinds of people – those who are on the path of salvation, moving towards transformation and those who are still plunging deeper into the death that drags on us like an ontological entropy.

    One of the sad legacies of the legal/moral model of Christianity, is a complacent middle class morality. People think that they live “normal” lives and are comfortable with their merely moral existence. Being “not like those people” is quite sufficient. A drive-through mentality about confession can aid this trivialization of the faith. Equally deadly is the casual “I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior,” that underwrites middle class morality. In America this is particularly pernicious where our cultural Christianity is theologically shallow, and morally tepid. It’s energy is devoted to political issues (homosexuality, abortion, etc.) and its positive energy to patriotism. It lacks repentance and true sobriety.

    If we ever perceive the true nature of the ontological crisis that is the human predicament, we would be much less prone to judge. If I’m hanging by a thread on the edge of a precipice, I don’t have a lot of time to judge the other poor soul who is dangling next to me. That he may be an inch further down the thread than me is hardly important compared to the abyss that stretches beneath us.

    I think of Christ’s warning to the crowds:

    Those eighteen on whom the tower in siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.

    There’s an answer in there somewhere.

  149. “It’s energy is devoted to political issues (homosexuality, abortion, etc.) and its positive energy to patriotism. It lacks repentance and true sobriety.”

    Father, I think this is unfairly dismissive. Some 50,000,000 children of God have been snuffed out in the womb during the last forty years. 50,000,000! This isn’t merely a “political problem.” It is a holocaust. It is a crime and tragedy of unprecedented proportions. There’s nothing tepid about those who oppose it. Yesteryear, Christians rescued Roman infants left on hillocks; today, we run crisis pregnancy centers, adopt would-be abortions, counsel survivors and victims, donate time and money to support poor mothers and their newborns, and of course pray, fast, and do penance. If you find that there is a lack of sobriety and repentance in the abolitionist movement, I urge you to take another look. On this day of all days, we should remember the terrible battle we wage against this most fiendish practice.

  150. Dino,

    I agree that it is very hard to admonish rather than judge. The temptation of self-righteousness is often irresistible. Authentic fraternal correction is possible only with wisdom from on high.

  151. Thank you Father for your most valuable (& long) comment…!
    Although it is the kind of comment that one cannot extract small quotes -it needs to be read in its entirety – I marvel at the wisdom in:

    If we ever perceive the true nature of the ontological crisis that is the human predicament, we would be much less prone to judge. If I’m hanging by a thread on the edge of a precipice, I don’t have a lot of time to judge the other poor soul who is dangling next to me. That he may be an inch further down the thread than me is hardly important compared to the abyss that stretches beneath us.

  152. PJ,
    of course you are 100% correct on abortion, but I think that what Father means is missed in your comment above, what I took away is that he parenetically inspires and calls for the singular importance of “repentance and true sobriety” above all.

  153. PJ,
    I marched this year, as I have in the past, in the March for Life, and support our local crisis pregnancy center. I am a member of the TN Right to Life. However, Evangelical Christians (and Catholics and Orthodox) in America tend to have abortions at the same rate as the culture. The March (which I will continue to participate in) can be an all too easy act of “morality” and not a mark of repentance. I feel deep shame that we have such little regard for life in our culture, and know that I participate and contribute to that devaluation. I have not voted for a pro-abortion candidate in decades now, and will not. But my morality is still petty and my repentance far short of the failings of my life. I know that the present pro-life tactics have moved away from the “block the clinic” strategies of the ’80’s, but I remember well friends of mine who went to jail during that time. It seemed a bit more appropriate than our quiet marches. But I’m also a child of the 60’s.

    I know too many cases of pro-lifers who privately urged abortions on their daughters, etc., to be terribly impressed with our politics. Ontology is more reliable than morality. If we acted as though our “life” depended on it (which it does) we would act differently, and not just morally.

    And, thank God, for the many who do act in such a manner. They save lives and change lives and help preserve the world in existence through their transformative deeds. I honor them.

    A last example of our middle class moral take on abortion – are pro-life politicians. Some are true heroes, others strike me as mere opportunists. Would to God they had the courage of the slavery abolitionists of the 19th century. I would be perfectly happy if they simply decided to shut the government down until the laws were changed. A million lives a year seem at least that valuable. I doubt the true sincerity of many “pro-life” politicians. Where is Cato?

