Finding the True God

monk-mt-sinaiThe German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach was among the first modern thinkers to attack the classical notion of God. He suggested that God was simply the outward projection of our inward human nature. His thought gave rise to many varied theories. Freud thought God was nothing more than a projection of the Super-Ego, a sort of cosmic version of our parents. Durkheim suggested that God was simply a projection of society’s moral demands. Marx had yet another explanation of why people imagine God to exist, as did Nietzsche These seminal thinkers of modernity have been dubbed the “Masters of Suspicion.” And, strangely, they were all correct, at least in a certain sense.

Human beings have a tendency to invent idols. Whether grounded in our fear and need to control, or some other deep inner force, we simply have a way of creating false images of God. These philosophers, despite whatever perversities may have driven their thought, were fairly accurate in analyzing human inventions that are named “God.” Any decent confessor worth his salt could have told them as much (had they asked).

In my pastoral experience, Christians are often not suspicious enough. We frequently put great store in our own ideas and impressions of God. As often as not, the larger problems surrounding our primary relationship with God are our unexamined attempts to merge Him with the God of our own invention.

In order to know God, you first have to admit that you don’t know Him.

Belief in God is not the same thing as the acceptance of a set of propositions. Even if the propositions are “supported by the Scriptures,” that entire interpretive exercise is as subject to the imagination and idolatry as pure fantasy. Most Christians whom I know who have a very distorted view of God have Scripture to support their notions.

Christ makes a very key statement on the knowledge of God:

All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. (Mat 11:27)

This is an essential point in Christian teaching. No one knows God except as He is made known through Jesus Christ. You cannot “go behind” Christ to speak about knowing God. We do not first know God, and then draw conclusions about Jesus. But Christians regularly “go behind” Christ to imagine God. They consider any number of attributes from “He’s mad at me,” to “I can never please Him.” Most of what people “think” about God is pure illusion.

There has come to be a mass expectation of “God-awareness” in modern culture. This has some likely roots in the great revival movements of the 18th and 19th centuries that created most of modern Protestantism. It is the place where the language of “having a relationship with God” comes from (readers, please note that the word “relationship” occurs nowhere in the Scriptures). I was taught as a child that if I prayed the “sinner’s prayer” and asked Jesus to “come into my heart” He would do so. And further, I would know that He had. I have had perhaps thousands of conversations with people who claim, on a similar basis, an awareness of God. People will say, “I believe God is leading me to….” At least one Presidential candidate this year described this as the process he would use in making major national decisions.

This is a strange subjectivity created within modern Pietism and provokes questions from within the classical tradition. How you “feel” about God at any given time, or how you think He feels about you, are, on the whole, information about the inside of your head, not about God. One of the benefits of regular confession is having someone there to help think through these thoughts and feelings. The tremendous weight that many give to their thoughts and feelings about God is a testimony to the psychological narcissism that pervades our culture. We think that what is in our heads is actually real.

When, for example, we read that St. Silouan experienced the absence of God (described in various ways), this is by no means the same thing that most are experiencing when we speak of not sensing God’s presence. First, the grace he knew prior to that dark night, is qualitatively different than our popular religious subjectivity. I have, tragically, seen excerpts from St. Silouan applied in general as a remedy to depression. This kind of confusion of our modern psychological sensibilities with what we read in the lives of the saints is part of our cultural delusion. It creates false expectations for the inner life.

People come to faith in Christ in a myriad of ways. The heart is simply too unique to declare one path to believing. But the central tenet of the Christian faith is the claim that Christ is truly God and truly man and that He rose from the dead, fulfilling the Scriptures. Regardless of how we might come to accept that, it remains the starting point for Christian believing.

We internalize many images and feelings in our lives. The observations of the Masters of Suspicion were correct in parts of their analysis. It is very difficult not to import experiences of parents and other authorities, or simply our experience of the world, into what we think about God or expect from Him.

I grew up with a father who struggled with alcohol during my most formative years. I loved him dearly and felt that it was returned. But my experience of him was frequently frightening and often disappointing. And there is no doubt in my mind that I carried a certain orientation to life, including to God, as a wound from that early experience. At one point in my adult life, I had to work hard to untangle God from my earthly father. That tale is a tangled mess of contradictions and painful work. And it never entirely disappears. The habits of the heart are generally formed quite early in our lives.

But a sort of “agnostic discipline” has been essential. It primarily consists in rebuking the false images and assumptions that arise in my mind as I try to pray, to think, and to simply go through the day. What I set in place is the Father as shown to me in Jesus Christ.

There is a “Biblical God” espoused by some. In this, they do not interpret the Scriptures through Christ, but seek to know God through the larger Scriptures. Thus, for them, the meekness, and the radical kindness of Christ is to be balanced against the other images of God. The cleansing of the Temple thus becomes the doorway for importing the God who hates Esau, who demands the utter destruction of the Amalekites, and (they imagine), demands a payment for our wrong-doing.

The statement of Jesus, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father,” is thus altered to, “Study the Bible and you’ll come to know God.”

Christianity is, rightly, Christocentric. Jesus is the revelation of God. We do not know God apart from Him, including by reading the Scriptures. He promises to make Himself known. He even says that He and the Father will “come and sup” with us, a wonderfully intimate image. However, we too easily read this into a promise to be fulfilled in our subjectivity.

