I Really Can’t Say

DSC_0279q1We’ve all had the conversation. “No one can really know who God is.”

Yes. And we can change the word “God” to almost anything else. There is a seemingly impenetrable wall of ignorance between us and whatever we confront. And it is precisely at the point of ignorance that the mischief begins.

The point of ignorance, which should provide a signal to stop, frequently becomes a green light for intellectual nonsense: “Since we can’t really know, we can just make it up!” I recall encountering this argument in the 70’s when fellow seminarians were advocating naming God as “She,” “He/She,” and other even less euphonious iterations. If God transcends gender, then why not call God whatever is most useful?

Christian theology, particularly in the East, has long championed the use of an “apophatic” approach to theology. The word “apophatic” literally means, “what cannot be spoken.” It is a recognition that “what cannot be spoken” is not the same thing as “what cannot be known.” Apophaticism is a mystical approach to theology (and even to the world), in which participation becomes the primary means of cognition. We come to know something or someone because we have a share in its existence. Rationality is not dismissed, but is made to serve the primary life of participation.

One of my favorite apophatic statements comes from Fr. Thomas Hopko: “You cannot know God. But you have to know Him to know that.” Just this sort of “brain-teaser” is typical of apophaticism. We “unknowingly know” God. God “causelessly causes.” Classical theology is filled with such statements – some so familiar by now that we forget just how reasonably impossible they are. Mary is a “Virgin Mother.” Christ is both “God and man.” “God became man so that man could become God.” When such phrases cease to bring us up short and stagger our reasoning, then they have lost something of their original force. I do not think this to be the fault of language so much as our habit of assuming that we actually understand what is familiar.

Language has undergone a radical shift in the last century. Marxist dialectic, which imposed a theory of conflicting forces as the model for understanding history, has passed into mainstream usage, largely stripped of its association with a somewhat discredited political system. Marx saw the world in terms he had borrowed from the philosopher Hegel: Thesis:Antithesis:Synthesis. Thus he theorized that history had “progressed” from Primitive Communism (common ownership of property) to a system of Slavery to Feudalism to Capitalism, now being replaced with new Communism (I have greatly simplified the complexities of his analysis). The movement of history was “progressive,” each new economic form throwing off the oppression of earlier forms. At the heart of the dialectical analysis was conflict.

In popular terms, this analysis has become commonplace when applied to certain social issues. Thus various “liberations” mark the forward movement of history. The enslavement of Africans, the oppression of women, the castigation of homosexuals, etc., are being swept away by a progression of liberations. This dialectical analysis has focused great attention on language. Thus, getting various terms correct is often equated with liberation itself. In America, mainstream Divinity Schools regularly insist that “inclusive” language be used when referring to God (God Godself, He/She, etc.). I have doggedly refused to adopt even more benign forms of political correctness, continuing to use “man” as a generic term rather than “humanity,” etc. As such, I assume my writing might seem somewhat antique. Just so.

And though this article is ostensibly directed towards apophatic language, this digression to examine dialectical language is important. For the dialectical use of language carries with it a theory of history and of knowledge. It is also the reigning form of popular language, controlling speech in academic circles and news cycles, being able to reduce otherwise kindhearted persons to puddles of apologies for a single slip of the tongue (if they are allowed to apologize).

The dialectical analysis of history enjoys great popularity perhaps because it is so simple. Very little knowledge of historical detail is required in order to know that slavery is wrong and that it was good that it was abolished. Nor does it take a historical genius to postulate that slavery and racism have had lasting effects into the present. But the reality (far more apophatic than dialectic) is that the simplification of history not only does an injustice to reality, it creates perhaps more problems than it purports to solve. The apparent intractability of certain forms of poverty is often deepened by the substitution of slogan-driven political action where a dispassionate analysis would yield a genuine solution. History is not, in fact, best described by the conflict theories of dialectical analysis. Nothing is that simple. A wrinkle added by such dialectical theories is the introduction of conflict into all situations. Thus, conversation about gender issues or sexual morality becomes highly charged with recrimination and assumptions of ill-will. In such a setting, people are not only judged to be wrong – but to be evil. To be on the wrong side of history in a dialectical model, is to be the enemy.

There is a power hidden within dialectical rhetoric. It subjects every statement with an element of suspicion. “Are you still beating your wife?” has now become, “Are you still oppressing women?” Misogyny is real. Racial hatred is real. The world has always been filled with sin. But an accurate account of history is not a progressive march from sin to liberation. We travel from sin to sin. One social ill may be treated but then another rises – sometimes as collateral damage from the treatment itself.

Apophaticism understands that the world presents itself as opaque. What we see is never all there is. Human beings are fearfully and wonderfully made. God is neither obvious nor transparent. It is with this in mind that we stop before what cannot be spoken (and ideally before all speech). What cannot be known directly is not therefore unknown to us. The way of participation is by far the most common form of knowledge. The entire ethos of any given culture, the grammar of every language, and the vast majority of all activities in which we engage are known not because we think about them, but because we have a share in their life. Our days would be unbearable were this not the most common form of knowledge.

But for things that are new, or which present larger difficulties, we often refuse the patience and endurance required to pierce through the veil and insist upon the power of rational analysis. Those things that fail to admit to rational analysis are often labeled “unknowable” or “theoretical” in an absolute sense. Then the vultures of political correctness or demagoguery swoop in to have a go at things.

Knowing God is a far greater mystery than a foreign language. And yet we recognize that languages can be learned, with patience and steady effort. There is a moment for learners of language in which things seem to come together. Oddly, such a moment can come in a night’s sleep. What seemed impossible one day seems easy the next. It is as though there were a “switch” in the brain. No one can create the switch or force it. But with time it will come. Language is not foreign to us – it is human. And though God is utterly unlike anything, such that He transcends every category, even being itself, nevertheless we are told that we are created “in His image.” Theology (“speaking of God”) is not foreign to us – human beings not only speak of the transcendent, we are driven to speak of it. The human recognition of limits is not only an understanding of what we are not and what we do not know, but the intuition that what we are not is Other, and that what we do not know beckons us still further.

The Orthodox practice in the face of transcendence is to pray. Worship is not at all the same thing as rational inquiry – but it is a means of knowing. What cannot be pierced with logic can be shared in worship. This is the preferred meaning of the word “Orthodox” – “right glory” – “right worship.” To the disciple who does not know, the teacher bids, “Here, pray this way.” And it is in the Orthodox way of praying that Christ makes known the Father in the Spirit.

Who is the man that fears the LORD? Him shall He teach in the way He chooses. (Psa 25:12 NKJ)




  1. father bless! thank you for this posting, it would have been very edifying to have this in mind after watching (or cringing) thru “12 years a slave” a film my black friends detested/ I believe they read history thru the lense you described. thanks also for the incredible essay on borders and the exquisite discussion it birthed. I pray such rich discernment makes it into society at large where gender talk only creates animosity (it too a victim of dialectical thinking?) Blessings also to AR whose incredible poetic imagination is just as beautifully articulate with 3 words or hundreds in Christ!

  2. father bless as always a beautiful prayful meditation. I was particularly struck by the insight that much secular discourse is propelled by dialectical ways of thinking. recently viewed {cringed thru) 12 years a slave with black friends. they were not moved by the film at all but were appalled by its presentation. they are my mentors and are blessed to see all things thru a beautiful orthodox lense. I fear that film-well meaning or not- is saturated in that dialectical discourse you describe. Conversely they are able to converse in very iconic thinking-always loving and pointed toward Christ. At any rate my mind is still reeling from the exquisite discourse that was borne of your wonderful essay on borders. If only such rich sumptuous thinking could be brought into the wider public square. Kudos also to AR who is so poetically imaginative be it with 3 words as above or hundreds. Her nous, as yours, is so beautifully cleansed. in these days so saturated by such
    polemical and hateful thought, your delightfully concise Christ-like writing is such a warm blessing In christ

  3. Given the non relational , but apophatic dimension of the Father as hypostasis ( substance behind the attributes), could this fall into a terminology of a Barthian type of Ultra Sovereignity that, unknowable being above being , that he’s so well known for , ?,

  4. Jeff,
    Don’t know my Barth well enough to comment. I recall that Barth was sometimes accused of Modalism.

  5. I’m sending this to as many people as I can. Loved the way you clarified the root of Marxism! As for knowing God – it’s a little bit like knowing one’s spouse. The marvel of a long-term marriage (mine is halfway through its 45th year) is that even after so many years, your spouse can still surprise you – you can never fully know the Other, but the longer you live together, the more you find out. Just so with God.

  6. Thank you very much for this.

    I am a reader and talker by inclination (and trade). And sometimes it is humbling to receive the reminder that, while reading and thinking and talking are wonderful tools, and great fun to use, sometimes you have to get up and just go.

    My daughter is in the process of learning to drive. She does well with the family mini-van (automatic transmission). So now she is working on learning the manual transmission on my Subaru. I can talk to her and tell her all about how to drive with a manual transmission all morning. But in the end, she has to get behind the wheel and experience it.

  7. Thank you dear Father, and greetings from India. Your writings serve as a robust missionary tool!

    Sharing a paragraph from Metropolitan Paulos Gregorios’s autobio:

    God is good. He alone is truly and fully good. He is good without mixture of evil; in Him all evils disappears. Evil has no place in Him, just as darkness has no place in the Light. He can do no evil. Evil does not come from Him. He did not make it. He gave freedom to His Creation; freedom to reject the God with which it is endowed, and thereby to choose evil. Evil is denial of created being itself, which cannot really be without being also good. In freedom is the root of evil. But evil by itself cannot be; it cannot exist, except when mixed with the good. Only the good can be. Being and the good are inseparable. When any being uses its freedom to deny and reject the good, it denies also being itself, for true created being is always good, like its creator.

