The God Who Is No God

260474_280705148697909_1416414726_nMy mind has been returning lately to this article as I think about issues between Christianity and the State. It has become an increasingly common legal opinion in the Western world that religion is an inward belief, a private matter. At the same time it has used this understanding to restrict various expressions of belief. In some nations the hijab (scarf) is being forbidden in schools. Personal crosses have been banned from the work place. Roman Catholic institutions are being required to provide birth control for employees in the US. There is growing concern among some that the same development of thought might seek to punish religious groups who do not recognize same-sex unions. The essential problem is the failure to acknowledge that religion is a set of practices and not merely a set of beliefs. This distinction, in many ways, lies at the heart of the secular world-view. The separation of belief and practice is the same as having no God at all. In the US, we celebrate the independence of our nation this week. An independence that fails to safeguard religious practice is no independence at all. It is a new form of slavery to a lesser god: the State.


A God who remains generalized and reduced to ideology is no God at all. Only the daily encounter with the living God, with all the messiness it entails, can rise to the name Christian.

Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe 


Belief in a true and living God is a very difficult thing, fraught with consequence. Belief in the idea of God can be tokenism at its very worst. This distinction between the true and living God and the idea of God goes to the very heart of the secular crisis of the modern world. There is no room in the secular world for a true and living God – while the idea of God is perfectly suited to the emptiness of the secular mind.

For the individual Christian this distinction is the great crisis of the believing life. There is a divide in our culture between the ideas we think and the lives we live – and the division is often accepted as normal. This is more than mere hypocrisy – our problem is not that we fail to live up to our ideas – our ideas frequently fail to have anything to do with the life we live.

In secularized culture, religion is not eliminated – it is placed at a remove. The remove in which religion is placed is anywhere that does not matter, anywhere that does not touch our daily lives. The secular genius of the modern world (including America) was its contention that religion and belief are the same thing. The acquiescence of believers to this arrangement was, in effect, an agreement to render their faith impotent.

The fatal flaw in this agreement can be summed up simply: true religion is not a set of beliefs – it is a set of practices.

We believe in prayer – but we do not pray. We believe in forgiveness – but we do not forgive. We believe in generosity – but we do not give. We believe in truth – but we lie.

Again, the manner of our failures goes beyond mere hypocrisy. The divorce between belief and practice is a cultural habit reaching far beyond religion. There is a radical division between thought and action throughout most of our culture. The frequently indistinguishable character of the contemporary Christian from the contemporary unbeliever bears witness to a deeper problem.

The practice of Christianity has been increasingly banned from the public square. We have agreed to privatize our faith. What we believe has become a matter of “conscience,” rather than the offensive matter of practice. The Reformation largely erased the outward forms of the Christian life: feast days; pilgrimages; vestments, etc. The Reformers were correct that the inward life of the Spirit was far more important than the ephemeral forms in which it was exhibited. However, they failed to notice that with the disappearance of the outward forms, the disappearance of the inward life would pass without notice. Today, the outward debauchery of Mardi Gras is the legacy of an abandoned Ash Wednesday. Christian practice is reduced to drunkenness (no American city seeks to ban Mardi Gras for its religious content – the practice of drunkenness is not as offensive as a Christmas Creche).

Early Christianity was surely marked by practices: without them, there would have been no need of martyrdoms in the arenas of the Roman Empire. Early Christianity was not a set of beliefs – philosophies were cheap and plentiful in ancient Rome. It was the Christian refusal to offer worship to the Emperor and the gods of the Empire that brought them to the arena. They refused to engage in the practices of the pagan state. The radical generosity of Christians came under the abuse of the Platonist philosopher Celsus. He excoriated Christian acceptance of thieves, rogues, prostitutes, drunkards and the like while the Christian refusal to declare upstanding pagans (such as himself) as “just,” was a rejection of Roman society itself. Christians were dangerous.

The closest thing to danger presented by Christians in the modern world is the insistence by some that the unborn actually have a right to life and should be protected against the actions of those who would destroy them. However, many Christians (including some who claim to be “pro-life”), accept the secular fiction of the separation of Church and state, and offer that their private beliefs should not determine the actions of others. Their private beliefs are useless – before God and man.

The American theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, commonly states that “there is no such thing as private morality.” It is inherently the case that morality is a matter of behavior between people. A “private morality” is no morality at all. To believe that the unborn have a right to life but to refuse to insist that such a right be observed by all, is, in fact, to declare that there is no such right. If there is a “right,” then it is immoral not to demand that everyone accept such a right.

Whatever we profess as Christians can be acted upon and practiced – or it is a useless profession. Christ’s parable of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25 confronts Christians with their practices: feeding the hungry; visiting the prisoners; clothing the naked; giving drink to the thirsty. No mention is made of Creed. It is not that belief is unimportant – but the dogma of the faith undergirds and informs our practice of the faith. “Faith without works is dead,” because it is no faith at all.

The heart of the Orthodox faith (both dogma and practice) is found in its proclamation of union with Christ. “God became man so that man could become god,” in the words of St. Athanasius. Human life was intended to be lived in union with God. In the Genesis story of the fall we learn the essential character of our brokenness: we severed our communion with God and turned towards the path of death and destruction. The nature of sin lies precisely in its movement away from union with God. The path of salvation is precisely the path of union with God. This is made possible by Christ’s union with humanity. He took our broken condition upon Himself – trampling down death by death in His crucifixion and descent into Hades – He raises us up in His resurrection to the path for which we were created. From glory to glory we are changed into His image as we live in union with Him.

This is more than a doctrinal story – it is also a description of the practice of the Christian faith. We love because we live in union with Christ, “who loved us and gave Himself for us.” We feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner because in doing so we do this to Christ. Every practice of kindness and mercy is an act of union with Christ. The Church’s life of feasts and fasts, sacraments and services are the practice of worship – the life of union with Christ. They are not religious entertainment nor mere educational events: they are the visible manifestation of the inner life of God in man.

Christians in this world are “as the soul is to the body,” in the words of a second-century Christian writer (Epistle to Diognetus). As such, they are the life of this world. The presence of practicing Christians is properly the presence of the Kingdom of God. The in-breaking of the Kingdom in this world is a disruption of the culture of death initiated in the fall. The world’s love affair with death is and should be threatened by the manifestation of the Kingdom. This is only true as Christianity is practiced. That Christians “believe” something is no threat whatsoever unless that belief is made manifest in practice.

The proposed constitution of the European Union (to give an example) offers religious freedom to individuals. Orthodox Christians have complained that such “freedom” was guaranteed under Communism – but that in the name of protecting individuals, parents were forbidden to teach the faith to their children. The Christian faith is practiced as a community. An agreement to define the faith as an individual matter is an agreement to destroy Orthodoxy. The world’s onslaught of Christian practice is subtle and relentless. Christians would do well to practice their faith and refuse devil’s bargain offered by modern states.

We are called to a life in union with the true and living God. That life infuses every action of the day – every breath we take. Anything less is an agreement with the enemy to place our God at arms length and to serve a god who is no God.


  1. Father Stephen,

    i’m curious about something you didn’t touch on directly: Part of what’s at issue, especially in America, is what the practice of Christianity means in relation to the state. You’ve mentioned the life of the unborn. Does the practice of Christianity demand that we, as Christians, spend our time lobbying congress to pass laws banning abortion? What about personally refusing to participate in the practice and being willing to adopt unwanted children? It seems to me at least prima facie that the latter is in order for the Church–that by the moral force of our practice, what we oppose will be seen for what it is, regardless of any law. And even if it is our job to work to affect legislation, what if passing blanket bans is simply not the most efficient way to reduce the number of abortions? In other words, is it obvious which political strategy we must endorse?


  2. Father bless.

    I am young and have a lot to learn, but I wanted to share how I view this kind of thing. Regarding what you said about morality being based in community, I agree. As you have said, in order for us to actually live the faith then our belief must be accompanied by practice (I think they call it orthopraxis).

    Here’s my issue though: I don’t believe that legislation brings God’s grace into the world, and I’ve heard you mention that as well.

    Most of the time, it seems that American Christians vote or give money to a political cause and they feel like they’ve done their Christian duty. But I don’t think Washington DC changes anyone’s hearts. Abortion is an atrocity, but what if instead of fighting it through legislature, we provided alternatives to these women (many of whom are scared young gals who really need loving, gentle guidance; not someone screaming at them that they’re a murderer).

    Whether it regards abortion or gay marriage, I guess I just believe that we are to change this country and this world through God’s grace and love. Even in Matthew 25, we don’t see Jesus say, “Enter into my Kingdom, for you created social programs that taxed people in order to feed the hungry, you created laws that force people to visit their relatives in jail, you provided legislature that forced anyone with more than three coats to give up at least one…” I believe God’s love is best experienced through kindness and gentleness (which can be firm in its morality) rather than through the legislative hammer.

  3. Guy,
    Yes, you are absolute correct. The first and most important way to reduce abortions, for instance, would be for Christians to quit having them. Statistically, so-called pro-life Christians are about as likely to have one as non-Christians. I think that we should certain lobby and work for laws to protect the unborn (a positive rather than a negative “forbid abortion”), just as we should lobby for laws to protect all people. Anything less the true protection is ultimately beside the point. The teaching of the Church is not utilitarian (“greatest good for the greatest number”). Thus the good is not measured – it is absolute. The killing of a single child is unacceptable. One slave is too many slaves, etc.

    Efficiency, utility, etc. is a moral calculus foreign to Christian thought.

  4. Guy & Jeremy,
    while awaiting eagerly on some illumination from Father Stephen, I would say that your points on discerning the right strategy are crucially important, especially as I have witnessed good intentions applied clumsily in most of the Protestant world.
    I cannot answer your questions, although, with a few notable exceptions, I generally side with the hesychastic-style practice, that would only change anything outside of oneself, once we have fully been transformed inside ourselves. It is all too easy to be tempted unknowingly ‘from the right’, thinking we are heeding our conscience to “take to the streets”, while we are being mocked by the devil who should be fought “inside” first. However, as I said there are exceptions and it is a tricky judgement: to know with confidence (unless you have good counsel at hand from your Spiritual Father of course) what strategy to apply and when…

  5. ” The teaching of the Church is not utilitarian (“greatest good for the greatest number”). Thus the good is not measured – it is absolute.”

    clarifies the above straight away, we know on a very personal basis when it confronts us, rather than running around looking to confront it beforehand.

  6. Jeremiah,
    Yes, it is God’s grace alone that changes things. Nevertheless, we vote and I assume we think that voting is a reasonably good thing. As a “practice,” voting is not a neutral activity. If it is an activity that Christians engage in, they should engage in it as a Christian. I have not noted or written here about specific lobbying activity. What matters, I think, is that the practice of the faith should inherently engage society, including the State, and that we must deal with the consequences.

    I like Yoder’s book, the Politics of Jesus. He looks at the inherent nature of Christ’s actions and teachings and their impact on the world around him. There are reasons Christ was killed by political powers. The Kingdom of God will always “threaten” the powers that be. I do not mean that we run around trying to use political means to achieve godly ends. Indeed, just do what the gospel says – actually do what the gospel says – and you’ll become a “political” problem for someone.

    As for legislative “hammer.” Morality is always legislated – in fact – it’s almost the only reason to legislate anything. Murder, theft, fraud, etc., are “moral” problems that are legislated. It’s unavoidable and even unpleasant. When the North used the “heavy hammer” of legislation to free my great-grandfather’s slaves, it did a good thing, and I don’t care what my ancestor thought about it, or if it reduced him to a level of poverty. Slavery was wrong. It clearly took better than a century for the lesson of that legislation to be accepted in this part of the American world, but if freeing slaves waited on grace to change the hearts of the slave owners, I’d still be living on a plantation. Grace was at work in the legislation as well – burning like a fire (did you see me say that PJ?) across the nation. It was a fire that liberated some and destroyed others. But it was grace at work as well.

  7. Thank you Fr Stephen and Dino. I’m definitely not looking for an argument. I’m just at a loss sometimes. I’ve seen so many people hurt by the “religious right” that they think Christianity is nothing but a bunch of Bible-thumpers who want to impose the Christian lifestyle on the rest of the populace.

    God knows it takes an amazing amount of grace and I still don’t even come close to living or thinking like I should. For that reason, I try not to judge those who are outside of the Church and I don’t expect them to live as if they were a part of it. But where do I draw the line of saying “the government should only control morality THIS far”? I’m in western NC, so I’d probably be on a plantation too. So, that’s something for me to think about. Thank you.