  154. The old “resistance is futile” routine?

    I have no idea what this means. Resistance against what?

    The current ruling ideology (politically and culturally) is anti-Christian…

    This sounds rather arrogant. It is not “anti-Christian” per-se but anti-religious (whether Christian, Hindu or any other religious philosophy) wherever those ideas are contradicted by evidence.

    Anyone here can easily pooh-pooh most Protestant ideas and doctrines. This is because the Protestant doctrines are in and of themselves ridiculous (and therefore ought to be ridiculed).

    At any point in which a philosophy is proved wrong (e.g. “the universe is not centered on the earth or mankind” or “people are born gay”), the initial reaction by the entrenched is not favorable. But the universe is what it is and you cannot change that. Ultimately, the doctrine is either going to have to change or be so nebulous that anything can be absorbed into it.

    If society is “anti-Christian” (which I do not think it is) then one needs to blame the “Christians” and not society. This particular issue is founded in self-righteousness and condemnation. For that reason alone, I think that any wise man within the faith would steer clear of it.

    I do not object to defining and clinging to morality. In this discussion I only object to including those born biologically gay with the immoral.

    What harm can they possibly do to society? It is not like someone who is born a sociopath and is dangerous to the people around them.

    Are you afraid that you might become infected and become gay? That’s not possible. The reverse of that is also true. So why make it an issue? I don’t get it.

    Finally, I think that it has been clearly demonstrated that prohibition leads to very bad things. Whether we are talking about the prohibition of alcohol (lots of new gang violence resulted), or drug possession (see Portugal’s laws and ensuing results as an example of the right way to address the issue), or driving people underground because they are gay, nothing good can come it.

    what we are comparing here is the state we see around us with a state of perfection which you actually doubt.

    Leaving aside that I have no doubt, this is the whole free will discussion all over. You cannot admit to a world that contains free will and is not in a “fallen” state and yet you strive to reach a point where you personally meet that ideal (although no human ever has (I’ll leave Christ out of the discussion)). The entire exercise makes no sense to me. Anything beyond the golden rule (which no Christian has yet mastered) seems somewhat irrelevant to me. But that’s just me.

    All y’all find great meaning in the faith and that’s fine with me provided that it does not lead to condemnation of those outside your circle. I think for the most part folks here succeed in this. But this homosexuality issue really bothers me because it tends to make people judgmental and self-righteous in precisely the same way that people have been toward the disenfranchised throughout history. I’d prefer that we were better than that.

    “It’s energy is devoted to political issues (homosexuality, abortion, etc.) and its positive energy to patriotism. It lacks repentance and true sobriety.”

    Father, I think this is unfairly dismissive. Some 50,000,000 children of God have been snuffed out…

    This clearly marks the difference between the biological issue of homosexuality and the choice issue of abortion.

    Like you, those stats horrify me and I agree that this is a problem that needs to be addressed.

    The strange thing is that the Pro Life movement embraces those who have had abortions while fighting those who perform them. This makes no sense to me. Why feel pity for a woman who has had an abortion and yet rail against a man or woman who was born gay? Why judge those born without a choice and not judge those women who made a terrible choice? This kind of duplicity is baffling to me.

  155. Father Stephen,

    Thank you for your profound reflections – very well expressed.

    Probably the reason I found myself opening this topic (in response to PJ’s comments) is because, in my role as a psychologist, I am an intimate witness to the shame and struggle to find an acceptable sense of self endured by some of homosexual orientation. It is heart-breaking to sit with someone whose church has led them to believe they will go to hell for being who they are – when they didn’t choose to be that way. This leads some to be suicidal – since they believe that they are already condemned anyway.

    Culturally, I think that this unendurable position has lead to the development of “gay rights” in which a sense of legitimacy of self is asserted. While that sense legitimacy of self is necessary (one must have a self before one can surrender self), unfortunately many churches either continue to condemn – or, at the other extreme, permit it in a way that results in the theological shallowness of which you wrote.

    I thank you again for one of the most intelligent and sensitive discussions of this issue that I have read.

