picture_kafka_drawingA double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. James 1:8

The debate between an ontological atonement and a forensic atonement will doubtless continue – they represent two very different world-views and understandings of our relationship with God. The details of that debate will likely be tedious for most people and seem like much ado about nothing. But since they are world-views, even people who have no position in the debate will have an inner sympathy with one or the other. They are part of the cultural air we breathe.

Is salvation a matter of choices, attitudes, relationships and debts? Is God extrinsic to us? Is our salvation about being considered righteous by God?

Or is our salvation a matter of our very being? Are we verging on non-existence? Is sin the result of a process of death and decay at work in us? Is righteousness an actual state of  being?

I could press this distinction further – but I hope posing the questions in this manner frames things sufficiently.

I think that regardless of where you come down in this discussion, your default position will likely be forensic. Modern culture itself is forensic in nature. We think of ourselves and other people as utterly distinct individuals. Their actions may involve me if I react (psychological) or if they physically attack me, but we are essentially distinct. I might care about someone else, even love them, but my caring is an emotional state, able to motivate me to loving action, but is not itself an action. Relationships are social contracts. There are obligations to family, Church, state, etc., but these obligations are always a matter for negotiation. Traditions are simply old social contracts. These contracts are serious – we put a great deal of emotion and value on the contracts that “bind” us to other people. But the bond is legal.

The evolution of marriage in our present culture is only possible in a forensic culture (it may indeed have been inevitable). If relationships are essentially contractual (and not ontological), then relationships are only definitions. There is nothing inherent to a relationship that cannot be negotiated (if everyone involved agrees). Forensic Christians have been at a deep loss to explain why marriage cannot be extended beyond traditional gender bounds. The appeal to Divine Law (the trump card of forensic thought) simply holds no sway in an increasingly secular culture. Why should other people’s relationships have to conform to my religious beliefs, since my religious beliefs only represent a contract between myself and God?

That many people have a deep instinct that there is something wrong in all this carries no weight in the argument. “Feeling something is wrong” can be accounted for by appeals to prejudice and bias. As the culture’s forensic understanding evolves, it will easily (and soon) judge those who refuse to accept the new norm as evil people – much as we currently feel about racists. Forensically-based Christians will soon discover that the culture they helped create has changed and that they themselves will soon be accounted as evil. That many Protestant Christians have already made the evolutionary leap and accepted new contractual arrangements as acceptable is not surprising. Their numbers will be growing very quickly.

This cultural weakness of the forensic world-view is an illustration of but one of its many failures. Relationships are not contracts. That which unites human beings one to another is not choice, but being. We are ontologically related. What someone else does, and what I do, effects others whether I want it to or not – and on a level deeper than the events my actions set in motion.

St. Paul invokes something other than a forensic world-view when he cautions the Corinthians against sexual immorality:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him (1Co 6:15-17 NKJ).

A forensic approach would simply have made an appeal to the Law and said that fornication is contrary to the commandments. But Paul’s understanding is not forensic – he views human relationships as ontological – rooted in our being. Thus sex is not simply an action which it right or wrong, measured against an objective standard. Sex is physical union. There is a mystical and physical aspect to sexual relations that utterly transcends any notion of a contract. To engage sexually with a “harlot,” is to become “one flesh.” It violates marriage, not just because an agreement has been broken, but because the man is already united to his wife. More than this, since we have been united to Christ (and are thus one flesh with Christ), even an unmarried man is uniting himself to a harlot – and any Christian man is uniting Christ to the harlot.

This mechanism of union belongs to an ontological world-view. The forensic approach, which grounds human (and human/divine) relationships in psychology, law and contract, has something of a disembodied view of human beings. Bodies are things that we use – but we are essentially minds. It is therefore not surprising that the Christian sacraments are somewhat problematic for the forensic world-view. Strangely, Christ instituted these very material means by which Christians are called to relate to Him. Thus, even in systems that have a “high” view of the sacraments, their materiality is an “outward expression” of an “inner, spiritual” reality. The material cannot be seen as spiritual – not without great trouble.

But Christ does not shy away from the very materiality of the world (having Himself become material!). “Take! Eat! This is my Body! Take! Eat! This is my Blood!” And yet more graphically, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you.” Material imagery applied to grace, holiness, righteousness, mercy, etc., are far closer representations of the true meaning of these spiritual terms than the relational images generated by the forensic model.

Thus, in Baptism we are clothed: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27 NKJ). St. Paul frequently tells his readers to “put on” something (breastplate of righteousness, the whole armor, love, etc.). The word literally means to “get dressed.” St. Paul can find no better language to describe the resurrection itself than “being clothed” (1Cor. 15). The Eastern Fathers saw in Adam and Eve’s being clothed in “tunics of skins” (Gen. 3:21) a provisional allowance of God for a humanity that had lost its true garment: light.

Material language for spiritual things has often been viewed as “primitive” or “magical” by those who hold to a forensic view. The non-materiality of forensic relations somehow seems more mature and insightful. But for all of its “sophistication,” it fails to accurately portray the truth of our existence. We are not utterly discrete individuals only relating through words and ideas. We are material beings. The Word of God did not become an idea – He became flesh. As flesh, He did not give us ideas – He gave us His flesh.

The Scripture abounds with very physical, material descriptions of divine things. The glory of God fills Solomon’s Temple so that the priests are pressed to the ground (1 Kings 8:11); the face of Moses shines with the light of God; the light of God is seen by the Apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration; the priests of God “clothe themselves in righteousness” (Psalm 132:9); the Holy Spirit appears as flame above the heads of the disciples in the upper room (Acts 2:3), etc. Such imagery can be dismissed as efforts to speak the ineffable (and this has some truth to it). But we too easily accept forensic language without question.

I recall some years ago meeting a Bulgarian scientist who had recently immigrated to America. He was Orthodox, but his former materialism still flavored his thought. He was convinced that icons emitted rays. His wife believed in the power of crystals. I was rather confounded by them. In time I have realized that they came from a very non-forensic world. The Church had been displaced by Communism and a material philosophy. But their materialism was, perhaps, closer to the language of Scripture than the forensic imagination. Their thoughts needed correction, but perhaps much less than those of the Western Christian who thinks of the world in terms of contracts and relationships.

In the meantime, most of us live in a state of double-mindedness. We struggle to think one thing but are still mired in another. For some, this discussion of imagery, comparing models of the atonement, will seem to be just a discussion about words. But that is itself a forensic thought. It’s only words…what does it matter? But it matters. It matters.





  1. Fantastic!
    Is not Christianity indeed a “divine materialism” as St Gregory Palamas fought for it (knowing first hand what it is to be -even bodily- “clothed in LIGHT”) in opposition to the mental gymnastics of the western “scholastic spirituality” of Barlaam?

  2. Father,

    Even in the most forensic of models, such as that espoused by the Reformed, only justification is properly “extrinsic”: sanctification and glorification surely aren’t. This is worth mentioning.

  3. PJ,
    My experience with the forensics tells me that “sanctification” is simply moral improvement and glorification is life after death. I exclude the Pentecostals from this. In their own strange way they are feeling around for ontological grounding. You do not get the sense from reading materials on “sanctification” from the forensic crowds that they are talking about radiating the Divine Light, or standing a foot off the ground when they pray. In the Orthodox East – we do.

  4. I think that regardless of where you come down in this discussion, your default position will likely be forensic

    Ah Father, a bit insulting. Yes, we are conceived in sin and that sin is always before us, but it never has been a forensic model for me. My parents taught me differently. Everything is being and all being is interconnected and ultimately brought to fruition in God.

    They were not Christian and lacked the belief and love of the person of Christ that is required to bring their intuitive understanding of creation to fullness, but those things we do to ourselves and to others were never extrinsic and the divine did indeed “fill all things”, not as some disemodied force or cosmic energy but as distinct being with whom one could relate and needed to relate or as my father would say: inter-relate.

    That vison of reality always prevented me and my brother from embracing either Protestanism or Catholicism as they were literally DOA. I wanted more, my brother wanted more.

    We sojourned for a time in a strange land looking for that more, but Jesus was faithful to us and brought us out of that desert into His life and into the Church.

    Such a life in a two storey world is never easy. The one-eyed man is not king, he is a freak to be cast out and feared. To live, or even attempt to live a sacramental life as God commands when most around you are descralizing at warp speed, is trying. It is also the root of persecution.

    The parable of the unjust stewards of the vineyard comes to mind.

    But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? Matt 21:38-40

  5. BTW, there is life in ‘inanimate things’ even crystals and rocks for God can raise up stones to praise Him if the sons of Abraham deny Him. They are not made in His miage and likeness, but that does not mean His energies are absent or how else would they exist?

    The trick is to worship the Creator rather than the created thing; to be humble before the gift of God’s love in all of His creation rather than seeking power.

  6. Eratta: In my post above, I meant to say: “The one-eyed man in the land of the blind is not king”

  7. Well, Nicholas, I’m not that unusual. Folks like me more or less learn to keep our heads down so they won’t get shot off. Not so necessary in the Orthodox Church.

    The divide of which Fr. Stephen speaks is very real and not always pleasant to face. It took me a long time to begin to be comfortable with the difference.

  8. It is simple – one way. God. Personal God – and your personality. Our Lord Jesus Christ. I am orthodox.

  9. And, – it is no 2 ways. It is ONE way from you to God, and from God to you. No double-minded history of existentialism.
    Simple and clear consciousness.

  10. Dear Father,

    Your comment to PJ reminded me of the following and I thought it would be illustrative of your point:


    The Mystical Evolution in the Development and Vitality of the Church, Vol. 2, by Fra Juan G. Arintero, OP, pp 267-268, first written in Spain at the turn of the 20th century between 1898 and 1915, approx.

    Diversity of the Ways of the Spirit [Indwelling]

    During the rapture and flight of the spirit [animation/soul] the use of the senses may be lost, as happens in the state of ecstasy, but often the body remains in the same posture and the features are very animated and even radiant with light and supernatural beauty. Not infrequently the body ceases to touch the earth or be supported by the earth, and it lifts into the air as if attracted by a sacred magnet.

    In this manner the soul is purified and illumined in the measure that it draws near to God and increases its union with Him. More and more vividly it feels the divine touches. These vivify it and impress on it the ardent longings with which it is inflamed with it receives the darts of divine love, the burning impulses which are thereby aroused, and the sweet and penetrating wounds of love which they produce in it, until it is totally transfigured, wherein is found its salvation and its life.

    These delicate, pure, delightful and ineffable touches of the Beloved are first felt in the faculties and later in the very substance of the soul. They complete its purification from all earthly stain and so inflame it with divine love and intoxicate it with such delights that the soul is no longer able to contain itself. Like iron placed in the forge, the soul gives off flaming sparks of heavenly fire.


    The Triads, Gregory Palamas, Classics of Western Spirituality translation, p.57

    Deification in Christ

    …The Monks know that the essence of God transcends the fact of being inaccessible to the sense, since God is not only above all created things, but is even beyond the Godhead. The excellence of Him Who surpasses all things is not only beyond all affirmation, but also beyond all negation; it exceeds all excellence that is attainable by the mind. This hypostatic light, seen spiritually by the sainst, they know by experience to exist, as they tell us, and to exist not symbolically only, as do manifestations produced by fortuitous events; but it is an illumination immaterial and divine, a grace invisibly seen and ignorantly known. What it is, they do not pretend to know.

    …This light is not the essence of God, for that is inaccessible and incommunicable, it is not an angel, for it bears the marks of the Master. Sometimes it makes a man go out of the body or else, without separating him from the body, it elevates him to an ineffable height. At other times, it transforms the body, and communicates its own splendor to it when, miraculously, the light which deifies the body becomes accessible to the bodily eye.

  11. Father,

    I don’t think that’s true. I admit that most Protestants are not interested in ontology-talk, and by and large they don’t have the sophisticated language of mysticism. Yet those who are genuinely pious and Scriptural understand that sanctification brings real “interior” change: a new heart, a new creation, a new Adam, a new man, a heavenly man in place of an earthly man. This theme is powerfully evident in the most Reformed Christians: Owen, Edwards, Whitefield, Pink, etc.

  12. A friend of mine, a high church Lutheran, who calls herself a “catholic” (small ‘c’), says, for instance, that she dislikes to discuss sanctification in terms of “deification” and “theosis,” preferring to stick to the language of Scripture (adoption, ingrafting, etc.). This makes sense to me.

  13. Fr. Stephen,

    Where would you situate the Orthodox practice of economia within the context of the forensic/ontological dichotomy?

    Best Regards,

    Jim Marnell

  14. Dear PJ:

    Father will respond more fully than I am capable of doing here, but it is worth noting that regardless of any and all possible mystical language, we are talking about a relationship with the Indwelling that comes from becoming and being a member of the Body through apostolic succession in belief, rite, ritual, sacrament and grace that only comes from that membership in the Body that may begin with Baptism but surely does not end there. It is what the reformed, protestant, evangelical and all other non-catholic Christians cannot apprehend, even when they believe that they comprehend.

    In Christ,


  15. PJ,
    I think you are correct. I should refine my point. I think many Protestant theologians understand what you’re saying. On the popular level, however, I think much of that is lost and the moralistic/forensic/psychological simply triumphs. I believe this is the model that permeates our secularized culture – not because it is secularized but because of the peculiar history of its inheritance.

    The example I gave of the Bulgarian scientist, was interesting to me – in that his faith was very much on the “popular” level, despite his education. It had errors in it, but they were errors in a direction that would be relatively rare in our culture. Our errors would run in the direction of the moralistic/forensic/psychological direction. One critique of Orthodox thought is that this moralistic/forensic/psychological model made inroads in Orthodox circles during the “Western Captivity.” I won’t name names, but some of them have an “St” in front of them.

  16. James,
    Economia can be seen as a mere exercise of legal discretion, but I think it is rooted in an understanding that rules (canons) are only good up to a point. Economia should be exercised for the purpose of someone’s salvation. For example, the economia of allowing a second marriage to be blessed in the Church, is not a legal exercise in Orthodoxy. We do not “annul” a marriage (at least in Russian practice). Rather we grant permission for a second, even though we know what Christ’s commands are in the matter. We allow for this “for the sake of salvation,” in that the Church judges that it is better for there to be a second marriage than for someone to be crushed by the various temptations that would have to be endured otherwise. It’s a mercy. Salvation is ultimately not a legal matter, therefore the Church can exercise economy.

  17. Father Stephen,

    What are the characteristics of the moralistic/forensic/psychological model…? Is this a model of the spiritual life?


  18. Jacob Arminius,
    sorry to say, but, as a ‘born’ Orthodox, I must admit that one who knows intimately and genuinely the differences/dichotomies between East and West needs enormous amounts of naivety not to see them.
    I therefore find reading Father Stephen on the matter so riveting that his words are far more effective in preventing sleepiness (and yawning) than any coffee…! 🙂

  19. Thanks, Dino, for the vote of confidence. I placed Jacob’s comment where it belonged. There are those who make too much of the dichotomy – or are not fully conversant with the subject, East or West. But it takes someone who actually has some knowledge or training to tell them apart from someone who does. I suspect our commenter does not.

  20. Twas rather rude. That’s one thing I love about this blog: It abounds with Christian charity — and when there is anger and malice, there is repentance and mercy. This makes it a world apart from many blogs dedicated to theological discussion.

  21. Was on a road trip today and ran across a Protestant radio station on which was being discussed the scandal of “Catholic mysticism” making inroads into scriptural Protestantism. The only two names mentioned were Henri Noewen and Richard Foster. These are dangerous folk since they recommend spiritual practices not in the Bible.

    I had to turn it off.

  22. Michael,
    You know, instead of worrying about inroads of Catholic mysticism, they need to pay attention to secularism. The real competitor is not other Christians – it’s nothing at all.

  23. I once heard two “Bible believing” Protestants lament the “Romanist superstition” of lectio divina. They found the notion of meditating on and listening to the Word of God profoundly disturbing. I admit to have being perplexed: I’d think lectio divina would be one of the few disciples of ancient Christian mysticism that would be acceptable to “Bible believers.” They also seemed to have a special loathing for Stations of the Cross. It was really quite frustrating. You realize that they simply have no idea what they’re talking about. It makes one questions one’s own prejudices: how much is knowledge, how much is ignorance.

    Yes, Foster is a Quaker. And Nouwen was hardly an orthodox Catholic.

  24. But then, they came from a peculiar, hyper-Calvinistic branch of Reformed Christianity that declares that all truth is propositional, and that the Gospel is a neat set of propositional truths. I once heard one of them actually say (with no sense of humor): “Now Jesus speaks in clear, propositional statements.” Really? Are we reading the same Book?

  25. What are the characteristics of the moralistic/forensic/psychological model…? Is this a model of the spiritual life?…

    I’ll repeat in case this got missed. It might just be stupid on my part so I’ll take that as a yes if they go unanswered……but I am a bit lost here because I thought we were talking about the spiritual consequences of particular ways of thinking about redemption. So I’ve lost track of the referents.


  26. I feel like I am almost grasping what is being said, but it’s just out of reach. Can someone recommend some further reading so I can understand the differences?

  27. Father Stephen recently made oblique reference to the term and condition of Latin Captivity. I found that this article is helpful to some extent. It short changes the range of Catholic teaching on the life in and of the [S]pirit, but that is not unusual. It does give some indication that Orthodoxy has not been a monolith of spiritual teaching and doctrine from the time of Peter and James to the present. It is a good starting point for continuing the inquiry, I’ve found. It is dated as a commentary now but it is more than useful.

    I am still puzzling out the conflation of doctrine and spiritual practice under the umbrella of moralistic/forensic/psychological and I am not sure what to make of it because there are so few particulars under discussion. I guess I don’t know the code.


  28. Mary, I’ll be a little delayed in answering. It’s a very good question and ill be glad to elaborate. We’ve just begun Orthodox Holy Week and my time only comes in small snatches. Thanks for your patience.

  29. Mary,

    A particular: The neglect of prayer is a major effect of the dominance of the reformational forensic model. Why? Because its radical monergism precludes and excludes human initiative, and thus subtly leads a believer to conclude that prayer is ineffectual or even impious.

  30. Rich!ard Foster was teaching at Friends University here in Wichita at the time he wrote. His book “Celebration of Discipline” was notable for saying that spiritual disciplines “put you in God’s way” to allow His grace to work on you.

    It is just the conversation seemed a perfect illustration of what you are saying.

  31. Well…I’ve been going through Lent with the local Orthodox parish here and will be celebrating the passion and Pascha right along with you. Many many years ago,I began as a refugee from my canonical parish that was too far away for me to get to without a car, but now I am assimilated beyond repair, I fear.

    So my time is your time …

    In Christ,


  32. Re: “The real competitor is not other Christians – it’s nothing at all.”

    “The Nothing can be very strong.” Pace C.S. Lewis.

  33. What is the moralistic/forensic/psychological model?

    I am grouping a number of things together (obviously). Only one applies to a model of the Atonement – the Forensic model – in which Christ’s atoning work is essentially understood in a “legal” manner, i.e. it cancels a debt owed by man, it satisfies the demands of God’s justice, etc.

    That model of the atonement, I believe, remains popular, and has become popular, not because Calvinism is popular, but because there is something essential about its imagery that fits comfortably with how our culture perceives human beings, the world and God.

    It is at this point that I am adding moralistic and psychological in order to describe a set of assumptions that are commonly held in our culture, assumptions among which the forensic model is entirely at home.

    In these assumptions we can see:
    – human beings are discrete entities, our lives exist independently of one another
    – abstracts, concepts such as love, grace, kindness, mercy, etc. are only ideas. They only exist because we think of them.
    – relationships are a set of choices and accepted responsibilities

    I could perhaps go on (and no doubt will at a later time). But in these assumptions, the relationships between people are essentially contractual. They are only what we agree for them to be – there is not a necessarily ontological bond between people (a bond of “being”).

    Spiritual things are largely the same as psychological states. Guilt is a psychological state (of mine or of God’s).

    In this sort of constellation, good and bad are measured by morality – how well do we perform certain expected things (God’s law, man’s law, our own expectations, etc.).

    In all of this, things can be extrinsic (existing independently of me) or instrinsic (only existing inside of me), but nothing is both.

    In the ontological model (still would like a better term), the world, human beings and God can best be describe in terms of being and existence. Everything that exists is connected in some manner. The world (that which is created) exists and is sustained in existence, only by the will of God, moment by moment, thus my existence is not discrete and utterly independent.

    Also, there is an inter-penetration (communion, sharing, participation, coinherence) of one thing by another, of one human being by another, of Man and God,etc. I cannot speak of myself alone, for I never exist alone. I always exist in a relationship (not a contract) of being and that relationship of being is largely what is meant by Person. This communion is also the way of true knowledge. We only truly know by means of communion. Communion is the way of life and existence. To move towards utter independence would be a move away from relationship and towards non-existence. To embrace the other is an act of love and an affirmation of true existence.