  8. When the President was speaking in one of countries on the west coast of Africa…he answered a question that it is a “moral right” for people of the same sex to get married. So in a political correct society we Americans live in…who then gives us the bottom line on morality….each individual whether christian or not….or the God of the Bible? Fr Philip LeMasters on a AFR podcast said there are more important issues for christians to follow than getting caught up in the political correction moral talk of today.

  9. And Jesus said, “if you love me, keep my commandments.” If we love, we do. Sounds like action to me.

  10. Perhaps St. Seraphim’s (of Sarov) popular advise is germane here: “acquire the Spirit of peace, and thousands about you will be saved.”

  11. Great article Father. Really sums up what is wrong with American Christianity of all breeds. Probably unavoidable as this course was set in motions hundreds of years ago by those who first came here. It was also convicting for me that I need to live an Orthodox life and worry more about that life than doctrine. I have lived too much of my Christian life from my head and that is a problem.

  12. I grew up near New Orleans, and never went to Mardi Gras. From your article, I now understand why it is such a “drunken celebration.” Thank you for this article. I need to live my faith rather than just think about it.

  13. It seems to me that in Father’s essay above, community figures large in the lived experience of the Christian. So in that spirit it seems to me, for some of you who are resistant to lobbying and taking public positions, that you do have an obligation, as long as you desire to be called Christian, to support those who do speak out, in accord with the moral teaching of the Christian and also the Catholic Christians inclusive of Orthodox and papal Catholics, against abortion and same-sex unions-as-marriage for example. You need to support them in your private lives wholly, and in your votes as much as is possible.


  14. May I be so bold as to add to Fr. Stephen’s remark. How often do you you seen in the first three Gospels the remark (that they didn’t – act) “For fear of the Jews”. This means that they, for instance, like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodmeus had to come secretly soas to avoid being dismissed from the Sanhedrin (kicked out of the Senate, as it were) Other people would have been told “We don’t you in this synaogue (parish) anymore.”
    We at least in Canada, are allowed (?? ALLOWED??? !!!) to sit opposite the main entrance of an abortion clinic for som Jesus Prayers for a couple of hours – my Roman friends use their rosaries of course.
    Check out: well my closest open Bible is my study version of the Jerusalem Bible- Matt.511 “Happy are you when people when people abuse you and persecute you … for My Sake.

  15. Father S, I think you’re right. And a number of good Christian scholars have noticed this as well. Furthermore, they see the Reformation as the turning point from which secularism in the West originated. The Reformation began this unintended movement towards secular society because of the abundant theological disagreements that followed the Reformation(the birth of relativism), emphasis of individual piety and belief ( i.e. Sola Scriptura) as opposed of community-based faith, elimination of outward and physical expressions of faith like the sign of the cross etc.

    Can we put much of the blame of where we are today on the Reformation in your opinion – unintended though these consequences may have been?

  16. So, here we are in Texas with people–including Orthodox Christian friends–screaming (literally)about not having the government intrude on their bodies. Pro-Life rally called for tomorrow by folks that are also sounding increasingly vitriolic. Is going to a rally an act that I should do as a Christian? I’ve “shared” your article. Is that “action” enough? Lord have mercy. Years ago I went to a rally that was not at all what I would want to see (the graphic posters of aborted babies)or hear (the somewhat hateful comments about opponents). What to do…

  17. Geri,
    Yes. The Texas stuff sounds very noisy. These questions are very polarizing – and between friends. It is useful, I think, to read some of American history surrounding the 1850’s and the Civil War. It was quite polarizing as well. Not many issues are as poignant as human slavery. However, I think the protection of unborn life certain ranks with that. People will scream whatever sounds like a good defense: “The government’s hands on my body.” But, of course, it would only be the government protecting the life of a child you carry – the vast majority of which are aborted for reasons of convenience and not for true duress (though that does not justify them). That life begins at conception is the real “inconvenient truth,” of our time (not the climate, as pitiful as it is). Nothing in the environment rises to the level of protecting the life of an unborn child. Many would gladly protest for one but want their “privacy” for the other. There is no privacy between a womb and a child. It is the inconvenient reality of being a mammal. We carry our children within us.

    But, my thoughts on the “political” nature of the gospel is highly influenced by Stanley Hauerwas (at Duke) under whom I studied. Interestingly, Philip LeMasters, quoted earlier, studied under him as well in the same time period, and would likely agree with my article.

    The thrust of what I have wanted to say is not to endorse right-wing Christian activism – often they are “political” in an almost purely secular manner – but that when the gospel is rightly lived – it has an inevitable impact, even clash, with powers that oppose the Kingdom of God. I cite Yoder’s the Politics of Jesus again.

    Monasticism is one of the most political acts of the Christian world. The very existence of monasticism flies in the face of worldly expectations, and thus has a way of relativizing many of the demands that the State will often try to maximize. Many Orthodox States (the Tsars after Peter the Great for example) sought to restrict monastic vocations because it was a direct competition for military service. It is also wealth-denying when rightly practiced, and cannot be manipulated and controlled in the normal manner. It is a life that says distinctly, the Kingdom of God is of greater worth than the State.

    Sometimes the Amish in modern times are good examples of this. Their lifestyle places so much of our consumerism under judgment, etc. When our way of life is largely indistinguishable from the way of life of non-believers, then you have to wonder what’s going on.

    Thus, I said that the best and most immediate action that an Orthodox Christian (or any other) can have on the abortion issue, is to quit having them. Adopt a child. Over the years of my ministry I have more than once offered to pay for whatever hospital bills, etc., are required and to support the mother if she will not abort a child. I’ve been part of such an effort on at least one occasion. When we ask a troubled mother to bear a child, we are asking her to willingly suffer. That also means that we must ask ourselves to become the kind of people and the kind of community who make it possible for other people to bear the suffering that confronts them. If that means money, then so be it. If it means my home, then so be it.

    Legislation will be ineffective without such actions – though the legislation to protect the life of the unborn is inherent good. Shame on us if we are such a people (the Christians) that even a good law would be ineffective because we are not the sort of people among whom such a law could be made effective. We may be there already – may God have mercy on us. If the salt has lost its flavor…it is good for nothing.

  18. Simmmo,
    Yes – to a degree. Of course, 500 years is also time to correct a thing or to – and we have not. A very strong element of secularism is more or less post-Reformation. The religious wars that followed the Reform were devastating in a way that is hard to imagine. Those wars had a way of forcing a kind of secularism. The option would have been the suicide of Europe (or would it be fratricide?). Kant’s Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, was an attempt to forge a non-sectarian way of discussing religion. It failed, of course.

    There are many streams that have fed into the modern secular world. The current “edginess” of modern secularism has been fed by a post-Marxist use of Marxist analysis and rhetoric. The various post-modern ways of “deconstructing” things (Derrida, Foucault, etc.) are all uses of Marxist technique applied to other things (this is not a reactionary sentiment on my part – it is well acknowledge within those circles – I studied with them at Duke). The “political correct” set of arguments is totally Marxist. The essence of its rhetoric equipment is to take an issue (say sexuality) and strip it of its moral content and describe it instead in political terms. Thus moral content is relativized (it’s just your opinion) while the action is described as political (its a matter of personal freedom or equal rights). In a short time, the argument shifts, and the political description becomes the moral norm so that the old moral becomes the new immoral. It’s quite effective, and very much a matter of a conscious decision and a concerted effort.

    Today, this has become a hallmark of many “progressive” movements, a technique used by many. We are not in a situation in which the adversaries of Christians are interested in creating a “live and let live society.” The goal of these techniques is to demonize and abolish your target, not simply remove them from power. Thus, as the Christian cultural consensus has waned it is now also deliberately under attack (not quite as strong yet as it will be – but it will be and it will be increasing – maybe even quickly).

    I feel silly and alarmist when I write such things. I am deeply opposed to conspiracy theories and the like. But I know what I’m talking about in this matter, and it’s not a theory. It’s already happening. People laughed (literally) in the early 90’s when I was specifically predicting the present situation on sexuality and describing precisely how it would happen. What I said has happened, and in a short time (seemingly overnight) what sounded “over-the-top” has become the received and protected position and what was only shortly ago the accepted norm in our society is demonized and will be more so (with consequences) very quickly.

    No revolutionary manual has ever been more effective than Marxism. It is the means by which a minority can soon dominate the majority and destroy them. It did not disappear in 1989. It’s more alive now than ever.

    God help me, I sometimes believe it is the mark of the beast.

  19. No one has directly addressed the issue of homosexuality, specifically gay marrige, that I can see. Would you say this requires the same level of resistance from us as Christians? I wrestle with how to respond, particularly with family and friends who are gay. The Church teaches (and I submit to that teaching) that homosexuality is sin. And yet we don’t march on Washington regarding issues of premarital sex or masterbation which are also contrary to the will of God. How do we not come across as hippocrates?
    I hope it doesn’t seem that I’m trying to hint at how I think we should respond. I genuinely do not know.

  20. Devin,
    Sexual sin, as you note is no respecter of persons, or orientations. Nor does the issue rise to the level of civil unrest. Nor have I suggested marching on Washington viz. the protection of the unborn (though the Orthodox do march every year). I have specifically suggested that we actually need to live the Orthodox life (as in not procuring abortions ourselves), and certainly that we should support legislative efforts to protect those lives.

    As for the matter of marriage, the Church’s teaching, as you note, is clear and will not change.

    The situation in American jurisprudence is difficult for the Orthodox. The problem with American law is that it view marriage as a contract (this is part of Western history). As such, it has a very difficult time seeing how it should limit the franchise for engaging in contracts. Western Christians have had a difficult time in making their case precisely because their own reasoning in the matter is flawed through the contractual element of their theology.

    Orthodoxy does not see marriage as contractual (there aren’t even any vows in an Orthodox wedding). It is solely about union (which is most clearly expressed in procreation). The Church would say that such union is simply impossible between two people of the same sex. They can certainly have any kind of contract you can imagine, but they cannot “contract” to have a union.

    Western nations have now embraced the argument that the marriage contract should be broadened. I suspect it is fait accompli. Along with it, the cultural matrix of gay relationships has changed as well. We need to respect others and offer our love. The teaching of the Church on marriage will need to both be reaffirmed but also clarified so that people understand the Orthodox theology of union. I hear a lot of confusion these days on this topic, mixed with many other emotions. Some of it is extremely hurtful and damaging.

    I hear a proper concern in your questions about friends. Among the youth this cultural shift is quite strong, I’ve noticed. Be respectful and loving towards all. Study the Church’s teaching and learn more about the nature of union (marital as well as otherwise). It will help.

  21. Father Stephen,

    It surprises me how weird an effect the Marxist utopia can have on people’s minds… Be they ordinary people or educated. This utopia does promise prosperity, peace, equality, justice, exactness… Who wouldn’t want that (and, for good reason, apparently, who wouldn’t hate the people opposing this desired world)? It’s hard to escape it, especially if people are lacking some essential history, sociology, economics (from what I know, Communism was an economic failure; it couldn’t survive…) facts. And, I might add, the truth about God. I think, and I speak in my name also, that it appears, simplistically speaking, as a matter of choosing between well-being in this world and well-being for eternity. I guess it is easier and safer for us to choose this world’s treasures, especially if we believe in such an ideal, similar to the Marxist one. If we think man is perfect. <> <> “What need for a god, to enslave us? When we can touch the treasures of this world, when we are sure of their existence and only theirs?”

    We are afraid of losing. We are afraid of nothingness. And yet we end up worshiping it… But we do this because God is far from our hearts. We forget about love and what love means. Love cannot let a fellow become a number in a statistics report; a number is easy to erase… it’s not immoral to erase a number. Love cannot do harm or kill in the name of the well-being of the minority or the majority, in the name of progress, freedom, equality, peace or justice; love takes care of everybody. Love, actually, demands perfection (but a perfection far from the material world), and in the same time, most importantly, it gives everybody a means to go towards it. Love will not destroy injustice and hatred, it will heal them. Love will not strike fear into its enemies, it will not take revenge; it will call to their hearts. Love will not censor the opponent, but it will defend truth and nothing but the truth to its last breath. Love will not take away freedom, but it will leave the heart of the one who chooses to cause suffering. Love will not compete; love will not leave poor hearts behind, it will be enough for everyone. Love is strong, because the One Who is behind it is the strongest. Love will not end.

