For many, the idea that we are somehow responsible for the sins of others, or can repent on their behalf is counter-intuitive and deeply troubling. It is distinctly non individualistic. However, it is a cornerstone of Orthodox devotion. Dostoevsky presented a very popular version of this teaching in the words of the fictitious character, the Elder Zosima, in his The Brothers Karamozov. The elder was modeled, many say, on the elders of Optina Pustyn. His teaching and story, contained in the novel, have the authentic sound of Holy Orthodoxy, and could be found nowhere else.
I offer an excerpt here from The Brothers Karamozov, that is the elder teaching. The translation is by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, whose work is without equal.
“Love one another, fathers,” the elder taught (as far as Alyosha could recall afterwards). “Love God’s people. For we are not holier than those in the world because we have come here and shut ourselves within these walls, but, on the contrary, anyone who comes here, by the very fact that he has come, already knows himself to be worse than all those who are in the world, worse than all on earth … And the longer a monk lives within his walls, the more keenly he must be aware of it. For otherwise he had no reason to come here.
“But when he knows that he is not only worse than all those in the world, but is also guilty before all people, on behalf of all and for all, for all human sins, the world’s and each person’s, only then will the goal of our unity be achieved. For you must know, my dear ones, that each of us is undoubtedly guilty on behalf of all and for all on earth, not only because of the common guilt of the world, but personally, each one of us, for all people and for each person on this earth.
“This knowledge is the crown of the monk’s path, and of every man’s path on earth. For monks are not a different sort of men, but only such as all men on earth ought also to be. Only then will our hearts be moved to a love that is infinite, universal, and that knows no satiety. Then each of us will be able to gain the whole world by love and wash away the world’s sins with his tears …
“Let each of you keep close company with his heart, let each of you confess to himself untiringly. Do not be afraid of your sin, even when you perceive it, provided you are repentant, but do not place conditions on God.
“Again I say, do not be proud. Do not be proud before the lowly, do not be proud before the great either. And do not hate those who reject you, disgrace you, revile you, and slander you. Do not hate atheists, teachers of evil, materialists, not even those among them who are wicked, nor those who are good, for many of them are good, especially in our time.
“Remember them thus in your prayers: ‘Save, Lord, those whom there is no one to pray for, save also those who do not want to pray to you.’ And add at once: ‘It is not in my pride that I pray for it, Lord, for I myself am more vile than all …’
“Love God’s people, do not let newcomers draw your flock away, for if in your laziness and disdainful pride, in your self-interest most of all, you fall asleep, they will come from all sides and lead your flock away. Teach the Gospel to the people untiringly … Do not engage in usury … Do not love silver and gold, do not keep it … Believe, and hold fast to the banner. Raise it high …”
What an astounding, profound excerpt Father!
A challenge to what I thought God´s love was…….
How so, david?
I loved it! As a society we are a huge big sin. Created in the image of God, hardly recognizible in our world today. Lord have mercy on us, and save who pray to you.
This is so apt today: “Remember them thus in your prayers: ‘Save, Lord, those whom there is no one to pray for, save also those who do not want to pray to you.’”
I have not wanted to pray to God for the past several days. I have, and my prayers have been hollow and cold. While the passage is directed toward those who don’t know (or want to know) God, it equally applies to me.
Many thanks, Father, for sharing this. Blessings and prayer!
In college, reading the long Fr Zosima sermon in The Brothers Karamazov was one of the most astonishing reading experiences I’d ever had. Christianity was shown here to have so much depth and heart, while still making more sense than the damnable American derivative ever could. Unfortunately, this was self-guided reading … they wouldn’t have dreamt of assigning such a thing to me. Even in the Dante class the material was always subject to a shameless “deconstruction.”
One of the challenges in today’s world is to say “its the other guy’s fault”. Yet me and my generation laid the foundation of today’s nihilist licentiousness which, frankly, is not far below the surface in most my age.
“Meekness consists in praying calmly and sincerely for a neighbor, when it is that neighbor who causes us much turmoil.” -St. John Climacus
Byron…probably your prayers that you sense as cold and hollow are just as efficacious, if not more so, than those you feel are full of warmth and zeal. They have been prayed out of struggle and toil. Keep on my friend.
I suppose I took God´s love as a personal love to me which in the past few years showing more empathy towards a few I know suffering one way or one to the knock on the head and heart what was written in the paragraphs above….
…. And do not hate those who reject you, disgrace you, revile you, and slander you. Do not hate atheists, teachers of evil, materialists, not even those among them who are wicked, nor those who are good, for many of them are good, especially in our time.
“Remember them thus in your prayers: ‘Save, Lord, those whom there is no one to pray for, save also those who do not want to pray to you.’ And add at once: ‘It is not in my pride that I pray for it, Lord, for I myself am more vile than all …’
I do not see how one can own the sins of another. I am not responsible, other than how my sin has impacted the ones whose paths I’ve crossed. I can certainly pray for them and see myself as truly a greater sinner, but I am not responsible for their sins. I cannot repent on their behalf.
Dostoevsky’s Zosima points out that my failure to pray for others, my failure to be a saint, is itself a cause (or may be a cause) of other’s sin. That’s a very easy example. I think there is also a mystical connection to one another in sin and in righteousness. It’s why our prayers and our goodness make a difference.
I cannot take someone else’s sin away from them, but I can pray for them, and with them, and as though I am them, through Christ.
How is it possible, for example, for the statement, “Inasmuch as you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me…” and its obverse. This does not mean that Christ will “treat it as if” you did to him. If that’s what it meant, He would have said, “as if.” But He didnt’. He was quite literal and straight in His statement, and I take the meaning to be just that. Because Christ has taken them into Himself.
We don’t see these things, I think, because we still have a very nominalist view of the world. We fail to see the profound reality of how our lives are truly connected. Individualism is an interesting theory, but it’s not at all true. I haven’t said we are “legally responsible.” That would mean nothing. It is mystical – a true sharing. You came into this world not as a blank slate. None of us were so fortunate.
Note in Genesis. After Cain and Abel, Adam and Eve had another son, Seth. And the Scripture said, “And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth (Gen 5:3) Poor Seth, and poor us. We’ve all inherited the image and likeness of those before us. We are responsible for what we do with it, even if we didn’t cause it. Now it’s mine.
The good news here, is that the righteous ones are praying for us – and it really helps. May they do so always!
I haven’t read today’s post, but I want to thank you for standing up.
No good deed goes unpunished in this world. The Cross is built into the fabric of the cloth we wear.
Granted Father, but you led into your article talking about responsibility. ” For many, the idea that we are somehow responsible for the sins of others, or can repent on their behalf is counter-intuitive and deeply troubling. ” I can certainly own how those who have gone before me have impacted me, and how what I do to another made in the image of God, who are united to Christ in his identification with humanity, is my doing unto Christ, but I do not believe I can repent for another, or am responsible for their sins.
I am distinct from my brother. What I do I am responsible for, and my neighbor is responsible before God for what he does. I cannot repent on his behalf nor am guilty for what he does, nor can he repent on my behalf. Individualism, sure. I don’t think it’s fancy theory. I am distinct and separate from others. How about “19 Yet say ye, Why? doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live.
20 The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.
21 But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
22 All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.
23 Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?
24 But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die.
25 Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal?
26 When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die.
27 Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.
28 Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.”
I don’t think it’s nominalism, if I understand it rightly, to assert separateness or individuality. It would be if I denied the universal norm of humanity. Jesus is the universal man of which we are particular, uh, “particulars” of, individual manifestations or examples of. We are made in the likeness of God. We are gods. This is all esoteric and abstract and attempting to understand things I do not understand. Yet, I know, I am not my brother and he is not me. He may be Christ somehow, but he is not me. He is an eye, i am an ugly toe. We are not undifferentiated mass or body. Should he fall into unbelief, he will be cut off, not me, and vice versa.
I do not mean to be contentious. Forgive me if I am coming off rude or argumentative. I do not intend to.
One more comment I guess. I think I am reacting so strongly because I am responding to the subjugation of the law of noncontradiction to the word. I studied at Westminster Theological Seminary and the presuppositional apologetics of Cornelius Van Til. After trying to wrap my mind around that, I concluded that much of his idea was to put rationalism in it’s proper place, subservient to the Word of God. God as revealed in the bible is our starting point for all thinking. We presuppose his reality and presence. Okay. That means we don’t begin in some supposed objectivity wherein we use the law of noncontradiction and the laws of reason to assess truth. Yet, it has it’s place. Should one toss reason to the wind, anything is possible. But that is not really the case. The Word delimits reason and what is knowable and, well, reasonable. So, the word tells me I am responsible for my sin, and my brother is responsible for his. My reason objects to breaking down the, to me, obvious boundaries of me vs thou. I can accept that for Paul to persecute the church is to persecute Christ, but I don’t think I can accept that for Saul to persecute the church, is for Saul to persecute me, or that I am responsible for what Saul did, or that I can repent for him, or he for I, etc… I think I am saying there are definite limits on reality and distinctiveness, even if there is a mystical reality, that I cannot fully comprehend.
My reason reacts to this in the same way it reacts to the Calvinistic doctrines of election or double predestination. I can allow for mystery, but there are limits for outright contradiction.
Being one with another is a difficult mystery. It may be easiest to understand as oneness of body as St. Paul describes speaking of marriage. In that who is accountable for sins of the other? God doesn’t even care who’s accountable. One member can stand for another. He just wants to love the couple as persons and as one body by showering on them, if possible, the blessings of children, divine grace, visitation of His Spirit, angels and so on.
It may also help to recognize that our human constitution (nature) is fulfilled only in Christ’s body through which we are made and to which we must belong (return) to be saved. And being a member of His body makes us one with each other as God is One yet three. This, again, is the image in which we are made and it is also our calling.
We too often start with the fragments of sin separating us all from all and imagine it is somehow normal. It is not. It is not our nature to be individual. We should rather start from the image in which we are made. Then we might see that we must love others as Christ did, including the privilege of bearing their sins as Christ did. It is a power only God has, but He longs to give it to us if only we will take it.
No. I understand your questioning…I’m glad somebody’s doing it. And the Ezekiel passage is important in the discussion. It is, historically, a response to a specific situation in Israel, and not the statement of a generalized principle. In the 10 commandments, which I do not think Ezekiel abrogates we have:
“For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me (Exo 20:5)”
But the principle at work is that of personhood, which, in Orthodoxy, is understood in the manner of the Holy Trinity. We are created to be fully and truly personal (to truly live in a hypostatic manner). Though the Father is not the Son, etc., nevertheless they share in the one being. And the Son is the Son, not as a stand alone, but as the Son of the Father, just as the Father is Father of the Son, etc. Their very revealed names are relational and can only be understood in that way.
The same is true for human beings. I become truly who I am, only in fulfilling my hypostatic existence, my personal existence. That is not lived purely as individual, but relationally. It is what Fr. Zacharias of Essex terms “The Enlargement of the Heart.” We extend ourselves, in love, towards the other, bearing one another’s burden. And that burden includes their sin. We share. It’s a gift of love. Christ does this towards us and takes our sins upon Himself. If individualism were actually true, we would still be in our sins and not forgiven. Forgiveness is not some legal notion. Sin is not a legal problem. If it were, not even the Cross would have been necessary.
But the Cross is Christ taking our death upon Himself. If we are crucified with Him, then we are doing the same thing. I take the death of the other on myself (death=sin). etc.