The sacramental life and public worship are the two most prominent venues for knowing God within the Tradition. God is truly present in the Holy Eucharist, but our subjectivity can be all over the map. Over time, I have slowly discovered that there is a knowledge of God that differs greatly from my inner thoughts. This is very difficult to put into words, since it is “extra-subjective” (outside of subjective experience). It is much closer to knowing than thinking, and somehow independent of mood.

The classical path described in Scripture and the Tradition is rooted in worship, the sacraments, regular prayer, and in the keeping of the commandments. There is, over time, a growth and formation in the knowledge of God. Unlearning the habits of modern culture is difficult, to say the least. The knowledge of God is a genuine formation in character, rooted in the sacraments and a true transformation in the Divine life. It is not, however, simply one more set of thoughts and impressions within our modern subjectivity.

At a certain point in my adult journey, I despaired of any confidence in the subjective world of contemporary Christianity. My heart yearned for something truly substantial. I’ve learned that such a yearning can be fulfilled but over a long time. The Church bears the knowledge of God within the fullness of its life. It has been through living in the bosom of the Church that this same knowledge has slowly become known. It is where we receive the sacraments and where we pray. It is the place of our repentance. It’s is Christ’s primary gift to us – that we might know Him.

 

48 comments:

  1. Thank you Father. As I contemplate your thoughts I cannot help but to think that part of the reason of the Incarnation was to present us with an experience of God in a way that we could comprehend. It is easy to misconstrue an image of a God that descends in fire upon the mountain top accompanied by blasts of a trumpet, earthquakes and lightening as a vengeful and angry God. But when God the Son incarnated He was not like that at all. He was tough, he afflicted the comfortable, He cleansed the Temple but He also forgave and healed and declared the “Acceptable Year of the Lord.”

  2. Fr. Stephen, “Study the Bible and you’ll come to know God,” as you wrote some say. Reminds me of what Jesus said to the religious leaders of his day. “You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” John 5:39,40. The scriptures continue to bear witness of Christ, but the true coming to him has to occur in the bosom of the Church. It cannot occur as one sits in a corner with her Bible. Alone, as you write, our minds will do wild things with”God” and with the scriptures. Our monastery had its name’s day feast today (to the Theotokos ) with hundreds in attendance gathered around our bishop. Here is where we meet Christ, in the sacraments, in public worship, and as you add, in regular prayer and keeping of the commandments. It was a glorious time with brothers and sisters together receiving and welcoming the Lord together.

  3. Fr. Stephen, your point about confession –“having someone there to help think through these thoughts and feelings” –Somehow I hadn’t reflected on confession that way. Now that I do, I realize that I have indeed experienced that same help during the ritual (sacrament, I mean): while I think I am talking about sins, I realize that in response my priest is guiding me towards God.

    I see now that I am among those who “think that what is in our heads [about God] is actually real.”

  4. A holy mystery. Good news. Glory to God! Christ is Risen.
    Thank you Father Stephen.

  5. This is so beautifully written and such a blessing to my heart, thank you! Glory to God for All Things!

  6. Dear Father,

    Again as I was reading I find myself wishing all of your blog posts were compiled in a book. I would love to be able to take it in hand, glance through the TOC, and reread at will so many words and thoughts I love but can’t carry them all in my head….

    Any chance?

    Thank you.

    Darla

  7. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Literally. I’ve at times condemned myself for lack of true belief, true faith, suspecting that much of my “belief” was a response to childhood circumstances.

    Perhaps the creation of the god of the second story is a result of the fear of what lurks in the basement.

  8. Father Bless!
    Always thought and prayer provoking! Thank you. We know in part and prophesy in part.
    Yes, it is missing the mark to study the Bible to know God, but, on the other hand, it is possible to know Christ, as we noetically encounter Scripture, both Old and New Testament. And there in the OT I see Jesus expounding the Law, but knowing that the One that expounded the Law, was revealing as it were in apocalypse, our need, so that His remedy-to-come-offered-from-the-foundation-of-the-world would find some fertile hearts, both after His incarnation, and before, in those in the tombs. So, I see the Jesus who gave the Law, in the Light of the Jesus who came of the Holy Ghost and Virgin Mary, right? I am now in a Western Rite mission. Propitiation and expiation seem to be more prominent, and I take comfort in them, and am thankful for such words and their noetic content- for it continues to resolve something in me, and not something in God towards me. There is this huge gap- between me, even at my ‘best’, and the sanity, goodness, righteousness, justice, mercy, grandeur, and holiness of God- and in Communion, and the sacrifice which IT communicates to Me, I find consolation and comfort- ‘comfortable Words’- as I sit at Table with God, and layer after layer of the onion of my being “NOT” like Him is peeled away, a small layer at a time. I find Rest while I strive to enter in at the narrow gait.

  9. There are so many good things here. I don’t know where to start. So, I’ll start with one.

    As you say Father..

    “The knowledge of God is a genuine formation in character, rooted in the sacraments and a true transformation in the Divine life. It is not, however, simply one more set of thoughts and impressions within our modern subjectivity. “

    I remember well my first encounter with an Orthodox Priest that got me on the road into the Orthodox Church that occured eons ago, after explaining some of the truths of Orthodoxy, he stopped and said “I will not tell you what Orthodoxy in not. Orthodoxy is not a set of ideas competing in the marketplace of ideas.” I have mulled over that, from time to time, for over 25 years now.