    If you ask me, “Who is this God, and where do we find Him?”, I can only say with all who have known God, that there is no way we can grasp Him with our concepts or express His being with our words. We can say many things about Him in a negative or metaphorical language. He is without form or body, without beginning or end, without limit or extension, neither in space nor in time, not needing to become or grow into something he is now not, and therefore without change or movement, not dependent on or derived from anything else, everything else being derived from and dependent on Him. Who and where are not questions appropriate for the One who is Eternal and Infinite. Where He is not, there is only nothing.

    I am unhappy about using the masculine personal pronoun to refer to Him; God is not male, but using the feminine personal pronoun solves no problems, for he is neither male nor female, nor is He a neuter It. The Creator has no gender, which is an attribute only of the created order. He is Who He is, Who will always be, the Great I am. My human language offers me no appropriate pronoun by which to refer to Him. I will continue to say ‘He’ without thereby meaning that He is male.

  8. These beginning lines in your post caught my attention.
    “No one can really know who God is.
    Yes. and we can change the word “God ” to almost anything else.” And then your point about the impenetrable wall of ignorance.

    I couldn’t help but wonder if you would apply your point with the same force as concerns afterlife. Do we really know enough about this state for us (Christians) to pontificate about it as we do?

  9. I look forward to reading “Glory2”- the reflections work as a kind of substitute prayer when there is no liturgical service, like now, late at night. I try to pray with words, whether from a book or ones I make up, but often those words feel hollow, dried up, almost meaningless and therefore possibly an insult to God (in my confined view) – but reading these words of Fr Stephen’s as if I were there with him, listening, comes close to the experience of being in church with icons, candles, incense, chants, the works. Well, not that close, but still elevating in the sense that I am lifted out of myself and feeling possibly a bit closer to God (in my limited view). While I realize that such feelings are not essential to, and certainly not the goal of, prayer – still they bring me back to the idea of praying, and maybe that is good enough for now, late at night, when prayer itself seems asleep. Thank you, Fr Stephen, for keeping prayer alive for those of us who need help.

  10. Albert, A number of the fathers speak of devotional reading as a means of “warming the heart,” making prayer easier. This is what you are describing. It is a clear miracle of grace that these writings work for you – there are many other things as well. I like reading lives of the holy elders, from various sources. I occasionally look for small films (youtube) on the Orthodox life, monasteries, etc. they also warm the heart.

  11. Father-

    An inquiry that is deeply personal to me:. It seems to me we find conflict and unnecessary debate when using the word “know” and “knowledge”. One – We can “know” of material things like our sciences like to discover. Two- We can “know” God through communion or other forms of esoteric experiences. Three – We cannot “know” the true nature or knowledge of God as that is “unknowable”.

    If these statements are true, it seems to me there is no reason for people of different religions to engage in conflict in the name of a Religious belief. The only real conflict seems to me to occur when people become irrational in mixing these different types of knowing and therefore, lose sight of love which should balance and triumph any discussion in relation to these three types of knowing.

    So my question. Is it fair for me to ask my Orthodox friends to preface certain statements with “I believe” versus an absolute statement?

    For example, a friend of mine will say “Jesus is God” but that statement alienates those people in a room who do not share that same faith. Invariably, love digresses on both sides as tension rises. He has strong faith and I respect that, however, I asked him to consider prefacing his statements with “I believe”. My quandary? I feel uncomfortable in BOTH asking him to do this as well as not asking him to do this.

    In the same vein, I feel compelled to coach my atheist friends not to be dismissive of an orthodox faith using their preferred rational approach by pointing out, “we simply cannot know what we don’t know and its irresponsible not to consider the possibilities” .

    To me, this exercise is not at all about simply promoting tolerance, but promoting wisdom by trying to unveil our true humble nature. Too often, I see dogma be accepted and communicated like rational or material fact when it simple is not by definition. To me, to encourage the use of the phrase “I believe” is simple courtesy and respect to those outside one’s faith and doesn’t take away from the faith in the believer.

    I hope this makes sense. It is a situation I struggle with a lot as this situation has, in part and in my opinion, contributed to wars, terrorism and non-loving conflict in general when if we are impeccable and careful with our words, we cannot let pride or even deep faith falter our love for each other and we choose words to meet people where they are – and in an acceptable fashion.

    I would love to hear your feedback. Thank you and thank you for the time you take to put forth such important concepts for us all to consider.


  12. Dionysio,
    an interesting fact (not an answer I am afraid) concerning your quandary and our current predicament:
    It was virtually unheard of for the early Christian Fathers to discuss the deep matters of our Faith/knowledge with those not baptised. They would only touch on the basics (‘milk’) with them, whereas the deeper mysteries, knowledge, dogmas, (overwhelmingly experiential) theology etc (‘meat’) were only talked about with the baptised orthodox believers who were on the hems of theosis or on the road of purification at the very least…
    Nowadays we have a very different situation where non-Orthodox, who do not even believe and trust the word of the first-hand encounterers (saints) of God will delve into the deepest mysteries of the Fathers and the Scriptures with their own rationality – outside of the tradition- and we cannot stop it…

  13. Dino, you bring up a very interesting point. Matt.7:6 “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” is a warning that I try to abide by, and yet when the Scriptures are handed out for all capable of reading, it has open the door to unguided speculation. When I see folks attempt to use them as a weapon against those of the faith, or those of the faith use them against unbelievers, it brings home the wisdom of that verse.

  14. Dionysio:

    To use the phrase “I believe” too often smacks of relativism and worse, egalitarianism. Not all understandings of God are equal, valuable and beneficent. Some are evil. Some are flat wrong.

    Jesus is God Incarnate or He is not. Those in communion with Him know that He is beyond just personal acceptance of the concept. We are bound to Him in love and by His Blood. To deny that is to deny myself.

    Those who are not in communion with Him believe the idea to be folly.
    They have no way to enter into the mystery of the oneness.

    Frankly, while I can be friendly with such people even loving toward them (by His grace), there is no possibility of friendship. A choice has to be made between the truth and untruth; life and death; existence and nothingness.

    You, IMO, have the same choice. One cannot serve two masters and the fence in between is made of razor wire that lacerates your soul.

    I know Jesus is God. I have encountered Him too often. I could not deny that before men as you would like. In fact, if I were to, I would endanger my soul. No friend would ask that of me.

    Do I act on that knowledge as I should–seldom? I am a recovering sinner with a hardened heart. That does not mean the knowledge is not knowledge.

  15. The root of the word believe is to love. It wasn’t until the nihilist, rationalist revolts that began in the 16th century that it began to change.

    Would you be any more comfortable (God keep me uncomfortable) if your Orthodox friend said, “I love my Lord Jesus Christ who is fully God and fully man”.

    How much equivocation does it take to make you comfortable?

  16. I don’t know, Michael. Yes… we have the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ. However, given how many layers of selfishness that knowledge is usually buried in, and how much false knowledge of God we contend with inside ourselves, I think it could be that a believer says “Jesus is God,” and that he’s not speaking from true knowledge at that moment, just from his desire to be right. If he speaks this knowledge as a form of opposition to someone else and produces a negative reaction in them, what good does it do? He really might be safer using a form of words that helps him find his humility… the Light of Christ will be nearer to him there.

    What’s difficult about Dionysio’s suggestion is that there are even more problems with the contemporary uses of “to believe” than there are with “to know.” Used as a confession of personal faith, “I believe” can be powerful. Used as equivocation, it can leave the whole company in a dreary dungeon of epistomological horror.

  17. Our words and the thoughts behind them have spiritual power; they act on others and even on ourselves. This may be our friend’s true complaint here.

  18. AR says, <>

    Bravo AR! This is the challenge, and it is one that most of us fail to overcome as we speak in secular settings as Orthodox believers. I pray that when I offer such Truths, I offer them as one close to the “hem” of Christ. But, alas, it is the modern world that forces me to consider so strongly the “reaction” of others rather than the reaction of the Loving God who fashioned me in His image. Emotions, sadly, have become more sacred than the pursuit of Love, Beauty and Truth.

  19. AR says, ” If he speaks this knowledge as a form of opposition to someone else and produces a negative reaction in them, what good does it do? ”

    Bravo AR! This is the challenge, and it is one that most of us fail to overcome as we speak in secular settings as Orthodox believers. I pray that when I offer such Truths, I offer them as one close to the “hem” of Christ. But, alas, it is the modern world that forces me to consider so strongly the “reaction” of others rather than the reaction of the Loving God who fashioned me in His image. Emotions, sadly, have become more sacred than the pursuit of Love, Beauty and Truth.

  20. AR, it was the context in which Dionysio presents his statement which seem to me the epitome of the “epitomological horrors” of which.

    It seemed to me as if he was saying, “Please don’t make me uncomfortable and offend my other friends by actually standing on what you believe”.

    As I said, either Jesus is God or He is not. I take no offense when someone disagrees, nor will I argue the point. It is not a rational proposition subject to argument. If someone disagrees, why be offended? By what are they offended? Why should it make any difference to them if I am, by there lights, a fool?.

    Why is Dionysio so anxious that everybody agree or at least hide the disagreement?