    The relatedness, and the mystical-sharing character of all things runs deeply counter to the moralistic/forensic/psychological model. Morality, good and bad, are measured by true and authentic existence rather than rules adhered to. Thus it is our relationship with God (who alone truly exists) that measure good and bad. We do not have a “legal” problem as human beings. Sin is not the breaking of God’s law. Sin is the drive to exist without reference to God or others. Sin is death and non-being. We do not need deliverance from a legal problem, we need to be saved from the problem of non-existence.

    God becomes man in the ultimate act of participation and communion. It is in union with us that He lives, dies and is resurrected. It is in union with Him that we live, die and are resurrected. Christ is our life, our salvation, our resurrection, our way, etc.

    Ideas are not always (if ever) just things in my head. Spirituality does not consist in improved things in my head, but in greater and increasing union with Christ.

    Again, there is much more to say, but perhaps this indicates what I am getting at. It is also an indication why what I am writing is not just “warmed over Romanides” as one deleted comment suggested. The distinction between the ontological world-view and the forensic world view greatly transcend how someone views the atonement. What I am getting at is as fundamental as how we view everything. It is a description of an ethos.

    That the ethos of Orthodoxy, classically lived, differs from the Protestant ethos is so obvious, you’d think I wouldn’t have to say it. That it differs strongly from Roman Catholic ethos is not always as obvious. Frankly, I think the Roman Catholic ethos is not purely one thing or another. Its own roots are deep enough, and common enough with Orthodoxy, that there are many things that are shared in common, much common ethos. On the other hand, the process of Scholasticism in Western History was not without its effects. Its rationalizing tendencies were disruptive, I think, of an ontological understanding. More than that, the effects of the Counter-Reformation were, in many ways, as devastating as the Reformation itself, in that the Reform, or reaction to the Reform became the “formative” point for both. Roman Catholic and Protestant defined themselves against the other for a period of time.

    The “Western Captivity” (rather than Latin Captivity) describes a period when, in Russia, the Westernizing designs of the Tsars (from Peter the Great forward) brought European (both Catholic and Protestant) methods and ethos into the mainstream of the Russian ruling classes and intelligentsia. It flavored the teaching in seminaries, the formation of priests, and the composition of the “manuals” of theology. The fact that the liturgical and monastic life remained unchanged, as well as the life of piety among the common people, are probably the only thing that saved Orthodoxy from extinction (by the grace of God). In the Balkans and Greece, the process was different, but much of the same Westernization was attempted as those peoples came out from under the Turkish yoke. There was much to be restored. The work of great saints such as Cosmos the Aitolian and others was geared towards a restoration of true Orthodox ethos.

    This process of restoration was certainly sped up by the work of many in the 20th century, and today in the years after the end of the Communist Yoke. There is in this process, a necessary awareness of Orthodox identity, over-and-against the “West,” if for no other reason than the recovery and maintenance of authentic existence. But Orthodoxy has never been reactionary and should not be now. The ontological understanding of the world is not Western, but it need not be a reaction to the West. If it’s true, then it’s true regardless.

    So, there we have it. Hope that helps.

  34. Helps a great deal but family and others are reaching out today so I can only say that I’ve read through fast. It makes sense of course and it helps to have it laid out like this more specifically. I could talk with you about it all day long and never get tired of it.

    That fellow who was so mean-spirited was not reacting to you at all but to a conversation going on in his own head that has not much to do with what you are doing here.

    I am at a HUGE disadvantage by not knowing the non-catholic Christian ethos and specific contexts…nor do I know the services. So this is helping me re-orient my thinking and helps me with “seeing” more specifically…helps a great deal. I may have more questions later but as you say this week is a blur already! …

    I guess my first real reaction to your note is thank God for eucharist and all other liturgical prayer that is oriented by eucharist. Which also addressea PJ’s note which I also appreciate very much, and will respond to in a bit.

    Maybe you can have a post on prayer for us later, Father..??…when time is more available. Maybe a couple of posts…laff…You can see where my interest lies.

    In Christ,


  35. Dear PJ: I was just thinking that the com-box on this thread is getting long and there’s more to discuss…the particulars, with prayer being one of those. I was just looking for an opportunity/excuse to keep this going a bit longer without loosing track of good points in an over-long com-box…

    In Christ,


  36. Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you for your indepth answer to Mary’s question. I, too have been asked this same basic question. Your response will definitely be useful.

    To All,
    Have a blessed Holy Week!

  37. Dear PJ:

    Go easy with me. I’ve been reading Father’s blog for many years. It is only recently that I have commented at any length on anything, however.

    In Christ,


  38. Fr. Stephen,

    The last 2 posts have been incredibly insightful for me. Once again you have a knack for breathing life into age-old wisdom and speaking in a way that I can understand. Thank you for continuing to fulfill your mission among us.

    Suggestion: maybe the word you are looking for is “authentic”. We have the authentic vs. the forensic view. Another attempt at titles is the spirit vs. the letter.

    One note about your long and helpful comment above: You refer to the ontological view as “the ethos of Orthodoxy, classically lived” and then go on to speak briefly about Protestant and RC. I understand very much why you did this and these comments are probably a necessary evil, but I can’t help but notice that it’s as if you stepped down to a different plane when you did so. The angels were singing, light was emanating from you – and then you started talking about the divisions of Christianity and the world grew dim again.

    Again what you said was probably necessary but it still sits like a coffee stain on a fresh manuscript. And I’m uncertain how well the term “Orthodoxy” can capture what you’re speaking of. I can agree that the tradition of Orthodoxy preserved something great and wonderful here, but I’m less certain about how well the Orthodox live this out today.

    Please realize I mean no slight here; just a reflection of our modern reality. The sickness of the forensic view (where it came from ultimately matters not) has pervaded much of the world. If there was one geographical place or organization where all the ontological view was gathered, the light would indeed be great and the attraction/repulsion would strong.

    I guess all I’m saying is what you ended with: The ontological understanding of the world is not Western, but it need not be a reaction to the West. If it’s true, then it’s true regardless. We find it where we find it and don’t where it’s not. Philipians 4:8 and all that.

    I don’t actually expect you to change anything because of what I’ve written here, but we have a relationship through this blog. What you say and write sends waves and ripples into my life, because of course of the ontological truth of the world. And through that process it is inevitable that some waves will send their ripples back your way. (grin)

    Thanks once again for your wonderful gifts of words.

  39. Drewster,
    Thank you. Your thoughts were reflected in the caveats or waivers that I inserted…i.e. “Orthodoxy, Classically lived…” There’s lots of times that it is not (maybe most of the time, don’t know). And there have been times that Orthodoxy was dominated by foreign influence and diminished. As noted, Rome is a mixed bag, but retains many aspects of the ontological approach, so I’m not surprised when someone encounters it there. I am more surprised when it is encounter in the Protestant world, because it is largely neglected in its teaching. On the other hand, Pentecostalism has a kind of instinct for this (did I say that?) though it is deeply marred by other things (lack of Tradition, etc.).

    You’re right – we find it where we find it. I “found” it years ago in the Fathers. I tried to find words for it and found some over the years. I found that what I was pursuing was not “authentic” in my Anglican context, unless I was willing to pretend a lot. My journey brought me to Orthodoxy, where I can say these things without being looked at funny, and where many others, certainly many, many others, have lived this, teach this, etc. and I find it surrounding me at every service of the Church year, as many times a day as I can stand to be in Church and pray.

    It can be found elsewhere – but I’m not sure any where else offers a living immersion. That’s what I’ve found.

    I should add on a personal level – much of my life, like everyone else’s – is occupied with just dealing with my own “stuff.” My flaws and wounds, my propensity for sin and death, the noise in my brain, etc. But the reality of God and all that pertains to Him is a life preserver, without which I would long ago have drowned.

    Thank you for your kind words!

  40. Father, this post carries a great impact with me. It speaks to the life I’ve tried to live and the difficulties I’ve encountered along the way and the difficulties my son is experience as well.

    As you say, outside the Orthodox Church one has to either hide or act (at least in my expeience).

    I am convinced that there are many more out there who understand which is why I objected to the fall back position likely being forensic.

    In the Church I have the oportunity to become whole and express that wholeness. The fact that most of the time I fritter that chance away is a constant sorrow to me, but I struggle with it.

    Have a blessed Holy Week and a joyous Pascha.

  41. I sure wish that there was some sort of “like” button to click on these responses. I read and ponder in silence, but would love to let folks know how much their comments mean to me without being repetitious. Michael Bauman, in particular but among many others, yours have been especially helpful when placed side-by-side with Father Stephen’s. Thank you.

  42. Fr. Stephen,

    I’ve been pondering your response. It was very good of course. (grin) I appreciate your candidness in your writing. The latest is when you said that of course you are always dealing with your own baggage. I must admit to the same.

    In particular I’ve noticed how small (and yet how great) the difference is between the statements “I found the truth in Orthodoxy” and “If you want the truth, you’ll come to Orthodoxy”.

    What interests me here is not where the truth can or cannot be found but what role the speaker assumes. It has been my experience that those with integrity state what they know – and then stop. It’s so very tempting to go a step further and begin to categorize and evaluate everything. But I think this was the mistake in the Garden, stepping into shoes that weren’t ours to fill – and I think that continues to be one of our main challenges.

    Again I’m not finding any fault with your statements, just noticing my own baggage. Your site is one of the wells I draw life from, and I think it is such a source of life-giving water precisely because you simply open your heart and strive to pass on what you have been given from God – instead of trying to “enhance” it as it passes by.

    You are authentic, not forensic. Forensics calls for grading, sorting, evaluating, judging. In the case of what is given to us by God, the only judging needed is questions like “Is this from me or God?” and “What do my recipients need? Will this be a source of life and love for them?”

    I’m not overdoing it when I say yet again, thank you for being authentic – in the best sense of that word.

  43. Fr Stephen,

    Thank you for a wonderful post, as I’ve come to expect from your blog.

    I have perhaps a more fundamental question than what has been expressed so far through the comments.

    Where you write “Sex is physical union. […]To engage sexually with a “harlot,” is to become “one flesh.” It violates marriage, not just because an agreement has been broken, but because the man is already united to his wife. More than this, since we have been united to Christ (and are thus one flesh with Christ), even an unmarried man is uniting himself to a harlot – and any Christian man is uniting Christ to the harlot.”, forgive me but I dare to ask what may at first seem obvious: why is it wrong to unite Christ to a harlot? I know scriptures say so, but I don’t ‘get it’. Indeed, I don’t get monogamy at all – why can’t we be united to many? Christ has many brides. Can’t we love every person we are physically united to? Why must a man or woman who ‘loves much’ be designated a ‘harlot’ and demoted to spiritual failure for it? In the ancient world, prostitution was sacred.

    My priest recently told me that Adam and Eve probably did engage in sexual union (otherwise they would not have had genitalia), but their union was without sexual pleasure, because all pleasure for them came from their union with God (if I understood correctly what Fr Marios was saying). I think also of how Christ didn’t engage in sexual relations as an incarnate man, and neither did the Theotokos. We are half-apologetically told by the Church that marriage is nevertheless blessed and sexual relations are good PROVIDED they are monogamous and within a chaste marital bed. It is as though a concession were being made to sexuality, and even then we are told, in a sense, that we should do it without enjoying it – I know that’s not what Fr Marios meant, but what else shall I conclude if sexual pleasure wasn’t around for Adam and Eve? According to Fr Marios, sexual pleasure was added to sexual union after our fall from heaven, to prevent the human species from becoming totally selfish and extinct.

    For me, this issue is the no.1 issue which separates me from Christianity. When someone finally explains to me why sexual pleasure is bad, and why if it is at all good, it is only so in order to bear children and to cement a monogamous marital relationship (with no ‘spice’), I believe this person will have truly helped me take the next step towards faith.

  44. Father, bless.

    This post is most helpful. It explains so much! Thank you.


  45. Byron Gaist,
    there is a great deal I would like to say on the subject but it will have to wait until I get some more time…
    For now, I would bring your attention to the non-Christian explanation of your issue(concerning your issue: “When someone finally explains to me why sexual pleasure is bad, and why if it is at all good, it is only so in order to bear children and to cement a monogamous marital relationship (with no ‘spice’), I believe this person will have truly helped me take the next step towards faith.“) :

    One can be truly “free” when he is clearly a “master” over his self. If his desires are a master of his being, then he is a slave – an addict.
    If for instance, knowing full well that I am most content with my wife and family (that is my conscious long-term desire), destroying it by becoming addicted to daily one-night stands (possibly a very strong short-term desire when I encounter beautiful flirtatious women- if I work in such an environment) would end me up (eventually) depressed.
    Another example: my short-term desire might in all honesty be to kill him who infuriates me, to rape a woman I am maniacally infatuated with or some other extreme such thing; would my long term desire be compatible with the consequences of that? eg being jailed for life?
    I am trying to explain that even from a completely un-Christian point of view license leads to slavery and dire consequences while freedom involves a voluntary and wise self-control.
    There is far more to say from a purely Christian perspective I would start from this first…

  46. Fr. Stephen,

    This topic is a regular part of my ministry as an Orthodox priest especially as our parish interacts with many non-Orthodox Christians. I have been shocked many times when I present the forensic model, (which my listeners tradition unquestionably teaches) and they respond saying either they certainly don’t believe THAT! or even they have never heard it before, (this always amazes me). This is not true for all of my listeners but a good portion of them. Fr. Pat Rh. has also expressed that this has been his experience. I can only conclude that they have some intuition of the truth in spite of what their tradition tells them to believe.

    How many people have you expressed the Church’s teaching (concerning salvation) and you know that their tradition does not teach salvation in the way you are explaining and yet their eyes open wide and they will a sense of relief and epiphany exclaim, “that’s what I believe!”

    Sometimes I want to say, “no you don’t!” But in fact many, are greatly relieved to hear the message of salvation which is consistent with the Scriptures and with what they know of God in their hearts. Our faith is not rationalistic but it does seem to make sense especially once we move past the abstractions. Thank you for your ministry.

    Fr. P.

  47. Bryan,

    Marriage is a sacramental expression of the love between Christ and His Church. Contrary to what you say, Christ does not have many brides. He has one bride: the Church. God made man and woman to be physically, emotionally, and spiritually complementary so that humans might understand the intimate union that He desires to have with His people. Just as husband and wife become one flesh in the marital embrace, so Christ and His Church form one flesh in the sacramental embrace of baptism and eucharist.

    St. Paul reveals that the mystery of marriage is actually the mystery of the Church in Ephesians:

    “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

    Christian sexual morality is just incomprehensible apart from a proper understanding of Christ and His Bride, the Church. One cannot understand why we support monogamy nor why we oppose homosexuality, among other things.

  48. Bryan,

    Might I suggest you investigate the work of Pope John Paul II on marriage and human sexuality, which is usually grouped under the rubric of “theology of the body”? The holy father devoted a large part of his adult life to a christological and theological vision of sex and marriage. Really prophetic stuff.

  49. Byron,

    I’m not certain about the finer points of sexual pleasure prior to the fall. It is worth noting that there are a lot of opinions about what happened prior to the fall and so on. Many of those who discuss that state seem to be implying that quite some time had passed before Adam and Eve fell, while I’ve heard others who insist that the way the Scriptures read indicates that they fell very quickly (possibly so quickly there was no opportunity for them to have sexual relations).

    Anyway, regarding what your priest said, it reminds me of something I read recently in a homily by St. Basil. I believe this was in his Second Homily On the Origin of Humanity. He says that humans, indeed, all of creation, were vegetarian before the fall. He notes that it was not until after the Flood that God blessed us to eat meat. For St. Basil, the allowance to eat meat is a consolation for what we have lost in Paradise. But this should not be an occasion to denigrate our varied diet, for it is a gift given by God, and we would be ungrateful to despise it. However, St. Basil believes that, when we are restored to Paradise, we will no longer eat meat, and those who are striving to live the Gospel radically (ascetics/monks) should hold to such a diet.

    Many things, I think, are like this: consolations which we enjoy as good gifts of God, but that are still consolations, and pale in comparison to the glorious experience of Paradise. However, every good gift of God may be misused for evil. Adam and Eve fell by misusing the gift of freedom. Food of any sort can be misused, and become gluttony. Wine and beer and other spirits can be misused. Other human beings can be misused. My own mind can be misused. Sexual pleasure, even within marriage, can be misused.

    Speaking of sexual pleasure within marriage, my experience in the Church has certainly not been that sex is somehow inherently sinful, or that it is only acceptable because it’s the way we have children, or anything like that. Certainly, those views exist, but my own experience has been that sex is primarily an act of union between husband and wife, a blessed expression of their love for one another. Children are, indeed, the natural product of that love, but they are not a necessary excuse for a married couple to have sex. I’ve heard St. John Chrysostom quoted as saying precisely that: “You do not need procreation as an excuse. It is not the chief reason for marriage. Neither is it necessary to allow for the possibility of conceiving, and thus having a large number of children, something you may not want” (source).

    Granted, sex can be misused and become sinful in marriage. If you are sexually selfish, focused on your own pleasure rather than your spouse’s, for example, and there are certainly times when couples are expected to forego sexual union (such as the time we are in now) to focus on prayer (as St. Paul mentions).

    Finally, while I don’t know enough to speak to “why monogamy,” as far as I understand it, Christ has only one bride, that is, the Church. St. Paul also calls the Church the body of Christ, and insists that there is only one body of Christ. We are members of that body, and we are all the bride of Christ, but we are not so individually, apart from each other. That is, I am not the Church; we are the Church.

  50. Bryon, you pose a good question and one to which the Church must reposnd with clarity and authority in this day and age. Having pondered this point myself for all of my life as a Chrisitan (the proper interrelationship between men and women) and having experienced being married twice (my first wife died):

    First of all, IMO, your priest is wrong and that kind of answer both trivializes marriage and sows confusion at the same time while misrepresenting the revealed truth of the Holy Scripture. (Forgive my boldness).

    The interrelationship between men and women is one that God designed to be pleasurable at all levels. The interrelationship itself, even without sexual intercourse and children is procreative in its essense.

    It is central to our ability to fulfill the first two commands of God to us: 1. Dress and keep the earth; 2. Be fruitful and multiply. (Notice that there is nothing esoteric about these commands).

    A man and woman together can fulfill the first commandment without ever having children. Obviously, sexual intercourse is required for the second.

    Sexual pleasure, in and of itself is not evil or sinful, neither is it, in and of itself love.

    Sexual intercourse is part of the bonding and procreative process given by God that allows us to fulfill both commandments.

    Part of the bonding, if done in union with Christ, is an elevation of the people and the act to a place well above normal fallen humanity. While not a sacrament, sexual intercourse in the sacrament of marriage is sacramental in nature, i.e, it helps unite the created and the uncreated, multiplying His energies in His creation and helping to order it as He wishes, sanctify it.

    One reason you don’t understand that monogamy is essential and necessary is because of the uncoupling of sex from any other purpose, even the procreation of children, let alone from the process of fructifying, ordering and sanctifying creation as we are called to do.

    As to the harlot question, obviously Jesus spoke to harlots and welcomed them into His Life as long as they repent. Of course, once they repent fully, they are no longer harlots (see Mary of Egypt and the Samartine woman at the well).

    The larger question is chastity (see Fr. Gregory on Koininia (palamasinfo dot com) for a very good mini-homily on chastity. All I am going to say is that all Christians are called upon to live a chaste life, even in marriage. Celibacy and chastity before marriage and monogomy and chastity after marriage. Chastity is not just about sex BTW, it is about every area of our lives as the Great Fast and Holy Week bring to our attention.

    Sexually one can be celebate and not chaste just as one can follow the rules of the fast and still be eaten up with gluttony.

    Sexual intercourse is not just about the physical act. Every time one engages in it, a bit of the persons are exchanged and those other people never quite leave. Outside of marriage the act robs both people of their integrity and tends to deepen one’s attachment to pleasure for pleasure’s sake and embed that sinful attitude not only into the flesh but into one’s psychology. Done often enough it goes even more deeply into the soul. The earthly assumes the status of the heavenly, the ultimate sin. For a Christian to do this is, in a sense, attempting to unite Christ with sin.

    One reaon multiple marriages are problematic, even when blessed, is that the other marriage partners are always there in the new marriage. It takes a lot of work, prayer, humility and grace to sucessfully deal with that. It can be done, but it isn’t easy. In my marriage, we not only have to acknowledge appropriately two spouses who have reposed, but the other two my wife had who defiled her and their marriage by adultery. We pray a lot. It would be impossible without the blessing of God has given us, unworthy though we are of it.

    Because of the nature of sexuality and the reasons we are gifted with it, we should only use it and experience it in a controled and disciplined life. It is a bit like nuclear energy. In carefully controled and contained reactions, it produces a lot of useful energy. In uncontrolled chain reactions, massive destruction results. That is the difference between a chaste life fulfilled in a marriage devoted to God and a life promiscuity.

