Male and Female at the Cross – Part Three

our-lady-of-sorrowsIn my last article, I reflected on the hiddenness of our identity, including the meaning of being male or female. Our true life is hid with Christ in God. There is more to be said on this hiddenness and its relationship to the image according to which we were created.

In the Genesis account, when God created man and woman, He created them “in His image.” Most people fail to ask what that image is. We are told in the New Testament that Christ Himself is the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). We are created in the image of Christ, the pre-eternal Word of God.

We can go further (and should). We are told very little about the pre-eternal Word of the Father, but what we are told holds a key for understanding the truth of our existence. In Rev. 13:8, Christ is described as the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (τοῦ ἀρνίου τοῦ ἐσφαγμένου ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου). The image according to which we were and are created is the Crucified Christ. Christ on the Cross is not only the offering for our sins, He is also, in that place, revealing the truth of our being. It is in the context of the suffering Christ that Pontius Pilate speaks the truth (though he did not know it) when he said: “Behold the Man.” It is the Crucified Christ who is able to say from the Cross, “It is finished.” What is finished or completed is the fullness of man in the image of God.

The divine irony of Christ Crucified is a major theme in St. Paul’s writings. He says, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (1Co 2:2) He also declares, “But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1Co 1:23-24)

For St. Paul (and for us), Christ Crucified is the Wisdom and Power of God. In the same manner, it is Christ Crucified who constitutes the image according to which we were created and towards which we are being conformed. This is underlined in the famous passage from Philippians:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He emptied Himself and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him (Phi 2:5-9)

The Elder Sophrony describes this self-emptying (kenosis) of Christ on the Cross as also descriptive of the relations within the Holy Trinity.

Divine love is selfless; it is a fundamental characteristic of the divine life of the three Hypostases, in which ‘each Hypostasis is totally open to the others’ and thus manifests the oneness of the Holy Trinity in an absolutely perfect manner. This mutual self-emptying love is expressed theologically by the term ‘perichoresis’. (from Christ, Our Way and Our Life, 2013).

And so we must understand that when we speak of male and female, the energies of our incarnate nature, we must understand them as self-emptying male and self-emptying female. There are two primary images given to us for this. The first, as we have noted, is Christ Crucified. But the second is a reflection: the Mother of God in her union with her crucified Son. Again, a quote from the Elder Sophrony:

The All-Holy Virgin said to the Archangel Gabriel: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord!” (Luke 1:38). These words, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord,” are an acceptance of the Cross. The All-Holy Virgin participated all through her life in the Cross of her Son (quoted in I knew A Man in Christ, 2015).

Mary was told by the elder Simeon, when she presented the child Christ in the temple:

“Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. (Luk 2:34-35)

The union of Mother and Child is such that His crucifixion is her sword. Mary cannot be rightly understood as anything other than self-emptying, in imitation of the Crucified Christ.

Both images do much to clarify what it means to be male and female. What we see in this world is, in virtually every instance, a distortion of that self-emptying mode of existence. In all discussions of our gendered existence, Christians must remember that male and female are eschatological images – they are images towards which we are moving, not givens according to which automatically live. The male who is not self-emptyingly male, is not yet what he shall be nor what he should be. The female who is not self-emptyingly female, is not yet what she shall be nor what she should be. And, of course, our situation is still more tragic and broken. For some, the experience of the energies of our nature is changed – whether through the brokenness of genetics or nurture. They are not yet what they shall be nor what they should be. We share a tragedy that is common to all humanity.

The sacrament of marriage must be seen in this same eschatological manner. Sacraments do not simply bless things as they are, but transform them in a dynamic manner towards what they should be. In the case of the Eucharist, this transformation is complete. But in those sacraments that involve the freedom of persons, the transformation can only be seen as a dynamic. Man and woman are blessed towards what they should be.

The heart of marriage is self-emptying love towards the purpose of union and the procreation of children. It does not exist for the self-fulfillment of our tragic existence – (“legalized sex” or “companionship”) – but towards an end that is only just now being made present. And like every other form of Christian living, the self-emptying state of marriage is marked by ascesis and thanksgiving. The passions are as much a part of the struggle of marriage as they are for the single state.

The proper Christian position before all of this should be humility. The world is not divided into good guys and bad guys. The world shares a common struggle towards the truth of our existence. That truth is revealed to us in the gospel of Christ and the fullness of its story. I have written elsewhere that “kenosis is theosis.” We are only transformed in the image of Christ (theosis) as we live in accordance with the self-emptying Crucified Christ (kenosis). The failure of Christians to proclaim the kenotic character of our lives distorts the gospel, and gives a false sense of normalcy to the status quo of the world. The Cross is the lens of truth.

97 comments:

  1. Thank you for these further insights into the nature of who are and who we are becoming in Christ. By failing to understand that the crucified Christ is the image in which we are made, our understandings of the atonement have often been woefully inadequate, too. As Michael Gorman says,” . . . the death of Jesus is not only the source, but also the shape, of salvation.”

  2. In all discussions of our gendered existence, Christians must remember that male and female are eschatological images – they are images towards which we are moving, not givens according to which automatically live. The male who is not self-emptyingly male, is not yet what he shall be nor what he should be. The female who is not self-emptyingly female, is not yet what she shall be nor what she should be. And, of course, our situation is still more tragic and broken. For some, the experience of the energies of our nature is changed – whether through the brokenness of genetics or nurture. They are not yet what they shall be nor what they should be. We share a tragedy that is common to all humanity.

    Fr. Stephen, I think you’ve finally answered my question from the first article. 🙂

  3. I agree with Matt. That particular comment struck me quite forcefully. This is a wonderful writing! Blessings to you, Father. Many thanks!

  4. Father, this fits in so well with Fr John Behr’s views as he writes in “Becoming Human.”

    I’ve been listening to him (and Fr Zacharias) quite a bit lately on YouTube. I understand his writing fairly well after reading through it a couple of times, but being an aural learner, the videos really help things get to my heart as well as my brain.

    Viz. seeing Mary, and what is male/masculine being the quality that is valued in our culture (and in many expressions of Protestantism as well), per your reply to Matt in part 2, Fr Tom Hopko mentioned a set of books by Karl Stern, which he recommended highly in his talk on C.S. Lewis’ “Abolition of Man,” one of which is called “Flight from Woman.” Have you read it? Seems germane.

    Between Yannaras’ explanation of the iconic view of gender in worship, Fr John’s writing on what being human means, and this little series of yours, along with observing and participating in Orthodox life in a reasonably healthy parish, I have experienced so much healing through the Church for this aspect of my humanity. Having spent +30 years in those expressions of Protestantism which, in reading scripture flatly and supporting their particular interpretation with bad theology, turn being female into being something less than human, I can hardly express in words how much peace and rest all this has given me.

    So very grateful to God!

    Dana

  5. Small I am.
    By myself in darkness hidden
    even from myself-
    darkness
    that is light to You.
    You who see
    beyond the horizon-
    past
    where sky
    touches sea,
    beyond all our
    struggling fragility.

    It seems a sometimes
    strange & austere
    mercy
    that shepherds us
    toward the Day,
    casting off
    our outer
    life
    along the way.

  6. Dana,
    Thank you. Fr. John sent me his Becoming Human when it was still in manuscript form – and I loved it. I would describe myself as “immersed” in Fr. Sophrony and Fr. Zacharias over the past year. I met with Fr. Zacharias last summer and spoke for a while – and some direction on my reading. Pieces keep falling in place. It’s been very timely in view of current issues.

    A key, for me, is that these things (or identity/male/female) are hidden. It is in entering the mystery of Christ that these things find their resolve.

  7. Father, if you have time to listen, you may like Fr Seraphim Aldea’s podcast at AFR on Freedom; he sticks really close to 20 min in his podcasts. More chains fell off for me. Got a small preview from you re Fr Zacharias at lunch with you in Asheville last August, while it was still percolating within you 🙂

    Todd, I will listen and get back to you.

    Dana

  8. Todd, that’s not it.

    See “The Freedom of Morality.” Y. avoids the “natural law” thing entirely, and also does not speak about anything Abp. Cordileone discusses.

    Dana

  9. Fr. Stephen,

    First, thank you for this entire series of posts, especially this last. Your unfolding of the mystery of marriage offers a great deal to consider.

    I do have a question, or maybe just a concern, and wonder if you care to comment further or elaborate. I would not disagree with anything you have said above, yet I have two distinct reactions to it. The first is admiration and thanksgiving for your articulation of Christian marriage; the second is concern for the potential abuse carried in the language itself.

    The church has a sad history of too often perpetuating abusive relationships (actively or passively), and it is not hard to see a connection between this abuse and the church’s articulations of marriage and the way of the crucified Christ.

    I am hoping you will elaborate. How do you articulate the mystery of marriage and the image of male and female within marriage with language that necessarily points to the crucified Christ and do so in a manner that may prevent people from binding themselves to abusive relationships? Only so much can be done in writing, I recognize that. But given the history of domestic abuse in the church’s life, it seems to me this ought to be given some thought. Ideally such individuals would reach out and speak to their priest/pastor or someone else for help, and receive wise and appropriate counsel, but that is far too often not the case.

    Grace and peace to you! Your writings are a blessing to me.
    Jonathan (that darn Presbyterian) =)

  10. It’s interesting that Parts 2 and 3 of this post have generated a lot fewer comments. I sense everybody’s reading but no one’s commenting. I think I understand this because I feel it too. We’ve gone past the typical political argument level where everyone strives to win by rhetoric, and have begun to delve deeper – down beyond hate and fear and loneliness – to things that are mysterious, that we’ve instinctively suspected but never thought to see it spoken aloud by anyone.

    The usual impetus for joining such a “hot potato” conversation is something like a gleeful “what do I get to be?” Only this time I/we are being met with “You get to be crucified; that’s what you get. So come on, further up and deeper in.”

    It’s not the expected reply and I feel myself shocked to silence – not because I’m affronted but because of the audacious truth of this message. We indeed are largely hidden for now. Male or female? Heck I can barely tell you WHO I am, let alone WHAT! When we one day receive the white stone of Revelation with our name on it, then all will become clear and no one will contest it. The truth shall shine forth freely, instead of the smudged opaqueness we experience in this lifetime.

  11. Drewster,
    If I gave prizes for “getting it,” you’d get a big one! I believe that everything is resolved in the Cross and that there is no other way forward.

