How the Scriptures Became the Scriptures

How did the Scriptures become the Scriptures? In particular, how did early Christians decide which books would be included in the Scriptures and which books would not – for there were far more writings of the time that were set aside than those that were accepted as being Scripture?

Interestingly, the process did not happen right away. The writings that are today described as being the New Testament were largely or completely finished by the end of the first century – that is – within the lifetime of the longest surviving disciple (St. John). Yet, the Church did not declare what writings were to be considered Scripture for more than a century after that. Why did the so-called “New Testament Church” wait for over a century to declare what would be the New Testament?

There are a number of modern Christians who speak of the New Testament as though it were the definitive achievement of the early Church. For them, only those things that can be “proven” by reference to the New Testament are considered authoritative or true. It is that same method that they use to justify their own beliefs and practices. But, we will note, they have established a requirement that not even the early Church observed.

There is, first, the problem of circular logic. How can you establish the authority of the New Testament before the New Testament is complete? With advocates of a “New Testament Church,” this problem is usually obviated by reference to the Apostles. While the Apostles were alive, they reason, they functioned as a sort of living New Testament. The Scriptures were not utterly necessary until they died. However, once they died, the Scriptures become the sole authority (Sola Scriptura). Of course, unlike the American Constitution, the New Testament did not include a method of “ratification.” By the time of the last Apostle, there were already documents claiming to be “Apostolic” or the “Secret teachings of Jesus” in circulation. How was the early Church able to decide what was authentic and what was false? The modern NT scholar, Bart Ehrman, has created a small cottage industry by playing off this problem.

Those who struggle to anchor the Christian faith in a first-century Scripture, fail to notice what the Apostles actually did complete by the end of the first century. The Scriptures that today comprise the New Testament were completed by the end of that century, but they had not yet become the Scriptures that they would be. What the Apostles completed in their lifetime (and even before its end) was the founding of the Church. It is this labor that occupied all of their time and their attention. The Apostle Paul’s ministry stretched over 35 years (more or less). In that time he wrote 14 letters (at most). Those writings are relatively short. What else did he do for 35 years? He established communities of Christians all across the Mediterranean; he taught; he communicated the Tradition; He trained and ordained leaders; He revisited communities; He trained a team to assist him. His life was the Church. Everything he wrote, he wrote as an extension of his work in and for the Church.

It was this beloved Church that he called, “the Body of Christ.” It was this beloved Church that he called, “The Pillar and Ground of Truth.” It was her inner life, described as “traditions,” taught “by word or our epistle,” that he instructed his fellow workmen to “hold fast” (2 Thess. 2:15).

This last instruction points to the reality of the Church’s life. The gospels (all four) which we now have, show clear evidence of having first been known and taught orally. They were not entirely the compositions of four different men (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). They clearly have much material in common (sometimes word for word). St. Paul and his fledgling communities were not strangers to this oral tradition. In 1 Corinthians 11, St. Paul reminds the Christians in Corinth of the oral tradition of the Eucharist. He specifically says that he traditioned (ὃ καὶ παρέδωκα ὑμῖν) to them what he himself had received by tradition (παρέλαβον ἀπὸ τοῦ Κυρίου), that “In the night in which He was betrayed, He took bread…”  He then relates, pretty much word-for-word, the account of the institution of the Eucharist as it is given in Matthew, Mark and Luke. This is more than a decade or two before those gospels are held to have been written. The oral tradition of the gospels (doubtless that tradition contained most of what forms the gospels that we have today) predates the written gospels by decades. The best NT scholars today suggest that the tradition Paul cites in such a fixed form goes back to around 35 AD (2 years after the resurrection).

The Church of the first century, founded and nurtured tirelessly by the Apostles, was grounded in this oral tradition. It included stories of the gospels, early hymns (such as Philippians 2:5-11), creedal material (1 Corinthians 15:1-5), and such things. Most especially, its inner life and character as the worshipping community of Jesus were formed in a manner that consistently reflected the gospel itself. The incarnate God, crucified in weakness, dead, descended into Hades, raised from the dead in power, triumphant over death and hell, exalted to the right hand of the Father, coming again to bring the fullness of His Kingdom, formed the shape of the early Christian life. Salvation was through union with Christ. That union was initiated in Baptism and sealed by the gift of the Spirit. It was nourished in the Eucharist of His Body and Blood. It was reaffirmed by a life marked by humility, hospitality, care for the poor, and obedience to the way of the Cross (even obedience unto death). It was guided by that inner life, expressed in the teachings of the Apostles, maintained by the Bishops whom they appointed within the Church. The sheep knew the voice of their Shepherd.

It was the recognition of that voice that ultimately affirmed the Scriptures that we now describe as the New Testament. The “canon” of the New Testament (those books the Church accepted as authoritative) was based on what was actually used in the Churches over the first few centuries. The discussions within the Church in affirming a canon were comparisons from place to place as to what books were read within the worship life of the Church. The lists varied. But several things are of note:

1. The lists did not include books that deviated in any way from the normative account of the Apostolic faith. There was no acceptance of gospels that ignored the centrality of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. There were no books whose descriptions of the Christian way of life deviated from the example of Christ and the Apostles.

2. Some books were not universally accepted, but had enough acceptance to be considered canonical (Revelation is an example – it is still not read in the Eastern Orthodox Church, though it is considered canonical).

3. Some books that were generally believed to be Apostolic in origin did not have enough acceptance to be included among the canonical works. Thus the Didache, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas, though generally accepted as Apostolic, lacked sufficient universality).

It is important to consider the fact that there were no books within the lists that were outside the mainstream of the received Orthodox Tradition. How was that? There was no centralized, controlling bureaucracy, no mass communication. There was, instead, a common mind (as St. Paul enjoined his Churches, cf. 1 Cor. 1:10; 2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 1:27; Phil. 2:2; Phil 3:16; Phil. 4:2, etc.). That common mind is, in fact, what Orthodox mean by Tradition. St. Paul does not enjoin the Churches, “Read the same New Testament.” He says, “Be of one mind.” The Church is of one mind, because it is the one Church in the one Lord, in the one Spirit, in the one Apostolic Tradition. That one mind spoke and established the canon of the New Testament. Many today read the same book, but because they are not of the same mind, fail to understand it.

The Scripture is not prior to the Church, but of the Church. It is a manifestation of the Church’s divine life. It speaks with the voice of Christ, the same voice that speaks throughout the life of the Church. In recognizing the voice of its shepherd, the Church declared some books to be authoritative, that is, consistent with the voice of Christ they already knew. As St. John says to the Church:

These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you. But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him (1 Jn. 2:26-27).

Interestingly, in this very passage, John acknowledges his role in writing, but also acknowledges that the Church already has something that teaches and guards from falsehood – the anointing – the Holy Spirit. He is not describing “two poles,” or “two sources,” or “two authorities.” His writing and the anointing have one and the same action. John writes and the anointing abides, and both preserve the Church. The Church knows its shepherd and His voice (and even St. John’s writing) because the anointing abides within it. St. John does not suggest that his writing can now substitute for the anointing.

And so the Church establishes what is now called the canon of Scripture. Those books that are consistent with the witness of the anointing in the Church and have been recognized as such over time by the Church, are declared to be authoritative. But the anointing does not cease, for it is the very constitution of the Church. The Church which is the Body of Christ is made so by the one Spirit it has received and continues to receive and in which it abides.

Schemes of interpretation and ecclesiology rooted in sola scriptura ultimately divorce the Scriptures from the Church and the Church from the anointing. The result is the present sad state of denominational Christianity.

232 comments:

  1. wow! very thought provoking! thank you again for another blog to really get us to think and learn more about our faith and how the Scriptures really came into being the Scriptures.

  2. Several years ago I read Bart Ehrman´s book in which he wrote about the corruption of scripture. Although he was a believer in his earlier days, the latest is that he is agnostic. It is interesting that the free dictionary defines agnostic 3 ways: 1. One who says it is impossible to know whether there is a God; 2. One who is skeptical about the existence of God, but does not profess atheism; 3. One who is doubtful about something. There are many out there, I suppose even in the church, who are agnostic…some who have said they believe that there is something “out there”. Several who have said that they are agnostic to me, I just say, “There are many out there like you who fail to understand `He is your Heavenly Father´.

  3. Too many see the relationship between Church and Scripture as being between two poles: either the Scripture is the authority over the Church, or the Church is the authority over the Scriptures. I appreciate what you said about John, and how the writing and the Spirit the Christians had were not two different things, but one and the same. In my understanding, the Church may use Scripture authoritatively not because the Church rules Scripture, but because the same Spirit enlivens both. Would this be a correct interpretation of what you are saying here?

  4. Great article. I think though it is a stretch to conclude that the New Testament writings were universally received as
    Scripture within a 100 years of the Apostles – it is entirely possible that 2 Peter was just being written around 150 ad and the mid second century writings of Irenaeus certainly suggest that the Old Testament remained the primary Christian Scripture into that same period. The Church Herself really did not declare the New Testament writings en toto as Scripture for hundreds of years.

  5. I have great respect for you and your writings but I would like to invoke Proerbs 18:17.

    “He established communities of Christians all across the Mediterranean; he taught; he communicated the Tradition; He trained and ordained leaders; He revisited communities; He trained a team to assist him.” – This is an issue with which I struggled during my deconversion process. It seems to me that a god with any brains at all would have had all the particulars of the faith documented (see the Pentateuch). The recruitment of uneducated men and the complete lack of documentation during the lifetime of Christ followed by a century of one-on-one discipleship and just a few letters just about guarantees that within one generation the whole thing will have been like a game of telephone in which the original intent is completely lost and, consequently, unassailable.

    “Yet, the Church did not declare what writings were to be considered Scripture for more than a century after that.” – Which again speaks to the same issue. This passage of time is equivalent to us considering the Civil War. Now, we have all kinds of documents from the 1860s including news articles, letters, and personal writings of principle players and yet there is still a considerable segment of the population who believes in revisionist versions of history. Imagine what it would be like if all we had to go on was the oral tradition of 12 guys who were at Fredericksburg, Appomattox and Bull Run (written down for posterity some 30 years after the events). How much would we really know about the events of that time? Next to nothing.

    The entire NT story, from angels showing up to a couple guys watching over sheep in the country to basing today’s faith on the musings of a dozen men (one of whom never even hung out with Jesus) without anything being recorded at the time that they happened is simply impossible to take seriously. One might claim that the memory of those men who penned or narrated the Gospels is enough. But anyone who knows anything about how the human brain works and how memories are constantly recreated and modified over time (particularly as different people talk about those events with one another) knows that this is by far the least reliable evidence one can possibly present.

    “It was guided by that inner life, expressed in the teachings of the Apostles, maintained by the Bishops whom they appointed within the Church. The sheep knew the voice of their Shepherd.” and “There was, instead, a common mind…” – I have trouble with this also. If these people had the “Holy Spirit” and a common mind, why did most of them show up at Nicaea presenting Constantine with petitions airing grievances against other bishops (which Constantine summarily burned on opening day)? And why was that council fraught with bickering, fighting and ultimately the winners excommunicating the losers (with Constantine’s brother-in-law being reinstated as a Bishop after the excommunications because he was married to the emperor’s sister)? Being “of one mind” and “coming to a consensus” are two very different things.

    “And so the Church establishes what is now called the canon of Scripture.” – All in all, it seems to me that in this case, as in every case, history is written by the victors. The voices of the squelched have no place and so it is impossible for later generations to fairly judge between them.

    It makes for a nice package and, just like patriotism, we can all feel comfortable that what we (our church, our nation, our tribe) says and does is right and just because we have all the right answers. If Christianity did in fact universally lead to lives “marked by humility, hospitality, care for the poor” then I would be more likely to give the “scriptures” due consideration. As it is, what I have found is that good people (regardless of belief system) live such lives and bad people (even within the hierarchy of religious belief systems) don’t. Said another way, I think you will find as many humble and hospitable Muslims as you will Christians, Hidus, Buddhists or atheists.

    That said, it seems to me that only positive benefit of such writings is simply to reinforce in good people that they should continue to be good. But the reality is that all Scripture (regardless of religion) is polarizing and serves only to create division between the faithful and those who have fallen away or are outside the faith. Within each faith, the Scriptures (and writings of the church fathers) are used to browbeat those who do not interpret them the same way that we do. It does not lead to unity but to division.

    So, maybe god was brilliant all along and never intended the faith to be penned. If we threw away everything except the gospels, perhaps people would be imitating Christ rather than using the scriptures to figure out who is right and who is wrong and invoking factions, inquisitions, and the divisiveness that permeates Christianity.

  6. “The entire NT story, from angels showing up to a couple guys watching over sheep in the country to basing today’s faith on the musings of a dozen men (one of whom never even hung out with Jesus) without anything being recorded at the time that they happened is simply impossible to take seriously. ”

    And yet billions of people, past and present, take it seriously, sometimes remaining faithful to Christ unto the cruelest deaths.

    So either you are uncannily perceptive, or the claims of Christ and His Church are not “impossible to take seriously,” but rather worthy of consideration.

    Given that some of mankind’s most brilliant specimens are disciples of Jesus — often after long bouts of unbelief — I lean toward the latter option. With all due respect, of course.

    But I *do* understand where you are coming from. Indeed, everything you write, I recognize.

    For I was an agnostic once. An agnostic of the caustically cynical variety. I even remember (with great shame) my favorite epithet for Christ, which I hurled with smug condescension: “some itinerant Jewish construction worker.”

    I can only urge you, as I always do, to seek God in Christ crucified through humble, loving prayer. Perhaps one day we can, as brothers in Christ, sing together: Too late have I loved Thee, O Lord!

  7. I do not want to be contrary here, as I fully agree with the idea that divisional denominationalism is destructive to the Church. In fact my wife and I like to think of Christianity as Baskin Robbins…31 flavors, but all still ice cream in the end. Simplified to be sure, but I am sure you get the point!

    My only concern is to make sure the Scriptures are also not diminished. John 1:1 states “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Literally, due to God’s omnipresence, His plan has been in place for eternity, past and future. That plan revealed to us is the Word. Individual translations may not contain the full meaning behind all He has to say to us, but the essence is always there, and the Truth is revealed to believers, through the Spirit, when we read the Word. This is very similar to what you described with the process of the NT canonization.

    One big problem with some organizations today though is the pulling the Word out of context. Understanding it in the light of time it was written, as well as removing it from surrounding text, can allow Scripture to be used to manipulate a desired message. Not only do I think this practice is wrong, I believe it to be from Satan’s influence, and also a culprit towards some common misunderstandings of key pieces of Scripture.

    Personally, I think that most churches that emphasize the concept of “sola scriptura” idea are not denying the Spirit of the Church or diminishing its importance, rather they recognize that the Church does not exist in a vacuum from societal influences. Therefore, for grounding we need always turn back to the Word to make sure that what we say and do is only for God’s glory. I actually believe it would be better if more church denominations did this, perhaps their attitudes would turn more ecumenical, and we could spend less time on infighting, and instead focus on the Great Commission and on helping those in need.

  8. Brian wrote: “My only concern is to make sure the Scriptures are also not diminished. John 1:1 states “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Literally, due to God’s omnipresence, His plan has been in place for eternity, past and future. That plan revealed to us is the Word.”

    I’m not certan what you mean by this, but you seem to think that John 1:1 was referring to the scriptures. However, if so, you would also be saying that John refers to the scriptures as being God and existing before there were pen, ink, or anyone to read them.

    It turns out that the “Word” in John 1:1 (Logos) is not at all the same word used elsewhere when scripture is called “the word of God.” I have heard some evangelical preachers say that the Bible is Christ in book form. This results from a sore lack of knowledge of Greek. In truth, a book the size of the Bible (important though it may be) is not nearly adequate to express the essence of an ordinary human being, much less to express the divine essence of Christ.

    One terrible result of the desire of the Sola Scriptura faction to emphasize the preeminence of scripture is their diminishment of Christ Himself.

  9. Gregory, I thought I stated pretty clearly that the Word refers to His plan, i.e. the Truth. No not just the Bible, that is just a partial revelation of the Truth. There is much more to God that we can possibly understand or get from a book 1000 times larger than the Bible. And I would never agree with someone saying that the Bible is Christ, that is absurd. It is, however, part of the Truth, and a more trustworthy record than the word of any one person…other than Jesus, whose words of course come to us from that same Scripture.

    Sola Scriptura does not equal worship of the Bible, it acknowledges it contains all of the basic knowledge needed to establish an authentic relationship with our Lord, if its words and the Truth are taken to heart. Then the relationship one has with the Lord becomes much deeper than any words can describe.

    I would point you to, if you so want to vilify a faction of the church, to look at the group I mentioned in my initial response, those who quote parts of Scripture out of context for political or exclusivity means.

  10. Brian,

    I’m also confused by your first paragraph. You seem to think that John is speaking of the Scriptures in his Prologue. But this surely is not the case: He is speaking of the Second Person of the Godhead, whom is called Word, Son, Wisdom, Light, Lord, Only-Begotten, Firstborn, Image, and so on. The Scriptures — called sometimes “the Word” — are the revelation of the Son, but they are not somehow identical or interchangeable with Him. To think as much is to fall into the heresy of Islam, which declares the Koran (in Arabic!) eternally before Allah.

  11. …or those who argue that there is only one true interpretation of Scripture. Usually thinking somehow that version would be from 17th century England.

  12. Greg,
    My dating of things has been misunderstood. The “universal acceptance” or should we say “general acceptance” is indeed probably established well before 100 years after the Apostles, though that is not stated definitively until around the time of Nicaea in 324 AD. But Nicaea states something that is already largely established in practice.

  13. John Shores,
    I think your summation is rather jaundiced – reflecting your personal experience rather than what is there.

  14. PJ – “And yet billions of people, past and present, take it seriously, sometimes remaining faithful to Christ unto the cruelest deaths.” – By that argument, the faith of suicide bombers has equal validity. Many Hindus and Muslims have suffered terrible deaths for their faith (and let us not forget the Israelis). If the story is to be believed, even Pharaoh believed his religion to the point of suffering terrible plagues on his nation as the death of his eldest son. Yet he is regarded by Christians with contempt. Jezebel was a conservative religious person who was faithful to her god to the point of death and yet her name is a byword. Or we could talk about the Aztecs or Mayas or any other religion known to man. The examples from every religion through the ages are innumerable.

    To me, all this says more about human beings than it does about the validity of the stories they adopt.

    Brian – I believe John 1 was not talking about scriptures but Christ as being “the word.” I think it is a mistake to call scriptures “the word of god.” In the context of Christianity, they are “a word” but certainly not “THE word.” When you say “the Word refers to His plan” I think you are not thinking Orthodoxically. “God’s plan” (if there is such a thing) has been debated since the beginning whereas John 1 is speaking of a person.

    “it acknowledges it contains all of the basic knowledge needed to establish an authentic relationship with our Lord” – Phrases like “authentic relationship” always make me cringe. Too often such phrases are used to divide and since a relationship is not entered into cerebrally, I find such terms to belie the undercurrent that runs throughout Christianity and which plagues people with doubt, confusion and guilt; that is, the word “relationship” means something and trying to redefine it into “thinking correctly about someone” (thank you Athenasius (“He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity”)) causes cognitive dissonance. Belief is one thing. Claiming a relationship is something else entirely.

    “…those who quote parts of Scripture out of context…” – Is it not the Orthodox position that the context of the scriptures is found in the writings of the church fathers? Consequently, from an Orthodox point of view, anyone quoting scriptures without knowledge of that context (e.g. 95% of “Christians”) are doing so out of context regardless of their purpose or intent? Does this not make them apostate?

  15. Brian,
    I think we are in two very different places. The Scriptures do not contain all of the basic knowledge need to establish an authentic relationship with our Lord. That is something that is given to the Church (and the Scriptures functioning in the life of the Church). The Scriptures do not Baptize, Chrismate or Commune. That belongs to the life of the Church – and they belong to the life of an authentic relationship with Christ. When I say “Church” in the article, I am referring to the Holy Orthodox Church founded by Christ, but not the denominational Christianity of modern protestantism. It has it’s positives and negatives, but it is not the Church.

  16. John Shores,

    Much of what you wrote resonates with me as well. I, too, see religion as regularly creating such division and animosity on both the interpersonal and national level that I often wonder if it might not be simpler just to try to love my fellow man and forget all else – doctrines, creeds, etc. Certainly, the moment at which any belief becomes a claim of personal “rightness” (my belief is right, my practice is right, my scriptures are right, etc) is a moment which rends the Unity of all things – which might just be the best definition of sin that I know of.

    At the same time, I can think of no greater example of how to love my fellow man than that given by Jesus Christ and the life lived by his saints. I believe that this true life has also been lived by those who would not call themselves Christians; but for myself, having come to know Christ, I cannot walk away.

    I know you have said in previous posts that you are through searching and reading (a sentiment which I can certainly appreciate); if you are interested, however, I recommend the book, Christ the Eternal Tao, by Heiromonk Damascene. If you would like to meet Christ, you may just find him there.

  17. Fr. Stephen: “I think your summation is rather jaundiced – reflecting your personal experience rather than what is there.”