It is not counter-intuitive, unless you insist that our existence is rightly described as a purely distinct individual. But this is not the teaching of the faith. We are created in God’s image, and we exist as a multiplicity of human persons, and only truly fully become what we are meant to be when we are conformed to the image of Christ. Existing in the image of Christ does not just refer to some moral conformity, but conformity to the manner of His being. We are to each other as the Father is to the Son, and the Son to the Father. In the words of St. Silouan, “My brother is myself.”
Individualism is a modern error.
Greg, I just read your last comment mentioning Van Til and Westminster. I too have read deeply in that tradition and there’s a lot there to commend. “Principles of Conduct” by John Murray, for example, came out of that tradition. He taught at Princeton and then Westminster. It’s a great little book that ties behavior to our nature as revealed in Genesis (primarily).
I need to chew. It still feels like a blurring of boundaries. Certainly in our unity we don’t lose our distinctiveness? Are my advancements in holiness and my rewards, your? Are yours mine? Is my place in the kingdom dependent upon what you do? or yours mine? I am me, and you are you. We are one in Christ, but your transformation is not mine, or mine yours. We can be united, but distinct. It seems like the problem of the one and the many. i think the trinity is the model, but even in the trinity there is distinctiveness in relationship. I am not my wife, nor is she me. yet, we are one. Her growth in godliness and transformation into the fullness of Christ’s image is her growth, not mine, and her sins are hers, not mine. I thought this post started out about talking about repenting for another, and being responsible for anthers sins? I can grant an ontological unity, but diversity and particularity in that unity as well.
Yet…we are one. But you overdo the distinctiveness to such an extent that the “one” becomes meaningless or just an affectionate. We share a common life, though manifest as each person. But the mystery – think of this as like the perichoresis or circumincession with regard to the Trinity.
In crass terms, if my wife runs up her credit card, it’s my debt, too.
The individualized model of salvation is tailor-made for Protestantism, and ultimately produces an ecclesiology that is not the Church, just a loose fellowship of individuals. No, this must be treated in a truly strong manner.
This lies at the very heart of Orthodoxy (and thus the New Testament as well). All of the Corinthians stuff on the Church (as well as many other statements) depend on this fundamental understanding.
Individualism is a modern error.
But I guess I could reply that you overdue the unity to the point that the individuality becomes meaningless or just an affectionate. My wives debt is mine, but her sanctification is hers.
I’m sorry, i don’t know what the perichoresis or curumincession is.
I truly don’t mean to be argumentative for arguments sake. Just trying to wrestle this out.
Am I espousing individualism? What is that? I think the bible puts forth individual responsibility for one’s own sins and not for anthers.
Allow me to recommend Fr. Thomas Hopko’s CD set titled “The Word of the Cross”. His CDs titled “Sin: Primordial, Generational and Personal” are also enlightening on this topic.
The gospel taught by the Reformed traditions –in which sin is understood to be a forensic problem, i.e. a matter of legal guilt and release– makes Orthodox teaching of the gospel seem foreign.
I have a copy of Fr. Hopko’s talks that I’d like to send you. If you will take them please ask Fr. Stephen to send you my email address and we’ll go from there.
I understand this, and yet how difficult it is to see people you know and love make all the wrong choices, sticking their victory in our faces. Difficult times are ahead, and the divisions will be within our circles of friends and our own families, both of which I already see and experience.
May the Lord give us the strength in these times and have mercy on us when we fail to be any kind of example at all. My father remarked today how he thought only a remnant would be saved. Many see the changes and have difficulty dealing with the despair that so few believe as they do, when they thought that all of society knew what was good. You cannot say that anymore, and now you have to watch what you say in public too.
May the Lord have mercy on us all.
I’m not overdoing it. Rather, I’m spelling out the consequences of love. Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. Laying down your life. It’s obviously voluntary. I accept the common burden of our lives. I voluntarily accept to share the burden of your sin. It’s called love.
The Bible puts for love. Not every man for himself. To be a Christian means to take up the Cross. The Cross is not just the laying down of our lives – but specifically laying them down for our friends (which would be everyone). That’s the point of love. Wrestle on.
The way out and the way forward is true repentance (mine and yours – theirs is not our business). This is nothing more than so more sin. Nothing has really changed. But the path for us remains the same and always has been. It’s the Cross.
No love for David Magarshack translations?
“…and now you have to watch what you say in public too…”
Gene B, you are right as the next step is that any orthodox affirmation of christian anthropology is “hate speech”, “discriminatory” – in other words you or I are no longer free to do it. “What has changed” is that orthodox Christianity is now illegal. To quote Justice Alito’s dissent:
“Today’s decision usurps the constitutional right of the people to decide whether to keep or alter the traditional understanding of marriage. The decision will also have other important consequences. It will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy. In the course of its opinion, the majority compares traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women. The implications of this analogy will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent…I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools….the majority facilitates the marginalization of the many Americans who have traditional ideas. Recalling the harsh treatment of gays and lesbians in the past, some may think that turnabout is fair play. But if that sentiment prevails, the Nation will experience bitter and lasting wounds….”
Now, there will be those who think this “alarmist”, but then there were those who still believed they were getting a shower as they were marched into the gas chambers. It is real real simple – what you believe is now illegal whereas before it was not. That is a simple fact. Of course too much can be made of our legal life in society, and the Cross was a very legal instrument of torture. However our cross has “changed” in this important sense.
Be wise, but don’t hide. I myself by disposition am a fighter and not a lover, so I put I bumper sticker on my car 3 months ago that reads “Marriage is a union between a man and a women, and no amount of persecution will change this truth”. I can afford any damage to my car, or any minor criminal penalties such speech may cause me. Can you? Can I afford major criminal penalties? Can I afford major loss of income when such speech makes me “unqualified” in my job/profession? What price will you pay for speaking the truth? I can’t answer that, but we will all be doing this sooner than we think.
Since each person is a unique manifestation of the whole of humanity (a very St Maximian notion), the following analogy might help:
Each person is one side/facet/’manifestation’ of a huge multifaceted diamond (humanity). One side might be ‘dirty’ (thus affecting the diamond’s overall luminosity). Similarly, another side, might be clean (again affecting positively the overall diamond). The first could try hard to get dirtier and stop light entering and shining through the entire structure, but, similarly, the clean side (out of love for the light and for the dirty sides -which it seems helpless at cleaning from outside- ) can make itself cleaner (for their sake) to allow for more light to shine through the entire structure.
It works with diamonds…
You certainly make a very valid point there. At the same time, having no continuing city here, but seeking one to come (Hebrews 13:14), our apparent incongruousness and marked heterogeneity in this world –when marked by our own spiritual inebriation, an inebriation of faith and hope and love (a holy foolishness) continuously poured into our hearts– can serve as a tremendous martyric witness to many (the key ingredient that spread ‘incongruous’ Christianity in the early Roman world.)
This article is so important in learning about true love and forgiveness …. The radical love and forgiveness at the heart of Christ and Orthodoxy
The excerpt below from a Thomas Hopko interview published in the In Communion Journal of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship provides some expansion and profound support for this critically important topic
“When you look at it from the point of view of justice, there is no reason for forgiveness. Only if God exists and we realize that there is either a world with evil or no world at all, only then can we understand that we are going to have to undergo the trial of evil. But if that is not there, I don’t know why anyone would forgive. Or want to. But I do think that people who are not believers in God, by the fact they are made in God’s image, can have the sense that reconciliation is better than allowing the evil to go on. By definition, forgiveness is breaking the chain of evil, beginning by recognizing that evil really has been done. People tend to think forgiveness means something bad was not really done, that a person didn’t understand the consequences, or whatever. If that were the case, there would be no need for forgiveness; it could be seen simply as a mistake. Forgiveness has to admit, and rage over, and weep over a real evil, and only then say, “We are going to live in communion one with another. We are going to carry on.” Never forgetting — you can’t, at any rate — but carrying on in a spirit of love without letting the evil poison the future relationship. Certainly that is what happens theologically. The striking thing in the Gospel is that God refuses to let evil destroy the relationship. Even if we kill him, he will say, “Forgive them.”
Implied in what you say is that relationship is the highest aim, and that an obstacle to relationship is what calls the need for forgiveness.
I prefer the word communion to relationship. The Orthodox approach is that we are made in the image and likeness of God, and that God is a Trinity of persons in absolute identity of being and of life in perfect communion. Therefore, communion is the given. Anything that breaks that communion destroys the very roots of our existence. That’s why forgiveness is essential if there is going to be human life in the image of God. We are all sinners, living with other sinners, and so 70 times 7 times a day we must re-establish communion — and want to do so. The desire is the main thing, and the feeling that it is of value.
The obsession with relationship — the individual in search of relationships — in the modern world shows there is an ontological crack in our being. There is no such thing as an individual. He was created, probably, in a Western European university. We don’t recognize our essential communion. I don’t look at you and say, “You are my life.”
Modern interpretations of the commandment in the Torah reflect this individualistic attitude. The first commandment is that you love God with all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength, and the second is that you love your neighbor as yourself. The only way you can prove you love God is by loving your neighbor, and the only way you can love your neighbor in this world is by endless forgiveness. So, “love your neighbor as yourself.” However, in certain modern editions of the Bible, I have seen this translated as, “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.” But that’s not what it says.
I recall a televised discussion program in which we were asked what was most important in Christianity. Part of what I said was that the only way we can find ourselves is to deny ourselves. That’s Christ’s teaching. If you cling to yourself, you lose yourself. The unwillingness to forgive is the ultimate act of not wanting to let yourself go. You want to defend yourself, assert yourself, protect yourself. There is a consistent line through the Gospel — if you want to be the first you must will to be the last. The other fellow, who taught the psychology of religion at a Protestant seminary, said, “What you are saying is the source of the neuroses of Western society. What we need is healthy self-love and healthy self-esteem.” Then he quoted that line, “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.” He insisted that you must love yourself first and have a sense of dignity. If one has that, forgiveness is either out of the question or an act of condescension toward the poor sinner. It is no longer an identification with the other as a sinner, too. I said that of course if we are made in the image of God it’s quite self-affirming, and self-hatred is an evil. But my main point is that there is no self there to be defended except the one that comes into existence by the act of love and self-emptying. It’s only by loving the other that myself actually emerges. Forgiveness is at the heart of that.
As we were leaving a venerable old rabbi with a shining face called us over. “That line, you know, comes from the Torah, from Leviticus,” he said, “and it cannot possibly be translated ‘love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ It says, ‘You shall love your neighbor as being your own self’.” Your neighbor is your true self. You have no self in yourself.
After this I started reading the Church Fathers in this light, and that’s what they all say — “Your brother is your life.” I have no self in myself except the one that is fulfilled by loving the other. The Trinitarian character of God is a metaphysical absolute here, so to speak. God’s own self is another — His Son. The same thing happens on the human level. So the minute I don’t feel deeply that my real self is the other, then I’ll have no reason to forgive anyone. But if that is my reality, and my only real self is the other, and my own identity and fulfillment emerges only in the act of loving the other, that gives substance to the idea that we are potentially God-like beings. Now, if you add to that that we are all to some degree faulty and weak and so on, that act of love will always be an act of forgiveness. That’s how I find and fulfill myself as a human being made in God’s image. Otherwise, I cannot. So the act of forgiveness is the very act by which our humanity is constituted. Deny that, and we kill ourselves. It’s a metaphysical suicide.