    What has become of this world when love has been cast away from the hearts of men?

    Some will deny that anybody in their right minds could ever again believe in the utopia the Marxists proposed. And maybe argue that love is “of the same” opiate like “religion”; a drug, a chemical reaction, an illusion. They will argue that Christian love is an utopia far more dangerous than the Marxist one… I haven’t yet got any great answers for these ideas… But they surely don’t seem wise, and, in the case of love, beautiful.

    But I do understand that a great “argument” we Christians can have against all evil is a quite brief one: to become living Saints, living icons of our Christ.

    May God bless us all.

  22. Fr Stephen you said that we need to “learn more about the nature of union” as opposed to contract in relationships. This proposal sounds potentially fruitful. Do have suggestions about that topic and perhaps where to begin with this study of the nature of union. I’m highly interested. Thanks in advance for the further elaboration.

  23. Father, as you note it is not just the teaching on marriage that needs to be sharpened and clarified but on the nature of the Christian mystery itself. Beyond that the mystery of the male-female synergy from which marriage springs that simply is impossible between two people of the same sex.

    Marriage as a contract in codified in every state law of which I am aware, certainly it is in my state. It is essentially a property contract in which even the children are considered property.

    The civil rights language and rationale will put a lot of pressure on those who refuse to preform homosexual rites.

    It is not going to be fun, IMO.

  24. Ms. Clark the union of which Fr. Stephen speaks is the heart of the entire Christian mystery. It is expressed throughout the entire corpus of Scripture. I love the book “On the Incarnation” with the forward by C S Lewis.

    Reading Genesis and contemplating the male-female interrelationship with each other and with God I have found quite helpful.

  25. Thank you, Michael. The union would be rooted in the Incarnation. Thanks again. I appreciate your suggestion very much

  26. To be totally honest, we find the world in the state that it is in because the Church has failed in it’s mission. And I mean the Orthodox Church.

    We do not practice our faith because we are, by and large, cowherds. The leadership of the church are cowherds. The devil is so intimidating in our American culture. It scares me to the point that I want to live The Faith “underground”. And this might be the best course. I sometimes think that the marxist ideology that Fr. S. talked about is inevitable. Since it infiltrates even the Church. Some have called this the ” progressive captivity of the Church”.

    It is surprising to me how many Orthodox are worshiping at the “progressive” alter. Many of our leaders no longer even believe in creation. (I heard a prominent leader say, just the other day on Ancient Faith Radio, the he did not believe in Adam as a real person. ) No wonder that we fail to heal the world when we no longer keep the faith. “Little children keep yourselves from idols”

    I think that we maybe should just “hunker down”. Practice our faith quietly, secretly. Because I am a cowherd.

    Of course, I could become brave, I think, if I saw more from out leadership.

  27. Kev a couple of ideas:

    The great apostasy has been foretold it may be upon us.

    My priest preached a hopeful sermon the other day using the life of St. Peter as revealed in the Bible as a template. St. Peter failed all the time and Jesus actually rebuked him as Satan. But St Peter was the chief of the Apostles and glorified our Lord by his death.

    Four attributes that are required to become a saint form St. Peter’s example: boldness; the humility to listen to spiritual correction without resistance; quick and deep repentance; endurance.

    St. Paul tells us that those who endure until the end shall be saved.

    Jesus never promised that the world would be transformed only that we would suffer tribulation and hatred but to rejoice and fear not for He had overcome the world.

    Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord save us.

  28. Father Bless!

    I am only an inquirer of Orthodoxy, and newer still to your blog. This article grabbed me and I am carefully making my way through it, because I think it is important for me to understand. In fact, I have read the beginning over and over again during the last several days, but have not yet made it to the end.

    It is easy for me to defend the lives of the unborn. How could it not be? But it is easier still to defend the lives of the unborn as a civil rights issue. Other Americans do not always serve and love the same God I do. They do not have the same moral sensitivities that I do. But other Americans DO understand personal rights. They understand the right to life, liberty and happiness- even if they understand it incorrectly to be a gift from the state. Your article has made me question how I sometimes approach this debate. Maybe I have been wrong to defend life by bringing up constitutional issues. I sometimes even talk about how women are victimized by abortion- they are bullied into it by boyfriends- or fear of parents- and then carry the guilt for their entire lives- so it is certainly not a right or protection of women’s bodies.

    Now I feel a little egocentric- acting as if these are the most important reasons for defending life.

    Here are some of the things I have thought in the past, that I am now having to rethink because of your article:

    God gave us free will, so who am I to try and control the will of others when it comes to who they call their wife of husband? Isn’t that between them and God?

    I do not believe that a government presides over marriage. Who is the state to issue a marriage license? God presides over my marriage. I will not argue whether or not the state can grant of keep someone from marrying, because that is succeeding that they have this power and right. I would much rather see Christians stop seeking a marriage blessing from the state, than have them fight someone else’s state blessed marriage.

    I think in our enthusiasm to stop gay marriage we have the potential to hurt and forever chase away from the salvation of Christ, not only homosexuals, but their families and friends.

    I think that their cause is FURTHERED by our resistance. So much so that sometimes they resort to staging hate crimes against themselves as a way to gain support for policy change.

    It would be hard to defend the right of a Christian photographer to not take the photos of a homosexual couple’s union- when we dismiss those rights in people we disagree with.

    Forgive my muddles thoughts- my children are needing my attention. I hope that I will grow in understanding- and that I will learn not to separate practice from belief. Or even civil beliefs from spiritual beliefs.

  29. Anna, the teaching of the Church is the same for every one. Life is a gift from God, not a “right” before the law.

    Marriage is an expression of the oneness of God with His people and the fecundity of His life. It can only be realized between a man and a woman.

    Sexually we are all called to the same discipline: celibacy and chastity before marriage; faithfulness and chastity in marriage. There is no “right” to sexual expression for it too is a gift given for a particular purpose in a particular context. It is both a sacrament and sacramental in nature–a form for making God’s presence in His creation and His unity with us manifest.

    We are in the petdiciment in part because we, the people of the Church, have refused to uphold the sanctity of the gifts we are given. We followed after the heathen world by winking at fornication, easy divorce and sexual licentiousness of all kinds. Including abortion and test tube babies.

    We have to live with the consequences if our descent into the idolatry of worshipping the created thing instead if our creator.

    If the truth offends it is not for us to change the truth but to suffer the offense. For those who love God no amount of human sin will desuade them for Jesus will lead them through the valley of the shadow of death. Those who have placed obstacles of sin in their way will have to account for that as well.

    Lord have mercy on us all.

  30. Kev,
    I have been on the road and unable to reply to your note. Sorry for the delay.

    I was perplexed by your connection between “progressive” and a literal reading of Genesis (Adam, etc.). First, I am not aware of any dogmatic teaching within the Orthodox faith that holds Adam and Eve as literal persons (which is what I think you mean by “real”). Indeed, the early fathers are all over the map on the reading of the early chapters of Genesis. Peter Bouteneff’s book Beginnings, has a broad selection from the fathers of the early centuries in which you can easily see the variety of manners in which it was read.

    A literalist reading on Adam is 19th century Protestant fundamentalism, and does not properly belong within the list of Orthodox concerns. A good article on this, from a leading, contemporary Russian writer (he holds one of the senior positions in the Moscow Patriarchate in terms of religious education) is Fr. Andrei Kuraev’s piece.

    All Orthodox priests would, of course, believe in creation (your statement is quite mistaken). That God created the world out of nothing, is a settled matter of Orthodox dogma and cannot be denied and has not been denied by any contemporary Orthodox leader, teacher or priest that I have ever heard of. All that exists apart from God is created. But that does not mean that the first several chapters of Genesis are to be read in a literal manner like some of the Protestants.

    Indeed, the services of the Church most often see in the words of those chapters Christ’s Pascha. It is certainly its clear and important teaching for the dogma of the faith.

    I’m also not certain what you mean by the Church “failing” in its mission. Such statements sound quite secular actually. The “mission” of the Church is to be the Church, Christ’s Body. Many, indeed most Orthodox Christians, are just fumbling sinners. We’re not some human organization with a noble cause in which we will succeed. There is nothing in the Scriptures that even remotely calls for us to change the world, or even suggests that we will change the world – ever.

    We certainly fail to be what Christ’s has called us to be – but if we indeed were all perfect – there is no reason to think that it would change the world. It might simply mean that we’d all get crucified. Worked for Christ.

    These dark thoughts about the Church, frankly, have the hallmark’s of our adversary’s whisperings. He is always telling us such things and wants us to despair. He hates us and everything about us, because he hates God.

    Love Christ, love the brethren. Pray. Put thoughts about others (cowherds) out of your mind. These thoughts are not sent from God. Rejoice always, St. Paul says. I think if he could rejoice, then so can we. The outcome of history is in the hands of God – alone. It is not for us to even think about.

    I think we’ll have some tougher days ahead. Many will sin and fall down. It’s for us to pick them up and to rejoice.

    God give you grace! I also encourage you to read more widely in Orthodox thought. There are some Orthodox who mistakenly think that the conservative positions of Protestant fundamentalists, viz. the Bible, must also be part of Orthodoxy. They are mistaken. Nor is the Orthodox position that of the progressives. The Orthodox read the Bible like the Orthodox. It is good to learn what that is – and to learn it broadly. And be cautious before you judge a leader (particularly if he’s ordained).

  31. Father Stephen,

    Sometimes i’m not sure the conclusion i’m mean to draw from “I am not aware of any dogmatic teaching within the Orthodox faith that holds Adam and Eve as literal persons”.

    i’ve tended to think the conclusion i’m meant to draw from it is: “And therefore, whether this account is literal is really not the weighty, important part of the reading.” i’ve come to appreciate this conclusion. But sometimes, i wonder if your insinuated conclusion is something like “And therefore it’s silly to think this account is literal.” i won’t lie–this is a very hard pill for me to swallow. To this day, i can’t see any persuasive reason to think otherwise. Why? Because a bunch of guys in white lab coats with degrees think it’s so obvious that there was no Adam? This just isn’t persuasive to me in the least.

    But doesn’t it matter a little? i do see that there are things that matter more–the Christological nature of any given passage of Old Testament text. But doesn’t the historical veridicality matter a little? Once again, i’m back to the question i asked you before: i attend St. Elijah’s parish in OKC. Doesn’t is matter that Elijah was a real, breathing, historical person in real space-time? If not, what’s the difference between the stories about him and the Odyssey or the Iliad? If the Scriptures can prima facie speak of Adam as a historical person in the same way they prima facie speak of Noah or Abraham or Moses or Elijah or David as historical persons, yet it turns out Adam is a complete fabrication, then why think any of the others on the list aren’t also fabrications–mere mythical heroes?

    i’m not even sure i can explain all the reasons why, but it matters to me a great deal that these people were real–that if i were there, i could have touched them and felt their skin and seen them breath–Adam included.


  32. Fr. Stephen,

    This is an excellent article (as always) but I found myself a bit confused on a couple of things.

    Your reference to “the secular fiction of the separation of Church and state” sounds as though you do not believe in separation of Church and state. Or are you saying that secularism has taken the legitimate concept of separation of church and state and woven a fiction around it? The latter seems more reasonable to me – for “separation” has been invoked in myriad ways, some quite legitimate and others ridiculous (or dangerous), IMO.

    Second question: “A “private morality” is no morality at all.” On one level, I am completely with you. On another level, however, it seems to me that there are times when one’s “practice” is better done with silence (or silent actions) than with words, and therefore may seem “private” – though actually not.

    I am thinking of my own role as psychologist, though it may apply to others as well. I’m no longer very public about opposing abortion – as I find it important to offer a compassionate environment for women coming to me trying to decide – to trying to heal after having made a decision. Similarly, I am no longer so public about my opposition to war so that I might offer that same environment to veterans or families fearful for their loved one’s safety.

    Perhaps what I’m suggesting is that there are many different ways of practicing the faith (in terms of the outward behaviors that others see) – but we reduce our faith to nothing if it does not challenge the world around us. (If people are mystified by my kindness and compassion, I will have challenged, perhaps more effectively, than if I argued politics with them – which is what I used to do.)