    So many times we’re much more interested in our own ‘ideas’ than we are truth. Even if we clear that hurdle (of despondency and pride) we still give our ideas much too much credit (and therefore) power. I like a quote of Christos Yannaras. ‘Modern man is a psychological man.’ This is an indictment. It is not a complement.

    The spiritual man transforms the psychological state into the spiritual state. This is an entirely different kind of knowing. I Cor 2:12

    12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might KNOW the things that are freely given to us of God.

    St. Paul carries the thought even further. 1 Cor 2:14

    14 But the natural man (the psychological man) receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: Neither Can he know them, because they are Spiritually discerned.

    The chasm between the psychological and the spiritual state is radical, absolutely radical. However, the Holy’s Spirit ‘perfects that which is lacking in our lives’. Hence, the spiritual man judges (sees) all things, yet is not perceived (psychologically) but any man.

    15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.

    The chasm for the spiritual man has been gapped. For the psychological man it has not.

    This Knowing is on an entirely different grid.

    (One presumption to all of this is that these words were written to, in and by the Eucharistic community.) The above simply gives expression to what is eucharistically/ontologically already true – in an ‘ever present’ sense.

  10. Correction: should have read “I will Now tell you what Orthodoxy in not. Orthodoxy is not a set of ideas competing in the marketplace of ideas.” I have mulled over that, from time to time, for over 25 years now.

  11. Several years ago, I read somewhere, some Orthodox priest I believe, stated that Frued did a study and determined that Catholics that regularly go to confession are the most mentally stable people…or something similar. Anyone know where I could find this?

  12. Thank you, Father, for putting this strand of the truth, threading throughout your writing, so clearly and succinctly into this single post. Once again, I’m very grateful God has gifted you to articulate what are often for me intuitions in varying degrees of conscious awareness that I have not yet been able to verbalize. The “aha” moment when something comes clearly into focus when reading something another has written is tremendously satisfying.

    Your comparing the subjective and often quite imaginary nature of so much modern thinking and language about God and Scripture versus the genuine personal encounter with God to be had through our participation in the life of the Church brings to mind the Scripture in Hebrews 12:26-28 about God shaking the heavens and earth, so that only what cannot be shaken (our eternal inheritance in God’s Kingdom) may remain. When God shakes up our flimsy imaginary and idolatrous religious edifices, it quickly demonstrates their illusory nature as they collapse under the weight of reality. He does this for our salvation so that we may seek and encounter Him in Spirit and in Truth within His Church.

  13. “I will now tell you what Orthodoxy in not. Orthodoxy is not a set of ideas competing in the marketplace of ideas.”

    This makes me wonder, could Orthodoxy be described as the self-emptying of God into His Church?

  14. God on His own terms; the foolishness of a short anecdote.

    In my youth, I didn’t want there to be a God. Somehow I knew that if there was a God, the world, my world, would be His and not mine. I thought it would be cool to call myself agnostic – this was before I understood the term “self-referentially absurd. I was the master of my own mind and ignorantly believed I could know anything.

    One day on the college campus where I was a student, I followed a couple of other students who had apparently just been in a math or physics class where the shape of the universe had been discussed. I was really paying little attention to them when I heard one of them say that the universe was a cube. This immediately struck me as odd since I believed (on no “scientific” evidence) that it was a sphere.

    Of course many of you will realize how foolish my thoughts were, and not that they improved so much since. But the comment and my own belief got me to thinking. It didn’t seem to matter what the shape was – I was left with the question, “in what ?”. I mean, my concept of universe at this point really meant “all that is”. What was it in? Did it just go on forever? What was outside the “box” as it were? Foolish as it was, I began to try to conceive of infinity – what was outside of the “box”. What I discovered was that my mind couldn’t do so. I could make the “box” huge and then make it bigger and bigger, but when it came down to it, I could only think in terms of “boxes” – things that had dimensions. And this troubled me greatly. I began to realize, to fear really, that if there was a God, that He could exist somewhere beyond my mind’s sight on His own terms. For that matter, He could even hide in plain sight.

    That night the house of cards that was my confidence in my own mind came crashing down. It was the beginning of… well, the beginning.

  15. Ole,

    Regarding the observation attributed to Freud: I have a vague memory of having encountered something like this in Jung. Can’t recall now which work–it’s been decades since I studied him.

  16. Thank you Father. The (human) images that govern our imagination of (the infinite) God are all by nature incomplete and limited. But not all are unhelpful. It may be true that the word relationship does not appear in the bible but God is often pictured in a relationship with his people as a passionate, jealous husband (Hosea 2:1-8) or as an aching, loving Father (Luke 15:11-31) or as a protective mother (Matthew 23:31). Can these not be ways of revealing the truth of God to us?

  17. Hugh Doyle,
    I mentioned the term relationship because it’s such a contemporary Christian buzzword. And people use and think they know what they’re talking about. But, in fact, what it means to be in relation with God is not at all the same thing as modern language means by relationship. How many people in your life give you their body to eat and their blood to drink? For example.

    Most of modern thought is decidedly wrong about most things (hence my many articles or modernity). Learning to undo and rethink in proper Christian terms is a very slow and careful work. Most people have been evangelized or taught a Christianity that is decidedly modern. So, it creates problems.