You are making a distinction here between the individual and the person.
The individual is the person that refuses to love. When a person refuses to identify in being and value with “the least,” even with “the enemy,” then the person becomes an individual, a self enclosed being trying to have proper relationships — usually on his or her own terms. But again, we would say that the person only comes into existence by going out of oneself into communion with the other. So my task is not to decide whether or not I will be in relationship with you but to realize that I am in communion with you: my life is yours, and your life is mine. Without this, there is no way that we are going to be able to carry on.
Forgiveness is not an achievement, an act, so much as the development of an understanding of reality?
It is a decision in the sense that you have to will it. You have to choose life. A person can choose death by not forgiving. So there is a sense in which you can destroy yourself by not saying “yes” to the reality that actually exists. That’s the choice: “yes” or “no” to what truly exists. Forgiveness is the great “yes.” So there is a choice. In the Greek patristic tradition, the more a person is a person, the more we realize and will our communion with others in the act of love, the less we choose. So the freer we are, the less choice we have.
That’s almost opposite to the post-Enlightenment, secular Western thought. We tend to think the freer we are, the more choice we have. For example, if you would sin against me and I want to love with the love of God, then I do not have a choice whether or not I should forgive you, I only have a choice whether or not I will. And I must, if I want to be alive. If I were truly holy, I wouldn’t even choose — it would be a spontaneous act.
Okay, well and good. But I cannot repent for you. Nor can you repent for me. My forgiving you entails that you have injured me, and you are responsible, so I must forgive you and absorb the wrong. Forgiveness assumes responsibility on the others part for wrongdoing.
A diamond can be clean in one facet and dirty in another. But one facet cannot clean another. The whole diamond is either cleaned up or made dirty. It cannot be broken up into individual facets. In humanity however, unless you want to argue universalism, the whole is not made clean. The diamond is broken up and some facets are put in one place and some another.
I’m not sure I would have used the diamond analogy, unless we understand the diamond as a communion of light. But, that said, you make a good observation. I think the problem has to do with the concept of sin and forgiveness. I’ll comment more on that later today – I have limited time this morning. Your comment on individualism vs. universalism is quite apt. The patristic doctrine on the nature of our humanity – its commonality and shared life – do argue against individualism – and, indeed, have always created a certain tension viz. universalism. Because no one an be “broken off” and dismissed as thought they were no longer part of the whole. That tension persists in Orthodoxy. I believe that tension will persist so long as any soul is in hell. The outcome of that tension is known to God alone.
Last night I found this while reading on the teachings of the Elder Sophrony: the meaning of the hypostatic principle in humanity: “When man repents, he repents not only for himself, but for the whole Adam, for the whole of creation.”
This is the teaching of the Fathers – it probably underlines why Orthodoxy is, at its heart, so utterly different than most modern versions of Christianity. But it is a great mystery – not a legal fiction. We live under the weight of the whole creation at every moment. We are a microcosm of the whole creation. We cannot stand apart from it and free of its burden.
Such statements really make no sense in an individualized scheme. Only if we are truly connected would it even matter to creation what happens to us. I’ll comment more this afternoon, God willing.
A quick thought. Individualistic approaches make no sense of the prayers we offer as “We.” In the liturgies of the Church, prayers are very rare that begin with I. “O Lord, have mercy on us, for we have put our trust in You. Do not be angry with us, nor remember our iniquities, but look down on us even now, since You are compassionate, and deliver us from our enemies; for You are our God, and we are Your people; we are all the work of Your hands, and we call on Your Name.” Christ taught us to pray, “Our Father,” not “My Father.” This is at the heart of the gospel.
Christopher don’t borrow tomorrows troubles for today, we have more than enough worries to deal with today. I see with the SCOTUS decision an ongoing battle that will play out like the Woe vs. Wade decision. Yes in Europe and the British commonwealth there have been cases of persecution against Christians who have boldly proclaimed God’s truth about same sex union, just as there is persecution of Christians in other places in the world for other reasons other than the homosexual issue, even here in the United States. Yet your comment reflects an improper alignment of fear, we are to accept persecution for His sake as a joyful thing, not live in fear that this persecution is going to come to our door. We are to proclaim His Truth in love, and this will not be accepted by those of this world, yet it will encourage those who have truly accepted Christ and His commandments.
Then there is this from Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick:
Tension. Mystery. What is the teaching of the church? Would not those church fathers who differ simply be offering their opinion? What is the official teaching of the church on this?
The Romans 8 passage I’ve always understood as simply that the renewal of all things has begun already and it’s begun in God’s people. All things will be liberated from the power and presence of sin and the curse, except those whose will God honors, those who do not want that, who want to live independently from God. The creation is longing for the curse to be lifted and to be remade and renewed into new life, and those who are children of God are experiencing that already. The passage doesn’t speak of a universalism that negates individual identity or individual choice. We are connected in our participation in falseness or the consequences of sin, as is the creation. However, not all of the creation will experience the liberation from this due to their own, free will, choice. That is my point. I can’t choose for another to be saved. Even God honors the free will of his creatures. All things are being redeemed and made new and brought into unity in Christ, all that can. Some, through their own choice, remain outside of that renewing work. That’s my understanding at least.
I don’t think the belief in individual salvation or damnation is necessarily the product of a modern westernized post enlightenment mindset. One can believe in the distinctness of individuals and their choices and the consequences from such decisions without being modern or “individualistic”. Jesus said to the thief on the cross that he would be with him in paradise that day. He didn’t have such good things to say to Judas. Nor did Paul have good things to say to the Corinthians in Corinthians 6 about how their choices preclude them from inheriting the kingdom of God.
Thank you, Fr. Stephen! I have so much to untangle in my thinking. The comments are helpful to me as well. Thank you all.
“Our Father..” Who is the we, or our? God is the Father of all in one sense, as our Creator. However, Jesus stated to the Pharisees that they are children of the devil, and their father is Satan. John 8:44. ” Ye are of your father the devil and the lusts of your father ye will do. ” Those who have been born anew are children of the Father and can rightly pray We, and Our. I don’t think that extends to those who have no desire to live in union with Him. The brotherhood of all men is not a christian doctrine as I understand it.
Preaching Universalism is DANGEROUS!. Here’s Fr. Daminck again on why;
although I have a long way to go in my spiritual growth and maturity as a person, I would like to thank you for your continued insight and understanding, you have been a great help to all. As for the sins of a nation, I am at the point where I am doing what I can to unplug from the dependency we all seem to have on these machines, not only have they become a distraction, but clearly the direction we are going with them is altogether ungodly. While I do have love and compassion for my brothers and sisters, there are those who deny, those who instead believe we are now on the verge of some new evolutionary step. Though there is no such thing as evolution, the merging of man and machine, the worship of and blind faith in science, this transhuman agenda of the wicked and the realization of a computerized humanity is being pushed more and more. It is truly the product of a sinful nation and her people, along with the legalization of sodomy that seems to be on the rise everywhere, amongst all the other ills of the world. It’s really sad to see just how far we as human beings have fallen away from the path of God. To see so many try to justify, elevate and make equal the absurd and profaine with that which is sacred and holy. It may be somewhat selfish on my part, but Fr. Freeman, if it is at all possible, could there be a monthly mailing in which some of us could subscribe to in the future. I may be wrong, but I am sure I am not the only one who would like to get away from the use of these computers and cellphones. There is a reason it is called the world wide web; because everyone gets trapped in it and I believe these machines are nothing more than the products of a fallen people, sinful and contrary to both God and nature. I realize we are to give Glory to God for all things, but we should not glorify all things in His name. That, of course, is just my opinion, as I work towards a more simple life, less dependent on the world of man, but something I stand by. Again though, thank you for your faith and the sharing of your wisdom.
I have offered a comment or two on Fr. Andrew’s articles. The teaching of the Church does not include universalism, bot the “hope” for universal salvation is quite common (even Fr. Andrew admits as much). I did not find the article to be helpful or particularly possessed of theological insight. In his articles Fr. Andrew is arguing against a definition of universalism that he prefers to argue with. He doesn’t actually engage the topic in a serious, mature theological manner.
Obviously, there is plenty of material viz. eternal fire, judgment, etc. They do not, however, undermine the teaching of the Church, as promulgated by the 5th Council, that ratifies the theology of St. Maximus the Confessor. That “anthropology” (the doctrine of man) is not at all individualistic in the modern manner. The tension of our connectedness viz. salvation is real and grounded in the theology of the Church. It is not a tension that is resolved in the Tradition.
So, though Origen’s teaching on the apokatastasis is condemned in the 5th Council, there has remained a persistent sound of hope in the life and prayers of the Church. We pray for ALL in Hades, for example, in the kneeling prayers of Pentecost. The akathist for the departed is even more brazen than that, specifically praying for suicides and those who have died with no faith.
Orthodoxy is not Reform theology. We do not pretend to have a systematic answer to all questions. Whether the “hope” expressed in the teachings of St. Gregory of Nyssa or St. Isaac the Syrian, or those of St. Silouan, and others, is justified, is known to God alone. I do not teach universalism because I am a priest of the Church and have no authority to say what has not been given to me to say.
But it is proper to understand WHY some hold to that hope and the reasons they might have for it.
I thought the article you’ve mentioned had problems, and I have said as much on his blog. It’s not a topic that interests me for debate – for in the long run – I have been taught that there are some things that we rightly draw a veil over. This is certainly one of those things.
On the brotherhood of man – in Acts, St. Paul approvingly says to the Athenians: “for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said,`For we are also His offspring.’ “Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising.” (Act 17:28-29)
So, apparently, the “brotherhood of man” is of Apostolic origin. Frankly the huge distinction between the faithful and other human beings smacks of Reform limited atonement and doctrines of the elect, and denies the Orthodox teaching that “He is a good God and loves mankind.”
If anything troubled me in particular about Fr. Andrew’s articles, it was that the article seemed quite secure and comfortable with its explanations and conclusions, and seemed unaware of the inherent theological tension that is more common in Orthodox thought. It dismisses some very important voices in Orthodoxy, some of them saints, in whom that tension is quite strong.
Sometimes complex things can be oversimplified, leaving a wrong impression of the nature of the truth.
Did someone around here preach universalism? I spoke of a tension, that you yourself noted. The tension is real.
I’ll look into Jeff. It would certainly be possible.
Well, I just found that article and it hasn’t informed anything I’ve said to this point. I’m reading through your discussions currently actually.
I am not Reformed, never have been, and never will be. I wanted to be, but couldn’t abide by it’s, to me, twisting of clear scriptural evidence to the contrary of their views. I did attend Westminster, but that was for the counseling program. I learned much though front the biblical theology that is taught there. I don’t believe in election. I believe in individual choice, free will, and God honoring that. It’s why I can’t believe in repenting for another, or begin responsible for his/her sins. Election/reprobation based on a decree of God is not informing my thinking at all. I reject limited atonement and the whole Calvinistic/Beza system outright. If anything I align with the Remonstrants. It’s precisely because I believe that God is good and loves all mankind that I reject those ideas.
The Acts passage doesn’t affirm a universal brotherhood of man. I read it as Paul starting on their borrowed capital of common revelation, wrongly interpreted by the Athenians, but useful for his argument. It’s the suppressed knowledge of God that all have that he speaks of in Romans 1 that he is using as a touchstone to win them to the knowledge of the only God.