    I felt fairly grim, when, last Sunday, I was preaching about the utter necessity of suffering. What a grim preacher I can be! But, “higher up and further in,” is the real truth of it. I cannot or dare not speak much of what lies through the Cross – but Jesus Himself went to the Cross “for the joy set before Him.”

    I’m doing a radio interview this Sunday evening (8 pm Eastern) on Ancient Faith, with Fr. Barnabas Powell and another priest. We’ll be looking at the topic of the recent Supreme Court Case and how we speak about it. I will mostly be speaking about the Cross.

    Everything is resolved in the Cross.

  12. Thank you for these posts concerning male and female, Fr. Stephen, they are a balm to my heart. I am so happy to hear you will be discussing current topics on Ancient Faith Radio! Thank you!

  13. While I have long appreciated the presence of the Cross as the ruling dynamic of the male-female synergy, especially in marriage, these posts have made me look even more deeply into what that means: not just in some vague conceptual way but in the exestentialy facts of my life.

    Combined with the experience of Christ everywhere present, filling all things there is something enormously comforting about it even as I know that significant challenges exist now and likely to come.

    There is a peace just resting in what is real without needing to figure it all out.

    Still I expect and hope more specific consciousness will come as needed. God provides.

  14. It is one thing to talk about suffering and quite another to accept it when it comes and endure “for the joy”. Can anyone with open eyes and an open heart not suffer to some degree just by being “in the world, but not of it?” Even aging reminds us that we are just “passing through”, that, like Abraham, we are “seeking a city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God”. The foolish things we bring on ourselves are used by a faithful Father whose discipline (I mean this in the broadest sense, i.e. not just punishment, but training) is intended to allow us to “share His holiness” (and perhaps this means His image too).

    These are the times we need to encourage one another to “light up”, to “lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles us”. It is certainly grieving to see our neighbors and our world sinking as it is into delusion in the name of progress, but what is even worse is that those us around us in the sacred space we call church suffer in silence, in this western idea of personal “space”. Priests are wonderful and prayer is essential (not because we pray, but rather because He hears us), but words of comfort and encouragement and sometimes simple hugs are self-emptying ways help the family keep it together.

    Fr. Stephen, it may seem “grim” in light of our immersion in a self-indulgent culture to speak of suffering, but the fact is that we are, in some ways already exposed to it and the good news is that it will have an end in joy inexpressible.

  15. And even though it all went wrong
    I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
    With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

  16. “I believe that everything is resolved in the Cross and that there is no other way forward.”

    Father, would you say that our gender (the topic of this 3 parter) and every existent thing IS a (the) Cross? I want to make a distinction between something finding it’s meaning “through” the Cross and the Cross itself, or the Cross of existence itself, meaning a character of this present existence, as opposed to existence (and it’s ultimate meaning) itself.

    Anther way to dimmly say what I am thinking is that if everything is a Cross and/or “mystery”, how can the Church affirm anything about this topic or anything else? If the topic is “The supreme court decision” and the answer is “the Cross”, well, then why speak about anything? Taking it to an extreme, is the Church is a mystery cult that does not really say anything positive about “how should I live”? If all is “hidden”, how can I make a reasonable defense for my faith even to myself, let alone to my neighbor?

    I suppose I am trying to say that this essay ended on a such a apophatic note that it seems to undermine the subject…

  17. Christopher,
    Yes. This is always a problem on the surface of an apophatic understanding. But an apophatic approach is actually an invitation into something deeper.

    I would say that true sexuality is suffering sexuality. That true existence is suffering existence. And by suffering I mean bearing the Cross of a certain givenness that surrounds us and living in a self-emptying manner.

    I could say a lot more, but it’s late.

  18. Christopher with ideology of gender in the modern world so divergent from reality it is difficult to say anything positive about it without first declaring that no matter what we think, that is not what our sexuality is. There is much more.

    Still, we cannot merely be apophatic or negating–that collapses into nihilism. In order to be real we have to become as little children.

    That is, I think, the other side of the Cross where our brokenness is healed and we are whole.

    That is the good news is it not?

    We are, in a sense, a mystery cult where the limits of discursive rational apologetics is transcended–not discarded but seen in light of what is greater: the ontological union with our Lord.

    Part of the journey toward more conscious union is learning about being a male or being a female in our particular situations.

    We have to enter that struggle. That is the only thing that gives life to our apologetics.

  19. Fr. Stephen,

    This is an older article, I know…still, if you have time, I would be grateful for your thoughts. It gets at something I have wondered about for years, ever since encountering C.S. Lewis’ quote as a young girl (which also came up in the comments to Part 2 of this series), “In relation to God, we are all female.” How can this be so, if male and female humans are equally made in the image of God?

    Or, to put it another way, how can our maleness and femaleness be equally images of God, if the highest image of Man is Christ (who is divine as well as human) and the highest image of Woman is his Mother (who is not)? It seems that there is a fundamental imbalance in what Man and Woman can even point us toward. Am I misunderstanding something?

    I am also a newcomer to the idea of kenosis. Perhaps even my desire for balance – to have the hope of glorifying God in my womanhood as fully as, though differently than, a man would in his manhood – is simply an assertion of pride and the old/false self (after all, how could “as fully” be measured anyway?). But I am reluctant to entirely cast aside the desire for symmetry.

  20. Jessica,
    “And so God created man in His own image. In the image of God He created him. Male and Female created He them.” Here, the first term, “Man,” is “Adam” which in this verse means the collective of humankind. Male and Female are separate terms, both of which describe the first term. In Hebrew, Adam is both the name for “Man” (humanity) as well as the proper name of the first male.

    But what it means to be truly, fully completely human, is both male and female. That also means that none of us exist as fully human alone, but only in communion with the rest of humanity. Fully human, also means “all of humanity.”

    It’s very difficult for us in our modern world because almost all of our models are about human beings as individuals. But the Scripture doesn’t even give us the fully human Christ without His Body the Church. To exist as a human being is to exist male and female. We need each other. That does not always look like marriage (cf. monastics), but neither does it ever appear singly. We exist as image of God in our completeness.

    As to Mary, Christ is fully God and fully man, Divine and Human (by nature). Mary is fully human and participates in the Divine. She is Human (by nature) and Divine (by grace). And every male can only be fully human (by nature) and fully divine (by grace). There is within it, a subordination of Mary to Christ, an asymmetry (such a good word). But there is also asymmetry in the Godhead. Not the subordinationism that is heretical, but the Father is the source of the Son, etc. The universe is hierarchical, but not oppressive. Self-emptying is always greeted with Divine fullness, “Wherefore God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name that is above every name, etc.”

    So, when you think of Christ as the highest image of man, you must not think of Him apart from His bride the Church. The male and female of Genesis intends to point us towards the Bridegroom and His Bride, where this is truly fulfilled. Pascha is the Wedding Feast, the consummation of all creation.

    I hope that might give you a fruitful direction as you continue thinking with this. It is marvelous ground for “theoria.”

  21. Jessica— a couple years ago two of my female friends and I wrestled deeply with this topic. We found Paul Evdokimov’s diptych, “Woman and the Salvation of the World” and “The Sacrament of Love” to be good Orthodox medicine against some of the Western distortions we had been raised with. C.S. Lewis was a great man and of course worthwhile reading, but he wasn’t Orthodox! And as Father Stephen says, there are some things you come to know about Christ by learning them from His Mother. 🙂

  22. Intriguing that our maleness/femaleness is hidden. It seems to be so obvious does it not?

    Yet, the hiddenness is definitely there. When I first started to consciously become a Christian about 40 years ago, I wanted to find out what being a Christian man meant–in a sense what Jesus Christ expected of me as a Christian and as a man in the way I comported myself.

    I am still pondering, probing and praying about it. I have learned a few things by the grace of God, enough to know that I don’t know much at all. Mostly I have found out those things by violating my manhood but I am not surprised about that.

    I return to Genesis often and look at what is shown to us there, I think it is all there somehow.

    There is always more. “Higher up and further in” Mysteries are mysteries not because they are impenetrable or ethereal but because they are a bit like the Tardus in Dr. Who, the further you move into them, the larger they become, the more real they become. Reality is revealed, not learned.

    The very first consequence for we humans when we embraced the lies of death was the schism between male and female. Adam’s “This woman you gave me…” hubris is but one evidence of that. It has been said that the path back to union with God necessarily includes the conscious healing of the schism.

    As St. Paul tells us, the union of male and female in marriage (and in ascetic struggles) reflects the union with Christ and His Church.

    The divinely created synergy between male and female seems to be an integral part of the warp and woof of all of creation.

    …and it is marvelous in His sight.

  23. Dear Mr. Freeman and all you others who have written here,
    this is an old article, but still a very relevant theme (I guess it will always be) – and I hope for an answer.

    My question is very specific: it is about sex.

    If sex is a union between a man and a woman, a union which is part of procreation, and thereby somehow “holy”, this must mean the kind of sex that actually can(!) lead to procreation (vaginal penetration sex). As we all know, people who engage in sex, do a lot of other things that cannot lead to procreation, but that we still call “sex” and regard as an important part of our love life and intimacy. To be embarrassingly clear, I am thinking about oral sex, anal sex or any other action that we see as “sex”.

    My point is, that sex between same-gender persons is often described as sin by “conservative” religious persons. But a male and a female can also engage in sexual activities that cannot(!) lead to procreation. Is that also a sin? If that is the case, is the only type of sex which is not a sin, vaginal penetration sex?

    Same-gender couples cannot form a union that leads to procreation. But apart from that fact, their sex life looks very much the same as that of a male/female couple. One is seen as sin, the other isn’t. But if the male/female couple engage in the same activities, for example oral sex, what is the difference?

    Thank you for your well-written articles, Mr. Freeman! I am not an Orthodox, not even a Christian, but I appreciate your writings a lot!

  24. Pettersen,
    For a good, detailed treatment of traditional Orthodox teaching on sex (and various practices), I would refer you to Fr. T. Hopko’s book, Christian Faith and Same Sex Attraction. But, a short answer is that the sort of practices you describe are seen as sinful in Orthodox tradition. They have become popularized these days, I take it, in that sexual culture is now dominated by pornography. Hopko’s treatment is quite thorough and offers very solid reasoning and support.

  25. Thank you for your answer, Fr. Freeman!

    As my believes are different from yours, my views of sin are also different. To me, love between two grown-up people, expressed through sex, compassion, friendship or whatever else, cannot be a sin. Still, I believe in One God, and I find Orthodoxy very inspiring in so many ways.