    I’ll wager it is because he has yet to decide and the conflict is more inside him than amongst his friends.

  21. …..but then I seem to have the capacity to irritate and offend people I’ve never met just by walking in the room.

  22. John, it’s hard, isn’t it, to feel that one’s fellow man is at odds with God. How to be friends with him and with God at the same time? I suppose what we want is to develop an ability to see or at least to hold up to God in faith when we cannot see, their true person – who God made them to be, which must still be active within them. Within even a very negative reaction I think there must be something that is longing for good or truth and has had that longing dammed up or wounded or turned aside or seduced. They may even be reacting, not to you, but to something that you remind them of for whatever superficial or not-so-superficial reason.

    I’m not sure how you are using the word ‘reaction’ but I had in mind some reading I’ve been doing lately in which various elders warn us that we can contribute to someone’s ill-being by provoking a reaction in him. They seem to attribute the reaction to the nature of the soul rather than to the person’s evil.

    But I think this must be very difficult to avoid. It must require so much discernment, or in the lack of that, meekness.

  23. Dionysio,
    I guess what AR just mentioned is the short answer: discernment.
    There is a time and a place for equivocation or for being explicit.
    A believer who combines a fiery martyr’s ‘phronema’ (loves sacrifice, ascesis and not evangelising, theorising) who says extremely little (especially when he does this out of a natural and effortless respect for not infringing on others’ freedom) can emanate a far stronger and more persuasive and contagious “heat”…
    It is clearly felt for a long time after encountering them. (…our hearts were burning…)
    Whether he ‘talks’ (if appropriate, if ‘forced’ in a sense, or not).
    I admit, however, that I have certainly witnessed this most strongly in monastics, and they do have the advantage of being able to afford not to talk on their faith in the above manner, as their attire does the talking!

  24. A very thoughtful exchange! And timely for me, a new believer. Often I want to challenge family & friends, or at least invite them to consider what I have been given (faith), but I wonder if doing this would open their hearts or close them even more. I have experienced in the past an inner alienation from acquaintances whose religious beliefs made them seem superior, arrogant, and therefore unapproachable. It wasn’t until I met (by chance, I thought) a priest who was so kind and respectful and willing to listen without needing to assert anything, that I began to inquire further into his world–which was so clearly foreign to mine that I would have fled from his presence immediately if his demeanor and comments stirred an old anger I had been harboring against persons whose absolute “truth” set them apart from the rest of us wandering in our own darkness yet looking for light.

  25. All-

    Great responses! Michael- your bet is not accurate. I am very comfortable with my beliefs, one if which is that people should not “have to have” conflict in the name of “religion”, hence my question. I am sorry we can’t be friends per your post. You may want to consider if that position is Christ-like. For everyone else, let me go a little deeper so people have a better understanding of my intent. I do appreciate ALL feedback!

    I have just finished reading “A Guide to Orthodox Psychotherapy”. The concept of Hesychasm is beautiful. However, I find the same results with many different methods which all claim their paths enable communion. (Or their definition of it). I have experienced them myself and am certain of communion with the Divine Energy is the same.

    As written by Archbishop Chrysostomos: “The Orthodox way of life is centered on the cleansing, enlightenment and deification of man. The Fathers of the Church focus “on this world, this life” and on the restoration of man. “Be he Orthodox, Buddhist, or Hindu, be he an agnostic or an athiest”, from the “Orthodox theological point of view”, Romanides says, “the destiny of every man on earth is to see the Glory of God,” which “Christ first reveals to man in this life” (ie to those who will see the parousia or “the second coming of Christ” (ie…to those who decide to follow the path of spiritual therapy) and which “all men” will see the Parousia, or “The second coming of Christ”

    Romanides, Paterike Theologia, pp. 46-49

    So my question relates to what seems to be a dissonance between culture and essential goals as describes above. It appears theologically, the recognition of Christ is secondary to the goals realized in Hesychasm. In this regard, it seems to me meeting people where they are is being Christ like and therefore our discernment should include love (or at least respect ) of all paths, not disenfranchisement. In my opinion, Hesychasm or Theosis are words that describe an esoteric experience which is also experienced by others using different words. It doesn’t matter to me whether or not they believe in Christ because if they commune with the Divine Energy through spiritual healing, they are on the path – and they are my brothers.

    In this regard, there should be no angst or debates as the path is in the same river even if on a different boat. While the Orthodox path may be the surest, it doesn’t appear to me that the essential beliefs of Orthodox still consider theirs to be the ONLY path/boat.

    If true, then I see no reason for people of different faiths to fight. My conclusion based on the fact that there have been many wars -great and small – based on what otherwise should be secondary dialect or debates of theological doctrine when the opportunity we have – and that most all could agree on -that healing the fallen nature of man is our collective purpose.

  26. Dionysio,
    Ah, this is most helpful. An Orthodox response would be – that you are considering Christ apart from the ecclesia and we do not think that is ultimately possible – not Christ in His fullness.

    An interesting set of writings are those belonging to a group, known as the “Perennialist School” who espouse something sometimes called an “esoteric” approach to religion. The thought is that there is a common, world core, shared on the deepest level by most world religions (and certainly on the deepest level by Christian traditions). Thinkers include such as Frithjof Schuon, and the Ceylonese-British scholar Ananda Coomaraswamy, Titus Burckhardt, Martin Lings, Jean-Louis Michon, Marco Pallis, Huston Smith, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Jean Borella and, Julius Evola.

    We have a very strong advocate of this at a University here in the Southeast. I once heard him being gently rebuked by Met. Kallistos Ware.

    Orthodoxy, in a manner that can easily provoke consternation, asserts that you cannot extract Christ from the incarnate history/reality/Tradition of the Orthodox faith. This faith is His gift (not a man-made approach to His gift). Despite all of the mess that may accompany this – we never stand back and think of ourselves as somehow “other” than the Tradition itself.

    This “standing back and thinking” is the most essential element in modern thought. Orthodoxy, in a very anti-modern position, asserts that there can be no such standing back. It would be like saying that you “stand back and think about English.” You can cross over and think in Greek or Russian or Swahili – but you cannot ultimately stand outside English and think in English. There can be many observations – but they will still be observations that are possible within an English grammar/thought.

    There is a deep problem/disconnect for us – because Christ God, would, at first thought, seem to be universal – certainly any attempt to limit Him would seem to be silly. And yet, the truth is that no one can ever know a universal. We only know things in particular. This is the witness of the Holy Icons. The Iconoclasts said that you cannot paint Christ because the Divine cannot be depicted. The Orthodox said, yes you can, because the Divine has become man – and not just “man,” but “a man.” (St. Theodore the Studite wrote this and had to struggle with the Greek which has no indefinite article “a” – but he managed to say this). And when Christ is “a man,” He is a particular man, and not simply “Man.” As a man, He is a Jew. He is born. He suffers in Jerusalem, etc.

    The God who cannot be known, is made known to us in the Incarnation. And we continuously try to push the Incarnation out of the particular and back into some generalized category. For in a generalized category, the definition weakens and we begin to be able to draw, depict and imagine in a manner that is more pleasing to us. It’s actually mankind’s favorite past-time: idolatry.

    Orthodoxy takes iconography very seriously. Christ cannot be portrayed in general – only in particular. He cannot be known as the author of “Christian traditions.” He is the author of only one. Christ is one, etc.

    This, of course, creates great problems for us – problems that would be solved if only we would back off and paint a little more generally, or just say that all of us are, at best, impressionists, and nobody really knows.

    If nobody really knows – then it’s all just imaginary nonsense.

    My observations in the “Politics of the Cup,” and “I Really Can’t Say,” mean to make us all profoundly uncomfortable – by refusing the invitation to generalities – for this is what the canon laws regarding communion (very much rooted in Scripture) are for. Is Christianity divided? You bet. But the most serious consequence isn’t bureaucratic and social – it’s existential. Divided Christians cannot know the One, True God in a proper manner, because they have made themselves the allies of divided knowledge. If the knowledge of God has been fragmented through all of these schisms, then all bets are still off, and we’ve lost something that cannot be restored. There are certainly some who think this (i.e. liberal Christianity).

    Orthodoxy contends that the knowledge is one, and is preserved by the One God in the One Church. As an individual, I am very far from healed, and thus there are distortions in what I know. But I trust the witness of the Church in this matter – and pursue the life given to me in the fullness of the Tradition, with a lively hope that my pursuit is of the knowledge of the One True God. Such knowledge, according to Christ, constitutes salvation (Jn. 17:3).

    I know God. I do not know Him as I will know Him. But to deny what I know is to agree to deny my salvation. Inconvenient truth.

  27. Dionysio,
    That reading of Romanides calls for extra caution… He does indeed say that Christ has the liberty to provide His grace to anybody, in or out of His Church, there are no boundaries for Him doing this; but he also clearly speaks of borders when he says that the Tradition that exists only inside the Church is actually Christ Himself, traditioned from the one person to the next. And he keeps coming back to the notion that ‘all will see Christ’, but he differentiates equally often that this means Heaven for some, and Hell for others (in a similar fashion to how we talk concerning Holy communion – “unto life or unto death”)
    He never talks of, or implies a ‘New Age Christ’ (a la Helena Blavatsky – God forbid)– and I am afraid that liberals are in dangerous

  28. …He never talks of, or implies a ‘New Age Christ’ (a la Helena Blavatsky – God forbid)– and I am afraid that liberals are in dangerous proximity to such a notion…

  29. Great feedback Father. Please help me on this. So if I claim I have communed with The Divine Energy and have experienced the one, is that a less experience than if I do that in the name of Christ?