  51. PJ,
    fantastic as it is as a resource on the matter -it really is good-, Pope John Paul II “theology of the body” I think it is potentially just too vast (it really is HUGE) for someone to start off from…

  52. What I have done over the years is begin with Holy Scripture and read them meditatively and patiently, waiting on the Lord to reveal the truth. Especially valuable to me: Genesis 1-3; Job; Luke 1; Romans, esp the first couple of chapters. As I read, I prayed. Over the years as I listened to homilies, worshiped, repented and evaluated my own experience in light of what I had read and experienced, a pattern of life and thought that led to the truth appeared.

    The amount of good material out there is truly vast. Pope John Paul’s work is important but it needs to be taken in in ways that allow one to digest it, understand it and that allows the Holy Spirit to conform one’s mind and heart to the truth.

    I really wish that priests in the Church would stop bad-mouthing marriage as so many seem to do.

    We crown the couple in the marriage ceremony because marriage is a form of martrydom, but not all podvigs are morose and sorrowful filled with unrelenting, unrewarded labor. The marriage service certainly does not present a life of dark struggle or that somehow, marriage is a condensencsion from the perfect. “Dance for Joy, O Isaiah”

    God is a a God of life and joy. He is Risen!

    Yes He goes to the Cross as we must, but He is Risen as we are if we allow it.

    “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it”

  53. Fr. Patrick,

    I’m very grateful for your comment. This is SO true! This is one of the main reasons I don’t look at Protestants, Muslims, atheists (or any other labeled group) and automatically mark them as hell-bound. I believe that the truth resides in all God’s children. Some work awfully hard to stamp it out, but they might as well try to disfigure themselves: it’s hard work. When God says that something IS – like, we are made in His image – then that thing IS, and we go against our deepest and most fundamental instincts when we deny it.

    My dad was raised Baptist. When he discovered Orthodoxy he reveled in the fact that many of the teachings agreed with what he always believed but never found true confirmation of before. That was 30 years ago and he still hates the liturgical pomp and circumstance, but he cannot deny the truth.

    Thank you for that revelation. This very idea is the hope that lies within me concerning those in the various camps. In fact, the longer I live the more I look not at camps but the individual children of God within them. God doesn’t send me camps; He gives me encounters with His children where I might save or be saved, love or be loved, heal or be healed: anything can happen!

    thank you once again, drew

  54. Dear Byron,

    In catholic Christianity, the core of all sacramental life, including marriage is commitment/covenant. Faith itself is the fulfillment of a covenant, a commitment.

    So, in general and in brief, your pursuit of the
    Great Orgasmatron is antithetical to engaging life as both a revealed and rational order, and in that I would say that the Great Orgasmatron is the unrestricted exercise of any particular pleasure regardless of how profoundly or rapidly it tends us toward entropy/disorder and disintegration.

    You cannot make a life commitment to an array of sexual partners and still sustain any depth of relationship, much less any real appreciation for the integrated set of needs and desires that constitutes real sexual fulfillment that surpasses the merely ordinary. That’s just a fact. Go to any country in the world that practices polygamy and find a way to get the women to speak to you openly and in truth. No man is THAT good…not one. Or stay in this country and begin to interview married gay men and ask about the sexual arrangements in that marriage and what it takes to keep either one or both sexually satisfied, more or less.

    At any rate, I’m 60 years old and I think you are silly and egocentric and perhaps ineffectual in some way that you have yet to discover. When you do discover it, the Christian life of love and commitment might begin to appear more attractive to you.

    Blessings, in Christ


  55. And Byron….

    This must be said: Thank you, for the opportunity to talk about sex. Sincerely. This is such a broken area of the human person that you normally have to go to a porn site, Harlequin novel or cat house just to hear someone discuss it freely. The fact that sex is good and yet broken leaves many of us as just frustrated; there should be a place to talk about it that isn’t hush-hush in a corner somewhere. But again because we have been so wounded in this area, there isn’t really and that’s the way it is. So thank you.


    I don’t think you’re silly or egocentric. Why would God give a man the desire to have sex with so many wonderfully-attractive women and then say “Don’t!” Is He some kind of sadist? No, He’s not.

    In Heaven there will be no marriage. When some people hear that they imagine Heaven as a large monastery, but that’s not true either. In fact in heaven we will experience union and deep intercourse (in the true sense of the word) with everyone around us which will make sex feel like a slap in the face and acid in the wound.

    Sexual intercourse is just the tiniest drop pleasure that promotes offspring and helps ease the tension of the marital relationship – compared to the communion we will experience with everyone in Heaven.

    So why not start now? Because we’re not in Heaven. Because of our brokenness, it takes all our energy to walk together with one man or woman, let alone many. When men go to a harlot, their intention is not union and giving; they want to take for their own selfish desires. What we all need – and the example God gives us – is love.

    We need to love that one woman. A wise man once told me that if you learn love & know one woman well, you will love & know them all. Follow God’s wisdom and stick to one. We will be in communion with ALL God’s children one day – but not yet. Right now start small: learn to love one well.

  56. Michael (and thus Byron),
    I could not have said this as well, and certainly not better. Your reflection on your experience is truly profound. I have generally avoided writing on the topic of sex/marriage, though I’m not certain why. Your comment was very helpful to my own thoughts. Thank you.

    On the topic, classically, theologians speak of the “unitive” and the “procreative” function of marriage (unitive generally refers to the sexual/relational union while procreative refers to conceiving children). Roman Catholic theology has often stated that procreation must be present on some level/possibility in the marriage – in some treatments its as though procreation redeems sex. St. John Chrysostom recognized these two functions, but stated that the command to “be fruitful and multiply” had long ago been fulfilled (“the whole earth is full of people” he said and that was in the 5th century). He instead focused on the unitive aspect and is among the better voices among the fathers on the topic.

    There are, among the Orthodox, some who take a fairly strict line on the procreation angle, but I think they are not the only Orthodox voice on the topic. Sex is inherently pleasurable, just as good food is inherently pleasurable, and for the same reason: God made it that way. I dare say we would not do either if there were no pleasure involved. Pleasure is absolutely not inherently sinful.

    Nevertheless, the brokenness of our lives colors everything, so that in almost anything we do there is a distortion. Despite this, we all still eat. Sex only within the context of marriage is actually obvious – except to those whose understanding is distorted by either lack of life-experience or the many abuses rampant in our culture. Sex is union with another human being, not simply mutual pleasuring. That union properly belongs within the context established by God at Creation. Like everything, it’s a razor’s edge.

  57. Mary,
    Orthodoxy is deeply removed from Catholic Christianity on the topic of covenant and commitment. There are no vows in an Orthodox marriage. There is no contract or covenant between a husband and wife (you are correct, this is very much a Western view). In Orthodoxy, marriage is union. We should be faithful, etc., because our spouse is “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Regarding love for a wife, St. Paul noted, “No one has ever hated his own flesh, but loves it and nourishes it.” He had not seen some of our modern self-hatred. But marriage as union makes for a different understanding though its ethics will seem similar.

  58. Fr Stephen,

    Ontological is a perfectly good word in its own right and serves the purpose if your purpose is to name things correctly, but I sense that you want something more accessible and perhaps a little ‘larger’ or more inclusive? Perhaps the word ‘unitive’?

    Also, what if you went to other disciplines besides philosophy to look for a word to replace ontological?
    For some reason ‘elision’ comes to mind. I know it doesn’t mean exactly what you’re saying here but it ‘tastes good’ somehow. As a gramatical device that unites words or parts of words that would normally be separated it shows us that meaning is often found in connection or relation rather than division or solitary abstraction. I don’t think it’s the word you want but I couldn’t help but play with it….


  59. Father: It is, of course, good to mention that difference but I wasn’t even thinking about marriage vows actually.

    I was thinking of the covenant that God made with us, or of the several Scriptural covenants, and how the principle sacraments of the Church are an integral portion of the new covenant, of which marriage is one.

    Equally importantly I was making the connection between faith and the commitments God makes to us and the commitments we are asked and commanded to make to one another…out of love and obedience to God and also to the teachings of the Church, which then brings us back around to the sacramental connection.

    That was my thinking. And then that those who choose the pleasures of the world and the flesh lose on two counts. They lose because without commitment, pleasure is short-lived and can be accompanied with unrelenting pain and suffering, the suffering of dis-integration or the loss of wholeness or integration that comes with faith. And they lose because there is nothing to look forward to once the pleasure has faded, not to mention the fact that many pleasures are, in fact, exceptionally illusory.

    I am surprised no one has offered him St. Augustine’s “Confessions”….


  60. Nevertheless, the brokenness of our lives colors everything, so that in almost anything we do there is a distortion. Despite this, we all still eat. Sex only within the context of marriage is actually obvious – except to those whose understanding is distorted by either lack of life-experience or the many abuses rampant in our culture. Sex is union with another human being, not simply mutual pleasuring. That union properly belongs within the context established by God at Creation. Like everything, it’s a razor’s edge.

    Father, all that you say is true except for the obvious part. Due to the rampant licentiousness of the wider culture the Christian understanding is anything but obvious and becoming increasingly clouded even to those in the Church. If that were not so, there would be no debate or question on how the Church should respond to all of the anthropological/ethical questions that our nihilist culture throws up. Yet there is dithering and sadly, in some cases, affirmation of the worldly mind. My own reflections are the result of a process that began not long after I became Christian (long before the Church). I wanted to know what Jesus Christ wanted of me as a Christian man and as a complement to that what it meant to be a Christian woman. Knowing nothing else I began using an old Protestant technique: pray your question and open the Bible. On the Christian man question, I opened to Job (it is has taken quite awhile to figure that one out). On the Christian woman question, I opened to the Magnificat, particularly: “My soul doth magnify the Lord”. That was in 1977. Genisis and Romans came later in the process and of course Ephsians, esp Ch 5 which I neglected to mention earlier. The sacramental life of the Church and the spiritual practice of fasting has helped quite a bit (even though I am really bad at fasting).

    The process continues and has brought a great deal of good fruit into my life. It has been a challenge too though I do not think I would have the incredible wife that I now have if I had not done my homework.

    We are sadly in need of authoritative teaching on these matters. If my reflections help, I am grateful. The attitude of the priest Bryon mentions is too frequent. I can find no other response to it than such teaching is just plain wrong and well outside the ethos of the Church.

    Stil, each of us must come to the truth and how to apply it in our own lives. It is important to me to know what Jesus Christ expects of me as a man. I am far from meeting the least of those expectations, but His Grace seems to fill in much of what I lack.

    Have a joyous Pascha!

  61. Fr. Patrick and drewster2000: my experience is quite similar. People so often find their offical belief out of harmoney with their hearts and what they know. That is part of the horor of the heretical teachings. It not only divides the Body of the Church, it divides us personally.

    That is also why there are so many who walk into an Orthodox Church for the first time and know they are home.

    That being said, some folks accept the untruth and armor themselves agains the truth in the process. We must be aware of that as well.

  62. Father,

    The notion of covenant hardly seems western? It seems simply Biblical, being used throughout the Old and New Testaments.

    “Sex is inherently pleasurable, just as good food is inherently pleasurable, and for the same reason: God made it that way.”

    This comparison confirms the reasonable belief that the unitive be not parted from the procreative. How bizarre it would be to chew on food and spit it out, to savor without swallowing. Similarly, it is bizarre to frustrate the natural consummation of intercourse by separating pleasure from procreation.

  63. Michael,

    “Stil, each of us must come to the truth and how to apply it in our own lives.”

    I admit I’m surprised by this attitude. It seems rather, well, Protestant and American. Is there anything of moral or theological significance upon which the Church cannot (and does not) teach with perfect authority?

  64. PJ,
    Obviously Covenant is Scriptural, but it is only in the West that this aspect of Biblical thought becomes central as a point of organization. It’s not that it isn’t Biblical, it’s just its use that is a later development. Indeed, it is Calvin, largely, who makes Covenant such an organizing principle, because it suited his purposes, and wasn’t, well, exactly Roman Catholic.

    Under secular influence, Covenant quickly becomes Contract, and with that we come to the present mess of the Forensic/etc. model. Covenant really isn’t at all the same thing as a Contract, but it’s somewhat hard to distinguish these days. Pace, Pace, I know that Christ uses the term Covenant in the Institution of the Lord’s Supper, but it doesn’t seem to have been particularly developed in either the rest of the NT or in the Early Centuries.

    Today, in the secular model, contract is everything. It’s perfectly suited to the modern view of man as an individual willing and making choices. Whatever 2 individuals (or more) are willing to enter into as a contract seems acceptable in our culture. It is one of the reasons why our culture doesn’t really have much to say on the topic of same-sex unions. If they want such a contract, why not let them have it, the culture reasons.

    Christians are left saying, “Well, you can make any contract you want, but you can’t have that one…” which simply collapses while the culture titters behind our backs.

    My training was in Systematic Theology. It is the nature of things that you can take almost any starting point and make it the central, organizing principle around which you build a cogent theological system. We would study as many as a dozen such systematics in the course of a term. Some were better than others. Almost all used some element of the tradition. Protestantism, and modern theology is simply competing systematics. If they’re all pretty cogent, then there’s no “winning” argument.

    But systematic theology is not the method of the fathers. Just because a concept exists doesn’t mean it should be taken up and used. “Baptismal Covenant” has been a popular notion in the liturgical reform movement. I know it was big among the Anglicans. Does Rome use that terminology now? It’s utterly foreign to the East, both in concept and language.

  65. From my experience, there is little discussion of covenant within orthodox Catholic theology. There’re a few converts from evangelicalism who’ve attempted to view “salvation history” through the lens of “covenant” (cf. Dr. Scott Hahn), but this isn’t normative. Although this is a bit strange, given that, as you point out, covenant language dwells at the very heart of the liturgy. It seems to be interpreted rather loosely, in the patristic sense: the Old Covenant was relationship based upon shadows and signs; the New Covenant is a relationship of communion in Christ, who is the Reality.

  66. Father: I sailed right on over a whole segment of thinking simply because I am not well versed in it at all. I think I am going to learn a good bit if I hang around here….

    As far as I have been taught, the Catholic Church speaks of covenant in terms of God’s self-revelation to His people and the promises that He makes and keeps, and the obedience that he asks in return which are not all or always directly linked to any covenant connection of course, save as they come to us through the Word. All covenants culminate in the Messiah, in Jesus, the Incarnate. And so He is the promise fulfilled and comes to us as the Word of the Father.

    Seems to me that Catholic teaching on covenant is a very basic recapitulation of Scripture [see the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the paragraphs of the numbers 50s through the 60s early in the text. Covenant is not at all any kind of organizing principle as you say here with respect to other systems. It is certainly not systematized outside of Scripture, in terms of driving the basic human organizing principles of the Body of Christ here on earth.

    My reference to covenant above was with respect to commitments made and kept. Promises made to us, and obedience called forth from us.


  67. Here now. I’ve let myself open to be understood as saying that covenant and obedience are a quid pro quo…No. One does not trade obedience for a promise…or one does not keep a promise predicated on obedience.

    The covenant is a gift. A freely given gift that is true to the nature of a good God. But our nature is wounded and so we must be schooled in obedience, taught what is good so that we may not only be free to follow Him, but know how and where and what and when about doing and being good as He is good. Nevertheless these things unfold to us out of revelation which in itself is a fulfillment of a promise of redemption.

    My goodness…so many words…


  68. No, PJ, I am not saying that the truth is relative to individual experience, it is the Truth after all. However, each of us must come to willing obedience to that truth since we cannot be and are not forced.

    We must then live that truth within our own existential circumstances. The truth does not change, we must. Our participation in the sacramental life of the community (where we differ most from Protestants) does not change (although the manner of participation may change).

    Still, we must live the truth. We are given that freedom by our Lord. Some may realize and live the truth more completely and more fully than others. In any case repentance will be necessary for we all will fall short.

    My understanding of and obedience to the truth of marriage has grown over the years but the truth has not changed and will not change. I have to continue to allow myself to be conformed to the Truth by the Truth.

    My willingness and ability to live the truth has changed, God be praised. During my first marriage, I recognized the same truth that I do now (although not as fully), but I was unable to live it very well at all being a stubborn and hard-hearted man. Both my wife and my marriage suffered as a result.

    It took the death of my wife, my subsequent suffering and the unwarranted grace of being given a another wife before I could begin to actually practice what I knew. It is one of those instances in my life when a ‘bad’ thing was transformed into goodness and blessing by the grace of Jesus Christ.

    My wife’s death was terrible, the death of my current wife’s previous spouse was worse yet. God granted us the opportunity for a new life which is a joy for both of us, even though we still greive for our reposed spouses. Now, however, it is a shared grief and much easier to bear and our life in God can blossom in a new way.

    The truth is, we should not be married and in full communion. God has granted us a great mercy to be married and fully participate in the life of the Church, a mercy benefical to the salvation of us both and to others as well. That is the real economia given to us because of the existential realities of our lives and the burden of sin (our own and that of others we have had to bear). We will never know the full joy and completeness of those who are wed to only one in Christ but because of His mercy, we can come close.

    Marriage is never an indivdual undertaking any more than sexual intercourse should be. Marriage is based in the community and for the community as much as it is for the two spouses and subsequent children. Thus it needs the approval and acceptance of the community. That is made clear in the Orthodox wedding ceremony. A ceremony which is of great beauty and power–deeply expressive of the full reality of marriage. It is not a covenant in and of itself (no promises are given or received), it is given its reality and strength by the covenental inter-reltionship of God becoming man, dying on the Cross, Resurrecting and Ascending. St. Paul alludes to this in Ephesians. It is given strength and blessing flows through it becaouse of the communion with our Lord that is shared by the spouses and the sacrifice of praise and service which marriage entails. Sexual intercourse is a big part of that which is recognized as fully legitmate within the marriage and a gift of God, an integral part of the joy the Church is proclaiming as two become one in Christ.

  69. Many thanks to all who replied to my post.

    Thank you for the quote from St John Chrysostom, CoffeeZombie (what a name! I like my coffee too, but…:-)). This quote releases me from my prior impression that the possibility of conception had to be left open – another one of those Church ‘rules’ I felt uncomfortable with. I have also dipped into Augustine’s Confessions and John Paul II’s ‘theology of the body’ in the past, and I’m sure these documents are worthy of far more attention than I had given them. I like Michael Bauman’s scriptural and prayerful approach very much – and that wasn’t the only thing I liked about your responses, Michael. I’d like to thank you, too, for sharing your own experience with marriage and grief so openly. It’s encouraging to hear your Christian journey. My impression, for what it’s worth, is that while you are probably right to feel especially blessed to be married again, it is a pity if you are both carrying guilt for the loss of your former spouses, as traumatic as this is, and as understandable and human as guilt is (perhaps guilt is also a sign of spiritual health to some extent?). My hunch, for what it’s worth, is that it would be best for both yourselves and the spirit of your reposed former spouses to continue to enjoy a fruitful, joyous and productive marriage. You are also giving hope to others, such as myself, that a Christian marriage is worthwhile.

    Some other comments suggest I should clarify that I’m also married, and have no intention to ‘cheat’ on my beloved wife. We are happy together, thanks be to Him who joined us in marriage. As much as I appreciate feminine beauty, it does not incite in me a desire to rape or otherwise abuse anyone – God forbid even killing has been mentioned :-)! On the contrary, feminine beauty stirs me to praise God’s skill and artistry. I find my wife very beautiful, and I am blessed with two beautiful young daughters.

    So my questions about polygamy are more philosophical, which doesn’t make them less urgent for me however. Yes, Christ has only one bride, but I cant’t help noticing that bride consists of several persons, many souls. Is it really a sign of disintegration or incongruence, to love more than one person with one’s whole body, soul and spirit? Clearly I do not have a heart big enough to love as many as Christ does, but I recently read about a woman in a village in India, who is married to five brothers (her culture permits this). She sleeps with a different brother on different nights. They all have sex, and in the words of one of the brothers, they are “a big, happy family”. Now, I’m not Muslim or Hindu and my culture does not permit marriage to more than one woman. But sadly, I still don’t get why plural marriage which would be caring and tender, and look after its children, would be wrong. In a sense, I do hope that I am “silly and egocentric and perhaps ineffectual in some way that [I] have yet to discover” as Mary Lanser put it – because that would mean I still have a truth to find further down the road than the one currently troubling me.