    My struggle comes when people say that God is impossible to catch with thought or to understand. And at the same time they have a clear opinion about what is God’s «view» on what is sin and what is not.

    Is it really up to us human beings to judge what is a sin and what is not, based upon the Scripture or whatever we base it upon?

    I believe that God is good, that he is love. Like the Scripture says. But I cannot thereby say that I know what is good or bad. I know what is good or bad in my personal views. But what sin is, is really not up to me to judge. And that is why I struggle with Christianity. I find it hard to trust a person who claims to speak on behalf of God. Even though that person refers to the Bible or to tradition or whatever. 2000 years is, when it comes to all, a short period of time!

    To me, God is the truth, God is love, God is the air I breathe, God is me and God is you and God is God. I cannot understand God, I cannot judge other people on behalf of God, and I cannot say «do this and don’t do that». To me God is grace. For every one of us. Even the biggest sinner, who never regrets and never believes. That is grace for me. That is love. Limitless. Eternal. Without shame.

    Give the emperor what belongs to the emperor and God what belongs to God. Isn’t that what Jesus said? To me, judging our sins belongs to the Lord and not to the emperor (or the priest or any other human being). The emperor can throw us in jail. But he cannot catch our soul. Only God can. And I do not believe that God will in any way punish us for loving someone and showing it. If he does, I prefer to live as if he doesn’t.

    That is my view. It might be totally irrelevant for others, but I still want to share it. And I am thankful for any answer, short or long.

  26. Petersen, Biblically and experientially there is a mammoth difference between sexual expression outside of marriage and inside of marriage. And any sexual expression between same sex people is outside the creative norms that God established in the universe(creation) when He called it and us into being and substance and therefore inherently destructive, no matter what the people involved “feel”.

    The actual male-female synergy is unrepeatable no matter the mechanics. The degradation that occurs between a man and a woman engaging in sexual intercourse outside of marriage is emotional and spiritual — not always immediately visible, if at all, to our eyes and hearts clouded by the concupiscence of this world. That does not mean that such destruction is not present. It is even worse when people of the same sex do that which they should not. Same sex attraction is a real thing, no doubt but that does not automatically mean that same sex, sex is the normal and healthy result. Love without the blessing of God is not love but merely self-indulgence.

    Within a holy union, blessed by God through His Church, sexual intimacy is still primarily procreative, but that procreative blessing extends beyond simply conceiving and raising one’s own children. My wife and I are beyond child bearing/raising years. We were so when we married. However, the fecundity of our union has produced numerous God Grand Children of sorts who we care for and nurture as our own in many ways. These interrelationships with children and their parents would not and could not have occurred were it not for our blessed marriage. Our marriage brings out and protects both the motherhood of my wife and my own fatherhood. As single people that freedom is not there.

    The bonding effect of sexual love between a man and a woman in a blessed marriage is also expressive of the oneness of God and His Creation which is also reflective of the creative nature of God Himself. In some ways it helps heal the unholy schism between men and women described in Genesis.

    There can be no carnal love that is blessed outside of marriage. That is the simple truth. It takes a lot to even begin to understand that let alone to embrace it for someone coming of age in the 1960’s as I did. I am stubborn, but God is merciful and allowed me to continue to learn and repent.

    May that good God grant you the mercy to find and embrace the Truth.

  27. Pettersen,
    Sorry for the deletion. I wasn’t sure if it was a conversation (in detail) that I wanted to have. I will try to give a short answer that explains how I understand things as an Orthodox priest.

    I believe that God became man and revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ. He is the God/Man. But, I don’t just look at Jesus and then abstract some notion that I call “love” and say that’s what He was about. Yes, He taught us to love, but that love is defined by who He is. Ultimately, it is laying down His life for us.

    I’m an old man, married for 44 years, with 4 adult children. I’ve been a priest in a Church for about 40 years. So, I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’ve seen and experienced a lot. Marriage is not about sex – and sex can be abused even within marriage. Human beings rightly have boundaries and have a destiny in Christ to be fully what God has created them to be. Christ has made much of that known to us, and the path that we walk as we travel that road. Much of that is found in the writings of the Apostles – who were appointed by Him as our teachers. The Orthodox Church is the continuation of that original Church – having maintained its life and teaching unchanged over these many centuries.

    When I came to believe in God – the most important thing I learned was that I am not Him. I do not make up my own rules according to what I might like at one time or another. Actions have consequences – even long term. Our present sexual culture, which is part of the “sexual revolution” begun in the latter half of the 20th century – has produced untold amounts of human misery in the name of its private pleasure. It has destroyed over 60 million unborn children in America alone since 1973. Those unborn children’s deaths allow the culture to pretend that sex has just a choice between 2 people and doesn’t affect anyone but them. That we make-believe that an unborn child is not a human being is just that – a convenient bit of make-believe for selfish reasons.

    I do not like to discuss sex behaviors with people whom I don’t know, nor do I generally write about it. Sex is extremely intimate and precious and requires the whole of who we are if it is not to be abused and to become the instrument of abuse. As such, it has boundaries and “best practices” (as in emotional and spiritually safe). The tradition of 2,000 years is rooted in the wisdom of God and the countless lives of men and women who experientially know it to be true.

    The modern world and its people are the most arrogant in human history. We think we know better than anyone – when, in fact – we know almost nothing. I know you meant no disrespect. But, not for me, – have respect for the many generations who came before you and learned stuff the hard way and left us with some possible wisdom.

    There is no human history that practiced the kind of sex you describe that did not end badly. Life is hard. Love is difficult. Wisdom takes learning and listening. Any fool can pursue pleasure – it has already killed 10 times the number who died in the holocaust – and that is in America alone. So, this is serious business.

    I’m not moralistic – I do not think sex is dirty, etc. In fact, I have a much higher regard for sex than any of those who advocate a sort of sexual-free-for-all. But because I have a high regard for it, I’ve come to respect the rules that surround it.

    But, most of all, you cannot just pick the topic of sex out of the full reality of Orthodox Christian understanding (which may be very different than the Christianity you imagine). We understand it in the full context of not just the life of a couple, but the life of the whole family and nation.

    I understand that you find it hard to deal with someone who claims to speak for God. I don’t speak for God. I speak as someone who follows Jesus Christ as God in union with the community of Orthodox Christianity. But, I don’t just speak for myself. Life is not just an individual thing.

    Of course, it’s possible to imagine Christianity in your own way. Many have done that – it’s called Protestantism. It always turns out pretty badly. The best of Protestantism has strong regard for what went before them.

    Ultimately, those who worship God as they imagine Him to be are just worshipping themselves as God. It’s not atheism – but it’s self-ism – which is perfectly in tune with our modern world. Orthodox Christians don’t throw anybody into jail for their sins or punish people (that’s just imaginary stuff). Mostly, over the course of 2,000 years, it has been the Orthodox who were being put to death. We’re still dying.

  28. Dear Fr. Freeman,
    thank you for publishing my comment! I understand that this might not be the “right” place to discuss detailed sexual questions, but sometimes I guess it is necessary to start with something concrete, and then – maybe – be able to grasp some of the more “abstract”.

    I am a young man (I’m not yet 30), and as I have mentioned, I do not regard myself as Christian, not even Protestant. I guess this discussion is much more interesting for me than it is for you, and I really don’t want to bother you. But still, I want to write a few more words.

    “The modern world and its people are the most arrogant in human history. We think we know better than anyone – when, in fact – we know almost nothing.” I absolutely agree with you. This is one of the reasons why I like reading your texts! You cross the “borders” of our society’s way of thinking and dare to put words on the things beyond and within (I cannot find better words). It is obvious that you have thought through these things over and over, through many years, no-one can read your texts and think otherwise. But that does of course not mean that I agree with (or understand) everything that you write.

    I live in Norway, a very liberal country when it comes to sex, and yet a very conformative country. Thinking differently from the majority is not appreciated in our “liberal” society. But still, I am very happy to live in a country where I can believe what I want, think what I want and say (almost) what I want without being persecuted, tortured or killed. The fight for the rights of the oppressed is a fight that has long Christian roots, one could almost say it is a part of the Christian tradition? That means the fight for the rights and dignity of any minority that the majority has rejected or discriminated; the handicapped, the sick, the poor etc. To me, sexual minorities is a group that needs and deserves the same protection.

    You write in your latest answer: “There is no human history that practiced the kind of sex you describe that did not end badly.” This is where you lose me, or – to put it more correctly – this is where I lose you, because it is me who doesn’t understand. I appreciate so many aspects of the Orthodox faith, as far as I know it (which is only through reading about it). But I cannot understand, nor believe in, its views on human sexuality. And I do not understand which human histories you refer to? Does every life of a gay person who practices same-sex activities, end badly? How? In this life? After this life?

    Independently of my own sex life, my views upon human sexuality would be the same. It is what my heart tells me. And it is what the hearts of people that I love, trust and respect tell me. If following what I believe makes me selfish, then an Orthodox Christian is just as selfish in my view. Sacrificing one’s life (in one way or another) is always a form of selfishness, isn’t it? The only exception might be those who have no choice, those who prostitute to get money so that their child survives, or those who gets killed while protecting the ones they love. But maybe even they act based on a kind of selfishness. My point is that Orthodox Christiany, or any strict religion, does not (in my view) elevate a person up above selfishness – on the contrary, being a strongly religious person is in my view very selfish. But to me, selfishness is not necessarily negative, it is simply a part of being human, a part that we cannot escape from, however hard we try. I do not make myself God. I know nothing about God, I only know what is inside me and what I observe and feel around me and that I choose to call “God”. I am very aware of the fact that I might be wrong and you might be right. I follow what I believe (and what many others believe), just as you do.

    I am not an advocate for “free love for everyone”. I think sex is one of the most valuable parts of our lives, and should be treated with care. Norway is on top of the world when it comes to “one night stands”, and you do not have to be an Orthodox Christian to question whether that is something to be proud of or not.