  156. It is difficult to write of this because there are so many ways to misinterpret it, but here goes: For most of my life I self-identified as homosexual. All through my childhood (including very early memories) and teenage years and into my 20’s I was sexually attracted to men and there was nothing I could do about it. And this was a source of torment and sorrow to me. There is homosexuality in my family – my maternal uncle and some others – and I am the boy in a set of fraternal twins. My father was not very involved in my life and my mother was/is extremely overbearing. Any way you look at the issue, I can speak from that.
    I was baptized into Orthodoxy in 1999 while in high school. I went to college thereafter and fell away from the Church for years. I didn’t really understand myself very well, and didn’t really understand the faith. I could intellectualize about it, but obviously the living was another thing.
    I returned to the Church in 2005 and have never left. Over years of real encounter with myself and a true attempt to live the Orthodox life, I have come to know myself much better.
    Three years ago, i met the first person that I ever believed loved me – in clear and total sincerity, the first person I really felt comfortable around, really felt accepted by in all my life.
    That person is now my wife.
    It is now several years on and we are raising our child. We are active in our parish. I don’t talk much about my past.
    It’s obviously a complicated issue, and life is complicated. I cannot draw conclusions about my experience for others.
    But I am so grateful for my healing. And I don’t mean that in an Exodus International or any sort of ‘ex-gay’ way.
    I know – and I knew for some time before I even came to the Church – that something was broken or wounded inside me, very deep. And I could not bear it.
    I also know that this brokenness is on its way to being healed. And I am happy – and with true knowledge and trust and happiness in my self (and thence with others). And that this happened only after I really started to live for Christ.
    What is really interesting to me is that I don’t feel like things clicked – even in my relationship with God – until I fell in love for the first time with my wife. Until I first believed that somebody could love me.

    That’s a poor and over-brief (and over-personal) rendition of a life of sorrow. It’s not about homosexuality at all. That was just how my brokenness manifested.
    But I do see this (or I think I see it, anyway) in others’ lives, including gay men that I know or have known.

    In any case, I have no room to judge anyone. But I am so SO grateful. Grateful that I know that Christ is True and Real and that He really loves me. Grateful that I have so much love in my life, and that I could never let it in before. I was locked out for my whole so-called life, always chasing phantoms and always hiding from pain and shame and anger.
    And now I walk in love, at least most of the time.
    Life is still hard. But it is so, so very good.

    So I can’t say that people can’t change.
    And I can’t say that people are ‘born’ one way or another, if that is taken to mean something irrevocable.

    But again, no judgment. Just gratitude.

  157. Niphon,

    Thank you for the courage and honesty of your testimony.


    I think that you’re failing to distinguish orientation from action. Perhaps gays and lesbians are “born that way.” Perhaps they are made that way. Perhaps — and this is where I come down — it is a mix of nature and nurture. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. We are only responsible for our actions.

    There are many Christians who identify as homosexuals but who lead celibate lives. There are also many Christians who have other sexual persuasions, but resist them. You may be speaking to some now and not even know it. Simply feeling some way is not sinful in and of itself, at least not in this sense.

  158. Lately, whenever I think of a story like the one about Abba Joseph and Abba Lot in the article above, I think that such a tale would be incomprehensible to many Christians in America–even perhaps frightening to them. The story of the death of Abba Sisoes (“I have not yet begun to repent”)–not to be confused with John Paul Jones (“I have not yet begun to fight!”)–comes to mind as another salient example. When some of Christian culture is characterized, as Father Stephen described it, as morally tepid, theologically shallow, and lacking repentance and sobriety, it is difficult to take serious issue with the characterization, even concerning those noble folk who are dyed-in-the-wool anti-abortion, because the religious culture that is being described in such phrases is one that, despite its meritorious goals such as pro-life, reveals its lack of regard for the depth or dignity of the human person in other regards.

    I am reminded of folk I know who are very much pro-life and anti-same-sex marriage (and a host of other typical and genuinely Christian positions), for instance, who also stockpile arms, carry them into churches where the pastors encourage the men to do so (I say this from direct experience and having attended evening “services” at such a church), believe that rock and roll is evil, think that every woman should be under the lordship of a man her entire life (which is to say complete obedience to him, her father first and then the husband her father approves for her), frequently vilify other Christian churches in their sermons (most especially, it seems, the Roman Catholic Church), and so on. Consider even an educated and intelligent man like Albert Mohler, who feels it necessary to make it painfully plain to his readers that he still finds the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church “unbiblical and abhorrent” and that his signature on the Manhattan Declaration should not be taken as anything to the contrary. (He takes a lesser swipe at Orthodoxy, which is typical, since the Orthodox Church just ain’t as famous as the RCC.)