    The images Christ gives us are certainly important, though we tend to read certain things into them that are simply our own projections. Ideally, the Christian life is lived in the bosom of the Church and the relationship with God is formed and shaped in that context, rather than in our imagination (which is the culture’s playground).

  18. How does one avoid changing the actual encounter with Jesus into something He is not?

  19. Michael,
    It is an act of humility. We empty ourselves towards Him as He gives Himself to us. I do not seek to “use” Him for my own self-defined purposes. Primarily, it means giving thanks to Him.

  20. Fr. Steven

    I appreciate very much your words. The reality of our God who is beyond my imagination is becoming more clear to me , but in snatches.

    One such snatch was when a weeping icon of the Theotokos was brought to a church near us. I touched and smelled the myrrh that was dripping from it. How can that be explained by any reasoning or construction of thought.?

    There is a reality that takes me beyond myself and invites me to participate in it and accept it and put my self preoccupation aside….

    Thank you.

    Tom

  21. Tom,
    In the presence of God (or things that are truly spiritually real), our own thoughts are pretty much the last thing that comes to mind. There is an “otherness” for which there are not words or concepts. Weeping icons can be quite profound in that way.

  22. Christ is risen!

    Fr. Stephen,

    I found D. B. Hart’s ‘The Experience of God’ a great help towards ‘unlearning’ everything I thought I knew about God. Many thanks to the commenter here on the blog who suggested it. It provided me with a glimpse of understanding of the place you are writing from.
    It is quite disturbing to be suddenly stripped of my familiar mental constructs and be left with nothing else than ‘I really don’t know anything anymore’ but I see how making room for truth unavoidably hurts a narrowed mind.

    I am looking forward to reading your new book on modernity and its self-delusional stories. Thank you for your continuous efforts, hope and prayer.

  23. I am reading ‘The Experience of God: Being, consciousness, and bliss,” right now. As I commented to my wife, it has brought me to tears because this God, the true God who is almighty, transcendent, closer than my own breath, creator and sustainer of all that is, both the source and cause of all being and beyond being itself, uncreated and infinite…
    *this* is the God who entered into the womb of a young virgin and was made flesh as my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, walking the earth as brother, friend, and even servant.

    I had lost touch with the majesty and magnitude of ‘what’ God is, out of familiarity with my Saviour’s face.
    “The Experience of God” has helped me to grasp why the incarnation, the death of Christ, is a “foolishness” to ‘Greeks’ (the wise and philosophers of the age).
    ( Yet for those who receive the gift of faith after the example of St. Thomas, the experiential gateway to know our Brother even our Servant, as the one true God.)

    -MB

  24. Father Stephen – This topic has been on my mind lately. Thanks!

    Here’s a question based on all this:
    If we find God through Christ, does this mean that God is all humble and meek, that his glory and might (even in the 2nd coming) is because He is love?
    How does cleansing the temple and using the whip match up with Christ’s meekness?
    On a recent Ancient Faith podcast about angels, the podcaster said that the archangel Michael’s sword is love, not a weapon of violence. What about that? it certainly changed my mental image of heaven and spiritual things.
    Thanks
    Maria

  25. Maria,
    The cleansing of the Temple is easily interpreted as something other than meek. But I think it has to be understood in the light of everything else Christ does and says. He engaged in a public “prophetic” act. His driving out of the moneychangers is a symbolic action. He didn’t then blockade the door, etc. to keep them from going right back in. It was an action that revealed the true nature of what they were doing.

    The meekness within that action is that he merely drives them out in such a symbolic manner. He’s not forcing His will on them or actually forcing a change in what was done.

    God is meek far beyond our understanding. It is a fruitful place for our consideration and meditation. May God bless your thoughts!

  26. Maria, let me just add to Fr Stephen’s reply that Christ’s anger was neither passion nor revenge nor inclination to anger. Probably, we can call it “righteous indignation”.

    “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry (Ephesians 4:26)

    The Lord is meek but He is also the Great Physician. When Christ saw the virus of money-grabbing in the Temple, then He had to take the whip. Probably, it was the only possible and appropriate tool to operate at that moment. The Son for God didn’t revenge Himself on the moneychangers. Christ didn’t keep his anger/indignation in His heart. It was like a thunderstorm that brings the fresh air and cleanses the air from pollution.

  27. PS Sorry for a misprint. I wanted to say, “The Son of God didn’t revenge Himself on the moneychangers.”

  28. Dear Fr. Stephen,

    I currently live in Dobbs Ferry, NY, which is relatively close to St. Vladimir’s Seminary in Crestwood, NY. I’m not an Orthodox Christian but would like to become one. Do you happen to know a church in this area that would be a good place for me and my family to become Orthodox? Is there one located at the Seminary, and would it be appropriate for a family?

  29. Fr. Stephen,

    So how does the Orthodox Church understand ” the God who hates Esau, who demands the utter destruction of the Amalekites…”?

    Boyd

  30. Greetings and blessings to everyone.

    I am new here, and I am very much enjoying your posts Father. I am myself a cradle Catholic, who departed from my belief for quite sometime, more so due to indifference then any active rebellious thought – though my behaviour whilst wandering was certainly rebellious.