  29. Pettersen–
    I’ve often wondered if the Church’s teachings could be better understood by those “outside” Her if they understood our concept of Theosis. Theosis is seen as the purpose of our lives. It is union with God. The Church teaches us how to be united to God and experience His transfiguring energies and Life. Sin is technically defined (please correct me Fr. Stephen) as anything that is “off target.” In other words, if you have the goal of being united with God and experiencing His transfiguring energies, anything that leads you off of that Path is a serious problem. Much of Church teaching involves asceticism because Christ, who is God, has said that we must die to ourselves to experience His Life and to become filled with His Love. The Church teaches that this amazing transfiguration can happen now: the Kingdom of God is something that starts in this life–it’s not just after we die.

    I’m saying this very simplistically. But, if I want to be united to God, I must follow His Way. Obedience to His Way is a kind of dying to ourselves. We are not God. He is. And there is ample reason to believe that this is true. People who don’t believe that Christ is God and who don’t believe He therefore knows the Path to God, have no real motivation to seek that Path and be obedient. That’s their choice. But, the Church will never compromise what it has received as Truth. It would be the greatest of sins to lead people off the Path. We don’t have to understand “why” the path is as it is in order to start following it. There was one time in my life when I was trying to figure it all out. Then, at a literal intersection of a road I “heard” a very clear voice in my heart: “You are wandering along many paths. There is one Path. Follow Me. You can trust Me.” May you begin to hear that voice as well. You are clearly seeking Truth. It is the person of Christ, the God-Man who became Man so that we can become like Him.

  30. Dear Priscilla and Fr. Freeman,
    thank you for your answers!

    Priscilla, thank you for sharing a part of your history of finding Truth. I have heard several people, of different religions (and without religion), who have told similar stories, and I truely believe them all. But with all respect, your personal experience of finding Truth, does not mean that your Truth is also the Truth for everybody else. But again, thank you for sharing, I really appreciated it!

    Fr. Freeman, thank you for the article. I just read it. I cannot see that it mentions the numbers (who knows how many) of gay people who suffers from serious psychological problems, as a consequence of being told, over and over again, from an early age, that their sexual behaviours are fundamentally wrong and against God’s will. I do not find anything about the numbers of suicides among gay people.

    I believe in God, but I do not believe in Church with all it’s dogmas. God is God and everywhere present for all of us. Church is a collective of believers, a collective of human beings, hungering for Truth, order, meaning. As I wrote earlier, 2000 years is, when it comes to all, a short period of time. This might sound arrogant, and I emphasize that I do not in any way mean to minimize the importance of people’s faith and their feeling of belonging i Church. I have a huge respect for people devoting their lives to Church. But I have just as much respect for those devoting their lives to fighting for our rights as individuals. The world is full of colours. The atheist can learn as much of God from the believer, as the believer can learn from the atheist.

    I am glad that you found your Truth, but none of us can ever say that our Truth is more true than the Truth of anybody else. This is what faith is about for me, it is not about claiming Truth, it is about believing.

    I thank you again for your answers.

  31. Pettersen, you write that “none of us can ever say that our Truth is more true than the Truth of anybody else.”

    What you are in essence doing is making an absolute truth claim while denying the people who disagree with you any claim of absolute truth. In other words, your “truth” that Truth is relative and subjective is universally and absolutely true, but those who say that, for example, the dogma of the Church is true for all people do not get this luxury.

    Which is to say that there is an internal contradiction at the heart of your worldview. This contradiction (“you have your truth, I have mine, and no one gets to say what’s true for me but me”) functions as a thought-terminating cliche for many modernists. But I hope and pray you’ll be able to move beyond it…

  32. Pettersen,
    Most of what you share in your comments are a version of various popular ideas…some of which are true…most of which are mere exercises in imagination/propaganda. For existence, you bring up the suicides among those with same-sex attraction. Well well note that nobody knows the numbers. It’s an imaginary problem, repeated endlessly to justify ideas. Obviously, it is a scenario that happens. However, you do not imagine scenarios where the teaching and compassion of the Church have been helpful to individuals with the same struggle. As a priest for over 40 years, I don’t imagine these things…I’ve lived them.

    The 2,000 year history of the Church is, as you note, but a short time, but it’s the oldest institution and living memory among us. Same-sex attraction is not new and it has been acknowledged and ministered to for the 2,000 years of the Church’s recorded history. The popular descriptions of the Church’s work with this topic and with individuals has about as much accuracy as a B-grade Hollywood film (or a sit-com, which is where most people get their ideas about what is true or not in the world).

    Historically, the Church has not been about oppressing people of any sort. Again, popular imagination and actual history are worlds apart.

    There isn’t anywhere near enough space or time in my life to fill-in the education gaps in the modern mind of the young. You have been fed a very thin gruel of history – more like advertising propaganda – certainly not the difficult study and thought required to come to accurate decisions about what or how things are. The modern world is a propaganda campaign – pretty much nothing more.

    I don’t think you’re arrogant – you’re simply too trusting of the information you’ve heard.

  33. If ever there was a perfect example of modernity’s religion, it is this thread.
    Father, forgive me. What I’m about to say here is nowhere near as graceful as your responses.

    Pettersen. Oh but yes, we can, and do say, there is but one Truth. And He has revealed Himself to mankind 2000 years ago. That you have chosen to reject Him has absolutely no bearing on the truth of the matter.

    Your tolerance of Christianity is admirable, but at the very same time, it is also a couched way of telling us that because we know Christ is the Truth and proclaim it in our words and deeds…that this is not tolerable. Because you say “we can not say…”.
    I am at a loss to understand how you can say “we can not say…” when you have no idea what means to follow Christ. You can not rightfully speak of something you do not know. You can only ask. You are not asking, you are telling.
    I can tell you Christ is Truth because I have said ‘yes’ to Him a long time ago. I have found real quickly that He is God and I am not (to quote Fr Stephen). It is not me who decides truth. Nor is it you. It is Jesus Christ, Who has given Himself for the life of the world, in His body, the Church. You can not fully know Christ apart from the Church. Period.
    It is modernity’s individualism, in rejecting a communal life, in communion with God, mankind and creation, that has declared God as scandalous. It is replaced by a secular community, without God, without His standards – cherry picks His acceptable commandments – and says “look! we believe the same thing you do…without God…so who needs Him” !
    True followers of Christ speak a different language. Language is endemic of a community. Words mean something. The words you and I use sound the same, but mean something totally different. And you do not seem to be willing to learn. OK then. I respect your choice. I hope you have a change of heart though. You will not be coerced by me. However that will not keep me from proclaiming the Truth in Christ. Yes, “I can say” …and I do.
    So, I mean, thanks for your toleration. Glad you are thankful for our answers. But it has changed nothing. And I don’t expect it to. Not even sure of the benefit of such dialogue, since it perpetuates and solidifies the division.

    I have very little patience. What little I have, it is by the grace of God. Because I fall so short, it is best to engage those who are searching for God, not those who have already decided by their own account who God is and only want to prove their point. To me, it is a waste of time and not only that, but is of no benefit. Then again, this is a 65 year old speaking. I forget sometimes what it was like to be young and idealistic.

  34. Dear Will, I think you a are right… I cannot say «you cannot say». What I can say, is that I have my Truth, and that it seems to be a bit different from yours. Which Truth that is «most true» would be an impossible discussion, because I cannot prove my Truth to you. Luckily for both of us, I guess, I don’t need to either.

    Paula, I do not intend to reject anybody. If that was my intention, I would not have written anything here in the first place, I would not even have found this blog.

    I really appreciate all your answers. Fr Freeman, thank you for patiently sharing your views!

  35. To be clear. Pettersen, your rejection is in Christ. I was not referring to an “anybody” here at the blog, but a Somebody. Were you looking for Him when you came to the blog? If you were, you might had found Him.
    I think clarity is needed Pettersen, because you have been feed such distortion of truth, and words have been twisted and meanings changed. If I read you correctly, you take offense at my words. This only tells me that if words are not spoken exactly like moderns demand, offense is taken. It has even become against the law: “Hate speech”.
    There is a cut off point for toleration, and that cut off point is not the generic “God”, but the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

  36. I am sorry, Paula, I am Norwegian and my English is not perfect. I do not understand the last part of your latest comment, would you be so kind and explain it or write it in other words?

  37. Pettersen,

    I didn’t reply before because I thought perhaps I would just be critical, and that wasn’t appropriate. But you do seem to be here to try to dialogue, so let me point out something I found remarkable in what you said. You said, “Sacrificing one’s life (in one way or another) is always a form of selfishness, isn’t it?” To me this sounds like a great contradiction, albeit something I might have believed when I was your age! (I am now over 30 years older.) I have had the experience of caring for a parent with dementia/Alzheimer’s. I am not so heroic that I sacrificed my life, my mother could afford to hire help which was wonderful for her and enabled her to stay at home which was what she wanted, but I (and my husband) put in our time to make sure she was happy and as well cared for as possible, overseeing, arranging, supervising, hiring, doing taxes, etc, and taking care of what needed taking care of which she could not do for herself. Really, I don’t think it was selfish on my part. It was love. My husband did it from love. We sacrificed our time and effort and lives to do so, and for an inexplicable reason I am extremely grateful to have done so. If it’s selfish to say, at least I did one good thing in my life, then so be it. But that is a rather distorted way to look at it. May I add that my mother did not treat me exceptionally well, and yet I found my love for her was still in my heart, which was my motive. Only God could have helped me with that. Trust me when I tell you that only God could have helped me with that. It was just pure grace.

    Christ going to the Cross was not a selfish act. It was a sacrifice of His human life. For much greater purpose of course. You might want to distort that and call it selfish because He was, after all, destined for Resurrection and Lordship. But, indeed, that would be distorting the real suffering of crucifixion. There is no minimizing that.

    I feel this strange argument about sacrifice being selfishness must be a lynch pin or sorts, something that other conclusions rely upon. I would suggest that you revisit it, because it is a great contradiction.

  38. Pettersen,

    I don’t think we’ve even reached an agreement to disagree yet. For that, you’d need to recognize that we are both making absolute truth claims–no matter how you phrase yourself. You cannot say, for instance, that you simply have your truth and I simply have my truth without making a claim of absolute truth.

    See how you’ve already eliminated an entire field of discussion (a discussion with millennia of history all over the world): that is, the discussion of discerning which truth is the most true. For you, this is an impossible discussion because such a discussion falls outside the small bounds of your worldview. In reality, this discussion continues from the deep reaches of the past to the present day.

    Open yourself up to it, and you may find that the Truth will set you free, but not until it is done with you, to quote an author. You may even discover the Personhood of Absolute Truth.