    The most political or issue-oriented Christians are in countless cases orthodox with a lower-case ‘o’, which is out of touch with history and possessed of simplistic anthropology, hamartiology, soteriology, and a whole lot of other ologies. Oh, but they have moral causes and investment in their fellow man … sort of. Many foster children, which seems on the surface a virtuous enough deed, but largely only in the hope of the kids “getting saved,” which to such is an instantaneous and irreversible decision rather than a process. They will at the same time think an Orthodox vile and unsaved for such things as infant baptism. Their knowledge of history is among many understood as a “trail of blood” of the martyrs they believe were killed in the tens of millions by the Catholic Church, their sense of intellectual and exegetical tradition is strangled by the belief that every individual is perfectly competent to read and understand Scripture fully on his own (and “literally” of course), and so on and so forth.

    Oh, there’s probably nothing tepid about some of the things they say and how strongly they oppose certain things from the government, but is this morality really aflame with any depth? My own interactions with many of them is that other human beings are rather disposable to them, and they prefer, except when they are engaging in “hit-and-run” evangelization, to keep completely to themselves and regard believers who do not agree with their doctrines as unworthy of their time (and probably destined for hellfire). Again, I do not, by the way, speak from generalized thoughts or clichés: I know people like this. If I ever tried to tell them sin was an ontological issue, they’d say, “What does ontological mean?” and then they’d shut down on me completely.

    Of course I’m a poor teacher anyway. And, yes, I know, I just took a cheap shot about the meaning of ontological, but it made me chuckle, and I don’t exactly have the dispassion of a Desert Father, so I can enjoy a facetious laugh now and then.

    Even among Christians who are less severe than the portrait I painted (and I will grant that the type of Christian I affectionately described above is of but one sub-culture, although not as small a sub-culture as one would hope), the charge of theological superficiality, moral tepidity, and lacking repentance (metanoia) holds well for a good many more moderate Christians also.

  159. TLO,

    yet you strive to reach a point where you personally meet that ideal (although no human ever has (I’ll leave Christ out of the discussion)). The entire exercise makes no sense to me. Anything beyond the golden rule (which no Christian has yet mastered) seems somewhat irrelevant to me. But that’s just me.

    that is pure Protestant thinking! A Protestant, I am guessing, obviously sees a different Christianity around him from what a traditional Orthodox sees. You might, for instance, see various Evangelicals as examples of (failed) ideals, where a traditional Orthodox sees discerning Elders or unbelievably ascetical old Grannies of a most striking love and meekness…
    In Orthodoxy we believe, we know and we have proofs -in the many Saints from the beginning of time to this very moment- of this “ideal” which you obviously doubt
    For the Fathers the state of total freedom from passions (Ἀπάθεια) is not something that cannot ever be attained in this life (Protestant thinking) but the first step in “True Spiritual Life”!

  160. Niphon,
    you are very right, we are all, knowingly or not, broken and hanging over the abyss by a thread, (homosexuality or not). If a person even just glimpses for a split second, the true, unfathomable depth of their heart’s hardness towards God (this can only be done through the Grace of God’s Light) -even if that person seems outwardly very contrite to themselves up to that point, rather than insensitive- they would be horrified beyond all imagination and would instantly understand the ascetics of old who locked themselves in 6’x3′ graves (and who’s extremes scandalised the ignorant unbeliever)…
    But, to balance that, God’s mercy is infinitely more vast.
    We can therefore ruminate far more on:
    “Thy mercy shall follow me all the days of my life”

  161. John,

    The Christian existence is supposed to be radical and involve enormous sacrifice and tremendous ascetic struggle. It is defined by the bearing of the cross and the pursuit of perfection, through the ministrations of the Spirit.

  162. Niphon,

    Thank you. I can say that I too have experienced the healing, just beginning, of my life long brokenness through the love of my relatively new wife. Not of homosexuality but a deep brokenness nonetheless.

    She sees me and loves me any way. What a blessing
    I too wake up each day deeply grateful for God’s mercy. I often think of Portia’s exhortation to mercy in the Merchant of Venice which expresses the poverty of the legal approach so eloquently.

  163. What is so sad is when people refuse to acknowledge our brokenness and instead claim our brokenness as normal and revel in it. We in the Church are, after all, the maimed, the halt and the lame.