  33. Oh! Fr. Stephen, but I saw an icon of the resurrection of Christ and there He is pulling Adam out of the grave. I’ve seen an icon of the creation of
    adam. I’ve seen an icon of Adam. These all depict him as a literal person.

    I have studied the fathers too. And they all take the scripture literally. You, perhaps, use a different definition of literal than I do.

    I’m sorry, my faith is too simple. You have completely misunderstood me. I believe non of the things you accuse me of. It was wrong for me to write. I will not do it again, I think.

  34. Mary Benton. How can anything be separate from God? The state these days wants to be so it will eventually trun to violence against the Church if the reality is not restored. The US Constitution says nothing about any separation. The Constitution guarantees absolute freedom of religion which should mean that people of faith should have no restrictions at all from the state. Statists however have turned that inside out and use an imaginary creation born out of unbelief and heresy to truncate the prophetic voice and witness of the Church.

  35. Fr. Stephen, I have read the article you recommend. Kuraev’s piece. I agree with much of it. But there is no need to bow to scientism. I am a scientist, studied science all by life. And the theory of evolution is just silly. It’s not science at all. It is just another materialistic philosophy. So what is this man afraid of? Is it not cowardly to give in to this idol? Why does he feel a need to fit Orthodoxy into scientism?

    Evolutionism is a completely different thought pattern in opposition to Orthodoxy. There can be no compatibility at all.

  36. Dear to God Kev;

    All truth is God’s truth.
    There is room to intelligently engage with scientific discovery and theory, without compromising our faith. A devout Orthodox Christian friend of mine struggled tremendously with her understandings of Creation while doing her Masters in Genetics. She was too honest to deny a huge amount of genetic evidence supporting a large swath of evolutionary theory (if not the theory wholesale). The (ever evolving!) theory of evolution is not sheer nonsense. There is a tremendous amount of converging data that at least makes evolutionary theory plausible for those who are not decided at the outset that it simply *cannot* be true. I think it is a strange thing if faith in Christ who is the Truth would make us unwilling to dawn our “white lab coats” and look with openness, curiosity, and wonder at His creation.

    And Guy-
    As my spiritual father very simply put it: Is God interested in teaching us history or teaching us about salvation? The creation story teaches us much about human nature, the human condition, God’s purpose for creating us, our priestly relationship with creation, temptation leading to sin, the tempter himself, etc. etc. If this is all true and God wants us to know it, then there is a reason to understand “Adam” as the universal “human”– he teaches me about myself. It is my sin that has brought creation into bondage, and only my repentance (entering into the life of the second Adam) that will bring restoration.
    There is good reason to understand Adam this way- given the nature of the truth God wishes us to understand from the Creation Narrative. There is not a similar reason to understand King David this way, and other biblical characters and events, etc.
    Remembering that the purpose of the Scriptures is to facilitate communion with God helps free us from needless literalism. If we choose to let it not be a problem, then it doesn’t have to be a problem if, say, Job was not a literal man. His story is still true, and asking his prayers will be received by the efficacious love of God all the same.

    -Mark Basil

  37. Mark,
    well said!
    some might bemock our veneration of very ancient relics (King David’s sword and Abraham’s bowl, now residing in the Topkapi Palace come to mind) as too narrow-mindedly literal, whilst at the same time deriding our ‘too openminded’ insistence on understanding Adam as “me” – the human person (one face of that single multi-faceted diamond called the entire human race).
    Even though we seem to be faced with an onslaught of Scientism (with an antichristian agenda), the (fundamentalistic) ‘Dogmatisation of non-dogmatic theologoumena’ is a very dangerous sport, it can sometimes be dangerous even for discerning, clairvoyant Fathers, who normally avoid the “distraction” (albeit with a few exceptions)
    The point is that the stretch of Orthodoxy’s understanding is breathtaking.

  38. So this is the point of this article, isn’t it. Orthodoxy is more a set of practices than a set of beliefs. We can hold a wide variety of beliefs but must hold to a narrow set of practices. ????????

    If we don’t happen to like a certain teaching of the church, if it disagrees with modern sensibility then lets just nuance it to our liking. If Adam is a problem, it might offend materialistic philosophy, we should just simply nuance him out of real existence.

    There is no way that you can get me to believe that when our holy fathers wrote the creed they had evolutionism in mind. It is a evil philosophy that has led to the problems written about in this article. Abortion, gay marriage. If we are merely highly evolved animals, why not?

    Fr. Stephen says for me to shut up an practice. So here goes…….

  39. Kev,
    Again you misunderstand. There is no separation between practice and belief. Nor do I think that evolutionism is a particular Christian belief. It’s a 19th century issue, clearly not anywhere on the radar of the fathers, nor is a reactionary reading of the Bible on their radar.

    You have imported an argument that has nothing to do with Orthodoxy. You have set up false choices – either a literal Protestant reading of Adam and Eve or materialism. This is a false choice.

    What you are doing is equating the gospel of Christ with details of scientific debate – marrying the gospel to something else and making it subject to it. Pascha is subject to nothing.

    You’ve also placed your own faith in a precarious position. Others have written here who started with your position, or something quite similar. And when their false marriage to a false “creationism” (versus the full Orthodox understanding of creation) is rattled, then their entire faith in Christ comes toppling down. It’s because it is a house of cards.

    I’m yielding no ground to materialism or other such modern philosophies whatsoever. But the reactions of 19th century Protestantism, which your notions are part of, have proved to be utter failures with regard to the gospel.

    Of course the fathers did not have in mind any version of modern science when they wrote the Creeds. They didn’t have anything opposed to it either. It wasn’t even a thought yet.

    You are going to have a difficult time, however. You will continually find Orthodox writers and thinkers, even in prominent positions, who do not support your ideas – because your ideas are not the Orthodox faith – but your own private version of it. You can learn or you can stay angry and afraid. There may even be small groups of “Orthodox” who will shelter and encourage these thoughts you have, but it won’t be the fullness of Orthodoxy.

    I’m sorry to have given you offense – but things are as they are.

  40. Kev,

    From what I understand… And I beg of others to please tell me if I’m wrong…

    It is not that Orthodoxy is more a set of practices than a set of beliefs. You don’t have to compare these things. It should be (mistakes have been made and are being made… it’s just our tendency to not stay beside God…) an equilibrium between the two. We have to defend the truth about God, which requires that we defend the set of beliefs which belong to Orthodoxy, and in the same time practice what we believe, which is, in essence and above all, is love for God and for all our neighbours.

    It is not a matter of nuancing to our liking, but, maybe, rather of a development of our (limited) understanding. The core of our beliefs has remained the same and will continue to do so (I’m speaking about Orthodoxy). It may be that only certain aspects, which are not of great importance (like the scientific process through which man was created, and not why he was created; “how?” is more a problem of science, “why?”, in this case, is the problem of Orthodoxy; the relationship of man and God is the major subject of Orthodoxy), might be reinterpreted by some of the believers. While our scientific understanding of this world will certainly evolve, our core understanding of God should not; God does not change, it is said.

    Our holy fathers did not think of science when they wrote. They had to focus on the relationship between man and God. Their work was about the longing in our souls for God; this cannot be a matter of science.

    The way to go is to continuously search to understand the truth in Orthodoxy, and, equally important, to practice it. Regarding practice, part of this article and some comments were, in some way, a response to what we see around us: a lot of speaking about Orthodoxy, but little understanding and few manifestations of true love towards our neighbour.

    I hope this was of help…

  41. Mark/Father Stephen,

    i can let this go. i didn’t mean to be quarrelsome. i really am trying to learn here–this is just particularly troubling to me. i guess for the same reason that i can’t fathom thinking that the resurrection or the incarnation didn’t happen in real space time but is merely a fable (which plenty of “liberals” would claim), it’s hard for me to accept that these people the Bible speaks of didn’t have these interactions and redemptive experiences with God in real space time. i might could say that better, but that’s the best i got right now. And i guess i don’t see why that concern or desire or whatever it is isn’t as obvious to others (especially my fledgling Orthodox faith) as it is to me.

    Nevertheless, i certainly didn’t aim to bring up anything ultimately unhelpful or unedifying to anyone. Sorry if i did.

  42. Father,

    How do we deal with the literal reading of Genesis supplied by most of the fathers, including the “great ones” (St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, St. Ephraim, St. Ambrose, etc.). I realize that the scientific worldview was far from their minds — although some of the pagan schools held theories not totally dissimilar to modern materialistic evolutionary theory.

    Nevertheless, how can we, who claim to be the heirs of ancient wisdom, disregard the work of the Spirit in the Church for eighteen hundred years? I have trouble with this. Why would God mislead his children for so long?

    As an interesting side note, St. Augustine was one of the few fathers who seemed to genuinely struggle with a literal interpretation of Genesis. He always set out with the intention of reading the text “plainly,” and always ended in allegory. He was, perhaps more than anyone else, hesitant about the exact scope and meaning of the Hebrew cosmogony.

  43. Guy,

    I don’t think you should feel ashamed or embarrassed. You are in good company in your “plain” or “literal” reading of Genesis. Countless saints and sages of the faith were of the same mind, even into the modern era (Seraphim Rose, for instance). I, for one, am with you, despite my worldly mind, which teases me with the wisdom of man. I have my doubts, but ultimately I trust in the inspiration of Scripture, and in the accumulated wisdom of the fathers. I don’t see any alternative — for now.

    If this really isn’t a matter of dogma, then there is no need to worry. Surely, a literal Adam and Eve aren’t *contrary* to the Orthodox faith. If there is room for disagreement, and you wish to err on the side of tradition and prudence, so be it and good for you, say I.

    We can be together in our obscurantism. 🙂

  44. After all, friends, we do believe that we eat the divinized body and blood of an incarnate, crucified, and resurrected God-Man who was born of a virgin in ancient Palestine! If we’ve swallowed the hook and the line, why not the sinker? 😉

  45. By the way, happy Independence Day. I myself would likely have been a Tory, but I’m always down for vacation! God bless the souls who perished and suffered in that conflagration.

  46. PJ the important point is that we accept 1. that God created ex-nihilo; 2. Reject the philosophical naturalism that is the premise of modern evolutionary thought; 3. we understand that time is mutable and not linear; 4. as a special case of the time conundrum that once death came that changed the whole interrelationship between God, us and the rest of creation; 5 the Incarnation even more drastically changed time and creation; so much so that I doubt that is possible to know what “actually” happened — a conceit that approaches hubris anyway.

    Both the modern literalists and the modern theistic evolutionists present severe problems because both drink deeply of modernity while claiming they do not. The wisdom of the Church seems to suggest Genesis is rather more literal than we moderns are comfortable with and repelete with mystery which we also have difficulty with.

    My own opinion is that we are more apt to go wrong if we reject literalism than if we reject the allegory but we need to season the literal with the mystery. Creation is the ultimate sacrament and is still ongoing because it springs from the life of God Himself. We exercise our Royal Priesthood as we continue to offer up that life to God.

    Which brings us back to you closing statement.

  47. Guy,
    Stated in that manner, it would be a problem for me as well. So I understand the question. I’ll try a little more.

    There certainly are, have been, and will continue to be space/time encounters, interactions, redemptive experiences with God. This is not the question. When it comes to the OT record of those encounters, it’s simply a question of what we are reading. First the space/time encounter is not in question – the very existence of the Jews and the Jewish faith at the time of Christ is stark, space/time proof of the space/time character of those encounters. So, that is settled.

    Now, as to the OT. What are we looking at when we see it? It’s a collection of writings. When was that collection made? Apparently, it was not assembled in anything like the way we know it until the Babylonian exile (6th century BC). How do we know this. Well, for one, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which describe the return of Israel after the exile and their reestablishment as a nation (2nd Temple, etc.), make it clear that Israel has been largely ignorant of the Law. The Law was given perhaps in the 1200’s (or that is the date of Moses). The form of those 5 books, however, seems to represent a “compilation” rather than a single set written by one man (Moses). People can argue otherwise, but generally, evidence is against them, and there is nothing in the faith that demands that we think this. They are the “books of Moses.” That does not mean that every word in its present order, etc., dripped from Moses’ pen (or whatever). So, what do we have? A compilation (maybe even a compilation of a compilation, edited in Babylon, perhaps even a bit later). Other writings have different histories. The writings of the various prophets, stand fairly well, though there may be some combination and editing as they now stand (Isaiah in particular comes to mind). The Psalms have a long history associated with Temple worship and range across many centuries. They’re certainly not all by David (nor do they claim to be). The “historical” books may actually be the most “historical” thing in the OT, being in large part the “court history” of Israel – and from a couple of different perspectives.