    I know that my daughters may read this online post someday, and I hope that my relationship to them will be honest and open enough, that they will not be shocked to discover their father puzzling over polygamy. I dare to say that sexual pleasure is wonderful, and I don’t understand why it should necessarily lead to selfishness anymore than good food. Clearly Fr Stephen’s post would correctly suggest that sexual pleasure should not be viewed forensically, any more than we should ‘hog’ our portions at table, or give ourselves more food than we are willing to share with others. It is also clearly Orthodox Christian to go hungry oneself so another may eat, and that’s the nature of sacrifice. I get this, and so I’m not interested in sexual relations characterized by selfishness or vulgarity. But I still don’t think ‘harlots’ are necessarily vulgar. And I hope to be able to say one day with G.K. Chesterton, that “every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God”, but currently I must confess the pleasures of heaven appear remote to me, while the pleasures of earth abound. That doesn’t mean I reject the possibility that in heaven they do not marry because they don’t need to, any more than I reject the possibility that in the next life, as C.S.Lewis says, “there will be surprises”, and we may find some of the unlikeliest fellows sitting next to us, fully enjoying the bliss of God’s divine radiance. Just in case my daughters do read this, none of this is written to suggest to young people (or older ones) that they should stray from Christian moral teaching. Only that they should free their minds and think ‘outside the box'(to use a phrase which has unfortunately become part of the ‘box’ from overuse). Yes, the Lord wants us to be faithful and monogamous. I hope He also wants us to be honest about our desires, both the fallen ones and those which prompt us to transcend nature.

  70. Dear Byron: In light of further information I beg to withdraw my comment that you are silly. But the other two I will leave for the time being till I have a chance to consider them in this new light.

    I think, having more than passing contact with polygamy and polyandry, that these cultures cannot be read through the lens of your own familial experience. These cultures, as they stand, are well enough suited to their own anthropology and cosmology but not to Christian anthropology and christology. And I don’t know that by my own rational thought, though I can find ways of discussing it rationally. I know that first because it is revealed in the tradition of a people. It is revealed in the tradition of Scripture.

    That is not to say that there is nothing moral in these non-christological peoples. I am the last one to say or think that. But it is an earth and time-bound morality, and frankly, at a very basic and fundamental earthly or earthy level, I would rather see the Third Heaven than be wedded to five men.

    Oooops…I am sitting here and should be getting ready to go out…so more later if you are still interested.


  71. Byron,
    the classic threefold classification of sex outside of a Church-blessed marriage being below our natural state, within marriage being natural, and celibacy/monasticism being above natural (as expounded on by Elder Sophrony) is particularly relevant here.
    In other words our struggle with passions spring from desire, its selfish abuse leads to hundreds of passions, while on the other hand it is a God-centred desire from which good thins spring too.
    It is desire therefore that lies at the very centre of our discerning struggle for union with God or with evil.
    There are simpler cultures than ours with far less of a propensity for sinister perversion and self-indulgence that might outwardly seem ‘harmless’, however, that is not necessarily the case.
    Yes, an old man in Nepal smoking opium might indeed do it in a far less twisted way than a crack-addict in an infamous City centre of a western country does it – just like there are many forms of polygamy and applications of it. This however does not change the fact that we have a polar star showing us the way! And that polar star (without denigrating blessed Marriage) is the perfection of Christ towards which monastics directly strive.

  72. Byron,

    “Yes, Christ has only one bride, but I cant’t help noticing that bride consists of several persons, many souls. Is it really a sign of disintegration or incongruence, to love more than one person with one’s whole body, soul and spirit? Clearly I do not have a heart big enough to love as many as Christ does, but I recently read about a woman in a village in India, who is married to five brothers (her culture permits this). She sleeps with a different brother on different nights. They all have sex, and in the words of one of the brothers, they are “a big, happy family” Now, I’m not Muslim or Hindu and my culture does not permit marriage to more than one woman. But sadly, I still don’t get why plural marriage which would be caring and tender, and look after its children, would be wrong.”


    It’s not enough that your Lord and Savior said it was wrong?

    St. Paul answers your question: Marriage is a symbol of the mystery of Christ and His Church. The Church is indeed made up of many members, but it is just one Body, which is united to one Head, Jesus Christ the incarnate Word.

    Anyway, plural marriage is unhealthy even from an empirical or natural law perspective. It is inherently unequal and manipulative. In the situation you describe, each one of the men gives himself fully to the one woman, but that one woman divides herself between many different men. There is no gift of self, just division of self, on her part.

    I don’t doubt that there are plural marriages which are generally loving and caring, but ultimately the phenomenon is contrary to the law of God and the law of nature, as both revelation and reason plainly show.

  73. Bryon, I’m sorry if I gave the impression that my wife and I harbor guilt. No, we still carry the sense of loss which will always be with us. One of the things that such a loss creates is the desire to remember the one who was lost and the happy times that were shared. We are free with each other that we can do that. The memory of the other love is celebrated that way. We are free to share any of our feelings about them. That is a wonderful thing and a great blessing. It allows us to rejoice in what we have to an even greater extent. Survior’s guilt is part of the grieving process that can go on for some time depending on the circumstances of death, but it is not healthy to hang on to. IMO, guilt is a block to real contrition, a false subsitute and a block to allowing the joy of God come to you.

    In the Orthodox Church we pray “Memory Eternal” for all of our reposed. It is a two fold prayer: 1. That they always be remembered by God, and 2. that we realize that they are not dead and gone, but alive. My wife and I are able to do that without hiding it from one another. Many second marriages have difficulty with that.

  74. Byron,

    I don’t think you’re silly or egocentric. God made us, so why did He make more than just one woman so attractive? Or however you want to phrase it. That’s a reality, a cross most of the males bear. But why?

    As you mentioned, there will be no marriage in Heaven. This was so depressing the first time I heard it. Images of Heaven being just one large monastery containing one eternal church service came to mind. I had to push it out of my head before I ditched the whole Christianity path right there!

    But in fact Heaven will be about communion with each other, to such a degree that it goes WAY beyond marriage. Sex there would feel like a slap in the face and acid in the wound. No I can’t imagine that either, but that’s because we’re still here in a broken world. This is where faith comes into play.

    We can’t do polygamy here because we can’t handle it. No one man (or woman) is that big, that strong, or able to give that much. You see, the deeper and stronger the relationship, the more it requires from us. You can have 100 acquaintances but only about 1 or 2 really close friends.

    And sexual intercourse is one of the deepest and most intimate experiences we can have with another human being (again, in this life). When you have sex with a woman, you unite yourself to her, commit yourself to her in a very strong way. This is a point where it’s important to stress the authentic model over the forensic one. Because it doesn’t matter if you get married or make promises to her; you have organically, authentically made a real union with her.

    Though it’s not quite the same, think of Siamese twins joined at the hip. Suddenly you can’t do anything or go anywhere without taking part of her with you – and the same for her. We can do this with woman. God said we could because He knew what we could handle in this broken world, but not more than one. Imagine having to take 10 people around with you wherever you go and you will understand the dilemma to a certain extent.

    And by the way, harlots are not vulgar; they are just broken children of God like the rest of us. BUT….no one shares love with them unselfishly. Men generally go to harlots because they want pleasure – not because they want another partner to walk with, another person they have to care for, another presence in their lives. Not to say a man can’t have good intentions, but it just doesn’t work.

  75. Oh, and Byron?

    Thanks for giving an opportunity to discuss sex. It touches such a vital part of our being and yet is so broken that it’s normally only talked about freely in the seedier sections of town. So thanks for your open and honest questions about it.

  76. Dino, perhaps you can help me. I find the ranking that you gave, placing monastic sacrifice and asceticism above marriage troubling. I put them on a much more equal footing. Both marriage and monastic tonsuring are sacraments of the Church. Both bless and sactify a calling to devote one’s life to God in knenotic service, prayer, fasting and worship. It would not be difficult to make a case for the superiority of the married life live to its fullest but that is equally troubling. Both are blessed vocations in the life of the Church. Why is monasticism higher?

    I find it troubling because most of us will not be monastics. The attitude that often comes with the ranking is demeaning to the life and struggles of married people and,a times leads to the impression that married folks cannot enter the Kingdom.

  77. Michael,
    St John Chrysostom’s homily on Virginity (on monasticism really) does a great job of explaining the immense superiority of that total dedication of the unmarried, who free from anxieties are anxious about the things of the Lord only, how to please the Lord only in the present form of this passing world (1 Corinthians 7:32); compared to him “that is married” who “careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.” (1 Corinthians 7:33).
    God appears to all and wants to show himself to all, however, He also considers how far one (whether in the world or in the monastery) will go to create those special contributive circumstances (as far as he can) that are conducive to this.
    Also note St John Climacus’ saying, repeated time and again by the Holy Fathers, that “as angels are the ‘light’ of monastics, so monastics ought to be ‘light’ to laity”. Monastics being a light to laity is to be taken both ways: laity must look to imitate them and monastics must be a shining example to them.
    Let me attemt to put it another way:
    Without denying that Deification, is not something reserved for a few select initiates, but something intended for all alike, we admit that there is an undeniable difference between those who choose a life of voluntary hardship (and
    involuntary pleasure) for the Lord (monasticism rightly chosen) and those who choose a life of voluntary pleasure (and involuntary hardship) for a spouse.

    He “who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake” and who “will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29) is like a person travelling to his destination with a fighter plane; while he who lives in the “world” and is still heading towards that same destination is also blessed when he arrives there, but is like someone who has chosen to travel through the scenic route….

  78. Michael,

    If we go by Dino’s posts, he has taken this position for some time now, and is a monastic himself if I remember correctly. And he is not alone in his position, St. John Climacus being one of the prime examples.

    Though you and I don’t agree with him, I think this is a place where we would be wise to allow the disagreement to stand. We have not and will not achieve total unity in this life – even with those in our own communion – even in word only. If we cannot approach this topic with an open heart and being ready to give grace and let live, it would be better to prefer silence.

    This is my opinion.

  79. Not seeking a disagreement, I don’t really disagree just seeking greater clarity. What Dino states is well known to me. I was hoping that Dino would come up with something new. I deeply appreciate the sacrifice of those in the moanstic life and well know that such a life is not one that I am well suited for. As my brother said to me once: “I think I am in love with the idea of monasticism, but not the reality”

    Here’s the thing, the desription of marriage that he gives greatly understates the sacrifice and selflessness of marriage, IMO. I for one, don’t look to “please my wife”, I look to elevate her, to love her and to lift her up in God as we are commanded by Holy Scripture to do for her sanctification. I seek to lay down my life for her as Christ laid down His life for me. I fail daily, but that is my striving. Shoot it is not always that I want to be intimate with her when she needs it, same way for her.

    Living in a marriage by seeking to “please your spouse” or children is an RX for failure.

    Married people with young children often go without adequate sleep for years, waking frequently in the middle of the night to pray and tend to the needs of their children. Spouses do likewise for each other especially as we age. The list goes on and on. There is constant prayer and thanksgiving for each other, children, children’s children associated family, etc. that is similar to the monastic offerings. Certainly, monks can prayer longer and more consistently, but that is a blessing of the monastic life. Married folks have other blessings but more encumbrances. We have make a real stuggle that the monastics don’t have to live a life of prayer. In a sense, we have to want it more just to do it.

    What I am most troubled by is the twisting of the ideal of the moanstic life to denigrate marriage and the lay life.

    This rarely comes from monastics themselves BTW, but rather priests, most of whom are married and, of course, the hyper-orthodox. I don’t seek to tear down monsasticism, it is a great and high calling, but so is marriage done properly.

    I just think it is necessary and proper to offer a much higher view of Christian marriage than seems to be the norm if we are to fulfill our Prophetic calling in this day and age.

    Too often monasticism is exalted at the price of denigrating marriage. Monasticsim does not need that. It can and does stand on its own as the pinnacle of human dedication to God, I understand that.

    The gap between the monastic life and marriage however is not as great as many make it out to be,IMO. Frankly, it often sounds like a bunch of sour grapes coming from those who chose monasticism over marriage and sorta wished they hadn’t, especially in light of the overwhelming testimony of Holy Scripture on the value of a sanctified married life.

    Monasticism is often spoken of as the angelic life, but tht is not human. Jesus Christ did not take on angelic nature, but human nature and ascended with it because we are created in the image and likeness of God, angels are not. That kinda makes humans higher than angels (but I’m nit-picking).

    Of course, it could be that I’m just stuck in the worldly mind too much to really see the truth of it. That is always a possiblity.

    Lord have mercy and grant us all strength and wisdom to love one another.

  80. Michael,

    I totally agree with everything you said, but perhaps this is something that cannot be seen from the other side of the coin. And thus is better for both parties to identify their lives according to what God has called them to WITHOUT making a value judgment on the other. Perhaps the best statement we can make (kind of summarizing your thoughts) is that each calling has its own curses and blesses, ups and down – but God has ordained both.

  81. drewster2000, I agree. “And what God has cleansed, call thou not unclean”

  82. Briefly between services…

    On monasticism and the married life. Dino is right, I think, but I will add a nuance or two.

    Monasticism is not inherently holier than marriage, just as no one monk is generally holier than a married man. Marriage is supremely blessed, being, literally, the first blessing pronounced upon humanity by God. And the canons say that it must not be despised.

    However, Orthodoxy, as does the New Testament, understands that asceticism is the proper structure for the Christian life. We fast, we pray, we keep vigil, etc. Christ Himself points to an aspect of monastic advantage:

    10His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry. 11But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. 12For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

    What can be said is that monasticism is designed to support a greater degree of asceticism than marriage and for that reason has a greater spiritual advantage. I think “advantage” is the correct term, for if the advantage is not used, then there is nothing better about monasticism, and maybe some things worse.

    However, there are many advantages of a different sort for the married, and if those advantages are taken there is great benefit and holiness. It is also clear that God has ordained that most people marry. If God has called someone to the monastic life of asceticism, then let them be true monks and not simply glory in their Riassas!

    But there are reasons why the Church has restricted the episcopacy to monastics (or celibates) for most of its history. The reason is asceticism and the freedom from other cares.

    But the holiness of virginity (and celibacy) is found in the offering it makes to God and not in its avoidance of the marriage union – but what God gives in marriage is holy. The Calvinist/Jansenist/extremist reading that sex is somehow inherently flawed (Augustine says as much in the City of God – blaming it on concupiscence – this would be the same confusion that would say we only eat because we’re gluttons) is simply wrong and leads to bad theology, I think.

    I covet the prayers of monastics and hold their life in the greatest esteem. It is not my calling, but I easily yield first place to them in the athletic efforts of the spiritual life.

    Michael, btw, you’re probably right about lowered expectations. God bless your fast!

  83. That is one of the most lucid responses to the question of monastic and married life, Father. That comparison is always a difficult one and I very much appreciate how you’ve taken the kinks out of it!


  84. Unfortunately, it seems that too many relgious, including many Orthodox have adopted the Augustinian vision which, IMO, came more from Augustine’s Manichean days than from Christianity. That is the root of my difficulty.

    I too, value the prayers of the monastics and their overall witness highly. I love it when they are around to “monk-up” the place, like when Archmandrite Zacharia visted some years ago. A great blessing.

    BUT, as you did Fr. Stephen, we need to have an equally positive view and understanding of marriage. Its a great thing even when it isn’t easy.

    Blessed Pascha to all. I can begin to feel the joy gathering already. This has been a fruitful fast for me, just have to keep running through the tape and not let down, but break into my finishing kick.

  85. drewster2000,
    not a monastic! married with 3 kids here, did sort of live that life to some extent in the past though -as a longterm almost-permanent visitor (like a novice) in my mid to late 20’s.

    I should say that I can clearly see the differences myself, having lived both ‘ways’ first hand though.
    There are immense differences in not having any possessions for instance (including a great deal of “logistical logismoi” that are added to the other usual intrusive thoughts during prayer), not having any actual solid sensual temptations feeding the passions further and further (in the Holy Mountain that is), having a most experienced discerning Spiritual Father every single night and day on call that others would die for, being assaulted not by outward assaults but by inward demons and therefore “wisened” in a very different, far “finer” way.
    One in the world (unless he is “blessed” to be bed-bound and alone perhaps!) rarely escapes that hustle and bustle of life that is a very thick veil hiding his own very depths (usually dark and stone-cold towards God) from his very self… It can be a form of ‘delusion’.
    Not that monastics cannot be deluded, but they are in a situation that they have tons of time with their ugly self. That is invaluable!

    Let me give you an image: 20 people work in a most putrid tanning factory, as they have done this for years they have absolutely no problem with the smell, they are entirely used to it. Someone from the clear countryside comes to visit and he cannot grasp how they can possibly cope with such stench! He stays for a couple of months though and his repulsion becomes a distant memory. That is what the world does to us…
    Not that we cannot be saved here – far from it! but we need to know that we must do all we can to create the most conducive situation for purification, to be aware, vigilant, watchful, discerning – far more than monastics are in fact! To “deal with the world as though we had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away”.

    In the world someone can indeed struggle even harder and more fervently that a monk does, his zeal for ascesis can possibly be maintained at a higher level due to the constant and often very real temptations. However, that is an effort NOT TO FALL first and foremost (if they are not deluded about their spiritual warfare).
    In a monastery however, especially a more hesychastic one (as monasteries vary hugely), the effort is like Jacob’s effort when he wrestled with the Lord… It is an effort to delve deeper and deeper into the depths of God! Do you see what I am getting at? That is extremely more rare in the world…
    In fact God’s will for someone who is married would not normally be that he struggles in such a monastic “flavoured” struggle, since unless it is done in his own (very limited) free time, it would be as if he is robbing his wife and kids from their time…
    It really is far trickier in the world – in very many respects… Even simple things that Christian lay people – (in what is a very correct knowledge: that it is really all about Love and Humility)- do forget make a big practical difference. e.g attending Liturgy not just once or twice a week but daily, taking Holy Communion virtually daily, confessing extremely often (in your beginnings at least), praying the Jesus prayer for most of the night every single night, hanging around with Elders that most faithful would give an arm and a leg to meet a few times in their lives… It all adds up to quite a difference (when done correctly that is of course…)!

  86. Dino, thank you very much for reminding me of a truth I do know. It is an awesome life monastics live and I am greatful that they do. I am too hard hearted and rebellious to attempt it. My soul longs for much that you describe yet knowing that I would defile it with my rebellious laziness.

    You do strengthen my other point though which is there is no need to attempt to exalt monastic life at the expense of lay married life. Such attempts reveal to me a lack of understanding of both.

    Would you agree?

  87. Dear all, it’s Holy Friday so I’ll refrain from writing anything much. I’d just like to thank everyone now, coming up to Easter.

  88. Michael,
    Your point that there is no need to attempt to exalt monastic life at the expense of lay married life is of course valid. It is a balancing act to “compare without comparing” as St John Chrysostom does in his celebrated homily “On celibacy and virginity”. He does not denigrate marriage by exalting monasticism.

    My point was not so much the usual point of intensity of struggle from which spring quite valid notions such as these for instance:
    that married people become better when imitating monastics while monastics become worse when imitating laity (as in elite SAS soldiers imitating common back-line soldiers and vice versa). It was more a point about the difference in kind.
    That is what was meant by “layty mainly struggle in a titanic effort NOT TO FALL while monastics in an effort akin to Jacob’s effort when he wrestled with the Lord, an effort to get to know the depths of God deeper and deeper and deeper…
    As this also entails a deeper understanding of ourselves and human nature you can see the merit of Saint Isaac the Syrian’s celebrated (yet potentially scandalous to the inexperienced) words:

    Do not compare those who work signs and wonders and mighty acts in the world with those who practice stillness and knowledge. Love the idleness of stillness above providing for the world’s starving and the conversion of a multitude of heathen to the worship of God…

    …It is better for you to free yourself from the shackle of sin than to free slaves from their slavery. It is better for you to make peace with your soul, causing concord to reign over the trinity within you (I mean, the body, the soul, and spirit), than by your teaching to bring peace among men at variance.

  89. Michael and Dino,

    I think we’re struggling with here is “Are saying God loves you better than me!?!” In our Western world self-esteem seems to be at an all-time low. So when one person is touted as better than another, there is an immediate need to qualify the statement.

    Monks may be Special Forces while the laity are Infantrymen, but they are both essential parts of the Beloved Commander’s army and they both desperately need the other.

    God’s stance isn’t “I would really like you to all be monastics, but if the best you can do is marry and raise children, I won’t hold that against you.” In fact both groups will be neither married nor monastic in the life to come.

  90. Dear Byron,

    Thank you as well for becoming more transparent in your inquiry. Faith is a strange thing. First you choose it. Then you come to understand. Faith is the one thing where an argument from authority is the best argument. “Our Father…”…and then going from there.

    Seems to me from your last note here to which I am responding, you have a far better sense of things than your first note indicated. I am happy to see that in truth.


  91. drewster2000,

    In Orthodoxy we would never say that “both groups will be neither married nor monastic in the life to come”, we would probably, in fact, say something along the lines of monasticism is an icon of our complete engrossment in God in the life to come (which surpasses our natural state), also we could say that marriage is an icon too, (one that is commensurate with our natural state). This, I think, is more or less the only line I can take without breaking away from tradition.
    Otherwise St Isaac’s above quotes (“Love the idleness of stillness above providing for the world’s starving and the conversion of a multitude of heathen to the worship of God…) would not stand.