    Isn’t that implying a relativism in knowing or am I the one implying relativism?

    And since we know but can’t explain in words the experience of Divine Energy how would it even be possible to reconcile our two faiths?

    And if we can’t reconcile, arent we both catering to an intellectual point if reference?

    And finally, if that is true, isnt the difference “faith”? (which is belief). I hope these questions make sense. If not, don’t hesitate to say so.


  30. Dionysio,
    Using grammar and language might be of yet more help. No one can stand outside a language and speak in a universal manner that all languages will understand equally. Yet, we have to speak in “a” language. There can be conversations between languages, and efforts to learn the language of another, and through this come to some common understandings.

    Language is an example, a very good one, of a tradition. Generally they must be handed down to us. And they are ultimately only learned by experience (immersion). Imagine the angst you would experience if you were being trained to be a spy. You’ve studied books, even gone to language school, but never actually been in the country. Imagine how many cultural references you would not know. Imagine how quickly even a child could spot you as a fake. It’s not a mission I would want to accept.

    Christ can certainly make Himself known outside the “bounds” of the Church. I know an Orthodox priest in Indonesia, the grandson of a Muslim Imam, to whom Christ appeared. I doubt he could have become a Christian without such an intervention. He is an amazing evangelist, by the way.

    If a Muslim told me that Christ had appeared to him and told him to remain a Muslim and be faithful, I would only be able to conclude that he was in delusion and had not seen Christ. Why? Because Christ would not tell someone to believe a lie.

    Divine Energies, apart from Christ? It’s pretty much delusional. Perhaps filled with good intent, but also, doubtlessly filled with your own ego. Orthodoxy would take you by a long (even life-long route) that would involve purification (particularly from the delusions of the ego) before even beginning to speak about illumination. But you want to claim an experience and compare it to what? The experience of the fathers of Mt. Athos? Perhaps something much less. But still marked by the ego. I wouldn’t venture any further on my own spiritual journey without the guidance of a spiritual father and Holy Tradition.

    A good book to read when thinking about spiritual experience is: The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisius

    There are many dangers in the territory you’re describing. This book will point some of them out.

  31. Dionysio,

    I think it would not be possible to know whether your current experience of “Divine Energies” were the real thing, unless at some point you encounter Christ Himself, as He has revealed Himself to the Apostles, Orthodox Saints and Fathers, and have something to compare it to. I have read numerous testimonies (the book Fr. Stephen mentioned is one) of those engaged in non-Orthodox spiritual practices (e.g., TM, Buddhist, Hindu, New Age, etc.), who, when they finally really encountered Christ in the Orthodox Tradition and her Holy Elders, knew it as something qualitatively and profoundly different. They came to recognize their previous experiences as having led them wide of the mark of an authentic encounter with God.

    As a former Evangelical Christian, I did have genuine encounters with Christ before I became Orthodox. They provoked a thirst for more of Him and were what propelled me on the journey that ultimately would not allow me to rest until I had found the fullness of the faith of Christ in the Orthodox Tradition.

  32. Thanks Father. Thanks Karen.

    Father – I agree that immersion is necessary to have a proper conversation. I also believe God is everywhere and in everything. So it is my belief that communion occurs regardless of a belief in the incarnation by definition since a belief does not change what is and what is- is accessible to the open heart in my experience.

    I don’t mind being ignorant and certainly there is risk of ego. Likewise, I haven’t met a human being yet who is free of ego and therefore, ignorance.

    What fascinates me is how we manifest ego inside institutions which become bigger than any persons ability to transcend them. To that end, I am skeptical of a branded “religion” and give more weight to direct experience.

    As you can imagine then, it’s both appealing and concerning to find the Church within Orthodoxy. The beliefs and traditions are beautiful but given mankind’s track record, I am cautious.

    Thanks for the help. I will read that book although I suspect I have already heard the warnings. In any regard, my search continues! 🙂

  33. Dionysio, I tremble for you. I pray for your salvation. I am blunt because I have seen the darkness in the road you seem to be on and the souls littered in the ditches. I doubt that anyone else here has.

    I feel like someone seeing a person playing in the middle of a busy highway who does not see the truck bearing down upon them.

  34. It is quite possible that my comment will not add anything significant, given that I am RC not Orthodox, yet I will offer it in case it is helpful.

    Dionysio – It sounds to me as though you may have had experience that has left you feeling at least vaguely mistrustful of “church” as human institution (aka “organized religion”). In today’s society, it is not at all difficult to find reason for that mistrust. Hence, you feel comfortable giving “more weight to direct experience”.

    While I can certainly understand that, there is also great risk in relying on one’s own experience as the barometer of truth. At the very least, we risk deciding on truth as we want to see or experience it rather than as it is. (At worst, we become targets for spiritual impostors or demons – if you accept that such beings exist.)

    If Church is viewed as the living Body of Christ, however, being part of Church is a much fuller experience than simply being part of a human institution – and much safer that being on one’s own. Individuals within the Body may be misguided sinners, but the Body of Christ cannot be brought down by sin. Christ has overcome sin and death – thus there is no better place to be in His body – as a sinner among other sinners, nourished by His truth.

    I do agree that there individuals within the Church (I speak of RC but do not doubt there are such individuals in the Orthodox) who trigger unnecessary conflict in their manner of speaking to nonbelievers. With all due respect to others commenting, I personally do not feel that saying “I believe” necessarily suggests equivocation. It is, after all, how the Creed begins. Much depends on the context and tone when communicating.

    Forgive me, Dionysio, if I have misunderstood. My Orthodox friends, forgive me if my words are inconsistent with your teaching.

  35. Dionysio –
    If you would tolerate just one more comment..
    It just so happens that I began reading Matthew Gallatin’s THIRSTING FOR GOD IN A LAND OF SHALLOW WELLS just a few days ago. The first few chapters seem uncannily related to your questions/comments. Perhaps the book would be of some assistance to you?

    In Christ,

  36. Thanks Elefteria- I will look into.

    All- please press the reset button. I must have made a mistake. One cannot know how to properly preface things (especially in a written forum or email) that will ensure natural or complete understanding.

    My pursuit is passionless. I am not attached to an outcome nor am I trying to prove a point. Nor am I on an implied path of the occult. Nor am I New Age. If anything, I am closer to a spiritual hermit whose body lives in a secular world than the assumed paths stated here.(which is my own definition so please don’t scrutinize). To make matters worse, I naturally inquire through a process of negation. Since that process is innate, it leads my conversations in a way where I ignorantly create confusion.

    What is good for me is that confusion leads to further revelation. 🙂

    So I feel I have experienced and experience Divine Energies and I feel that my revelation is that there is zero doubt to God the unknowable, and there is no doubt to my experience of the knowable God. (Communion). My personal belief is that the secret hand of God is at work in all things and all beings both what we conventionally label as good and bad, and frankly, all denominations. (IMO). That, however, is a different discussion.

    Here and now, I simple am trying to ask a question. Let me try to articulate the essence. If the unknowable God is not any religion, why must I accept the Incarnate Christ in order to commune with him? Or if Christ is God and God is Christ, why must I in the eyes of Orthodox acknowledge the Christ when I acknowledge God? This “requirment of faith” ,if you will, seems to be redundant when considering the Divine cosmos. I am slow for sure and can’t claim I am egoless as no one can. But the argument of “one cannot separate the two” and “redundancy of God and Jesus” are the same. Unless of course there is an argument that Jesus ADDS something to the unknowable God? But this would mean apart from God at some level. Anyway- I hope you better see my struggle.

    I understand this issue is at the core of Orthodox. That is why I am here as quite logically, who else would I ask? What I hoped for is passionless engagement and humble answers. Consider me ignorant or if you must, or an opportunity to bring light to a wanderer. But rest assured, if the answer is “because the Church Fathers said so”, then my journey will continue and that should be ok for all of us.

    Respectfully and with love,


  37. Father,

    You might be interested to know that one of Ananda Coomaraswamy’s sons became a traditionalist Catholic priest and exorcist.

  38. Dionysio, I have been searching long and hard and realize that God is everywhere and speaks to those that seek for truth,(contemplate John 10:16) and through my journey I have found in the Orthodox Church the same things that are in the rest of the world, arguments and failings, yet I have found good God fearing people who demonstrate to me that through obedience to the Church and participation in Liturgy that they obtain true peace as promised by Christ. I have decided to follow these teachings to the best of my understanding and struggle with the delusions that I have pridefully held onto, to give myself over to God and receive His healing. There are those that when they make this commitment to following Christ that will not even contemplate the philosophies and theologies of others, because it introduces an aspect of doubt that they are not prepared to deal with, because wrapping your heart around something that you can not perceive with your senses is very difficult.

  39. Dionysio,

    “Unlesss of course there is an argument that Jesus ADDS something to the unknowable God?”

    Precisely because God is unknowable, we must cling to Jesus Christ, who is the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). God is only known in and through Jesus Christ. “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27). The Word was made incarnate because God “dwells in light unapproachable” (1 Timothy 6:16), beyond the reaches of the human mind. We cannot see him: he must show himself to us. Jesus Christ is this showing, this revelation, in tangible — and thus comprehensible — form. “No one has ever seen God; the only-begotten Son, who is in the Father’s bosom, he has made him known” (John 1:18).