    I originally started coming back to religious thought, thought about God, from an eastern perspective, and I am currently still quite involved with non-dualism, or Advaita Vedanta – mostly because of it’s relentless method of unveiling / discovering your true self, by inquiring into the ‘I’ that I am.

    During my search for Truth, I have always been drawn to Jesus Christ, but I assumed that he was another awakened being or avatar perhaps, however ever since after reading ‘Meditations on the Tarot’ (very interesting book), something struck me that there is indeed something unique about Him and His life. There is no doubt in my heart that I am drawn to him, I try to love Him (failing terribly), I sing often to him, and give thanks, and wish to know him more daily.

    However something is always trying to understand the realisations I have discovered by following the pointing of Advaita Vedanta, and how they relate to Jesus Christ – or visa versa.

    It is through the inquiry, of who or what, really is this ‘I’, that I have began to become aware of this, is-ness, existing, presence of Being.

    I am discovering that what is truly here, always, is the ‘I am’. That in every moment there is just this sense of being, that has no shape or form, or colour, it is ‘invisible’ but it is really the only Real thing here, because everything else is changing – my thoughts, my feelings, day and night alternate within it, it alone remains as it is.

    As I use the power of my attention to focus on ‘I am’, I realise it has not come from somewhere, and it is not going somewhere, it is outside time and space. It hasn’t been created in the sense that a created thing must occupy space, and move along with time, there is no record of time here, it doesn’t occupy space, space is appearing in it.. It is always here.

    Though it is not coming or going, and is ever present, it is not barren, it is ever new, yet unchanging. It is totally filled with peace, and perfection, I cannot find in it, that it is lacking in anything, nor can I find or think of something that could be added to it, to make it ‘better’. It simply is, and is perfect. It has no needs, or desires. It is a full but not ‘packed or crowded’ kind of full, full to overflowing but not wasting, spilling into itself into infinity. Also when I look at this ‘I am’ I recognise I cannot know what this is by thought, it is unknowable, I know it not by though, but by some other power, it simply is, as is my knowing of it.

    So the thing is when I investigate where am ‘I’, my ego, is in all this, I cannot find myself, I loose myself in the ‘I am’ in a sense. Every time I come to this place, I empty my self when I approach this, because there is nowhere for ‘me’ to exist amongst this. In fact what I realise is that the ego-me doesn’t exist actually, that the ego-me that appears to be the one waking up everyday, only rises with thought, that when I simply am, ego-me doesn’t exist. Further more, I realise that in order for me to know this ‘I am’ state, I must be in a way ‘before it’ in a transcendent way, because I am the one knowing it.

    So these are discoveries I am making when I investigate my sense of being, and when I try to find who or what exactly is it, that I am.

    I am just wondering Father, what do you make of these understandings? Am I talking about Jesus Christ, the True God, as this article is attempting to point us towards? Do you find a similarity in what I have discovered investigating the ‘I am’, with regards to how you define false self, true self, and God?

    The two closest Christian quotes I can find which resonate with what I am speaking seem to be:

    The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love. – Meister Eckhart

    and

    What we are looking for is what is looking.
    ― Francis of Assisi

    The reason I am drawn to Orthodoxy for the time being is because it seems that union with God is the ultimate end, whilst being centred on Jesus Christ. Though I do not fully understand them yet, things like knowing noetically, and uncreated energies speak to me somehow.

    I am very confused these days, because on one side I am making these discoveries as mentioned above, through the guidance of a guru you may say, who has realised his unity with the ‘I am’ – who guides me into the contemplation of the ‘I am’. On the other hand, I am drawn to Jesus Christ, He himself, there is a desire to want to know Him himself, rather than just discover my unity with ‘I am’. But if Jesus Christ = I am (not ‘me’), then what?

    If God is the Truth of my very existence, my Being, as in I can not exist without Him, then my very existence is in Him, and if Jesus Christ is God then he is ‘I am’. So perhaps my desire to know Jesus Christ psychologically as you might say, is actually getting in the way of emptying myself out, to be truly filled by Him/Jesus Christ/I am.

    Forgive my confusion Father, but I am indeed restless in finding my way Home. How am I doing do you feel? I would love if we could talk more about his if you had sometime?

    Many, many, many thanks for you patience, and your writings.
    God bless,
    Mark

  31. Mark,
    It’s an interesting road you’ve described, one which might startle some Christians. But it has been traveled before. Quite famously, the Elder Sophrony of Essex, a Russian monk who was formed and shaped on Mt. Athos as a disciple of St. Silouan, was drawn into Eastern Religions as a young man and an artist in Paris. But he came to see that this was not what he was looking for and had some very serious problems. He found his way back to his native Orthodoxy, becoming a monk on Mt. Athos. Some of his writings speak about this period in his life.

    The question of being and existence, identity and salvation are often overlooked in some segments of Christianity, though they are some of the most obvious questions to be asked. Orthodoxy has maintained the tradition of Christian spiritual teaching that includes this in its deepest form. Christ is utterly unique, the true Son of the only living God. He is God made man, and thus not just an awakened avatar. God is working in your life, it would seem. Icons of Christ in the Orthodox Church are always marked with the letters for the Greek version of the statement of the name of God in the Old Testament, the “I Am that I Am.” You are almost there. Welcome to the conversation. Other readers may have shared certain parts of your journey and might have some helpful observations.

    Blessings!