  164. Michael,

    The problem is that there are certain forms of brokenness which plague only the minority. The majority ends up fixating and demonizing these faults because they need not worry being afflicted by them. So, for instance, while homosexuality is no worse than sex outside of marriage, you never see people with signs that say, “God Hates Frat Boys!” or “Divorcees Are Going To Fry in Hell!” Truly, we are perverse creatures — the extent of our hypocrisy is boundless. Luther wasn’t all wrong…

  165. Niphon,
    Thank you for sharing your story – I give thanks to God for His grace! I am especially touched by its lack of judgment or shaming and your sensitivity to the struggle that should be borne by all. May God continue to give you grace!

  166. PJ. While all are broken, not all attempt to make the law protect their brokenness. I would be joyous if we could be allowed to quietly work out our salvation together in fear and trembling with out depraved elements in the wide culture condemning us for even trying. Such ideological venom makes it harder on everyone to address our own brokenness and allow Christ in His Church to heal us.

    It is these attacks on us and the Church that I oppose, not those who suffer under particular problems.

  167. Michael,

    No arguments here. It’s just unfortunate that Christians play the sin “rating” game: “I may do X, but at least I don’t do Y.” The hypocrisy hurts our credibility. I am as guilty of this as anyone. I’m constantly rationalizing my sin by comparing it to the “worse” sins of others.

  168. John,

    “I have no idea what this means. Resistance against what?”

    It’s the old march of history mantra. “It’s only a matter of time before this or that goes the way of the dinos…” It’s a fallacy that often appears in anti-Christian polemic. Connected to this is the “dustbin of history” bit. I don’t know how many times I’ve been told that we Christians are an endangered species, and that future generations will look at our beliefs about marriage and sexuality the way we now look at racial segregationism. It’s illogical and presumptuous.

  169. TLO,
    Further to my previous comment on ‘perfection’:
    Speaking to secular, atheist, agnostic thinkers of a underlying “Protestan persuasion”, or even a Catholic one, the unadulterated patristic Orthodox always reach the point where they refer to experience -an empirical, scientific even, criterion of the truth they profess. This is rooted in experience – borne out in the lives of the faithful who in every generation experience the state of ‘Theosis’- while the western mind has a tendency towards rational constructs, theories of objectivity -equations of logic.
    It is reminiscent of the Hesychast triumph of the 14th century. It is not so much an argument as a life lived, (as Father Stephen has stipulated in the past: “an empirical dogma is not an argument. It goes where no argument can follow. It is, like the gospel itself, an invitation. It can be proclaimed to the world, but like all things empirical, only experience will confirm its truth.”)

    It therefore follows that you could only ever see the real truth of what Father Stephen is talking about here (whether the subject is God’s know-ability / unkow-ability, or Man’s Fall or something like homosexuality etc.) by becoming steeped -even partly- in some of that experience…

  170. Niphon – thank for sharing your beautiful story. Love is truly healing. (Love draws us to God, God draws us to love.)

    Michael – you wrote: “What is so sad is when people refuse to acknowledge our brokenness and instead claim our brokenness as normal and revel in it.” I completely agree with PJ’s comment and want to add something to it.

    If we (church/culture as a whole) give a minority group the message that they are inferior, evil, depraved (or whatever other insult one heaps on them), on a psychological level they need to learn embrace themselves in order to experience anything other than despair or rage.

    In the 1960’s, Black pride and “Black is beautiful” slogans were part of this effort to recover from the residuals of slavery and gross discrimination. (Riots reflected the rage as the positive slogans pulled people from despair.) To say that many African Americans were broken would be accurate – but it is very important to look at who broke them…

    Even though you do not see homosexuality as “normal”, to the gay or lesbian person it is, i.e. it is experienced as a natural dimension of self in the same way that heterosexuality is to the hetero. If church/culture “bludgeons” this minority, as we indeed have, it strikes me as rather unfair to then blame them for trying to recoup some pride in themselves and their identity. Certainly God can bring a much deeper healing – but finding God is hard for the person bludgeoned by church.

    Hence, their “sin” is not only theirs – for all have helped to make it. As Father Stephen said, our problem is ontological…

  171. Mary,

    Our fallenness means that we experience sin precisely as “normal.” That’s the whole problem.