    The preface for midnight Mass on Christmas reads in part: “Through the Mystery of the Word made flesh, the new light of Thy glory hath shone upon the eyes of our mind, so that while we acknowledge God in visible form, we may through Him be drawn to the love of things invisible…”

    Similarly, St. Irenaeus wrote, “He united man with God, and established a community of union between God and man; since we could not in any other way participate in incorruption, save by His coming among us. For so long as incorruption was invisible and unrevealed, it helped us not at all: therefore it became visible, that in all respects we might participate in the reception of incorruption” (On the Apostolic Preaching).

    If you don’t find the words of the liturgy and the voice of tradition compelling, listen instead to St. John: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the Word of life — the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us — that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:1-3).

    In short: “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23). Why? Precisely because Jesus Christ is the Father’s self-revelation.

  40. Dionysio,

    John 10

    1 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them.

    7 Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

    11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. 12 But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. 13 The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.

    17 “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. 18 No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”

    19 Therefore there was a division again among the Jews because of these sayings. 20 And many of them said, “He has a demon and is mad. Why do you listen to Him?”

    21 Others said, “These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” (NKJV)

    Christ is the mediator of all God’s energies/grace toward us. There is no other name given under heaven. If you experience the energies of God it is Christ, so why would you deny him the thanks He’s due? To know Him and to deny Him mimics the demons.

  41. Dionysio,
    also remember to keep in mind that for a, say, Hindu to have an experience of God that is not demonic but really is ‘Christ extending outside of the Church’, is one thing – a very good thing indeed.
    However (!) for a Christian to go looking outside, say in Hinduism, is a different thing – (spiritual adultery) not good.
    The fact that God can use both positives and negatives to bring about a positive result in the end does not make man free to choose negatives…

  42. Dionysio,

    I am perhaps one that misunderstood you. Sorry if that is so. I think I understand a bit better now – but certainly disregard my remarks if I don’t.

    I believe that God can and does unite to Himself those known only to Him who are truly faithful, even if they do not know Christ (for whatever reason). Our faith as Christians does not set limits on God’s love and mercy.

    On the other hand, as one who loves and seeks, to come to know God as Trinity, deepens my understanding of God and what “God is love” means. It deepens me in my movement toward restoring the God-likeness for which I was created. (Christ the Eternal Tao explains this better than anything else I have encountered.)

    Thus, embracing Christ does not lead me to judge those who don’t (I cannot know their hearts as God does). However, I cannot regard acceptance of Christ as optional for me, since I have been offered the gift of knowing Him. If God invites me to understand Him more deeply, I want to follow. (Though I do so most imperfectly.)

  43. OK. So far I can conclude that few here believe my experience. Second, I hear people “tremble” for me and not “want to be in my shoes” which is disappointing as I feel closer to God then I ever have and I truly am in a centered discovery. (What may be like your “Passionless in Hesychasm “).

    Third, I see scripture being quoted as an explanation/answer for something not asked which is confounding as scripture is well documented to conflict with itself and there seems to be a lingering forever debate on literal versus allegorical interpretations. And of course, I thought tradition was more important to Orthodoxy than scripture.

    Fourth, from experience, I do find many non-orthodox who will engage in these discussions in a much more fundamental way and without judgment or leading conclusions but in the joy of discovery. But that seems to be construed by others here as denial of Christ and “mimics the demons”.

    And finally my experience tells me I am on the path to be Christ-like and profess love, but if I am curious if that necessitates the belief of the incarnate, I am surely delusional and full of ego unless I talk to and am guided by an Church elder.

    Whew…this is a tough forum!. 🙂

    In the abundance of love, my journey continues. Given the deep roots of the fallen man, I am not yet willing to accept that “being like Christ” is not “good enough” unless I acknowledge the incarnate Christ. My heart tell me there is a bigger issues here not being revealed. I wish we could have better discussions…I really do.



  44. Your last statement reveals several crucial misunderstandings on your part. First, it is not our job to believe or disbelieve your experience. God judges all things. Second, Orthodox do not hold tradition and scripture at odds, they are all of one fabric. Third, God does not need you, or any of us for that matter, to defend those who may come to know him outside of the Church or with no prior knowledge of Christ. That’s their business with God. Fourth, believing that you can be like Christ without Christ is a lie that may allow you to feel good for awhile, but the end is ruin. It is demonic.

  45. Dionysio,a true Christian can not deny Christ before man or He will deny him/her before the Father, that is a heavy penalty that none wish to place upon him/herself. I can’t say that your experience is not valid, I can say that I will not advise anybody to pursue this matter outside of Christ and His Church. If you are looking for a more open discussion on this matter I don’t believe that you are going to find it on a forum that proclaims Orthodox Christian beliefs.

  46. Our experiences are not so much a problem (of delusion or authenticity), as authentic experience can become a hindrance if we do not ‘move forward’ from it, and a delusion can eventually lead us to repentance; and this, is the key here: a far better definition of delusion for us is this: the lack of awareness of our sinfulness and our weakness, ‘my lack of repentance’ – that is perhaps far more important.
    True vigilance -which is advised here again and again-is born of this.
    Is it a “tough forum”…? If the very Mother of God sought affirmation after Her experience (in St Elizabeth), as did St Paul after his – I can multiply the examples here Dionysio – why would someone not seek this?

  47. Dino,

    Respectfully, both Mary and Paul had no context to understand their experience. That’s not what’s going on here.

    Dionysio clearly explained the context of his experiences, wants Christ out of the picture and others to endorse it.

    This is new age nonsense. Let’s just all be spiritual and get along. Who needs Christ to be Christlike? This was pioneered by the deceiver and leader of demons. Enough said.

  48. Dionysio,
    The experience of the “Divine Energies,” is considered by the Orthodox, and the wealth of 2000 years of experience, to be unusually rare, and generally the fruit of years of ascetic labor and spiritual discipline. I suspect (and here’s the ego stuff) that you’re young and enjoy the relative freedom of feeling spiritual without any tradition to which to be responsible. I would have relatively little concern for you, if what you were striving to do was simply to love your neighbor and your enemy, etc. Instead, you want to tack mystical experience of God on there.

    It’s why I would generally assume you to be in serious spiritual delusion. You have the experience, and you want to be the judge of the experience as well – submitting it to no one – and chafing at the bit when the Orthodox are so uncharitable as to question you.

    But what you describe, we generally judge to be part of the life of a saint. When the rest of the life of the saint is absent, as it doubtless is in your case, then the fruit of true encounter with God is missing. You are experiencing your own imagination or worse.

    The Orthodox do not recognize any knowledge of God apart from Christ, for the God Who Is, is the Triune God. He isn’t just thought of as Trinity, He is Trinity. And the Trinity makes Himself known to us in and through the Incarnate Christ, and only in an through the Incarnate Christ, for than can be no other knowledge of the Triune God. We know the Father and the Spirit because Christ has made them known to us – but we do not and cannot know the Father apart from the Son, nor the Spirit apart from the Son. All things towards us are manifest in and through the Son.

    There are many gods of the imagination, take your pick. It’s why it’s utterly about your ego – because it’s the ego’s imagination you are experiencing. It won’t make you holy. You’ll get tired of it, or worse. When you get tired of it you’ll try something else or nothing. But until you empty yourself of enough ego to humbly embrace the true and living God in Christ, you’ll have no authentic knowledge, just some 21st century “spirituality” with a bit of vocabulary borrowed from hither and yon.

    Sorry to be less than charitable about all this. I mean no harm – I just mean honesty.

  49. Thanks father. I understand your point of view. I better understand your beliefs. My concern is not your honesty which can only be filtered by what you believe, but the obvious disdain of people like Michael P who greatly miss the mark in love and respect in my opinion. While my delusion is questionable, the delusion of “mind reading” exemplified on this forum is not.

    I asked a simple question. I asked because my experience tells me God is in everyone. This is not “new age nonsense” (as described here) and I would not classify anyone who does not reconigize Jesus as incarnate as demonic (as classified here). Both of these types of reaction are neither passionless or egoless.

    Michael- I am not recruiting anybody. I am a seeker. However, you have clearly demonstrated that seekers are not welcome in your definition of the church.

    Father- If I was the judge of my experience I wouldn’t be in this forum asking questions. My experience was born from an decades of suffering in trying to “survive” very difficult situations which wreaked havoc on my family. What I found was a breakthrough that gave me hope for all of mankind. I witnessed a cleansing and purification of egos (my wife and I) which opened up the door to both this single experience as well as a fundamental shift in our lives. (She was an addict and full of rage given to her from World War II and Vietnaum wars and now she is a beacon of hope for other addicts). She mastered her submission and left her ego aside as did I to help her get there.

    So perhaps I am reckless in the way I ask questions. I don’t know. I am confident that some (not all)others are reckless in their answers which is revealing. PJ- you may have given the only real answer. Thank you.

    I ask the question of incarnation which I am fully aware is core to Orthodox. I grew up Roman Catholic and found it to be full of manmade righteousness. I wondered if the Orthodox way of life would be different and was attracted based on the discovery of it being called “the Therapuetic Religion”. Undoubtedly, the way of life is beautiful. So I inquired further…

    I have no desire to be disrepectful by touting my faith but only to discover or broaden my faith. It’s an act of humbleness not delusion. I am certain of my experience and I am confident but it wasn’t delusional.(but not ignorant of the possibility). It was carefully orchestrated as a pinnacle event after two decades of suffering.