  32. Mark,

    I have not shared your journey and can offer little of help, but I was immediately struck by the similarity of your description of “this is-ness, existing, presence of Being” to this passage from the Book of Wisdom in the Scriptures.

    “For wisdom… is the worker of all things: for in her is an understanding spirit holy, one only, manifold, subtle, lively, clear, undefiled, plain, not subject to hurt, loving the thing that is good, quick, which cannot be letted, ready to do good, kind to man, steadfast, sure, free from care, having all power, overseeing all things, and going through all understanding, pure, and most subtle, spirit.

    “For wisdom is more moving than any motion: she passeth and goeth through all things by reason of her pureness. For she is the breath of the power of God, and a pure influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty: therefore can no defiled thing fall into her. For she is the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of his goodness. And being but one, she can do all things: and remaining in herself, she maketh all things new: and in all ages entering into holy souls, she maketh them friends of God, and prophets.”

    The wisdom of which this author speaks is the Holy Spirit of Christ who is the Wisdom of God.

    It would seem that He is revealing Himself to you in a remarkable way. God bless you on this journey.

  33. Fr. Stephen,

    Would be good to hear how your take on the “quest for the historical Jesus” fits in here. It seems to be connected to a modern understanding of history.

  34. Mark,

    “So perhaps my desire to know Jesus Christ psychologically as you might say, is actually getting in the way of emptying myself out, to be truly filled by Him/Jesus Christ/I am.”

    My late spiritual father (“Otche”) once told me- in a fleeting moment of impatience (I used to be good at bringing that out in people who were trying to help me)-that the biggest obstacle in my struggle to save my soul (and all that entails) was not Satan; “It’s you!” He took a piece of scratch paper and on it wrote “Matthew 18: 2-3”. In answer to the look of confusion on my face he said: “It’s a short-cut. It’s not the answer you “think” you want but within it is the answer you need. Save yourself a lot of time. Figure that one out so that you can get on with your journey” then booted me out because it was time for his nap.

    His deadly accurate finger pointing didn’t take me long to grasp. A day later I recalled Lao Tzu saying that the quest to be ego-less was like “beating a drum in search of a fugitive”. The harder you *try* to be ego-less (we would say “self-less”) the further away from your goal you end up (see earlier discussions on this blog as folks try to grasp the futility of “measuring” their spiritual “progress”.) I later recalled a Buddhist teacher saying that the quest to be ego-less (again, self-less) was the ultimate ego trip! A week or so later Matthew 18:2-3 began to come to life.

    That’s pretty much all I’ve got to offer.

    Oh! Wait! What a fat-head I can be! Fr. Seraphim Rose is who you’re looking for. The man (Memory Eternal!) was steeped in far Eastern religions and philosophy before he became Orthodox.

  35. A paraphrase of Fr. Seraphim’s best statement: God is a person, He is sought and known in the heart.

    His best work is God’s Revelation to the Human Heart. It is a transcription of a lecture he gave toward the end if his life.

  36. Years ago traveling France at peak tourist season with my brother (both recent college grads), he suddenly ran from my side at the Eiffel Tower across the plaza and began talking to someone who looked perplexed at first and then whose face lit up. Returning to my side, my brother said he recognized the fraternity insignia on his shirt.

    Mentioning the book Meditations on the Tarot feels like that — an insignia.

    More than twice as old now as that Eiffel Tower moment and still struggling after several years of engaging with Orthodoxy, a big shift took place last year through the Antiochian service book (haven’t noticed it this way in others). The Trisagion Prayers in that version has a section which reads: “Be mindful, O Lord, of my parents, N. and N., of my brothers and sisters, my relatives and my friends, N., N. and N. (name those whom you wish to remember).” Creating an “N.” list and inserting those “N.s” in private daily prayer at a personal altar was a turning point (seven years since “first contact”) over this past year.

    The N. list has grown and is inserted in several parts of Prayer for the Living and Prayer for the Dead. Feels like it has deepened the engagement.

    Thank you for mentioning that book.

  37. I am not familiar with the book Meditations on the Tarot, other than a bit of googling. Generally, “esoteric Christianity,” is considered fraught with problems and spiritual dangers. The tendency in esoteric Christianity is a seeking for experience, and the thought that, on some level, various symbols, relgious things, are all just manifestations of the One God.

    It is a mistake. The warnings surrounding that path from every saint in Orthodoxy who has ever spoken on the topic are clear. The “symbols” and “gods” often have something behind them that is quite alien to the One God. Our warfare, St. Paul says, is with “Principalities and Powers, Spiritual Wickedness in the heavenly places.” To simply say “demons” can be quite mistaken – it’s more complicated than that. But that territory is not a safe place to travel.

    The path of Orthodoxy is the only safe path given to us. It’s examples are saints, not “spiritual adepts” or the myriad of strange things produced among the esoterica.

    There is, within the esoteric teachings, much about being, existence, etc., and therefore bears a resemblance to some of the language in Orthodoxy. But it’s simply not safe.

    Christ is not a symbol for anything. There is not getting behind Him to something greater. He is the “fullness of the Godhead, bodily,” in St. Paul’s language. I write this caveat lest anyone reading these comments be misled into thinking that esoteric Christianity is approved within the Orthodox Tradition.

    If God uses something to bring them to the fullness of the faith, it does not mean that the thing used is “approved.” It just means He used it. In the words of St. Paisius, “a man could be converted by watching a fox cross the road.” That certainly doesn’t mean that we should go catch a bunch of foxes.