What did the 5th c council ratify? What is St. Maximus’ anthropology?
Yeah, it’s not universalism that I am reacting to, but the confusion of responsibility and the ability to repent for another in the OP
We are not to seek persecution but we are to rejoice if it comes because of our righteousness.
“Watch and pray.”
“The readiness is all”
Thank you Father,
I would, as well as many others I believe, would appreciate it.
I utterly agree with the point you just made to Greg and especially for the “legitimacy” of prayer for the believed-to-be-in-danger-of-being-damned-for-various-reasons.
But, please correct me if I am wrong, the recent pious akathists (including the one for the repose of those who have fallen asleep) might not perhaps be sufficiently solid grounds of authentication to argue the point. As Bishop Hilarion argues their appearance –especially in the Russian Church- is comparable to prayers that occurred in Protestantism and Catholicism at various periods, during which ancient, theologically rich, liturgical texts were replaced by easier to comprehend chorales, hymns and chants.
The Orthodox Typicon knows of only one truly canonical Akathist. Other examples of the genre, such as those to the Most-Sweet Jesus and St Nicholas and a multitude of other Saints, were written in a similar manner. A lower theological and literary level appeared in the 18th and 19th centuries – where theology was replaced by piety and meditation on God by “talking about God”, of an, at times, slightly more questionable taste.
Again, I could be wrong on this point so please forgive me if I err.
Praying for someone, and repenting for someone are two different things. The OP spoke of being responsible for the sins of others and repenting on their behalf. It’s that idea that I have a problem with, and I don’t think it’s simply a product of having an “individualistic” mindset, but rather just the nature of individual behavior and consequences that the bible assumes in speaking of choices and consequences.
If I am reading you correctly, you believe that that the persecution of Christians in the United States for holding to normative Christian anthropology is not yet occuring – that is only a future possibility and any thought towards the future about this subject is a “fear”.
This is incorrect. For a small number of Christians in the USA, the persecution is already several years old. In my state for example, a young Evangelical photographer was financially ruined by our states “Human Rights Commission” for refusing to participate in the unholy ceremony of a lesbian “marriage”. Many other examples could be listed. Many people in academia are reporting (anonymously but by trusted sources) that they will be fired if they speak the truth of Christian anthropology in their workplace. The future you speak of is not a hypothetical, it is a current reality. Gene B is correct, many people are already checking themselves and not “speaking out” for “fear” of social and financial punishment.
Also, I would say that “fear” of this reality is a natural and entirely appropriate emotion to have – one however can not “live” by fear alone of course. Thus, we need to start asking ourselves hard questions about how we relate to His Truth and how we speak about it, now that it is technically illegal to do so (even if most of us have not been punished yet).
Alexander Solzhenitsyn can help us in this regard:
The anthropology of St. Maximus is the foundational and most complete statement of the incarnation. That Christ is one person in two natures. That the two natures means two wills and two energies. The characteristic of nature and person. It is, frankly, among the most detailed and difficult theological material in Orthodoxy.
I wonder if the problem isn’t the notion of “responsibility?”
All human persons have not just a similar nature, but only one nature. Just as God has but one nature and three persons, so human nature is but one nature, but many persons. Jesus did not only take on himself a nature “like” ours, but our very human nature. He truly became what we are. The Fathers of the East hold that our nature is not fallen, rather that we do not live in accordance with our nature. So assuming human nature does not mean that Christ became a sinner.
The nature never exists alone. It is “actualized” in the existence of a person. Person does not mean individual, per se. It means a particular instance of the nature. We often live our lives as individuals, as though they were not connected to others. But true Personhood is similar to the Persons of the Trinity. The name (and Person) of “Father”, for example, has no meaning by itself. The very name implies another. “Father of whom?” it asks. “Father of the Son.” So the Father is not apart from the Son, nor the Son apart from the Father, etc.
As human beings, sinners, we are united with Christ through Baptism. We do indeed speak of being adopted as children of God. But all human beings are children of God by being children of Adam (see the genealogy of Christ in Luke 3)
But, in Christ, we are born anew, and enter into the life of grace, moving towards true union with Him and conformity to His image – theosis. That primarily means a change in our Personhood (since the nature is already fine). This change in Personhood is a movement towards conformity with Christ, freedom from the passions, and an existence in which love is the very heart and mode of everything. I could certainly plead that I am not responsible for what you do. But, like Christ, I voluntarily and freely accept that burden (as though it were my own) and bear it and pray. I put myself lower than all others and bear their burdens and pray (as though they were my own burdens).
In the mystery of Christ, and in the nature of Persons, that voluntary act is also something that becomes true. My voluntary act of laying down my life for others is met, by God, in allowing me to bear (in some small part) the life of others. As St. Silouan said, “My brother is my life.”
Sin is not a legal burden, something I did wrong that I alone am accountable for. Sin is the condition of death and corruption at work in the human race because we broke communion with God. The “things” people do wrong – that are popularly called “sins”, are simply symptoms of the underlying disease of Sin, which is death itself at work in us.
Christ enters into Sin/Death, and makes it His own. He takes it upon Himself, freely and voluntarily, and He overcomes it in His death and resurrection. We are baptized into that death and resurrection. His path becomes our path. And that path is also a voluntary acceptance in the common burden of our salvation. Every human being who rightly “works out his salvation with fear and trembling” is also, in some small measure, working out the salvation of us all.
I readily agree that each Person contributes something. And that someone can voluntarily refuse their salvation in Christ. They especially need our prayers, and I leave the ultimate disposition of their salvation in God’s hands. What else can we do? We cannot take their responsibility away – though we can help with it.
The most typical expression of this common life is in our prayers and in our repentance. One common saying among the Fathers is, “No one is saved alone. We may fall alone, but we cannot be saved alone.”
This is also part of the doctrine of the Communion of Saints. The hand cannot say to the foot, “I have no need of you.” We actually need one another in the path of our salvation. We cannot do it alone. I cannot do it for you, so that you need do nothing – but you cannot do it without others.
I may take a responsibility on – but not all of it. I can help. The saints help. We are not alone.
I think it’s very easy for us to get caught up in the narrative of conservative America. We need to be caught up in the narrative of the Kingdom of God. We really don’t know what’s going to happen. But we need have no fear. If something terrible is coming, then it is something for which we were born. God put us in this time and place. This is the arena of our salvation.
We need to rejoice and give thanks for all things. The world-view of conservatism, however salutary it might be, is simply not large enough to carry the Christian hope. Solzhenitsyn is a wonderful light in our age. He is proof that our God is good. We need not fear.
I like Michael Bauman’s comment that we are not to seek persecution but we are to rejoice if it comes because of our righteousness. Our fear should not be if we are going to be persecuted and how to fight against it, our fear should be if we will accept this persecution as Christ, the Apostles and Martyrs have accepted their persecution before us. I don’t see them putting folks in prison in the U.S. for refusing to marry homosexuals yet. It might happen, yet like I said don’t borrow troubles from tomorrow, to day has a sufficient amount to worry about.
American University campuses or often ruled by Left-wing fascists. I’ve seen them. They are simply bullies. I think there may need to be more concerted Christian backlash. We are not told to do nothing. Justin Martyr is a very notable apologist. There is still law in a country, and not all of it is bad. St. Thomas More spoke very well about the importance of the law.
But, there will be some growing persecution, and bullying. A difficulty will be that many accusations against Christians will be of the nature of “hate speech.” It has to be countered with speech that is not hateful.
The difficulties of the secular West, however, are present within some of its foundations. Christians have lived in the West, on the inheritance of the pre-Enlightenment Christian world, as if that world was a given and not rooted in God. The American state was inherently secular in its assumptions – and neglected to safeguard a Christian foundation. That works when you’re more or less just working with a Christian population.
The so-called Benedict Option that Rod Dreher writes about (following A.MacIntyre) is certainly a discussion to be had. We’re going to need more private schools, etc.
I’m no political strategist. I’m just a priest. So long as there is a Divine Liturgy celebrated, the Kingdom of God abides in our world (I do not think it will cease until the last moment of this age). They celebrated them in the Gulag.
This is the first time I’ve ever found more wisdom in the comments of a website than in its main article.
Father, I agree with everything you have said. Thank you for taking the time to articulate such a connected viewpoint. “In crass terms, if my wife runs up her credit card, it’s my debt, too.” What a great line.
There is frequently more wisdom in the comments than in the articles on this blog…often written by someone other than myself. 🙂
“The world-view of conservatism, however salutary it might be, is simply not large enough to carry the Christian hope.”
Just so Father, just so. That one sentence has just freed me from a truck load of temporal anxieties I’ve been lugging around for too long.
Thank you very, very much!
The names of the Father and the Son reveal their relationship. We have experience that can help us understand this. Does the name Holy Spirit do the same, or is there something in the original language that reveals this communion with the Father and the Son?
Does this reveal something about our human communion with one another?
One reason I’m not so sure they ever will, which I’ve seen pointed out in other forums: the government can’t even force a church to perform a heterosexual marriage. It would be on very shaky ground to try to force one for two gay people.
The marriage of a man and a woman is not a civil right. Refusing to pretend to marry two same sex people is both a civil rights violation and a possible hate crime.
Four out of five judges did right. And even those who got it wrong, did not do so out of an evil heart, but out of delusion and a false understanding. This is not the same thing as an evil heart. We absolutely must see others as themselves victims and pray mercifully for them.
There are dark hearts out there and they will try to play the system. We must pray for them as well, but they are a minority (real evil is pretty much always a minority).
Have we bothered to give thanks for this? The greatest victory of the adversary is to take our joy and our heart of thanksgiving always and for all things. Everybody in America, especially conservatives, are prophets. Everybody sees what’s coming and is predicting left and right. I don’t know what is coming, other than my certainty of the Kingdom of God. I have written about the Long Defeat, and I expect it because it is revealed to us in the Scriptures. But I have also noted the place of the Cross in that. I do not want a future that does not hold the Cross. What Christian should want anything else?
Tomorrow, there will be a Cross waiting for me. And that is Cross enough. One day at a time. Glory to God!
If indeed as a nation or a culture we are “drifting downward into darkness on extended wings” what is needed are lights; “Save yourself and thousands around you will be saved” (St. Seraphim of Sarov). Yet it is easier to shine in the daylight than in the dark for the darkness tests me. It is easier to take me out of the darkness than to take the darkness out of me.
If we were not somehow mystically connected, how would it be that the sin of Adam should spread to all mankind?
“Therefore, since we surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself that you do not grow weary and lose heart.” (Heb 12:1-3).
Something simple about the gospel can be easily overlooked, especially since it doesn’t sit well in a culture like ours: Christ, who did no sin, bore all our sins and forgave us all.
Why? Because He so fully identifies with us –including our most horrible sinners– that it is the perfectly natural thing for Him to do. His forgiveness of others does nothing to diminish them or Him. It does not deny that they sinned. It does not alter our irreplaceable uniqueness as persons. It is simply what Love does as He demonstrated on the cross.
This Love is the image God in Whom we are made and we are told to do likewise because, as His sons and daughters, it is our nature too –by grace– to forgive everyone for everything.