    I am sorry it sounds so but facts cannot be swept away. The tenor of the Nicene councils was combative and the fact that these bishops went to a civil authority to try to exact punishment on one another broke my heart when I read about it. The way the human mind works is in fact the way it works. There is no evidence to suggest that events documented 30-40 years later are factual.

    What you read as “jaundiced” is probably better termed “hugely disappointed.” I didn’t set out to disprove Christianity. I wanted to believe that there was some truth to is because I desperately wanted to have this holy spirit person change me. All I ever got in the protestant world is neurosis. In pseudo-orthodox-land (the CEC) I got a taste of something better only for it to be shattered. I didn’t have the courage to let anyone else try to tell me what and how I should believe after that. The soul-crushing torment of my journey to try to find god was purely my own. And no god showed up to rescue me. The only two possibilities then became that I was damned (which I well may be) or there is no god. The latter is simpler to believe because I cannot believe in a god who would damn one who honestly sought him.

  18. John – Thank you. It would be nice, though, if Christ would bother to meet me instead. A human can only look under so many rocks before determining that all they have under them is dirt and bugs.

    To be honest, I am worn out to the core. No one would be happier than I if I could simply lay down and go to the long sleep. Certainly some people would be happy, seeing as I’m something of a pest. But still… :o)

  19. John Shores,
    reading your comment made me think that rational reasoning is truly the antithesis of faith, and, your reasoning in particular -based on your remarkable background- seems to be even better versed against faith than usual – the ‘believer’ in you contains within him his worst enemy…!
    Don’t we all (contain him within us) though? we do indeed!
    One can go on like this, deconstructing more and more, all because of coming at it from a, first and foremost, critical angle. But is that not one of the reasons why the Kingdom is to be inherited by the child-like?
    Having encountered these types of doubts with a growing frequency in my peers, makes me think that, just as the notion of the Cross -i.e.: God’s strength always being manifest in weakness- was a scandal to “Jews” and “Greeks” alike, so too, it will be more and more of a scandal to the people of the last times – just as was prophesised in the past…

    I sometimes think that the biggest part of this potential for rationalised unbelief is provided us by our especially mollycoddled culture and environment. I think this because I have witnessed how, sometimes, (not always though), people are vehemently freed from the shackles of this particular flavour of unbelief through terminal illness. Completely. More so than even meeting a charismatic saintly believer.

  20. John, I do well understand your point and your thoughts. I despaired about all of this in around 1973. It was a very dark year (and for a few after that).
    Where I came to was not an explanation that made all the crap of history and the present go away. It’s there – really there. It is a very long disappointing tale of how we betray God and one another (at the very least).
    Instead, I eventually came to a place where I believed (and still believe) that despite all the crap, past and present, all the historical disappointment, God exists and is active and is bringing about good – an ultimate good that I am ok with calling, “salvation.”
    That the Church and all its historical characters have been as disappointing as the first 12 were willing to admit that they themselves were does not now surprise me. It is that the love of God is still manifest that surprises me.
    I have many times encountered great goodness (and in non-believers as well as you have noted). I take this to be the mercy of God and not the luck of the draw.
    If everything had gone to hell in a handbasket, I would say that a godless world had played itself out in true fashion. I do not wrestle with the problem of “evil.” It pretty much makes sense to me. It’s the problem of goodness that I can only account for at the hands of a good God.

  21. John Shores,
    I think that one would have to smite the internal rationalising enemy of faith in order for God to be ‘found’ in that way you outlined. Just like to the generation looking for a miraculous sign, “none will be given it except the sign of Jonah”, so too in every person’s life, the “sign” is usually that sign of “Jonah” which requires a plunge (of faith) first and an exhilaration in the waters afterwards, rather than the reverse…

  22. Brian said: “Sola Scriptura…acknowledges (the Bible) contains all of the basic knowledge needed to establish an authentic relationship with our Lord, if its words and the Truth are taken to heart. Then the relationship one has with the Lord becomes much deeper than any words can describe.”

    The problem here is not the truth of your statement (yes it can happen this way glory be to God!) but its practical application. What we are looking at is the complex process of communications. same as with every sentence ever written, we do not know what exactly a verse says; we make a prayerful and earnest effort to understand its meaning. Hopefully, we have in front of us a decent translation of the original. Hopefully, we know the context. Some of us may have concordances and other aids in our disposal. Some of us may be smart enough and fortunate enough to have guides in the form of theologians, pastors, etc… The fact remains that, when push come to shove, it is our individual opinion or interpretation that is authoritative, not the Scriptures–even though we console (fool) ourselves into thinking that we have understood the Word the way that God intended. I myself prefer to defer deliberately to the Church in order for me to have all the help that I need NOT to be misled.

  23. John,

    Other faiths are not without merit. They all contain seeds of the truth. Christianity is simply the fullness of the truth.

  24. By which I mean, no faith can be dismissed out of hand. At least, none of the great faiths, which have spanned millennia and inspired whole civilizations. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob alone has captivated the mind of much of mankind for the last two thousand years. To say simply, “This is impossible to believe,” is to deny the reality of the faith in the life of countless human beings. And *that* is simply naive.

  25. John Shores,

    I’ve studied closely the history of Christianity. I’ve read texts penned by liberals and conservatives, heterodox and orthodox. I’ve considered all of the matters you bring up. Yet I come away with radically different conclusions. (Though I’d also question the factuality of some of your assertions.) History is not as self-evident as you make it seem.

    And, it should be said, if the New Testament is as unreliable as you claim, then the study of ancient history is essentially impossible, for it is widely recognized as one of the best preserved documents of antique civilization. The sheer number of manuscripts, as well as their uniformity and their proximity to the events in question, is impressive and rarely paralleled.

  26. Let’s give what a council of the ancient church
    actually said.

    Fourth Council of Carthage (A. D. 419)
    CANON XXIV.

    That nothing be read in church besides the Canonical Scripture.

    ITEM, that besides the Canonical Scriptures nothing be read in church under the name of divine Scripture.

    But the Canonical Scriptures are as follows:

    Genesis
    Exodus
    Leviticus
    Numbers
    Deuteronomy
    Joshua the Son of Nun
    The Judges
    Ruth
    The Kings (4 books)
    The Chronicles (2 books)
    Job
    The Psalter
    The Five books of Solomon
    The Twelve Books of the Prophets
    Isaiah
    Jeremiah
    Ezechiel
    Daniel
    Tobit
    Judith
    Esther
    Ezra (2 books)
    Macchabees (2 books)
    The New Testament:
    The Gospels (4 books)
    The Acts of the Apostles (1 book)
    The Epistles of Paul (14)
    The Epistles of Peter, the Apostle (2)
    The Epistles of John the Apostle (3)
    The Epistles of James the Apostle (1)
    The Epistle of Jude the Apostle (1)
    The Revelation of John (1 book)
    Let this be sent to our brother and fellow bishop, [Pope] Boniface, and to the other bishops of those parts, that they may confirm this canon, for these are the things which we have received from our fathers to be read in church.

    http://www.scrollpublishing.com/store/Carthage.html

  27. John Shores,

    I too can heartily second the recommendation for the book “Christ The Eternal Tao” – just the Introduction alone is well worth the read. Pontius Pilate asked “What is Truth?” – this is one of the most honest questions that can be asked. I left Protestantism because I couldn’t find the truth there, and instead found much truth contained in Eastern approaches, but something was always missing. It was only upon discovering Orthodoxy that everything converged in the revelation of Christ. Not to say that all my questions were answered, as faith and doubt are not mutually exclusive, but many of the previous contradictions and slivers of truth finally converged into meaning. Also highly recommend the writings of Anthony Bloom, as he asked many of the same questions that you do:
    http://www.metropolit-anthony.orc.ru/eng/

  28. Fr. Stephen,
    Thank you for again sharing holy wisdom with us.At some point in the future would you discuss the process of oral transmission. I am not sure I fully understand it and I am wondering if others may also be in need of this information. God bless.

  29. PJ,
    I very much enjoyed and agree with your last few comments here.

    John Shores,

    to the statement: “And no god showed up to rescue me.”, I think that God does sometimes (the vast majority of times) answer “they have Moses and the PROPHETS” (as I said earlier, no “sign” is given to the generation that asks for it – although it is however, given to those who are sick, humbled and pained).
    I a while back, and I would want to repeat that some of those Orthodox prophets of our time exist (they do remain PROPHETS rather than God himself, as explained above), such a testament (that you might have never come across before) is the book Saint Silouan the Athonite…
    An account that has changed the lives of hundreds of people since in the last forty to fifty years.

  30. Jim,
    Yes. Thank you. This affirms the point of the article quite nicely. The letter is from a Council of Bishops, to a brother bishop (Rome), and describes the canon as what is read in Church. The Canon is, at its heart, a liturgical matter, the Scriptures are also the voice of the Spirit in the Church-worshipping. Second, they are affirmed as “the things which we have received (!) from our fathers to be read in Church.

  31. PJ, John, et al
    John’s point about the unreliability of historical records, is precisely why Tradition is necessary. Tradition is not a “mental” event, a whispering contest in which one whispers to another what he’s heard and can remember. Tradition is the life of the Church – in its energy – in its form and structure – as well as its content. Most readers here are lay persons and will not have the experience to appreciate Orthodox liturgical life as a priest or deacon does. But – a priest not only has the content of the service (the books, etc.) – but the very movements – intonation – etc. – that are the whole of worship are part of tradition as well.
    My older brother, to use an example, is a good dancer. Like myself, he grew up in the Carolinas in the 60’s. He does a dance many today is called by many names (“shag” is popular). It never had its own song or leader who taught it. But he knows it, many of our generation know it (I don’t). It has variations, but it’s the same dance. This is much closer to how Tradition is learned than various intellectualist conceptions. I contend that it is organic, authentic and quite accurate.
    Human activity is traditional at heart. It is the natural means by which we learn most of what we do. The difference in Orthodoxy is not that it has tradition, all human beings have tradition – it is the very nature and heart of human learning and living. What is important about Orthodoxy is that the very content of the faith is embodied in Tradition and is transmitted in the same manner. Thus when we speak of “oral tradition” we mean much more than spoken – most of oral tradition is unspoken and utterly vital.
    I would contend that much of modernized Christianity has tradition – but that the tradition it has is often antithetical to the content of its faith and continually undermines that same faith. The content is endangered by no longer being an organic part of the Christian life.
    The ancient rule is Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, the “law of praying is the law of believing.” You will come to believe what you pray (and in the manner in which you pray it – or don’t pray it). If we pray like modern consumers, we’ll come to believe like modern consumers. And thus the Christian faith becomes distorted.

  32. I would also like to add a point here concerning the “Living Tradition” and how it provides constant re-affirmation:
    The witness of the Saints, the beholders of God, if you like, is the same no matter when or where they have the experience of beholding the living Christ. This is something that has thousands of years of reaffirming proof behind it, more than many sciences of modernity have. It is those saints that safeguard the truth and whose experience re-affirms it everytime. (Hence the great value of the Hesychasts’ experience throughout the ages)
    At a much lower level, there is a similar affirmation of certain aspects, that rationality would have us doubt, everywhere and for 2000 years now:
    e.g.: the Priest will finish Holy Communion to the last drop after all the people in hospitals with extremely contagious diseases have partaken and he (for 2000 years now) never contracts any of those diseases…
    This is also a living proof that is part of another angle of tradition, there are many more like this.

  33. John Shores–“It would be nice, though, if Christ would bother to meet me instead. A human can only look under so many rocks before determining that all they have under them is dirt and bugs.

    To be honest, I am worn out to the core. No one would be happier than I if I could simply lay down and go to the long sleep. Certainly some people would be happy, seeing as I’m something of a pest. But still… )”

    Dear John–
    What if the road to understanding what Christianity is about is not through dissection of everything (how the scriptures came to be, history, people), but through the heart? What if it actually is as you long it to be– through the very simplest of things?

    My 21-year-old son asked me last week what the purpose of life is. My first answer was, “to be like a star.” Before people get out the heresy police, let me explain.

    A star is perfect when it is what it was made to be. People are perfect when they are restored to who they were made to be—beings in perfect harmony and “oneness” with the Creator—and creation. The fancy word is, “Theosis.”

    I think you might agree that it is only people that aren’t “one” within themselves or anything else. We have the freedom and ability to choose to not listen to that deep calling to being “one”with such beauty and life. Perhaps you could agree with St. Paul on this one thing–that all of creation truly is groaning—waiting for people to choose a different way.

    Christ and Christianity offer a vision of all of creation that is exquisitely beautiful. Orthodox Christians believe that He showed us the Way—and is the Way—to that transfigured life called the Kingdom of Heaven. We see it realized in the saints—St. Seraphim of Sarov comes to mind—and we feel its pull in the deepest part of ourselves.

    To make our way there, though, we must embrace “extreme humility”—that is at least one window to understanding why “sacrifice” is the Way. Christ sacrificed himself for others and for this Truth—even to death. For many of us, extreme humility means letting the heart have a much greater say about our Way. We must quiet our logismoi-filled heads. The best explanation I have ever seen about why and how to do that is in the first half of the book, “Bread and Water, Wine and Oil” by Fr. Meletios Webber. He helps us see why the mind needs to tyrannize our hearts. He explains why this is more of a “western” phenomenon. I have read it at least 7 times.

    _______________
    I think Orthodox Christians would agree that our lack of harmony with God and all of His creation is because we can’t hear and harmonize with the “note” that is the basso continuo of the universe.

    St. John says that that “note” is Love. . .

    It is the one note that people need but are so afraid of—as if to sing it would require unbearable humility: unbearable quiet to hear it and to try to sing it; unbearable submission to the conductor.

    It is the one note that Jesus tried to teach us to sing. And he sang that note all the way to the cross. No matter what people did to him—he wouldn’t stop singing that note. He sang it on the cross. He sang it even in hades—in the very pit of death—and his love-filled song broke its bonds. He rose from the dead so that all of us would finally trust that love is more powerful and beautiful than anything.

    He sings it now—and, if we are quiet and still, we can catch it. All the other pieces of the universe—the stars, squirrels, rocks and leviathans– have a note to play in harmony with him. But he asks you and me to create a melody with Him. Only people can do that—if they only will.

    Why don’t we do that?

    It requires total humility. We see that in who God is—the Trinity. In Orthodox understanding, the Trinity is 3 “persons” totally submitted in extreme humility to one another in love–so much so that they are “one.”

    The orchestra is to be like that—all humanity in all its multiplicity being “one” with one another through love. All creation being “one” through love of one another.

    Most of us can’t sing very well at first—that note of love has to be heard and our voices have to be trained. Once we start, though, God fills us with his energy and power and creativity. He is a loving conductor who lovingly corrects our poor notes—forever.

    Is this “true?” Listen to your heart.

  34. The Wisdom of Ben Sirach is quoted in many places in the New Testament. It clearly was regarded as authoritative, though it was not read in the synagogues. I believe it is safe to say that Ben Sirach is of greater significance than Tobit (though Tobit lifts up some aspects of the marriage pattern of priests that is significant).

    http://biblicalanthropology.blogspot.com/2012/09/the-wisdom-of-yeshua-ben-sirach.html

    Jews and Christians evaluated texts differently, especially after A.D. 90. By the Council of Jamnia the lines between the two faiths had hardened. Judaism de-emphasized texts that the rabbis recognized as Messianic because Christian apologists and evangelists were using them so effectively.

  35. “I think you might agree that it is only people that aren’t “one” within themselves or anything else. ”

    Not to nitpick, but actually, St. Paul says that all creation groans for “liberation from its bondage and decay.”

  36. “John’s point about the unreliability of historical records, is precisely why Tradition is necessary.”

    Understood, though I don’t think that’s any reason to forsake our commitment to the general reliability of our texts. Surely, though, I would be a Christian even if every Bible in the world crumbled into texts. The Spirit would keep the Mind of Christ alive in the Church and in the hearts of His disciples. Though I would be quite sad not to get to read the beautiful words of the Psalms and Prophets and Apostles and Evangelists.

  37. PJ writes: “Though I would be quite sad not to get to read the beautiful words of the Psalms and Prophets and Apostles and Evangelists.”

    That’s a good reason to memorize the Psalms (and other Scriptures)! I’ve read that if every copy of the written Scriptures were destroyed, the Church could reproduce them–if not in every word, at least in the fullness of their meaning, because the Mind of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Tradition, lives within Her. Just think of how much Scripture is embedded in the Orthodox Liturgy alone (especially in the fullness of the ecclesial year), and I suspect nearly every Priest who has been celebrating this Liturgy for any length of time has committed most, if not all of it, to memory (except perhaps for appointed Scripture readings and some other changeable parts). I believe the Priest who received me into the Church was working at memorizing even these readings (because he used to follow along mouthing the words to the Epistle as it was read during the Liturgy), and I doubt he’s unique in that respect. That’s also one advantage of singing or chanting most of the Liturgy–it is easier to memorize that way.

  38. For John Shores,

    As one who became a Christian only by the unfathomable grace and mercy of God, from a similar mindset as yours (though I was raised a secular humanist and never had faith), I will pray for you, unworthy as I am. My change of heart was in part the result of severe humbling, however, and seven years later, I am still as mute as a fish in regard to the questions for which my “logical” mind (and my dear husband) demand answers–a most uncomfortable place for one as intellectually arrogant as I was/am.

    I can only bear witness to something real. God is real. The love of God is real. God is love.

    For me, it took reaching a pit from which I could not escape to seek finally with a humble heart, begging rather than demanding. I still only see a sliver of the light, but I can tell you that it is REAL.

    May you find Him. He is there. Right there. Waiting with you.

    Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

    -Maria

  39. Geri and Alice – a balanced approach requires that we have access to the heart, there but for the logismoi… which is why the psalmist says be still and know (Psalms 46:10) for heart speaks to heart…

  40. Maria,
    I totally agree with what you say. It reminds me of CS Lewis’: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
    And it is also true that “”It is in the process of being worshipped that God communicates His presence to men.”

  41. John Shores: “It would be nice, though, if Christ would bother to meet me instead.”

    I hear so much pain in your words – that either there is no God – or He doesn’t want you.

    I sense that Christ is trying to meet you (I know that it is very bold of me to say this) and I also sense that you want to meet Him (what else keeps you coming back here?). Something is blocking that meeting of His heart with yours.

    Life can be so complex and painful at times. Perhaps you are not yet ready to meet Him – but I believe He does indeed want you. Very much.

    I too will pray for you. Perhaps all of us here could join our hearts together to surround you with the love of our prayers… May you know healing from all that has hurt you.

    Blessings.

  42. Mary, John Shores,
    Indeed, concerning “it would be nice, though, if Christ bothered to meet me instead”, I remember the advise given to a novice complaining to his Elder of not seeing the Uncreated Light of God (God Himself):
    “Rest in the knowledge ()that I see you bathed in the Uncreated Light! but your eyes and your senses need to be cleansed for you to see it too. Say the Jesus prayer like a child with no thoughts or any demanding expectations…”
    The important verb here beeing “rest” (as in be still and know that I am God – and also as in, ‘honour Him by trusting Him as present in your darkness – THAT is true ascesis’) It is indeed true ascesis and not something to be explained away as a psychological ‘need’:
    For man to doubt Christ is like an ant doubting the elephant on whose surface it walks…

    One cannot doubt the fullness of truth only to be found in Him Who said “I am the Truth, I am the Way, I am the Life, I am He who Is and Who was and Who Is to come, I am the One Who truly exists”, by explaining away Jesus as another great moral teacher, while not accepting his claim to be the one and only God.

    As Lewis,Pascal and many others have said, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.

    You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

  43. Andrew,

    The heart that is illuminated sees the pattern. The pattern is what most miss. St. John Chrysostom often points us to the pattern. For examaple, Jesus’ exhortation to forgive (Matthew 18) and Lamech’s confession (Gen. 4) to this wives form a pattern.

  44. I recently came across this quote:

    “It is not enough to be acquainted with the texts and to know how to draw from them quotes and arguments. One must possess the theology of the Fathers from within. Intuition is perhaps more important for this than erudition, for intuition alone revives their writings and makes them a witness. It is only from within that we can perceive and distinguish what (actually) is a catholic testimony from what would be merely theological opinion, hypothesis, interpretation, or theory… Only in the integral communion of the Church is this ‘catholic transfiguration’ of consciousness truly possible. Those who, by reason of their humility in the presence of the Truth, have received the gift to express this catholic consciousness of the Church, we call them Fathers and Doctors, since what they make us hear is not only their thought or their personal conviction, but moreover the very witness of the Chruch, for they speak from the depth of its catholic fullness. Their theology evolves on the plane of catholicity, of universal communion.”

    —Fr. Georges Florovsky, “The Ways of Russian Theology” in The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, Vol. IV, Aspects of Church History (Belmont, MA: Nordland, 1987), pp. 191, 192

    The most important reason I came to accept the Orthodox understanding of our salvation in Christ and of the Scriptures as opposed to that of my Protestant and Evangelical background (where they differ) was that, among other things, it did no violence in any of its parts to the deepest intuitions of my own heart about the real meaning and implications of an utterly pure, sinless, and self-giving love–the kind of love in the Godhead revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ.