    But all of these things are assembled and come to take on an importance within the life of Israel during the Babylonian exile. It is then that “rabbinical” Judaism has its founding – for the Temple had been destroyed and Israel begins anew. What begins is the rise of the writings and the commentary on the writings, and a life lived according to the writings. It develops in response to the absence of the kingdom and the temple. After the exile it continues. In Christ’s time there is the synagogue system and the Temple/nation system, and they are clearly at odds with one another. The Sadduccees are largely in charge of the Temple it seems. Interestingly, they reject all of the OT writings other than the books of Moses – how can that be? Because rabbinical Judaism (which is dominantly Pharisees in Christ’s time) developed apart from the Temple and continues to stand apart from it, though participating in it.

    I’m trying to paint a picture here of how things stood historically and developed. The authority of the writings also develops within rabbinical Judaism. Christ clearly accepts this (in general he agreed with most things taught by the Pharisees). But the greatest question, including for the Pharisees) is how to read the writings. What do they mean? Christ enters that debate. “You have heard that Moses said…but I say…” etc.

    What we have in the OT is “holy literature.” Plenty of it has a historical basis. Some of it is poetry. Other parts are stories with questionable relationship to history. But all of it is “shaped.” How is it shaped? It is shaped by the life and thought and faith of Israel. It is shaped (edited, amended, retold, etc.) in a manner such that it represents a literary form of Israel’s faith.

    This is true as well for the apostolic Church, though in a new way. The OT is the Church’s Scriptures, a holy literature, because it is a literary expression of the Church’s faith. But it is only such an expression if rightly read and interpreted. The resurrected Christ “opens their understanding.” It is the teaching of the Church that only after the resurrection and Christ’s opening their understanding, that the OT is able to be read rightly. This is so because Christ’s Pascha is the key and the Holy Spirit makes this known. The OT cannot be read in a “straight-forward” what you see is what you get manner. If that were so, then the disciples would not have needed their understanding to be opened.

    The NT writings are not at all like the OT in most respects. The gospels, though written in a literary manner (shaped, edited, etc.), clearly have eyewitnesses behind them. They stand in a much different relationship to history. Though they clearly have a literary shape – “these things are written so that reading them, you might believe.” Chronology is not a big concern, etc. Stories are told in a manner that a deeper understanding can be had – the water stories in the first five chapters of ST. John’s gospel are all commentaries on Baptism, for example. They are miracles, or conversations, etc., but the stories are shaped and told so that they elucidate the inner meaning of baptism.

    What we are reading in the Scriptures are texts written and used and authorized by a community that does not have the kind of historical consciousness and issues that we have. Our issues are driven by a deep anxiety that there actually is not a God, and that these things never happened. That is the looming doubt of the secular world that casts a shadow over everything we do. We’re afraid. If I suggest that Jonah may not have been swallowed by a whale, or that Noah’s ark didn’t happen as a historical event, what you hear is, “There is no God, or Jesus wasn’t really raised from the dead.” That’s not what I’m saying at all, but that’s the fear that makes it difficult to look at these things in the same way that the Apostles looked at these things.

    They had no historical anxiety. That God exists and that Christ is raised from the dead is not a question for them. The exact literary character of the Scriptures is not a question for them. If you know how to read it – then you will find Christ.

    Now, back to the original question. Did experiences, miracles, wonders, etc. etc etc take place. Of course! How do we know? Because they continue to take place. Was Christ raised from the dead? Of course. How do we know. We have been told so, and He continues to appear and make Himself known – both within the heart of the believer – but also quite miraculously and resurrectional appearances to this day. And the tomb is still empty – I’ve been there.

    What are we to think of all of the details of a given story (OT)? It varies. Let’s take Joshua and the sun moving backwards. Did it happen? We can’t know a thing like that. Someone can say, “The Bible says it, therefore it must have happened!” But that presumes that the Bible is a literary event like a newspaper – and I’m suggesting that it isn’t. The story is a “canonical” story. It is authoritative for understanding and knowing the risen Lord. But it the movement of the sun on a given day, etc., essential to knowing the risen Lord? What if the story as we have it is not historical? Could it still have authority? Absolutely? Would that undermine all facticity in Scripture? That would be a silly conclusion, but it is simply the case that it is absurd to say that something is historical just because it appears in the Scriptures. The various contradictions that exist, even within the gospels, make such a statement more or less ridiculous.

    There have always been space/time encounters with God and there continue to be. But the Bible is much more than a space/time account, and we should get used to that and quit trying to turn it into something that it isn’t.

    The way that various forms of conservative Protestantism have treated history and its place in our salvation have created a false consciousness about history and particularly about the historical character of the Scriptures. They have created false dichotomies and false choices for people. Orthodoxy, I think, needs to come to grips with this rather boldly (as I am doing here). Some within the Church who have drunk too deeply at the historical wells will call me liberal or something silly like that. I am unbelievably far from being a liberal. I may be one of the ultimate anti-liberals. But the split isn’t historicist/liberal. That’s the fallacy. The split is Orthodox/everything else.

    Christ is truly risen from the dead. Start there. Many things are historical – but don’t create a false choice with regard to the Scriptures. It’s not all or nothing, utterly either/or. It’s some of this and some of that. The controlling authority is Christ’s Pascha and the living tradition within the Church, the Holy Spirit that guides us into all truth. Oddly, Christ did not say that history would guide us into all truth.

  48. Kev I have great difficulty with Kuraev’s piece. He does seem to want to harmonize Otbodoxy with scientism. His uncritical acceptance of de Chardin was a big red flag since de Chardin was a fraud and a heretic.
    You are correct to be uneasy about Kuraev.

    Still Fr.Stephen has a good point : don’t get locked into a false dichotomy. Orthodox thought doesn’t.

    As to Mark/Basil’s point: data is only as good as the matrix of thought in which it resides. No datum speaks for itself. First no matter how much data we have we never have it all. To be comprehensible data has to be selected, prioritized and interpreted. All that has to be done from fundamental assumptions and a priori beliefs. As such all conclusions are subject to bias. The clearest example of that is the Saul-Paul transformation. Once the fundamental belief that fueled his understanding and actions was blown up his interpretation of the data also changed.

    My son loves biology. He found it impossible to study it at the college level because even the introductory the material was presented and tested on in such a manner that his belief in God and creation and the human person was constantly and aggressively condemned.

    So Kev no one is asking you to give into modernity, least of all Fr Stephen but to conquer the modern paradigm requires that you go even more deeply into the Christian mystery.

  49. PJ and Michael,
    I think that in our modern setting, those of us who are believers and have watched the erosion of the faith at the hands of various moderns, are generally predisposed towards a more Biblical literalism. I think the reason for this is that in the battles within our culture, we’ve generally been on the side of the literalists.

    However, I believe that the literalists (particularly of the Protestant sort) and the liberals are two sides of the same coin, both of whom have injected the word “historical/literal” with special meanings – meanings that are near and dear to modernism. Michael, your noting the mutability of time and its non-linearity is definitely not modern nor married to the historical. I agree that it’s important.

    Part of what drives my writing in this topic (and I know that I hammer at it off and on) is that I believe the literalist position to be false. It makes “literalism” the test of the resurrection. And the resurrection has no criterion. It is the test of everything else. This is not an effort to be subtle. The resurrection blows literalism out of the water. We cannot fit the accounts of the resurrection appearances into any known historical box because they are a description of an encounter that is itself the obliteration/fulfillment etc. of history. It transcends history, and takes history with it as well!

    But the literalists have set up a false god. The fundamentalist challenge says, “These are historical facts!” and do so in a way that says, “If you can refute them you can refute my religion!” Easy targets. They are factories for atheism.

    Some can be so faithful, that they’re willing to overlook the difficulties. Thus, PJ, you suggest we swallow hook line and sinker? It becomes like Tertullians, Credo ut absurdum. It’s bad theology and unwittingly designed leave the faith gutted.

    The greater question for me is to escape the trap of the literalists. I believe, first off, that the so-called “literalism” found in many of the fathers is nothing of the sort. It does not belong to modernity. It is not a belief in a literal Noah’s ark in such a manner that historical evidence to the contrary would have destroyed the entire faith. They speak among brothers, with a comfortable manner in regard to the literature of the faith. I generally speak the same way. I don’t stick in a historical caveat every time I mentioned Adam and Eve. I don’t need to. The story is authoritative, certainly in the manner I use it (which differs in no way from the manner of St. Paul and the fathers).

    This “historical question” (“either this actually happened this way or the entire faith is derelict”) is a late, modern question. “Literalism” in the way you are using the term, PJ, does not exist until that dictum comes into play. In that sense, none of the fathers was a literalist. It simply wasn’t a possible option. Thus, PJ, I think you are simply wrong when you claim to be saying the same thing that the fathers did. There are events that separate us from them that change how we speak on some things. I can hold the same faith that they did (and still do), but will occasionally have to speak differently because I am not speaking in the 11th century.

    I don’t care what somebody thinks about Adam and Eve historically, unless they say, “If Adam and Eve are not historical characters, then Christ is not risen from the dead.” That’s absurd, contrary to the faith, lousy theology, and among the most dangerous positions to be held by a Christian in the modern time. Such assertions simply dare the world to destroy Christianity – and that form of Christianity will indeed be destroyed, because it’s not true.

    So, I understand the literalist affinities, but be careful with them. If literalist affinities mean buying into the whole historicist program, you become a danger to the faith, a problem to be solved and not a gospel to be preached.

    “Adam and Eve are literal characters,” is not the proclamation of the gospel, and should not be confused with it.

  50. Darwinism as naturalistic philosophy (specifically, as interpretation of the origins of Man and the world without the input of God) is, of course, to be rejected… Some contemporaries (St Justin Popovich, Elder Joseph the Hesychast, Elder Paisisos, F. Seraphim Rose) were adamantly against any form of it, especially since they had known its exploitation for atheistic purposes (mainly by communism) all too well.
    However, as Saint Basil tells us (in Against Eunomius)

    The one who explicated creation for us taught only this: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was invisible and unformed’ [Gen. 1:1-2 LXX]. He deemed it sufficient to make known the One who created and ordered it, refusing to examine out of curiosity the question of its essence, as this would be vain and useless. (C.Eun. 1.13)

    Here’s a quote from Bouteneff’s “Beginnings” (the last page):

    none of the fathers’ strictly theological or moral conclusions – about creation, or about humanity and its redemption, and coherence of everything in Christ- has anything to do with the datable chronology of the creation of the universe or with the physical existence of Adam and Eve. They read the creation narratives as Holy Scripture, and therefore as “true”. But they did not see them as lessons in history or science as such, even as they reveled in the overlaps they observed between the scriptural narrative and the observable world. Generally speaking the fathers were free from a slavish deference to science. Rather their theological and paraenetic approach to the creation narratives left them free to enjoy an unprejudiced scientific inquisitiveness.
    That being the case, those of us who seek fidelity to the fathers should likewise refrain from overly conflating Scripture with science, in order to bring realistic expectations to each. This means that we would have no reason to manipulate or ignore scientific findings that do not appear to accord with the Genesis accounts, since they operate on a different register. This separation is important for us because, unlike the fathers, we do have data that would make a sheerly scientific and historical interpretation of Genesis 1-3 well nigh impossible, despite some modern authors’ best efforts. Yet the ever-unfolding data about the size, layout, and probable age of the created world – which goes so far beyond what the fathers knew about it – can give as the same exuberance as it did the early Christian writers: a joyous wonder in mystery and divine providence, and even, at times, a recognition of overlaps with scriptural narratives.
    If we follow the fathers, we will see the Genesis creation accounts as God’s uniquely chosen vehicle to express His truth about cosmic and human origins and the dynamics of sin and death, all recapitulated and cohering in the person of Christ. However we might reckon the narratives’ relationship to the unfolding of historical time, our gaze will be fixed decidedly on the New Adam.

  51. Father Stephen,
    as there is such a dire need for this type of bold clarification of this torturous question, I would kindly suggest some type of ‘main’ article made out of your above two outstanding comments (or something along those lines)!
    I say this because, it is so much harder to locate old comments than it is to locate old articles!
    I would certainly appreciate something as bold and succinct in any upcoming book too!
    Thank you so much!