God loves mankind, counts the hairs on our head and holds each and every one of us tenderly in the palm of His hand. This is His kind of accounting. He is not an accountant of sins. It is enough pain that some sinners will not repent to stand in His presence. He longs to gather them all.
All this can be conceptualized, debated, and so on, but it is best known in prayer when God’s own heart for us is revealed to our heart directly and no discourse can improve the understanding. When we are in Him it is impossible not to take on the sins of others just as He did in Gethsemane.
Perhaps I should apologize. Father Stephen and others seem to think that I am speaking about *what has already occurred and is now at this very moment* in a “prophetic” way, that has something to do with the usual shallow”conservative vs. liberal” divide in the american political scene.
It is not “prophecy” to speak about current, factual persecution. It is not “prophetic” to point to the fact that there are real people who know that their jobs are in real jeopardy TODAY if they speak basic Christian truth in their workplace. It is not “prophetic” to speak about the actual legal facts and consequences of Obergefell. One does not need to be a “prophet” to see these things. We actually do know what has happened, is happening now, and we can make reasonable predictions (granting that they are predictive – not certain) about likely outcomes in the near future based on what people and governments have said they will do based on the current legal situation. ‘
There is a distinct tendency here to place these facts in the category of “mystery” and “I don’t know what is going to happen” when they simply do not belong there. Are you good folks waiting for our version of “the night of the broken glass” before you admit what is already happening??
Yes yes, the usual provisos and warnings about how not to react, over react, reduce this to political “liberal vs. conservative”, Keep His Kingdom in front, etc. etc. etc. all apply.
To keep His Kingdom first does not mean we ignore plain truth. If it causes you “anxiety” then there are ways to deal with it, but to deny reality and say “it’s tomorrows problem” when it is in fact today’s reality is a delusion and not really confronting and rightly dealing with your anxiety at all.
As St. Paul puts it, one does not expect to enter an athletic contest (or a spiritual one) without extensive and proper training. I am wondering out loud if some of you are going to the starting line without having trained much at all, having told yourselves “well, I don’t really know the course or how far I need to run, it is a mystery and in Gods hands”…
Can’t priests and pastors simply stop acting as marriage officiants for the State, and instead
perform marriage ceremonies sans-marriage license? Of course, they wouldn’t need to take this measure unless lawsuits start being thrown at them.
I wrote this on my Facebook page after hearing the news. Have I erred anywhere in saying this?:
“I think the thing to do is recognize that a civil marriage and a Christian marriage are two distinct, unrelated entities. Here’s the definition of each:
1.) Civil marriage is a law-binding contract between two persons instituted by the State that determines specific legal benefits, rights, and privileges of both parties involved. And while the State legally authorizes various religious members, such as rabbis, priests, ministers, etc., to act as viable agents of the State, civil marriage is in no way legally defined as a religious event.
2.) Christian marriage is not a contract. Christian marriage is a sacrament. So let’s define sacrament: Sacraments are God-given gifts that have either been instituted by Christ or the Apostles. They are mysteries, being points of literal contact with God. God makes His actual Presence available to us on a very personal and intimate level. As we choose to faithfully participate in these mysteries, God’s life giving, life changing Presence touches our lives and, by extension, makes us holy. We enter into this mystery of the Presence of God when we marry. Hence, “there is no “legalism” in the sacrament of marriage. It is not a juridical contract. It contains no vows or oaths. It is, in essence, the “baptizing and confirming” of human love in God by Christ in the Holy Spirit. It is the deification of human love in the divine perfection and unity of the eternal Kingdom of God as revealed and given to man in the Church.” (http://oca.org/…/the-orthod…/worship/the-sacraments/marriage)
I think we Christians need to be very clear about the fact that we are using this second definition when we speak about marriage to our secular friends and family.”
From Alexander Schemann’s For The Life Of The World…
“Here is the whole point. As long as we visualize marriage as the concern of those alone who are being married, as something that happens to them and not to the whole Church, and, therefore, to the world itself, we shall never understand the truly sacramental meaning of marriage…” Chapter 5 The Mystery Of Love
Forgive me, but I’m just a Roman Catholic revert who is struggling with the entire mystery of Faith (and life itself, for that matter). Read this chapter yesterday and thought it might be relevant to the discussion. Carry on…
“What is already happening.” Yes, of course. Of these things I’m well aware. But what precisely is the point? There are instances of persecution (it’s worse in Canada by far). And it will probably grow worse. What does not ignoring the plain truth look like? Do we go into hiding? Do we take up arms?
I’ve been engaged in this battle since the early 80’s. But talking with each other about how bad things are and how bad their going to get does nothing to prepare us for things. Seeking first the Kingdom is what preparation looks like. Our warfare is not with flesh and blood but with spiritual powers in the heavenly places.
Please say a word regarding the practical application of being responsible for and repenting of the sins of others. Shall I, in my confession to Christ with my priest as my witness, “bear a little shame” of all mankind by also confessing particular sins of mankind?
I think that Mexico and other countries do in fact divide marriage between that performed by the state and that performed by the church. Many are married by one of the two, but not necessarily by both, though of course the state only recognizes it’s own legally binding contract.
In confession, we confess only our own sins. But in our prayers, we place ourselves beneath others, and pray for forgiveness. I think that we should take care that in praying for others’ forgiveness that we only do that from a place beneath them. The Pharisee could easily have prayed for the Publican.
I recommend reading His Life is Mine by Elder Sophrony
I might be able to shed some light on the issues you raise.
God has blessed me in the past few years to face up to the reality of my own sins–and I mean up close and personal. So when I say I too have a cross to bear I know, in distressing detail, what that cross looks like. This is good because I no longer give mere lip service to the phrase “carrying one’s own cross”. I can describe it to you.
In the process of meditating on all that this cross is and how it came about, I’ve encountered some side issues which, directly or indirectly, have played a part in my fall and, hopefully, my redemption. Taking these issues into account has saved me and continues to save me in very important ways.
Having had a lot of experiences with hallucinatory drugs back in the 60’s and 70’s I am a true believer in the reality of what the Slavs call “prelest”, spiritual delusion. I know how dangerous it is and what a slippery slope it can become.
Having had to confront all the forms of addictive behavior in my life- and many are very small and seemingly harmless-I now know the part they play in delusion and what a slippery slope they are.
Having spent a good portion of my life trying to delude myself into believing homosexuality would somehow work, I finally saw that I was fooling myself on that count as well.
From these three realizations I have learned how easy it is for anyone to get onto slippery slopes and how appealing delusions are. Having seen how vulnerable I was (and still am) I can no longer judge my brothers and sisters who are in the midst of the same. When I finally experienced the reality of Christ’s redeeming powers after all I had done, I simply could not then, nor can I now, deny it to anyone else.
When gay people I know get in my face – in person or online- with their rage, for speaking out against SS attraction, I don’t blame them: I know why they do it. I know why so many people in our culture are hooked on the entitlement mentality; I had my own version of it and I remember it’s appeal. When members of my own family are reluctant to give up the Episcopal church because they have become hooked on it’s easy, non-threatening theology with it’s emphasis on “God just wants everybody to be happy”, I don’t judge them; I remember how appealing and effortless it was when I was there long ago. When the world around me has so smoothly transitioned into the allure of moral relativism I don’t judge them either; I haven’t forgotten what delusion is and how appealing the message is.
C.S. Lewis said and wrote many memorable things but the one I always remember is this one: “Of all the passions none make more towering promises than the erotic passions, and every adult knows this to be true of the erotic passions, except for the ones he is feeling at the moment.” There are two interesting points made here. The most important one is the phrase “towering promises” which are the pillars of delusions. Now we Orthodox know that the world makes towering promises and, like the promises of erotic passions, are never going to be kept, but I know why people would wish they would come true. The second and equally important point is that we fail to see that we are all vulnerable to the illusion of these “promises”. The trick is to avoid expanding the delusion by telling yourself your delusion isn’t really as bad as everybody else’s. So, while I don’t condone anyone persisting in the illusion that these promises are going to somehow be kept, I can’t judge them for having fallen for them; I fell for them big time (and if I drop my guard could subtly fall for one or more of them again!).
All this is to say that I don’t have to know what your specific temptation or addiction or delusion is, I have participated (and still do, at least potentially) in these human weaknesses. Now, I can’t repent (change your mind) for you but, as your brother in Christ, I can, in my own life, participate in the process of repentance which God offers to all of us, in the hope that that might have some redeeming benefit for all my brothers and sisters. God was willing to save Sodom if as few as 10 righteous could be found. Perhaps, through my own struggle to be righteous in God’s eyes, He might be willing to save my brothers and sisters who, captured by the false promises of this world, (a weakness I still struggle to overcome), might otherwise perish.
The bulk of the weight of SS attraction comes from the burden of loneliness. This has nothing to do with not having enough “friends” or some sort of social life. It’s more profound than that. But the work of carrying this cross has sensitized me to loneliness as a whole. I’m certain that it is more widespread than many imagine. I bring this up because I once heard someone in the Church say that to go to Hell was to be cast into the outer darkness where you can never again say “Alleluia”! If you know, first hand, what loneliness is, the prospect of eternal loneliness, separation from God, is far more distressing than any lake of fire, and I simply cannot wish that on my worst enemy. I can’t save anyone but myself. But I dread the possibility that any should be lost.
I’m not guilty of everybody else’s particular sins but we all fall away because of our shared weakness, frailty, willfulness and gullibility. After all, Adam and Eve didn’t simply disobey God. They did so because they stopped to listen to and take the advise of a talking snake! Now how dumb is that?
While priests and pastors can probably avoid lawsuits by simply not being marriage officiants for the State anymore, others don’t have it so well. I just read a news article on msn.com yesterday about Christian county clerks who issue marriage licenses. Likewise, there are the caterers, photographers, bakers, etc., who perform more engaged services for wedding parties. Now, as far as I’m concerned, a Christian who owns a pizzeria should just serve pizzas to everybody, including legally married gay couples. I mean, would they also refuse to serve heterosexuals who cohabitate? It seems kind of hypocritical. But a photographer being asked to photograph a Summer Solstice celebration, or a caterer being asked to serve a function for the American Nazi Party, is a whole different animal. Same goes for wedding ceremonies for gay couples. So what are they to do to avoid potentially highly publicized, life-ruining lawsuits? Personally, if I were a county clerk I would start updating my resume. And I would probably take a hit as a photographer, caterer, etc, and stop doing wedding ceremonies for the public altogether (at least the for the legal marriages that are recognized by the State), and go look for that second job. Its sad, but I think this is the Cross we Christians are going to have to bear; to humbly accept being strangers in a foreign land. Let’s bear this Cross with extreme humility, becoming the quite, gentle minority. The suffering servant. This may sound un-American, but maybe if they tell us to go sit in the back of the bus, we just nod quietly and go sit in the back of the bus.
This country has divorced itself from Christianity with its abortion laws, and now this marriage law. What do Scripture say about an unbelieving spouse? “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart.”
It is unclear how declaring same-sex marriage to be a “right” will play out legally. It’s not clear that the full Civil Rights Act would apply. It’s certainly a topic being looked at very seriously from both sides of the question. It is also unclear how the response to all of this will play out (subsequent legislation, etc.).
What is clear is that the easy days of letting the culture mete out some modest measure of Christianity is gone. To be a Christian will become increasingly intentional – particularly if that means holding to the full tradition of the Church in the face of cultural opposition. Surveys of the Catholic Church as well as Orthodoxy in America would seem to indicate that many people will be swept up in the cultural tide. A significant number of Catholics as well as Orthodox support abortion, for example – not as many as the culture at large – but still significant.