  39. Pettersen,
    Not sure what “last part” you are asking about. I’ll try my best to answer.
    In regard to moderns taking offense at a certain manner of speech, I will say that there is a difference between ‘hateful speech’ and the legal infraction of ‘hate speech’. Hateful speech is calling another person out of name, degrading them personally for their beliefs or even certain acts. Calling “out of name” is condemning them.
    Hate speech is a modern term for speech that is unacceptable to the majority. A certain type of speech is demanded. It is a form of coercion in that it has been made a legal infraction. These infractions include speaking in terms of certain moral/behavioral/religious beliefs. If spoken publicly, and more so, lived by, such will be at least be ostracized by the community at large. Worse, you can find yourself in court. Christians know well this phenomenon.

    That a “generic” God is spoken of, I mean that many people don’t have a problem with belief in God. That is because people have taken upon themselves to decide who this God is. It is very convenient. And causes no argument. Whatever you want to believe. (Fr Stephens book Everywhere Present, speaking of the 2 storey universe, addresses this and more. Highly recommended!)) But when Jesus Christ comes into the conversation, and He says “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” , all bets are off. He says a lot more that would be utterly offensive, Pettersen, to those who do not know Him. Their ears ‘do not hear’. He said this would happen. But I tell you, He does not say these things to drive people away. He is our God. And He loves us like none other. But because He speaks the truth, and reveals He is the Truth, some just do not want to hear it.
    Hope that helps Pettersen. Tons more can be said.

    Thanks for engaging. For English not being your mother tongue, you do quite well.

  40. Petterson,

    Please continue to ask. If necessary, correspond with Father off-blog. There are several conversations happening here now and it can get confusing (especially as you’ve noted that your English “is not perfect”).

    I will only add one thing: when you say “I have my truth and your have your truth”, it is important to understand that this is a product of the modern, highly individualized, mind. It is, essentially, making us the final determiner of truth or, to use more Christian language, casting God into our image.

    The mind of the Church is one of Communion. We accept what God has revealed and the Church teaches; we do not determine the truth. Indeed, the Truth is a person, Jesus Christ, and the fullness of communion with Him is salvation.

    I point this out to highlight a disconnect that may not be recognized. We are taking part in a conversation but are not on common ground in how we approach the subject matter. May God bless you and hold you close in your questioning.

  41. Janine, thank you for your comment. I think it is brave to share your story here, among strangers (at least I am a stranger). I absolutely see your point. Claiming that sacrifice is a selfish act is a contradiction, and it is something that I think about a lot, and I am not in any way sure that I am right. Maybe I should try to replace some of my exclamation marks with question marks… Though being a contradiction, it is an important question to me, whether sacrificing is a selfish act or not. Surely, I do not have the answer. But cannot a contradiction also be true?

    Will, I must once again say that I think you are right. By simply claiming that you have your Truth and I have mine, I am (once again) claiming an absolute truth, and at the same time I eliminate the whole discussion. That was not my intention. Thank you for noticing me. My worldview might seem narrow to you, based on what I have written here. But please don’t judge me for that. If you knew me, I hope you would have thought differently of me.

    Paula, thank you for your explanation! That made it a lot clearer. When it comes to “hate speach”, nothing I have read on this blog so far looks like anything close to hate in mye view. When it comes to the “generic” God, I believe in a God that in your view might seem “generic”. I am even one of those “politically correct” persons who does not want to put a sex on God, I do not like to call God “him” or “father”, it feels wrong. And I do not know if I believe in the Jesus Christ that you describe. I have great sympathy for the story of Jesus and what it symbolizes. But for you, as I understand it, Jesus is much more than a symbol. And I can sometimes envy you that faith. That might be an answer to your question, if I was looking for Christ when I entered this blog. Yes, I think I was. But if I did it with the right spirit in my heart, I am not sure of.

    I wrote my first comment on this blog with a very explicit question about the Orthodox view on some sexual practises, and Fr. Freeman answered honestly and directly. In Norway, the Norwegian (Protestant) Church does now accept same-sex marriage. To me, that is a big step in the right direction for the Church. I now understand that in the common Orthodox view, same-sex marriage is utterly wrong. But, I have also found some Orthodox who say that they support same-sex relationships and even marriage. I have friends who live in same-sex relationships, and I have seen and felt the love between these persons, I have witnessed their devotion and faithfulness to eachother. This is not a question about sex, it is not a question of what genitalia you have between your legs. It is a question of accepting the love between two persons who want to live their lives together, and to set these persons’ sex aside, because it really does not matter. In the deep of my heart I believe that love between two persons should not be stopped by their gender. I have now been given a better insight in your Church’s views on this matter, and I can see that we have very different convictions. If learning to know Jesus requires that I put my convictions aside when it comes to the subject of love regardless of sex, then I might never learn to know Jesus. But, maybe there is hope. Who knows…

    I totally agree that we live in an over-sexualized society. But to me, your view on sexuality seems just as “extreme”, only in the opposite direction. I do not advocate “free sex”, I advocate love regardless of gender. Of course, I will never be able to convince you that my view is right. But I am glad that you gave me the opportunity to learn to know your views a little bit better. Without claiming that I now understand your view, I am not an Orthodox, I can only see your view from the outside, and (as I guess some of you would put it) through my “modernism eyes”.

    Anyway, I am thankful for the way I have been received and challenged here at this blog! I will continue reading your texts, Fr. Freeman.

  42. Pettersen, thanks for your response. A quick reply:
    You ask, “But cannot a contradiction also be true?”

    Human beings can work, act, think, and live contradiction all the time. That does not mean that the contradiction does not exist and does not have a (usually negative) effect. We are easily capable of being entirely hypocritical, of hiding our selfish motives with outward acts which appear to be sacrifice. We can have mixed motives about anything, even those of which we’re not entirely aware. But that is different from a logical contradiction. If you wish to strictly follow the rules of logic regarding philosophical discussion, a contradiction by definition cannot be a truth, because each side cancels the other. That is a faulty and illogical premise for simple logic — meaning the conclusion will be false as well. If we make a blanket generalized statement that all sacrifices are really selfish, then, first of all, we can’t really know that empirically about everybody and everything; and second of all, that is indeed a generalized contradiction simply by definition.

    Also, the problem with defining selfishness remains as well. If I sacrifice to feed a child, am I *only* selfish because it’s my child? Or is it another child I care about? Or is it for a greater good? What does selfish mean in that instance? Am I guaranteed something purely for me out of it? These are over-generalized. What is my motivation? If it is merely *possible* that the motive is not selfish, then that logically disproves the general statement or maxim. If even once, there is a sacrifice that is not purely selfish, then the general statement is disproved.

    I will make an experimental suggestion, just to try a thought experiment. What if you asked yourself, “What would it mean that it’s possible there are sacrifices which are not selfish?” What would that open up for you? You don’t need to reply with an answer if that is too personal. God bless, peace.

  43. Pettersen,

    I’ll try to be as brief as I can in light of the many responses you’re receiving–you’ve certainly stirred up a conversation!

    Please don’t see my criticism of the modern worldview and its narrowness as a criticism of you. I only mean to say that you yourself are larger than that worldview. The world, too, is so much larger and richer than the insipid modern view of it could possibly account for.

    An example of this is the way modernity reduces love to a mere sexual exchange between consenting adults (children, too, are included as consenting partners by an increasing number of people). In the classical Christian view, reducing love to sexual transactions (or equating the two) does a massive disservice to both love and sex. And societies who adopt such reductionist thinking will see its sad effects, as the article Fr. Freeman linked to shows.

  44. I do not advocate “free sex”, I advocate love regardless of gender.

    Love is certainly the “greatest of these” virtues, as Saint Paul states, but it is also the most greatly abused in our society. It is not an excuse or a validation in and of itself; Saint Paul rebukes same-sex relationships based upon their denial of their function, not on their love. In truth, the correctness of whom to love and how is a part of what it means to be truly human. There is much more to consider on this.

  45. Thank you so much for your answers, everybody! You have given me a lot to think about. It is soon night in Norway, and it is time for me to log off. But I will answer everyone as soon as I can. Have a good night!

  46. Petterson…
    I think in Orthodoxy a distinction is made between a homosexual ‘lifestyle’ and ‘persons’ who are same sex attracted. What I mean is – yes the Church condemns homosexuality. But a person who is attracted/loves another of the same sex with an erotic love, and they desire to know more about and possibly enter the Orthodox Church, would in no way be turned away by a parish Priest. Now there may be an exception with some rogue Priest. But that is rare, I think. But my point remains…no one is turned away, no matter what. You begin with talking with the parish Priest. This is another way of saying it is between you and God. It goes no further.
    This may seem like a contradiction, but it isn’t.
    I will say something else that would go along with this:
    You say “If learning to know Jesus requires that I put my convictions aside when it comes to the subject of love regardless of sex, then I might never learn to know Jesus….” Petterson, no way! You don’t have to put anything aside to turn to Him! Your Priest will guide…slowly. You will come to learn repentance. But repentance is never coerced. You will come to know a love for Him. But that initial turn to Christ…oh no way do you have to change your convictions. You should only read the Gospels!! All the outcasts that were drawn to Him! And those who lived very shady lives. Heck, that can be said for all of us here at the blog! (Well maybe not all! I should speak for myself!) No, He turns no one away. And lives are changed. Even when you insist that change is not necessary! You will learn why Christ commands the things He does…because, as Fr Stephen has said, “it works”! The way of life in Christ is how we were created to be. It brings joy through the sorrows of life. It gives hope. And most of all, we unite with God Himself Who created us and loves us. It is the way we were meant to be.
    So….the same sex attracted…Come! Sinners…Come! Work this out with the blessing and the help of our Priests, clergy…and those who will embrace and nurture them!

    Phew!

    Lastly, it is true there are some Orthodox that push for acceptance of homosexual marriage, lifestyle, as well as other controversial subjects. But that is not the norm.

    Glad you said you’ll continue to come here to the blog. And thanks for accepting our forthrightness. I certainly wish you the best.

  47. Pettersen, what Paula says about people, rather than lifestyle, is really important. It’s fundamental. In my home parish, there are several same-gender attracted converts, very beloved by the parish and also active in positions of responsibility. We are all on a learning curve, and God loves all of us. As I think Father has commented in the past (although he may have to correct me), our church with its long history tends to be pretty matter-of-fact about these things, not hysterical. Love, care, and “economia” are key.