  52. Dino,
    I’ve had one in the works – but with a couple of false starts. The comments work seems much better to me. Thanks for the encouragement. I shied away from this kind of “boldness” for a long time, being concerned not to scandalize anyone, and also fearing (sinfully) the kind of attacks it can generate. As for the latter concern – I think I’m just over it. Life’s too short to worry about such things. As for the first, it will always be a concern, but if we are to move forward with current apologetics (which might be a description for a lot of what I do) then like St. Justin, we’ll have to seriously engage the culture where it lives. That cannot be done by fighting the losing battles of protestant rear-guard armies.

    Orthodoxy has so much to say in addressing the full range of contemporary life. It would be a pity for it not to be spoken – and boldly.

  53. The die-hard materialists are just as much literalists as are the strictist of the fundamentalists. That is why you are correct Fr. Stephen to see the false dichotomy.

    We Orthodox must go deeper to cut through the untruth of both.

    I greatly mistrust those who lean over backwards to accommodate modern “scientific” thought though as I feel Kuraev does. He is playing to a particular audience in an attempt to make Orthodoxy more palatable to that audience IMO.

    The real difficulty that Protestants have in countering the materialist delusions is that those delusions were birthed from their prior denial of the sacramental reality of creation. When sacrament is rejected so is the Incarnation.

    It is a shame that we have to seem so complicated to address the dilemmas of mind and heart that arise when we loose sight of the simple reality that Christ is in our midst.

  54. Father Stephen and Dino,

    I too would like to learn more about the problems above. I hope it will all be well for all of us.

    May God guide you in your writing and in all your activity!

  55. And I’m glad there are people who have studied these issues and who seek to give answers to present-day questions regarding God, the truth, Orthodoxy. It is what brought me to this blog, in a moment when I was beginning to feel that secularism is succeeding in abolishing people’s faith… I felt there had to be more in Orthodoxy than I heard from others or knew…

    May God bless you all!

  56. As Bouteneff cautions us not to conflate Scripture with science in interpreting data neither should we subordinate the Scripture to science.

    That is the false dichotomy which has its root in the rejection of the sacramental understanding of creation and the truth of the human priestly calling (ordained or not).

    That loss has lead us head-long into the nihilist miasma in which we now find ourselves fed by both the materialism of the deniers and the time bound tyranny of the historicist.

    I’ve studied history all my life. That is why I know time is not a constant. Only God is.

  57. My study of history also showed me the inadequacy of facts and dats to reveal the truth. The truth of Genesis has been gradually unfolded to me as I read, listen, pray and worship with as much humility as possible. Most of my focus has been on the male/female as revealed there. Perhaps I am ready to profit from reading the Fathers. Those of you who have read more deeply in the Fathers than I. What is the best commentary on Genesis with which to begin?

  58. Interesting. My wife just unearthed a couple reprints of previous articles that relate to our conversation: Icons in a Literal World. and The Word within The Word: The Sacrament of Time

  59. Mari, each of the Scriptures you reference speak to the point eloquently. Thank you.

  60. Father,
    the propriety of the bold tone in the comments is evident indeed; but then again, the search engine only yields ‘articles’. This is what initially lead me to plead for an article – whether of bold or diplomatic tone makes little difference to its guaranteed appreciation… What Orthodoxy has to say, as you mentioned, needs to be spoken!

  61. Good! Fr. Stephen, you have come to the conclusion that I hoped you would. The split is between Orthodoxy/everything else. The other things, scientism, historicism, fundamentalism, humanism, etc., are modern idols. Be bold to stand against them. That is not being a cowherd. And that is all i am trying to say.

  62. Michael,
    Your point on the failure of science (with which I agree) makes me think of a caveat re Bouteneff. I read a recent article cited by him (don’t quite remember where), but it tended to make too big of a distinction between the knowledge viz. scripture and knowledge viz. science – more or less saying that they’re in two different worlds. This is another mistaken version of a two-storey universe, and can be very enticing for Orthodox in the modern world who want to have their cake and eat it too.

    The target of the One-Storey universe is secularism on the one hand, but any form of Christian thought that seeks to remove the faith into a special category (apparent there are several floors above the first).

    Materialism, for example, seeks to simply dismiss spiritual reality (and secularized Christians cooperate all-too-easily). It is a non-sacramental world. It is rightly confronted by a full-blown Orthodox understanding of sacrament and mystery. Science may not be able to see, verify, etc. that which we describe as “spiritual” though sometimes they do, indeed, meet. But the spiritual is, nonetheless, there and is the foundation of all created existence. Much like the “soul.” I read in a contemporary Elder recently that the soul is in every cell of the body, centered in the cells of the heart. I appreciated his linking of soul and cell – we’re so brain-centered. It was helpful. But we cannot locate the soul within a material science. Nonetheless, it is that unquantifiable that makes human life human.

    I think that none of this can properly be understood except by entering into the heart (rather than just the mind). It is only there that we can truly perceive such things. It is there that we can begin to perceive our own soul (and eventually the soul in every cell of the body). We begin to perceive the logoi of all created things. Perceiving this, we will understand science in a way that is much deeper than science itself – but not by its rejection – but by its fulfillment.

  63. Michael,
    Not a commentary, but St Andrew’s (of Crete) Great Cannon is a most sublime insight into Scripture, especially Genesis…

  64. I very much agree with that caveat Father. And this:

    It is only there [in the heart] that we can truly perceive such things ….. We begin to perceive the logoi of all created things. Perceiving this, we will understand science in a way that is much deeper than science itself – but not by its rejection – but by its fulfillment.

    is very reminiscent St Maximus’ words on the rise of the Sun of righteousness in man’s heart, unfortunately the English version translates “nous” as mind here, but it would be perhaps closer if interpreted to say heart (or man’s inner eye in a pure heart):

    The sun that rises and illumines the world makes itself visible as well as the objects it illumines. It is the same with the Sun of righteousness.
    When He rises in a mind that has been purified, He makes Himself seen in addition to the logoi of the objects he has created.

    Maximus the Confessor Centuries on Love, I, 95 (PG 90)

  65. Is it the case that the faith would have no difficulty in accepting that human beings ‘come from apes’ if this was the scientific consensus, in that God could have used the creative matter of apes to form from that the human being? I believe I heard that St Basil had intimated as much in his Hexaemeron. Or is it this part of Darwinism as naturalistic philosophy which is to be rejected by the faith as Adam and Eve were the ‘first formed’? I am sorry If this question is too far removed from the subject of discussion or has been addressed elsewhere.

  66. FJE,
    It’s not been addressed elsewhere. It’s not just Darwin. At issue for some is a science that seeks to give an account of the world and all of its workings without reference to God – i.e. a strictly materialistic account of existence.

    It is more of a philosophical/theological question than a science question. Science inherently seeks to give an account of things without reference to God – and reference to God is made more difficult by the very hidden nature of God’s activity in the world. God’s activity is on the one hand, so hidden that some cannot see it at all. It is, on the other hand, so patently everywhere at all times that for others the whole world is a sacrament.

    St. Basil’s Hexaemeron is an exquisitely suggestive meditation on Genesis, worth the time reading and then slowly meditating on. It would be a mistake, I think, to try and develop a “blended” account of creation – using scientific accounts of possible antecedents to man and trying to figure out when they “become” human, or get a soul, etc. The account in Genesis is how the Tradition teaches us to speak of this.

  67. The ‘coming from apes’ is less of a problem than the ‘godless chance appearance of the entire universe’ which is the ultimate end of philosophical “darwinism” in most peoples understanding.
    Of course the ‘coming from apes’ notion has been fought by many while others see no problem there, and many who dislike it await for a scientific change (these happen almost like the pendulum swings sometimes) but have no issue with those who accept a mixture of Faith and the ‘ape’ thingy. I am guessing that the only ‘theological’ refutation that would hold any water for the Church on the apes thingy -it being considered science- would probably come from a discussion on the logoi of beings, as all else seems like weak argumentation, or like personal reverential intuition…

    I stumbled on an article on
    about “Patristic Views on the Nature and Status of Scientific Knowledge”

    Here’s an adapted passage from the conclusion I thought was fairly relevant:

    The trouble with science (in its rationalist perspective), from a spiritual point of view, is when it doesn’t recognise that its object is a limited domain (the domain of nature); and it assumes that it has the only way of knowing the totality of what is real, therefore positing the notion that the part which is above and beyond nature, (which is imperceptible to it) is non-existent.

    Another danger is that of investing all of our energy in this type of knowledge, remaining ignorant of forms of superior knowledge linked to faith and spiritual experience, which alone can open man to the totality of what is real.

    And finally, the Fathers consider that even at the level of the knowledge of nature, whatever its degree of development and complexity, scientific knowledge remains, as a knowledge of ‘phenomena’, a knowledge of appearances, and therefore a superficial knowledge. It ignores the true (inner) nature of material things themselves, the spiritual meaning contained in their logoi. These are only accessible by spiritual contemplation which man can develop in himself only by ascetic activity which is linked to divine grace and purifies his passions, that is his different forms of attachment to his own ego and to the appearances of things. This is a constantly recurring theme in St Maximos the Confessor. By natural contemplation, which is for the Fathers superior to the first degree of knowledge, whose domain is science, man can have access not only to knowledge of the real nature of each thing, but also to the knowledge of their spiritual laws (intimately linked to divine Providence which invisibly governs the world)… behind the (often beguiling) appearances of phenomena, lie their (liberating) spiritual reasons, their logoi, and which, through these logoi, leads us to the Divine Logos, the Word of God, which is their real, ontological foundation and their ultimate, real purpose.

  68. “The resurrection blows literalism out of the water. We cannot fit the accounts of the resurrection appearances into any known historical box because they are a description of an encounter that is itself the obliteration/fulfillment etc. of history. It transcends history, and takes history with it as well!”


    i’ve read through your response to me and to PJ/Michael a couple times. i need to let them sink in. But i’m particularly trying to understand the quote above. It’s not obvious to me what you mean here.

    i take it you think that the literalist and the liberal both accept the same basic worldview or criterion of truth, but occupy different sides of a debate. i take you to be saying that you reject the very terms of the debate itself.

    i guess this is where i don’t relate. i i mean, i guess i do relate when you’re describing how the historicity of various bits of scripture seem connected and is coupled with an anxiety about it all coming un-tethered. But i don’t relate to feeling as though i accept the skeptic’s/atheist’s/liberal’s criterion of judgment.

    Perhaps, you’re right, and i do, but i just don’t realize it yet. i’ll think more about that. But on the surface, it seems to me that there is an important difference. The skeptic’s/liberal’s verification requires archaeology and, truth be told, a stamp of approval on a certain belief by an institution–modern science/academia. Can a skeptic say that King David existed and was really a king over Israel at a certain time? That depends, let us go dig in the ground and find inscriptions with his name on it. Let us take those artifacts to our lab and test them using methods based on our presuppositions about how the material world works. But really, since Mr. Skeptic isn’t (in lots of cases anyway) himself one of these lab-coats trained in performing these tests, Mr. Skeptic will really just read a book by authorities he already approves us who share those presuppositions. And if they say there was a King David, then based on their authority, he’ll grant that David was real and really a King.

    i suppose the important difference i detect on the surface is that i reject a materialist’s epistemology. i don’t worry about Noah being real and really building an ark because i suspect we’re always one archaeological discovery away from verifying or falsifying biblical claims. Instead, i already accept that the Bible is authoritative. i worry about Noah or Adam or David being real for theological reasons. i believe they all are real based on presuppositions i know that the skeptic/liberal/materialist doesn’t accept and vehemently rejects.

    What theological reasons? Well, i’m not even sure i can articulate them all. But the most basic one is just how to understand what i read. Yes, there is clearly poetry and symbolism in the Scriptures. i certainly don’t mean to deny that there are varying literary genres. But some of the Bible presents itself at least prima facie as history–events in space time.

    Now what i’m excited about as an Orthodox catachumen is that i have been missing the fact that even in the historical genre, there are levels of interpretation. There is not just the details of history, and there is not just the moral lessons i should take from the history. There are symbols for Christ and symbolically represented truths about the gospel and the Church all over those historical documents.