The Long Defeat is a difficult thing to endure.
“what precisely is the point?…What does not ignoring the plain truth look like?”
These are questions I don’t have neat and ready answers to, but what I see is that they are questions that need an answer. “Seek first the Kingdom”, of course, but *at the same time* the Kingdom radiates back out – shining a light out into the darkness as it were. “Seek first the Kingdom” can be read in a highly introverted way. I have my 1 year old a few feet from me right now. She is hungry. Do I “Seek first the Kingdom” and ignore her hunger cry’s (for it will be added to her if I only do this), or does “Seek first the Kingdom” also not imply that I act and feed her at the same time. Obviously the latter.
It is interesting that Michelle brings up the long time cooperation between clergy/Christianity and the state by having priests function as state agents (i.e. by signing and witnessing marriages as defined by the state). That has to stop now. Now that the state has redefined marriage in an unchristian way, the legal (never mind the social and witness aspects) of clergy continuing to act as state agents is perilous. We are having a meeting tonight at my small mission church and that is exactly what I was going to propose. Why are laypeople even having to do this? Should not the bishops be in front on this?? This is “what ignoring the plain truth” looks like.
And what about the “gay” or “homosexual and Orthodox Christian in good standing” movement? (surely I do need to link their websites/position papers) Do we not see the legal power they have just been given, do we not see the threat? God bless him, I see one NA bishop has EXPLICITLY stated they should not be communed (i.e. they are not “in good standing” as they claim). That is very very important as it is something a court would look at in the inevitable “civil rights” cases these folks will bring when they are refused their legal right to be married by an agent of the state (i.e. Orthodox clergy as they currently function).
What is the pastoral response you would give to some of the folks in my community who already sense the hostility/threat in their workplace? The Benedict option – what does it look like? How does an Orthodox “private school” function in an legal environment where their very teaching is illegal, or at least a homosexualist (who would propagandize our children) can not legally be denied employment because of their “civil rights”? I am only scratching the surface here, and I am not claiming that your blog is the place for all this. I just want to point out that these questions are here and now (not tomorrow), and I do not see how the Kingdom is some sort of shield for our responsibility to them.
“It is unclear how declaring same-sex marriage to be a “right” will play out legally. It’s not clear that the full Civil Rights Act would apply. It’s certainly a topic being looked at very seriously from both sides of the question. It is also unclear how the response to all of this will play out (subsequent legislation, etc.).”
Father, this is naive. The template IS the civil rights movement (explicitly so). What happened to those who claimed a religious exemption to it (for interracial marriage for example)? What is their legal status? What is their social status? For the non-clergy, what would happen to a fellow co-worker if he explicitly (in a gentle, non-threatening, “loving” manner) defended his racialist beliefs, or even if it was known that he does outside the workplace? Would he ever seriously be considered for promotion, or would his co-workers be willing to work with him? Would he be allowed to wear a swastika (the current symbol for some racists as I understand it) around his neck in the workplace?
I want to add that I use the term “naive” not as a derogative. The speed at which all this has and is happening takes the breath away. The rug has been pulled out from under us and we are all up in the air so to speak. We naturally want to grasp at old comforts. There are knowns however, such as the landing. It is so obviously going to be harsh – harsher than many seem want to admit – and I admit I am having a hard time seeing the reason for the denial of the landing…
I don’t know if others feel this way but I hope this forum does not get too political. There are so many other places for that and I enjoy coming here for other reasons.
In the comments on this article it seems that there is some confusion in praying and repenting for someone. I’m a convert and one of the things that attracted me to Orthodoxy was the it was okay and good to pray for others. That in praying for those who are currently outside of the faith or died without the faith God might have mercy on them and perhaps even in death they will accept Christ. For example my husband’s brother essentially committed suicide through alcoholism. However we can can still pray for his soul and the God has mercy on him just as we ask that the Theotokos and Saints intercede for us is that correct? My Priest has explained that the Orthodox understanding of heaven and hell isn’t necessarily the dichotomy that we often hear about but that everyone will be in the presence of God and if you’ve prepared it will be joyous but if you haven’t it will be horrible. In our prayers for others we can ask God to have mercy on them and help them grow closer to God. I’m not very articulate. I’m just curious if you could help clarifying this for me.
I am far from naive. There is no doubt that a major corner has been turned. And that Civil Rights law will be the primary path of oppression on the topic (and broader). Civil Rights approaches only need to convince a few judges rather than winning elections and since our judiciary is largely dominated by the intellectual Left, that will be the obvious path. But this article is not about last week’s court decision, the Benedict Option, etc. I am denying nothing. I wrote earlier this year and said that this court decision would come. But if I prefer in this comment thread to respond with understatement, then please respect it. Why panic? We believe in God. If they come to kill us. Why panic. We believe in God. There have already been public statements from most of the jurisdictions here in the US reaffirming the Church’s teaching. This is not changing. We’ll have to respond as we are confronted.
I certainly do not plan to report on my blog all of my conversations with various hierarchs, nor theirs with me and others. It’s not that kind of blog.
Yes. We may pray for everyone and for every good thing for them, without limit. And we should have hope when we pray. There has been some questioning in this thread (from one person) who is having difficulty with the concept of “repenting” for someone else. I do not mean that we can do their repenting for them, but that we can indeed repent in union with them, and bear some of the weight of their burden.
Your priest has clearly taught you correctly. Our lives are very connected with one another. Our salvation is not just a private matter, but is part of our communion in Christ. Keep praying!
“But if I prefer in this comment thread to respond with understatement, then please respect it”
Christopher, thanks for understanding.
People are stunned, confused, and don’t know what to do ESPECIALLY when many people you know and love IN YOUR OWN ORTHODOX CHURCH are happy about this and stand behind it!
I’m familiar with these “gay Orthodox”. They’re wrong. They’re trying to have their cake and eat it too. They want Christ’s redemption on their own terms. They won’t put their loneliness and incompleteness in God’s hands–not entirely. But then few of us do. Why? Because we instinctively know that we’re going to have to give up our favorite sin, and that ratty, filthy old sin has been our security blanket all our life. It’s our cheap source of gratification, comfort, and consolation. Impoverished and impoverishing it certainly is; we know that. But we’ve been resorting to it for as long as we can remember and the prospect of giving it up and putting our lives in God’s hands is both threatening and unnerving. We try to hold on to some scrap of our old sinful life because, sin though it is, it has always provided us with some form of comfort and consolation. Impoverished this old security blanket may be, but we know it; we’ve been using it all our lives. But by refusing to give it up and turn to Christ, we have no other choice but to exist, comfortably miserable, in a half-life.
The temple veil has been rent asunder with Christ’s resurrection and God calls us to enter into the Divine Presence. We hear the call but we remain in the outer courtyard. The days, months, and years of our life go by and still we remain outside, all because we try to hold on to our old pitiful ways of experiencing cheap comfort and consolation.
It is a common practice in India to place a piece of fruit in a heavy glass container as a reliable means of trapping monkeys. The trappers have learned from experience that the monkey will stick his hand in the narrow opening to grab the fruit. The trapper also knows that the monkey may now be easily be captured because he can’t get his hand and the fruit out at the same time. To avoid capture the monkey must let go of the fruit. The trapper knows that he won’t and the monkey seals his fate, all because he wouldn’t let go of the fruit. Not only the same-sex attracted but all of us must relinquish our favorite piece of fruit, our favorite sin, and see it for the cheap and truly disappointing thing that it is if we desire God’s saving grace in our lives.
No mere mortal–no priest, no bishop, no patriarch, and certainly no government can alter this reality one iota. Those who attempt to do so, no matter their good intentions, become enablers of another’s sin, and will answer for it on that day.
Perhaps off topic but would you recommend 2 or 3 books on prayer from your perspective? Thanks.
Yes. I was expecting this. I’m very concerned that people not lose heart. Many priests that I know have quietly been discussing this for some time. We have seen these opinions and knew that when the court thing went down a lot of stuff would become more clear. I am troubled, because I know there’s going to be some personal bumpiness ahead. But it is important to be faithful and not lose heart. Be strong. Support the Church. Support your priest. Let him know of your prayers. Pray for those who are in delusion. It’s going to get a lot worse. God only knows if it gets better.
The faith and practice of the Church will not change. I expect that there will begin to be increasing pressure to become lax about pastoral discipline. I do not think (in most jurisdictions) that it will be tolerated. It certainly will not be tolerated in Orthodoxy across the world. Russia is far more the norm than America when it comes to Orthodoxy. They may have to help us.
Two books by Archimandrite Zacharias: The Hidden Man of the Heart and The Enlargement of the Heart. They’re not just strictly on the topic of prayer – but it’s there and in the context that it needs.
Third would be Elder Sophrony’s His Life Is Mine
These are slow reads. I read them through at a normal speed the first time. Then slowly, a few pages at a time per evening after that. I’ve “lived” with these books now for about 7 or 8 years. I also met with and talked privately with Fr. Zacharias, which deepened my reading still further.
There’s a new book out on the life of the Elder Sophrony by Met. Hierotheos Vlachos. He considers Sophrony to be a saint (his canonization is expected in the not too distant future). He reveals much about the interior life of the Elder, including his experience of the Uncreated Light. Sophrony was one of the greatest teachers on the practice of the Jesus Prayer in our Western world (he came to England with his small monastic community after WWII). Fr. Zacharias is part of that community and is the most authoritative teacher on the life and teaching of Elder Sophrony.
There have been many great elders in the 20th century, but I personally think that Fr. Sophrony is particularly accessible to the English-speaking West. I believe he was sent to us.
You could read those books in any order you like.
Yes, our one sin that we feed and feed and keep happy no matter what, our “Delilah” as St. Theophan says. St. Paul knew this well – St. Paul pray for us!
Gene and Father Stephen,
This issue was discussed in council tonight (as to how we in our parish are going to think about and address it). “Humbling” is how I would describe the experience. It was not conflicted, it was just so shallow. You have to learn to walk, before you can run – you have to know arithmetic, before you can master calculus. I see the vulnerability is even worse than I expected – the context and basic outlines of an understanding of “the anthropological issues” (i.e the culture, history, etc.) and what is happening is simply not there.
Yet, I was only disheartened for a short period of time because on the way home I realized just to what extant His Grace is propping us up (as Church). If it was up to us, well. Yes, pray for your priest and your bishop. Support all good efforts to the extant that you can, however imperfect they may be. Pray for your fellow parishioners, and pray that some way can be found for some basic understanding and leadership by some so that all those in the Church are pointed in the right direction, or at least are given the oppurtunity to be pointed in the right direction…
Father, you know best what might serve for John, but if he has never read Beginning to Pray by Met. Anthony Bloom, that is a must-read it seems to me.
Well spoken, brother, on all of those things you speak about, especially the part about loneliness. We must so pray and live such that all those with whom we come into contact may feel the nearness of the only One who can fill that painful void and know that this is possible for them always in Him.
Thanks. I ordered His Life is Mine.
As I read through all your comments and the replies, I couldn’t help but think of the Orthodox Funeral and Memorial Services which are, like all our life in the Church, a world of prayer.