    I think there is absolutely no need for comparisons though, comparisons breed “logismoi” and whether a monastic or laity, we need to first be purified from all “logismoi” in order to see God.
    Otherwise we might, as we read last night, “cometh thither…with a band of men… and with lanterns and torches” and still cannot recognise our Lord, even when His presence throws us to our feet (John 18:3).

  92. Dino,

    Orthodox or not, the goal for all of us in the next life does not include abstinence and the exclusion of “the world” around us. There will be nothing to abstain from and no world to painfully separate ourselves from. We were created to be in communion, made in the image of the Trinity. Monastics may be the Special Forces in the army here on earth, but monasticism AND marriage are both but poor icons of what will one day be our heavenly reality.

    And I agree: there is no need for comparisons.

  93. Drewster – If that’s the case, why the heck wasn’t this reality created in the same way? I thought that you could not have love without free will. Yet in this heaven you speak of it sounds as if there are no choices (nothing to abstain from etc).

  94. TLO, our ability to choose will be sanctified and as St. Gregory of Nyssa put it–we will move from Glory to Glory growing closer to God each time we exercise our choice the love of God and of each other amplified and communion deepened. The Kingdom of Heaven is not a static-state existence.

  95. TLO,

    “In the present life the things we have relations with are numerous, for instance: time, air, locality, food and drink, clothing, sunlight, lamplight, and other necessities of life, none of which, many though they be, are God. That blessed state which we hope for is in need of none of these things, but the Divine Being will become all, and in the stead of all to us, distributing Himself proportionately to every need of that existence. It is plain, too, from the Holy Scriptures that God becomes to those made worthy of it, locality and home and clothing and food and drink and light and riches and kingdom, and everything that can be thought of and named that goes to make our life happy” -Saint Gregory of Nyssa

    We are no longer naïve children. Having tasted the bitter fruit of our own foolishness and now basking in the fullness of the love of God, why would we ever choose to return to necessity and death? Even now, while still of the body of this death, subject to endless temptations and having barely tasted of the sheer goodness of God, I could not turn away. How much less when His fullness envelops me in love, when He is all in all, the Uncreated fulfillment of every desire that I am now foolishly tempted to try and satisfy with mere created things?

    “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants…’ But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him…‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

    I believe it was C.S. Lewis who wrote, “Shall we complain that we are starving if we refuse to eat the only food in the universe?” Thus one could complain that in a sense there is no other ‘choice.’ Such is the reasoning of the elder brother who chose to refuse the joy of the feast. But thoughts like his melt into oblivion in the face of the inexpressible joy and sheer foolishness of God’s boundless love.

    O namesake of the beloved, I have no reasoning to match the sharpness of your wit, but you are loved beyond measure! Taste and see that the Lord is GOOD!

    Today, Christ our Pascha is sacrificed; therefore, let us keep the feast!

  96. Brian said:

    We are no longer naïve children. Having tasted the bitter fruit of our own foolishness and now basking in the fullness of the love of God, why would we ever choose to return to necessity and death?

    This whole line of thinking really angers me. Not that I am angry at you but at the ideas.

    The Christian view, if I understand it correctly, is that at some point there were humans who were innocent or naïve and who “fell” thus condemning all of humanity.

    The entire story of the “fall of man” is fraught with injustice and a heavy-handed overreaction of a supposedly benevolent god. God set this whole thing up, gave an order to ignorant children and when they disobeyed everyone and everything in nature was subject to the curse of the fall.

    I fail to see the difference between the state of people in a supposed perfect heaven and what mankind allegedly was before the fall. I constantly hear the “free will” argument but your reply implies that there will not really be an alternative but to be pure or that if there is one it will be simple for people to choose the right thing.

    But why should anyone think so? If god would do to humanity what he did in Genesis, who’s to say that in the sweet bye-and-bye he might not set up an entirely different set of circumstances where people will make a wrong choice without fully understanding the consequences and then send them through an eternity of a new kind of torment and agony?

    To my mind, the Christian god cannot be trusted. The story of the fall makes him out to be either incompetent or nefarious. How anyone can read “goodness” or any positive qualities into god by reading about him throughout the OT is beyond me.

  97. If god would do to humanity what he did in Genesis, ….

    But what did He do, TLO? The text is plain that He created the universe and man in it, and He gave man a set of instructions, but did He punish man for man’s transgression? There was some old writer somewhere or other (perhaps Augustine) who wrote something to the effect, (speaking as God) “On that day [the day you eat from the tree] I will kill you,” but this is not what Genesis says, of course. In Genesis He said “You shall die,” as in death will be the consequence. This is not necessarily a pronouncement of judicial sentence. There is no unified view in Orthodoxy about how “literally” to take the Creation story, and there is no “scientific consensus” about how sin has been transmitted throughout the world. The notion that all of Creation is being punished for the transgressions of two ancient human beings, though, is nonetheless a rather harshly retributive and vengeful reading, and it does not sit well with my own Orthodox mind.

    I tend to be a bit displeased with these kinds of comment threads, and there are plenty of them, where various Orthodox Christians (often converts, which helps to account for their zeal, but there are plenty of Orthodox from infancy who do this too, and we’re all on the Internet, and that right there is reason enough for a certain kind of nebulous zeal) answer the painful questions of life’s cares and suffering and injustice with a few quotes from the Church Fathers or the words of some ascetic who spent years in the desert or what-have-you and then say something about inner stillness or divine energies or a whole lot of other stuff that for most of us here on planet Earth is eschatological. And by eschatological of course I mean something we’ve barely experienced in this life, if at all, and expect to be granted more of later–in the Age to Come, no doubt. And it seems tacitly assumed that such words are a sufficient answer. Of course they’re not.

    “Well, Frank, you see, God brings peace to the heart of the believer, and, now that I’m basking in the divine energies, gosh, there ain’t no way I’m turning back. How come you don’t feel the same way, broheim?”

    Anyway, I think that if you try to analyze the first chapters of Genesis in some way comparable to earthly justice or to imagine the Heavenly Father in some way comprehensible as an earthly father would be, you set up the inevitable realization that the inscrutable God doesn’t come across as especially fair or just. The best I can say on this Pascha morning (which is not a happy one in my own affairs–imagine that! shouldn’t the divine hocus-pocus have me all celebratory and overcome with kenosis and théosis and a whole lotta other [stuff] you ain’t never heard of! A tip of the hat to I’m gonna git you sucka! there for film buffs.) Where was I? Ah, yes.

    The best I can say is that a child will inevitably find some of his parents’ acts incomprehensible and hurtful, and yet in many such instances the acts are in fact proper. One should not expect, say, to relate to the Creator as an adult offspring can relate to his adult parent, engaging in well-informed discourse and fully understanding the elder’s motives and ways. We’re more like infants to our Heavenly Father, only infinitely less possessed of understanding even than human infants are in looking upon their human parents.

    Trying to imagine what Heaven or Paradise or the Age to Come is like with any specificity is likewise a fool’s errand.

    I’ve been Orthodox myself since infancy, and I would be very happy if you were part of the Orthodox Church, TLO, but I don’t think there is any level of argumentation or Patristic quotation or analysis that would accomplish that here. Although you’ve been a bit contrarian in a good many of your comments, I’ve been left with the impression that your questions are sincere, and I actually sympathize with a good many of them. So why do I myself believe in God and all of our Orthodox hocus pocus? Let me get back to you on that one, maybe at some time when you and I have a couple of hours or years to talk it over. Putting an adequate answer in an Internet comment box is not something I feel confident in doing. But then, I’m not a Church father or an ascetic. No doubt some desert-dweller who’s been praying constantly for the last forty years will hop on his laptop with his wireless connection and give you a better reply than I can.

  98. Jiminy Christmas, I just wrote a fairly lengthy reply to TLO’s last comment, and it did not post. Funny, when I was clicking the “Submit Comment” button, I thought, if this thing get’s lost by some technical this-or-that (as seems to happen from time to time ’round these parts), it’s a sign. A message, “Lasseter, my boy, you stayed out of this now rather long comment thread thus far; why would you want to do a silly thing like start commenting now?” An Orthodox Easter miracle, no less, that sign, emblazoned on the sunny glare of my laptop this glorious morn.

  99. Lasseter,
    I too have been touched by evil that took my beloved and threatened my son and me as well.

    It is a bit like being frozen to the bone. It takes a long time for warmth to return and even then the memory of the horrible cold remains.

    Evil isolates. That is its nature. It trys to cut us from the herd and take us down. Even as it did to Jesus. Unlike predator animals however, evil strikes at the strong among us hoping to take down many as a result.

    In the midst of that evil the gift of one woman moved me a woman with whom I had hardly ever spoken before or since. She came up to me and graciously revealed her own pain took my hands and simply told me to keep coming to Church.

    That was it.

    It is the primary human reason I’m still here. It is why I can sing
    Lord God of Hosts be with us for we have none other help, none other help but thee in times of sorrow. O Lord of Hosts, have mercy on us, one minute in tears and the next cry out in joy that Christ is risen.

    Of course we are not truly alone.

    I will at least keep you in my unworthy prayers. Christ IS Risen in the midst of our existential suffering.

  100. Lasseter,
    Longer comments get caught in Fr. Stephen’s spam filter. He usually finds them pretty quickly & gets them through 🙂

    I whole-heartedly agree with the advice given to & by Michael. Keep going to Church & working out your salvation…all else will pass in time & eventually God’s purpose will be revealed. In my experience, both with myself & what I have witnessed with others is that things seem to boil up in our everyday lives just as we are on the verge of some sort of spiritual advancement in our relationship with God.

    For whatever reason many want &/or need a cruel, angry & vindictive God (which is truly not any sort of God-god). I have my own opinions as to why, but to extrapolate them here would be out of line. Sometimes when dealing one-on-one (IRL) with someone I will put that question to them, but it is very rare.

    Anyway, my unworthy prayers too will be with you.

    Christ Is Risen! Indeed He Is Risen!

  101. TLO (John),

    Don’t think for a moment that many (and that certainly includes me) haven’t reasoned within ourselves in similar ways at times. I, too, have wondered why God “set it up” the way He did. And without going into all the misconceptions that exist about what some call ‘original sin,’ I have wondered why (apparently) one man’s choice should be allowed to cause the suffering of so many.

    There is no end to such questions. Why was I born? Why was I born a man and not a woman? Why do I have to work so hard to make a living? Why was I born poor instead of rich – or rich instead of poor? Why do good people suffer? Why do the wicked prosper? Why…? Some of the answers as to why the world is as it is have been revealed to us. Most have not. The Psalms are filled with questions of the human heart that remain largely unanswered. If you have the answers, please tell me. I certainly do not.

    Nevertheless, I have told you the truth – however unacceptable it is to your mind at this moment. God loves you immeasurably; and He loves us all…the good and the evil, the believer and the unbeliever, those who trust Him as well as those who slander Him.

    The order of the creation He has made with all its possibilities for suffering and death is not something from which He Himself remains aloof. Integral to His creation is not only His Mother by whom He unites Himself to us, but also Judas, Caiaphas, Pilot, the wood and the nails of His Cross… Of all the questions we may ask as to ‘why,’ this is far and away the greatest mystery of all; yet this is the God of the Christians, the one who has revealed Himself to us in the Pascha of Christ.

    On a much lighter note, I went to the source of Fr. Stephen’s video of Archbishop Job singing the 15th Antiphon and discovered this among his many talents.

    Christ is risen! Have a good laugh.

  102. unless Man decides to open up his eyes to his sin, there is alwayssomeone else to blame, and ultimately that Someone else ends up being God.
    I might even be the one who brings death into the world for the first time (as did Cain – let’s not forget it was a human who did this) yet it will be Abel’s, Adam’s or ultimately the Creator’s fault in my mind and in the most “natural and reasonable” way I remain blind to the Truth that there is no better way than the way things are endlessly arguing my self-justification.
    It is amazing that when Man crucifies his God, God still resurrects his creature yet, that very creature still blames Him in his blindness.
    you say “The Christian view, if I understand it correctly, is that at some point there were humans who were innocent or naïve and who “fell” thus condemning all of humanity.”
    No. It is that man constantly justifies himself and blames the other (especially that ultimate Other – God). “The woman you gave me”, or “the serpent” simply means the same as “the character you have given me”, or “the predicament you have placed me in”, instead of what transforms man into a noble, authentic, relational being that sees clearly his Joy, his God: “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified”

    We can easily find out at every moment in our lives whether our internal state will acknowledge bliss or discontent, Paradise or Hell on whether we side or not with these words of David

  103. TLO said “The entire story of the “fall of man” is fraught with injustice and a heavy-handed overreaction of a supposedly benevolent god.”

    TLO – if this is who god is, then I too would be an atheist. In this sense, I believe that atheists are closer to the truth than someone who believes in the false image of an angry malevolent god.

    This is not the Orthodox understanding of the fall. When God said “in that day you will die”, it was not punishment or a reaction, it was a statement of cause and effect.

    If you unplug a lamp from the electric outlet, the light goes out. If we turn our backs to the source of Life, we die.

  104. “Benevolent” doesn’t mean “nice.” It means, literally, well-intentioned. The Exsultet, which is sung by many traditional western Christians at the Easter Vigil, speaks of the fall not only as a “happy fault,” but also — amazingly — as a “necessary sin.” Did man need to suffer? We know that St. Paul said that even Christ was “perfected” through suffering. This is a great mystery. No wonder that St. Paul called the wisdom of God “inscrutable.” There is no other word for it. Both love and evil are mysteries, wherein the benevolent providence of God and the ambiguous will of man meet in the person of Jesus Christ. We must handle such weighty matters carefully, John.

  105. PJ & TLO,
    it is far safer and more error-free to talk of us humans than of God in these matters.

    The spiritual law that states that: only self-condemnation (the healthy type), as being completely unworthy of the Love of Christ -strange though this may seem at first-, frees one deeply, through the Grace of the Holy Spirit, of even the most subtle forms of Pride – our biggest enemy.The subtlety of this temptation and its offsping is truly beyond words – especially in its more advanced stages. This type of self-condemnation’s diminution therefore, inevitably leads to the condemnation of others – especially of God. Harsh though this may sound it is a type of unfailing spiritual law: That I either crucify myself or I crucify others…
    This is strongly seen in Christ’s word to Saint Silouan: “Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not.”
    This word of Christ was given to St. Silouan after long years of struggle against the demons, the visible demons, a struggle whose very existence most people hardly believe due to their ignorance, as this normally occurs only after all instrusive thoughts and imaginations have been set aside! (A feat whose attainableness many people might even doubt).
    It is also true that what we see in others and the way we interpret what we read in Scripture or what befalls us is closely connected to where we stand on our willingness to be crucified (like God) or to crucify (like fallen angels and humans)…

  106. In the light of the previous comment one can see why the sons and daughters of the first Adam constantly repeat his God-blaming and self-justifying interpretation of the world; and the offspring of the Second Adam always repeat His sacrificial and eucharistic way of life.

  107. TLO,
    although you have opened a very interesting different subject here, I will return to our previous subject on the differences between marriage and monasticism with
    Michael Bauman and drewster2000,
    I would like to return and clarify my earlier statement somewhat further, concerning monasticism’s particular and unique affinity with Jacob’s wrestling with the Lord, an effort to get to know the depths of God deeper and clearer -using Elder Sophrony’s words on the matter (they are less “scandalous” than someone like the great Elder Aimilianos’ who has also talked at length on the subject)…
    “Monasticism above all means the purity of the mind, [which is unattainable without obedience. That is why there can be no monasticism without obedience]. It is possible to receive great gifts of God – even the perfection of martyrdom – outside the monastic condition; but purity of mind is a special gift of monasticism, unknown on other paths, and the monk can only reach this state through obedience.” (Birth into the Kingdom Which Cannot Be Moved, in Russian, edited by Fr. Nicholas Sakharov, Essex, 1999)

  108. Lasseter (and others):

    If god would do to humanity what he did in Genesis, …

    But what did He do, TLO? The text is plain that He created the universe and man in it, and He gave man a set of instructions, but did He punish man for man’s transgression?

    Look, if it was just A&E who were punished for failing to follow instructions, fine. They erred, they pay. But the whole of humanity was screwed because of the sins of two? That’s like telling a two-year-old “don’t touch” and as soon as it does touch whatever you told it not to touch, a nuclear bomb goes off killing 60,000 people. Why? Because that’s how you rigged it.

    What I’m saying is that if god would punish the whole of humanity for the sins of two, he is unjust and cannot be trusted. Eternal bliss? Right, just like the Garden was perfect. Who’s to say that he won’t rig something far worse in the next life?

    Please understand, I don’t believe a word of it. To my mind, you cannot call god “good” and come up with this sort of nonsense. It makes far more sense to think that, if there is a designer, mankind is exactly as it was designed to be.

  109. TLO,
    I am afraid you continue to fail to see humanity’s immense gamut.
    A&E are but icons of you, me and everyone. They erred, we also err – completely afresh. Mankind is exactly as it was designed to be in Christ and His saints while retaining its potential for individuals to become no better than devils incarnate…
    The remarkable thing I have been struggling to put across, is that without one’s humble recognition (as Father Sophrony Sackarov puts it) “that we are indeed devils incarnate in our fall, we shall never arrive at fulness of repentance. Through total repentance we break loose from the deadly embrace of selfish individualism and begin to contemplate the divine univeraslity of Christ.”
    In simple terms, NOT blaming oneself (and therefore blaming God or A&E) is the refreshment of the fall…

  110. The reason Elder Sophrony uses such particularly strong words is none other than that he knew the real essence of our constantly renewed fall, (what we even see in 3 year olds -an inability to truly say sorry- believing I could possibly be in the wrong and others in the right)

  111. TLO,

    What I’m saying is that if god would punish the whole of humanity for the sins of two, he is unjust and cannot be trusted.

    You have been here long enough to know how the EO regard this matter. The Orthodox do not believe that God holds children guilty & punishable for their parents sins any more than a human judge incarcerates a child because the child’s parent(s) committed a crime.

    A more appropriate example of EO understanding would be that of a handicapped child born with some condition because the child’s mother used drugs while the child was in the womb. The child is born with a condition & thus will suffer accordingly through diminished capacity & ability, but at no time is the child of less/no value. At no time is the child deemed guilty & subject to punishment because of what the parent’s illicit drug use.

    The “condition” we inherit from Adam & Eve is that of a sinful nature with a diminished capacity for relationship with each other, with God & with all of creation. We ceased being other-centered persons & became self-centered individuals.

  112. TLO,
    There are so many reasons that the Tradition reads the Scriptures in fairly non-literal ways. Your summary of the Creation narrative is a good example.

    The narrative, for example, gives no account for the origin of evil. The narrative seems to start in the middle of that story. Later references to the fall of Lucifer are themselves rather obscure. The Tradition makes some use of it, but not nearly as definitively as you’d think based on later use.

    Rather, Genesis gives us profound insight into the nature of our existence and what that has to do with God. Of course, it can be trivialized if that suits the purpose. “that He is unjust and cannot be trusted.” Brilliant. The absurdity of some versions of Christian theology is obvious. But those versions of Christianity have only a tangential relationship with Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is not ultimately about someone’s attempt at a cogent systematic theology. It’s about knowledge of the true and living God. Nothing less.

  113. The “condition” we inherit from Adam & Eve is that of a sinful nature with a diminished capacity for relationship with each other,

    It amounts to the same thing.

    The child of such a mother has no chance or choice. IMHO, if this story is true, neither do we. There is no “free will” in the matter. If there was, who would choose to be born deformed? The deformed child cannot become un-deformed by making right choices. Neither can we be anything other than what we are.

    Apparently Dino represents a set who think that we are “devils incarnate.” To my mind, this is silly.

    In simple terms, NOT blaming oneself (and therefore blaming God or A&E) is the refreshment of the fall.

    I have no problem accepting responsibilities when I screw up. But trying to tell me a story about god where he bears no responsibility for the results of his actions? That’s just too weak to me. The manufacturer is responsible for the defects in the product.

  114. TLO, I’m not totally sure why you took my comment where I questioned whether it was indeed a punishment that God inflicted on primordial man and just kept rolling with your focus on a punishing God: I surely wasn’t describing the Fall as a punishment inflicted on Creation for the deeds of two persons. I also think, again, you just set yourself up for a view of a God who is not the Orthodox Creator (and who comes across as kind of a bad dude) by taking this exclusively punitive line and then going further by evaluating a being transcendent of this world by standards limited to this world–indeed limited to your perception or imagination within this world. If it’s so hard for you to accept that there is a god, then there’s no point in arguing about it, especially when we argue from such different bases. Perhaps getting a satisfactory sense of there being a God is simply not the thing for you at this time. I surely don’t think you’re getting much of it here, or at least this discussion is not the best way for you to find it, if indeed you should ever find it.