  48. Truth is the key and the truth is that same sex attraction can only be dealt with through celebacy and repentance. That can be a lonely way but possible with God’s grace and the intercessions of the Theotokos. Male and female created He them remains the truth not just for human beings but cosmically.

  49. Petersen,
    You have raised questions and presented an outlook that has certainly stimulated responses. The questions surrounding gender identity and sex are hot topics among Christian groups and in the media at large.

    I’m engaging now mainly because I participate in leading discussions for catechumens entering into the Orthodox Church. Among the things I do is to encourage questions and discussions. The one thing we cannot do is create a cogent argument to convince someone to enter a Christian life. To enter ‘into a Christian life’ is to enter Christ Himself and that simply cannot be done through argumentation or persuasion. Christ does not do this. He calls only. He doesn’t persuade anyone to follow Him. Anyone who attempts to persuade another to enter the Orthodox Church will likely invite disaster.

    I agree with several of your points with caveats:

    Indeed, I would agree that there is a similarity across genders regarding sexual behavior. But that such similar behavior exists involves a context. The cultural endorsement and proliferation of this behavior proceeded your generation (I’m almost 65). In all fairness within a discussion, this context ought not be overlooked or underestimated in relevance.

    The western culture created by modernism, has destroyed many lives, many which have ended in suicide as well as through other means endorsed by this culture, including killing the unborn. It operates on the creation of an ‘underclass’. And it pits one group against another to foment hatred and rivalry, mostly for economic advantages.

    Within the Orthodox Christian life, the difference between male and female is much more than modern reductionism of having ‘innies’ and ‘outties’. It involves a level of complementary-ness that goes beyond the level of DNA. However, even in science there is an awareness of the ‘needfulness’ of complementary molecular structure to the proliferation and fecundity of life. Nevertheless, we attempt to manage outcomes, not so much for the love of life, but for the love of the control of the outcomes that we want. These attempts tend to ‘backfire’, however, in unanticipated ways more often than not because our vision is blind to the context of what motivates us to create them.

    Your understanding of ‘sin’ is quite different from an Orthodox Christian understanding. No sin is acceptable, and we all sin. There is no point to focus on one sin is if it has any precedent over against another, all lead to death.

    I hope to make some clarity: as far as I know same sex orientation is not a sin in Orthodox Christianity. (Fr Stephen please correct me if this is wrong) However, the expression of that orientation in same-sex sexual engagement is a behavior that is sinful. This behavior in heterosexual sexual engagement is also sinful. The cultural and legal acceptance of this behavior doesn’t change the inherent character of this behavior, nor its short- and long-term effects. This last statement is seen by modernist culture to be antiquated and unacceptable.

    The Trisagion prayer affirms that God is in all places and fills all things, very similar to what you have said. Indeed, the Orthodox Christian affirms that all of us carry the image of God, whilst we sin. But what we lack is the ‘likeness’ of Christ, which is to say how we express Christ’s life in us. This life is a ‘flesh and blood’ reality, not a belief system as you describe it. The Church considers herself to be the “Body of Christ” in tangible, material reality, not a figment of imagination. In this consideration, there are material realities that are rather easy to observe within the context of the life of the Church, but hard to express in words and usually not attempted in description in words for that reason.

    I ask that you notice some things in this language. The Church is “she” and yet “she” is the “Body of Christ”. And yet Christ has a material reality that includes His physical reality of His maleness. These realities are paradoxes in Protestant cultures.

    The Theotokos, the mother of God, has a relevance beyond what Protestant derived culture imagines. Her icon is usually very prominent in the alter of the Church. And the tangible reality of the Theotokos is more than ‘just an icon’. For one, she is the exemplar of what being ‘female’ is. A man cannot take her place, no matter how much he might engineer some other substitute.

    I’ve said more than I planned. I appreciate your questions. I hope this rather lengthy response is helpful, but if not, I apologize and hope it might yet be helpful for Orthodox catechumens who read Fr Stephen’s blog.

    I’ll end with St Silouan’s words, “My brother is my life”.

  50. Janine, yesterday you wrote the following:

    “I will make an experimental suggestion, just to try a thought experiment. What if you asked yourself, “What would it mean that it’s possible there are sacrifices which are not selfish?” What would that open up for you? You don’t need to reply with an answer if that is too personal.”

    Thank you for this question! It really made a difference to me. I cannot (yet) answer exactly *what* it did, but it did something, something good, and I am thankful!

    To all you others: thank you for your kind, engaged and thorough answers! These following questions and thoughts is my answer in return…

    Science shows that homosexuality occurs also among animals. For instance one out of five swans live together in same-sex couples. Sometimes a “homosexual” male swan mates with a female swan and then drives her away after the eggs are laid. That it of course, not very nice (neither is it monogamy). But other times, the same-sex couples stay “true” to eachother (like swans are known for) and find abondened eggs and adopt them.

    We are not swans. We are human. And of course, that makes a difference. But still, I think the example of the swans illustrates my view quite well. If I ever get children, and one of them (or all of them) comes out as gay, I hope I can welcome them and their partners(!) with open arms, hug them and bless them. For they have found a partner in life. When I (hopefully) bless them, that blessing should also regard whatever these two persons do in their bedroom (or whereever else they might do it), as long as it is based on trust, respect and love. Their sex life is none of my business. I want to say to my children: “Sex is valuable, treat it with care.” I hope that I will never hear myself say: “I know you love your partner, but the sex you two have with eachother is a sin.”

    In the bible St. Paul says something like: “a man should not lay with a man in the same way as he lays with a woman” (forgive me, I am quoting after memory and translating at the same time). To me, this saying is true in itself, because it is physically impossible for two men to have the same kind of sex as a man and a woman – I am of course thinking about vaginal penetration sex (excuse me for being explicit in this comment, it is only an attempt to make things clearer). No doubt a man and a woman making a child is holy. I think many atheists too would agree on that (whatever they may mean with “holy”). And same-sex partners are by nature excluded from that holy act. To thereby say that they have to live a life in celibacy, I will not accept.

    For where does the limit go? If I understood Fr. Freeman right in his answers to my first question at this blog, activities such as oral sex are seen as a sin in the Orthodox Church. Because it does not lead to procreation (please correct me if I am wrong). Well, neither does kissing. Neither does touching each other, being it on the breasts or the bum or the genitals. If kissing the mouth is acceptable, is it not acceptable to kiss on the breasts? And if kissing the breasts is acceptable, is it not acceptable to kiss on the genitals? Where does the limit go, and who defines it? And for those who might say that all these acts are acceptable within a hetereosexual marriage, why are the very same acts not acceptable within a homosexual relationship/marriage?

    Accepting these expressions of love between two grown-up people who love eachother, regardless of their genders, does not in any way reduce sexuality. Nor does it reduce the holyness of the union between a man and a woman, in the creation of a child. These two things can both be holy. I want to return to the swans… What if God created homosexuality to show us something? To show us that we are so much more than our physical genders? What if we met homosexuality with humility and wonder, and not condemnation? What if we did like the swans… let the homosexual couples adopt those children who are abondened by their mother and father. Many places in the West, this is already the case, homosexual couples are allowed to adopt children, and in my view this is just the way it should be.

    There is so much beauty on this blog. And there is so much beauty in all the things that you have written in your comments. (I am not talking about beauty in the sense that “the modernity” means, I am talking about true beauty.) But to me, your views on sexuality is one big obstacle. Because I, from the deep of my heart, believe that you are wrong.

    I am sure plenty of Christian literature has been written on this. Many people have used much more time than me, to try and figure out of these things. But I do not think you can convince me that I am wrong. I am not even sure if Jesus can, or will. But who am I to tell?

    I do not know if this applies to all Orthodox Churches, but at least here in Norway, people living in homosexual relationships or heteresexual relationships outside of marriage, are not allowed to take part in communion in the Orthodox or Catholic Churches. There is a famous Norwegian writer, Jon Fosse, who is himself a Catholic. He claims that this rejection is one of the Church’s worst sins. And I agree with him.

    But then again, I cannot see why sexual expressions for love, within a safe frame of respect, trust and devotion, is a sin. I emphasize ones again: I am not an advocate for “free sex”. But when a person meets another person, and they want to share their lives with one another, I bless that relationship. If these two engage in sexual activities with eachother or not, is not the matter. And if they do, I hope they do it with care and love and according to their own hearts. And I hope the Church, now and in the future, will treat all persons in the same way, with care and love – and humility. For what if God wants to tell us something, and we have still not understood? I know I am arguing “against” 2000 years of tradition here, but so be it. Please forgive me if I seem arrogant. I do not in any way mean to be.

    Finally; thank you for your comment, Dee of St Hermans: “The one thing we cannot do is create a cogent argument to convince someone to enter a Christian life.” I think this is very true. Still, I am glad I have the privilege of taking part of this conversation!

    My best wishes to all of you!

  51. Please let me correct myself. In the first part of my comment above, I write that my (potential) future children’s sex life is «none of my business». That is of course wrong. If that was true, I would not have written all this about it. (And I don’t even have children.) If we are all One, then I guess every action of every human being on Earth is the business of all of us.

  52. Petersen, There is a poingant little book, Washed, But Waiting by Wesley Hill. He is a man who is same sex attracted and a member of the Episcopal Church here in the US.
    Despite the fact that his denomination has embraced what you call for, Mr. Hill has chosen to embrace celibacy because of his love for God.

    The Orthodox Church teaches that is the path of holiness. We have always taught that.
    There is no sin for which the Church does not teach abstinence and repentance except gluttony.. The Church has never taught us to identify with our sins but rather with the Cross. That is both the challenge and the Good News.
    Embracing one’s Cross is also the path to joy.

    Embracing false happiness and encouraging people to live in their sins is the ultimate in modernity and the path of death.

    That is not love.