  45. Karen,
    Outstanding quote. Florovsky is such a rich resource. It is a pity that his work is hard to come by. There was some sort of problem surrounding his estate, and copyrights with a publisher that went bankrupt (as I understood at the time). Back in the 80’s when I was a grad student at Duke, his collected works were available in the library (though you could not find them for purchase). I had the foresight to make copies of them. His work on Tradition and Scripture has probably been more foundational to my Orthodoxy than anything else on the subject.

  46. Fr. S: “John’s point about the unreliability of historical records, is precisely why Tradition is necessary.” – Thank you for conceding the point. The question becomes far more poignant when one considers context. Most of us don’t understand the context of modern religious writings that are outside of Western culture. Many of the writings called “Scriptures” were not only written long after the actual events but also by people who were a part of Judaic culture – a culture that was very foreign to the Greeks, Romans, Africans, etc. As Alice states, “Jews and Christians evaluated texts differently.”

    The morass that must ensue under such conditions is not unlike the morass of the current US legal system which, though based on the Constitution, would likely be unrecognizable to the founding fathers. It has been said that America died with the introduction of social security. An argument could be made that this is so. And so our society today, even from a conservative point of view, is probably not what the fathers envisioned. Whether this is good or bad is not relevant to my point. The point is that it is not now what they had intended then.

    Which is why I think god would be smart enough to be hands-on in every generation in ways that cannot be misunderstood and misinterpreted. If he could make the mountains smoke for Moses’ generation, why could he not make his presence physically known for others?

    Tradition ought not be confused with truth, however. To my mind, the forms of worship, baptism and ceremony are not nearly as important as love, joy, peace, patience, etc which, though called “fruits of the spirit” are also the goals of other religions. My question, then, is whether it is really relevant that a good person is a Christian or if it is enough that s/he is good?

    Geri said: “What if the road to understanding what Christianity is about is not through dissection of everything, but through the heart?” – This is precisely my point. However much I read about or write to the woman I love, nothing but a kiss from her is satisfactory. If she simply left clues about herself and never replied to my letters and her friends continually told me all about her and how wonderful she is, what good is that to me?

    Maria said: “I am still as mute as a fish in regard to the questions for which my ‘logical’ mind (and my dear husband) demand answers.” – This is something with which I struggle as well. We are rational creatures. Presumably by design. To abdicate who we are so that we can embrace “faith” seems to me a devolutionary step. One would presume that if god made us rational that he (she) would also know how to communicate to us rationally.

    “God is love.” – This is a term that apparently means something other than what I think it means. It’s impossible to read any portion of the Bible objectively and come to this conclusion. The god described in the Bible is far less moral than any humans I have encountered.

    Mary B said: “I hear so much pain in your words – that either there is no God – or He doesn’t want you.” – As I said in response to Geri, one kiss is all it takes. I gave up puckering a while ago but would not shun the approach of a loving kiss.

    Dinoship said: “He would either be a lunatic or else he would be the Devil of Hell.” – or very badly misquoted. And, honestly, if one looks at the god of the OT, it is impossible to tell the difference between him and a devil of hell. If one is going to excuse god for torment, genocide, and all kinds of annihilation (I fail to see where the devil managed as much death and destruction as god did) then one ought also take the attitude that Hitler brought Germany out of a depression and very nearly pulled off making his country the world’s first superpower. Sometimes those things don’t matter.

  47. John Shores said: “My question, then, is whether it is really relevant that a good person is a Christian or if it is enough that s/he is good?”

    Father Stephen (and others) can correct me, but in my understanding, it is enough that s/he is good. In the words of Mother Maria Skobtsova, “At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead I shall be asked, did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners. That is all I shall be asked.”

    That is to say, creed and religious practice are only good in so far as they lead to true goodness, which is the love – shown in deeds! – of one’s neighbor. When you ask whether all that matters is that “he/she be good”, I would say that yes, being good is all matters – and I would define “being good” as participating in the self-emptying love that is at the heart of all things (in Christian terms, the life of the Trinity). To participate fully in the this life/love is to be fully good.

    It follows that the only reason to be a Christian is if being so is either (1) a good (or indeed, the best) way to participate in this true life; or (2) if this True Life Himself created a way for all things to be reunited with Himself. For me, I believe both of these things, perhaps in part because I can see no other way for self-emptying love to be at the heart of all things (which my heart and very bones ache to be true) other than through the person of Jesus Christ and the communion of the Holy Trinity.

  48. John,
    being time-bound, (and therefore ignorant of the very end of things), one cannot judge God’s ways correctly – they are the ways of Someone (God) who is not time-bound…
    Christianity without eschatology becomes something else.

    So, saying: “I think god would be smart enough to be hands-on in every generation in ways that cannot be misunderstood and misinterpreted.” ignores the fact that He very well knows He will be misunderstood and misinterpreted. His creature might later understand and correctly interpret that He was there all along. It is only faith, I am afraid, that will sustain man in this interim phase and lead him to the eventual knowledge of God’s constant providence.
    (He is, however, NOT misinterpreted in the living tradition of the Orthodox Church in my opinion and experience.)
    If you study Exodus you will see that God’s pedagogy (punishments) condemned the lack of this type of faith in His people…

    St. Anthony the Great famously complained after being tortured by the demons “where were You?”, only to hear, “I was here watching you all along!”
    This led St. Anthony to praise God’s secret providence (He was indeed fighting for Anthony with a secret hand…)

    On your other point, “To my mind, the forms of worship, baptism and ceremony are not nearly as important as love, joy, peace, patience, etc which, though called “fruits of the spirit” are also the goals of other religions.” please do not forget that in most religions there is a certain element of practising “love, joy, peace, patience” for ME, for MY eventual good, but in Christianity they are practised for HIM. It is a huge difference in motif and is essentially the what we call the Cross…
    Christianity, if false, is devilishly demanding, but if true, of infinite importance and incomparable value.

  49. “If he could make the mountains smoke for Moses’ generation, why could he not make his presence physically known for others?”
    He does indeed make Himself known to those who want “God to be justified in His words” (Ps 50.6 LXX) but, they never ask to see Him sensorially in this life, since those humble souls know well, NOT to make themselves into the ultimate point of reference in existence (God), like I often do and most of us also…
    We do not, it seems, want God to be justified in His words (Ps 50.6 LXX), but rather we seek to justify only our selves, and not only in our words, but in our mind and heart.
    Seeing God, first requires seeing nothing else, (and more especially nothing of my blinding desires, opinions and preconceived ideas…)
    Wanting “the approach of a loving kiss” is a double edged sword; one must want it, it is what we are created for, but one must also not want to demand such a thing, as this is placing himself in the position of the Jews who demanded for a “miraculous sign” and were condemned for it…

  50. John,

    Augustine said, “If you understand, it is not God.”

    Does God appear to do strange or even terrible things in Scripture? Yes. But what might look strange or terrible in the light of time might look wonderful and merciful in the light of eternity. My cat cannot begin to fathom why I had his rotten teeth pulled out. Surely, he “thought” the operation cruel and unjust, insofar as he understands cruelty and injustice. But it was for his own well-being, ultimately. And, needless to say, man and cat are basically identical compared to man and God. As my cat is largely unable to grasp my motives, so we are largely unable to grasp God’s motives.

    If there is one persistent problem with your theology, it is an inability or unwillingness to approach God on His own terms. What’s more, you bizarrely speak of morality, as if anything beside caprice and opinion exists is possible in a universe free of a Divine Author.

    Frankly, your concerns seem somewhat blinkered. Okay, so the Old Testament (which we need not take at face value) tells us that God struck down so many thousand Israelites for idolatry or what have you. Yes, fine. But, when you really think about it, God “kills” every being that comes into existence, inasmuch as He has the power to preserve life and chooses not to. Simply put, the death of every creature is part of His providence.

    This would be vile and tragic were this tempo-spatial realm the end and limit of being. But, we maintain, it is not. This life is but one part of a larger mystery, the mystery of eternity, which is happily illuminated by the Risen Lord.

  51. “If you understand, it is not God.”

    “Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.” – C.S. Lewis

  52. Have we arrived finally at the root of your dilemma? You think it stupid for finite creatures to admit their inability to comprehend the infinite Creator? If so, then you will naturally be utterly baffled and thoroughly perplexed by the Christian faith, which is grounded firstly in total humility before God, who is “above being itself.” Our God is so radically transcendent as to defy even the most vivid imagination and keen intellect. I am reminded of Dawkins’ frustrating habit of speaking of God as though He were a big, amorphous, invisible beast who floats about the cosmos. This image — an idol, really, to which even some Christian subscribe — simply will not do. An ant and a man are on equal footing compared to a man and God.

  53. John–“Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.” – C.S. Lewis
    Love the quote! Fr.Meletios’book (Bread & Water,Wine & Oil) that I referenced before addresses your questions and angst so well. It is not that one has to check their mind at the door, but that one needs to quiet the stream of logismoi long enough to hear that still small voice. I wish I could quote the first half of the book to you! Here are a few teasers that might entice you to take a look at this Abbot/Priest/Clinical Psychologist’s work: “Healing from an Orthodox point of view must inevitably include the reunification (or…defragmentation) of the human personality, including re-placing the mind in the heart (where it belongs). . .Since most modern people are accustomed to using their minds rather than their hearts to make sense of the world, it may be valuable to consider in greater detail how the mind works in practice…the mind is a beautiful and necessary part of human existence…However, it seemed obvious to our spiritual teachers that there is something broken about the way the mind works…The mind attempts to be almost completely absent from the present moment…all anxiety, all fear, all disturbance come from memory or from anticipation, from the past or from the future, but not from the present. . .Unfortunately for the mind, the present moment is the only moment that is, in any sense, real. Moreover, in spiritual terms, the present moment is the only possible occasion in which we can meet God (or anyone else). (from pages 17-20) IOW, you can only experience that kiss in the “now.” Most of the first part of the book is about how the Fathers’ counsels help us to experience that kiss–how to connect, through our hearts, to the heartbeat of God. (and why our beautiful minds–so wonderful for so many things–resist the stillness and quiet that make that possible).

  54. I know well that it is so;
    but how can a man be justified before God?
    Should one wish to contend with him,
    he could not answer him once in a thousand times.
    God is wise in heart and mighty in strength;
    who has withstood him and remained unscathed?

    He removes the mountains before they know it;
    he overturns them in his anger.
    He shakes the earth out of its place,
    and the pillars beneath it tremble.
    He commands the sun, and it rises not;
    he seals up the stars.

    He alone stretches out the heavens
    and treads upon the crests of the sea.
    He made the Bear and Orion,
    the Pleiades and the constellations of the south;
    He does great things past finding out,
    marvelous things beyond reckoning.

    Should he come near me, I see him not;
    should he pass by, I am not aware of him;
    Should he seize me forcibly, who can say him nay?
    Who can say to him, “What are you doing?”

    How much less shall I give him any answer,
    or choose out arguments against him!
    Even though I were right, I could not answer him,
    but should rather beg for what was due me.
    If I appealed to him and he answered my call,
    I could not believe that he would hearken to my words.

    Job 9:1-12, 14-16

  55. Father, bless!

    I can’t really take credit for that quote. I was looking up St. Vincent of Lerin’s famous quote, and it was on a web page at http://www.orthodoxinfo.com. You are the one who has introduced and recommended Florovsky’s work and have quoted him elsewhere on your site–I just stumbled across that quote and recognized its aptness.

  56. PJ: “If you understand, it is not God.”, “You think it stupid for finite creatures to admit their inability to comprehend the infinite Creator?” – No. I think that it is stupid to say “I don’t understand it, therefore it must be god. (or the devil)” That is precisely the sort of thinking that led to all the superstitions and religions of the past (e.g. physical diseases were evidence of demon possession). It is also why illusionists used to be thought to have “magic” and why people are so easily duped by shamans and prophets. Conversely, if god made the universe and everything in it, it seems unreasonable to me that this same god would be incapable of communicating with rational beings in a way that we comprehend (unless his intent is to create chaos and he enjoys watching us have a go at one another over his subtleties). Perhaps I have become like the dwarfs (“We won’t be taken in again!”) but, honestly, I hardly blame the dwarfs for refusing to be taken in after they had been abused by Tashlan. I certainly don’t agree that there was nothing that Aslan could have done to make himself known to them though.

    “An ant and a man are on equal footing compared to a man and God.” – And yet an ant is not eternally rewarded or eternally punished for failing to understand, obey, or communicate clearly with man. And, by your own reasoning, our inability to understand god puts us at risk since we cannot possibly know whether god is good or evil. You believe he is good, but that is simply a belief. For all you know, god is a petulant 13 year old computer programmer and you are just a part of some nefarious program (Sim City meets World of Warcraft) that he created. Once you say that one cannot know, faith become a matter of preferred self delusion. I prefer to imagine (hope) that if there is a god he is not quite so ethereal, obtuse or clumsy. To me, no god is better than an oafish one.

    I appreciate your position but it seems we have come to an impasse. Faith is by nature unreasonable. That does not make it “bad.” It is simply in a different arena from reason. When I first began struggling with all this, I was on a forum posing all kinds of questions to which no one could give a satisfactory answer except one Father Rusty. His position was, “This is what I believe. That’s it.” I truly admire and respect Father Rusty for not trying to confuse his faith by trying to explain it rationally. He was the only Christian at the time who was so forthright and did not feel the need to elucidate further.

    I think that Geri’s comments are closer to the truth…

    Geri: I really love your character and attitude. You seem to be a wonderful person.

    “…one needs to quiet the stream of logismoi long enough to hear that still small voice.” – Admittedly, I fail miserably at this. I have tried meditating in various forms throughout my life but I cannot shut off my brain. I have not tried peyote or anything like that though. Maybe a chemical alteration would help me. I’m not ready to go there just yet. This often makes me think about that verse (Romans?) that says that god has made some vessels for mercy and some for destruction. If god made me, he made me as I am and knows my capabilities. It seems rather preposterous to be punished because (apparently) I have a hyperactive neuron disorder.

    Perhaps I need a near-death experience or something. Who knows?

    And, to be honest, I have been duped so many times by “prophets” etc. that I am not too eager to shut off my mind and leave my heart open to even more disappointment and pain (again, perhaps I an a dwarf at heart).

    I sometimes don’t even realize how bad it is. Last week my wife and I went to a house party with some new friends (we recently moved to a new area and know no one here). It was the first time in five years that I have been in a “home-group” type setting. I left the party early and waited in the car for my wife for a couple hours. When we got home, I sat in the back of the car, in the garage, in the dark and sobbed myself to sleep. I didn’t even know why I had been so distressed but I suspect that all the pain associated with losing my faith just came to the fore. There are many wonderful things about losing one’s faith but there are certainly times when it is not a fun ride. Hard to shake off 40+ years of committed involvement in the Christian community.

    If god really cares about broken people, I would think that he’d be pretty much sitting in my living room right now trying to comfort me. But, five years of silence keeps mounting up…

    I do appreciate your ind words.

  57. John Shores,

    This is the first time I have posted here though I’ve been reading the posts for quite a while (gong on two years). Reading your last post brings me to tears as they could be my words as well. I just wanted you to know that you are not alone (but you probably know that). The only comfort I take at this point is that everything that I’ve read in the Scriptures about Jesus is that He loved His father and His heart was to restore the lost. John Shores, if you and I are not some of the lost sheep, I don’t know who are. Take comfort in that we cannot save ourselves and if God is, if Jesus is and if the Holy Spirit is…they know how to reach us – obviously not in our timetable and in ways too mysterious to fathom. I wish I had more to say but have responded mainly as a way of encouragement. I have a feeling that one day He will be all the dearer to you eternally because of all the pain you are experiencing….we have felt we have lost something very precious. I just think there’s so much more going on than we realize. I keep being drawn back to this blog and I ponder over what’s being said. I’m in no rush this time to join anything as I have in the past. But I keep exposing myself to what is shared here. God knows my heart and I have to trust that He will make things clear to me. I’m going to a catechism class at a local greek orthodox church tonight because of reading this blog. It’s a 12-week class. Maybe I’ll go to an orthodox church to the liturgy too. I don’t know exactly why but I keep being drawn and I admit I’m afraid too. I will keep you in my feeble prayers but know what you’ve said has touched another and I’m rooting for you too.

    Erin

  58. John Shores,
    I asked a famous clairvoyant Spiritual Father on the Holy Mountain once about Saint Silouan’s experience and I was surprised that he told me that the blackness Silouan encountered was all because of selfish demand blinding him to God’s omnipresence and taking over his heart and mind -rather than trusting abandon (which he later learnt).
    “We cannot appreciate things when we have even the slightest demanding expectaions”
    Silouan’s experience as a novice was that he prayed long and with unrestrained tears to God receiving no answer whatsoever. Many months went by in this unceasing prayer until his strength was completely exhausted. He experienced the ultimate blackness of hell one evening – for almost one hour. In his utter despair he cried out, “Thou art implacable!” When, at these words something foundered in his soul, grown weak from despair, he suddenly beheld the living Christ in the Divine light. In a manner passing all understanding the Lord appeared to him, and his heart and body were filled with fire of such force that had the vision continued for another instant, he must have expired. He received , as it were, a new birth, from on high, his entire being having been drawn to Christ. Afterwards he was never to forget the inexpressibly gentle, infinitely loving, joyous gaze of Christ full of peace, and during the long years of his life that were to follow he tirelessly bore witness that God is love, love immeasurable, love incomprehensible.
    Few believe in such testimony, just as not many believed in the testimony of the previous fathers, not because the testimony is false, but because faith entails ascetic striving. These witnesses are rare, (not because God withholds His “manifestation”, as it were, but) because there is no more difficult, more painful spiritual effort than the ascetic striving for love; no testimony more terrible than bearing witness to love; and no preaching more challenging than the preaching of love.
    The experience of Silouan is certainly beyond the ken and comprehension of most people. Unspiritual man rejects and might try to explain away such experiences as psycho-pathological, even though their fruit bears witness to the complete opposite.
    Everyone is called to such a full spiritual life, but when man sets his will to material or purely intellectual satisfactions, he becomes blunted and spiritually insensitive through no fault of God, but through the egotistically driven use of his free will. God is dying to bestow His gifts on us, but also foreknows how we will respond to these gifts, and often protects us by not bestowing them and leads us very gradually through many tribulations to a position where we can finally appreciate things without being dominated by our ego. Logismoi are the main fumes rising from the ego which, even though we might feel helpless to stop, until we (genuinely and truly) come to hate them – because the truth be told, we love them- they will always be there. Let us at the very least doubt them, and not give them such great attention…

  59. John,

    A few things:

    1. Nobody with a shred of sense says, “I don’t understand: It must be God!” Though that is a windmill at which atheists regularly charge, jousting stick in hand.

    2. Christians, on whole, believe that God can be “apprehended but not comprehended,” as the famous phrase goes. That is, reason has its place, but ultimately it is not enough to know God.

    St. Thomas explains:

    “Our natural knowledge begins from sense. Hence our natural knowledge can go as far as it can be led by sensible things. But our mind cannot be led by sense so far as to see the essence of God; because the sensible effects of God do not equal the power of God as their cause. Hence from the knowledge of sensible things the whole power of God cannot be known; nor therefore can His essence be seen. But because they are His effects and depend on their cause, we can be led from them so far as to know of God “whether He exists,” and to know of Him what must necessarily belong to Him, as the first cause of all things, exceeding all things caused by Him.

    Hence we know that His relationship with creatures so far as to be the cause of them all; also that creatures differ from Him, inasmuch as He is not in any way part of what is caused by Him; and that creatures are not removed from Him by reason of any defect on His part, but because He superexceeds them all.”

    Or, more succinctly, “Reason cannot reach up to simple form, so as to know “what it is”; but it can know “whether it is.”

    I suggest you read carefully Question 12 of the First Part of the Summa, which may be found here: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1012.htm#article12

    3. God does communicate with us, in diverse and various ways, from the sacraments to the Scripture to the “still, small voice” inside our hearts. However, He does not communicate His fullness, at least not via discursive logic. Only by way of love may we truly penetrate the mystery of God, which is indeed great.

    4. You have no right to speak of “reason” or “rationality.” The fact that you feel compelled to do so testifies to the veracity of the Apostle’s declaration that all men know God in their soul-of-souls:

    “18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and injustice of those men that detain the truth of God in injustice: 19 Because that which is known of God is manifest in them. For God has manifested it unto them. 20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. His eternal power also and divinity: so that they are inexcusable. 21 Because that, when they knew God, they have not glorified him as God or given thanks: but became vain in their thoughts. And their foolish heart was darkened. 22 For, professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. 23 And they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of the image of a corruptible man and of birds, and of fourfooted beasts and of creeping things.”

    Whence comes the objective, transcendent, and changeless standard against which truth claims are measured, save from the Lord? Without the Divine Mind, all is whimsy and opinion. All is anarchy, death, and delusion.