    Do please be cautious.

    The book The Gurus, the Young Man and the Elder Paisios would be a worthwhile read.

  38. Feels like traversing via high-wire rather than a bridge. Some of us do wake up on the high-wire wishing we’d found the bridge route instead.

  39. From Christ the Eternal Tao by Heiromonk Damascene:

    Lao Tzu, in rising above compulsive thinking and desire for created things, was able to glimpse the common nature of all humanity. No longer did he feel the need to assert his individuality, or to strive against others for rights and privileges. Thus, while keeping an awareness of himself as an immortal spirit, he sought to be selfless. This can be seen from several passages of the Tao Te Ching. Lao Tzu wrote, “The sage has no fixed will. He regards the peoples’ will as his own. He who takes upon himself the humiliation, or the dirt, of the people, is fit to be the master of the people. The man of the highest virtue is like water, which dwells in lowly places. In his dwelling he is like the earth, below everyone. In giving, he is human-hearted. His heart is immeasurable.”

    http://www.ancientfaith.com/specials/christ_the_eternal_tao/christ_the_eternal_tao_-_part_1
    http://www.ancientfaith.com/specials/christ_the_eternal_tao/christ_the_eternal_tao_-_part_2

    I long ago dabbled in kryia yoga and some bhakti. In becoming Orthodox I learned that personhood applies to both God and man, and I gladly disavowed the pantheism that’s essential in all Hindu approaches.

    In philosophical terms, Orthodox Christianity can be described as panentheistic. God is transcendent to all things which are made/created. All “things”, including humans, are entirely contingent on His gifted energies. He is “other” and personal. His relation to us is not a dualism. Although we were made for Him, no creature is comparable in any respect. Distinctions between the knower and He who is known remain, and He invites us to join ourselves to Him who is Love in Christ. Christ being both human and divine. He is the bridge that unites us all to God, to Himself, and to each other.

  40. Father,

    Thank you very much for your replies, and your warm welcoming. In relation to Elder Sophrony of Essex, I actually have in my amazon wish list, his book ‘We Shall See Him as He Is’, and I am very eager to read it. Thank you for recommending the other book also, there is a kindle edition of it so I hope to read that as soon as I possible.

    Father you said.
    “The question of being and existence, identity and salvation are often overlooked in some segments of Christianity, though they are some of the most obvious questions to be asked.”

    I believe this strikes to the core of my current predicament. You mentioned the Icons of Orthodox in relation to ‘I am that I am’. If I may quote a 20th Indian Sage Raman Maharshi thoughts on this pronouncement by God it may be a fitting introduction to the difficulties I am having. I find what he says somewhat resembles what I am reading amongst these posts of yours Father. (Forgive me if I am utterly wrong)

    Sri Ramana Maharshi:

    “‘I am’ is the name of God. Of all the definitions of God, none is so well put as the biblical statement ‘I am that I am’ in Exodus chapter three. There are other statements such as brahmavaiham [Brahman am I], aham brahmasmi [I am Brahman] and soham [I am He]. But none is so direct as Jehovah [which means] ‘I am’.

    The essence of mind is only awareness or consciousness. When the ego, however, dominates it, it functions as the reasoning, thinking or sensing faculty. The cosmic mind, being not limited by the ego, has nothing separate from itself and is therefore only aware. That is what the Bible means by ‘I am that I am’.”

    We perhaps may substitute ‘cosmic mind’ here with, logos.

    You see this I can follow and understand, that the very ‘I am’ is my salvation, doesn’t Jesus literally translate to ‘I am saves’?

    So I guess my questions is, this Sage Ramana Maharshi, who is said to have ‘realised the Self’, what is it that he has understood, or realised? Is he speaking of Jesus (as the universal Word), is he speaking of God? If not then what is it he has found? Dare we say he may be a instrument of evil one? But is that not a bit harsh, for as you mentioned Father, God fills all things, and is present everywhere, is it not possible for say a Hindu to realise God, to the same degree an Orthodox?

    MichealPatrick speaks of Lao Tzu as being ” .. an immortal spirit..” What is it that the eastern Sage realises? I have not read Christ the eternal Tao, but I imagine it means to describe Jesus being the Tao (as he says of Himself he is the way), but what is it that Lao Tzu lacks in his realisation of ‘the Way’, how come he could not discern the Holy Trinity within it? (Perhaps I am going far to deep and off topic somewhat here)

    In relation to ‘Meditations on the Tarot’ it was written by a remarkable convert (to Catholicism), an experienced occultist who finally discovered “that there are guardian angels; that there are saints who participate actively in our lives; that the Blessed Virgin is real… that the sacraments are effective… that prayer is a powerful means of charity; that the ecclesiastical hierarchy reflects the celestial hierarchical order… that, lastly, the Master himself–although he loves everyone, Christians of all confession as well as all non-Christians–abides with his Church, since he is always present there, since he visits the faithful there and instructs his disciples there.”

    For many here the book will be unnecessary as they are home, however for those of us who strayed far away into many different teachings, especially ‘New Age’ material, this book brought many back to, (and to) Catholicism, myself included. As you mention Father this book is most certainly being used by our Almighty and Wonderful Father to bring us to his Son. I am very much aware of your warning though Father about “Principalities and Powers” and that is another reason why I am drawn to Jesus, I know with him I am OK.