    The difficulty with homosexuality is that many homosexuals root their personal identity in this sexual orientation. This confusion of personhood and behavior makes dialogue challenging, because any criticism of the latter is construed as an attack on the former — which certainly isn’t the intent. Thus distinguishing the sin from the sinner can be a monumental task — for both sides.

  172. PJ,

    “Our fallenness means that we experience sin precisely as “normal.” That’s the whole problem”

    is spot on, we also have the added problem of the utter need for self-justification (which soon develops into criticism of the other, and soon after to criticism of the true Other – “the woman YOU gave me”). The solution to all problems, mine, as well as the problems of those close or far, the only true solution, is God, my closer union to Him…. So, I agree (that we must obviously retain the clear teaching without confusion of personhood and behaviour), but, we must go far further than just that, and concentrate far more than we do on the only part of creation we have any power in transforming (with the help of God’s Grace): our own self!

  173. PJ

    The difficulty with homosexuality is that many homosexuals root their personal identity in this sexual orientation.

    But why shouldn’t they? If a person is a bona fide, from-as-far-back-as-he-can-remember homosexual, why shouldn’t he? You can tell such a person all you want that his homosexuality is not what God created, not what the Lord intended, that it is just a product of the fallenness of man, but, if it is all that he knows, what is he supposed to make of this effort to separate his person–his earthly person, anyway–from some ideal of his person that he is not acquainted with?

    This confusion of personhood and behavior makes dialogue challenging,….

    Lex orandi, lex credendi. We believe as we pray, and we are also behave and as we think and feel (lest we suffer some sort of cognitive disturbance from the conflict between the inner and outer lives). I find it fascinating to see this bifurcation of personhood and behavior here, because it makes me think of the whole ridiculous faith vs. works controversy that makes Orthodoxy seem so anathema to many Protestants: typically the Orthodox does not make such a hard division between the life of the mind and the life of the behavior. If a man knows only sexual attraction to members of his own sex, how else is he supposed to comprehend the sexual component of his person? Telling him that’s not his true person turns into an academic exercise, and this is probably the cruelty (bludgeoning seems a popular word for it in this discussion) that other are taking issue with.

    I am, by the way, of no doubt that homosexual behavior is sinful, but I also have no doubt that most or all of us know little other than the person we are in this world, and that includes the person who finds this person or that sexually or romantically attractive. Telling a man that that’s not his true person is not an especially compelling method of persuasion or form of solving the problem of the sin.

    One other thing. Men are such sexual beasts that they will have sex with anything. I suspect that much of the homosexual behavior that the Torah speaks out against was, back in the old days, engaged in by men who were not homosexuals in the deep, lifelong sense that we typically speak of today: they were men with perfectly normal sexual predilections towards women who had sex with other men, because … well, because they were there. You know, like climbing Mount Everest. They did it, many of them, because of opportunity or because of the bizarre dictates of pagan rituals. In those cases, maybe, just maybe, this person versus behavior distinction is a little easier to sell, but I don’t think it’s worth a hill of beans in the real life of any person who has no heterosexual inclinations he is aware of and is only sexually attracted to members of his own sex.

  174. And so the circular debate that is not really a debate goes on. Two wholly different anthropological assumptions approached from within a moralistic mindset. There can be no agreement. One thing I am certain of: as an Orthodox Christian I have no rights. I have no call to? question, attack, or change the Church’s Tradition that calls all to restoration not acquiescence: to be not of this world.

    That means fighting to allow God’s order to rule my life, not my desires and appetites. Although I have been angry for as long as I can remember if I allow myself to be defined as my anger, I am lost.

    Only the presence of God’s grace and the deep love of my wife, both unwarranted gifts reveal to me my true self.

  175. Those who want the truth will find the truth. Those willing to settle for false idols will not.

  176. You don’t make bad points, John. This isn’t an easy topic, despite rhetoric on both sides. Perhaps we’ll take it up again. But, as per Father’s wishes, we’ll drop it now. God bless.

  177. Thanks again, Fr. Stephen, for what you wrote and for allowing the discussion at all. I think some valuable perspectives were shared and I completely understand your stopping it now. To continue would distract us from other important things that you have to teach us.

  178. I second Mary’s gratitude, Father. I really appreciate that you give us a forum to have these important discussions and, with any luck, grow in godly wisdom.

  179. My priest blessed us with a homily on having a heart of mercy. It left me in tears. A big part of that it seems to me is to realize my own brokenness and my own total inability to put myself together.