  60. John Shores,

    My heart grieves for and with you. There are times when I have been where you are. There are a few things that I found helpful, perhaps you might find them so, too.
    – Realizing that faith, like love, is not a feeling, it is a decision and an action. There are times when if you wait for the feeling of faith or the feeling of God’s presence you will wait in vain, but if you remain steadfast in the trust that He is there, the feeling will also come “like a thief in the night” or as C.S. Lewis puts it “surprised by joy”.
    – Being stubborn can sometimes be a good thing: When I was going through a very tough time, I ended up letting God know “in no uncertain terms” that I had been baptized into His church and there I will stay whether or not it seems He has time for me right now. Eventually he did.
    – Read less, pray more. Pray not for yourself but for others and the world. This might help you step out of the cycle of doubts and unfulfilled hopes that seem to be tearing you apart.
    – Go to an Orthodox service, I would suggest vespers as a first step. Don’t analyze, don’t judge, just observe. “Taste and see”. I know this will go against your grain — I’ve been where you are–I could split any argument so many ways that my brain felt like it was falling to pieces. But something different can happen when participating in a service. Let it happen, only then engage reason again. You will find that things will finally fall into place.

    May the Lord’s Peace be with you.

    Marjaana

  61. PJ,
    To be fair to John, he’s seen a lot of Christianity from the inside out – thus he’s not an unbeliever who is charging at windmills. But I think the Christianity he has known, has been enough to erect plenty of windmills for him. I’m going to write a bit of an answer – but it will have to be later in the week.

  62. John Shores, just a suggestion, to quiet your heart, please do not try any drug or substance. There’s a wonderful little book on prayer by Met. Anthony Bloom called “Beginning to Pray.” It may be of some use. I will just leave you with a brief summary of one of the stories in there. An elderly lady who had been faithfully praying the “Jesus prayer” (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”) for 14 years complained to Met. Anthony that she had never in all that time been able to perceive the presence of God. This was shortly after his ordination as a Priest, so in his inexperience, Met. Anthony just blurted out his thought, “If you speak all the time, you don’t give God a chance to get a word in.” He then advised her to get into a comfortable position in her chair in her room after breakfast each day, just take some time to take stock of her surroundings for a few minutes and then to light the lamp in her Icon stand, take up her knitting and “knit before the face of God” for 15 minutes. He forbid her to say anything during this time, just required her to sit and knit and “enjoy the peace of [her] room.” Lo and behold, a little while later she returned to report to him that “it worked.” After a while she began to enjoy the peace and quiet, and then “all of a sudden [she] perceived that the silence was a presence” and that at the heart of the silence God was there.

    I get the sense reading this thread that you are perhaps a bit like the drowning swimmer who can’t stop thrashing around in his panic and despair long enough to let a rescuer take hold of you. I think a lot of us have had a taste of that experience at times in life. I don’t know what it will take to help you let go and relax a bit and wait trusting for God to act, despite the absence of faith, but I will join my prayers to those of others for you.

    Best wishes, Karen

  63. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Thus for every word there is a counter-word. For every mental precept there is a counter-precept. We live in a world of false dicotomies and try to convice each other of the rightness of our falseness. That is our falleness.

    Theology is not a way to God particularly, it is a response to God’s revelation to the human heart. The Bible is not a book of answers so much as it is questions and a record of transgressions, although answers are contained there.

    Why the different response to Mary and Zacharias (St. John’s father) when they seem to ask much the same question? One is blessed the other struck silent.

    The created thing points toward its creator, but only points and the creator is not obvious until the form of the design is preceived.

    Nothing I can say will give balm to John’s soul as much as I long to. Sometimes, you just have to act as if you believe, not out of some strange hypocrisy, but out of hope, longing and a deep knowledge that is covered over by the manure of this world. Despite the stench that almost overcomes it, a small, minute wafting of a beautiful scent penetrates into our consciousness. Just enough to remind us of the beauty that lies beneath.

    That is both the mystery and the wonder of faith. Every moment of suspension of our certitude of unbelief allows more such moments to occur until the knowledge/love which is imprinted in our hearts at our creation can begin to be seen and experienced. It is a choice, always a choice–to be or not to be.

    As one who has wandered in the land of the dead for most of my life even in the face of the Truth and even participating in Him, it is amazing that anyone believes–and yet many actually do despite enduring great darkness at times.

    Personally, I think John demonstrates far greater faith by his rejection of untruth than I have ever been able to summon. While not always immediate, the fruit of that faith will someday be there for the picking. All that is necessary is, at the right moment, an instant in time we allow our hearts to cry out the sacred yes.

  64. Erin – My misery is glad to have your company. Sorry to have made you cry though. I’ve said before, I wish I had been raised Orthodox. I am certain that most of my problem is related to being raised under Nathaniel Hawthorne’s god. From what I can tell, Orthodox Christianity (like Judaism) is far more rational than anything in the Protestant world and apparently knows the difference between faith and reason. Enjoy your catechism classes and keep me posted. You can email me directly at email hidden; JavaScript is required any time.

    dinoship – “The experience of Silouan is certainly beyond the ken and comprehension of most people.” And sometimes this has bent me to the ground. If love between humans was this difficult, the human population would be 0. If it takes every ounce of whatever mental and emotional capacity to find god, well, that doesn’t sound much like a “free gift” but rather something earned by the very few.

    PJ – “He does not communicate His fullness” – Sir, if there is such a thing as a “personal” god, I would be ecstatic with god communicating even a single atom of his personhood in a way that I understand.

    “‘I have seen God face to face’ (Genesis 32:30). But to see Him face to face is to see His essence, as appears from the words: ‘We see now in a glass and in a dark manner, but then face to face’ (1 Corinthians 13:12).” This is the sort of bass ackward talking that I simply cannot abide. If it says that Jacob saw him face to face, it has to mean that Jacob saw him face to face. If he hadn’t, other words would have been used. Words mean things. To take the plain words and make them mean something other than what they say is like saying “it depends on what the word ‘is’ means”. (“Blessed are the cheese makers? What’s so special about cheese makers?” “It’s not to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.”)

    Your point #4 is talking about people worshiping nature rather than the creator. It says nothing about those who see the universe, marvel at it, and still see no place for a “personal” god. I think that word “personal” is the main problem. I would have no problem believing that god created all this but is not personally invested in humans. But like all words, “personal” means something, a meaning that thus far god has not met in my experience.

    Fr. S said, “I think the Christianity he has known, has been enough to erect plenty of windmills for him.” If Christianity has any meaning, it has to have meaning outside of Protestant teachings. To my mind, anyone who is Protestant for more than two years either doesn’t really take it seriously or has never had the courage to realize that their doubts are well founded. I have been burned by the church so many times that I refused to enter Orthodoxy – but that is more because if there is a personal god then I want the real god just the same way I would never settle for being married to a woman who I never saw and who only communicated with me through other people. If there is something real, that’s what I want. Nothing less will suffice. As I have said before, god has my address and is free to visit any time.

    Karen – Thank you.

  65. John Shores-

    “Perhaps I have become like the dwarfs (“We won’t be taken in again!”) but, honestly, I hardly blame the dwarfs for refusing to be taken in after they had been abused by Tashlan. I certainly don’t agree that there was nothing that Aslan could have done to make himself known to them though.”

    I was delighted that you referenced the dwarfs from The Last Battle (CS Lewis)- because I had planned to mention them to you. Aslan did a lot to try to reach the dwarfs (you can re-read it, I just did) but they refused. Dear Lucy tried so hard as well.

    I wasn’t going to compare you to them in that sense though because I don’t think you are refusing. I think you are hurting.

    I was only going to suggest that maybe you ARE being “kissed” and maybe God IS in your living room trying to comfort you. (Is your computer in your living room by any chance?)

    Belief does not come easily to me. At my most “lost” times, loving people have crossed my path and sustained me. I later came to recognize that love and have since found that it can come through me to others. Why am I (and the others here) spending so much time writing to a person I don’t know? I am not try to win any arguments with you or impress you. I just feel drawn to…

    Your writing about sitting in your car, sobbing in the dark, nearly broke my heart. “Nearly” because I have a hope that the rejection of your old faith (a “Tashlan” sort of abuse?) may be readying you for an encounter with “Aslan”. Being emptied can be a painful process.

    Let me walk with you. (Someone once did that for me and it helped.)

  66. May the Lord grant us all his humility first and His ‘kiss’ in safety afterwards. They both pass all understanding, and are of infinte value, yet the former far more so than the latter…

  67. Dear John–thank you for your kind words. I sense that, at your very core, you still love Jesus and still love all that he calls you to be. You still love the goodness and love he says are the foundation of the universe. You are still drawn to Him. That is the voice of your heart. Perhaps it is enough for now.

    Perhaps your continuing love is the seed planted in your heart that is being watered now by your tears.

    One thing I hear consistently in the Church is that it is a hospital for broken lives rather than a pep rally for those who have “made it.” Salvation is like a healing salve. Mercy is reminiscient of healing oil… The healing is eternal and infinite. It is all to help us become one with that infinite Love and therefore truly able to love. Vespers reminds me the most of that image of a hospital. There are no “bouncy” songs that assume all is “happy, happy.” Instead there are Psalms sung that speak of our cries. There is an enveloping quiet and stillness. Lights low and candlelight flickering we hear, “Lord, I have cried out unto Thee. Hear me…”

  68. “Praying for a kiss. We all need them. From divinity.”

    And certain people spurn the kiss. It is tough to imagine (almost impossible), but some know Christ and deny Him. Why is it that some come to God and others do not? Why do some love Him and some hate Him? I do not know. Hell lies at the intersection of two mysteries: human freedom and divine sovereignty.

    I’m not saying that John is going to Hell, but behind every denial of God (both total denial by unbelievers like John and partial denial by sinful believers like me), there looms the specter of damnation. We must take with utter seriousness the fate of our souls and the souls of our fellow men. God gave us the gift of rational souls, but with this gift comes grave responsibility.

  69. Speaking of brilliant specimens of our species and Christ:

    http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/frederica/einstein

    Frederica speaks of Einstein’s thoughts on God and Christ. Though not a Christian, Einstein called Jesus “colossal” and “luminous”; he dismissed those who would “dismiss Christianity with a bon mot” and declared “no myth is filled with such life.” He was a firm believer in Jesus’ historicity. He also seems to have a high view of the Gospels’ reliability. Interesting stuff.

  70. PJ, forgive me, but I believe if I were in the place John is now, your posts here (especially the last couple) would be feeding my despair, not helping. I feel you are lacking in discernment.

    “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold In settings of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11)

    The statements you have made are true enough, but spoken at the wrong time into the wrong heart situation, they become falsehood and temptation from the enemy of souls.

    The “God” John denies, it seems to me, is not the true God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ, rather a caricature formed from his past experiences and inadequate Protestant theologies. It is quite true what others have said that on the journey to faith in the true God, we have to discard our false images of Him. I think the last paragraph of Michael Bauman’s comment above speaks eloquently and truthfully to this reality (as well as his whole post, which I found quite beautiful).

    Again, forgive me for speaking so frankly.

  71. Well said, Karen.

    We all have to struggle with “false gods”, whether those taught to us or those of our own making. We can best help each other along the way with love and compassion.

    (PJ, I fear that John S. may have had more than his share of “damnation” talks, though I speak from intuition, not knowledge.)

  72. Karen and Mary,

    No doubt hell has been abused by some Christians. But that doesn’t mean we can ignore the fearful reality of eternal alienation from God. St. Paul, as well as the Lord Himself, made clear the stakes. The Gospels and Epistles are littered with warnings. This is not meant to scare or cow: It is to make clear the spiritual battle in which we are engaged. It is to make us look carefully at our eternal souls.

    I’m no fire-and-brimstone fundy, not even close. You should all know that. But we do everyone a disservice when we don’t speak of the awful consequences of denying God, who alone gives life and love, joy and happiness.

    I certainly don’t mean to antagonize John. But the Gospel doesn’t coddle people. It speaks “truth in love,” and truth and love sometimes hurt.

    That said, I respect both of your opinions, so if you think I am being unhelpful, I will gladly keep silent. Thank your for your honest admonition.

  73. PJ, your words of judgement in this context are foreign to ancient authentic Orthodox Christianity.

    Forgive me, but I agree with those who find them less than welcome; the devil is an adequate accuser.

    Please witness, rather, the Father’s heart for His prodigals. It never fails and He will kiss all his sons and daughters. John is right to wish such a blessed occasion.

  74. PJ

    I agree with the last comments of the other posters. I read your words and I feel as if I am being slapped. I can’t speak for John but I am very conscious of hell and the “awful consequences of denying God.” I wouldn’t be reading this blog if I didn’t care. It’s kindness in love that draws, not more fear tactics. I’ve lived a good part of my life in fear. I do want the truth and am not asking to be coddled. Please know I have appreciated your other comments regarding other posts.

  75. Understood, Erin. Again, I apologize.

    Perhaps this is personal. I was raised in a skeptical, unbelieving family (although nominally Catholic). I never really had any fear of hell as a child. As such, I can be presumptuous about God’s mercy. I am apt to take for granted my salvation. This leads me into sin. I thus try to regularly bear in mind the pains of hell. This, at least, gives me pause before I do evil, as I am yet too weak and wicked to do right simply for gratitude of God’s love. St. Chrysostom’s statement applies very much to me: “But now we are so wretchedly disposed, that, were there no fear of hell, we should not even choose readily to do any good thing.”

    Since I have an insufficient grasp of God’s awesome holiness and my own sinfulness, I sometimes forget that others have the opposite problem: insufficient grasp of God’s mercy and of their own self-worth as images and likenesses of the Lord.

    If I have slapped you, so to speak, then abundant apologies.

  76. I actually blame this all on Chrysostom’s sermons on II Thessalonians, which I’ve been reading lately. Those put any fire-breathing fundamentalist to shame! Hah! 😉 😉

    But, seriously, I do apologize for causing a stir. Especially to Father: I know you don’t like threads getting off track like this.

  77. John,
    you said before that ““If it takes every ounce of whatever mental and emotional capacity to find god, well, that doesn’t sound much like a “free gift” but rather something earned by the very few.”
    But, what we are saying is that it DOESN”T take every ounce…

    It only takes a childlike, non-analyzing approach.

    He explicitly says “come to me all”, (“and learn humility”).
    It is only through the eyes of that ‘other god’ – namely our Ego – that this feels like it takes every ounce of our capacities… It doesn’t when we come like a child. It is the easiest, most natural thing in the universe to find Him then.

    What requires extreme effort is the ascetic striving for love – total love (not talking about any man-woman attraction here, the lack of which might “make the human population 0” as you said, but bearing the Cross for the salvation of the ‘whole of Adam’ including those who refuse it)

  78. Holy smokes!

    I am falling in love with this community here. What a truly magnificent set of people.

    I would like to share a bit of my favorite work by George MacDonald titled “Robert Falconer” (which can be found in the Gutenberg Project at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2561/2561-h/2561-h.htm). In speaking of the great feast at the master’s table, Robert says:

    “‘Well, if I win in there, the very first night I sit down with the rest of them, I’m going to rise up and say – that is, if the Master, at the head of the table, doesn’t bid me sit down – and say: “Brothers and sisters, the whole of you, hearken to me for one minute; and, O Lord! if I say wrong, just take the speech from me, and I’ll sit down dumb and rebuked. We’re all here by grace and not by merit, save His, as you know better that I can tell you, for you have been here longer than me. But it’s just tugging and riving at my heart to think of them that’s down there. Maybe you can hear them. I cannot. Now, we have no merit, and they have no merit, and why are we here and them there? But we’re washed clean and innocent now, and now, when there no weight lying upon ourselves, it seems to me that we might bear some of the sins of those that have over-many. I call upon each and every one of you that has a friend or a neighbor down yonder, to rise up and taste no bite and sup no more until we go up all together to the foot of the throne, and pray the Lord to let us go and do as the Master did before us, and bear their griefs, and carry their sorrows down in hell there; then it maybe that they repent and get remission of their sins, and come up here with us at long last, and sit down at this table, all through the merits of our Savior Jesus Christ, at the head of the table there. Amen”‘

    Half ashamed of his long speech, half overcome by the feelings fighting within him, and altogether bewildered, Robert burst out crying like a baby, and ran out of the room—up to his own place of meditation, where he threw himself on the floor.”

    What others have replied to PJ is touching and speaks of people with hearts like this.

    I have no place for hell and damnation. To me, it is simply a tool of fear to whip people into submission. PJ’s comments do not phase me in the least because there is nothing in me that cares about a supposed hell. When hell becomes an issue for anyone, the first line of his creed is not “I believe in God the Father almighty” but “I believe in Hell.” If I ever have faith again, it certainly will not be one based in that.

    Christianity has ruined me. I cannot believe in a god that is not good. I cannot believe in a god that is not better than I. As a father, I cannot think of god as a father and then suppose that he would torment his children (or allow them to be tormented). I just have no reference points for hell that also allow me to believe that god is good.

    Robert asks, “If a devil were to repent, would God forgive him?”

  79. PJ

    I realize how much our individual life experiences shape our current viewpoint. It’s sorting out what was true and what was false and not being comfortable with something just because it is familiar that gets tricky at times (to put it mildly). We can and are so easily deceived. Reading a blog like this reminds me of how we are all at different places for all kinds of reasons. But the fact that anyone shows up here says something I guess. As a result I have started to attend an Orthodox catechism class. I went last night as I told John S. The priest who was speaking about the incarnation and the Theotokos spoke about his experience on Mt. Athos. He got all choked up and had to stop speaking for a moment. I can’t explain it but as much as I’m resisting this and it is all very strange and sometimes weird to me (but then why shouldn’t it be I guess), I’m very drawn to it (just so weary after so many years of searching and religion). I tell myself that I just need to keep showing up and exposing myself to this and I’m trusting God to do the rest. I agree with another poster that Fr. Stephen has a good way about expressing things in such a way that my mind and heart can grasp as in the topic of this post. Again, PJ, I’ve appreciated your past posts. I just thought you were speaking from your point of view and missing where depth of despair that some of us have been at. I have often become suicidal as a result, thinking that only then would I know the truth. I’m feeling much less so but I do take all of this very seriously.

    And John S., thanks for your comment too.

    I echo the same apology re getting off the thread but just felt compelled to respond this time. I sense you are all a very kind group actually.

  80. John,

    George MacDonald is a very intriguing character. I’ll need to read that book. I’ve profited from some of his sermons.

    The thing about hell is that we choose it, as C.S. Lewis demonstrates remarkably. But then I’m sure you’ve considered his arguments.

    In the end, you shouldn’t worry too much about me: I’m an old (well, young) grouch. That’s why I like Tertullian so much. 😉

    Erin,

    I’ve despaired. Believe me, I’ve despaired. Nonetheless, I may have spoken out of turn. We can’t always see our own weaknesses. As I said before, I humbly accept your sisterly admonition.

  81. Erin – Do email me and keep in touch. (email hidden; JavaScript is required)

    PJ – If you read George MacDonald, let me encourage you NOT to read the Americanized translations but get your hands on the originals in which dialogue is all in Scots. It is perfectly delicious. The book is “Robert Falconer” but any of his works (Sir Gibbie, Alec Forbes of Howglen, Malcolm, etc) are also wonderful.

    Erin – If you are into reading fiction, George MacDonald’s “The Curate’s Awakening” is magnificent. It is about a man training to be an Anglican priest who discovers that he does not believe in Jesus. The brutal honesty and beauty (for which I admire GM so much) is perfectly wonderful. I’m starting to regret that I gave all my GM books away…

  82. I recommend the sermon “Justice”, available here: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/macdonald/unspoken3.viii.html

    It’s strange, because supposedly he was not familiar with the eastern fathers, yet his thoughts are rather oriental.

    I certainly wish, with MacDonald, that all are saved, but the Fifth Ecumenical Council anathemized the notion. The only way to reconcile hell and the goodness of God is to recognize the mystery of human freedom. Freedom is necessary for true love, but the very same freedom that allows us to embrace God also allows us to turn our backs on Him.

  83. PJ, I do understand speaking out of your own experience and background and perhaps missing where someone else is at. I’m sure I’ve done that many times. I, personally, have never struggled to believe that hell existed, (though, for John S.’s benefit, I should clarify that I do not believe it is a place where God throws sinners to torment them!). I have struggled all my life to believe that God is good.

  84. John S. – I love your quote from George MacDonald. More stuff that I don’t have time to read (yet):-)

    Erin – thank you for your courage too in attending the classes and sharing your struggle here from a compassionate heart.

    PJ – thank you for your example of humility and great reflection on where your need is.

    I am learning so much from Father Stephen – but also from all of you as we digress and share. Each of us is in a unique place and the coming together of experience (both faith and doubt) is so enriching…

  85. John S. “As a father, I cannot think of god as a father and then suppose that he would torment his children (or allow them to be tormented).” I just have no reference points for hell that also allow me to believe that god is good.”

    I am SO on the same page with you. I could not be Christian, I could not be Orthodox, if I had to believe in an eternal hell. I stand with St. Isaac of Syria and St Gregory of Nyssa that the hell, the torment you see in the Bible, is for remedial purposes only. Even as you would want to give your children consequences to steer them in the direction they should go, i.e. the only direction that could make them truly happy, so Jesus has the Master in the parable hand over the unforgiving servant to the jailers until he has paid back every last cent (sounds like hell to me). 🙂 In the end all will kneel before Jesus Christ as their Lord – and all will say that their suffering was worth it! This is the bedrock of my faith. And I have been told by Orthodox priests that while this is only a minority opinion, it is okay to maintain it personally (but not dogmatically) in the Church. And there are many in the Church who believe that it is an absolute commandment to at least hope that all will be saved. I applaud you for refusing to hold a belief about God that seems to you, as it also seems to me, to be more akin to hate than to love.