    I believe it was the Saint Quasi-Sophronios the Mystical Elder and Son of a the Blessed Kaseem the Cypriot who, while sojourning on Mount Olympus and carefully studying Saint Kilgore the Younger’s exegesis of the seventh letter of the third word of the fourth verse of the first chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes (LXX) amidst his ascetical labors, said, “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”

    Or, as Lloyd Bridges said in the movie Hot Shots!, “What I wouldn’t give to be twenty years younger … and a woman.”

  115. TLO,

    The child of such a mother has no chance or choice.

    I don’t really understand your comment here…no chance or choice for what? True, the child had “no choice” in the condition it was born with; & neither do we descendents of Adam & Eve. But the child does have a choice (free will), just as we descendents of Adam & Eve do. We can choose to love or not love God, i.e. we can choose to accept or reject union with God with that free-will.

    Apparently Dino represents a set who think that we are “devils incarnate.”

    Sigh 🙁 Dino did not say that…he said:

    Mankind is exactly as it was designed to be in Christ and His saints while retaining its potential for individuals to become no better than devils incarnate…

    Dino is very Orthodox & there is nothing to argue with here in his analogy of our potential & our penchant to commit evil. Also, he did clarify the quote from Elder Sophrony. We do have 2 potentials, one for personhood in Christ by doing good vs. one for individualism in self by doing evil. Our history is rife with these evil acts as you well know. I do seem to recall some of your postings which virtually equated mankind with evil scum & bonobos with sainthood!

    I have no problem accepting responsibilities when I screw up. But trying to tell me a story about god where he bears no responsibility for the results of his actions? That’s just too weak to me. The manufacturer is responsible for the defects in the product.

    God the Father is the Creator of beings, not a manufacturer of products. We are not poorly designed nor shoddily built things. We are created beings who were given & still have free-will to choose. It is not God’s fault that we choose poorly most of the time anymore than it is your fault, Dad, when one of your daughters chooses poorly despite the upbringing you have given her.

    Frankly, we have told you about the God who is love personified in contrast to your insistent view that God is cruel, angry & vindictive. We have explained alternative views to the Scriptures to such a punitive being & substantiated them from other sources spanning 2,000 years of Church Hisory. We have referred you to resources to guide you further in support of “God is Love”. For whatever reason, you want &/or need a cruel, angry & vindictive God rather than God who is love personified. That is your choice…your God-given free-will.

  116. As the play writes Lawrence and Lee wrote:
    “God created man in His own image. Man, being a gentleman, returned the compliment”

  117. TLO,

    I empathize with your comment about how “the manufacturer is responsible for the defects in his products.” It seems that He must have known the story to come for mankind, and I think that the cross of Christ and His resurrection was sewn into the creation of the world from the beginning.

    I wonder at how accidental the fall in the garden was, Fr. Stephen. Was the way of suffering an essential part of the story all along? Was it possible to mature as humankind apart from this road? It seems that in the life of the saints it is their very suffering that creates the beauty and virtue and the capacity for them to see and know the good God who loves mankind.

  118. TLO,
    I was hoping that you have been around here long enough that you I needn’t meticulously clarify every statement that has potential for misunderstanding…
    Of course your misunderstanding: “Apparently Dino represents a set who think that we are “devils incarnate.” To my mind, this is silly.” needs some clarification.
    But, Orthodox asceticism is full of language that has a unique pedagogical power when used correctly and can be completely abused when read from the ‘outside’, Scripture is one such example, but ascetical writings such as Elder Sophrony’s or something even more unconcerned with its potential for misunderstanding for misunderstanding (eg The Ladder of Divine ascent) are obviously even easier to misunderstand. Please don’t! I was hoping it would be obvious what is the right and wrong unerstanding of such statements by now… 🙂

  119. Here’s some clarification from F. Sophrony on his poetical expression ‘devils incarnate’:

    ‘Fervent prayer of repentance ignores extraneous impressions and rational concepts. Other ascetic cultures likewise practise this detaching of the mind from visual and intellectual forms. But in the darkness of divestiture the soul does not encounter the Living God if prayer lacks due recognition of sin, and genuine repentance. It is possible, however, to experience a certain sense of release from the kaleidoscopic process of everyday life.

    ‘In profound grief at having lost God the soul naturally strips herself of material and mental images, and the mind-spirit approaches the border beyond which Light can appear.

    ‘But this border, too, can remain impassable if the mind turns in on itself. Where the mind is so fixated, it can even see itself as light. It is important to know that this light is natural to our mind since the mind was created in the likeness of God, revealed to us as Light, in which there is “no darkness at all” [I John I:5].

    ‘Thus the transition is effected to another mode of thinking, to another and superior kind of understanding compared with scientific knowledge. Divested in a surge of repentance of all that is transient, our spirit, as from a high peak, sees the relativity and conditional character of all empiric cognition. And again and again I repeat, God is truly experienced either as purifying fire or as the Light that illumines.

    “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” [Ps. 111:10]. This fear descends on us from on High. It is a spiritual feeling, firstly of God and then of ourselves. We live in a state of awe by virtue of the presence of the Living God together with awareness of our own impurity.

    ‘This fear places us before the Face of God to be judged by Him. We have fallen so low that our distress over ourselves turns into profound suffering, more painful than the torment of seeing ourselves in the darkness of ignorance, in the paralysis of non-feeling, in slavery to the passions.

    ‘The dread is our awakening from the age-old sleep in sin. It brings us the light of perception – on the one hand, of our fatal condition and, on the other, of the holiness of God. [We Shall See Him As He Is, pgs. 20-22]

  120. Of course the poetic experiences of the saints and even we regular folk are impossible without a firm belief that our God is a good God. Only then is it possible to renounce Satan and all his works and unite ourselves to Christ.

  121. “‘In profound grief at having lost God the soul naturally strips herself of material and mental images, and the mind-spirit approaches the border beyond which Light can appear.”

    I know I’m a spiritual amateur, but this is somehow off-putting. Isn’t the light of God manifested supremely in the Holy Face of Christ? The Crucified Word seems the perfect object of contemplation. “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

  122. John,

    Haven’t we had this debate a half-dozen times? Of course the “story” of Adam and Eve doesn’t make any sense to you. St. Paul says that even pious Jews can’t really comprehend its meaning. “For to this day, when [Jews] read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.” Furthermore, the letter kills apart from the Spirit. Scripture is the Word of God. IOnly those with “ears to hear” can understand what it says. The heart must be tilled by the Spirit so that the seed of the Word can take root and flourish.

    You visit the earth and water it;
    you greatly enrich it;
    the river of God is full of water;
    you provide their grain,
    for so you have prepared it.
    You water its furrows abundantly,
    settling its ridges,
    softening it with showers,
    and blessing its growth.
    –Psalm 65:9-10

    If you just want to debate, fine. But if you’re really seeking to understand — then get on your knees and begin to pray. But you must sacrifice your sense of almighty reason, which cannot begin to pierce the divine mysteries. The only way forward is through total self-emptying, humility, and childlike abandon to providence.

  123. By the way, don’t think I speak harshly. I’ve been in your exact position. I’ve entertained the same questions. Heck, sometimes I still entertain them! I speak, as best I can, truth in charity.

  124. Anna, I’m sure Fr. Stephen can elaborate, but the Orthodox regard the understanding of the Fall in the Garden as a “happy necessity” as heresy. There is longer explanation (which David Bentley Hart touches on in his book, Doors of the Sea), but basically the problem with this heresy is that it makes God the Author of evil. No, the Fall was not necessary at all to God’s plan to unite the creation to Himself in humanity through Christ. The Greek Fathers taught that Christ’s Incarnation would have occurred and been necessary for this union even had mankind never fallen. But God has, nevertheless, also made provision for the complete healing of mankind’s Fall in Christ by Christ’s entry into, and triumphal destruction of, our death and hell. The consummation of that destruction will be made fully manifest at Christ’s Second Advent. It is manifest at present in the lives of the Saints in their overcoming the normal limitations of sin, such that miracles akin to those manifest in the Son of God are also manifest through their lives (e.g., abounding compassion/complete absence of egotism, prophetic insight/wisdom, healing through their intercession, a great level of transcendence of normal human bodily needs, etc.). The Saints are signs that point to the fullness of the Kingdom that is, from our perspective in space and time, yet to come.

  125. Karen,

    I think you misunderstand the notion of “felix culpa.” When we say that the fall was a “necessary sin” or a “happy fault,” we do not mean that it was caused by God, but rather that God created man knowing full well that he would sin. The fall was a part of the economy of salvation. It did not take God by surprise. This idea is found throughout the fathers, both eastern and western, and I’ve seen it embraced by many modern Orthodox teachers, including Fr. John Behr and Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon.

  126. Also, you write: “The Greek Fathers taught that Christ’s Incarnation would have occurred and been necessary for this union even had mankind never fallen.”

    Do you have any references? I’ve not often seen the fathers postulate such an alternative reality. There was debate among the medieval scholastics, but the early church … ? I’m not saying you’re wrong, necessarily, I’m just surprised that there was much specific discussion of this topic prior to the middle ages, with a few exceptions (Irenaeus, I believe, says something about this).

  127. PJ,
    I will answer your question:
    “I know I’m a spiritual amateur, but this is somehow off-putting. Isn’t the light of God manifested supremely in the Holy Face of Christ?”

    (on F. Sophrony’s words with his words):
    ‘The grace of repentance is given to him who in full faith accepts Christ’s dictum that if we do not believe in His Divinity and the absolute truth of all that He commanded of us, the mystery of sin will not be unmasked to us in its ontological profundity, and we shall “die in our sins” [cf. John 8:21, 24].

    ‘The very conception of sin obtains only where the relation between Absolute God and created man assumes a purely personal character. (We Shall See Him As He Is, Archimandrite Sophrony, On the Fear of God, pgs. 19-20)
    So, comprehending His Face prerequires this…

  128. Hmm. I guess that sort of helps. Sometimes I have trouble understanding what he’s saying. Probably over my head.

  129. PJ,
    Fr. Sophrony’s one theme that ran like a pure stream through all his words was the reference to Luke 14:26.
    For instance talking on his beloved Elder -St Silouan:

    “The Staretz’ message is a gentle, often affectionate one, healing the soul, but to heed it requires great and ardent resolution – to the point of self-hatred” (Luke 14:26)

    We see this in other words in other experienced ascetics such as Elder Ephraim of Katounakia :

    “Man’s greatest struggle is to disbelieve his own thoughts. When your elder is absent, you ought to ask your brother and listen to whatever he tells you. Is is no minor struggle to put your egoism aside; it is no small achievement. But there is no other way, there simply isn’t. If you want to follow monastic law, you must take this path.”

    What I mean to say is that they all agree that it is not any contemplation, not even of, “The Crucified Word” that brings the Light, it is the purity of heart that is only ever imparted through total humility that makes us see – purity from “me“, since it is “me” that defiles my immersion in “Him“-; hence, the ‘description’ of the first commandment of total love towards “Him” as “self-hatred”…

  130. Saint Silouan’s words also mean the same thing as the above mentioned Fathers:

    “Why did the Holy Fathers set obedience above fasting and prayer?”…
    “The truly obedient man detests his own will and loves his spiritual father, and for this he receives freedom to pray to God with an undistracted mind, and his soul is free without let or hindrance to contempate God and rest in Him.”

  131. PJ:

    Haven’t we had this debate a half-dozen times?

    Yes, my friend, we have had this discussion. It is important to me because it is the story of the Fall, all by its onesie, that led me away from Christianity. Indeed, it seems plain that Christianity relies rather heavily on this story.


    Pardon the length of this post.

    I also think, again, you just set yourself up for a view of a God who is not the Orthodox Creator (and who comes across as kind of a bad dude) by taking this exclusively punitive line and then going further by evaluating a being transcendent of this world by standards limited to this world–indeed limited to your perception or imagination within this world.

    Here’s the thing. Humanity is a mess. I think we can all agree on that. It is the Christian’s answer to “why” that flummoxes me. No matter how one looks at it, the Christian answer to that question involves:

    1. An omnipotent, omniscient being
    2. Human beings who were naive and/or innocent
    3. A choice
    4. All humanity paying the price for that choice

    The nearest equivalent that I can think of on a human scale is, “You’re Jewish (or insert any ethnicity you choose)? Therefore….”

    Rather than creating each human in the same condition in which A&E were created and giving each a choice, all are born under the yoke of sin (“For if the many died by the trespass of the one man…”). Who is to say that every human would make the fatal choice? Statistically speaking, it’s nearly impossible that all would. So why not give each of us a fair shot at getting it right?

    What set this conversation off was a comment that in the next life there won’t be this sin/human nature mess to deal with (paraphrased). If things can be that way in the next life, why not this one?

    The answer is always “free will.” But how can there be free will in the next life if there isn’t a chance to fall? And who’s to say that god won’t set up another test there that is equally subtle and has equally dire consequences?

    If it’s so hard for you to accept that there is a god, then there’s no point in arguing about it…

    I have no problem with the idea that there is a god. I simply cannot believe in one that would miss something so obvious.

    Indeed, I think Anna’s question speaks to the core of the issue:

    I wonder at how accidental the fall in the garden was, Fr. Stephen.

    If it was the case that god intended for all this mess to happen, well, that’s an entirely different story. Indeed, I see no point in any explanation other than “God created us as the messes that we are” and leave off this original glory/original sin business. As it stands, mankind is blamed for the mess (even though you and I were never given an opportunity to get it right the first time). If we simply said, “God made it that way” then at least he would be taking responsibility for the mess that we’re in. If god had said something like:

    OK, y’all, here’s how I designed things. I’ve set you at a disadvantage and given you a challenge. Have a go at it. But when you fail, don’t worry because I’m here to help you along.

    Something like this would make far more sense to me than the story that is presented.

    I could even bend so far as to say that in light of such a statement the cross could make sense. However, juxtaposing the Cross against the Fall is far too inventive and really makes no sense. No matter how I look at it, god comes off looking like anything but a loving or decent person.

    I think the first apostles made a huge mistake in putting any stock into the Fall story. They should have left it completely out of the equation.

    But here’s the crux of the matter: could they have? And if they had, would Christianity be what it is today? Can one remove the Fall and still have Christian doctrine?

    If the answer is “no” then it is the Fall, and not the Cross, that is the foundation of the faith. God could have offered any number of remedies but the fundamental issue would still be the Fall.

    If the answer is “yes” then why bother speaking of the Fall at all?

    It just seems to me that the Fall is either paramount or irrelevant. There’s no middle ground.

  132. John,

    You’ll drive yourself mad trying to understand this in such a rational manner. Seems to me that only he who is in Christ can make sense of the mystery of salvation, the fall included. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” If you love Christ and do have faith in Him, then bring this question before His feet. Let HIm answer it for you. We are jut men. He calls forth the Spirit of Truth from the Father. There are many things about the faith that trouble me from time to time. Sometimes men can help. But ultimately I must trust God to give me wisdom — or I must have the courage to accept my ignorance. Just because you don’t understand the fall doesn’t mean it’s not true. What about the Christian faith really, really makes sense? It’s all mind-bending! We believe that God became an obscure laborer and was crucified between thieves at age 33. Madness! Indeed, yes, it is madness to the carnal mind. But to he who has faith — power and wisdom, as Paul says. Come back on your knees, my friend! Perhaps your first cross to bear is accepting your ignorance of this matter.

  133. TLO,
    I’ll give my somewhat shortest answer to the problem as you state it, viz. creation and the fall, according to my understanding and reading of the fathers (throwing in St. Isaac of Syria for good measure):

    Freedom (which is not quite as simple as “choice”) involves the possibility of a “fall,” i.e. a movement away from union with God. It also offers the only way towards true union with God in the fullness of life for which we were created. God creates us with a freedom which we misuse(d), and which we still misuse. In Christ, that misuse is healed and turned towards its proper use.

    Another way of saying this is that the freedom required for true union with God, also requires the risk of its abuse (the fall). To get the first, you risk the second. But the first is the purpose of our creation, and the end of our creation. If you will, everything, including the fall (the Cross and Resurrection, etc.) is “creation,” the whole story. It is the story of a creation that God made for union with Himself, but which takes a “dangerous” turn, which is nevertheless redeemed.

    St. Isaac says that in the end, everything reaches the end for which it was created, union with God.

    Why not just create everything like that to start with and skip the process? The answer, indeed, is freedom – true freedom. There can be no love nor personhood with true freedom.

    To the question about “free choice” in heaven – the answer given was too trite, forgive me. The answer is that “choice” and “freedom” in heaven will have been freely healed and matured and freely become that which always freely chooses in accordance with its proper end. But this is not the same thing as “freedom” and “choice” which we now know. Our freedom is deeply broken and compromised and is itself in need of healing.

    As it is, you will note that I do not ever speak of “justice” in these matters because I think it is something we cannot know – a non-starter as a category. Is it just or unjust for God to have created us with such freedom? Because I believe He is a good God, I believe that our creation and existence is good and was created for goodness itself. Is there another way to do this? How would I or anyone know a thing like that? It is what it is.

    If this deviates too much from the troubling version of creation that stands between you and acceptance of Christ, then I’m sorry to disappoint. I cannot make sense of another version, particularly if it’s a version I don’t believe in.

  134. PJ,
    Here’s an article by Panagiotes Nellas that deals with the question of whether Christ would have become incarnate regardless of the fall from an Orthodox perspective.

    His thesis is that only beginning with Anselm did anyone really believe that the Incarnation was solely a response to sin. The debate around this question in the west was shaped by various heresies and Nellas presents the Orthodox response through such Saints as Cabasilas and Maximos the Confessor.

  135. Fr. Stephen,
    You wrote:
    “There can be no love nor personhood with true freedom.”

    Pardon my asking…but did you mean “There can be no love nor personhood without true freedom”? Or did I miss something?

    Sterling answer BTW 🙂

  136. Here is an alternate viewpoint to the Nellas article. One of the things missing in the article below that is not missing in St. Thomas’ work on this question is the idea that God, prior to the fall, could have revealed the Incarnation to the ancestors, and in that way brought man further into participation in the image and likeness. So the deification of mankind is NOT dependent upon the knowledge of good and evil or the presence and consequences of sin in man or creation.

    That to me seems to be the real question here and in the Nellas article. Are the knowledge of good and evil and the presence and consequence of sin necessary for man’s participation in the divine life? Seems not.

    I tend to prefer this view:

  137. Part of the section from St. Thomas that I reference above:

    “I answer that, To each things, that is befitting which belongs to it by reason of its very nature; thus, to reason befits man, since this belongs to him because he is of a rational nature. But the very nature of God is goodness, as is clear from Dionysius (Div. Nom. i). Hence, what belongs to the essence of goodness befits God. But it belongs to the essence of goodness to communicate itself to others, as is plain from Dionysius (Div. Nom. iv). Hence it belongs to the essence of the highest good to communicate itself in the highest manner to the creature, and this is brought about chiefly by “His so joining created nature to Himself that one Person is made up of these three–the Word, a soul and flesh,” as Augustine says (De Trin. xiii). Hence it is manifest that it was fitting that God should become incarnate. ”

    and also…

    “I answer that, There are different opinions about this question. For some say that even if man had not sinned, the Son of Man would have become incarnate. Others assert the contrary, and seemingly our assent ought rather to be given to this opinion.

    For such things as spring from God’s will, and beyond the creature’s due, can be made known to us only through being revealed in the Sacred Scripture, in which the Divine Will is made known to us. Hence, since everywhere in the Sacred Scripture the sin of the first man is assigned as the reason of Incarnation, it is more in accordance with this to say that the work of Incarnation was ordained by God as a remedy for sin; so that, had sin not existed, Incarnation would not have been. And yet the power of God is not limited to this; even had sin not existed, God could have become incarnate. ”

  138. Weighing in on a correct reading of Aquinas is above my pay-scale. However, my regard for Nellas is quite great. He is one of the better Orthodox theologians of the 20th century. In this matter I would defer to his judgment – particularly as he reads Aquinas in relationship to what Palamas or Cabasilas have said.

  139. Mary,
    Again, I cannot begin to treat Aquinas with the proper knowledge. Thus, I can only cite those scholars (Orthodox) who have offered critique of his work. In the matter of created versus uncreated grace, as I understand it, there is a great difference. But it is not a point I am competent to weigh in on.

  140. TLO –

    I am going to offer my own response to your dilemma (and I’m asking everyone else to refrain from arguing with me because I realize that it may differ from the majority view here; I’m just sharing these ideas in hopes that it helps TLO a bit).