    But i take it that this doesn’t mean that the first level is useless or discard-able. Why? Well, because if they’re really just stories and nothing more–if they’re really just fabrications or myths, then what’s so special about them? Why can’t i just start making up stories right now that symbolize Christ in some way? Why can’t even some non-Christian make up a story which has lots of metaphorical elements related to Christ? Why can’t i read the Iliad and start allegorizing its words into Christian meanings?

    Now i understand some of the obvious answers to these questions–there is a line of authority and tradition to follow, and this line of authority/tradition excludes the possibilities i mention. Yes, i understand that. But in a way this makes it sound to me as though the fact that its these stories and not other stories is just arbitrary. These just happen to be the stories in our tradition which symbolize Christ. These just happen to be the ones approved by or included in apostolic authority.

    But isn’t history also a reason? It seems to me one difference between Ruth and Boaz and some Greek myth is that Ruth and Boaz happened. Boaz is a type of Christ. And he’s not just some fictitious character fabricated for us so that we have a neat metaphor for Christ. But Ruth and Boaz are part of history. And God having symbols for Christ not merely in fables but in real, space-time history shows that this is real–that God is the God of the actual world. God is in control of history. History–real space time events–are *God’s* story. God is not merely the God of stories and fables. If He were, then it seems to me, he’d just be one God among many. But part of God’s amazing and awe-inspiring inspiration of the Scriptures is that He didn’t merely put symbols for Christ into words, God actually puts symbols for Christ into history–not merely into a neat story, but into the real world.

    i don’t mean to conclude from this that, therefore, any statement in the Bible included in a historical document has to be understood like a newspaper article. Certainly not. John clearly arranges the time of Christ’s death and the Passover lamb’s slaughter in such a way to make a theological point. i get that.

    But it still seems to me a very huge difference in saying that some details aren’t about history but are about theology, and saying some account is *wholly fictitious.* And i guess once we start claiming persons who are at least prima facie presented to us as real persons are, in fact, just fabricated mythical characters, then i’m back to the Iliad and wondering why i can’t, but not for arbitrary reasons, allegorize my way to Christ from any old myth at all.

    i’m not sure how much of this does or doesn’t touch on your comment i included at the very top–i hope you’ll still elaborate on that as well.

  69. The ‘coming from apes’ is less of a problem than the ‘godless chance appearance of the entire universe’ which is the ultimate end of philosophical “darwinism” in most peoples understanding.

    Of course the ‘coming from apes’ notion has been fought by many, while others see no problem there, and many who dislike it await for a scientific change (these happen almost like the pendulum swings sometimes) but have no issue with those who accept a mixture of Faith and the ‘ape’ thingy. It “feels” indeed so far removed from both scriptural and non-scriptural accounts of the past (even from myths openly acknowledging their own fictitiousness – although nothing is ever 100% made-up)
    I am guessing that the only ‘theological’ refutation that would hold any water for the Church on the apes thingy -it being considered science- would probably come from a discussion on the logoi of beings, as all else seems like weak argumentation, or like personal reverential intuition…

    I stumbled on an article on the johnsanidopoulos site, (I am excluding the url as my comment did not appear before -probably due to the link?)
    about “Patristic Views on the Nature and Status of Scientific Knowledge”

    Here’s an adapted passage from the conclusion I thought was fairly relevant:

    The trouble with science (in its rationalist perspective), from a spiritual point of view, is when it doesn’t recognise that its object is a limited domain (the domain of nature); and it assumes that it has the only way of knowing the totality of what is real, therefore positing the notion that the part which is above and beyond nature, (which is imperceptible to it) is non-existent.

    Another danger is that of investing all of our energy in this type of knowledge, remaining ignorant of forms of superior knowledge linked to faith and spiritual experience, which alone can open man to the totality of what is real.

    And finally, the Fathers consider that even at the level of the knowledge of nature, whatever its degree of development and complexity, scientific knowledge remains, as a knowledge of ‘phenomena’, a knowledge of appearances, and therefore a superficial knowledge. It ignores the true (inner) nature of material things themselves, the spiritual meaning contained in their logoi. These are only accessible by spiritual contemplation which man can develop in himself only by ascetic activity which is linked to divine grace and purifies his passions, that is his different forms of attachment to his own ego and to the appearances of things. This is a constantly recurring theme in St Maximos the Confessor. By natural contemplation, which is for the Fathers superior to the first degree of knowledge, whose domain is science, man can have access not only to knowledge of the real nature of each thing, but also to the knowledge of their spiritual laws (intimately linked to divine Providence which invisibly governs the world)… behind the (often beguiling) appearances of phenomena, lie their (liberating) spiritual reasons, their logoi, and which, through these logoi, leads us to the Divine Logos, the Word of God, which is their real, ontological foundation and their ultimate, real purpose.

  70. Sorry Guy (my comment appeared straight after yours as if I was -which I wasn’t answering to you)! I was answering to FJE there! Interesting questions! -not for me to answer…
    may the Lord illumine you on the blessed day!

  71. Father Bless

    A quick search for Darwin turns up this nugget from a pro socialist(pro Marxist) website.

    “Although Darwin’s political views were far from radical, his insights became the ,central weapons in the battle to establish materialist science as the basis for our understanding of the world, and contributed to the development of Marxism.”

    This is why whenever I hear Darwin being mentioned I automatically go into defense mode. It’s an affront I find difficult to bear and my instinct is to react.

  72. Guy,
    Now we’re getting to the core of the question. Key words in your thoughts: real, authoritative, stories, symbols, fictitious.

    Let’s remove this from Scripture for a moment. You are saying that something is real, and authoritative if it happened in space/time and that it’s just a story, or merely a symbol or simply fictitious if it didn’t happen in space/time, or if it’s been made into a largely fictitious legend.

    I agree immediately that something happening in space/time is real and true. “Jacob went to sleep.” That would be true throughout the many nights of the patriarch’s life. But one night he went to sleep and had a dream…and we are told the contents of the dream…and we are told that when he awoke he said, “This is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven…” Now an event has been given to us in a different way. First off, this night’s sleep seems to be different than most night’s sleep. We didn’t hear about the night Jacob fell asleep and dreamed about lamb burgers. But this night is different. We get the dream and we get some dialog. Did Jacob say those exact words? It’s very hard to know. But for Christians the language describing the dream is hugely significant. It is especially so because Christ makes an oblique reference to this dream (“angels ascending and descending”).

    For the purpose of the Church – does Christ’s oblique reference require that the Genesis account be a careful, fact-only version of Jocob’s dream, or would a largely literary version be sufficient?

    Somethings must have an anchor in space/time. Christ died on the Cross. This must be true in history. It cannot simply be a literary event. But the event becomes “literary” in its description. It is carefully described in the terms of Psalm 22. Which is it? Is it Psalm 22 shaping the telling of the Cross, or what? To some degree Psalm 22 shapes the telling. “There are many other things which Jesus did…but these are written…” The events in Christ’s life rightly shape our reading of the OT, and so that we rightly read the OT, those events are “shaped” in a way that we will clearly see that OT shape.

    For example, we do not know if his feet itched on the Cross. Let’s just say that they did. We don’t know about it (“many other things Jesus did”), because there is no OT reference to it. We only hear those things that are OT related for a reason – thus the Christian reading of the OT shapes the telling of the story. Does this mean that the story is fictitious – made up out of whole cloth. No. not at all. Is there anything in the story that is fictitious? We don’t know. Is the event a fulfillment of the OT imagery. That is indeed the faith of the Church. Yes. But the Cross (history) is also literary – we know it as story – I don’t get to go stand at Golgotha and watch history. I hear the story which is a shaped account of the event. I cannot just start ignoring what’s being said in the story and look at something else that interests me. The story is what I get. And more than this, the story is not just literary, but also liturgical. As a liturgical event, the historical is taken up into the timelessness of heaven and made timelessly present in the Church. I do stand at the Cross. History has become heaven.

    But (I’ve wandered a little). You start by making real, authoritative equal history, fact. This is actually not true. Many things happened in the life of Jacob that are not “authoritative.” Only the ones that are told are authoritative and only the way they are told. The story of the event is what is authoritative – and it is authoritative not because it happened – but because of how it was told. An event might have occurred in a similar manner, or the story might be virtual legend (this is generally something we can never actually know), but the story and how it is told is authoritative. What we have in Scripture is a telling of the story of the people of God that is iconic.

    Note that icons very intentionally paint things in a non-space-time manner. Why? Well, they have an artistic grammar that is used to tell the truth of something rather than just its fact. The icon also tells the meaning.

    Icons of the parables of Christ – say the good samaritan. In that icon, the story, pure story (it never happened), is painted like stories that did happen (healing miracles). But the samaritan is depicted as Christ. We have the parable’s meaning in the icon. Is the icon true? Yes. Is it authoritative? Yes. Why?

    I prefer the language of icons when talking about the OT (and many things). The OT is an icon of history. Actually, the fathers were even more general than this. St. Maximus and St. Ambrose (East and West) both said, “The OT is shadow, the NT is icon, and the Kingdom is the Truth.” They do not locate the “truth” in history, but in the eschaton, the Kingdom which is to come.

    And this is the location of “authoritative.” What is true is “that which is to come.” The truth of everything that exists is found in the eschaton, that which is to come. Even the event of creation itself (so real that we walk in it), is an icon of Pascha – it’s truth is found in the event of Christ’s Pascha, not in itself. Thus, the event of creation (in Genesis) is told in a Pascha-like manner so that its truth can be made known to us. The story of Genesis is true in a manner that the fact (big bang or something) will be less so or yet more hidden. We should never say that the fact is not true – but the truth of a fact is often not known to us.

    This is the heart of historicism – it locates the truth in the fact – whereas the truth is in the eschaton. Thus symbol is never “mere” symbol. Everything is symbol in that it participates in the truth of itself.

    That’s a lot for the moment. Read, digest and keep asking.

  73. Father Bless

    A quick search for Darwin turns up this nugget from a pro socialist(pro Marxist) website.

    “Although Darwin’s political views were far from radical, his insights became the ,central weapons in the battle to establish materialist science as the basis for our understanding of the world, and contributed to the development of Marxism.”

    This is why whenever I hear Darwin being mentioned I automatically go into defense mode. It’s an affront I find difficult to bear and my instinct is to react.

  74. Dear Father, sorry for my early blunder in expressing my self so poorly as to give you the wrong impression. You evidently thought that I was coming from a protestant prospective. I was not. What I wanted to point out is that Adam is a real person as well as representative of mankind. I think that you should not leave the impression in these pages that Adam was not a real person. I’m sure you did not mean to do that.

    I wondered, out loud, why a Orthodox leader would wish to state positively that Adam could not be a real person but rather just a poetic literary device. I thought that it is because he likes the modern theory of evolution and wanted to accommodate it in his theology.

    I think that there is a great intimidation going on in our society to accept this materialistic/ no God needed philosophy as fact. And so I mentioned cowardice. And I think that this is deeply connected to the other problems that you mentioned, namely abotion and same sex mairrage. They have with them the same spiritual intimidation working.

  75. Michael,

    You said:

    “Four attributes that are required to become a saint form St. Peter’s example: boldness; the humility to listen to spiritual correction without resistance; quick and deep repentance; endurance.”


    “Sexually we are all called to the same discipline: celibacy and chastity before marriage; faithfulness and chastity in marriage. There is no “right” to sexual expression for it too is a gift given for a particular purpose in a particular context.”


    “If the truth offends it is not for us to change the truth but to suffer the offense.”

    I’m not sure if you’re paraphrasing things you’ve read or if you come up with them on the spot, but these are excellent. I wanted to thank you for all the wisdom you bring in your comments. You and Dino do a great job of stepping in and helping Fr. Stephen answer questions from an Orthodox perspective.

    I don’t always agree with you, but how boring would that be! (grin) In Heaven we will all be one symphony but here in this life our best days are lived to the sound of iron sharpening iron.

    Anyway I wanted to thank you for the wisdom and balance you bring to this site, delivered with humility.

  76. Kev,
    I think it is “ham-handed” for a leader to flatly say “Adam was not a real person.” Lest I be misunderstood, I am saying that from the point of view of Orthodoxy, Adam and Eve as “historical” persons has never been a universal opinion, even in the early centuries of the Church. But those who thought that did not treat them as anything less than “real.”

    Neither, however, is the choice between a flat, historical personage and materialistic evolution. That’s the false choice and the mistake of the Protestant fundamentalists. They lower Adam to the level of scientific theory and that is the mistake.