    Therefore I can only offer my brokenness to God and cry out for mercy. “That same pray for mercy teaches us to render the deeds of mercy; for in the course of justice none of us should see salvation.”

    Real mercy also requires that we know from where we have fallen.

  180. to put is so simply, morals is partaking in the tree of knowledge of GOOD and evil. even our good is vanity of vanities if we do not take Christ as our real good, which is being filled with Him in our spirit and allowing Him to flow in our mind, emotion,and will, so that the flesh will not be exercised.

  181. to elaborate more and add something that may sound so simple (which God is not complicated at all, we like to make Him that way), but i wanted to say that Christ is our real morality. Genesis 1:26 talks about how we are all made in Their (i.e., God and Christ)image and according to Their likeness. therefore, we have God’s attributes in us. God is the good One in us. if we try to be “good” without Him, we will fail. we should try not to focus on being good because we would be eating off the wrong tree, knowledge of good and evil,which leads to death (spiritually). there’s a reason why the tree of “good” and “evil” and not just “evil.” may this not only be revealed but be our reality in our experience daily.

    thank you for this post, brother.

    -a sister in Christ

  182. But isn’t following the moral rules in the bible (don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t covet, etc…) exactly the same as being renewed and transformed by Christ? When you first accept Christ’s offer of salvation you want to try to live a life that is pleasing to God…which means following the life described in the bible…which includes those moral behaviors. I don’t see the difference?

  183. The very fact that you and Fr. John disagree on such a fundamental point demonstrates that something is seriously out of wack in this Church.

  184. Jake,
    It could be sin. Mine or his. Let God be the judge. For what it’s worth, Jake, Fr. John and I have very different backgrounds and very different training, and often approach things in a different manner. I have a particular understanding of “morality,” as I’ve articulated it, that is indeed in keeping with the Tradition – as articulated in a number of places – but is a very theological analysis of the question. Fr. John is approaching this in a very different – even practical manner. If we discussed it face-to-face, we might either agree or disagree – mostly, I suspect, according to personality. It is not surprising to find Orthodox priests disagreeing about something – even about something that might seem fundamental – especially in a matter, like this, that involves pastoral understanding.

    For example, I do not approach my parish from a very moralistic or legal position – but work towards cultivating a deeper understanding of the nature of sin and its work in our lives. Just citing the rules, I think, gains very little. Fr. John might or might not agree with that. Priests often approach such things in a different manner, mostly on the basis of their personality, whether they like to admit it or not. I am not a disciplinarian. It’s not who I am. I never laid a hand on my children. They still turned out great. That “quirk” of my personality also leads me to ask questions from a particular direction and come up with answers, from within the Tradition, that work.

    Orthodoxy is real. It’s not an ideology. If it were an ideology, there would only ever be agreement. But it’s real and true, and because of that, you find personalities have an effect as well.

  185. In Western society we have two primary competing claims for the origin and basis of Morality: naturalist evolution and scriptural theism. …Each individual must weigh for herself which alternative holds the most merit.

    On the one hand, naturalism holds that in a world where survival is contingent on both competition and social cooperation, there is bound to be a conflict between self-serving impulses (evil, from a societal standpoint) and group-serving impulses (good, from a societal standpoint).

    On the other hand, Christian theism holds that an omniscient god creates a perfect human couple (knowing they will be tempted to sin by a talking serpent), then wipes out nearly the whole of the human race in the time of Noah (knowing in advance they would all turn evil), then, with his foreknowledge, ultimately consigns the majority of the human race to an endless torment in hell (while asking us to turn the other cheek against our own enemies), requiring the murder of his own son to redeem the minority of humanity that recognizes and accepts this Grand Plan.

    —Kenneth W. Daniels, former evangelical Christian missionary in his book, “Why I Believed”

  186. Gary,

    The entirety of Kenneth’s statement, which you quoted, is nothing more than Protestant nonsense. It is not a part of the dogma of the Orthodox Church; it is not in any manner true. I will leave it to Father, and any others, to answer in detail if they so choose.

    I would encourage you to do some searching on this blog for more reading. A good place to begin may be here: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/the-river-of-fire-kalomiros/

  187. An unforgettable line from an old Jesuit in my moral
    theology class: “Poor moral theology generally finds its roots in the rationalization of unconfessed sin” ( usually sexual). Easier to change the rules than to face the sin with one’s confessor.

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