    Suppose we were to read Genesis a bit more allegorically. Rather than viewing it as a historical account of two people, think of it as a summation of the human dilemma. If God created human beings in a gradual fashion from the earth (yes, I’m implying evolution, with no judgment specifically about Darwinism), there came a time when those early humans were able to “eat the apple” so to speak, to have knowledge of good and evil – and to know the difference between them. This development of humanity could be viewed as analogous to the development of the individual – who begins life without the maturity to know but grows into knowing.

    If this was bound to happen by natural development, one might wonder why scripture has God telling people that they will die if they “eat this apple”, if this knowledge is an inevitable part of their development. Perhaps once we know the difference between good and evil we begin to NOT WANT to die. (Plants and animals instinctively try to survive, but do not have the capacity to resist death with full consciousness.)

    Then the temptation: rather than imagine a snake actually speaking, consider that the primary temptation, once humanity had this level of understanding (i.e. true soul with freedom), is to say “I want to be god,” (i.e. I don’t want to die). Rather than following the Way which God established for all created things (see “Christ, the Eternal Tao”), we humans want to follow our own way (resisting death) – which brings us out of unity with God. This is original sin – not because it was the first sin, but because it is the sin upon which all sin is based. My way, not God’s.

    So, if this desire to be gods (sound like ego?)is our temptation, why would God create us with such a flaw? It seems to me that the flaw comes with the awareness of good and evil which is freedom. He could have made us all daisies and we would live in harmony with the Way (accepting our death and finite nature), but we would not be able to love. If we are good only out of the necessity of nature, we are not loving. We were made for love.

    (Could God have made us gods? To create us makes us “created” and so He could not make us “uncreated”, i.e. gods, could He? But He did make us “little less than a god”)

    The question may arise though as to whether our evil tendency arises from the necessity of nature – could humanity do anything other than fall prey to this temptation to try to be gods? This is a tough question – if tackled without any faith perspective. I believe that Jesus was fully human. The temptations we are told He experienced were precisely ours. You might say His temptation to be god wasn’t the same as ours if He really was God – but the temptation was to make it all about Himself (there’s ego again) and He did not. He made it about us. He did not sin. He did not resist death – but accepted it (thereby conquering it and becoming the Way for us). He did not accept it easily – he agonized – but He accepted it.

    I realize this latter part is accepted on the basis of Scripture/faith, not proof, but it is what I believe. Has any other human lived without sinning? I believe that Mary did. When she was faced with making it about her or making it about God, she said yes to God. Again, no proof. There may be others who have not sinned – but how would I know? Only God can know – for such souls would be so without ego that we would not know of their full virtue.

    Sorry this is so long. I am no theologian, just sharing my personal perspective in hopes that it is helpful.

  141. PJ, I trust the responses of Victor and Fr. Stephen answered your question. Actually, making the statements that I do about “what Orthodoxy teaches” is above my pay grade most of the time, too. I’m just parroting what I have learned and made some sense of–mostly not first-hand from reading the Fathers, but rather second-hand from others (like Fr. Stephen) who have read them and passed along their wisdom in terms I can grasp. 🙂 Just so happens I sometimes have a good memory for pertinent facts from this “second-hand reading” of the Fathers, but I can’t point you to first-hand sources without doing some research first. Happily, others are more conversant with the source material or with those who have synthesized it well in print somewhere.

  142. TLO,
    “the troubling version of creation that stands between you and acceptance of Christ” is lacking, in that it lacks the personal first-hand knowledge that the more ascetical, ‘neptic’ Patristic writings presume.
    In Orthodoxy the profound significance we place on first-hand, direct experience also involves, (as well as the direct experience of God) that experience of my “fall”. THAT is in fact one of the reasons why St Isaac the Syrian dared to say such things as: “The man who is deemed worthy to see himself [his Luciferean self-obsession]/ his freely self-inflicted sinfulness] is greater than he who is deemed worthy to see angels”.
    The parable of the Prodigal Son, does not speak of someone, somewhere. It is speaking of the Fall and the Crucifixion which exists from the very first moment of creating free wills outside of God, whether angelic or human.
    God hasn’t “set us at a disadvantage and given us a challenge” (as you say), he has risked ‘the risk of love’ by saying: “you are you and I respect you and your freedom to even kill me, as the Prodigal more-or-less did, when he asked for his inheritance although his Father was still alive”. We all “repeat” our Fall, most especially when we do not accept it as our own. The One who reversed it accepted it fully, even when it was not his own…

  143. Karen,

    Sure, any resources would be appreciated. Let me say that I too believe that Christ would have become incarnate either way. However, I don’t really think it’s worthwhile to speculate about an alternative. The fact is, man abused his free will and separated himself from God — as God knew would happen. Yet God ensured that this sorrowful tragedy would yield an incomprehensible and glorious wonder: the incarnation of the Word. Thus it is a “happy fault.” If you want to read an Orthodox rendering of the felix culpa idea, read John Behr. He certainly makes good use of it.

  144. Obedience. That Dino is what, more than anything else, separates life in the world from the monastic life. The root of the word in English comes from ‘to hear’.

    For monastics, obedience is the key virtue. Frankly, it is dangerous in the world to try to be obedient in the moanstic way because of the number of charlatans and the lack of sufficient personal contact. Also there is a greater variety of people who call on your obedience: spouses, children, your confessor, your employer and/or customers, the government. Some of these calls to obey are righteous, some are not. One does not have the problem with a trusted spiritual father/mother.

    Add to the mix the American training NOT to be obedient to anybody, in fact rebellion is considered a virtue, and it can be a real mess.

    The quote from Elder Sophrony about ego is especially valuable. I have a picture on my computer of the Elder taken not long before his repose and he is full of such joy and peace it radiates. (I think I got it here). Just looking at that picture is a blessing.

    I mention the picture because without it one might be tempted to think he was a morose and ‘serious’ man all the time (given the quotes about ‘hating’ oneself). Spiritual sobriety and intense spiritual warfare yield joyful peace and true freedom. That’s what the picture conveys to me.

  145. Indeed Michael, it is through obedience more than anything else that the blessed purity of prayer and uninterrupted eucharistic experience of every single moment is possible in that life. It is such a blessing to be able to experience such a thing so ‘easily’ in monasticism, it is the “most comfortable pillow in the universe” as Elder Aimilianos used to say.
    Something of the sort is virtually impossible in the world, unless, perhaps, if one achieves it through total ‘joyous’ acceptance of a very serious illness that also “allows” (“forces” in worldly terms) a complete detachment from the world…
    Having no direct personal experience of this, I say this only because I have seen how my grandmother became holier and humbler and more spiritually thankful through an extremely severe and completely debilitating stroke which essentially allowed her to do nothing other than pray for 7 years (as she withered away in bed). I was one of the very few people who could understand the 5 or 6 words that she could try to communicate to us.

  146. Fr. Stephen

    I attempted to post something last night that didn’t take. Could you see if you have it in a spam filter? If you decided to nix it as too heretical, I will accept your judgment, but if it is simply lost I might like to re-post it. Thanks.

  147. Father Stephen said:

    Again, I cannot begin to treat Aquinas with the proper knowledge. Thus, I can only cite those scholars (Orthodox) who have offered critique of his work. In the matter of created versus uncreated grace, as I understand it, there is a great difference. But it is not a point I am competent to weigh in on.”

    Dear Father,

    I appreciate the quandary in which this leaves us so know that I say this with gentleness. There is a grave mis-reading of what is called “created” grace on the part of eastern writers. I don’t know when it began precisely but it is well entrenched and will be difficult to root out without a great deal more cross-reading of texts and patient teaching, and willing ears to learn.

    I do have some formal training in reading Aquinas so I would not have posted what I did without some assurance that I am not just blowing smoke. The text that I posted is pretty clear. Sin is not required for God to have prepared the ancestors for theosis by revealing the Incarnation to them. That is spoken in plain Latin and reproduced literally in English. There is no specialized or technical lexicon to deal with in those passages.

    But until Orthodox writers stop understanding created grace literally, then we are at something at an impasse. I do find that Orthodox believers who have studied Aquinas, and who do have the experience to understand created grace differently, are less inclined to push back too hard in these kinds of discussions. That fact alone gives me hope for the future. Also Marcus Plested has a book out on the history of the reception of Aquinas in Byzantine Orthodoxy that I think may begin the work of changing perceptions in the future.

    In the Risen Christ,


  148. Mary,
    You might be interested in Father Nicholaos Loudovikos (although he seems to have more in Greek than in English) who has studied Aquinas and Palamas as few others have and seems to agree with you in that their differences are not as marked as they have been shown to be in the past at all. He argues that Aquinas is far more Orthodox than what we might think at first, especially his later understanding.

  149. Aquinas cannot be rightly understood unless it is recognized that he was first and foremost a man of prayers. He celebrated Mass at dawn and then assisted at another Mass immediately afterwards. He regularly wept during the consecration of the Eucharist. His favorite past time was not writing theology, but rather psalm-singing. And he spent many hours in contemplation of the Eucharist. When Christ appeared to Him and asked what in the wide world he wanted, Thomas responded: “Only you, Lord.” Apart from this mystical dimension, Aquinas is reduced to a caricature of himself: a walking dogmatics textbook. But no, he was above all else a lover of Christ, a rare sort — a mystical academic. It is fitting that he died while commenting on the Song of Songs.

  150. If you permit, Father: The practical meaning of created grace is that God delivers his essential graces to us in such a way that there is an ontological change in us that allows his graces to act in us without burning us to bits. The very same example of the sun and the rays of the sun is used…or iron in the fire becoming stronger without being consumed.

    It is no more or less than than the transfiguration in man that is understood as theosis in Byzantine and Oriental Orthodoxy. We do not become something other but we are transfigured as creatures so that we may participate in the divine life.

    The virtues that we exhibit from that kind of interaction or union between God and his creatures are not just the product of our great effort, but are indeed freely given gifts of the Holy Spirit.

    There is a language that short-cuts what I’ve written above and that is where the difficulty lies I am sure but the meaning as I offer it here is real and old in the Catholic west.

    I have not been exhaustive in what I wrote above but the basic principles above apply to any other expansion on my comments. Time and the kind of work that is being done in the Catholic east and west today will demonstrate that this is far more than Mary Lanser’s ideology.

    In the Risen Christ,


  151. Mary,

    While Aquinas’ conclusions might agree with Orthodoxy on this matter, I’m more than a little concerned by this:

    “For such things as spring from God’s will, and beyond the creature’s due, can be made known to us only through being revealed in the Sacred Scripture, in which the Divine Will is made known to us.”

    It appears, at least to me, to be a statement about the nature of Divine Revelation that is not in accordance with the mind of the Church at all. Unless “and beyond the creature’s due” is somehow a qualification, he appears to be saying that we can only experince Divine Revelation through the scriptures…

  152. It is worth noting, however, that many Latins reacted coolly to Thomas’ work during his life. And even after he died, his corpus was resisted and critiqued. Some of these criticisms are not unlike those currently maintained by Orthodox: namely, the importation of profane philosophy into the heart of the Christian mystery. Though some are unique to the age and are more concerned with physics and philosophy than theology. As late as Trent, Aquinas took second place to Duns Scotus.

  153. Victor,

    Yes. Aquinas had a very “high” view of Scripture. But you can find comparable statements in many of the Church fathers, east and west.

    For instance, Cyril of Jerusalem wrote, “For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell you these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning , but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures” (Catechetical Lecture IV, 7).

    And Gregory of Nyssa: “[T]he ground of their complaint is that their custom does not admit this, and Scripture does not support it. What then is our reply? We do not think that it is right to make their prevailing custom the law and rule of sound doctrine. For if custom is to avail for proof of soundness, we too, surely, may advance our prevailing custom; and if they reject this, we are surely not bound to follow theirs. Let the inspired Scripture, then, be our umpire, and the vote of truth will surely be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine words” (On the Holy Trinity).

    In fact, Aquinas’ is almost quoting St. John Damascene verbatim: “It is not within our capacity, therefore, to say anything about God or even to think of Him, beyond the things which have been divinely revealed to us, whether by word or by manifestation, by the divine oracles at once of the Old Testament and of the New” (On the Orthodox Faith I, 2). This is unsurprising, given that the Damascene was one of his primary influences.

  154. Victor: Is there revelation outside of Scripture and Tradition for Orthodoxy?

    One of the counsels of the Catholic west is that Tradition may not contra-dict Scripture. That does NOT mean that Tradition cannot expand our understanding of what is there in Scripture but it cannot contradict Scripture. Of course the only mechanism for determining what is or is not contradictory is the mind of the Church.

    The divine authorial nature/authority of Scripture holds the fulness of Revelation…and the Church has been divinely granted the privileges and responsibilities of that authority through Apostolic Succession, which determines the authenticity and orthodoxy of Tradition.

    This is pretty didactic and I may have missed a chunk of something important, so I reserve the right to revise……


  155. Mary, my point with regard to Aquinas is this:

    Since I am not competent in Aquinas, neither can I judge someone else’s competence. I am thus only able to rely on authorities whom I know and trust – in this case – Orthodox authorities. I’ve only read a very little bit of Ludovicius, some of which I find interesting – some of which I find unnecessarily complex (even compared to Zizioulas, Dino). Therefore, a discussion of Aquinas and his thought on created grace, or even the Roman position on created grace, is simply beyond the bounds of the blog. I can’t moderate what I don’t know, and though willing to learn, it’s not the purpose of the blog.

    As to a correct Orthodox understanding of the RC position on created grace – I’ll leave that to the occasional formal discussions between those appointed for such. I read their work with great interest. Again, this is not that place. I’ll trust the discussion to move on.

    Christ is risen!

  156. Mary and PJ,

    It seems to me that Aquinas is saying something very different from the Fathers in identifying Scripture as the only means by which we may receive revelation. This is patently untrue on the face of it so perphaps he means something else? How did St. Paul encounter the Revelation on the road to Damascus? How did the thief on the cross encounter it/Him?
    The Patristic materials you both mention are not saying that there is no experience of God outside of Scripture. They refer, rather, to Scripture as the canon for verifying the authenticity of a revelatory claim. The apparent conflation of these two ideas is my concern. I am happy to be wrong about Aquinas’ intended meaning!

  157. Victor,

    Don’t worry: It is somewhat confusing, especially since it’s a rather passing and off-hand comment in a paragraph taken out of context. I assure you that Aquinas didn’t believe that man’s experience of God is limited to the words of Holy Scripture. Nor even man’s knowledge of God, for he followed St. John Damascene in affirming that man can, for instance, grasp God’s existence by natural reason.

    I agree that his phraseology is a bit ambiguous, but he’s really just asserting that Holy Scripture is the normative means of coming to knowledge of the mysteries of God. In context, he’s saying (layman’s terms), “Let’s just stick to Scripture, which is the reliable Word of God, rather than speculating about alternative universes…”

  158. PJ, you are probably right I misread the “felix culpa” reference. I forgot to address this in my earlier comment. I was likely thinking more of the ways in which Calvin developed these sorts of ideas such that the Fall became necessary in order to better show forth the glory of God or some such notions. That also is what Hart debunks in his book.

  159. Victor,
    thank you very much for the Nelas article – it was fabulous.
    I especially liked his demonstration of how on the axis of (western) “Fall-Redemption”, justice and law are become dominant, while on the axis of “Creation-Deification”, sin consists in making oneself autonomous from Him Who is the Alpha and Omega -Christ.
    His explanation of Westerners’ “truncation of the axis of Divine Economy from Creation-Deification to just Sin-Redemption”. (—”how, indeed, could Christ be the result of the Devil’s wickedness?”—) based on Cabasilas was a great answer to some of TLO’s (John’s issues with the “Fall”…

    Especially his explanation on how The Divine Logos

    did not change place, nor did He breach or pass over a wall; but showing what stood between Him and us

    , what the barrier between the Creator and the creature was, what the natural cause of the immeasurable distance between the Uncreated and the created was (irrespective even of the Fall), assumed createdness. He took up human nature, He became what the barrier was, leaving no barrier. Having always been the ultimate will of God’s love, the ontological meaning of created being/Man, Christ the New Adam, (the paradigm according which the Old Adam was created), would have incarnated regardless of the Fall.

    Thanks again!

  160. Yes,

    Marvelous, isn’t it? And where did I find it? Right here on Fr. Stephen’s blog!
    Glory to God

  161. Fr. Stephen:

    Is it just or unjust for God to have created us with such freedom? Because I believe He is a good God,

    To be honest, I don’t have any problem with accepting that man is a mess. My issue has more to do with blame than anything. Why should I assume the guilt of my parent’s offense? If a child is conceived and born to a woman in prison, must that child be raised a prisoner? Of course not.

    If I was to accept the story in Genesis, I could not even blame A&E. They were innocent. They had no context of what “you will surely die” would mean. What possible concept of punishment could they have known? But God knew all along that, just as surely as when you tell your toddler not to do something, they were gonna do it. But what the toddler learns is that when daddy says “don’t touch” it’s so the toddler won’t get hurt. Then he learns to trust. If the parent went on to place the kid in a orphanage because he didn’t listen, what kind of father would he be?

    I mean, seriously, could he have been a little less over the top? “Don’t eat this fruit or you’ll get wicked diarrhea” would make sense to me. “Eat it and you’ll experience a spiritual death (you and all your descendants), I’ll kick you out of the Garden, the man’s gonna have to work for a living, and the childbirth is gonna hurt like you wouldn’t believe…” Say what?

    Tell me instead, “I’ve created you to be imperfect but your challenge is to give it your best shot. Here’s what I want you to learn (compassion, mercy, goodness, gentleness…). Most of all, I want you to trust me and to love me. I’ll help you along the way and I’ll even become a human myself to get you over the hurtle of death.” That’s something I could believe. Because we do like a challenge and we love an underdog. If we were the underdog, we would certainly be driven to strive for something better. But no matter how I read it, the Gospel story makes us the dog, not the underdog.

    My favorite movies are those where people are propelled to think better of themselves. The Freedom Writers or Remember the Titans. Tell me I’m better than I think I am and that I can do whatever I strive to do and I’m all over it. Push me to try harder. But don’t tell me that my ancestors screwed me over and I can’t do anything on my own. If I believe that, what will I become? In the first case, it is you (or god) who is pushing me on to greatness. And so god would get all the glory for anything I accomplish. I have no problem with that whatsoever. But all this “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy” stuff only serves to tell me that I am already defeated and I cannot succeed unless I prostrate myself before the HHIC.

    Basic human psychology. You think god couldn’t employ some of that?

    I would far rather hear, “You can do it” than “God loves you so much that he gave his son…”. That makes me feel like a worthless schmuck who is so far gone that only a horrific torture and sacrifice could possibly save me. Blech!

  162. PJ,

    I am happy to have misunderstood Aquinas on the point of revelation/canon.
    I do think that referring to the possibility of the Incarnation without the fall as an unimportant but interesting alternative universe is NOT what is meant by theologoumenon in the mind of the Church.

    Further, I would venture that the intentional anteriority of the Incarnation was a commonplace in the Church like the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Not fully articulated but fully embraced until such time as those who opposed such were manifest.

  163. The ancestor’s guilt thing is not part of my thought. I do not believe it. That the story of A&E says that to live apart from God, apart from communion with God, is death (not diarrhea) makes complete sense. It’s a story that gives theological understanding, not an account of the historical sin of two people because of whom we’re now suffering holocausts and the like. I have no idea what the “history” of the matter was (no one does, no one wrote it down, etc.). What we have is the story in Genesis that works when rightly understood.

    The be “created in His image” is actually pretty profound – indeed – it’s the basis for all modern “human rights” (though not acknowledged as such). How much greatness do you need – image of God – “I made you like God” is pretty awesome.

    I have a lot of friends in the recovery movement (I volunteer one day a week in a local alcohol and treatment program). They’ll tell you just how useless “will power” is…completely. There is the irony (there’s that word) that they do not get sober until they can admit that they can’t get sober. And there’s a lot more after that.

    But I have seen profoundly!!!!! changed lives all around me, all the time. All because there is a willingness to trust a “Higher Power” who, when examined, seems to be the God of the gospels. I find that most non-addict Christians are not “sick enough” to get well. But for those who are, it’s amazing. One who is forgiven much loves much, or something like that.

    It is also ironic, that the men I work with often have to be healed of the “substitutionary atonement” at least Luther’s “snow-covered dung hill” version. They believe that they are nothing more than crap and don’t know why God or anyone would want to do anything for them. They’re stuck (when they’re stuck) because they believe that schmuck’s like them have only themselves to thank for it, and only themselves to help themselves. And so they stay stuck.

    They actually have to believe that they’re not dung hills in order to get well. They have to rightly understand “Lord, have mercy.” And, they do. I see profound change in men and women who had no reason to live and were rushing headlong towards death, and now have a reason to live and are rushing headlong towards life. I love them!

    They’re not at all like the Christians you’ve described. I find them to be wonderfully “Orthodox,” even when they often don’t know it.