    By the way, John, I love George MacDonald too. You can get the complete set of his unabridged works (50+ books!) for $1.99 on the kindle.

    To other posters: I know I am in a real minority, but please do not try to take my belief that hell must be remedial away from me. No one can possibly convince me that a God of Love could maintain anyone in torment forever. Consider it a lost cause. I just want John to know that he is not alone in his conviction, and that if he were to come into Orthodoxy he doesn’t have to believe something that is utterly morally repugnant to him.

  86. As Saint John Chrysostom once stated, you can find all your answers (even if you lost all Scriptures) in the parable of the Good Father (or of the prodigal or of the elder son), it is all there, and there is certainly no “sending” of anybody out of any banquet or to any kind of hell.

    According to Orthodox understanding, God loves all equally and eternally, there is equal love towards the highest of creatures (His all Holy Mother) as well as the lowest (Satan), there is no difference on his part whatsoever, even though His omnipotence is not stronger than a free beings’ choice (that other ‘god’ called Ego)…!

    Oh what beauty in coming to such a God like a small child…!

  87. There is nothing easier and more natural that coming to know God, but, He cannot be known as an object of my ego driven curiosity (with a capital ‘I’ and a small ‘g’ – for god), he can only be known relationally as Who He really is, with a small i (I am the creature here) and a capital G ( He is my Creator…).
    The shocking thing is that, when we do get to know Him, we see that he is the humble One beyond all descriptions and we are the ones that see ourselves as the centre of the universe! and all he does is smile understandingly as He did towards St. Peter…!

  88. John S,
    in answer to :
    “If love between humans was this difficult, the human population would be 0” :
    St Silouan is not talking about any kind of male-female attraction here, but (the Cross of) total love for all of mankind, even those who refuse to be saved, -the love that Christ is- and the ascetic striving needed to make it one’s own…

  89. PJ,
    It is often stated (erroneously) that the 5th Council anathematized the doctrine that “all will be saved.” Even the author of the Orthowiki article gets this wrong. The Council anathematized a teaching of Origen (or associated with Origen) that contained much more than that notion. The text is as follows:

    IF anyone shall say that all reasonable beings will one day be united in one, when the hypostases as well as the numbers and the bodies shall have disappeared, and that the knowledge of the world to come will carry with it the ruin of the worlds, and the rejection of bodies as also the abolition of [all] names, and that there shall be finally an identity of the gnpsis and of the hypostasis; moreover, that in this pretended apocatastasis, spirits only will continue to exist, as it was in the reigned pre-existence: let him be anathema.

    This is a condemnation of a Platonic “Oneness” that destroys even the hypostases (persons). As you can read – this is the great offense that is condemned. It calls it a “pretended apocatastasis.” It is also condemning a pre-existence and other Origenist ideas. But there is no specific defense of hell. Justice is not even a topic. St. Isaac of Syria’s teaching on a final reconciliation would, for example, in no way be condemned by the anathema of the 5th Council.

    The number of notable Orthodox teachers who allow for such a possibility (we do not have sufficient assurance to proclaim it as dogma) in the face of the 5th Council demonstrate the fallacy of those who pass along the hearsay of an affirmation of eternal punishment.

  90. Father,

    I was actually thinking of a different canon: “If anyone says or thinks that the punishment of demons and of impious men is only temporary, and will one day have an end, and that a restoration (apokatastasis) will take place of demons and of impious men, let him be anathema.”

    There are indeed some significant figures — east and west — who suggested the possibility of universal reconciliation, though very few actually affirmed it outright, as far as I can tell. These figures constitute a small minority, though, probably because Scripture seems rather clear on the matter (though there are a few contradictory passages…).

    As much as I would like to believe that all are saved, I feel as though I have to humble myself before the clear teaching of Scripture (to me) and the likes of Chrysostom, Augustine, Irenaeus, Basil, Gregory the Great, Jerome, and so on.

    It may be that I am misreading Scripture and that these great men were likewise confused. I devoured von Balthasar’s “Dare We Hope…” with great enthusiasm. I’ve warmed myself before the cosmic optimism of St. Isaac. But, ultimately, I feel as though it would be irresponsible of me to abandon the ancient teaching of eternal alienation from God. My heart rebels at the idea, and my mind falters, but I nonetheless mortify my judgment and submit to the majority teaching of the Church. I will continue to read and pray, of course …

  91. I believe that God deprives no one of His eternal presence – but whether one considers that heaven or hell is a matter of perspective. I spend very little if any time thinking of hell – not because I am without sin but because I trust that God never withholds His love.

    It is also important to remember that only God can understand the heart of each person. While choosing good would not be a choice if we could not choose evil, many wrong choices are made because of the damages caused by our broken sinful world. (The person born into a highly abusive family is going to have a greater struggle than the person born into a healthy family, etc.)

    This does not mean that the person who has been damaged has no responsibility to seek good – but rather God understands the nature of each person’s struggle and choice better than we do. My “goodness” may be far less good in the eyes of God than someone else’s “mediocrity” if they had to work much harder to achieve that.

    Hence, I do not think much about the eternity of hell (or the lack of it) because God knows what people suffer and when they need healing – or if/when they have truly refused Him. I cannot possibly know that. But I trust that God’s mercy knows no end…

  92. “I believe that God deprives no one of His eternal presence – but whether one considers that heaven or hell is a matter of perspective.”

    This is similar to my perspective. It’s like two men: one who is constantly outdoors, and another who dwells in a deep, dark cave. The first appreciates sunlight, how it warms his skin and illuminates his world. The second finds it painful and distressing, for it stings his eyes and reveals his pale, diseased complexion. Likewise, the man who is in Christ will flourish in the glorious presence of the Father, while the man who is outside Christ will suffer from the very same glory, as he will find it unbearable in his corrupted state.

  93. PJ,
    For the sake of precision, the canon you cite is one of the anathemas in Justinian’s Letter to Patriarch Menas. The status of those anathemas viz. the 5th Council are problematic and subject to debate. It’s a very interesting period with Church history and theology.

  94. Think of it this way:
    someone who truly loves the Lord would say, “I do not mind whether I am in heaven in hell as long as I am with Him – that is all that matters” (and of of course, the Lord is heaven hypostasised)
    Someone who only has space for the god called ego in his world and cannot bear another God, cannot stand being in the presence of the true God whether in hell or heaven…
    Even on earth that dark cave of the ego is pretty hellish.

  95. “Someone who only has space for the god called ego in his world and cannot bear another God, cannot stand being in the presence of the true God whether in hell or heaven…Even on earth that dark cave of the ego is pretty hellish.”

    Dee, I am in full agreement with this. But isn’t being subjected to the hell that our own egos can produce part of the judgment of God? And doesn’t that judgment have a redeeming purpose?

  96. Father,

    You’re right about the provenance of that canon. I didn’t realize that its legitimacy was disputed.

  97. Connie.
    being subjected to hell, even when brought about by our own ego, (99.9% of times) is certainly used pedagogically by our Lord, He is Love! He will use everything “that all might be saved”, that is His will, that no one will be damned, He is ready to be Crucified a million times (as He said to Saint Carpus) even to save a single sinner. Damnation is, crazily our will, not His…
    I remember there was a demon screaming (through the voice of a possessed person on the Holy Mountain, who was praying for his salvation with the words “Lord have mercy on him also”, i.e. mercy on the demon that possessed him!), “I, need NO forgiveness or mercy! God needs forgiveness for doing this to ME!, and I will never grant it…!)
    Lord save us from such egocentric self righteousness I beg Thee! That Luciferean self righteousness is at the doorstep of our fallen souls; but, so is Your holiness when we believe in your power and desire to bestow it to us…

  98. Dinoship, I can very well believe that a demon could say something like that. For that matter, I believe deluded people can say that too. I understand about stubbornness, about that snaky thing called the ego, that desire for one’s own way. But it is because I understand it that I can pity those enslaved to it, can pity myself, can pity those who die in it. Yes, we have free will, and it can bring us down pretty dire roads. I appreciate that the belief in free will is the basis for the belief that hell is eternal – the belief that someone can resist the love of God forever and ever. But it is possible to look at hell from an entirely different standpoint where free will is not compromised yet Love wins:

    All children at heart want Love. They want God, but as we know, we all end up believing lies and accumulate all sorts of substitutes for God. Those who continue to insist on sticking to those substitutes and die thinking their own will and not God’s is what will bring them happiness are indeed in for a rude awakening! When in the outer darkness, where all lies cease and all substitutes for God are taken away, it will be painful — it will be hell. And it is to be feared! “They who hate Zion shall be put to shame by the Lord. They will be withered up like grass by the fire.” But this is a good healing place to be! Haven’t we all felt withered up in shame before our loving God? In hell, stripped of all hindrances, that inner child will again be revealed. He will be able to finally, clearly, see the Truth and thus freely respond to Him. In the end, Love never fails. It’s right there in the Bible. 🙂 (I Cor. 13:8)

    I suppose this is all just theory. But for the life of me I could never say that a human being freely chose his own damnation. I must believe that the insanity from which such a choice would derive can be healed, if not now, then in the afterlife.

  99. By all means Connie! That is the reason why we pray for the deceased.
    We never would if we did not have that hope.

    We cannot really talk about (when our souls will be joined to body at) the end of the ages, but the Church believes, knows in fact, that souls can now come out of “hell” and into “heaven”, we all pray for them…

    Elder Paisios said that this was far easier for sinful souls who died enslaved to passions but a great deal harder for souls who were enamoured with Luciferean pride…

  100. “We cannot really talk about (when our souls will be joined to body at) the end of the ages, but the Church believes, knows in fact, that souls can now come out of “hell” and into “heaven”, we all pray for them…”

    Really? I didn’t realize this was a teaching of the Orthodox church. Interesting. Isn’t this basically purgatory, then?

    Connie,

    “I appreciate that the belief in free will is the basis for the belief that hell is eternal”

    I don’t think belief in free will is first and foremost responsible for the widespread Christian belief in hell. There are numerous statements, from Christ and His Apostles which, taken at face value, suggest the eternal nature of damnation.

    For instance: “And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (II Thessalonians 1:9).

    Or: “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46).

    To me, these are very difficult to dismiss without engaging in serious exegetical acrobatics.

    That said, there are other verses which do seem to hint at universal reconciliation, albeit not so explicitly. For instance, I Corinthians 15:28: “God may be all in all.” Or Ephesians 1:8-10: “[T]he summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth.”

    If we are not simply to reject those aspects of Scripture we dislike, then we must seek to harmonize these conflicting passages. I conclude, with a number of others, that God will indeed be present with all at the end of the ages, but that this experience will vary depending on one’s own relationship to Christ. The fire that Daniel saw coming out from the Divine Throne will warm some and scorch others.

    This is, as has been amply demonstrated in this thread, a tender topic. It must be approached carefully. If we preach fire and brimstone, we disfigure the gospel, which reveals that “God is love.” And yet … If we simply toss away the notion of damnation, which countless saints and fathers have acknowledged and even spoke at length about (including eastern greats like John Chrysostom), then we are irresponsible. Or worse: we mislead people and put their souls in jeopardy.

    If this discussion has taught me anything, it is that we must tread delicately regarding eschatology, taking care to recognize that we cannot understand the ways of God. To speak rashly of His mysteries is reckless and even spiritually lethal. May He have mercy on us all!

  101. Philip,
    No, it is nothing like “purgatory”. I do not see how you deduced that. That is a notion entirely different.

    It is nothing but the law of communicating vessels. We, the living (and the “truly living” i.e. the Theotokos, St. George, St. Anthony, St. Silouan etc…) – as it is us who are the ones take a soul from Hades- are communicating vessels with the departed who died unprepared

  102. Dinoship, would you mind explaining what you mean by italicised, as it is not immediately clear:

    It is nothing but the law of communicating vessels. We, the living (and the “truly living” i.e. the Theotokos, St. George, St. Anthony, St. Silouan etc…) – as it is us who are the ones take a soul from Hades- are communicating vessels with the departed who died unprepared.

    Thanks..

  103. Dino,

    I don’t mean to be daft. Perhaps I am misunderstanding you. Purgatory is state wherein the soul is purified. This purification is hurried along with the help of the prayers of the saints in heaven and on earth. This “temporary hell” (to put it crudely) is the essence of purgatory.

    I’m also curious as to what you mean by “it is us who are the ones take a soul from Hades…”

  104. PJ,
    Orthodoxy makes a distinction between hell and purgatory – at least purgatory as it is understood and defined in the RC Church. They hell may be temporary is, however, clearly held – though in such a case it will have been “purifying.” In the broader discussion, any idea of a temporary character to something less than paradise would have clear similarity. The distinctions lie in the details. The doctrine of purgatory, as classically taught by the RCC was rejected by the Orthodox in the teachings of St. Mark of Ephesus (in his rejections of Florence) and affirmed by the Orthodox Church. Orthodoxy uses “hell” in a very broad sense, rather than the rather detailed divisions and subdivisions taught in the scholasticism of medieval Rome.

  105. I keep trying to post the answer but it doesn’t seem to be working, and it also keeps saying something like “duplicate answer, it looks like you have already said that”…
    is there a way around this problem?

  106. Fr. Stephen — I would very much like your perspective on the following that was sent to me in a weekly e-mail by a church member (I am evangelical). This typifies the tone and tenor of our church’s sermons.

    “With a vast parade of humanity marching towards the abrupt cliff that leads to the cavernous depths of Hell, do we rationalize, excuse & deflect responsibility so as to maintain & grasp our own temporal comfort and ease?

    But say some, “I may get fired?” …Paul was stoned!

    “My neighbors will ignore me and avoid me.” …Steven was killed, as was Peter, James…etc..etc…

    Christ calls us still!
    “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel…”

    Why the lack of desperation in our actions & in our prayers?!?!”

    I tend to feel guilt, despair and personal pressure from this way of looking at salvation, and it is driving me out of the church. Thank you for your input.

  107. Fr. Stephen, just 2 things:

    1.
    I very much appreciate your elaboration on oral tradition and your brother’s dancing. This makes a whole lot of sense to me. It also seems to have God’s signature on it. What I mean is, it’s just like Him to keep His treasures in earthly vessels. When John S commented on the impossibility of the tradition being handed down unscathed in such conditions, I was reminded that God set things up such that it HAS to be Him, since otherwise it truly would be impossible. If we rely on Tradition in the truest sense of the word, we are walking in faith. Amazing!

    2.
    Your comment to Brian about the Protestant church not being the church made me sad. Maybe we can chalk it up to North America’s deep sense of poor self-esteem and toxic shame, but a statement feels painful. Call me a brother with lots of problems, but please don’t kick me out of the family.

    I fully understand the implications this can bring about concerning communing at the same table. I’m not asking to share the same bread and wine, just to be acknowledged as a brother. Call the Protestant branch what you will – and probably with great accuracy – but please do the kindness of reserving judgment and calling it something other than NOT the church. We are still, after all is said and done, one body.

  108. Philip and Andrew,
    I am not making sense! I am sorry! Let me attempt clarifying:
    God’s pedagogy (or purification) only takes place in this life. (on united body and soul united). Hades isn’t pedagogy, it is the way the soul feels after death (as of course, is the opposite too), dependent on its ontological predisposition towards “relational being” (which is the only true Being) -something acquired in this life. (not somewhere a souls is “sent to be purified” -that is quite a different notion, pregnant with problems).

    Saying, “it is us who are the ones take a soul from Hades” I meant “us” as in those who pray or cry, give alms etc. for the salvation of the deceased.
    Many fathers describe tears for the salvation of the departed as form of alms-giving. The late Elder Ephraim Katounakiotis “took the soul” of his (shockingly harsh) Elder/Geronda “out of hell” thanks to his endless tears during his many “sarandaleitourga” (a set of 40 consecutive Liturgies for the departed) for him.
    It is God, the Source of mercy Himself, of course, who bestows such tears, it is Him that desires the salvation even of those ‘damned’ souls through such mysterious ways that respect even the ‘”accuser’s” (devil’s) rights’…
    Elder Paisios has also talked on this subject. Talking and analysing such matters is not my thing. But, I would urge anyone who spends time praying for others to pray for the dead, -I would hope for the Church’s prayers myself.
    We are communicating vessels, and this is felt far more by a saint (a hypostatic being, as Elder Sophrony loved saying) than by an individual who feels separated from the rest. One is never saved alone. That peace that is acquired by a Saint which flows out to “myriads around him”(as St. Seraphim said) includes living and dead.

  109. Drewster,

    As a person with a number of very devout and wonderful Protestant friends, I can sympathize and empathize with your position.

    However, historically speaking, the Church call itself “one Body” *precisely because it partakes of one loaf and one cup.* The “bread and wine,” as you say, have everything to do with it. We are one Body because we feast on the flesh and blood of one Lord.

    That said, the explosion of sects after the Reformation has made it difficult to maintain that ancient teaching without seeming extremely uncharitable. My Protestant friends and I have spent long hours trying to get to untangle this knot.

    Alas, the divisions among those who call themselves disciples of Christ and worshippers of the Trinity are indeed scandalous! Lord help us!

    Father,

    Thanks for clearing that up. No doubt there are differences in the specifics, but it seems Catholics and Orthodox agree — in contrast to Protestants — on the purification of sinful souls, prayers for the dead, etc. There are some who have grasped the crown of salvation, yet are not fit to enter into the fullness of the Triune life, and so undergo purgation, assisted by the spiritual and material oblations of the saints in heaven and on earth.

  110. dinoship:

    “…a demon screaming…’I, need NO forgiveness or mercy! God needs forgiveness for doing this to ME!…’ Lord save us from such egocentric self righteousness…”

    I doubt that you will find many people like me saying such things or even thinking them. After all, “he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” I have yet to meet the criterion of the first portion of that sentence (as do many others).

    I think it is important not to confuse what you term “egocentric self righteousness” with honest unbelief. Only one who believes in god will scream such things. Those who don’t believe in god fall into several camps:

    1) We don’t believe but are open to meeting god should s/he present her/himself

    2) We don’t believe and simply don’t care about the “supernatural” or superstitions (except insofar as these things destroy a person’s ability to think clearly)

    3) We don’t believe but would gladly (and rightly) utter “Christians (or ‘the church’) need forgiveness for doing this to me!”

    This last item is not the same thing as being angry at god.

    My point is this: It is very easy to demonize people and make assumptions based on one’s own belief system. That is, it is simple to think that all atheists and agnostics are somehow in rebellion and railing aginst god. But I have found that this is not the case. Pissed at the church or at Christians? Yes. Upset for being duped? Yep. Angry at god? Absolutely not. To be angry at god is to “believe that He is.” Most of us agnostics are very far removed from such a notion and any true atheists are completely so. Does this make them bad? Nope. Goodness and belief have no correlation with one another.

    By way of example, there are many Christians who fear and hate atheists and who will gladly browbeat them with doctrines of eternal damnation. To my mind, this falls outside the definition of “goodness” or even “decency.” Of course there are many who would not. Either way, the goodness or lack thereof has nothing to do with the doctrines of one’s faith and everything to do with the individual.

  111. Philip,
    I am not making sense! I am sorry! Let me attempt clarifying:
    God’s pedagogy (or purification) only takes place in this life. (on united body and soul united). Hades isn’t pedagogy, it is the way the soul feels after death (as of course, is the opposite too), dependent on its ontological predisposition towards “relational being” (which is the only true Being) -something acquired in this life. (not somewhere a souls is “sent to be purified” -that is quite a different notion, pregnant with problems).

  112. Cathy:

    “With a vast parade of humanity marching towards the abrupt cliff that leads to the cavernous depths of Hell, do we rationalize, excuse & deflect responsibility so as to maintain & grasp our own temporal comfort and ease?”…”I tend to feel guilt, despair and personal pressure from this way of looking at salvation, and it is driving me out of the church.”

    I think this is far more common than you might suppose. To my mind, though, leaving Christianity solely because the people in your church are nincompoops is a bad reason to leave. Christianity must stand or fall on its own merits.

    If you are afraid that leaving your particular sect is equivalent to “falling away” then I think you are in a very abusive and bad relationship. After all, the words of Jesus in the Gospels were harshest when speaking to the religious nutjobs who were lording it over the people and had no concept that god might actually be a decent person.

    If you accept the premise of the Christian god, I think you can do no better than to acquaint yourself with Orthodox teachings. The forms of worship will weird you out at first but as you come to understand them I think you will find a great deal of satisfaction in your heart and mind. When I first ran across a pseudo-orthodox church, it was like eating healthy food for the first time. There is a satisfaction associated with good health that is incomparable.

    It is difficult to believe in the Christian god, be exposed to Orthodox thought, and not embrace it. It is, as far as I can tell, the most reasonable, kind and loving form of Christianity out there.

  113. John,
    you reminded me of the words of a deconverted priest I once had a converstation with, and both remind me of St. John Chrysostom’s saying that the only reason unbelief even exists in this world is because the believers are not saints.
    Of course in his time the Church was still pre-schism.
    I cannot help thinking how I would love to take you with me to the Holy Mountain to meet certain persons!
    Lacking that, I trust God has a better plan for you.
    I wish you all the best!