  53. Pettersen,
    I would just add a small aspect that might be of some help on one detail I noticed in your thoughtful reply above.
    You asked the question “where does the limit go?” (regarding sexual practices).
    {I take it that it is chiefly in order to somewhat ‘justify’ a certain ‘unlimitedness’, especially in connection to those practices which are inevitable for a same-sex couples’ genital expression.}
    The answer, I think, is modest (and rather traditional): the limit is the inclusion or not, of the ‘potential’ for ‘natural’ fecundity (even as just a procreative ‘potential’ ) of a male-female couple (which is always there in that union)
    This means that the kissing of various bodily parts you mentioned, can perhaps have a justified function (of expressing various things – including unjustified, selfish and sinful ones) that invariably can [also], have the potential of “having nature on its side” (i.e.: of ‘naturally’ producing offspring, not just of producing pleasure).
    To be clearer: We need to have two things (pleasure and responsibility).
    To view sexual, (erotic) love without this (2nd) “potential”, is taking away one of the two inherent fruits of this ‘union’: to clarify again, one is pleasure and the other is offspring.
    This is not possible in same-sex cases: we only can have the one of these two things.
    It’s like eating (which produces both ‘pleasure’ and ‘sustenance’) and creating a permanent hole in the stomach so that one can only have pleasure (without the sustenance/satiation). The ‘perversion’ is quite evident here.
    The further away we move from this balance of the two ‘fruits’ (in any type of couple), the closer we get to selfishness and sin.
    Our culture has lost the ability discern right judgement that involve meaningful self-restraint – due to its obsession with ideological ‘rights-ism’ – a kind of ‘religion’ of what Father called “self-ism”, a masked, ideological pleasure-seeking.
    Nature shows us that male and female – or if you’d like, a Ying and a Yang, – naturally ‘unite’ in a way Ying and Ying or Yang and Yang cannot. Two male swans cannot do that kind of uniting (which includes a potential fruitfulness), it is a odd fit and a ‘dead-end’.
    I guess it’s wise to also remember that the Church’s ‘rules’ on our restraint of expressing our short-term desires (in sex, food, words etc), is the proven, best ‘medicine’ for our long-term fulfilment. This is truly profound and timeless.
    This has a very long history of verification that is quite undeniable (as Father’s suggested link to social anthropologist’s J.D. Unwin’s Sex and Culture shows.)

  54. To me it seems that the argument in favor of or against homosexuality is almost totally irrelevant. The pro-gay side won the culture war years ago. Now it’s just clean up–proxy warriors attempting to push the ne’er-do-well traditionalists to just modernize already. After all, it is 2019, people; wake up to the brave new world!

    Revolutions–sexual and otherwise–always push to take more ground, increasingly more norms must be upended. We see it now with the attack against the traditional understanding of masculinity and femininity. And I know that the “conversation” concerning polyamory, pedophilia, and bestiality are already underway.

    These are not mainstream conversations, but neither was the homosexuality debate mainstream until very recently. In fact, all the arguments once taken up to support homosexuality are currently being used in favor of these other things. “Love is love. Who am I to judge what two consenting beings do with each other? If some physical contact is allowed, then why not all physical contact?” Etc., etc., etc.

    It will take more than just niceties to convince me that anyone pushing these things is engaging in good faith.

  55. Will,
    who are talking about two consenting «beings»? I do not. I talk about two consenting adults! If you indicate that I have ever supported sexual actions with children, I must have chosen my words extremely badly.

    Can you give me one example of a society in 2019 that accepts homosexual acts and at the same time accepts pedophilian acts?

  56. Only a couple of things.

    Science shows that homosexuality occurs also among animals.

    The teaching of the Church is that Nature is held in sin for our sake. We are, none of us, as we should be. St. John the Forerunner and Christ preached repentance. Our need for life is universal.

    And for those who might say that all these acts are acceptable within a hetereosexual marriage, why are the very same acts not acceptable within a homosexual relationship/marriage?

    Father has written extensively on healthy boundaries. Healthy relationships, and by this I mean those that glorify God and lead to the fullness of communion with Him, are defined very differently than you state. I go back to Saint Paul’s use of function in critiquing homosexuality. There is purpose to our existence; we are designed for very particular communion, and union. It is not the generic love, “regardless of gender”, that the world espouses. It is not whatever we want it to be; it is what we need to truly live.

    Joe Fosse’s claim is common of humanists; he wishes the Church to acknowledge and bow to man’s desires as men define them. He recasts God in man’s image, making humanity the measure of all things. Christ is the measure of all things; we should never substitute ourselves for Him.

    But then again, I cannot see why sexual expressions for love, within a safe frame of respect, trust and devotion, is a sin.

    There is far too much here to cover in any single reply. But it is a mistake to equate safety and/or self-expression and communion with God. As Michael noted, it is the Cross.

  57. Petterson,

    The sexualization of children, especially in the United States, is very strong at this time. Pedophilia is not at the stage where it is celebrated publicly; instead there is extensive teaching of sexual acts (for pleasure, as fecundity is no longer seen as a necessary link to sex) to younger and younger children along with attempts to change the law to allow sex with younger children without any legal consequences. It is very much under-the-current-radar but also very real and frightening.

  58. As a side note, I don’t think anyone here sees you as supporting sex acts with children. You’ve been very clear in limiting your questioning to acts between adults. Please forgive any confusion.

    Also, I am thankful to Dino for his reply to your question of limitations. It is very well stated, IMHO.

  59. Here we go.
    Pettersen,
    You quote one line of Dee’s response to you “The one thing we cannot do is create a cogent argument to convince someone to enter a Christian life.” and I think you read it as ‘our words to you are a cogent argument in an attempt to convince you, and we can not do that’.
    That is not what we’re doing. No one here is trying to convince you. We are responding, in discussion, to 1) your statements first, then your questions and 2) your response to our explanations. Each of us has our own way of expressing ourselves. Motivation has bearing…as a parent, a teacher, neither, or both. But our expressions stem from the same foundation.
    This is the problem though. You have already decided…you have already established a presupposition…of your own understanding of what love is, based on the ‘religion of modernity’. The false crisis is the lack of acceptance of homosexuals. Taken to another level, you compare love with physical sexual relationships. So you have this definition of love set in stone in your mind…love based on sex!…and hear not a word, and thus can not consider a word, we have said about the love of Christ. So, what you hear first and foremost in our responses is that the Orthodox Church rejects those struggling with sexual identity. You only hear what you already have established in your mind. You want the Church to agree with you on this narrow view of the meaning of love.
    In the end, it is homosexuality that receives all the attention. True love has nothing to do with this false narrative. This subject, beat into the ground like a dead horse, is nothing but a diversion by the powers of darkness to drive mankind away from the One whom they hate. They can’t touch Him, so they mess with us; those who are created in His image.
    There is no dialogue in your conversation, Pettersen. An attempt maybe, but what for?
    So be it, Pettersen.
    I go back to what I said from the beginning – I don’t know if there is any benefit in these discussions with those who have already made up their mind.
    One thing I know. I am not cut out for this back and forth dialogue. When folks out there choose to reject Christ, no matter what the reasons, it will literally take an act of God to dispel such rejection.
    We can, and we will, speak…but this is not an ‘argument’ of any sort. It is simply a response to a stark misunderstanding of the Faith. The falsities are even more insidious when drowned in sugar coated ‘sweetness’.

    (I’m wondering how long this conversation is going to continue…)

  60. Dear to God, Pettersen,
    Your thoughtful comments reveal a heart and mind that are more open to knowing Truth than you may even realize. In my previous comment I shared a personal experience that broke into all of my intellectualizing and “saved” me from endless cogitation on how all religions might have a same or similar Truth. In other words, a great deal of reading and pondering of the various Truth claims of humankind’s religious/philosophical claims preceded that “aha” personal experience. I’ve always admired St. Thomas, the disciple known popularly as “doubting Thomas.” Asking questions and searching for Truth is essential for most who seriously commit to following Christ. How could it be otherwise? Christ’s Way ultimately asks us to belong only to God…not ourselves. Why should we believe Him? Many here have talked of 2000 years of evidence. But there’s much more than that to consider in your search for whether Christ is the Truth and worth sacrificing everything for. (Even, perhaps, your own desires). You say you believe in one God. If you could see that Jesus is God, would you leave everything (like all your nets) behind and trust that the God of the universe wants the ultimate best for you,? There isn’t room here to outline all the reasons people on the blog believe that Jesus is God. Very briefly….over 1000 years of Prophecy of a coming Messiah and, of course, His Resurrection from the dead. Etc. As Paula said, above, God doesn’t ask us to shed all of our ideas before starting our journey to Him. But He does say, “Follow Me.” When He says Repent and follow mе, the word repent means, “turn.” And so, we turn from our current path and start walking toward Him, trusting on some level that the God who created the universe and best knows how to help us will, in fact, help us believe and understand. If there’s an Orthodox Church near you, I suggest you simply attend services as you can. Come and see. One priest I know said, God’s other name is Surprise….may you be surprised and blessed by what you see and hear. I’m praying for you and admire your candor. God bless.

  61. Dino, thank you for your comment, that made the view of the Church a lot clearer to me.

    Paula, I am sorry to hear that your patience with me seems to be reaching it’s end. My heart is happy for the way you have received me, and my very limited brain enjoys being challenged by «foreign» thoughts and views. But I did not get into this conversation to get stimulation for the brain. I came here because I am searching. My heart and mind might not be as open as I wish them to be… but I am still searching.

    Priscilla, thank you for your warm answer! You mention «doubting Thomas». I have not heard of him, but he sounds like a figure I can recognize myself in.

    Paula, I do not want to challenge your patience, but I have one last question to all of you. If I was a homosexual, living in a homosexual relationship, and I had the same convictions as I have described here, and no wish to change them… would I be allowed to take part of the communion? And if not, why? If no sin is above or under another, are som sins still more accepted than others when it comes to communion?

    (In case you wonder, I am not homosexual, as far as I know… I live in a heterosexual relationship, but outside marriage. In view of the Church, as I understand it, that is the same as living in a homosexual relationship… with one major difference: I can marry my beloved and thereby be «accepted»)

  62. Pettersen,

    Forgive me, but I didn’t suggest that you in particular are advocating for pedophilia. Obviously, the conversation never begins there. But, as I said, the conversation is happening now, if only in the dark, as it were.

    For proof that this is happening, I’d point to the increasing number of “drag queen story hour” events (with preschoolers, mind you) in various cities throughout the progressive Western world, in which convicted child molesters, while dressed in a highly sexualized manner, have been given access to children. I’d also point to various opinion pieces in progressive and even mainstream publications which have attempted to normalize attraction to minors.

    The examples are numerous and obvious.

  63. If I was a homosexual, living in a homosexual relationship, and I had the same convictions as I have described here, and no wish to change them… would I be allowed to take part of the communion? And if not, why? If no sin is above or under another, are some sins still more accepted than others when it comes to communion?