  164. Fr. Stephen,

    My Priest’s words often echo in my head “encourage and recognize Orthodoxy where you see it”. Your words in the above post do not so much echo that sentiment as resonate from the same Source. Thanks be to God!

  165. Fr. Stephen – sorry to be a pest – I posted a short note to you above this morning about a post I tried to post last night. Since you didn’t respond and the post didn’t appear, I am left not knowing if you didn’t want it posted or if it got lost. I would appreciate knowing one way or the other. (I had wanted to share some thoughts with TLO about the fall.)

  166. Mary,
    Thanks for the head’s up on the spam problem. It’s the best thing to do – let me know about a problem on a comment. This week, though I am past Pascha, I’m still hanging fire in my schedule. I have post-Pascha visits, 2 family graduations, leading a clergy retreat and going out of town for one of the graduations. Pray for a priest who’s too busy at the moment. Next week…he said…

  167. John, I don’t what else to say. I only know that I am quite a different person than I was when I first became Christian and it is not because I willed it. I have cooperated with God sufficiently to allow some change. It is not against my will, but it sure ain’t my will alone. The more I try to make things happen, the more messed up things become.

  168. Of course. You make yourself so available to us that it is easy to forget how busy (and tired) you must be. Many blessings to you…

  169. Fr. Stephen;
    “It is also ironic, that the men I work with often have to be healed of the “substitutionary atonement”…They believe that they are nothing more than crap and don’t know why God or anyone would want to do anything for them. They’re stuck (when they’re stuck) because they believe that schmuck’s like them have only themselves to thank for it, and only themselves to help themselves. And so they stay stuck…They actually have to believe that they’re not dung hills in order to get well. ”

    I work security in an adult male prison for 18 years now. I too have seen this “mindset”. Frequently the violence they committed & contine to commit is merely “hitting back first”; they hurt before they get hurt. Ironically, most were raised in some sort of religious tradition that involved substitionary atonement as well as the total depravity of mankind. You are right in that many or most feel that they are worthless & unlovable, even by God. And yes, those that escape this mindset are some of the most thankful & gracious Christians you will ever meet. They may not be the most educated nor well-spoken, but they love God with an unrivaled intensity. The process of their change is very exciting & heart warming to witness.

    Another irony I have noticed is that most Christians actually aggravate this situation either through Bible as billy club tactics or approaching them as if they (inmates) are crap that they (Christians)are there to clean up. Seldom are they told that they & everyone around them is the image of God & therefore they cannot be dung.

    Thanks for the comment!

  170. they do not get sober until they can admit that they can’t get sober

    That is the irony of how we can actually reverse the Fall!

    another one is,

    “they do not transform their surroundings (both ‘things’ and ‘persons’) from evil to holy until they admit that it is not the surroundings problem, but their own”…

  171. Bad theology has consequences. What one believes matters. The renewing of the heart/ mind (nous) that the Scripture begins with right belief for most people. At least in my experience. Then, with metanoia, the healing goes deeper. The belief is the good ground in which the seed can grow and produce fruit, inwardly and outwardly. We fertlize and weed as we acquire virtues and fend off the passions.

    The field of our own will is, at best, fallow

    Is it too much of a stretch to see the seed as from the tree of life renewed in earth by the tree of the Cross?

    I am not talking about “the power of positive thinking” BTW.

  172. Rhonda

    I too encounter people like those you describe – not in prison but walking the streets, looking “normal” on the outside. Inside, they feel that they are so horrible that God wants nothing to do with them. Often the trust issues run so deep that, even with a longing for the healing Love, they are afraid to place any trust in it.

  173. Hmm. According to Florovsky:

    “he question about the ultimate motive of the Incarnation was never formally discussed in the Patristic Age. The problem of the relation between the mystery of the Incarnation and the original purpose of Creation was not touched upon by the Fathers; they never elaborated this point systematically. “It may perhaps be truly said that the thought of an Incarnation independent of the Fall harmonizes with the general tenor of Greek theology. Some patristic phrases seem to imply that the thought was distinctly realized here and there, and perhaps discussed.”

    These ‘patristic phrases’ were not collected and examined. In fact, the same Fathers could be quoted in favor of opposite opinions. It is not enough to accumulate quotations, taking them out of their context and ignoring the purpose, very often polemical, for which particular writings were composed. Many of these ‘patristic phrases’
    were just ‘occasional’ statements, and they can be used only with utter care and caution. Their proper meaning can be, ascertained only when they are read in the context, i.e. in the perspective of the thought of each particular writer.”

    Interestingly, according to Florovsky, the first theologians to systematically consider the ultimate motive of the Incarnation were actually post-Schism Latins, and they answered in the affirmative: Yes, God would have become man regardless of the fall.

    For instance, Honorius of Autun, sounding rather “easter”: “therefore the first man’s sin was not the cause of Christ’s Incarnation; rather, it was the cause of death and
    damnation. The cause of Christ’s Incarnation was the predestinati on of human deification. It was indeed
    predestined by God from all eternity that man would be deified, for the Lord said, ‘Father, Thou hast loved them* before the creation of the world,’ [cf. John 17:24] those, that is, who are deified through Me… It was necessary, therefore, for Him to become incarnate, so that man could be deified, and thus it does not follow that sin was the cause of His Incarnation, but it follows all the more logically that sin could not alter God’s plan for deifying man; since in fact bot h the authority of Sacred Scripture and clear reason declare that God would have assumed man even had man never sinned.”

  174. Intriguingly, unless I’m seriously misreading this, Duns Scotus goes so far as to claim that the Word would have become flesh even if neither man nor angel was ever created!

    “I say, nevertheless, that the Fall is not the cause of Christ’s predestination. Indeed, even if one angel had not fallen, or one man, Christ would still have been predestined
    thus— even if others had not been created, but only Christ.”

  175. PJ: I am very happy that you found an Orthodox source. I’ve read Father Georges for many years but did not recall what you’ve posted above, or I would have grabbed for it instantly. Where did you find these quotes from Father?…and also from Honorius?


  176. @Michael: “For monastics, obedience is the key virtue. Frankly, it is dangerous in the world to try to be obedient in the moanstic way because of the number of charlatans and the lack of sufficient personal contact. Also there is a greater variety of people who call on your obedience: spouses, children, your confessor, your employer and/or customers, the government. Some of these calls to obey are righteous, some are not. One does not have the problem with a trusted spiritual father/mother.”

    Hmmm….I understand where you’re coming from but I’m not sure about this. I suggest that the monastic practice of doing everything the abbot asks is only a way of learning to obey God unconditionally and not meant to be a permanent condition. A human being by definition is given the power of decision-making and is therefore responsible to exercise discernment. Since fallen creatures are involved I would think that this applies within or without a monastery.

    I’m sure someone will tell me how naive and unfamiliar I am concerning the monastic life – and they may have a very good point – but human beings don’t become angels or something other than what they are just because they enter a monastery. Truly blind obedience is never advisable no matter where you are. While I understand the value of it in certain circumstances, often the time period is limited and for a specific purpose – and not a life habit. God never asks us to check our brains at the door.

    I say none of this in offense against the practice of obedience, but we must obey as an intelligent being and not as an animal or machine. And therefore with this in mind, I don’t suffer a huge difference between monastic and married (or those in the world) when it comes to the matter of obedience.

    Perhaps this trail has gone cold but I add my 2 cents nonetheless.

  177. drewdter2000,
    concerning the difficulty for most people to discern the immeasurable merits of total obedience, and how (as Elder Ephraim of Katounakia used to repeat more often than any other saying) “obedience=Life, disobedience=death; I think in this day and age, few people can glean why…
    Perhaps if you think how enthusiastically you would embrace it after having been deluded to the point of seeing demons as angels more than once and then encountered an Elder with the discernment you obviously lacked in your previous self-assuredness, who, in the Holy Spirit, also loves you more than you can love yourself, then you might see how you would fall in love with total obedience towards him. And after that you might get a suspicion how obedience in the right context can be given such an exalted status, even when the context is not always perceived as so ideal (once you have discerningly made the choice of the context, it more often than not is)…

  178. Obviously, total obedience presupposes successfully discerning an elder or abbott who is spiritually worthy of such utter submission. Otherwise it is, as Drewster points out, sheer madness and a recipe for disaster. Just look at the state of my own church. Many priests and lay people refrained from coming forward and/or investigating and/or listening to their common sense out of “obedience” to those who didn’t deserve it.

  179. The one who is being obeyed obviously needs discernment or he is preparing his own hell, (if for example he goes against the other Elders’ advise and tells his monks to go fishing -out of his own volition and not that of the Spirit- although the weather is looking dangerous) however, even if the one who is carrying out the monastic ‘obedience’ is obedient to such a Father who lacks this discernment born of humility, and drowns in the sea out of obedience to an irrational ‘order’ that lacked such discernment (something that happened once in the Monastery of Gregoriou) he is still crowned a martyr…
    So, let us not think secularly concerning these matters or outside of the Orthodox Tradition.

  180. Today’s homily was on obedience: love of Christ is its impetus, humility is its essence and the actions of faith its manifestation. The fruit is our salvation.

  181. In the tradition of the desert fathers (and mothers), I have learned each year to ask for a word to guide me. While I might choose a word, often the word chooses me. That happened to me this year – and the word was “obedience”. I can’t say that I was thrilled – but I have come to love and embrace it.

    One thing I learned about the word is that, from its root, it means to “listen carefully”. To truly do this, to listen carefully and deeply, requires considerable humility (I’ve discovered this is a companion word for my journey.) There is a natural tendency to view my own opinions and views as best – when most certainly they are not. To embrace obedience is to allow oneself to be stripped of ego (aka false self)in order to follow the true Way of Christ.

    This said, I do not believe that one should ever assign one’s will completely over to another. I am the one responsible for my soul, not another, and my choices include who I choose to obey and to what degree.

    I do not doubt that there may be spiritual fathers/mothers whose holiness would be so obvious to me that I would not consider contradicting them – but not everyone has access to a guide who is at that level, nor is everyone at a point of spiritual readiness to trust another at that level. It is all a process.

    (I am not judging how things are done in monasteries but how I see it as “a monk in the world”.)

  182. Indeed, Michael and Mary, obedience (as understood in our tradition) is Love, it is what true freedom from Self and from Death, what the Life of the Resurrection, what “real repentance” actually looks like.
    It is of course a gift of the Holy Spirit -the Spirit of true Freedom- and is only ever acted out in complete freedom, it is therefore what the truly wise opt for when looking for the way to true freedom.

    If we remind ourselves that obedience (especially in the Orthodox Monastic tradition, is none other than the the safest way to do what I want to do the most (to do God’s will) -for a beginner-, we then see why it is the fastest way to get to where we really would want to be, but keep going round in circles instead.
    May the Lord grant us such wisdom…

  183. Mary, I am certainly a disobedient man but I have learned that there is no such thing as being conditionally obedient. One is either obedient or guided by one’s own will.

    One thing I do know is that God will even bring great blessings from obedience even after a specific disobedience. Not only is the sin of the disobedience removed but the obedience flowers into great fruit.

    Because obedience is an act of love it can come quite easily and naturally, at least specific instances of it.

    The trick is to live a life of obedience without second guessing or self-will disguised as discernment.

  184. Michael –

    “…I have learned that there is no such thing as being conditionally obedient.”

    I am certainly no expert on being obedient. However, I think there is danger in giving “blind obedience” to anyone who is in a position of authority. I also think, as one to whom others come for counsel, that it is very risky to tell another what to do and expect blind obedience.

    “I was only following orders,” is not an excuse for failing to use one’s own powers of discernment. I realize that no one here is using “obedience” in the context of carrying out genocide. But the reality is that there are people who abuse authority in all settings, though presumably very few if any in Orthodox monasteries. 🙂

  185. People abuse power. True.

    There are two ways that I know of to protect oneself against such abuse: be very careful and check out everything you possibly can and have a way out; love God with all your heart mind soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself.

    I have done quite a bit of the first. It ultimately requires some level of trust or I’d never do anything. Sometimes I have still gotten hurt.

    To trust God to the point that I can submit myself to Him with abandon fully knowing that He will provide for me is not “blind obedience” even when the action taken is in response to someone who is eaten up with lust of power.

    The few times I have acted in this manner I have been greatly rewarded.

    The key is working with God to soften one’s heart to the point that such love and trust is possible. That alone lessens the chance you will be asked to do such a thing.

    Does God love us willing the best for us?

    Do we have sufficient love for Him to accept His provision for us or do I trust my own will and discernment more.

    There are times when we must use our critical and analytic faculties but those times are rather less than we suspect.
    “Submit yourselves all ye nations for God is with us”

    Disobedience was the first sin and is the root of all others. Disobedience will be the last eradicated from the human heart. One reason Christ said in the Garden: Thy will, not mine be done.

  186. People everywhere abuse power.

    Frankly, the only sure way to overcome that abuse is to go above their heads so to speak.

    What is required is an absolute trust in the fact that He is with us and that He will provide for us.

    It is not easy, especially in the face of abuse, but it is possible.

  187. Many years ago, during my training as a psychologist, a supervisor told me to do something that I was quite certain was not the right thing for someone. He was the sort that would not entertain any view but his own. I did what he told me to do and an animal ended up dead as a result. (It could easily have been a child.)

    This experience taught me not to go against what I believe, if I still believe it after “listening carefully”. It is different to resist “obedience” when one believes that to obey would be wrong than to resist when obeying simply goes against one’s personal wishes or inclinations.

    I suspect that, in practice, we are not really disagreeing that much, Michael. I appreciate your reflections on the topic.

  188. As I mentioned earlier, in the world, it is much more difficult because of competing allegiances. The first rule is love for Christ. The context is always key.

  189. There are many roles and places in the world in which we practice some form of obedience: parents, boss, the civil authorities, etc. And, of course, for reasons of conscience, we sometimes disobey, and are right to do so.
    There is an ascetic practice in Orthodoxy, not universal, but tested by time and proven, of obedience to a Spirit-bearing elder, disclosure of thoughts, etc. It’s results in the spiritual life can be profound. In the wrong hands, a deluded elder, a psychologically wounded individual, the results can be disastrous. Brianchaninov’s The Arena discusses this very well. Some, reading books about this become develop a romanticize the spiritual life and “play” at obedience. A parish priest can start to demand obedience of his parishioners, etc. This always ends badly. The practice of radical obedience is real and true, but rare (and should be). Otherwise, we practice obedience in the context of proper respect and reverence, proper questioning of self, and daily repentance. Grace works with what is available.

  190. I have so many really wonderfu things happen to me because of obedience (not really the monastic type, but obedience none-the-less). And I have had many unfortunate things happen because of my disobedience and hardheartedness. The one time in my life when I was offered a small taste of monstic obedience, I ran from it. It was not something I was ready to undertake.

    No one I know in the world is called to the type of obedience to which monastics are called. We should not really confuse or compare to two. As Father rightly points out, anyone that demands obedience of lay people is almost certain to be wrong, as obedience is always freely given, it can never be coerced and is always based upon love.

    Monastic or lay, the basic principals are the same: Love of Christ, humility and actions of faith.

    I am living a miracle right now because I was actually obdient to my bishop even though I did not agree with the reason for the obedience and it was not a small thing.

    Now, I have a really good bishop whom I love and who loves his flock. That makes the obedience easier. Still,my critical faculties would have had me object, fight and give logical reasons why not. I did that for awhile, then just said, God’s will be done and trusted in the love of Christ in the Church, my bishop, my priest and my community.

    I had no logical knowledge of what the outcome would be but I was fully prepared to accept whatever it was knowing God would provide. The outcome was beyond anything I could have imagined.

    That single act of obedience 4 years ago contiunes to redound in my life with grace and blessings.

    If one is able to give obedience to God, out of love, blessings can come even through an abusive person blessings come. I have seen that happen too.

    However, each situation is different and requires prayer and one’s heart has to be in the right place.

  191. It is well-documented that children typically blame themselves rather than a parent who abused them. The child cannot assimilate that the protector became instead an attacker, so they consider themselves guilty and will defend the adult as blameless.

    Perhaps this could shed light on the Christian conception of mankind’s relationship with his Deity. God is never at fault, though he holds all authority and power. Rather, it is God’s helpless and hapless children who, failing to live up to his immense expectations, are forever held accountable.

    Some of the elders quoted in this thread recommend that one’s whole life should be oriented toward repentance, with the intent to discover just how thoroughly and completely one is governed by sin – in contrast to God’s wonderful purity.

    How similar this seems to the often unconscious complexes that affect many people’s sense of self as a result of childhood neglect or abuse. They perceive themselves as essentially defective and inadequate, profoundly lacking in whatever is required to be a whole person, and seldom grasp how this state was affected or inculcated by parents.

    The story of Adam and Eve in Genesis no doubt speaks profoundly of various metaphysical realities, but as an illustration of parent/child dynamics it is far from admirable. The father who wants others to forgive cannot do so himself, but casts his children out of the garden for a single infraction of his ordnance (Later, he who is to command “Thou shalt not kill” murders the entire human race – except for lucky Noah and his sons).

    We cannot make our fathers not be our fathers, or cause their wounding of us to be gone. But we can try to stop blaming ourselves for what our fathers, human or otherwise, have done.

  192. Angleman,
    those are the thoughts and words of human reasoning, but they never eventually lead anywhere other than (where the thoughts and reasoning of human and demonic fallen reasoning always led), the “labyrinth” of no way out…

    You will never get any answers that way and not a single individual who pursued that method to -all the way to the end- ever did. The persons who pursued the ‘other’ method, that of repetance however, (not all perhaps but at least some – without a shadow of a “unconscious complexes”), came to know God; they did not speculate on what He might be like, they came to know Him directly, and they found the answers and understanding (the understanding of the “elders quoted in this thread”)

  193. Angelman,
    It’s an interesting to think about Genesis, but misses the point of the story – and the insight into the human condition and into the God who created us.

  194. Insight into the human condition and the God who created us is the intention of the comment.

  195. Angeman, the trouble is that the foundation of your observation is so far outside the testimony of Holy Scripture, Patristic commentaries, the lives of the saints and (for what it is worth) my own experience as to be worthless.

    It seems to me to come from the “God is a cosmic sadist” school of thought.

    That is simply untrue. I know the mindset induced by abusive parents and what we are talking about bears absolutely no resemblance.

    On a simple, non – theological level God as a parent uses natural and logical consequences to teach us and foster our growth and maturity.

  196. Angelman-

    I agree with you about child abuse but am quite puzzled as to how that gets linked to Christianity. There is much discussion on this blog about the problems with literal reading of the Bible, especially Old Testament. I don’t know if you have read these posts but I recommend them.

    One clarification I’d like to offer, because if represents some growth in my own thinking is with regard to repentance. I do not see repentance as a continuous review of how bad and sinful I am. Rather, it is an openness to understanding what it is that keeps me from complete loving union with God (in which state I learn how very good I am, living in His light).

    This openness does not come easily though – it is hard work.
    But it is also joyful work, as it is like the lover who wants only to learn how to be more fully loving.

  197. There is a great deal, of course, that could be said about your comment, Angelman, and about the “pushback” (as they call it on the World Wide Internet) that you would receive (or to some degree already have received) from other commentators here, but I don’t care about getting into most of that. I’ll just take this one comment of yours:

    The story of Adam and Eve in Genesis no doubt speaks profoundly of various metaphysical realities, but as an illustration of parent/child dynamics it is far from admirable.

    This is a meritorious observation. I have long found it problematical to liken God too closely to a parent in any way that we are otherwise familiar with. In this I do not mean to say that I think we should not call him Father in Heaven, but I do mean to say that some special emphasis belongs on the Heaven part. He’s not a human father. If he were, he’s be a detestable one by any standard we can comprehend (cue the broad comments against human reasoning).

    Where one chooses to go with such an observation–deeper into Orthooxy or off into atheism or any of a host of other places–I’ll not argue for. Nonetheless, I think the point you made is a good one. Likening God too much to an earthly father charts a perilous course.

  198. Yes, Mary excellent observation . It is an opening to God’s love, a healing that allows freedom to grow into who I am. It is the direct opposite of abuse, at least in the Orthodox Church.

  199. Thanks for the responses to my post. Yes, I can see that likening God to a earthly father is perilous. Since I carry a personal burden in that area it is very easy for my rebellion and pride to manifest around it.

    God loves the world, and life’s goal is to become aligned with that Love.

  200. May God heal your wounds. I know from personal experience the difficulties that come from the confusion of our earthly father with God and the abuse that comes with that- though never physical.

    I finally began to realize that I was expecting too much of my dad and too little of God. It was then I could begin to forgive and appreciate what what my dad did give me.

  201. I am frequently reminded of the truth that the play writes, Lawrence and Lee penned in their play “Inherit the Wind”: “God created man in His image and man, being a gentleman, returned the compliment.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.