    So I have no desire to recruit but I would not be in integrity if I didn’t ask questions. Unlike what Michael claims in his mind-reading examination of me, I actually believe Christ is in everyone. If that makes me a heretic then so be it. I believe the essence of God is one which we cannot fathom and it’s the religions who make many gods further manifesting mankind’s fallen state inside of ego. In that respect, I simply don’t believe in the walls of the church as I believe the church is everywhere. Ego names it and keeps it confined to a particular subgroup(IMO/IME)

    Here is the irony. It’s the exchanges in this very forum which have helped me solidify my beliefs. I believe in the coming years everyone will have to face themselves in questioning the very things they hold dear in their heart. The rich may have the hardest job in my opinion. Then, it will be the religious who through hardened belief systems have fallen away from the essence/purpose of our existence – which is simply the restoration from the fallen state.(IMO, IME)

    The single goal is compromised by theological minutia, debate, and egoistic claims of righteousness versus the focus on healing. Indeed Jesus may have opened up the doorway. In respect to what that means within the essence of a God we cannot truly fathom. So I will follow my heart as my true submission is to my creator and via him is the only sure path is that not tainted by man. This is born from extreme humbleness and submission and is a much harder path then one which may have already been cleared, but the path less followed is certain as long as the heart remains open. (IMO/IME). If I am wrong, consider the “unloving” posts in this forum have contributed to the existence of the lost sheep you are witnessing.

    In reflection and in accordance with my original post, I have found my answer. Thank you. I do recommend you all use the phrase “I believe” in stating your beliefs. It is both a statement of faith and is respectful to those around you. Nobody is compromised and it empowers everyone so love has the potential to flourish.

    Finally, and Father – what you may think is a harsh return volley – Consider we may all be literally experiencing the “Return of Christ” in modern times. I don’t believe he has to be personified or called by select names to be real. If this is true, by the grace of God please be careful or the faith you profess may participate in a repeat crucification of the person you love.

  50. Dionysio,

    Christ is in everyone, else they wouldn’t have life.

    You’ve expressed some things in ways that look like delusion. It could be just confusion or awkward word choices, as you suggest. None of us have it all together and I’m as bad as they come, but we can all move on in the faith, get therapy, become whole in God’s image.

    Orthodox faith requires participation. Confession is therapeutic as are all the mysteries you’ll encounter in a parish. This is the way to move forward in faith. It is a life journey with a cross for each of us, just as Christ bore HIs cross. Your last post reveals that you have a cross to bear and are not just seeking experience. Good.

    You have my prayers and best wishes.

  51. Dionysio,

    You’re clearly an earnest soul in search of truth. You have perceived, in some dim way, the existence of God. You have even apprehend that there is something important and unique about this mysterious figure, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. But there are many visions of Jesus Christ. Not all of them can be true, for many are mutually exclusive. You must exercise your heart and intellect in order to discover which vision is rooted in reality. The catholic Christian tradition — shaped and purified in the furnace of the Trinitarian and Christological debates of the first seven centuries — has its foundations in history. It is a living tradition, a community which transcends this time and place, which has been led into truth by the Spirit for nearly two millennia. If you want to know God, look to Jesus Christ; if you want to know Jesus Christ; look to his Church, which is his Body. You can begin with the apostles, the men who knew Jesus in the flesh, and their writings, found in the New Testament. Then you can move onto the writings of the apostles’ disciples, and the apostles’ disciples’ disciples: men like Polycarp of Smyrna, Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyons, and Clement of Rome. And so on. Go to the source. Do not remain cooped up in your own mind, which will inevitably incline toward self-gratification and self-glorification. I wish you the best in all brotherly love.

  52. Thank you Michael. Your reply has brought tears to my eyes. (Good tears). We have connected via an anonymous forum. Lol. 🙂

    I appreciate it more than you can know. Forgive me if my post was harsh to you as your intentions are clearly with love. I apologize.

  53. In “solidarity” with D., whose concerns I have struggled with for decades, I remind myself & anyone who listens: every Sunday we hear and repeat “I believe” at two major points in the the Divine Liturgy.

  54. Father and Dionysio,

    It seems to me a couple of decades of suffering is a form of ascesis.

    It seems to me also walking in the fullness of the Divine Energies as do the Saints, and having genuinely experienced them (in moments of illumination) are not the same thing. It’s unclear to me which Dionysio would claim.

    Dionysio, are you in doubt that Jesus was God Incarnate (in a unique sense, i.e., that He and the Creator share the identical nature) or is your belief rather simply that organized institutional churches don’t have a monopoly on Him? What does it mean to you that “Christ is in everyone?” This is not something with which an Orthodox Christian would disagree (John 1:9), although we might draw a distinction between the presence of Christ in every human being by virtue of their having been created in His image and those who have fulfilled that image in true likeness through voluntarily yielding their wills to Christ in obedience to His commands (which is a process). One contemporary example of the latter might be this:


  55. Dear Dionysio,

    Have you read any lives of the Saints?

    The first listed on goarch for today is:
    Daniel the Stylite of Constantinople

    “The remaining thirty-three years of his life he stood for varying periods on three pillars, one after another. He stood immovable in all weather, and once his disciples found him covered with ice after a winter storm.”

    Apolytikion in the First Tone

    Thou becamest a pillar of patience and didst emulate the Forefathers, O righteous one: Job in his sufferings, Joseph in temptations, and the life of the bodiless while in the body, O Daniel, our righteous Father, intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.

    Kontakion in the Second Tone

    With longing and zeal for things on high, O righteous one, thou leftest behind all things that are found here below, when thou builtest thy pillar as another Heaven whence thou didst flash with the light of wonders and signs. Do thou ever pray Christ that our souls be saved.

  56. Dionysio,

    Before saying anything else, on a very intimate level, let me say that I deeply respect what you’ve shared. I volunteer one day a week in a local drug and alcohol treatment center and work with patients on the “spirituality” of recovery. Most are Christian, almost none are Orthodox, but recovery clearly requires a spiritual way of living. It is in that common struggle that we find healing. It’s not the Church, but it is still the work of the Church. I share that to say that I am not a stranger to some of what you have shared.

    I understand what you’re saying – and in the context created by multiform denominationalism, it’s understandable. It is a religious tower of Babel. But Orthodox experience has been a very different story. There was a time when there was only Orthodoxy – and it has continued to exist as a way of life – unchanged over these many centuries. That’s pretty much the history of things.

    The multiform expression of Christianity is relatively modern, at least, only about 600 years old. With the fragmentation of the Christian way of life confusion has settled in. It makes complete sense for a person to want to get beyond the fragmentation and to suggest any number of solutions. “Maybe they’re all wrong!” etc.

    Orthodoxy is not part of that fragmentation – it has remained what it always has been – particularly as a way of life. As such, it is a different experience of “incarnate” Christianity. Orthodoxy has not only remained what it always has been – but has often done so despite very deep suffering and persecution and various offers of rewards if only it would change. Thus in some parts of the world it has suffered persecutions from Islam since the 700’s and yet remains unchanged. It survived the systematic persecutions of the Turkish empire and remains. In the 20th century it saw the worst persecutions in the history of the Church at the hands of the communists, and remains while their persecutors have entered the “dustbin of history.”

    At the very time this was taking place in the Christian East, the fragmented groups of the Christian West were often destroying themselves while at the same time enjoying every possible favor from the cultures in which they lived. Maybe the persecution was good. Of that i don’t know. But there have been certain protections through history of the Orthodox way of life. Sometimes being cut off from the fragmentation of the West was probably extremely healthy and protective.

    But Orthodox experience through all of that has been to see no conflict between incarnation and experience. The very means of the incarnation – whether they be the rules of our daily lives, the sacraments of the Church, the rituals and liturgies with which we pray, have been the means of communicating and nurturing the one and same experience of the Godhead. It has saved us.

    We have many conversations here on the blog. Some (most) who initially wrote as you did are indeed simply wanting to avoid any incarnate reality in order to have it their own way. If you’ve seen addiction and healing, then you understand all too well that “having your own way” is death. So I see that this is not your motivation and I understand better.

    Imagine, if you will, that someone came into AA and said, “I’ve found sobriety and I think that all of this talk about the 12 steps and the 12 traditions is just man-made rules and distractions. We don’t need it…” If everyone agreed there would be one of the greatest tragedies of the modern world.

    In the same manner, the incarnate Church has preserved the living experience of the one true God through the ages. Without it, just depending on someone saying, “I found it!” Worse chaos and confusion than we’ve ever known would ensue. The incarnate Church, the Orthodox Church, is God’s gift to us – we have 2000 years of experience the proves its way of life and the value and truth of its incarnate experience.

    We can’t do anything about the fragmented Churches and their constant changing and reinventions of themselves. In a sense, they’re not even on our radar. Orthodoxy is not part of the religious tower of Babel. It’s the original “non-denominational” Church because we have existed long before there was any notion of denominationalism. We did not invent ourselves and we do not invent ourselves. We remain what we are and do not change it because what we are was invented by Christ Himself.

    Orthodoxy has seen many forms of social madness and insanity. It is a safe haven in the storm. Not made up of perfect people, just people who are sharing the safe harbor. I can tell you about the entrance into the harbor, and share my “experience, strength and hope.”

  57. Father Hopko’s paradoxical quip reminds me of a line from one of St. Thomas Aquinas’ unpublished homilies: “We know that God is perfectly known when we become aware that he is still beyond everything that we can think about him.”