There is something about the prayer of the Church – all her prayer – that reaches into the heart, enlightens, and ‘explains’ to the reason what reason cannot comprehend on its own. (I know mine certainly never could.) These prayers are, of course, best prayed in their intended context. But if you want to get a glimpse into what Fr. Stephen and others are trying to say, I would encourage praying (not simply reading) these prayers and meditating on the profound unity of persons implied throughout. There is so much that speaks mystically to the subject at hand. One cannot help but wonder at how they are at once prayer of the living FOR the reposed, the prayer OF the reposed his/herself, and the prayer of Adam – all united together in one voice asking for mercy, forgiveness, restoration, and yes, even repentance. “I” “we” “me” “him” “her” “us” are all virtually indistinguishable. But how can this be…rationally speaking? I am the living praying for the dead; I am the dead asking your prayer; I am the dead beseeching Christ, His Mother, and the Saints; I am the living praying for myself; I am the dead admonishing the living, and so on.
A few examples among many…
“…may I also find the way through repentance. I am the lost sheep; call me O Savior and save me.
“Your creating command was my beginning and foundation. For it was Your will to make me, a living being, from a nature both visible and invisible. You formed my body from the earth and gave me a soul by Your divine and life-giving breath. Therefore, give rest, O Christ, to Your servant in the land of the living, in the mansions of the righteous.”
“As you see me set before you mute and without breath, weep for me, my brethren, family, and all who know me, for I spoke with you only yesterday, and suddenly the fearful hour of death came upon me. Come, all those who love me and give me the last kiss, for never again shall I journey or talk with you â€˜til the end of time. For I go to a Judge Who is impartial, where servant and master stand side by side. King and soldier, rich and poor, are held in equal esteem. For each will be glorified by his own deeds, or will be put to shame. But I ask and implore you all to pray without ceasing for me to Christ our God, that I may not be put into the place of torment because of my sins, but that He may appoint me to a place where there is the light of life.”
“Of old You created me from nothing and honored me with Your divine image. But when I disobeyed Your commandment, O Lord, You cast me down to the earth from where I was taken. Lead me back again to Your likeness, and renew my original beauty.”
“The choir of Saints has found the fountain of life and the door of Paradise. May I also find the way through repentance. I am the sheep that is lost: O Savior, call me back and save me.”
The full text of the Funeral Service can be found here:
Likewise the text of a memorial service can be found here:
So is it not possible to both support civil same sex marriage and be a good Christian? The Church and any of her priests or ministers certainly have a First Amendment right to refuse to perform religious ceremonies solemnizing same sex unions. But civil marriage is an avenue to entitlement to many government benefits not available in any other fashion. As an attorney and a Catholic, I believe that I can support both the right to same sex marriage and the right of my church or any church to refuse to perform such ceremonies in a religious venue. To paraphrase Tertullian, What does Washington have to do with Rome or Constantinople or Moscow?
Having said all of the above, I also think that there is not all that much for supporters of same sex marriage to celebrate about the Supreme Court decision. Speaking as one who has studied US constitutional law in some depth, I think that the reasoning of the majority is shaky at best. Chief Justice Roberts got it right when he characterized the majority opinion as the worst type of judicial activism that unquestionably exceeds the proper role of the Court as the interpreter of the Constitution. And 5-4 is a victory by the slimmest of margins. So take heart, all is not lost. In a few years a different Court may revisit the issue and reach a different result.
BTW, Father Stephen, great quote by Dostoyevsky. I enjoyed that portion of this post immensely.
John H, you said, “The Church and any of her priests or ministers certainly have a First Amendment right to refuse to perform religious ceremonies solemnizing same sex unions. But civil marriage is an avenue to entitlement to many government benefits not available in any other fashion. As an attorney and a Catholic, I believe that I can support both the right to same sex marriage and the right of my church or any church to refuse to perform such ceremonies in a religious venue.”
The problem is that same sex marriage has now been defined as a right, which is going to affect an array of public profession held by Christians (not just the clergy).
Let’s use the analogy of a Wiccan marriage, or “handsfasting,” as they call it. Wiccan weddings have always been perfectly legal (so long as they have been between a man and a woman), but they have never been legally protected by Civil Rights laws. So, as a vendor who services wedding ceremonies/parties, such as a caterer or a photographer, I have always been able to refuse to perform professional services to a Wiccan wedding, based upon my religiously held beliefs about the spiritual dangers of Wicca. However, should Wiccan marriage ever be deemed by the State as a Civil Right, then my ability to simply refuse to provide service for a Wiccan wedding ceremony/celebration has just went out the window. Now I can be taken to court for denying the public its rights through my refusal.
Recognizing gay marriage as a Civil Right is going to have broad-sweeping consequences too. How are publicly funded religious schools going to be deemed now for refusing to hire an unrepentant, married guy man or woman as a teacher? More Civil Rights laws concerning gays are yet to come…
Recognizing gay marriage as a Civil Right is going to have broad-sweeping consequences too. How are publicly funded religious schools going to be deemed now for refusing to hire an unrepentant, married gay man or woman as a teacher? More Civil Rights laws concerning gays are yet to come…
Sorry for the double post. The second one is edited. Let’s play “Can you find the typo?” Lol.
Those are great questions. The thing is that the First Amendment explicitly and unequivocally guarantees the right to freely practice one’s religion. If your religion proscribes participation in a Wiccan wedding than that constitutionally protected right would most certainly trump any right derived from an amended civil rights statute purporting to give same sex couples equal access. Justice Kennedy implied as much in the Court’s majority opinion. And while we cannot ever be certain about such things, I trust that the Court would be extremely reluctant to curtail your right to practice your religion, which is an ancient right defined explicitly in the Bill of Rights. The same analysis would apply with respect to the other hypotheticals that you raised in your comments.
If one held to a religion that deemed it to be unfaithful or spiritually dangerous to have any dealings with black people, then when a pizza vendor refused to sell their pizzas to black people their First Amendment right is going to be trampled on by the existing Civil Rights laws.
This is were I think gay Civil Rights laws are heading.
And as a side note, I do not hold to racist religious beliefs like the one I stated above. Just saying soon that gay rights are going to be viewed exactly the same as racial rights in this country.
No. The case of Bob Jones vs. US (1983), set a precedent that First Amendment rights can be overridden for purposes of government policy. Michelle, I think, is correct in her concerns.
Also, the case just decided, by defining gay unions as “marriage,” weakens the jurisprudence surrounding the relationship between child and birth parents.
Here’s a good link to a good explanation about how Christians are going to be sued for discrimination against gays:
The Bob Jones case is distinguishable on its facts because it involved a situation where a private university was seeking tax exempt status from the IRS while engaging in overt racial discrimination against blacks and interracial couples It is hardly surprising that the Court refused to require the Government to subsidize racial discrimination
Michelle that is an interesting article It was particularly noteworthy that a lower state court held the baker liable for refusing to bake a cake for a same sex couple Of course each case stands or falls on its own unique set of facts The baker’s religious freedom claim may have been a mere pretext for engaging in discriminatory practices The more interesting question is how would the U.S. Supreme Court balance a meritorious First Amendment religious freedom claim against a state law derived right of same sex couples to equal access Based upon Justice Kennedy’s comments which are admittedly vague I stand by my previous belief that the Court would protect the First Amendment right of free religious expression
Please understand that I do not think that ur fears are unfounded because much litigation may ensue before the Court actually gets to address the issue
John H, you have much more faith in the Supreme Court than I. I hope you’re right, but I doubt it. Not to mention, the younger generations will ultimately be making these decisions for us soon enough with their voting power. In the coming years new Supreme Court Justices will be appointed by politicians who are the mouth pieces for this new wave of gen X, Y, and Z voters. When I talk to my peers belonging to these younger generations it becomes apparent that they view the gay struggle in the exact same context as the racial struggle.
The Bob Jones case created strange bedfellows. Though other religious groups abhored the racial discrimination, they filed amicus briefs in support of BJU. BJU had long held opposition to interracial marriage on religious grounds. They admitted all racial groups, but would not allow interracial dating, etc. The case held that religious beliefs were trumped by Civil Rights. The same case will easily removed tax exempt status for religious institutions that may oppose same-sex unions. It is highly unlikely that First Amendment will be successful as a defense.
“John H, you have much more faith in the Supreme Court than I”
“faith” is not the correct descriptor. I am simply flabbergasted at the argument John H puts forward, because it is objectively wrong:
We don’t need to speculate “in theory” (such as relying on the majorities empty rhetoric towards the 1st amendment in Obergefell), we already have the data – what the courts (and the whole “civil rights movement”) are ACTUALLY doing. At the risk of sounding repetitive, this is not all some future hypothetical – the future is now.
I did not know you were in the wedding service business Michelle – I will pray the persecution does not come to you…
I’m not actually in the business myself. I’m just making my argument from the point of view of those who are. We should all be praying for those who are. They are going to have some rough times ahead (or now, as you say).
I agree with you that the rationale of the Bob Jones case may be extended to deprive a religious organization of its tax exempt privilege if it engages in discriminatory acts based upon a person’s sexual orientation. The same logic applies in either case: the US taxpayers should not be required to subsidize practices that are discriminatory. But that is a far cry from saying that the religious organization may face criminal fines or civil liability for the same activity. The Court has yet to rule on that prticular issue.
I am not saying that your fears are not well founded. You are not being chicken-little like alarmists here. But, as I stated in an earlier post, I am not particularly confident about the long term viability of the majority decision handed down by the Court either. The reason being that the Chief Justice’s dissenting opinion is spot on here. If you want to know why constitutional law scholars may be squeamish about giving unqualified support to the decision, read Justice Robert’s dissent. I won’t go into a detailed analysis of the issues discussed in that dissent because it would take us too far afield. And I think that I have digressed enough from the main theme of Father Stephen’s excellent post, which as I recall was forgiveness of everyone for everything. So I shall retire from the discussion and refrain from saying another word about this very controversial topic.
Just came across this quote. It is from Archimandrite Arsenie Papacios:
My dear ones, I repeat: we are responsible for all the mistakes that are done in this world – we are personally responsible for them, every one of us. There. So we must have this attitude of sacrifice. Because the Mystery of man’s salvation, for everyone of us, is carried out on the Cross. What we should understand from that is that the Cross is the earth’s greatest gift, of the greatest utility.
Dear Fr Steven bless!
I found your podcast titled “Whose psyche is it?” very helpful. I had heard on AFR your talk at the Orthodox Lenten Retreat in Frisco, where you said that we are not our memories and that people with dementia are fully present and had so wanted to know why you said so and what we are, if not our memories. I’m so glad you explained it in your recent podcast.
I wish you’d do a podcast on being male and female (not on homosexuality nor on our all-male priesthood, but simply on maleness and femaleness), so that we may understand Orthodox teaching, the teaching on the Church on being male and female.
Saint Porphyrios’ words: “I want to be in the desert and incessantly pray to God to put all people in Heaven and put only me in Hell . It is very sinful that this is my burning desire?”
John H, regarding your comment from 7:38 today…..you wrote “The thing is that the First Amendment explicitly and unequivocally guarantees the right to freely practice one’s religion. If your religion proscribes participation in a Wiccan wedding than that constitutionally protected right would most certainly trump any right derived from an amended civil rights statute purporting to give same sex couples equal access. Justice Kennedy implied as much in the Court’s majority opinion.”