  114. Andrew and PJ,
    when I wrote “it is us who are the ones take a soul from Hades” I meant “us” who pray, cry, give alms etc. for the salvation of the deceased.

    We are all communicating vessels, and this is felt far more vividly by a saint (a truly hypostatic being, as Elder Sophrony loved saying) than by an individual who feels separate from others. One is not saved alone. The peace that is acquired by a Saint which flows over to “thousands around him” includes living and dead.

    Many fathers describe tears for the salvation of the departed as almsgiving. The late radiant Elder Ephraim of Katounakia “took the soul” of his first (shockingly harsh) Elder/Geronda “out of hell” thanks to his endless tears during his many “sarandaleitourga” (a set of 40 consecutive Liturgies) for him. It is the Source of mercy Himself, of course, who bestows those tears, it is Him that wants to save even those ‘damned’ souls through this mysterious way that respects even the ‘devils rights’…
    Elder Paisios has also talked extensively on the subject using different language. I must admit though, talking and analysing such matters is not my forte. I would urge anyone who spends any time praying for others to pray for the dead, and would hope for the Church’s prayers myself.

  115. Cathy – Another benefit to studying Orthodox thought is an enlargement of your vocabulary. You’ll have all kinds of fun learning how to use “pedagogy,” “anathemas,” and “chrismate” correctly in a sentence!

  116. dinoship:

    I would love to take you with me to the Holy Mountain

    If it’s in Colorado, I may be able to oblige you.

  117. J.S. — That is precisely why I’m here. I intend to read Schmemann, Dostoyevsky and Father Freeman’s book when I get the chance. Right now I’m trying to digest Chesterton. Since I’m so ensconced in the evangelical worldview, it is difficult to see outside of it. Hence, my question to Father Stephen. The e-mail in question encapsulates the assumptions with which I was raised.

  118. Andrew,

    By, “it is us who are the ones take a soul from Hades” I mean “us” who pray, cry, give alms etc. for the salvation of the deceased.
    Many fathers describe tears for the salvation of the departed as almsgiving. The late radiant Elder Ephraim of Katounakia “took the soul” of his first (shockingly harsh) Elder/Geronda “out of hell” thanks to his endless tears during his many “sarandaleitourga” (a set of 40 consecutive Liturgies) for him. It is the Source of mercy Himself, of course, who bestows those tears, it is Him that wants to save even those ‘damned’ souls through this mysterious way that respects even the ‘devils rights’…
    Elder Paisios has also talked on the subject.

  119. We are all communicating vessels, and this is felt far more vividly by a saint (a truly hypostatic being, as Elder Sophrony loved saying) than by an individual who feels separate from others. One is not saved alone. The peace that is acquired by a Saint which flows over to “thousands around him” includes living and dead.

  120. John,

    I think you’re right about noting the “schism” (heh) among disbelievers. I also think that Christians who convert from disbelief are prone to assume that all disbelievers are members of their former camp. Thus I find myself assuming that agnostics and atheists are cruel-spirited, small-hearted, self-absorbed libertines, for that describes me prior to putting on Christ. This is a totally groundless assumption (usually), and thus serves me poorly.

    By the way, I feel as though we got off on the wrong foot. Now that I see you’ll be hanging around, I’d like to apologize for having nipped at you in previous threads. I’m sort of territorial. I consider this blog a spiritual sanctuary, and I interpreted your critiques and questions as the equivalent of some logging company trying to clearcut a pristine forest! I now see that you are an honest seeker. I still think that you’re a bit hazy on some of the realities of authentic Christian — still think you’re letting your jaded attitude get the better of you — but we’re all hurting somehow. We’re all wounded. That is why I’m a Christian: I want the Divine Physician to heal my broken heart. Hope to see you around. And pardon me in advance if I ever get testy!

  121. PJ — My church is Calvinist. I’ve struggled with the doctrine greatly. Ergo, I don’t consider myself Calvinist. Mostly, I consider myself confused. And a little fearful of God.

  122. An article relevant to this topic examining the teaching of St Silouan and the writings of Dostoevsky (We Must Pray for the Salvation of All):

    http://www.bogoslov.ru/en/text/2314168.html

    John, many moons ago I started reading this blog as an atheist and someone who had for decades actively disliked Christianity – not least, I now believe, because of my evangelical-fundamentalist upbringing. Completely understand where you are coming from.

  123. Cathy,

    Ah. Of course. Chesterton said, “It took fifteen hundred years for the sweet wine of Catholicism to turn into the bitter vinegar of Calvinism.”

    Calvinism is Islamicized Christianity: all about power and control. It is of the utmost importance that you begin to reconsider the meaning of the Cross. Forget this repulsive notion of the Father pouring out His infinite fury on His hapless Son. You must put aside the notion that the Cross is a mechanistic judicial and penal event. Rather, it is the ultimate identification of God with His creatures. It is substitutionary in a sense, yes, but it is so much more: it is the destruction of death by the self-sacrifice of the Immortal One. It cannot be seen apart from the Resurrection. Father Stephen is very good at emphasizing this central truth.

    Classical, patristic Christianity emphasizes our union with God through the Incarnate Word, who combines Divine and Human natures in One Person, and thus bridges the gap between creature and Creator, the finite and the infinite. The Christian life is then understood as communion with God through Christ in the Spirit. We are sons and daughters in the Son. Through the Eucharist, we become one with Him: we become the Body to the holy Head. By dying to ourselves, by putting on Christ through the sacraments, we are brought into intimate friendship and brotherhood with the very Lord of Life!

    Whew. I’m rambling, I fear. I just don’t want you to fall away from the Eternal Logos, in whom you are formed into a perfect word of truth, because of the wayward teachings of Calvin. (Not to mention that Calvin is pretty darn catholic/orthodox next to many of his contemporary followers.)

    May I suggest you meditate on 1 Corinthians 1:18-25?

    Hope I haven’t overwhelmed you. God bless! I will pray for you, sister!

  124. John,
    I think that every single thing we do apart from Grace is an expression of our ego no matter how distantly related. “egocentric self righteousness” is certainly not “honest unbelief”, but, both have some relation to the ego.
    Whether we believe or not, like it or not, we all have a god we believe in, be it our opinions, our reasoning, our weaknesses, our interests. What takes up my mind and heart this moment is my god.
    At the same time, I might ‘think’ I do not believe, yet, somehow, I might be proved wrong when in a different situation to my current one.
    God has situations up His sleeve that virtually render man’s damnation (let alone unbelief) virtually impossible (according to Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra – Holy Mountain), yet holds them back until the very end

  125. I recall that, even in the depths of my unbelief, there were times when I turned to God in desperation. I think I have noted that I am a recovering addict. Several times I came very near to overdosing. More than once I found myself praying, “If You save me, O God, I will be Yours.” It took me a while to make good on my promises, but what’s a handful of years in the light of eternity?

  126. PJ,

    From watching your comments over the past few months, I was not surprised by your response. You are consistent. You gave me justice, as dictated by the Law.

    But your words were not without merit, in that they made me stop and wonder just exactly what it is I want from the Orthodox, if it’s not to commune at their table. I have an answer.

    I want mercy. I want friendship – without being patronized. I want the general message I hear from them to be something like, “Though estranged, you are our brother.” And not a constant, subtle but firm message of “Your less than us. We speak with you because we would also speak to prostitutes and tax collectors. When you want to be a true christian, you know where to come.”

    I don’t expect anyone to pretend that I’m Orthodox or in full communion. But also don’t expect anyone to tell me that I’m not really a Christian. I’m OK with being the red-headed step-child, as long as I’m identified as being part of the family. But I generally find this admission long in coming from the Orthodox quarter.

    And let me make it plain that I’m taking the denominational perspective here, not actually fighting for my own acceptance.

  127. From PJ: “You must put aside the notion that the Cross is a mechanistic judicial and penal event.” Yes, it was exactly this notion that catalyzed my descent into theological anxiety.

  128. Drewster,
    Your desire makes sense…but it’s easy to misunderstand Orthodox reticence. The ecumenical tendency of Protestants, in which Church has a decidedly different meaning, is (for many Orthodox) the most essential modern heresy. Though it is not intended so by those who hold it. It’s an interesting history of how ecumenism and the disappearance of the Protestant Churches as “Churches” occurred. It’s rooted in the Evangelical Alliance movements of the 19th century – eventually resulting in the WCC which most Evangelicals today would denounce. Most of the Orthodox Churches belong to the WCC, though there has been a growing number who are withdrawing. I favor withdrawal myself (I would discuss this at another time).

    But Ecumenism is very touchy for the Orthodox. It is true – anyone who names Jesus as Lord (in an orthodox sense – little “o” intended) is a brother in Christ and a Christian. The status of their sacraments or ordinances is a matter that cannot ultimately be spoken to. For the Orthodox, the only question would be how to receive them into union with the Orthodox Church. Orthodoxy does not deny the true Christianity of others, but must deny that the Church is other than One. If that One Church is not the Orthodox Church, then we ourselves must repent and enter it.

    My personal perspective, particularly as a convert (and convert clergyman to boot) who loved and studied Orthodoxy for about 25 years before becoming Orthodox – I have nothing by understanding for the many positions those who stand outside the Orthodox Church may find themselves in. I’ve probably been in most of them and I cannot judge anyone else. What God has for us – and how the journey goes – is in His hands alone.

    If I’m ever too cold or stand-offish – I apologize. The wealth of the life of the Church and the good things God has given us are to be shared with everyone – regardless – and together we can relish them with joy.

    But I do try to keep the light burning in the lighthouse, for those who want to come ashore, or need the light to see around the rocky waters. I can’t judge another man’s lantern – but I only have the one lighthouse on my map.

    With brotherly affection!

  129. PJ:

    I’d like to apologize for having nipped at you in previous threads. I’m sort of territorial.

    Not on the wrong foot at all. I totally understand from whence thou comest. Anything short of insulting my mother rolls off my back. I’ve had a lifetime of paranoia based in hellfire theology. There is nothing you can say in that quarter that will phase me in the least. And I fully recognize your intent. I did not feel slighted or slammed at all.

    If Fr. Stephen ever asks me to leave, I certainly shall. I just enjoy the conversation. As I’ve said before, those of an Orthodox mindset seem to me the only rational Christians out there. I hope that my posts inspire thoughtful dialogue. I’m not here to be a pain in the arse.

    Greg: Thanks. It’s nice to be in this dialogue with you and Erin and Cathy and others who don’t simply write-off people of a differing viewpoint.

    dinoship:

    …we all have a god we believe in, be it our opinions, our reasoning…

    This is a thought very familiar to the Protestant viewpoint which, taken to extremes, ends up thinking that Catholics and Orthodox Christians are idol worshippers. But it seems to me that to equate “god” with “that which occupies most of my thought” is a mistake and devalues the deity. It is a bit like comparing timespace to an abacus. One is so vastly more infinite and dynamic than the other that no comparison can be made between them.

    I think that every single thing we do apart from Grace is an expression of our ego no matter how distantly related. “egocentric self righteousness” is certainly not “honest unbelief”, but, both have some relation to the ego.

    One of the side-effects of losing my faith was a profound and deeply humbling new awareness of this universe. I used to think in terms of everything “passing away” and so the reality around me had far less significance than the hope of the next life. Take away eternity and this time and place comes into focus. The grandeur and wonder of this physical realm and the awareness of how small we actually are had a profound impact on me. Far from “egocentric self righteousness,” accepting how insignificant we are within this cosmos was truly humbling.

    Casting one like me in a role where honest unbelief is simply a manifestation of an inflated ego is simply incorrect. If one seeks for and does not find god and then says, “Let’s assume for now that there is no god,” the natural result is not pride but rather terrible fear (because now our responsibility toward others and our natural environment rests solely with us), wonder, amazement, intrigue, a thirst for understanding, and a need to reevaluate how to view the universe. At least, this was my experience.

    “People are not essentially bad. They are not essentially good. They are essentially people.” Stripping away judgment in this manner has helped me tremendously in ways that I was never able to grasp as a Christian.

    It is my hope that you will be able to comprehend this not in the light of one who is arguing but in the light of one who has experienced a life without god and found both wonders and terrors. I now find it to be almost impossible to say “this person is (fill in the blank)” as if that settles the matter. There is no such thing as a true conservative or liberal or a true extrovert or introvert. Nothing is that clear cut.

    I think this is where you and I disagree. It seems you want to have a clear cut box into which you can fit people. This is a natural human trait. We like to think that we understand. Acknowledging that we don’t understand (or know) is not egocentric. It’s simply honest. That kind of honesty is impossible (in my opinion) without a great deal of humility founded on much searching and striving after knowledge (or truth, if you will).

  130. PJ:

    I’d like to apologize for having nipped at you in previous threads. I’m sort of territorial.

    Not on the wrong foot at all. I totally understand from whence thou comest. Anything short of insulting my mother rolls off my back. I’ve had a lifetime of paranoia based in hellfire theology. There is nothing you can say in that quarter that will phase me in the least. And I fully recognize your intent. I did not feel slighted or slammed at all.

    If Fr. Stephen ever asks me to leave, I certainly shall. I just enjoy the conversation. As I’ve said before, those of an Orthodox mindset seem to me the only rational Christians out there. I hope that my posts inspire thoughtful dialogue. I’m not here to be a pain in the arse.

    Greg: Thanks. It’s nice to be in this dialogue with you and Erin and Cathy and others who don’t simply write-off people of a differing viewpoint.

    dinoship:

    …we all have a god we believe in, be it our opinions, our reasoning…

    This is a thought very familiar to the Protestant viewpoint which, taken to extremes, ends up thinking that Catholics and Orthodox Christians are idol worshippers. But it seems to me that to equate “god” with “that which occupies most of my thought” is a mistake and devalues the deity. It is a bit like comparing timespace to an abacus. One is so vastly more infinite and dynamic than the other that no comparison can be made between them.

    I think that every single thing we do apart from Grace is an expression of our ego no matter how distantly related. “egocentric self righteousness” is certainly not “honest unbelief”, but, both have some relation to the ego.

    One of the side-effects of losing my faith was a profound and deeply humbling new awareness of this universe. I used to think in terms of everything “passing away” and so the reality around me had far less significance than the hope of the next life. Take away eternity and this time and place comes into focus. The grandeur and wonder of this physical realm and the awareness of how small we actually are had a profound impact on me. Far from “egocentric self righteousness,” accepting how insignificant we are within this cosmos was truly humbling.

    Casting one like me in a role where honest unbelief is simply a manifestation of an inflated ego is simply incorrect. If one seeks for and does not find god and then says, “Let’s assume for now that there is no god,” the natural result is not pride but rather terrible fear (because now our responsibility toward others and our natural environment rests solely with us), wonder, amazement, intrigue, a thirst for understanding, and a need to reevaluate how to view the universe. At least, this was my experience.

    “People are not essentially bad. They are not essentially good. They are essentially people.” Stripping away judgment in this manner has helped me tremendously in ways that I was never able to grasp as a Christian.

    It is my hope that you will be able to comprehend this not in the light of one who is arguing but in the light of one who has experienced a life without god and found both wonders and terrors. I now find it to be almost impossible to say “this person is (fill in the blank)” as if that settles the matter. There is no such thing as a true conservative or liberal or a true extrovert or introvert. Nothing is that clear cut.

    I think this is where you and I disagree. It seems you want to have a clear cut box into which you can fit people. This is a natural human trait. We like to think that we understand. Acknowledging that we don’t understand (or know) is not egocentric. It’s simply honest. That kind of honesty is impossible (in my opinion) without a great deal of humility founded on much searching and striving after knowledge (or truth, if you will).

  131. Drewster,

    Personally, anyone who calls Jesus Christ Lord and worships the Triune God, I consider entitled to the name “Christian.” I won’t contest that. I’ll happily call them a brother or sister, too.

  132. Re: discussion on who is part of “the Church”. Growing up RC, I was taught so much about the “one true faith” that as a child, I thought I might be commiting a sin by stepping inside a Lutheran church – when there wasn’t even a service going on!

    I am still RC but my views far now are more embracing of difference. I am quite comfortable calling Protestants (who are not all the same) brother/sister – and I can call Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, agnostics and atheists brother/sister too. This does not mean that I believe all churches’ teachings are equally true – far from it.

    However, I do believe that within all of these groups there are good and earnest children of God who may, for a miriad of reasons, not call God by name or know Jesus as Christ. As someone else suggested, we are all broken, all on a path and it is neither wise nor loving to judge someone else’s place on the path.

    So you are all my brothers and sisters… (Lest anyone is getting ready to blast me for seeming to minimize the importance of choice of c/Church, it is unnecessary to do so. I think that is a very important choice – but not the most important. See Matthew 22:36-40 for the most important.)

  133. Fr. Stephen,

    I more than accept the arm of friendship and the title of brother that you extend. In not so many words, you’ve done this before and I’m glad your position hasn’t changed. I greatly treasure your words and hope you don’t get in any trouble for extending such warm hospitality. (wink)

    I don’t know what the WCC is but I’ve read enough of church history to believe everything you say. You really aren’t stand-offish at all. Any cold shoulders I’ve gotten have been elsewhere in Orthodoxy. Every once in awhile the heresy of the Protestants gets you a bit riled and you speak thus, but you really can’t be blamed. I guess I was just reaffirming your true feelings once the dust settles. Thanks again for your response.

  134. John S –

    “We like to think that we understand. Acknowledging that we don’t understand (or know) is not egocentric. It’s simply honest. That kind of honesty is impossible (in my opinion) without a great deal of humility founded on much searching and striving after knowledge (or truth, if you will).”

    Well said.

  135. PJ,

    I expected this from as well. (grin) Like all of us, you battle within as much or more than without. Mercy and justice must really have it out sometimes within your own heart!

    Thank you, for counting me as a brother. It has become obvious to more than a few people here that a strange sort of community has formed, made possible by the internet. And I count myself part of it. God truly does work in mysterious ways.

    yours in Christ, Drewster

  136. JS,

    Indeed, we are truly humbled at the Dawn of our Realisation — and also utterly liberated in our souls, irreversibly so…

    Excellent comment, thank you.

  137. John Shores,
    “One is so vastly more infinite and dynamic than the other that no comparison can be made between them.” that is correct, but, I was of course talking of something quite different when saying “our god” (what occupies me at the present moment) the “one God”…! I hoped that was fairly clear – sorry.

    “the natural result is not pride but rather terrible fear” fear is also based on the ego, I am certainly not referring to just an extreme luciferean pride when saying that we are all motivated by our self-centredness after the fall when without Grace. In the “Ladder of Divine ascent” by St. John Climacus there are explicit explanations of the subtle manifestations of the ego as fear, ‘purity’, ‘humility’,’meekness’, despair, worry, sadness, depression.
    It is not just the usual manifestations of pride, vanity, anger or hautiness…

  138. sorry, i meant:

    “I was of course talking of something quite different when saying “our god” (what occupies me at the present moment) THAN the “one God”…!

  139. John Shores,
    please remember that as far as I can, I am not talking, as an ‘individual’ with an individual ( = Protestant) understanding here; I can potentially be grossly misunderstood with the following, but: I am coming to these arguments more as a carrier of a tradition, representative of an institution, I really don’t want “my own mostly mistaken thinking” and I would rather trust only “the infallible mind of the Church” – not my own “mind/opininons” (I would hope to be liberated from that…)
    So:
    “We like to think that we understand. Acknowledging that we don’t understand (or know) is not egocentric. It’s simply honest. That kind of honesty is impossible (in my opinion) without a great deal of humility founded on much searching and striving after knowledge (or truth, if you will).”
    Indeed.
    However, “acknowledging that we don’t understand” when going against the “accepted understanding” of Spirit bearing Saints, Fathers and Apostles, as preserved in the living tradition of the Orthodox Church can be a reactive confrontation rather than an honest realisation. Striving for ‘my own kind of knowledge’ (as an Orthodox) when I am part of the body of Christ and true knowledge is “traditioned down” to me from my fathers, elders, the Church, can also signify an ego-based variance/separation from the body of Christ.
    We say that: ‘Trusting solely on reasoning, not asking for what God might think would have saved Adam from falling.’

    God is right there in front of you and right here in front of me, I cannot reason away any doubts concerning this, I either
    (1) live under His gaze and exist eucharistically within His existence, or (2) carry on the adventure of Me.
    I have suffered for many years not wanting the former life (Joy),(1),
    while looking for the latter adventure (“answers”)(2)
    Besides, the real answers only ever come the more we opt for (1)

  140. “However, I do believe that within all of these groups there are good and earnest children of God who may, ”

    This is actually an interesting question and a large debate in and of itself.

    Being a “child of God” has a rather specific meaning in Scripture: We are sons and daughters of God by virtue of our life in *the* Son of God. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). In this sense, being a “child of God” is not the default, but a mode of existence achieved by saving participation in the Word.

    Then again, on the other hand, in a metaphorical way (as opposed to a mystical way), we are all children of God, for we are all His creatures.

  141. Cathy,

    I was never a convinced Calvinist when I was Evangelical, but that strain of thought still impacted me. It was also *Penal* Substitution theory that eventually unraveled the childlike trust in God’s Self-giving love through Christ I had started out with in my Methodist Sunday school (though not until early-mid adulthood). If it were not for my discovery of the Orthodox faith, I don’t know what I would have done.