    Brian thank you for those wonderful passages in Scripture, they are truly beautiful they are so comforting. You mention that God perhaps is revealing Himself to me, and while I hope and pray such statement is true, I would have to comment that it would be more accurate to say that he has introduced to me a being to me, who has pointed me towards the ‘I am’ that is ever present amongst me. What I wrote previously came from simply attempting to put into words or describe what this is-ness / being is like to the best of my ability. You may also try, if you bring your attention to that sense of existing, and attempt to describe it. Or try answer the question – What does it feel like simply ‘to be’? It’s almost like a feeling-less feeling, ever present with you. The Sages of the east call it ‘the Self’.

    I guess this is my confusion, it has not been the Bible, or Mass, or writings by the saints that have helped me make these discoveries, it has been the pointing of a ‘realised Guru’ you see, so I am just wondering in the end, what is the relation with Jesus Christ, and this abiding in the sense of Being? It is said that the Church is the communion of beings in Christ, but can that and does that extend outside the visible structure of the Church? For instance are the sages actually abiding in Jesus Christ, since they are abiding in the ‘ I am’ (abide in my as I abide in you), is a Lao Tzu or a Ramana speaking of Jesus Christ, when they speak of their realisations? If they have come to a place of total peace, and rest (as they claim) have the not been yoked to God, without being inside the visible Church?

    Again forgive me for these intruding questions, and I am most definitely not trying to offend, I am just trying to find the meeting place of my current understanding with the work of salvation Jesus Christ has fulfilled. I am trying to see how these things ‘connect’.

    I guess in another sense Father you speak a lot about thinking too much, or rather putting too much weight into the thinking mind, but I suppose my question then would be, what is the difference between a Hindu silence, and an orthodox silence? Are they not both one and the same silence, are we not meeting in that same silent / being / presence, whos perfume is peace? Is it not true that peace can only come from the Holy Spirit?

    I suppose if I were to be totally bold and wonder, for one to be saved, might it be as simple as to.. Come to him, (abide in the ‘I am’) and loose yourself in Him, to gain your True life?

    God bless you Father for you blog, and your patience.

  41. Boyd, thank you for the suggestion of Christ The Eternal Tao.

    Gregory, thank you for the advice, and the piece of scripture. I feel that this again makes me return to the person that is guiding me at the moment, so much of his teaching is just being – available, just being present, and simple.. not allowing for games of our discursive mind to try and ‘get us there’ but just living life, like a child would.

    You mention ego-less, and self-less, and Lao Tzu, and indirectly the Buddha, what connection do you feel these teachers had in relation to Jesus Christ, and why do you use them as examples, in relation to Matthew 18:2-3?

    Hi N. , I’m sorry but I do not follow your first post about the Meditations on the Tarot. I will say though I have a massive synchronicity with the Eiffel Tower 😉

    Michael, I feel that philosophically I have ended up where you have as well -panentheism – which is interesting to find that Orthodox Christianity is that, and I know it’s language speaks much more to it, than does Catholicism, which is why I am currently drawn to Orthodoxy. In relation to Hindu though and panentheism, if you are interested check out a little book called, ‘Christianity and the doctrine of non-duality’.

    Father, something else has just come to my mind. What exactly is it that Jesus Christ did by dying on the cross? What happened ontologically? Did whatever he accomplish, automatically affect all of creation thereafter, and so every human being? Or do human beings only feel the affect of His work, after they come to Him?

    Also, I feel a little sad to some extent. You mentioned earlier that I am ‘almost there’, but for some reason, the dreaded thought occurred to me that, I have had this much difficulty coming back to Catholicism, I really feel that I couldn’t find my way to Orthodoxy.. I mean (and I by no way mean this offensively) is there really a difference? Right now, as a Catholic going to confession, going to the mass, and praying, I feel that I am ‘covered’ (using a fairly terrible term, although when I think of His blood, it’s not so bad). How does the Orthodox view the efficaciousness of Catholicism on a persons salvation? A person who earnestly believes (or hopes) he is part of the body of Christ.

    Many thanks and God bless to all those who took the time to respond to me out of the kindness of theirs hearts, thank you.

    Mark

  42. Mark,
    Go to Mass and confession. I had not realized that you were. I would not trouble you in that.

    There are many points of similarity that you’ve shared. There are, however, distinct points of dissimilarity. It is possible for someone to share certain points of Vedantic philosophy that bear a resemblance to Christianity (especially in this ontological sense), but there are many ways in which it will depart.

    God actually is not “being.” Or, the Fathers say, inasmuch as God exists, we do not exist. Inasmuch as we exist, God does not exist. The “Being” of God is beyond all being. And this is important. More than that, He exists as Person, indeed as Tri-personal. This is not known within Vedantic teaching and it has much to do with what is distinct about Christianity. The notion of personhood is uniquely Christian.

    The questions you ask are worthy of a book – and beyond my possibility to flesh out fully in the comments here. You are reading good stuff. Stay on a Catholic/Orthodox path as much as you can. There are disagreements between the two, but I can certainly say that when you stand on ground where they agree, you are on very solid ground indeed.

    An article on the question of Christ’s death on the cross that might be of interest is https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2016/04/15/death-christ-life-man/

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