  58. Dionysio,
    you reminded me of an amazing thing Elder Sophrony once exclaimed when describing his many experiences with addicts who had also later encountered God in ‘great grace’ and then (some) even became monastics.
    He stated that this type of situation brings God into “a most difficult position” because God knows that an addict has an added propensity towards displaced addiction for a while, and if He bestows His great Grace on the addictive person, even though he will become healed, (freed from his previous shackles), he will also become ‘addicted’ to God’s experience (he meant to God’s gifts) in a most dangerous way. A type of delusion based on a non-delusional, authentic experience.
    (This perhaps is not relevant in your case…)
    The Elder’s unequivocal answer to this predicament was: obedience to a spiritual Father.
    He went on and on exalting obedience to an Elder (one we love and trust) as the ultimate, safest healer in existence on this Earth.
    The person closest to me has travelled both of these paths (in great and dangerous depth) and loved the wisdom in these words, so I thought you might possibly find some of the Elder’s wisdom useful…

  59. Dino,
    In addictions recovery, a sponsor is necessary. They don’t function like an elder, but at least in recovery, you don’t make the mistake of thinking you can do it by yourself. Someone with more experience is there to help. Some sponsors are almost as rigorous as an elder. 🙂

  60. Is it not true that we all have an addiction to some sin or other? It is just that some sins are viewed by society as virtues or nothing to get all het up about.

    God, a strong community, a sponsor/confessor/elder; taking responsibility; making amends; the humility to admit that my sin(s) of choice has control of my life and I don’t; life long battle–isn’t it pretty similar?

  61. I think sin as addiction, if you actually understand addiction from the inside, and not with popular misunderstandings, is quite accurate. It’s why the AA model works, because it is a spiritual-based model. It is not based on the notion that an addiction is a choice. It is far more reflective of Romans 7 – the evil that I do not want to do is what I do. That’s why it’s an addiction, a form of insanity. Such that the addict says, “We came to believe that only a power greater than our selves could restore us to sanity.”

    The literalists and 2 storey types who deny the nature of addiction and think that will power alone, if you’ve got sufficient character, is enough to stay sober, are the bane of the modern world. And it is nonsense. My experience has been that addicts in recovery have some of the best theological aptitude I’ve ever encountered. They “get” it. Working among them is one of the joys of my life.

    It is sometimes said in AA that “alcoholism is not a sin, it’s a disease.” I take it further and say, “Sin is not a sin, it’s a disease,” which simply echoes St. Paul’s statement that the “wages of sin is death.” Sin works like a disease, like a cancer, and is best understood in such a manner rather than in the banalities of moral nostrums. Thus we can speak of Orthodox “psychotherapy,” a far better model than the moralisms that have held sway.

    It is why I have written that morality is not Christian. Even atheists are “moral.” No one needs a God to be moral, just a set of rules. But an addict needs God to be sober – and his disease thus opens for him the path of grace. Not to continue in sin that grace might abound, but grace always abounds greater than the sin.

  62. At the very least, we are all addicted to our egos.

    Or perhaps I should only speak for myself. I am addicted and in perpetual recovery. May God be ever merciful (and truly He is).

  63. Your comments are helpful, Mary–a gentle balance, a reminder and an inspiration. We love to be challenged, but also like to be loved.

  64. Uncortunately , the word “disease” has been used to excuse the moral and social responsibility that we all have despite our particular pathology. Like the teenager in Texas who was roaring drunk, driving and killed four people. He was let off with probation because he had a psychological disorder of being affluent, ignored and alienated.

  65. Michael,
    No. That’s a misuse of the notion of disease. Even if I have a disease, I’m responsible for what I do with it. Nothing absolves me from doing what I can do. But, as we know, there are things we cannot do.

    Of course, as I quoted from the 12 steps above, “restore us to sanity,” is an understanding of the nature of the disease. The young man did something “insane.” But no one did him a favor by treating his insanity in an irresponsible manner. Affluence does not always get you less time in America’s courts, but on the whole, it helps. But since being stupid is an extremely common disease, I find it hard to judge someone else. It’s tragic and stupid, and could have been any of us.

  66. The craziest thing we see around us (well, in some circles) is not so much addiction as described by AA or St Paul (the schizoid insanity of the person enslaved and suffering from his inability to resist – someone who at least recognizes a problem there); but a (global in some cases) drive to accept and celebrate this very enslavement and to stifle any possibility for moments of sober reflection against it. One can think of a great many passions or addictions that have been transformed (fairly recently) through romanticization, acceptance and ideologization – often by baptized Christians – I sometimes wonder if it is us contemporaries who are the prophesized apostates…

  67. Whether it is a disease, addiction, affliction, or what have you, all these are a cross. Without a cross we die spiritually — so it cannot be shunned. For we sinners, ironically, it is a gift.

    All things that may beset us should be embraced because our cross is mysteriously united with Christ’s cross and through it He begets our life and gives us hope.

    Having a cross may evidence grave sins, but the most grave sin is to deny our cross to follow distracting fantasies or fleeting things.

    When we embrace our cross in faith we embrace Christ on His cross simply because He makes them one. This profound mystery is not easy to appreciate but it is life changing.

  68. I used to be more uncomfortable with use of the terms “disease” or “illness” for conditions that have a significant psychosocial component. Then someone said to me, “That’s not a healthy state, is it?” and I had to agree.

    In our culture, we often have a need to artificially separate unhealthy conditions into things that are people’s fault (for which we negatively judge the sufferer) and those that are not people’s fault (to which we react with compassion for the sufferer).

    A lot of medical conditions can be prevented or managed (eat right, exercise, etc.) and a lot of “mental” (or addiction or characterological) ones have involuntary components (genetics, early childhood, etc.).

    We are all responsible for doing our best, with God’s help, in playing the hand we’re dealt. (We are also called upon to not try to play someone else’s hand. Even though we may think we can play it better, we do not know what it is like to be that person.)

  69. Mary, I recall some training a few years back about “boundaries” in relationships and child development, family member roles, and so on. That course also said we don’t really know what is like to be “that person”. I too easily impugn other people’s motives but how freeing it is (too rarely) when I pray or leave the judging to God. He knows them, after all, and I just don’t.

  70. The model of the will that I associate with certain parts of popular Christianity is a fairly simplistic take on things. What we call a “choice,” is almost never a simple thing. When people speak about “free” will, they are again operating out of simplistic assumptions. St. Maximus speaks about a fragmentation of the will, the natural will being fragmented from the gnomic will. As St. Paul says, “I do not do what I want.” When our brains have been bathed by propaganda and advertising, saturated, and we then claim to make a “choice,” we’re just saying what we were taught to say. We live in an economy that works because we have learned have to make people “need” things they don’t even want. And then we make them feel that this was their “choice” and that failure is their fault.

    Discernment and spiritual sobriety require that we question what we think and why we think it – and be transformed through the teaching of the fathers. We did not choose the world we have at present. It was sold to us.

  71. Jonathan Edwards pointed out that the adjective “free” is redundant when used with the term “will” since “freedom” is what is meant by having a will. He concluded that we are exactly as free as it is possible for created or derived beings to be, departing from Calvin and Luther on that point. It was a decent starting point for me to think about this stuff.

    The idea of theosis helps further because it explains why it can be that servitude to sin decreases one’s freedom while servitude to God increases freedom. Participation in God’s freedom is our only hope of having any ourselves. Thus, progressing from Edwards’ static view, I realized that some people are more free than others and that there might not be any limits to a person’s potential freedom.

    However this idea of “having a will” is not the biblical language. Nowhere in the scriptures is man represented as having an organ of the soul called “the will” – a sort of yes/no switch. The only possibility of this is in John 1, where the apostle says that children of God are born “not of the will of man but of the will of God.” However, given that the will of God is not seen as an organ of his, but is rather used in the sense of “what he wishes” I think it’s fair to attribute the same use to the “will of man.” And in fact this is what we see throughout scripture.

    Man does not “have a will” but rather a man “wills this or wills that.”

    Will is better used as a verb than a noun, I think.

    Edwards concluded that affections rather than will is the seat of understanding and choice. He represented that every human being, at bottom, is either agreeably disposed or disagreeably disposed toward everything he encounters. To be a person of understanding was to be agreeably disposed toward the good and disagreeably disposed toward the bad – in the right proportions and with the correct strength. But to be agreeably disposed toward the good is the same as to will the good, so in the heart, will and understanding are the same faculty.

    I think he was more or less correct about that. But he drew some simplistic conclusions from this because he didn’t understand the nature of the fragmentation (or of wholeness) that Orthodox Christian teachers explain to us. He also didn’t explain how people find the energy to do what they are disposed toward. His model of fallenness was unhelpful – he saw people as dark/dead but whole versions of the first parents. So he supposed that every action a person performed sprung directly from the heart and revealed its true inclinations.

    Thus, when some young people in his congregation passed around an illustrated midwifery book out of curiosity, he allowed it to turn into a scandal, publicly humiliating the families and turning the congregation against him. In his view, those young persons must have been revealing a deep disposition toward disobedience, unchastity and immodesty.

    We realize, though imperfectly, that we shouldn’t judge in that manner because we understand that between the heart and the action, a lot of things intervene. We also understand that a person may not be acting from the heart for a variety of reasons.

    Christ speaks of both words and deeds proceeding from the heart – though he never says that ALL words and deeds proceed from it. A proverb also says that all the streams of a person’s life/soul proceed from the heart, making the heart a sort of spring of all the soul’s energies.