The key word in all of that is the word “implied.” You know better than I that in legal settings, that word means nothing. It’s vitally important to point out that, as you said, the 1st amendment uses the word “practice”, while Kennedy (purposely, I think) did not use that word. In the oh so tiny bone he threw to us, he used the word “believe.” As in, believe in private.
For someone to believe that the courts care at all about the 1st amendment, in light of what’s happened in the last few years with bakers and photographers, etc, is pure lunacy.
Actually, John is incorrect. There is no explicit and unequivocal guarantee to a right to freely practice. That is the “free exercise” clause, and its history is clearly one in which the courts have recognized numerous reasons to restrict it. There are some who have held such a narrow interpretation that it included only the right to think (believe) but not practice.
Very little research is required to learn this. Just a little research will quickly reveal that we actually have very little protection for religious liberty. It has a long history of restrictions. Essentially, we have liberty to do anything they think is ok, but not anything else.
“we are responsible for all the mistakes that are done in this world – we are personally responsible for them, every one of us”
“This is a hard saying. Who can hear it?”
I still don’t understand what this means. I don’t dispute it. I just don’t understand. How can I be personally responsible for the sins of Dylan Rooff? Is it because I don’t pray enough? Because I am not Holy enough?
Is it because if I were truly filled with the Spirit of God, thousands around me would be saved? Is it because if I truly followed Christ, his love and redemption would flood the world?
To me, extreme examples make these things much clearer.
Take the most extreme: the Most Holy Mother of God…
God was searching for the person that would open up the closed walls of humanity, seeking a small door that was open to His will (to enter through it and become one of us and offer to all, all that His first coming into the world offered). One person (the Theotokos) offered Herself to God, and God to all, offering even Dylan Roof what he would in no way have had access to without Her.
`it follows from this that Her (theoretical) failure to do this would have made her feel personally responsible for Dylan Roof. It is the same with all of us as we all have the same high calling to be like the Panagia and like Christ who bears the sins of the world…
It is why Elder Sophrony often spoke of the ‘cosmic repercussions’- for or against cosmic evil – that every small sin or small repentance (even just in thought) that we commit has.
Those all sound like reasonable explanations and the sort of explanations that I’ve seen. There is, in addition, a mystical sharing, I think. I do not hear it often described.
I appreciate your testimony and comments above. Thank you.
I’ve been chewing on this post for awhile. I appreciate Greg Lowe taking the devil’s advocate position, and I suspect that in some measure he simply walked through the counterpoints of thoughts going through many people’s minds. I wanted to make a couple points for your confirmation or comment – and maybe it would help if I stated up front that I’m not actually arguing your points, just trying to understand them:
You’ve said that we should pray for others but not repent for them. No arguments there. But then you said “I do not mean that we can do their repenting for them, but that we can indeed repent in union with them, and bear some of the weight of their burden.” This I think is the difficult piece for us. I agree that individualism is probably one of the biggest reasons we don’t readily accept it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s hard to wrap our minds around it.
However I thought of a couple things we all know which might help us have a category for it. One is our own blood kin. If my brother (from the same earthly parents) does something, people will look at him – and then they will next look at me. No matter what he did – for good or bad – it will reflect on those around him. In fact this would hold true for anyone who is close to me: spouse, co-worker, best friend. It’s the old “birds of a feather flock together”, so if your best friend did so and so, what can we expect from you?
Another example is every time I fill out an application for health or life insurance, they want to know any of my relatives ever had any of the diseases known to mankind. Obviously individualism has not yet conquered this area of life. “It doesn’t matter what my grandfather had; I’m my own man!” Apparently their statistical research shows otherwise.
So all you’re doing is pushing this “connectedness” boundary out so that it includes the whole world. While this can seem ludicrous and unnecessary, it’s probably the adage that you should shoot for the moon, because even if you miss you’ll land among the stars. If we are willing to start contemplating the fact that we are one with the whole human race, we may at least become unselfish enough to love our wife and kids – and maybe one other person. (grin)
I do have a second point, but I’ll pause in case someone wants to comment.
Does this sound accurate?
Yes, to an extent. What I’m actually doing is looking at this from an ontological point of view (on the level of actual being and existence). The point is that on the level of being and existence, we are not strictly individual. There is an individual aspect to our existence, but there is also a communal aspect (koinonia). In the parlance of the Church, this is what is meant by “Personhood.” Person is not the same thing as individual. If that were its meaning, then we would be Tri-theists.
But our individualism has a false ontology. It is biologically not true (as you note with inherited disease, etc.). But it is existentially and ontologically not true. This is its more “mystical” reality.
We cannot wrap our heads around this because we have a false consciousness in the modern world. We believe that we and the world we live in is one way, when it is, in fact, something else. The whole of Orthodox teaching and doctrine hold an ontology that contradicts the assumptions of modernity.
What happens to one of us, effects us all. Not just for psychological or biological reasons – but on the level of being. It is why Christ CAN die for our sins. The penal substitution model of the atonement psychologizes things – so that Christ’s atonement is not ontological. It only effects the psychology of God (He sees us different). It is why it is a false and heretical doctrine. It denies the most fundamental understandings of the Christian faith and creates a false worldview.
I cannot repent for someone such that they do not need to repent, but I can repent for them in such a way that their own repentance is made easier. We are never saved alone.
Dino and Fr. Freeman,
Thanks for responding to my question.
Thanks for your response, Fr. Stephen. Sounds good to the extent that I can understand such things. (grin)
I think part of the problem – even beyond the individualism – is that what you’re talking about is mystical, something we have a hard time with in the West. I’ll give you a relevant example:
When reading the Fathers and such, they always say things similar to St. Paul’s, “Of all sinners I am chief.” We simply don’t know what to do with a statement like this when coming from saints that we probably aren’t worthy to unloose their sandals. Where does this leave us? Trash for the worms to ingest? Or are we not good enough for even that? How is it possible for them to talk about themselves in such a way?
There is something deep within me that resonates with this profoundly humble attitude but my Western mind cannot grasp it any more than a fork can be used to get broth out of a soup bowl. I find that I might only approach it in an attitude of faith:
I don’t understand this concept but Christ has said that those who humble themselves will be exalted. So there is scriptural basis for going this route. A key point here is that when I do humble myself, I can’t say things out of one side of my mouth and secretly deny it with the other. In other words I have to go all in and actually believe that I’m the chief of all sinners. Once again pure logic fails me on this point. I can’t look around and see the evidence of it.
Now….I believe that once you take this plunge, your eyes begin to be opened and you start to understand how this is so. I also believe that it scares the living daylights out of you and causes you to really cling to God like you never have before in your life – which of course was one of the main reasons for going through this but not the smooth, orderly way you had envisioned it. But this method seems to be the only way for those of us who rely so heavily on logic.
I’m suggesting that the exact same step of faith has to be taken in order to gain any understanding concerning your point about us all being one and learning to bear each other’s burdens. Logic simply won’t get you there.
Would you agree?
Yes, I do agree. The right approach in these things is as you’ve described. We must assume that the saints actually mean what they say when they claim to be the worst of all sinners. This is not a metaphor or hyperbole or mere humble noises. The truly mean it. It’s similar to St. Paul saying that “Christ became sin…” He means it.
It’s only when we take “mystical” things in a literal manner (if you will), that we can begin to make the journey of understanding. We often fail to be literal about the truly literal things.
When we take that faith step of accepting that these words mean exactly what they say, then we can begin to wonder. “Only wonder understands anything,” says St. Gregory of Nyssa.
equally, we can look around and see the evidence of it… or to be more precise, we can look inside the depths of our heart and God’s Light can reveal the infinite potential for evil lurking in what is a heart which, at the same time, causes us to wonder, awestruck at its natural, singular solicitude for God alone, while also containing the potential of Lucifer’s thought ‘I will place myself higher…’
Yes but my point is that the looking and actually seeing for us of the West seems to necessarily be coupled with steps of faith (sometimes feeling like they are blind). Without this essential piece we can look all we want and see nothing but our dingy selves and the crumbling defeat of the world around us. Many American movies are really only about those two very things.
Was St Paul in the Bible not a chief sinner? How many did he persecute and had killed before he was blinded on the road to Damascus and turned to the light, probably in remorse and grief of what he had done in the past.
What about Marin Luther who drowned and persecuted the Ana Baptists and yet he left his mark on History, Or this famous slave sailor who brought in slaves from Africa and who wrote famous songs, Amazing Grace etc. These people were all tormented by sin and found Grace in the eye’s of God.
But you do not have to become a Chief Sinner in the above sense. The closer you get, the more is revealed….and even tiny sins reveal the consequences of/in the collective sense, and they become huge, or to whom much is given, much is required.
Drewster2000, your understanding is remarkable.
Thank you Maria.
indeed the ‘western humanistic’ introspection is quite different to the ‘eastern hesychastic’ one.
The first tends to a comparative analytic ‘psychologisation’, the second to an ontological, more direct revelation; the discursive deliberations of the first often see little more than individual responsibilities, whereas the second kind of ‘introspection’ [nous in heart] sees that every small, hourly fall (even just in thought) is clearly a repeat, a furtherance and perpetuation of the cosmic Adamic fall.
I cannot recall the exact hymn but, I cannot forget its poignant depth -most likely one of the lesser known compunctionate cannons of Lent- which clearly stipulates something like this: “it is me, I am the one who ate and who keeps partaking of that forbidden fruit”. It is as if it implies: ‘it is not you, him, her, Adam, Judas or anyone else that is the cause of the entrance of sin in this world, all are somehow justified in their respective contexts when compared to me’.
God’s Light does this to a person. It is this context of Light that does it. They see all others as saints and themselves as the only sinner. It also produces such joyful contrition that combines utter despair with an even “more” utter hope in God’s salvation – it is rousing and stirring the person’s heart with its assurance while illuminating, revealing to him the profundity of his ‘hypostatic sinfulness’ against the backdrop of this merciful assurance.
I believe it makes a person (even at the very first stages of Its still concealed advent) see that all are deserving of Heaven and only his self deserves Hell. It also provides the fervour of a love that comes direct from the Holy Spirit and makes them desire to suffer such a Hell so that no one else would – they have acquired the Christ-like strength to suffer it (on behalf of others) unlike most others.
It is, I think, what gives Saint Porphyrios the words:
What do you, Fr. Stephen, think of the Romanian Iron Guard movement? (Fr. Arsenie Papacioc, which you mentioned in one of the comments here, was a member of it in his youth and has never renounced his allegiance.)
A law has been proposed to outlaw them in our country. I don’t know what to think of either the movement, or this law.
(*whom you mentioned
I have an extremely limited knowledge of the movement. I do know that there were some involved who indeed became saints. That does not, however, justify the movement. Frankly, I’m very leery and cautious about any movement.
Stanley G. Payne, A History of Fascism, 1914–1945 (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1995), 279–282.
Why Romania had to ban Holocaust denial twice – The Washington Post (July 27, 2015)
Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess… We were called to singleness of mind and purpose by our Creator. Just as within the Trinity there is one will, so too with our humanity. We are the image and likeness of God, therefore our true nature implies that we are of one mind. We , through sin, have distorted that singleness of mind by our individualism, but our essence is still one and therefore, our humanity is one. A sin committed on the other side of the world still mystically effects me. If you do not believe in the single will of our humanity, you cannot uphold the single will of the Holy Trinity.
Thank you, Father.