    The answer, according to Church teaching, is no. But it is not a matter of greater or lesser sin, it is a matter of lack of repentance (of turning away from sin). No sin is “accepted” in communion, but the fact remains that we are sinners.

    It is an ontological fact and we suffer within it. I recommend that you search Father’s blog (“ontological” should do) for good information on this issue. It comes down to an issue in our humanity, not simply our sexual expression (it cannot be limited to, or compartmentalized, to a single expression).

    I also think you are, ever so slowly, coming to a better understanding of the Church and these things. Please keep asking and reading here.

  64. Animal models of human psychology, behavior, physiological function and even molecularly are extremely limited, Petersen. Surely you know this. The only places where I see such comparisons made with such broad strokes are in the internet. Many people seem to comb the internet for supportive ‘evidence’ and call it research. You mentioned swans as a viable “model” of human behavior. What research is the source of this information and what theory was used to frame it?

  65. Pettersen,
    To truly take part of the Holy Communion one needs to be quite a lot of things (not just the usual things: Baptism, confession, preparation etc).
    What is upheld as a basic guiding rule however (by the Church), are the basics: the things which manifest one’s sincere commitment and desire to be part of (to ‘commune with’) the “Body of Christ” (and acceptance of its ‘demands’ as far as possible).
    However, I think that You described a commitment to something else which, if needed, even entitles itself to defiance of the commitment to the Body of Christ.

  66. Pettersen,
    First I must say thank you for enduring my impatience. It is a virtue that I am in great lack of, and I know it causes grief not only to myself but to God and everything around me. I do not revel in the hardness of my heart. But I’m not one to hide behind a false piety either. I just am not able to do that. So thank you for your mercy and I ask for your prayers. I believe you do pray. And that God knows the goodness of your heart.

    But to answer your question (and not to over-ride Byron’s) I really can not answer what each Priest in every parish would do in these situations. That would be a discussion between you and him, and only for you and him. I really do not concern myself with who receives Communion and who doesn’t. I’m just thankful to the utmost that I myself, in all my messiness, am received by Christ Himself by His offer to me to receive His Body and Blood. Such forgiveness is a profound thing. It shakes me to the core. That in itself is enough for me to ponder. I can not but want that for everybody on the face of this earth.

  67. Petersen,
    You haven’t asked what sin is yet. Do you honestly think you know? Byron is pointing to that distinction which separates Orthodoxy from all other philosophy/theology espoused by other people who call themselves Christian.

    At the beginning of this conversation Fr Stephen suggested you read Fr Thomas Hopko’s book. If you’re not going to do that, then I highly recommend going deeper into this blog material that Fr Stephen has written on the ontological understanding of sin to obtain a better understanding of the Orthodox distinction concerning sin. The language and it’s meaning here is important which ought not be trivialized. You come across in your responses as if you think you know the Orthodox understanding. But if so, are you able to explain what the distinction is?

  68. Dee of St Hermans,
    someone said in a comment above that sin is all that is «off target». Is that a good way of putting it in your view?

    I know very little about Orthodoxy. But I know a little bit more than I knew before… because then I knew nothing…

    If I have given the impression that I think I know Orthodoxy, after a few days of «blogging» with you, then I must emphasize that I have no such thought. I know very little…

  69. ‘Off target’ is a translation which is too truncated. This translation is used, but I don’t recommend its use as an explanation.

    Begin by reading Fr Stephen’s explanations of the word ontological and keep going through as many articles as you can. Many Orthodox converts from other Christian groups, show that they have difficulty understanding this Orthodox explanation/theology. It’s not the same at all.

    I converted as well, but not from another Christian group. I was more like you.

  70. Dee of St Hermans, thank you for your advice!

    Paula, I will pray for you. I am not used to praying, but I do it once in awhile.

    Thank you to all of you once again! I wish you all the best!

  71. Thank you Pettersen for your prayers. Hey, good time to begin increasing their frequency, isn’t it. That’s a great accomplishment, if you ask me.
    But before you go (I have a sense your plate is getting full)…may I have your ear one more time? A little analogy….
    Is this a bit like wandering unknowingly into a neighborhood whose boundaries are not so obvious to those unfamiliar with the area, but very obvious to those who are reside there?
    Imagine, entering into such a place, and beginning to question the residents, not as one who has an interest to learn, but begins to question immediately, in opposition, for instance, why a certain product is not sold, or why a certain place of worship is not offered? Or accusing the locals of discrimination because there are not more chartreuse colored cars.
    Son, where I come from, the locals would not have given you the answer you were hoping for. They’d be no discussion. Definitely no compromise. You’d have wished you had more respect for the long standing tradition in that neighborhood. In face the locals would have spotted you as a stranger long before you even opened your mouth. Your intent of ‘no harm’ would matter not.
    Such is the youth of our day. I’m saying, Pettersen. You come to an Orthodox blog, and you encounter an Orthodox neighborhood. You come criticizing, asking why we function the way we do. Whether you ask nicely or not, it doesn’t matter. Some in the neighborhood will be a tad more patient than others. But sooner than later, you’d be wishing you didn’t cross that boundary with such an attitude.
    You see. It is not us who are inappropriate.

    Not saying anything about you personally. But I am saying that this is the folly of youth (and not only youth) that has been trained up and influenced by modernity. In a world that has long ago rejected Christianity as antiquated, old fashioned and outdated. You compare humans with swans because humans nowadays are not seen as the pinnacle of God’s creation, made in His image. No, we are on par with the beasts. How can you understand the marvel of the Incarnation of the Son of God, God taking on our humanity, and be in awe over such a thing, when you have such a low view of humanity….and you don’t even realize it!!!!

    Well, so much for my apologies. Son, if you want to know about Orthodoxy, there is nothing holding you back but yourself. I will give you a hint though…if you begin to show an interest by going a step further, by taking Father’s advice…and the others here…you will find yourself welcomed within the borders of this fearful neighborhood. Not saying you are not welcomed as we speak. You are most welcome. My analogy is just an analogy, We are not “the hood”. But I think you’re getting in deep, and need to begin in more shallow waters. Only if you want to. If you don’t, then you’re going to have to take the heat.

  72. I think Dee’s advice is very good. There has to be a starting point and, in all our jump to discuss and question, we may have raced right past it and so find ourselves talking a little past each other!

    DO keep asking questions. I would recommend doing so within each article so their context is apparent (as possible).

    DO read Father’s blog–both the new and older posts. I believe you will find a uniformity of thought that is both enlightening (concerning Orthodoxy) and challenging.

    Keep in mind that, for many people here who are Orthodox, this blog has been a clarifying voice in our understanding. We have grown with it. We certainly invite you, even if you do not believe or only believe a bit, to take part in that growth. You will find in the many comments in the blog, a great many questions. The answers are beneficial. Please stay, ask, and enjoy the community. May it be a gracious place for you. God hold us all close!

  73. Paula, I am not sure how to answer your latest comment. Anyway, I wish you all the best. If there is a fire, like you describe, I pray that none of us will ever suffer in it.

    Byron, thank you for your kind words!

    It is getting late in Norway. Have a good night, all of you!

  74. Dear Pettersen,

    There is an Orthodox priest in Bergen who is Norwegian, trained in seminary in the US and served in my parish in California for 2 years. He is Fr Theodore Svane at Annunciation Mission:
    https://helligebebudelsen.com/en/welcome-to-our-mission/

    There are other Orthodox Churches and Missions in Norway, but I know Fr Theodore and his wife, Hanna. They are lovely and kind people and would be happy to talk with you or email you.

    Dana

  75. Mattersen–
    You asked about Doubting Thomas…it’s well to read the story first-hand in the Gospel of John. On the day–Pascha– that we celebrate Christ’s Resurrection, we meet later at Vespers and read his story in multiple languages. You can find it here: John Chapter 20. Thomas is one of Jesus’ Disciples. When Jesus appeared to 10 of them he was not with them. Thomas famously said that unless he saw the print of the nails and the wound in His side, he would not believe. After 8 days, Jesus again appeared to the disciples and Thomas was there. You can read about what happened… Perhaps Thomas could be viewed as the patron saint of those who cannot see, but who come to believe. Perhaps you could ask for his prayers. May God bless you.

    P.S. –I’m the one who shared the short definition of sin as being “off target.” It was in the context of one’s goal in life. If Theosis is your goal, the things that do not lead to union with God (and becoming like Christ through that union) are called sin. Fr. Stephen writes a lot about authentic Christianity not being moralistic. Search Morality or a similar word on his blog to understand more fully. God bless. I love it when young people are beginning to ask such deep, important questions.

  76. “If there is a fire, like you describe, I pray that none of us will ever suffer in it.”
    Pettersen,
    I didn’t describe a fire.
    But incredibly, many of us pray those very words.
    You need to continue on this search my friend. God is with you….

  77. Good morning everyone! I want to thank you all once again for your patience and sincerety. I have an office job, and one of it’s privileges is that I can listen to music all day long. Many days I find myself listening to Orthodox church music throughout my entire working day. I will continue reading your texts, Fr Freeman. And I will continue to think about many of the questions you have raised in my mind.

    Priscilla, I have read the Gospels, and now as you describe doubting Thomas, I remember him. Thank you.

    I may not ever come to the same Faith as you. But I hope that through the door of the Church (by the Church I mean the Faith), I will be able to at least get a glimpse of God, while I stand outside among the sinners, the blind, the stubborn, the evil, the helpless «modernity». I also hope that through your Faith and your prayers, your hearts will be filled with love and empathy for the modern world that has turned it’s back to you.

    I «retreat» with the best wishes to all of you.

  78. And Dana, thank you for the contact information. I think I will try to get in touch with the priest in Bergen. There is an Orthodox Church in Oslo as well, and I might contact them too. Tennessee is a bit far away 😉

  79. Just remember and this is a difficult distinction: The Church is of one mind, but not all in the Church (even the best) always share that mind. I have an excellent Bishop. I love him and respect him like no other man because as a priest and a Bishop he carries Jesus Christ with love and kindness. I was talking with him after Divine Liturgy last Sunday. He told me that I put too much trust in him. I blurted out without thinking surprising even myself: “I don’t trust you at all, I trust God.” He was quite startled. I hope I did not hurt him, but I think he understands.

  80. Michael,
    Yeah, I’m sure your bishop understood!
    And thanks for your reminder. It is very true. I don’t look for that to change in this life!
    I do try to remind myself though, that we do mean well…as you did with your bishop.

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