    I guess my conclusion is that if the heart and its dispositions are intended to be the source of our actions, then the healing we are looking for is the “wholeness” of our being (reconnecting heart, soul, mind and strength) the straightening and unblocking of its directions or channels, and the enlivening of its energies. When the streams are flowing from the right source, in the right channels, at the right levels and toward the right ends, then we will begin to function as free persons – that is to say, as those who do what they will, who enact their true intentions and desires.

    But without the capacity to form a good intention or desire in the heart, which directs the subsequent activity of the being, this flow of energy is merely automatic and does not constitute freedom. (Edwards said that this capacity was endowed by regeneration. I don’t know if that is true or not.)

    What this all implies, I think, is that among its other futilities, sin is the desire that can never be had, the intention that can never be enacted. Thus the addictive nature of it. Holiness, by contrast, is the desire that grows when it is accomplished and the intention that increases as it is enacted.

  72. …Edwards was right that we are created but not understanding that grace is uncreated, he wasn’t able to think about the ramifications of that fact. Thus when he says that we are as free as created beings can be… this means “not all that much.” The heart and its dispositions have to come from somewhere – we are “derived.” He concludes that regeneration involves implanting a good desire or disposition (and not just the capacity for a good desire or disposition.) I think this probably goes too far.

    With grace, I understand, we can be TRULY and naturally disposed toward the good, with our own nature and not a “second nature,” and not just in the sense of having our real desires replaced with someone else’s desires.

    Thus we are capable of willing in the same manner the Uncreated wills – provided we participate in grace.

    Er… not sure if I’m going too far there.

  73. My feeling is that regeneration revives the image of Christ and the capacity to love Him, to go out toward him from the heart. Practicing assent to Him, to His beauty is… the way – the method for healing the capacity for freedom and confirming someone in grace. But I’m uncertain. Does anyone else think that regeneration actually implants a new desire or intention?

  74. AR,

    I think some terms, when used to describe the sequence, causes and effects of particular gifts of salvation, are quite foreign to Orthodoxy: “regeneration”, “implanted” “will” and “affections” and such.

    By my reading of Western ideas they belong to discussions about the “doctrines of grace” which have roots in Augustine and flowerings in Scholasticism, e.g. Anselm, and Calvinism.

    I, for one, am tired of looking the gift horse in the mouth; Such discussions over-analyze gifts that I believe God meant us to receive, enjoy and appreciate.

  75. I generally find myself in agreement with you AR. On the important matter of the heart’s intention, inclination, disposition (what the Greek Father’s always term ‘πρόθεσις’) I would say that at its deepest it is a part of one’s ‘logos’, and once regenerated through grace, nothing “new” is implanted – in a sense -, but it is revealed, emerging from those hidden depths of man that only God knows, and “increasingly fully” corresponding to God’s intent.)
    The funny thing is that patristic understanding is that even Hell is somehow according to one’s inclination (‘πρόθεσις’)…!

  76. So, do you mean that the spectrum runs from total enslavement to sin and the passions to being free of all sin and passions?

    The process of theosis then is simply working with God to become less and less enslaved?

    Is this then the discernment and watchfulness required; not choice but simply being able to recognize sin as sin and not allow it to get hold of us?

    This, of course, is neither linear nor a simplistic ‘effort’ but an organic, personally unique, multi-layered (in time, space and eternity) work of self-knowledge, repentance and forgiveness rejoicing in whatever bits of grace we are able to perceive as we go?

  77. Dino, in regard to Hell and one’s inclination, I believe it. This is something that the Inklings have also been able to make clear to us English speakers through stories and images.

    What exactly is thought to be bestowed in regeneration? Obviously life…

    Where can I read more about a person having their own logos? And prothesis?

    Michael, I think that is a true insight, for my part, except that I would prefer to see it expressed more positively. “Less enslaved” might be better rendered “more free.”

    I suspect that the spectrum goes beyond freedom “from” things (since this would leave us still oriented around sin and the things we are freed from.) I think the ability to act according to one’s inclination or disposition – to create, for instance – is something that can be infinitely developed once we get past the “strike off the shackles” part. To illustrate what I mean by this, suppose that a holy person perceives that several truly good options are available to him. His choice will not need to reflect an avoidance of sin (since none of the options are sinful) but will reflect something deeply personal. Now suppose that he is in some sense not just choosing between options, but is creating new options by the positive and creative good that he is bringing into the world through his relationship with God. I’m sure I have no idea what real freedom looks like but I can imagine that it goes far beyond this.

    I was reading something recently in which someone says that the first step in repentance is to “name the sin.” I found I disagreed deeply with this. The activity of naming is so close to the activity of blessing – and who would want to bless his own sin? The Old Testament Law, we are told, actually activated sin in people, even though it was necessary at the time.

    Of course if we have hurt someone we should own up to what we have done. Even then, I think it’s better to say, “I’m sorry; I should have done such and such good thing” then to subject the other person to an uncomfortable re-living of whatever we did.

    Similarly, I find that any attention that resemble contemplation, paid to one’s sin, multiplies the sin and increases its hold on one through shame. This also causes other people around one to stumble. I know some confessors encourage this sort of thing but some don’t – and the latter sort work wonders.

    Anyway, I would say yes to your description, except that “being able to recognize sin as sin” is actually inverted. Being able to recognize goodness as goodness is what’s important. We want to be “goodness connoisseurs” not “evil-ness connoisseurs.” Then anything that troubles our enjoyment of the good can be dismissed by showing it to Christ, without needing to delve into its nature or explore it or taste it or lending it being or what have you. Christ can wash away our sin without our needing to name it, provided that we show everything to him and don’t pretend to be our own judge.

    Long before we actually begin to involve ourselves with any evil that approaches, we can sense that it would trouble our enjoyment of God’s goodness. However, if we are always troubled and agitated already by an unmerciful attitude toward ourselves – through shame or despair or any of these pseudo-repentances – then this won’t work for us. Then everything will seem evil because our enjoyment of everything will be tainted by our agitation. “To the pure all things are pure.”

    It’s kind of like (sorry for the popular allusion but I found the image good) that movie ‘Rise of the Guardians,’ where the kids are being attacked by this dark sand but as soon as it touches them it is transformed to something golden and light because they aren’t afraid. Hope this is helpful and not just a projection of self.

  78. AR,
    Saint Maximus is the number one authority on the logoi and also deals with inclination, secondary sources are also sometimes very good, however, I stubble on the matter here and there – especially if one connects the dots between inclination and the notion of ‘Logoi’, For instance when Elder Sophrony talks about St Silouan’s view on universalism fom experience he touches on this:

    In the really Christian sense the work of salvation can only be done through love – by attracting people. There is no place for any kind of compulsion. In seeking the salvation of all men love feels impelled to embrace not only the world of the living but also the world of the dead, the underworld and the world of the as yet unborn – that is, the whole race of Adam. And if love rejoices and is glad at the salvation of abrother, she also weeps and prays over a brother who perishes…’
    …The power of love is vast and pregnant with success but it does not override. There is a domain in human life where a limit is set even to love – where love is not supreme. This domain is freedom [“προαίρεση”].
    Man’s freedom is positive, real. It concedes no determinism in his destiny, so that neither the sacrifice of Christ Himself nor the sacrifices of all those who have trodden in His footsteps lead necessarily to victory. There may be some – whether many or few, we do not know – who will meet even this perfect love, this perfect sacrifice, with a rejection, even on the eternal level, and declare, ‘I want no part in it’. It was this recognition of this abyss of freedom which prompted the Fathers of the Church to repudiate the determinist theories of the Origenists. Belief in Apocatastasis, understood as universal salvation predestined in the divine purpose, would certainly rule out the sort of prayer that we see in the Staretz.
    What was made known to the Staretz in his vision of Christ outweighed all doubt and hesitation. He knew that it was the Almighty God that had appeared to him. He was sure that the humility of Christ which he had come to know, and the love which filled him to the limits of his strength, were the action of God the Holy Spirit. He knew in the Holy Spirit that God is boundless love and mercy, yet knowledge of this truth did not lead him to conclude that ‘anyway, we shall all be saved’.
    The Staretz was unlettered but no one surpassed him in craving for true knowledge. The path he took was, however, quite unlike that of speculative philosophers. Knowing this, I follwed with the deepest interest the way in which the most heterogeneous problems were distilled in the alembic of his mind, to emerge in his consciousness as solutions. He could not develop a question dialectically and express it in a system of rational concepts – he was afraid of ‘erring in intellectual argument’; but the propositions he pronounced bore the imprint of exceptional profundity…
    …Christianity is not a philosophy, not a doctrine, but life; and all the Staretz’ conversations and writings are witness to this life…

  79. AR,
    freedom “for” rather than freedom “from” is a deeply Orthodox (and Maximian) notion indeed…

  80. Thank you, Dino, that’s quite helpful.

    “There is a domain in human life where a limit is set even to love – where love is not supreme. This domain is freedom [“προαίρεση”].”

    I try to believe that the reason God doesn’t reduce evil by curtailing freedom is that to do so would be an even greater evil than the one he would reduce… the undoing of his own work of creation. So, even freedom falls under Love – not as being determined by it but because Love bestows freedom as a gift. And, the gifts of God are without repentance as St. Paul says – God doesn’t take back his gifts because that would be a cooperation with that which shattered the gift and made it unusable. We have to be healed or else live with the shards inside us.

    I think this is saying the same thing in a different way.

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