  142. PJ, I think all human beings being the “children of God” is not merely metaphorical (Acts 17:29), though I understand there is a distinction between believing and unbelieving in the Scriptures. I would rather distinguish between the estranged child from one who is no longer estranged. In terms of God the Father’s loving heart toward all, this is not mere metaphor–if He loves all as a Father, it means all are His children. For me, The Parable of the Prodigal Son says it all. It seems to me any Scriptural language to the contrary about the wicked and unbelieving is an acknowledgment of the very real estrangement that occurs through the activity of the enemy and the influence of sin. It is an acknowledgment that the Fatherly love of God is not being returned. God defines us as His children through His love, expressed without any partiality upon sinner and saint alike. It is only when we define ourselves through our sin as His enemies, that the Scripture acknowledges this using the same kind of terminology. My only concern is that we not see the distinction here in God, but only in us.

  143. dinoship: “fear is also based on the ego”

    If you have ever watched Henry V (Kenneth Brannaugh), recall the scene at Agincourt where the camera is on the faces of the English as they are watching the coming onslaught of the French. You can hear the horse’s hoofbeats but all you see is the sheer terror on the faces of the English soldiers. That’s the kind of fear that I mean. A dissection and conclusion that this is born of ego is irrelevant to the soldier standing there.

    However, “acknowledging that we don’t understand” when going against the “accepted understanding” of Spirit bearing Saints, Fathers and Apostles, as preserved in the living tradition of the Orthodox Church can be a reactive confrontation rather than an honest realisation.

    The “accepted understanding of Spirit bearing Saints” is largely a matter of opinion. One could as easily say the “accepted understanding of” (pagan priests, buddhist monks, tribal medicine men).

    By way of example…

    We say that: ‘Trusting solely on reasoning, not asking for what God might think would have saved Adam from falling.’

    There was no Adam. There never was a time when there were just two homo sapiens who were perfect and fell from grace. It is a literal, physical impossibility. Which is why most reasonable Christians (and all within Judaism) look at the story as an allegory.

    But even as allegory it cannot possibly be true since humans are now as they have always been. It is simply a myth that tries to explain why we are the way we are, just as the myth of the Firefox was constructed to try to explain the Aurora Borealis.

    That being said, one can certainly understand why an agnostic would have cause to question the “understanding of Spirit bearing Saints.” If god is incapable of revealing the truth about that which can be measured, how can one assume that what is said about the immeasurable is accurate? (Never follow into battle a commander who has proven that he has no idea how to use a map and compass.)

  144. John,

    “There was no Adam. There never was a time when there were just two homo sapiens who were perfect and fell from grace. It is a literal, physical impossibility. Which is why most reasonable Christians (and all within Judaism) look at the story as an allegory.”

    I guess this makes me unreasonable.

    Karen,

    I get where you’re coming from. Indeed, every human is a “child of God” inasmuch as they bear the image and likeness of God in their heart. However, the Lord Jesus Christ is the only true son of God. Thus His title, “Son of God.” Therefore, adoption in the Spirit brings us to a whole new level, to use a vulgar expression. Our sonship or daughtership is made complete only when we are in Christ through the Spirit.

  145. John,
    I would be naive to think I can convince you of God, even if I could -which I cannot- I would be infinitely less respectful.
    As for us Orthodox believers “as seeing him who is invisible” as visible (Hebrews 11, 27), we pray for the salvation of all.

    Honest “pagan priests, buddhist monks, tribal medicine men” will be the first to admit that they do not have the ‘fulness’ of faith.

    The most humble followers (Spirit bearing Saints) of the most humble Christ, to the death and to the Cross (!), martyred, yet without any diminishment of their love for those who tortured them, paradoxically claimed they had the fulness of the faith, that fulness that all other religions hoped for. Was that an inexplicable glitch of pride in their otherwise extreme humility? We have met personally people like that (not just here in Greece) and although (as Gregory Palamas says) “any word/argument can be met with its opposite word/argument”,
    “the witness of a Saint’s life and death cannot”

  146. PJ,
    “John,

    “There was no Adam. There never was a time when there were just two homo sapiens who were perfect and fell from grace. It is a literal, physical impossibility. Which is why most reasonable Christians (and all within Judaism) look at the story as an allegory.”

    I guess this makes me unreasonable.”

    it makes many of the people that ‘reasonable agnostics’ consider the ‘greatest minds to ever walk this planet’ unreasonable too,

    I won’t make any lists of famous or not so famous names here…

  147. PJ, Karen,

    I totally agree with Karen. I think the hitch for PJ is that once we admit that everyone is a child of God, then someone might figure out a way in which we all “sneak” into Heaven regardless of our beliefs.

    That’s not what Karen and I are saying at all. It is important to acknowledge that children can leave home and never return, but it is equally important for the remaining family to not disown them, therefore finding a way to write them “out of the will”, so to speak.

    While it’s not our job to open Heaven’s gates wide because we can’t understand a God who would do otherwise, it’s also not our job to slam them shut. In fact, what are we doing trying to control those gates at all?

    I believe our job is to say that everyone is a child of God – and then stop there. Whether or not a particular person gets to sit down and dine at our table has to be taken on a case-by-case basis and with the Lord’s guidance. We don’t get to take the easy way out by using a broad brush stroke to paint them all as being in or out.

  148. Drewster,

    I’m certainly not worried about people “sneaking” into heaven. I readily acknowledge all humans are sons and daughters of God inasmuch as we bear His image and likeness.

    However, that sonship and daughtership is fulfilled and completed by union with Christ, who is the Son of God in a totally different way. Through our adoption in the Spirit, our relationship to the Father is radically changed, for we are literally grafted into Christ: we become the Body of the Head.

    St. Paul says it perfectly, as usual: “The heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:1-7).

    We only reach the maturity of sonship and daughtership in Christ, for Christ alone is truly, really the Son of God.

    As for who is “in Christ,” God alone knows, though some are easier to spot than others. I know that sometimes I certainly don’t seem like a son of God!

  149. John Shores:
    “One of the side-effects of losing my faith was a profound and deeply humbling new awareness of this universe. I used to think in terms of everything “passing away” and so the reality around me had far less significance than the hope of the next life. Take away eternity and this time and place comes into focus.”
    When I came into Orthodoxy, so much of what seemed so puzzling before about Creation, the New Creation, the work of the Cross and God’s love came into a beautiful new focus. I cannot recommend too highly the “Rainbow Series” by Fr. Thomas Hopko (in print or online: http://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith). Fr. Hopko is Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir’s seminary and this series is a succinct presentation of everything being discussed here!
    On the topic of everything “passing away,” Hopko writes: “It is sometimes argued, however, that this world will be totally destroyed and that God will create everything new ‘out of nothing’ by the act of a second creation. . . .Because the Bible never speaks about a ‘second creation’ and because it continually and consistently witnesses that God loves the world which He has made and does everything that He can to save it, the Orthodox Tradition never interprets such scriptural texts [IIPeter 3:10] as teaching the actual annihilation of creation by God. . .” He says that “When the Kingdom of God fills all creation, all things will be made new. This world will again be that paradise for which it was originally created. This is the Orthodox doctrine of the final fate of man and his universe.” (p. 134 of Volume I Doctrine)
    So, we Christians are called to somewhat the same conclusion that John S. has made—that “this time and place comes into focus.” Our role is to be more and more like God– loving His creation as He loves it—all of His people (Christians, non-Christians; all of His creatures; all of the rocks, stars, etc.).
    Throughout the day Orthodox lift up this prayer: O Heavenly King, O Comforter, The Spirit of Truth Who Art Everywhere and Fillest all things; Treasury of Good Things and Giver of Life; Come and abide in us; Cleanse us from every stain and save our souls, O Good One.” Praying this—how could anyone not be changed from complacent—to loving all of God’s creation? Every leaf of every tree is more beautiful. I cannot easily kill a fly.

    New Vocabulary word: Orthodox are “panentheists!”

  150. PJ and dinoship: You believe that there was an actual Adam and Eve? If so, surprise is no longer adequate and I am forced to resort to astonishment.

    Clement and Tertullian both spoke of the Phoenix as if it was real as well. And they were a couple of pretty smart guys. I find it interesting that Judaism has never held the Garden of Eden/Fall of Man story to be a literal story and yet many Christians do. Physical proof aside, if the people who wrote it did so as epic poetry rather than an historical document, anyone who takes it as other than epic poetry is mistaken (just as anyone who thinks that the idea of hell is based in Judaism is also mistaken).

    This is, in fact, the crux of why I left Christianity. If there was no Adam then all Christian doctrine falls to the ground. Everything about Christianity is founded on the Fall of Man story. Take that story away, and what do you have?

    it makes many of the people that ‘reasonable agnostics’ consider the ‘greatest minds to ever walk this planet’ unreasonable too.

    Having a keen intellect does not make someone universally right. One of my favorite Tony Campolo quotes is, “There is nothing quite so entertaining as watching two highly intelligent people debate a stupid concept.” And yet highly intelligent people do this rather too frequently.

    To be honest, one has to be exceedingly intelligent to come up with and to support such a story. The vast volumes of literature with every conceivable nuance and mental hurtle out there speaks of people with ginormous intellects. (Give me simple Hobbit sense any day.)

    In the recent debate between Dawkins and the Archbishop of Canterbury, I saw a great deal of mutual respect between the men. The AofC is an extremely intelligent man. He simply starts with far different assumptions.

    Which brings us back to a point that I keep making – if there is a god and he is a personal god, all of this would be moot if he simply revealed himself to people in ways that they understand and cannot explain away. Then there would be no need to try to sway someone to faith or to say “Behold, here is the Christ,” or “There He is” because each one will know him already.

    Yet this is precisely what has been happening since the beginning. It is so bad that perfectly good people (with incredible intellects) divide from one another over just about any concept you can imagine – even within Orthodoxy (Starting with Peter and Paul, btw). From an objective standpoint, one could make the argument that Eris is the one true goddess…

  151. Karen:

    if He loves all as a Father, it means all are His children.

    This is my starting point as well, which is why I have such difficulty with all this hiding and revelation business.

    No one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.

    This does not sound very much like a father to me, if we are all his children and if it really is god’s desire that “all should come to repentance.”

  152. John Shores:
    “One of the side-effects of losing my faith was a profound and deeply humbling new awareness of this universe. I used to think in terms of everything “passing away” and so the reality around me had far less significance than the hope of the next life. Take away eternity and this time and place comes into focus.”
    When I came into Orthodoxy, so much of what seemed so puzzling before about Creation, the New Creation, the work of the Cross and God’s love came into a beautiful new focus. I cannot recommend too highly the “Rainbow Series” by Fr. Thomas Hopko (in print or online: http://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith). Fr. Hopko is Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir’s seminary and this series is a succinct presentation of everything being discussed here!
    On the topic of everything “passing away,” Hopko writes: “It is sometimes argued, however, that this world will be totally destroyed and that God will create everything new ‘out of nothing’ by the act of a second creation. . . .Because the Bible never speaks about a ‘second creation’ and because it continually and consistently witnesses that God loves the world which He has made and does everything that He can to save it, the Orthodox Tradition never interprets such scriptural texts [IIPeter 3:10] as teaching the actual annihilation of creation by God. . .” He says that “When the Kingdom of God fills all creation, all things will be made new. This world will again be that paradise for which it was originally created. This is the Orthodox doctrine of the final fate of man and his universe.” (p. 134 of Volume I Doctrine)
    So, we Christians are called to somewhat the same conclusion that John S. has made—that “this time and place comes into focus.” Our role is to be more and more like God– loving His creation as He loves it—all of His people (Christians, non-Christians; all of His creatures; all of the rocks, stars, etc.).
    Throughout the day Orthodox lift up this prayer: O Heavenly King, O Comforter, The Spirit of Truth Who Art Everywhere and Fillest all things; Treasury of Good Things and Giver of Life; Come and abide in us; Cleanse us from every stain and save our souls, O Good One.” Praying this—how could anyone not be changed from complacent—to loving all of God’s creation?

  153. I stumbled upon this on another Ortho site I frequent. As he points out, this may indeed contain some theological issues, but I think there’s truth to be found in it:

    “A story from an ancient Patericon

    (I won’t try to argue that this story is true, or free from theological difficulties. But it resonates with me and motivates me to continued, joyful repentance.)

    With the Sign of the Cross, the old monk Abba Joseph trapped in his cell a dark and miserable demon who had come to tempt him.

    “Release me, Father, and let me go,” pleaded the demon, “I will not come to tempt you again.”

    “I will gladly do that, but on one condition,” replied the monk. “You must sing for me the song that you sang before God’s Throne on high, before your fall.”

    The demon responded, “You know I cannot do that; it will cause me cruel torture and suffering. And besides, Father, no human ear can hear its ineffable sweetness and live.”

    “Then you will have to remain here in my cell,” said the monk, “and bear with me the full struggle of repentance.”

    “Let me go, do not force me to suffer,” pleaded the demon.

    “Ah, but then you must sing to me the song you sang on high before your fall with Satan.”

    So the dark and miserable demon, seeing that there was no way out, began to sing, haltingly, barely audible at first, groping for words long forgotten. As he sang, the darkness which penetrated and surrounded him began slowly to dissipate. The song grew ever louder and increasingly stronger, and soon the demon was caught up in its sweetness, his voice fully lifted up in worship and praise. Boldly he sang of the power and the honour and the glory of the Triune God on High, Creator of the Universe, Master of Heaven and Earth, of all things visible and invisible. As the song sung on high before all ages resounded in the fullness of its might, a wondrous and glorious light penetrated the venerable Abba’s humble cell, and the walls which had enclosed it were no more. Ineffable love and joy surged into the very depths of the being of the radiant and glorious angel, as he ever so gently stooped down and covered with his wings the lifeless body of the old hermit who had liberated him from the abyss of hell.”

  154. “One of the side-effects of losing my faith was a profound and deeply humbling new awareness of this universe. I used to think in terms of everything “passing away” and so the reality around me had far less significance than the hope of the next life. Take away eternity and this time and place comes into focus.””

    That sounds more Platonic than Christian. Christianity proclaims not the passing a way of the universe, but the purification, redemption, and perfection of the universe (new heavens and new earth). If any group has a morbid view, it is those materialists which suggest the heat death of the cosmos. At best, the universe is eternally cyclical, which still strikes me as more nihilistic than the Christian dogma of redemption.

    I didn’t realize that Protestants actually proposed a second creation ex nihilo. Those I know take “passing away” to refer to purification and redemption rather than destruction/recreation. But I suppose there always has been a Platonic temptation in Christianity…

  155. John S,
    ” if there is a god and he is a personal god, all of this would be moot if he simply revealed himself to people in ways that they understand and cannot explain away.”
    Well, I thought that the earlier comment detailing StSilouan’s experience is just that” Is it not?
    He revealed Himself in a way that cannot be explained away and the fruits of which are there for the tasting.
    I am sure there are many here who have similar, if not of such magnitude, experiences but would not disclose things of such depth, yet, use what common reasoning arguments they can to prove the , well, “un-proveable” (to others) through the vehicle of language I mean…

  156. PJ,

    I hear what you’re saying. I agree with the distinction. It’s there. But it’s not helpful in this situation. When someone asks for the extension of friendship, it doesn’t have to mean the right arm of fellowship as well.

  157. Sorry, my comment above with the story of the abba and the demon seems a bit out of place now that the conversation has moved away from hell, redemption and the love of God. That was the conversation I was trying to contribute to. Wish there was an ‘edit’ function to our comments.

  158. Encounters with the living God happen all the time. Now, they may not happen to a particular person in a manner that the person wants, but they do happen regularly, they are just not, as dionoship says, always subjects for open coversation as they are usually quite intimate.

    St. Paul used his overwhelming encounter all the time in his missonary work as do a number of other Christians throughout history.

    Here are two: http://www.st-seraphim.com/motovil.htm

    http://silouanthompson.net/2009/12/with-my-own-eyes/

  159. Devin,

    I for one really appreciate you posting that story. It seems to be one of the Desert Father stories I’ve never heard before. It was indeed beautiful and inspiring. So thank you.

  160. Devin, I’m so glad you did post that story! I found it incredibly moving, and for me it does indeed contain truth. Thank you so much! I’d like to know where you found it.

  161. Geri: Thanks for your comments. Once again I feel a pang of regret that I was not raised Orthodox.

    PJ:

    I didn’t realize that Protestants actually proposed a second creation ex nihilo.

    Yeah. It was best communicated by Keith Green in his song “I can’t wait to get to heaven”, the introduction to which concludes with “I know that Jesus Christ has been preparing a home for me and for some of you, for two thousand years. And if the world took six days and that home two thousand years, hey man, this is like living in a garbage can compared to what’s going on up there.” This is an extremely common thought and leads people into a kind of weird despair when life is hard – half wishing that they could get to “heaven” and half guilty for wishing they could get there faster. Escapism is very common in Protestant groups.

    dinoship:

    I am sure there are many here who have similar, if not of such magnitude, experiences…

    A virgin can attain to a belief that sex is wonderful but cannot know it the way that one who is not a virgin does. There may be a great many people who have had “experiences with god” but what is that to me? To hear about those experiences is like a virgin reading a Harlequin novel. (sorry for the crude comparison but it seems to me the most apt way of expressing how I view the matter).

  162. John, a virgin can get married and experience the joys of congugal union. Similarly, in the Baptismal service the one being batized expresses their desire to unite themselves with Christ.

    It takes the act of union before one can experience the joys of that union.

    Benjamin Franklin said, “Experience is the best teacher, but a fool will learn by no other.”

    We always rely on the testimony of others to determine the truth of a thing, even in our secular courts.

    What is it to you? An indication that there is something there, espeically when the testimony of so many others is amazingly consistent over many centuries.

  163. John,
    it is an apt comparison and I know what you mean concerning experiencing God, all I am trying to communicate here (as I have suffered greatly with that same ‘demand’ in the past) is the wise discerning spiritual Fathers’ advise on the matter, which have saved me and others a great deal of grief while stuck in a similar impasse….

  164. John Shores said “Which brings us back to a point that I keep making – if there is a god and he is a personal god, all of this would be moot if he simply revealed himself to people in ways that they understand and cannot explain away.”

    John, again I would highly recommend the book “Christ the Eternal Tao” as it addresses this age-old question of yours and shows how Orthodoxy is the culmination of all Truth, regardless of wherever it might be found – the pagens, the shamens, the old world religions, (and yes even the atheists!) all had/have slivers of truth.

    Lao Tzu recognized that the Tao cannot be named, cannot be grasped, cannot be described, cannot be contained, and yet it was the Source of all and present everywhere. The Tao was meek and humble and gentle and yet all-powerful. The Tao was the giver of life, but where was it to be found, how could the undescribable be described? How could the unseen be seen?

    Yet the unthinkable happened, Christ the Eternal Tao revealed himself to Creation – God became Man so that man might become god.

  165. How do we begin to “see” and experience God who is everywhere present? He says He can be seen in the poor, the hungry…the beauty of His creation. But how?

    From Fr. Artemy Vladimirov, All Saints:
    “When we come across people who are young, or not young, and whose hearts, one guesses, are completely earthly, there are no words, no manuals, no gestures, no proofs, no syllogisms that will make them change their point of view. It is only the witness of another world that can send an impulse to a person’s heart, that can make him attentive and able to hear you. It is a spiritual event in his life.” http://www.roadtoemmaus.net/back_issue_articles/RTE_03/My_Work_with_English_Speaking_Converts_Part_I.pdf
    A glimpse of another world begins to open our hearts to the possibility of that which is beyond our earthly vision. Perhaps it is as simple as the difference between prose and poetry. I can describe one reality in more than one way. The poetic “way” lifts my inner vision to a new reality that I am otherwise unable to glimpse. Is poetry less “real” than prose?
    Adam and Eve describe, at the very least poetically, a vision of what the most powerful creatures ever created could humbly become through self-forgetting love of God and His Creation. Not willing to be re-united with Love we become, instead, filled with self-centered ugliness and spread that death-dealing scent over everything, including ourselves.
    Orthodox services are filled with poetry. For example, the Tree of Life is the life-bestowing Cross of Christ. For Nativity, we sing:
    Prepare, O Bethlehem, for Eden has been opened to all!
    Adorn yourself, O Ephratha, for the tree of life blossoms forth from the Virgin in the cave!
    Her womb is a spiritual paradise planted with the Divine Fruit:
    If we eat of it, we shall live forever and not die like Adam.
    Christ comes to restore the image which He made in the beginning!

  166. John,

    The thing is, we DO maintain that God has “revealed Himself to people in ways that they understand.” The problem is that you do not accept these revelations (from Scripture to the lives and works of the saints) as reliable or legitimate.

    For the sake of discussion, do you concede that God may indeed have revealed Himself, and that the problem is not in His silence but in your hearing? Theoretically, I mean. Could this *possibly* be the case?