    I would say to an Orthodox Christian, “The tradition has never spoken in a definitive way of Adam as history – and some among the fathers have treated him as something other than history.” That’s not to give a green light to embracing materialistic theories of human creation. God created us.

    The denial that we are created in the image of God is the root of almost all modernist errors. It is perhaps the ultimate heresy. But to say we are created in the image of God does not require a historical view of Adam. That would also be a mistake.

  77. Father Stephen,

    i was tempted to ask several things, but i think i need to just start here:

    i’m not sure i even know what the word “truth” means in your response. i take it for granted that only propositions can be true or false. i’m not even sure what the question means, “Is the icon true?” i don’t even understand how an icon is the kind of thing that could be true (or false). To me that question sounds like asking “Is a chocolate cake married or single?”

    i do generally hold to a correspondence theory of truth–that is, what makes any given proposition true or false? A proposition is true or false given it bears some particular relationship to reality. There is something about the world to which that proposition corresponds, and if the proposition in question does bear the relevant relationship (perhaps we could call it “representation”), then that proposition is true.

    There are other theories of truth that i am familiar with. There is the coherence theory of truth. What is it that makes a proposition true or false? A proposition is true or false in virtue of its relationship not to anything in the world, but rather to its relationship to other propositions i hold to be true. If a proposition is compatible with and perhaps even mutually supportive of propositions i hold to be true, then the proposition in question is also true.

    There is also the pragmatic theory of truth. What makes a proposition true or false? A proposition is true or false in virtue of the relationship it bears to the accomplishment of certain ends i aim to achieve. Propositions the assent to which enable me to achieve my desired ends efficiently are true propositions.

    All 3 theories of truth have their defenders, but by and large in philosophy (and frankly from what i can fathom, most anyone), the correspondence theory is the reigning champ.

    You, however, seem to be introducing something different than these 3. Or are you? Are we simply talking passed each other? Again, i really don’t know what it means to say that “truth is located in the eschaton.” i’m not saying i agree or disagree; i’m saying i don’t know exactly what that statement even means or is claiming.

    Can you speak more to this?

    (i’m definitely still chewing on the rest of what you said–especially about the “authoritative.” i realize now i was too loose with the use of that term. But what you said about it was still very enlightening.)

  78. drewster, the four attributes for sainthood I took directly from my priest’s sermon. The sexual discipline is a distillation of all that I have thought, read, and experienced as a Christian, even before becoming Orthodox.

    God is good if my words reveal truth to you. For that I thank Him.

    It is not necessary that we agree on everything, only that we love the same Jesus Christ. It that question that the doctrines of the Church address and the Holy Tradition of the Church reveals.

    The more we surrender to His love, the more Christ-like we will become, but we still won’t agree on everything.

  79. Guy,
    the correspondence theory rooted in the eschaton, (the True and only unshakeable Life of the Kingdom) is indeed, almost like a 4th position the way you have worded it above.
    One who has tasted of THAT knows of ‘another’ far more reliable truth than what appearances talk of.
    Little wonder Saints talk with language that mingles (correspondence theory) truths with (correspondence theory) un-truths as if they are both one and the same: Here is an example from the prayer before Holy communion by St Basil, he is in all seriousness equating two real with with two imaginary – only existing in a parable- persons…

    Receive me, O Lord, thou that lovest mankind, as thou didst receive the sinful woman, the thief, the publican and the prodigal son.

  80. I don’t exactly know where this fits with guy’s questions about ‘reality’ but this I know: Man is a story-teller by nature, the stories are created for fun, but more often to pass down the truth. As such, they can diverge from literal, factual truth but convey the essence of the thing with greater accuracy much like an icon.

    I’ll give you a mundane example: years ago I was involved in a pick-up softball game against the local volunteer fire department. After the game we all came back to the rather hilly ranch on which I was living at the time for a cook-out. They attempted to drive up a narrow and dangerous “road” that was more a simple path in a truck that was too big. In the process, the truck they were driving almost turned over and went down the embankment. It would have hurt and possibly killed some folks if it did. Fortunately, that was averted. Now, that is the direct description of what happened, but as soon as everybody was safe and sound, the stories started to build to convey the danger, the simple effort of those involved to prevent tragedy and the victorious joy when that occurred. I am sure those stories were told amongst that group of men for years afterward. They were real, but even at the very beginning not totally ‘accurate’ from an historical viewpoint. However, the stories more than likely conveyed the message of safety and effort and working together much better than a ‘factual’ recounting. In fact, at the very beginning they did that. It was fascinating to listen too.

    Further, the Old Testament and a good part of the new was originally orally transmitted. It is easy to see in the begats of Matthew and elsewhere in the Bible. Tribal oral history is always entrusted to a respected elder and is passed on from elder to disciple with one purpose: to serve as the memory and the conscience of the tribe so that the tribe is always reminded of who they are and how they survive. It is enormously effective and, when tested by historians, quite accurate.

    Alex Haley, when he was researching his book: Roots found the tribe from which he was descended. He told him how he had found them and they welcomed him as a member immediately, because their story-tellers had passed down a key piece of information in the exact form that one of Mr. Haley’s relatives had passed it down in his family: at a certain time,(the relative) left the village to gather wood and he never returned (the tribal version). Mr. Haley’s relative’s version included his kidnapping at the hand of Muslim slavers and his transport to America, his sale and subsequent life as a slave. It was incorporated into the life of the tribe when they heard it just as Alex Haley was incorporated into the life of the tribe.

    Written communication, as important as it is, looses something of the vitality and life of the oral. As we become more ‘factual’ we often become less able to understand the life of the experience, the person or the event that is being communicated.

    Good modern historians understand this and attempt to correct for it but that is why good historical fiction is often better and telling the history than straight-forward history is.

    Also, as I have alluded, my study of history led me to the understanding that the linear just does not occur. All things are inter-related and swing throughout time connecting and impacting people in the oddest of ways. The little things are particularly this way, exactly those things that tend to get lost in academic history.

    Living in the Church enhances such transcendent communion which we call by names for convenience sake but are really an ineffable part of God’s life and our participation in it.

    If I were isolated from physical contact with my parish and other external articles that represent the Church and I was the only Orthodox person in that particular place, I could say, “I am the Church” because of that ineffable participation in God’s life by His grace.

    I hope this rather long ramble does not muddy things up.

  81. As Fr. Stephen writes in his book: Everywhere Present. Jesus Christ is the eschaton. As Christians we need to remember that the truth is not an abstract idea to which we assent or which we learn. The truth is a person, Jesus Christ whom we love because He first loved us.

  82. Guy,
    Yes, I have introduced something different in the conversation viz. truth. But it is an essential Christian difference, all too often ignored in Protestant thought. It is quite important in much of the mature Orthodox writings. Icons make no proper sense without it.

    Think of it this way – the “Truth” of anything is the reality that it will finally become – not just what it is – but what it will be. The fathers (particularly Maximus, and many others) would understand the Truth of anything to be what it is in its end. Some of them would say that everything already contains its “end” and that is how is “knows” what to become. This is very much related to what the fathers call the “logos” of anything – its inner order and reason according to which it exists. It is often not yet fully manifest what it will be.

    This aspect of “becoming” is very important in Orthodox theology.

    Christ Himself is already the End, the Truth, the fulfillment of Himself. He always was, and is, and will be. Thus when Christ says, “I am the Truth,” He does not mean that there is some criterion to which He can be compared. What is the criterion of Christ? No. When Christ says He is the truth, it means He is also the End and the fulfillment of all things. He is that which shall be.

    This also makes ridiculous the notions of “progressive” revelation held by some Christians, much less the blasphemous ideas of Muslims or Bahais, or others who see some further revelation from God. Christ is the End.

    He is not only the End, but wherever He goes, because He is the End, things tend to become what they will be – and thus are healed, restored, set right, set free, etc. Christ doesn’t “fix” things, He fulfills them. It’s quite different. Things become what they truly are in His presence. This is indeed a new concept for many, but very, very important.

    Icons do not picture the past – thus they are not photographs or even photographic. They are, using an artistic grammar, painted according to their fulfillment, their End, and thus their Truth. So, we see the three angels in the so-called OT Trinity (Genesis 18). One of them often has the halo with a cross and the HO ON (“The Existing One”) in it. It marks that angel as a manifestation of the Christ who is to come. Many aspects of icons carry this “eschatological” element to them.

    Interestingly, we say in St. John’s Liturgy, “Thou didst not cease to do all things until Thou hadst brought us up to heaven, and endowed us with Thy Kingdom which is to come.” Huh? Yes, fun with verb tenses. God hadst and endowed and is to come. We have been given the Kingdom which is to come. The banquet we eat in the Eucharist is an eschatological meal – it is both the Last Supper (on Holy Thursday) and the Last Supper (that will ever be eaten). It is the marriage feast of the Lamb. Not a foreshadowing of it or a reminder of it, but it is that True Meal. That True Meal is the Truth of every meal that man has ever eaten. Every meal, every morsel of food, is fulfilled in Christ, for He is the Bread of the World. Christ says that the Father gives the “true bread” from heaven.

    So, that’s a beginning on eschatology. In Western thought, the champion of eschatology was Wolfhart Pannenburg – but he’s a beginner next to the fathers.

    One last quick note: “It does not yet appear what we shall be” St. John says in his first Epistle. “But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him…” The truth of our being is the image of Christ. We shall be in His image when He appears, we shall be like Him. The truth of our existence will appear.

    What I am now (or appear to be) is not yet the truth of who I am. Most of it is indeed not the truth at all. That which is true has true and real existence, and thus “cannot be moved.” Those things that change are not fully “real”. They are only becoming. It’s a change in the meaning of real – but it is common in the fathers – and very common in my writings.

  83. A beautiful insight into the key aspect of the problem Father!
    I see Guy’s question perfectly answered in this key idea of the logoi of things and ultimately the Cosmic Logos -Christ (The Truth as Person). The consummate answer to the question Guy posed on the different truths.

  84. Father Stephen,

    Of course i’ll need to read this 3 or 4 times and let it bang around in my skull a bit (along with other things you’ve said). But i just want to ask one quick thing:

    How does the theory of truth as you’ve introduced here relate to something as simple as, say, telling the truth vs. telling lies? If someone were to ask me a simple, mundane question (“Did you eat the last of my pistachios?”) in which case i had the choice about the honesty of my response, how is telling the truth or lying to be understood given the meaning of “truth” you’ve proposed here? (Or did you not intend to claim a univocal concept of “truth”?)

  85. These things that you are beginning to push a little more, especially in the comments on several posts over the last few days – I find these are exactly the things I need to hear and am hungry for! Please, keep speaking boldly.

  86. Guy,
    Certainly I would want to maintain a “univocal” concept of truth. Two voices – two storeys. No. It is a One-Storey Universe.

    I think a lot about lying – and have written about it. What does it mean when the gospel says, “And the truth was not in him.”

    You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. Jn 8:44

    Truth is “ontological” in the way I am presenting it – that is – it has “true existence,” the “final existence,” the “eschatological existence,” dwelling within it, it is moving accurately toward that end.

    The devil “has no truth in him,” because he “speaks from his own resources.” That is, “nothingness.” For all created things came into existence out of nothing. The only resource we have is “nothing,” and apart from God we would return to nothing. The devil hates all existing things and is a murderer, he would reduce everything to nothing, such is his hatred of the good God who gives us life.

    This is why lying is wrong – not because it breaks a rule – but because it is opposed to existence, the gift of true existence, which alone is true and good. When we lie, even a small lie, “I did not eat the last of your pistachios,” he said chokingly. Has something of “nothing” about it. The speaker has allied himself with nothing, and his taken a step closer to the abyss. Repentance, “Yes, I ate your pistachios and I’m sorry. I was overwhelmed by my hunger…forgive me…” is telling the truth and taking steps (“forgive me”) towards true existence, being, good, all of which are “eschatological.”

    All things are in motion in this understanding (that is pure St. Maximus the Confessor). This is why the Scripture describes sin as “missing the mark” (hamartia). The mark is eschatological – the end – the destination – that which has been prepared for us. “God is gathering all things together in one in Christ…” (Ephesians 1). Lies are deviations, movements in the wrong direction.

    The imagery is extremely Biblical and patristic, and far more descriptive and helpful than the stuff our culture has given us. There’s a reason why good theology is good. 🙂

    Another heading to use to look up and think about this is in “teleological” theory of truth.

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