  167. John, the verse about knowing the Father only through the Son in no way speaks of exclusion. Rather it is telling us the only way we can come into true experiential communion with God, and that is through the Son Who became a Man for our sakes. We are not excluded from communion with God because God doesn’t actively love us all–but rather because He is “wholly Other” than us and beyond our ability to perceive apart from His taking the initiative to become human. Jesus reveals the Father to anyone who is willing to know Him, because God indeed “is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

    I do not interpret this to mean that someone who never hears the gospel or receives an adequate witness to the truth of Jesus Christ cannot still respond to God, through the Son working “incognito” via the Holy Spirit speaking to their conscience, and thus still ultimately be saved by God’s mercy (this seems to me to be one implication of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 12:30-32). But they will still only know God and come into communion with Him through the Son (in this case, only fully after their death) because Jesus, the God-Man is THE connecting point between God and Man.

  168. Michael and Shane,
    thank you for your putting in words what I would also like to have said on the matter and wholly agree with .
    St Silouan struggled with the need to see God more than most people in history.
    His struggle was infinitely exacerbated after he saw Him for the first time in his late 20’s and then “lost” Him, (or God “hid”) for over 15 years…
    From ‘earth’ to ‘hell’ is some “drop”, similar, to a degree, to the “drop” from “heaven” to ‘earth’; but Silouan then “dropped” from heaven to hell…
    This was, however, the most edifying period in his life, as it is in all of our lives at a much smaller degree.

  169. I would like to clarify my comment above: the verse about knowing the Father only through the Son in no way speaks about exclusion of some people over others–but only of the exclusivity of the Way to God.

    Also my last sentence should have ended ” . . . connecting point between God and man.”

  170. Shane and PJ: That the only response I get is for people to refer me to a book or to someone else’s life simply underscores my dilemma. You want me to encounter a “personal” being that can only be encountered through reading and observation of other people. This is not a definition of “personal” with which I am familiar. If I am a person and god is a person and god is clever enough to make and manipulate matter then what is so hard about him meeting me face to face?

    Anything other than a real encounter is unacceptable if we are talking about a personal relationship. I do not trust my own imagination or the imagination of others. It is far to easy to manipulate people into believing stuff. How else can you account for so many belief systems? I want no part any systems. If there is a person out there, I want the person. I don’t want anyone to tell me what the person is like. I want to know the person for myself. Nothing less will do.

  171. Whatever faults John S has in his logic and so forth, he brings up a very valid point. We need God with skin on. This is why He sent His Son into the world instead of just the Law. It might be said that He started with, “You should really read this Book I wrote….” but of course in His infinite wisdom He was well aware that this would not suffice for us.

    Since we as Christians are also Christ’s body, we too are asked to put ourselves out there in the flesh. It’s wonderful that many of us can find God in books, but this is a gift that leaves the reader responsible to turn around and live that life in front of others who cannot or will not.

    Those who have responded to John here in this forum with their lives have shared Christ with him. People dying of hunger and thirst need food and water first and foremost, not things to read or ideas to contemplate. As much as we can pour our lives out for those like John, to that extent can we imitate the One who gave all for us.

    Books and ideas are in no way to be discounted, but we must first find out what is needed before we try to fill that need. John S needs God with skin on.

  172. John,

    But that’s just it: If Scripture is the Word of God, it is not merely a “book.” It is not simply a record of things past, but the very voice of God. It is a living text, so to speak. Some of my most profound encounters with the Divine have occurred while meditating upon a particularly captivating line of Scripture.

    I understand that you are hungry for what some might call a “miraculous” experience. I can only say that whenever I go looking for the mystical, I find myself grasping thin air. God cannot be summoned like a genie.

    I know you have spent many years agonizingly searching for God. You are honest, no doubt. Yet you have set your own rules: “I want to see God this way, not that way.” But the testimony of countless saints declares the soundness of the very “rules” you cannot adhere to. The first rule is humility, the mortification of your own judgment. The great spiritual athletes of the Church have shown the path, and it is constant prayer, ceaseless meditation on Scripture, and self-forgetting love. Even then, God may choose to remain silent.

    God is a person — or rather three persons — but not as you or I are persons. He is not Joe Smith. You cannot call Him up and arrange a meeting. You must wait on Him. Mother Theresa spent most of her life waiting on Him — without Him ever showing up.

    Probably you’ve heard all this before. I think at this point, approaching 200 posts (!!!), we have covered all the bases — twice. But it bears repeating that we cannot rely on our own, isolated reason. We must look to the “great cloud of witnesses.” You have lived but a handful of decades. Ultimately, what wisdom do you really have? What wisdom, as an individual, do I have? We must turn to the holy company of saints and angels and follow the trail they have blazed. Alone we are damned; together we are saved.

    I hope I have been of some help, however meager. I am an ignorant and sinful man. My prayers, weak though they are, will be of more help than my words. God bless.

  173. We are stuck at an impasse here!
    Indeed we need God with skin on, but, “Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” This is the necessary step to reach that blessed state where you see Him as the pure in heart see Him.
    In other words, to the person that nothing less than a personal experience will do, until that personal experience, faith, not lack of it, is the only “bringer of that personal experience”
    Seeing a God that you had no prior faith in would be the most crushing experience possible.
    As a rule, if one reads through the lives of the Saints, He appeared, in the most incontestable manner that passes all understand ing and doubt, to the saints that He appeared once they had proved that faith towards Him…

  174. Amen, Dino.

    This is the 200th post. I, for one, bid adieu to this thread. I’ve already run my mouth far too much. Yap, yap, yap. 😉

  175. Dear Fr. Stephen,
    What a post!…and the comments it has generated!…all truly impressive! Reading through these comments –

    Fr. Stephen wrote: Orthodoxy does not deny the true Christianity of others…
    and: What God has for us – and how the journey goes – is in His hands alone.
    Mary wrote: However, I do believe that within all of these groups there are good and earnest children of God who may, for a myriad of reasons, not call God by name or know Jesus as Christ.
    – reminded me of what I’ve always thought of as an Orthodox prayer for all people. It’s from the Small Supplicatory Canon to the Theotokos:

    By the Holy Spirit, EVERY SOUL is made living, is exalted, and made shining through purification by the threefold Oneness, in a hidden manner.

    It’s this prayer that has always given me hope in God’s love for all people.

    Also, Drewster’s comment:

    Your comment to Brian about the Protestant church not being the church made me sad.

    reminded me of what an elder once said when asked about Protestant and Orthodox churches – Orthodoxy is not a church; we are the Kingdom of God! Why else would each of our services begin: Blessed is the Kingdom of God?!

    He wasn’t kidding, btw…

    May God grant us all “to be made living”!

    In Christ,
    Eleftheria

  176. Dinoship,

    “Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” Yes, and yet Thomas was not turned away. Jesus came back a 2nd time just for him.

    You’re not going to win this one. You are one of the most knowledgeable posters on this forum and I have benefited greatly from your wisdom, but your answers are so quick in coming. Don’t be overeager to solve everything. There’s nothing to gain by letting this one go. On the other hand you have much to lose by pursuing it to the ends of the earth. Let this one go please.

  177. The Elder Aimilianos of Simonos Petras and Ormylia monasteries has commented extensively on this matter while speaking on the life of a relatively unknown saint, Nilus of Kalabria (end of 10th century) who also had one of the most striking experiences of God, later in his life. (Unfortunately still only available in Greek)
    Before beholding the Lord, Saint Nilus resisted time and again against this terrible temptation which befalls anchorites far more than us lot -as they have renounced absolutely everything for His sake-, of ‘wanting to make Him the object of our experience’.
    Nilus is a formidable example of an ascetic who payed absolutely no heed to how he was “feeling” (even if he felt like God is invisible, deaf, dumb and non-existent) and carried on praying in total solitude (!), with only one thing mattering to him, his “believing” that God is everywhere, watching, loving, all eyes and ears.

    This weight on “belief” instead of “feeling/experience” in this context signifies the necessary humility that eventually attracts God. It is at the heart of the matter and is the prerequisite for a real encounter that would otherwise be denied (as well as catastrophic)

    I must attract the one Who “where he willeth doth blow”. And I must do this in solitude too…

    After removing the distractions I love, Nothing is more attractive than the recognition of my own infirmity (on the one hand), combined with acceptant, respectful faith in His omnipotence (on the other). Have we got these? then, and only then, God is all yours, completely and utterly!

  178. Devin,

    If I can add my voice to Drewster & Connie’s. What’s not to like, or believe, about the Abba Joseph story? It is both literally and spiritually true. Patently so.

    The problem lies in our understanding of the nature of things (all things, including demons and truth itself, layer upon layer).

    The love of God is beyond all, and capable of all. The message of Abba Joseph is the very heart of the gospel.

  179. John Shores said “That the only response I get is for people to refer me to a book or to someone else’s life simply underscores my dilemma. You want me to encounter a “personal” being that can only be encountered through reading and observation of other people.”

    John, sorry but you misunderstood me. My point was not to refer you to a book to encounter a “personal” being. My point was that one of the greatest sages to have ever lived recognized that there is more than the rational mind and the body’s senses can grasp. Concerning the Tao, Lao Tzu stated:
    Look, it cannot be seen – it is beyond form.
    Listen, it cannot be heard – it is beyond sound.
    Grasp, it cannot be held – it is intangible.
    Form of the formless,
    Image of the imageless,
    It is called indefinable and beyond imagination.
    Stand before it – there is no beginning.
    Follow it and there is no end.

    When God revealed himself to Elijah, it wasn’t in the earthquake, it wasn’t in the wind. It was in the sound of silence.

  180. dinoship:

    Indeed we need God with skin on

    Isn’t this pretty much the purpose of icons? Making visible the invisible? If the Church Fathers recognized that the faith needs physical representations and that faith is strengthened by the physical representations (rather that being simply a mental exercise), does it not follow that the physical is in fact important to human beings? Saul heard an audible voice. So did Noah, Moses, Abraham and Daniel. Why not you or me? (Then again, every time God taslks to people, trouble seems to be close behind…)

    Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.

    I could handle with not being that blessed.

    “According to the Bible, God promised to bless Abraham and those who came after him,” said Contreau. “Who knows, maybe that sounded good at the time, or maybe ‘blessed’ meant something different back then, like ‘Short periods of prosperity interrupted by insufferable friggin’ chaos.’ Whatever, I think it’s safe to say that people didn’t know what they were agreeing to.”

    (from SatireWire (there is mild swearing in this article so be forewarned))

    PJ:

    But it bears repeating that we cannot rely on our own, isolated reason.

    That’s precisely my point. If one has to believe (which is a mental exercise) then they are at the mercy of their capacity to reason on some level. The story alone has to make sense to a person on some level in order to be believable.

    I don’t want my faith to depend upon any mental exercises. There has to be a better way to know a person than through constant seeking (another mental exercise) and study (a further mental exercise) and familiarizing oneself with the lives of saints (a different exercise), while all the while trying to be still and calm one’s mind (yet another further different mental exercise). You see my conundrum? Basically, I don’t want to be duped again, because I am too gullible and far to trusting of people.

    Love you guys. Thanks for the great discussion.

  181. Thomas was not turned away. Jesus came back a 2nd time just for him.

    A beautiful example, drewster. Thank you for that.

  182. John S. said “Which brings us back to a point that I keep making – if there is a god and he is a personal god, all of this would be moot if he simply revealed himself to people in ways that they understand and cannot explain away.”

    A personal love must involve risk. If you could be absolutely certain that God exists and loves you unconditionally, to love Him back would be automatic and require nothing. How can a true, personal love require nothing of the lover?

    If Jesus is the Incarnation of God, then God has been the greatest and most personal of lovers – having given self in Eucharist and then in death, with no guarantee of getting any response.

    I don’t blame you though for being fearful of being duped again. It is better to allow yourself to time to heal from betrayal before considering opening yourself to such a total love relationship. Too many people join religions to block out pain and that doesn’t help them know God.

    Under a previous post, I think I referred you to something in my own blog – the notion of a prayer to an unknown God: “God, if you exist, help me to know you.” I’m am amazed at the “personal” response I have had to this prayer – not in any one dramatic moment but in years of living.

    (It is possible that I have deluded myself, of course. However, if so, it is a grand delusion and the greatest way I can imagine being able to live.)

    + Blessings to all for wonderful exchange.

  183. I agree with you Mary.
    John, without doubt you are a magnificent soul.
    By saying, “Then again, every time God talks to people, trouble seems to be close behind…” signifies you are suspecting (correctly) that God’s foreknowledge of man’s reaction is sometimes responsible for His “hiddeness”, (maybe not always, but more often than not – He is protecting us from ourselves and handles us with ‘velvet gloves’)

    What I mean is that even the demons have had that encounter which is the meaning of existence and which we are discussing here,
    as have the angels, but their reaction to the encounter was not dependant on the encounter but on their previous self-centredness or God-centredness (for lack of a better word). The encounter is far less of a problem (or of a solution) than true humility is!
    The uniquely honoured, with the direct witness of the risen Christ, Apostles (12 & 70) had allegedly some amongst them who faltered.
    Many saints who had the desirable encounter and life changing visitation of Grace later lapsed and lost all faith! so, even though their faith had become experience- knowledge rather than belief, through pride they were bereft of it to the point of doubting their own experience… -they re-acquired it with greater force as soon as they humbly repented. (e.g.St Isaac the Ascetic -not the syrian-) humans are such mystery!
    St Silouan at the end of his life had to only say this: “I still haven’t learned the humility of Christ I witnessed!”

  184. mary

    A personal love must involve risk. If you could be absolutely certain that God exists and loves you unconditionally, to love Him back would be automatic and require nothing.

    I disagree. This would not turn people into robots or in any way reduce one’s love for the other. I have faith in my friends because I know them and they have proven themselves to be faithful. No relationship can be had when one is required to believe that the other exists. That is purely imagination at work. I know as much about the character of Gandalf or Aragorn or Faramir (who were so poorly portrayed in the movie as to be entirely different people from the people that we come to know in the sacred texts of Saint J.R.R.) as I do the character of god. This seems a very poor starting point.

    It is possible that I have deluded myself, of course.

    I appreciate your honesty. To be candid, I sometimes feel like I have been unplugged from the Matrix and wish I could plug back in and stay there.

    dinoship

    By saying, “Then again, every time God talks to people, trouble seems to be close behind…” signifies you are suspecting (correctly) that God’s foreknowledge of man’s reaction is sometimes responsible for His “hiddeness”, (maybe not always, but more often than not – He is protecting us from ourselves and handles us with ‘velvet gloves’)

    What I mean is that whenever god speaks, there is generally a flood, plagues, fire from heaven, captivity, war or some other chaos or destruction close behind. Perhaps if heaven and hell just left us alone, we’d be much better off. (Of all the trillions of planets, god had to cast satan to this one? Doesn’t that make you just a little suspicious?)

  185. The Centillions of Galaxies, each containing trillions of planets does not make me suspicious or faithless, even though I ‘get’ the reasoning of those on whom such knowledge has such an effect. Along with the astrophysicist and Orthodox metropolitan Nicholaos of Mesogaia I say that it shows that God’s creation is intentionally challenging to our reasoning comprehension so that we can finally, one day become suspicious of our own reasoning based conceptual capabilities and give faith a go… Our minds in the west have become so monolithic in that respect, we do not even need satan to challenge our faith.
    By the way we do not claim to know the exact number of angels or demons (in the Church tradition) in that same way that we speculate that there are around 80 to 50 billion people that have ever been born on our planet. However, whether there are many more or many less makes no difference to what matters, and whether the noetic powers are mainly in some ‘proximity’ (in human language) to earth or not makes no difference either to what matters, which is to be freed from what hinders our union with the Source of Life, Love and Existence Himself….

  186. I would say that the Matrix is a metaphor for the delusion of “rationally” believing ‘there is no God’. It is the ‘new way of thinking that this world has to offer’ closely linked to the comfortably numbing (of our existential questioning) provided by constant distraction. I wouldn’t want to be plugged in to that Matrix… The delusion of the ‘reasoned’ (verging on brainwashing sometimes) arguments against God has been covered before here. I would simply say that I have proofs of what I believe in while an atheist has no proofs of what he believes in, in fact he has an arbitrary construct of a god he must not believe in while the believer must have a pure mind – no use of imagination or anything anthropomorphic – as otherwise he would simply be creating an image too.
    The Uncreated One is related to; starting from belief, but that is only the entrance of the first hallway to a vast palace words cannot describe to any one standing outside…

  187. sorry for the typo, i obviously meant: “80 to 100 billion people that have ever been born on our planet”
    🙂

  188. The question is not if there is a God, but rather how do we relate? — seeing as our natural mind is unable to penetrate the exceedingly thin veil, unless guided by the Holy Spirit..

  189. 220 comments, is this the record holder?

    Andrew,
    “how do we relate?” is particularly germane!
    How do we relate to all that is, creation as well as Creator?
    In a godless world, Man is the most absurdly farcical miniscule part of both space and time;
    united to his Creator – Him Who Is, Being/Existence Himself (quite a valid translation for “Ο ΩΝ”, I Am that I Am) – Man is a universal hypostasis, containing the trillions of galaxies and the totality of all creation, and eucharistically returning it to his Father in indescribable gratitude…

  190. John –

    I appreciate your comment and, of course, respect your right to disagree.

    However, I still believe that all love between people does involve risk because love is built on trust (or faith, if you will) rather than an absolute knowledge. Any friend, no matter how well we feel we know them, is still partially unknown to us. We go into it knowing that we cannot completely know them and thus they could hurt us. Of course we are trusting that they won’t – but we cannot be SURE.

    You wrote: “No relationship can be had when one is required to believe that the other exists.” An interesting premise. But if there is a God and that God has an existence that far exceeds our perceptual capacity, how then could such a God invite us into relationship? Perhaps by becoming a person within our perceptual range (Jesus?).

    That might lead to the question as to why Jesus (if he is the incarnation of such a God) cannot be perpetually be on earth, available to physically meet every human of every century. Yet to be such a human being would then take him out of the realm of being human in the same way we are, kind of defeating the purpose of becoming a human.

    Even then, there is still the dilemma of having to determine with our limited human senses, whether this human (or the perpetual quasi-human) really could be an incarnation of a greater being. Still seems to require some believing here.

    I don’t quite see how else God (if He exists) could have gotten around this dilemma but by doing what I believe He did. I’m not saying all of this to try to persuade you of something – because I know that this isn’t how one comes to know/experience God. Just kind of fascinated by the question… Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  191. JS,

    In stark contrast to the denominations, the real church has no need of a prop (either good or bad) to guarantee her existence, which is not bound by the rules and limitations (ordinary) that govern space and time.

    See The Limits of the Church by Fr. Georges Florovsky

    In other words man’s true place in history does not imply in any way, that he is to be governed by it — a conclusion that cannot be arrived at by reason alone.

    Put another way, we are simply the friends of God.

  192. well said Mary!

    John S,

    the statement, “you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” (Matthew 11:25-26) applies to us sometimes.

  193. ““No relationship can be had when one is required to believe that the other exists.” ”

    I know I bowed out of this conversation, but I must ask: How do any of us know that anyone else exists? It comes down to the presupposition — the belief — that our senses are fundamentally trustworthy. There’s much to support this belief, but also much to undermine it.

    Now God is perceived primarily intellectually, or, if you prefer, noetically. That is, by the “mind” (in the grander sense of the word). Can we presuppose the trustworthiness of our minds? They seem no less fickle or unreliable than the senses. The difference is, in our materialistic society, which is largely product of British empiricism, we privilege the senses.

    When you come down to it, humans are “believing animals.” Ultimately, we cannot truly verify anything, because we are stuck in ourselves, so to speak.

    Just some thoughts.

  194. One of the dilemmas is the search for God is how “fickle or unreliable” (quoting PJ) most of our ways of discerning are. Perhaps part of our dilemma is being afraid to trust ourselves when it comes to believing.

    Despite my long standing status as “believer”, there are many moments where I think, “No, it can’t be true.” Usually those are moments when I am trying to conceive of God using my mind or my senses. Although my mind can accept that God is possible, that is about as far as it can go.

    When I remember to return to my heart, I can again “know” God. I do not know in the sense that I know a fact, but know in the sense of experience. It is as unprovable as love in the heart of the lover – but about as real as anything gets…

  195. Like the devil in Abba Joseph’s story, man has forgotten what True Worship looks like — perhaps even more so, for his true existence is inextricably tied to the soil, from beginning to apparent end. Thus does he find himself in enmity with his fellow creatures, seeking from them what they cannot give, never realising that within his Eucharistic self, he holds the very key to eternal life.

  196. Father, thank you for this article. It has given me food for thought. “A Mule in the Chapter House” told me to tell you he sent me to this site. Like him, I share a fundamentalist evangelical background, and, like him, I have become dissatisfied with it. As a faithful Christian I want to understand more about the Lord and about my faith. This article was an excellent start to that.

  197. I realize this is way after the fact, but I don’t want to interrupt the thread of any of your other blog posts, Father Stephen. Do you know of a good Orthodox response to Bart Ehrman (since you mentioned him in the original article)? I’m not interested in any sola Scriptura Protestant articles, just ones from an Orthodox perspective. Thanks!

  198. Westy,
    By far the most definitive answer has been from Fr. John Behr. The original lecture (which he actually gave at UNC where Ehrman teaches) is no longer on the web as far as I can see. But this Youtube probably does much of the same. It’s been a while since I watched it. It won’t waste your time no matter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *